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- Travels in England in 1782 - 5/28 -
indeed singularly curious and interesting. In a particular part of the garden a curtain was drawn up, and by means of some mechanism of extraordinary ingenuity, the eye and the ear are so completely deceived, that it is not easy to persuade one's self it is a deception, and that one does not actually see and hear a natural waterfall from a high rock. As everyone was flocking to this scene in crowds, there arose all at once a loud cry of "Take care of your pockets." This informed us, but too clearly, that there were some pickpockets among the crowd, who had already made some fortunate strokes.
The rotunda, a magnificent circular building in the garden, particularly engaged my attention. By means of beautiful chandeliers, and large mirrors, it was illuminated in the most superb manner; and everywhere decorated with delightful paintings, and statues, in the contemplation of which you may spend several hours very agreeably, when you are tired of the crowd and the bustle, in the walks of the garden.
Among the paintings one represents the surrender of a besieged city. If you look at this painting with attention, for any length of time, it affects you so much that you even shed tears. The expression of the greatest distress, even bordering on despair, on the part of the besieged, the fearful expectation of the uncertain issue, and what the victor will determine concerning those unfortunate people, may all be read so plainly, and so naturally in the countenances of the inhabitants, who are imploring for mercy, from the hoary head to the suckling whom his mother holds up, that you quite forget yourself, and in the end scarcely believe it to be a painting before you.
You also here find the busts of the best English authors, placed all round on the sides. Thus a Briton again meets with his Shakespeare, Locke, Milton, and Dryden in the public places of his amusements; and there also reveres their memory. Even the common people thus become familiar with the names of those who have done honour to their nation; and are taught to mention them with veneration. For this rotunda is also an orchestra in which the music is performed in rainy weather. But enough of Vauxhall!
Certain it is that the English classical authors are read more generally, beyond all comparison, than the German; which in general are read only by the learned; or, at most, by the middle class of people. The English national authors are in all hands, and read by all people, of which the innumerable editions they have gone through are a sufficient proof.
My landlady, who is only a tailor's widow, reads her Milton; and tells me, that her late husband first fell in love with her on this very account: because she read Milton with such proper emphasis. This single instance, perhaps, would prove but little; but I have conversed with several people of the lower class, who all knew their national authors, and who all have read many, if not all, of them. This elevates the lower ranks, and brings them nearer to the higher. There is hardly any argument or dispute in conversation, in the higher ranks, about which the lower cannot also converse or give their opinion. Now, in Germany, since Gellert, there has as yet been no poet's name familiar to the people. But the quick sale of the classical authors is here promoted also by cheap and convenient editions. They have them all bound in pocket volumes, as well as in a more pompous style. I myself bought Milton in duodecimo for two shillings, neatly bound; it is such a one as I can, with great convenience, carry in my pocket. It also appears to me to be a good fashion, which prevails here, and here only, that the books which are most read, are always to be had already well and neatly bound. At stalls, and in the streets, you every now and then meet with a sort of antiquarians, who sell single or odd volumes; sometimes perhaps of Shakespeare, etc., so low as a penny; nay, even sometimes for a halfpenny a piece. Of one of these itinerant antiquarians I bought the two volumes of the Vicar of Wakefield for sixpence, i.e. for the half of an English shilling. In what estimation our German literature is held in England, I was enabled to judge, in some degree, by the printed proposals of a book which I saw. The title was, "The Entertaining Museum, or Complete Circulating Library," which is to contain a list of all the English classical authors, as well as translations of the best French, Spanish, Italian, and even German novels.
The moderate price of this book deserves also to be noticed; as by such means books in England come more within the reach of the people; and of course are more generally distributed among them. The advertisement mentions that in order that everyone may have it in his power to buy this work, and at once to furnish himself with a very valuable library, without perceiving the expense, a number will be sent out weekly, which, stitched, costs sixpence, and bound with the title on the back, ninepence. The twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth numbers contain the first and second volume of the Vicar of Wakefield, which I had just bought of the antiquarian above- mentioned.
The only translation from the German which has been particularly successful in England, is Gesner's "Death of Abel." The translation of that work has been oftener reprinted in England than ever the original was in Germany. I have actually seen the eighteenth edition of it; and if the English preface is to be regarded, it was written by a lady. "Klopstock's Messiah," as is well known, has been here but ill received; to be sure, they say it is but indifferently translated. I have not yet been able to obtain a sight of it. The Rev. Mr. Wendeborn has written a grammar for the German language in English, for the use of Englishmen, which has met with much applause.
