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- Travels in England in 1782 - 3/28 -
but very much resembling a private house. As for the rest, there are generally everywhere about St. James's Park very good houses, which is a great addition to it. There is also before the semicircle of the trees just mentioned a large vacant space, where the soldiers are exercised.
How little this famous park is to be compared with our park at Berlin, I need not mention. And yet one cannot but form a high idea of St. James's Park and other public places in London; this arises, perhaps, from their having been oftener mentioned in romances and other books than ours have. Even the squares and streets of London are more noted and better known than many of our principal towns.
But what again greatly compensates for the mediocrity of this park, is the astonishing number of people who, towards evening in fine weather, resort here; our finest walks are never so full even in the midst of summer. The exquisite pleasure of mixing freely with such a concourse of people, who are for the most part well-dressed and handsome, I have experienced this evening for the first time.
Before I went to the park I took another walk with my little Jacky, which did not cost me much fatigue and yet was most uncommonly interesting. I went down the little street in which I live, to the Thames nearly at the end of it, towards the left, a few steps led me to a singularly pretty terrace, planted with trees, on the very brink of the river.
Here I had the most delightful prospect you can possibly imagine. Before me was the Thames with all its windings, and the stately arches of its bridges; Westminster with its venerable abbey to the right, to the left again London, with St. Paul's, seemed to wind all along the windings of the Thames, and on the other side of the water lay Southwark, which is now also considered as part of London. Thus, from this single spot, I could nearly at one view see the whole city, at least that side of it towards the Thames. Not far from hence, in this charming quarter of the town, lived the renowned Garrick. Depend upon it I shall often visit this delightful walk during my stay in London.
To-day my two Englishmen carried me to a neighbouring tavern, or rather an eating-house, where we paid a shilling each for some roast meat and a salad, giving at the same time nearly half as much to the waiter, and yet this is reckoned a cheap house, and a cheap style of living. But I believe, for the future, I shall pretty often dine at home; I have already begun this evening with my supper. I am now sitting by the fire in my own room in London. The day is nearly at an end, the first I have spent in England, and I hardly know whether I ought to call it only one day, when I reflect what a quick and varied succession of new and striking ideas have, in so short a time, passed in my mind.
London, 5th June.
At length, dearest Gedike, I am again settled, as I have now got my trunk and all my things from the ship, which arrived only yesterday. Not wishing to have it taken to the Custom House, which occasions a great deal of trouble, I was obliged to give a douceur to the officers, and those who came on board the ship to search it. Having pacified, as I thought, one of them with a couple of shillings, another came forward and protested against the delivery of the trunk upon trust till I had given him as much. To him succeeded a third, so that it cost me six shillings, which I willingly paid, because it would have cost me still more at the Custom House.
By the side of the Thames were several porters, one of whom took my huge heavy trunk on his shoulders with astonishing ease, and carried it till I met a hackney coach. This I hired for two shillings, immediately put the trunk into it, accompanying it myself without paying anything extra for my own seat. This is a great advantage in the English hackney coaches, that you are allowed to take with you whatever you please, for you thus save at least one half of what you must pay to a porter, and besides go with it yourself, and are better accommodated. The observations and the expressions of the common people here have often struck me as peculiar. They are generally laconic, but always much in earnest and significant. When I came home, my landlady kindly recommended it to the coachman not to ask more than was just, as I was a foreigner; to which he answered, "Nay, if he were not a foreigner I should not overcharge him."
My letters of recommendation to a merchant here, which I could not bring with me on account of my hasty departure from Hamburgh, are also arrived. These have saved me a great deal of trouble in the changing of my money. I can now take my German money back to Germany, and when I return thither myself, refund to the correspondent of the merchant here the sum which he here pays me in English money. I should otherwise have been obliged to sell my Prussian Fredericks-d'or for what they weighed; for some few Dutch dollars which I was obliged to part with before I got this credit they only gave me eight shillings.
A foreigner has here nothing to fear from being pressed as a sailor, unless, indeed, he should be found at any suspicious place. A singular invention for this purpose of pressing is a ship, which is placed on land not far from the Tower, on Tower Hill, furnished with masts and all the appurtenances of a ship. The persons attending this ship promise simple country people, who happen to be standing and staring at it, to show it to them for a trifle, and as soon as they are in, they are secured as in a trap, and according to circumstances made sailors of or let go again.
