First Impressions on a Tour upon the Continent
First Impressions on a Tour upon the Continent
First Impressions on a Tour upon the Continent / In the summer of 1818 through parts of France, Italy, Switzerland, the borders of Germany, and a part of French Flanders
In perusing the following pages, it will I hope be believed, that they were not originally written with any view to publication: circumstances have since occurred, which induce me to alter my first intention, and to submit them to a more enlarged circle, than that of a few intimate friends, to whose eye alone I had once thought of presenting them.
In committing my First Impressions to so fearful an ordeal as the opinion of the Public, I feel oppressed by a sense of their various imperfections, and by the conviction of their trifling value as a work of the sort; yet I still flatter myself they will be received with forbearance. I had much amusement in attempting this little sketch, and I most sincerely entreat that it may be considered as what it is, a sketch only. My friends will not, and readers in general must not, look for fine writing from the pen of such a novice as myself; nor ought they to expect me (labouring under the twofold disadvantage of sex and inexperience) to narrate with the accuracy and precision of a regular tourist, the history (natural, moral, political, literary and commercial) of all the places we visited: still less, that (in compliment to the lovers of the gastronomic art) I should undertake to give the bill of fare of every table d'hôte or traiteur that we met with in our progress.
Among the many fears which assail me, there is one that recurs to my mind with more pertinacity than the rest: that I may be taxed with having bestowed too warm and glowing a colouring upon some objects of natural beauty and sublimity. Formerly, indeed, I believe I was in danger of leaning towards romance in describing scenes which had particularly impressed my imagination or interested my feelings, and of attempting to imitate, with too rash and unadvised a pencil, the fervour of a Mrs. Radcliffe, although to catch the peculiar charm and spirit of her style I felt to be (for me) impossible. But notwithstanding that I still remember with complacence the time when the vivid imagination of very early youth procured me the enjoyment of a thousand bright and lovely illusions, and cast a sort of fairy splendour over existence which was certainly more bewitching than many realities that I have since met with, I at present feel (as better becomes me) more inclined to worship at the sober shrine of reason and judgment. This, it will be easily conceived, was likely to render my Tour a more faithful picture, than if it had been undertaken some years ago, and I can safely affirm, that I commenced it with a determination to observe all things without prejudice of any sort, not even that of nationality; for prejudice is still the same irrational and unworthy feeling, in every shape and under every name. I was much hurried at the time of writing this Journal; but a greater degree of subsequent leisure has enabled me to add some few notes which may, I hope, amuse and interest my readers. In these I acknowledge with gratitude the occasional assistance of a partial friend.
On Monday, August 9th, we embarked from the Ship inn at Dover, for Calais, on board the Princess Augusta packet. The passage was dreadful, the usual miseries attended us, and at the time I am now writing this, viz. August 13th, we are still suffering from the effects of our voyage. I will not make my readers ill by recalling the disgusting scenes which we there encountered, suffice it to say, that the bare remembrance of them is sufficient to overwhelm my still sick fancy, and to render the very name of the sea appalling to my ears. Upon landing at Calais, however, we contrived to raise our heavy eyes, with a lively feeling of curiosity and interest, to the motley crowd assembled on the beach to view us come on shore. I was pleased with what we are taught to call the habitual politeness of even the lowest order of French people, evinced in the alacrity with which twenty hands were held out to support me in descending from the packet, and in the commiseration which I plainly discovered in many a sun-burnt countenance for my evident indisposition. The hotel (Quillacq's) is excellent, and the attendants remarkably civil and active. The style of furniture is superior to that of the best English hotels; and for a dinner and dessert of the most superior quality, we did not pay more than we should have done at an ordinary inn in our own country for very common fare. The dress of the lower classes here is rather pretty; the circumstance of the women wearing caps, neatly plaited, and tolerably clean, together with the body and petticoat of different colours, gives them a picturesque air: the long gold ear-rings, also (universally worn at this place, consisting of two drops, one suspended at the end of the other), contribute greatly to their graceful effect. The men do not differ much in their appearance from those of the same rank in England, but I think the animation universally displayed in the countenances of the fairer sex particularly striking, and certainly preferable to that want of expression so often to be found among my countrywomen.