I must not forget to mention, that the works of Mr. Jacob Boehmen are all translated into English.
London, 13th June.
Often as I had heard Ranelagh spoken of, I had yet formed only an imperfect idea of it. I supposed it to be a garden somewhat different from that of Vauxhall; but, in fact, I hardly knew what I thought of it. Yesterday evening I took a walk in order to visit this famous place of amusement; but I missed my way and got to Chelsea; where I met a man with a wheel-barrow, who not only very civilly showed me the right road, but also conversed with me the whole of the distance which we walked together. And finding, upon enquiry, that I was a subject of the King of Prussia, he desired me, with much eagerness, to relate to him some anecdotes concerning that mighty monarch. At length I arrived at Ranelagh; and having paid my half-crown on entrance, I soon enquired for the garden door, and it was readily shown to me; when, to my infinite astonishment, I found myself in a poor, mean-looking, and ill-lighted garden, where I met but few people. I had not been here long before I was accosted by a young lady, who also was walking there, and who, without ceremony, offered me her arm, asking me why I walked thus solitarily? I now concluded, this could not possibly be the splendid, much-boasted Ranelagh; and so, seeing not far from me a number of people entering a door, I followed them, in hopes either to get out again, or to vary the scene.
But it is impossible to describe, or indeed to conceive, the effect it had on me, when, coming out of the gloom of the garden, I suddenly entered a round building, illuminated by many hundred lamps; the splendour and beauty of which surpassed everything of the kind I had ever seen before. Everything seemed here to be round; above, there was a gallery divided into boxes; and in one part of it an organ with a beautiful choir, from which issued both instrumental and vocal music. All around, under this gallery, are handsome painted boxes for those who wish to take refreshments: the floor was covered with mats, in the middle of which are four high black pillars; within which there are neat fire-places for preparing tea, coffee and punch; and all around, also, there are placed tables, set out with all kinds of refreshments. Within these four pillars, in a kind of magic rotundo, all the beau-monde of London move perpetually round and round.
I at first mixed with this immense concourse of people, of all sexes, ages, countries, and characters; and I must confess, that the incessant change of faces, the far greater number of which were strikingly beautiful, together with the illumination, the extent and majestic splendour of the place, with the continued sound of the music, makes an inconceivably delightful impression on the imagination; and I take the liberty to add, that, on seeing it now for the first time, I felt pretty nearly the same sensations that I remember to have felt when, in early youth, I first read the Fairy Tales.
Being, however, at length tired of the crowd, and being tired also with always moving round and round in a circle, I sat myself down in one of the boxes, in order to take some refreshment, and was now contemplating at my ease this prodigious collection and crowd of a happy, cheerful world, who were here enjoying themselves devoid of care, when a waiter very civilly asked me what refreshments I wished to have, and in a few moments returned with what I asked for. To my astonishment he would accept no money for these refreshments; which I could not comprehend, till he told me that everything was included in the half-crown I had paid at the door; and that I had only to command if I wished for anything more; but that if I pleased, I might give him as a present a trifling douceur. This I gave him with pleasure, as I could not help fancying I was hardly entitled to so much civility and good attention for one single half-crown.
I now went up into the gallery, and seated myself in one of the boxes there; and from thence becoming all at once a grave and moralising spectator, I looked down on the concourse of people who were still moving round and round in the fairy circle; and then I could easily distinguish several stars and other orders of knighthood; French queues and bags contrasted with plain English heads of hair, or professional wigs; old age and youth, nobility and commonalty, all passing each other in the motley swarm. An Englishman who joined me during this my reverie, pointed out to me on my enquiring, princes and lords with their dazzling stars; with which they eclipsed the less brilliant part of the company.
Here some moved round in an eternal circle to see and be seen; there a group of eager connoisseurs had placed themselves before the orchestra and were feasting their ears, while others at the well- supplied tables were regaling the parched roofs of their mouths in a more substantial manner, and again others, like myself, were sitting alone, in the corner of a box in the gallery, making their remarks and reflections on so interesting a scene.
I now and then indulged myself in the pleasure of exchanging, for some minutes, all this magnificence and splendour for the gloom of the garden, in order to renew the pleasing surprise I experienced on my first entering the building. Thus I spent here some hours in the
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