The footway, paved with large stones on both sides of the street, appears to a foreigner exceedingly convenient and pleasant, as one may there walk in perfect safety, in no more danger from the prodigious crowd of carts and coaches, than if one was in one's own room, for no wheel dares come a finger's breadth upon the curb stone. However, politeness requires you to let a lady, or any one to whom you wish to show respect, pass, not, as we do, always to the right, but on the side next the houses or the wall, whether that happens to be on the right or on the left, being deemed the safest and most convenient. You seldom see a person of any understanding or common sense walk in the middle of the streets in London, excepting when they cross over, which at Charing Cross and other places, where several streets meet, is sometimes really dangerous.
It has a strange appearance--especially in the Strand, where there is a constant succession of shop after shop, and where, not unfrequently, people of different trades inhabit the same house--to see their doors or the tops of their windows, or boards expressly for the purpose, all written over from top to bottom with large painted letters. Every person, of every trade or occupation, who owns ever so small a portion of a house, makes a parade with a sign at his door; and there is hardly a cobbler whose name and profession may not be read in large golden characters by every one that passes. It is here not at all uncommon to see on doors in one continued succession, "Children educated here," "Shoes mended here," "Foreign spirituous liquors sold here," and "Funerals furnished here;" of all these inscriptions. I am sorry to observe that "Dealer in foreign spirituous liquors" is by far the most frequent. And indeed it is allowed by the English themselves, that the propensity of the common people to the drinking of brandy or gin is carried to a great excess; and I own it struck me as a peculiar phraseology, when, to tell you that a person is intoxicated or drunk, you hear them say, as they generally do, that he is in liquor. In the late riots, which even yet are hardly quite subsided, and which are still the general topic of conversation, more people have been found dead near empty brandy-casks in the streets, than were killed by the musket- balls of regiments that were called in. As much as I have seen of London within these two days, there are on the whole I think not very many fine streets and very fine houses, but I met everywhere a far greater number and handsomer people than one commonly meets in Berlin. It gives me much real pleasure when I walk from Charing Cross up the Strand, past St. Paul's to the Royal Exchange, to meet in the thickest crowd persons from the highest to the lowest ranks, almost all well-looking people, and cleanly and neatly dressed. I rarely see even a fellow with a wheel-barrow who has not a shirt on, and that, too, such a one as shows it has been washed; nor even a beggar without both a shirt and shoes and stockings. The English are certainly distinguished for cleanliness.
It has a very uncommon appearance in this tumult of people, where every one, with hasty and eager step, seems to be pursuing either his business or his pleasure, and everywhere making his way through the crowd, to observe, as you often may, people pushing one against another, only perhaps to see a funeral pass. The English coffins are made very economically, according to the exact form of the body; they are flat, and broad at top; tapering gradually from the middle, and drawing to a point at the feet, not very unlike the case of a violin.
A few dirty-looking men, who bear the coffin, endeavour to make their way through the crowd as well as they can; and some mourners follow. The people seem to pay as little attention to such a procession, as if a hay-cart were driving past. The funerals of people of distinction, and of the great, are, however, differently regarded.
These funerals always appear to me the more indecent in a populous city, from the total indifference of the beholders, and the perfect unconcern with which they are beheld. The body of a fellow-creature is carried to his long home as though it had been utterly unconnected with the rest of mankind. And yet, in a small town or village, everyone knows everyone; and no one can be so insignificant as not to be missed when he is taken away.
That same influenza which I left at Berlin, I have had the hard fortune again to find here; and many people die of it. It is as yet very cold for the time of the year, and I am obliged every day to have a fire. I must own that the heat or warmth given by sea-coal, burnt in the chimney, appears to me softer and milder than that given by our stoves. The sight of the fire has also a cheerful and pleasing effect. Only you must take care not to look at it steadily, and for a continuance, for this is probably the reason that there are so many young old men in England, who walk and ride in the public streets with their spectacles on; thus anticipating, in the bloom of youth, those conveniences and comforts which were intended for old age.
I now constantly dine in my own lodgings; and I cannot but flatter myself that my meals are regulated with frugality. My usual dish at supper is some pickled salmon, which you eat in the liquor in which it is pickled, along with some oil and vinegar; and he must be prejudiced or fastidious who does not relish it as singularly well tasted and grateful food.
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