When we first started from Calais for Paris, with post-horses, I could not help a little national feeling of complacency upon observing the slovenly, shabby appearance of their harness and accoutrements, compared with those of England. From London to Dover, we had bowled away with ease and rapidity; the carriage seemed to cut through the air with a swift and even motion. Now we crawled and jumbled along, as it pleased the fancy of the horses and driver, upon the latter of which no remonstrance of ours would have had any effect. The costume of the post-boy (who drives three horses abreast, a fat, full-sized beast in the middle, his own rather smaller, and the off horse always a ragged flap-eared pony, looking as if he had just been caught up from a common) is whimsical enough; it is universally the royal livery: a shabby, dirty, short-waisted blue jacket, turned up with crimson, and laced sometimes with silver; boots resembling those of our heavy cavalry, and a thick clubbed pigtail, swinging like a pendulum from beneath a rusty japan hat. It was not till we had reached the distance of Abbeville that we met with the celebrated genuine grosses bottes, whose enormous size put me in mind of my nursery days, when I used to listen to the wonderous tale of the giant-killer and his seven-leagued boots. The lash of the post-boy's whip is thick and knotted, and they have a curious method of cracking it upon passing other carriages, to give notice of their approach: this saves their lungs, and has not an unpleasant effect, the cracking sound being of a peculiar nature, double, as if it said "crac-crac" at each stroke. It is not every post-boy, however, who manages this little implement in the true style. They all carry the badge of their profession upon the left arm (like our watermen), being a silver or metal plate with the arms of France upon it. From Calais to Haut-buisson the country is extremely flat, barren and uninteresting, like the ugliest parts of Wiltshire and Sussex; and the straight line in which all the French roads are cut is tiresome and monotonous to a great degree. The case is not mended even when you advance as far as Marquise, and I began to yawn in melancholy anticipation of a similar prospect for nearly a hundred and eighty miles, which yet remained to be passed ere we reached Paris; but upon coming near Beaupres, we were agreeably disappointed, finding the surface of the country more undulated, and patches of woodlands thinly strewn here and there – it is amazing how greatly the eye is relieved by this change. The hamlets between Haut-buisson and Boulogne much resemble those in the west of England; we were perpetually fancying ourselves in a Somersetshire village as we passed through them. On the road-side it is very common to see large crucifixes, raised to a considerable height, with the figure of our Saviour the size of life. We remarked one in particular, painted black, and the image flesh-colour, with the drapery about the middle gilt; another was inclosed in a small railed space (like a village pound), surrounded by four or five clumsy stone images, which I rather imagine were meant to represent the holy women who assembled round the cross during our Saviour's last moments. As we approached Boulogne, we met several old peasants: they all wore cocked hats, and a suit of decent, sad-coloured clothes, not unlike the dress of our villagers on a Sunday.
The entrance to Boulogne is very picturesque: the fortifications are crumbling a little beneath the touch of time, and the walls are partly overgrown by trees and lichens; but a very little exertion would render it formidable enough, I imagine, to besiegers. We dined here at an inn, where they thought they could not do us a greater favour than by sending up a meal in what they believed to be the English style of cookery; consequently it was neither one thing nor the other, and extremely disagreeable: amongst various delicacies, we had melted salt butter swimming in oil, and quite rancid, brought to table in a tea-cup, and a large dish of tough spongy lumps of veal, which they called veal cutlets. As I sat at the window, which opened upon the principal street, I had an opportunity of remarking a specimen of true French flattery, but I was not quite so pervious to its benign influence as Sterne describes his ladies to have been in the Sentimental Journey. A little ragged urchin of about ten years old rather annoyed me, by jumping up and grinning repeatedly in my face: "Allez, allez, que faites vous là?" said I. "C'est que je veux dire bon jour à Madame!" – "Eh, bien donc, vous l'avez dit à present – allez!" – "Ah! mais que Madame est jolie! Mon Dieu! elle est very prit. Elle me donnera un sous, n'est ce pas?"
It was at Poix that we accidentally met a woman of Normandy upon the road. She was well looking, and the costume both singular and becoming: the snow white cap with a deep plaited border, and a crown half a yard in height, fastened on the forehead by a gold pin, the long drop ear-rings and gold cross in a heavy worked setting, suspended round the throat by a narrow black riband, white handkerchief crossed over the bosom, and a body and petticoat of opposite colours, with full white shift sleeves coming over the elbows, formed a remarkably pretty dress.
I ought to have mentioned before now, that on the road between Marquise and Beaupres we were amused by observing an unfinished tower, erected by Bonaparte some years since, designed to commemorate his intended victory over the English, by invasion – a true chateau en Espagne. Wishing to refresh ourselves by leaving the carriage while the horses were changed, I entered a sort of rustic public-house, where I observed with much interest the interior of a French cottage kitchen and its inhabitants. A group of peasants sat round a wood fire, apparently waiting for their dinner, which, as a brisk lively paysanne took it off the embers to pour into a dish, looked and smelt most temptingly; it consisted of a mess of bread, herbs, and vegetables, stewed in broth: there was a member of this little circle who seemed to watch the progress of the cooking with peculiar delight; I mean a large, powerful, yet playful dog, whose exact breed we did not discover, but we were informed he was English – doubtless he recognized his countrymen! The plates and dishes, utensils, &c. were ranged upon shelves from the top to the bottom of the little kitchen, and equally distributed on all sides, instead of being confined to the vicinity of the dresser, as is generally the case in England; they were chiefly of a coarse white clay, painted in a gaudy and sprawling pattern of red flowers: the old woman of the house apologized for their not being quite so bright as they ought to have been, but said the flies dirtied them sadly; however, every thing looked clean and comfortable. The costume of the men is not becoming; they all wear white coarse cotton night-caps, and smock-frocks dyed with indigo; their features and countenances much resemble those of a similar rank in England. It appears to me that the old peasants alone wear the cocked hat in this part of France: perhaps it is a remnant of the national dress in the time of the ancien regime. The young children, from one to five or six years of age, are (generally speaking) very pretty, and some of them have the drollest little faces I ever saw, dark eyes and marked eyebrows and lashes, full of smiles and roguery; their hair is always allowed to hang at full length upon their shoulders, never being shorn and cropt. Having dined at Boulogne, we proceeded on our journey as far as Samer, intending to sleep the first night at Montreuil; but a direct stop was put to any such project, by the circumstance of a total absence of post-horses; they were all too much fatigued to carry us farther, or were employed in the service of other travellers. Evening was now closing rapidly in, and we were really glad to comply with the urgent solicitations of a rural fille de chambre, who ran out of the little inn at that place (Samer), and assured us we should meet with very comfortable accommodations and be treated with every attention at the Tête de Bœuf, to which she belonged: "Ma foi, messieurs," said the postilion, "vous trouverez que cette demoiselle est bien engageante." When we entered the house (through the kitchen, which much resembled that of a large cottage), we found a neat little parlour, the water ready boiling in the tea-kettle, excellent tea, bread, butter, and cream. The demoiselle or fille de la maison (being the daughter of the hostess), and her assistant (the before-mentioned fille de chambre, in her country costume), flew about, seeming to anticipate all our wishes and wants; every thing was ready in an instant, and all was done, not by the wand of an enchanter, but by the magical influence of good humour and activity, void of pertness, and free from bustle or awkwardness of any sort. La jeune demoiselle was a pretty, modest, well-behaved girl, of sixteen or seventeen, and the maid a merry, good-looking, sprightly lass, some few years older. She appeared to enjoy a joke to her heart, and returned a neat answer to our laughing questions more than once, and this without being at all immodest or impertinent. Mr. B. asked her if she was married: "Pas encore, Monsieur," (said she, looking comically naïve), "mais j'espère toujours!" In short, her manner was something quite peculiar to the French in that class of society. An English maid servant who had kept up this sort of badinage would most probably have been a girl of light character; but servants in France are indulged in a playful familiarity of speech and manner which is amusing to witness, and seldom (if ever) prevents them from treating you with every essential respect and attention. When we started the next morning, the demoiselle earnestly entreated us to breakfast at the Hotel de l'Europe, at Montreuil, which was kept by her sister, a young woman only two years older than herself, who was just married; and both she and her little maid added many a remembrance upon their parts to la chere sœur. Whether this was genuine sisterly affection, or the policy of two innkeepers playing into each other's hands, I really cannot take upon me to determine.
The country between Samer and Montreuil becomes far more agreeable than hitherto; one here sees hills and vales, and waving woods: we passed the forest of Tingri, but did not remark any large trees; they were chiefly of beech, with a great profusion of low underwood. We met many waggons and carts upon the road which are all very different from those used in England, being much narrower, and lighter for the horses: they are usually open at the ends, and the sides resemble two long ladders. The wheat harvest in this part of the country was remarkably fine; oats were plentifully planted, but the crops were thin; the hay, clover, &c. were scarce also, and of inferior quality, owing to the long drought. We observed the women reaping quite as much as the men, and their complexions, poor creatures! were absolutely baked black by the sun. The road now led us though the heart of the forest of Aregnes: it is of large extent, but we observed the same want of fine timber as in that of Tingri; the reason of this is, that the trees are always cut down before they attain their full growth, for the purpose of fuel, as wood fires are universal in France. We admired, however, several "dingles green," and "tangled wood walks wild," which looked very cool and inviting, but I remembered with pride the "giant oaks and twilight glades beneath" of our own New Forest, and this coppice made but a trifling appearance in the comparison. Emerging once more from hence upon the open country, we beheld in the distance a troop of English dragoons (probably from Boulogne) exercising their horses. What a singular spectacle in the midst of a people who so lately ruled the world, but who now are trampled beneath the feet of the stranger! The sight of the English, thus proudly paramount, must necessarily be revolting and galling to them in the highest degree: we should feel quite as bitterly, were it our own fate – more so, perhaps. Let us therefore be just, and make allowance for their natural disgust, while we condemn the vanity and mad ambition which has thus reduced them.
The approach to Montreuil is pretty; the character of the landscape changes, in a sudden and agreeable manner: in place of an uninclosed tract of land, resembling a vast ocean of waving corn, you now see verdant meadows and green pastures, refreshing the tired eye, and wearing the livery of early spring; this effect is produced by the fields lying low, and by the practice of irrigation, which is an admirable substitute for rain.
Montreuil is a fortified town; we passed over drawbridges upon entering and leaving it: the houses are all very ancient, and the whole appearance is picturesque. Here we had a mental struggle between sentiment and good nature, for we wished to breakfast at the same inn where Sterne met with La Fleur, and yet were unwilling to disappoint the hopes of our little demoiselle at Samer, who had recommended her sister's hotel. Good nature carried the day, and we drove to l'Hotel de l'Europe, where we met with most comfortable accommodation, and were pleased by the young hostess's resemblance to her pretty sister, and by her civil, lively manner of receiving us. She sat during our breakfast in a neighbouring apartment, by the kitchen (like the mistress of the mansion in times of yore), working at her needle, surrounded by her hand-maidens, who were occupied in the same employment. They all seemed to be fond of her, and the light laugh of genuine hilarity rang from one to the other as they chatted at their ease. The room in which we breakfasted had (in common with most of the French apartments, which are not paved with brick), a handsome oak floor, waxed and dry rubbed till it was nearly as highly polished as a dining-table; the walls were wainscoted in part, and partly hung with a very amusing paper, having groups of really superior figures stamped upon it, in the manner of black and white chalk drawings upon a blue ground; one space, which had been intended for a looking-glass, was filled up in this style, with a scene from the loves of Cupid and Psyche, executed in a classical manner. You would never see such a thing in any English country inn, and I consider the French in these sort of decorations to possess far better taste than ourselves. As we passed through the cornfields on our way from Montreuil to Nampont, we were saluted by the ramasseurs (gleaners), with a bouquet or two, formed of wheat, platted in a neat and ingenious way, which they threw into the carriage, begging a sous in return, which we bestowed with much good will! Some children also began to sing and dance on the pathway by the road side, and I was surprised by observing that the tune was that of a quadrille, and that the steps were correct. I plainly recognized the en avant and the rigadon. Did this nation come into the world under the influence of a dancing star? I should say yes.
When the horses were changed at Nampont we disturbed the postillion at his dinner, who made his appearance devouring an indescribable something, which we afterwards discovered to be an omelette aux herbes: he deposited this occasionally on the saddle, while adjusting his harness.
The ricks of corn and hay here are constructed rather in a slovenly manner: the French farmers seem to have no idea of the neat method of the English, in this respect.
The road now led us by the celebrated Forest of Crecy, and the image of our gallant Black Prince rose vividly before my mind's eye. At Bernay we entered another peasant's cottage, where we (for the first time since our landing in this country) beheld real and positive beauty. Two lovely girls with clear brown skins (through which glowed a pure and animated carnation), long, dark blue eyes, black fringed lashes, and oval faces, came out with their mother, (a hale, well-looking country woman), and a younger sister of six years old, whose infantine charms were full as great in their way. I asked if the latter was the cadette of the family? Upon which the rural dame, with infinite good humour and readiness, corrected what she termed my mistaken appellation, by informing me that it was only the second child which they called the cadet or cadette[1 - I had reason, however, afterwards to doubt the accuracy of the rural dame's assertion.]: the youngest was le dernier, or la derniere. We had much pleasure in remarking this beautiful trio, and the mother seemed not a little gratified at our evident admiration of her progeny.
The face of the country here again changed for the worse, relapsing into the same flat and monotonous appearance as at first, and it continued thus until within a mile of Abbeville, which is a very fine old town, with a cathedral dedicated to Saint Villefrond. The architecture is very striking, and the interior replete with the usual ornaments of superstition and idolatry: it was built by the English. My companions visited it, while I was resting quietly at the hotel, and saw several precious relics of saints departed. They found three very young devotees there, before a Salvator Mundi, who were much too merry to be very religious! I however met with quite an affecting spectacle when I went in my turn. Two poor paysannes, in the usual picturesque costume, were prostrate before the image of a dead Christ supported by the Virgin. They were praying with an expression of much earnest and sorrowful devotion: one of them had a sick child in her arms, for whom she appeared to invoke the divine compassion: poor little thing, the impression of approaching death was stamped upon its pale face, as it lay motionless, hardly seeming to breathe. The group struck my imagination so forcibly, that I afterwards attempted to sketch it from memory. Surely this religion, with all its faults, is very consolatory; and the faith and piety of these poor women must be confessed to be respectable and praiseworthy, however mingled with the alloy of superstition and ignorance: Calvin himself might have thought as I did, had he seen them.
It was market-day at Abbeville the morning after our arrival, and we were much amused with the various costumes and faces assembled there. We did not, however, see one pretty woman during the whole of our stay, which was two nights and a day. We went one evening to the theatre, and observed the same dearth of beauty among the audience, which chiefly consisted of petites bourgeoises, and officers of the national guards. This theatre is a very inferior one, and full of bad smells. We were assured by our hostess that the company (from Amiens) was very good, and that the piece they were to act (Les Templiers) was thought highly of. We all found it extremely difficult to follow the actors, owing to their unnatural declamatory tones, and the mouthing manner of pronouncing their words: this I believe, however, is universally the case, even with the first tragedians at Paris, Talma not excepted. How brightly do nature's favourite children, O'Neil and Kean, shine in comparison!
The inn at Abbeville, in which we took up our quarters (l'hotel de l'Europe), is most excellent: it is very large and roomy, and must once have been a handsome chateau. There is a delightful garden, which belonged formerly to a convent adjacent: the high walls covered with a profusion of delicious fruit. The trees in other parts of the garden also were bending beneath the weight of the apples and pears, plums, &c. Myrtles and rododendrons (the latter very large and fine) were placed here and there in tubs; and the fig-tree and vine overshadowed our bed-room windows, which looked upon this agreeable scene: the grapes were nearly ripe. The furniture of our bed-rooms was in a very superior style, though I have seen the same sort of things even in the most shabby looking little inns throughout France. Marble must be very common, and of a reasonable price, for we met with it every where, in chimney-pieces, slabs, tables, the tops of drawers, &c. The little washing stand, in our room at Abbeville, was of fine carved mahogany, in the form of an antique altar or tripod; and the bason and ewer, of an equally pure and classic form, were of fine French porcelain.
As I have a great passion for seeing the manners of all ranks of people, I went down into a little room next the kitchen, to chat with the hostess, while she was shelling some haricots blancs for dinner. I found this lady very communicative and civil; and I won her heart I believe, by taking some notice of her daughter, about six years old (her farewell performance in the maternal line), a pretty, gentle, timid little creature, who was busily occupied in putting her doll to bed in a cradle. Several peasants came into the inn-yard as I sat on a bench there: I observed that all the women wore large crosses, of clumsy workmanship, chiefly of white crystal, or glass, and coloured ear-rings, but not so long as those at Calais. We went into a little jeweller's shop, and bought a couple of the silver rings, with curious ornaments, which the peasants usually wear; their sentimental devices were very amusing.
Leaving Abbeville, we saw the common people employed in making ropes by the road-side, and remarked several large fields of hemp, and one or two of flax: the hemp, when cut, is piled up in sheaves, like corn. The country here is verdant, and rather woody: it lies low, and the river Somme winds through it, whose course may be plainly traced to a great distance by the willows which grow upon its banks, reminding me of parts of Berkshire. I ought not to omit mentioning the profusion of apple-trees which grow by the road-side, almost all the way to Paris: the trees were absolutely sinking beneath the weight of the fruit, and one or two of them had quite given way, and lay prostrate, training their rosy burthen in the dust. I am almost ashamed to say that my appetite was so much stronger than my honesty, that I could not be satisfied without tasting them; when I discovered that these fair apples were like those mentioned in the Scriptures, bright and tempting to the eye, but bitter as ashes within! In short, they were not eatable, but entirely of the cider kind, which, as every body knows, are good for nothing in a natural state. There are quantities, however, of eating apples besides, in every cottage garden; and the favourite food of the peasant children appears to be coarse, brown, heavy bread, with these roasted and spread upon it, instead of butter. We saw large piles of roasted apples in the market at Abbeville for this purpose.
The country near Airaines again becomes tiresome, from its barren sameness. Passing a little public house, we observed the following somewhat selfish inscription over the door: "Messieurs! nous sommes quatres hussards, et nous disons, que pour conservir nos amis, il ne faut pas faire de credit." The weather was invariably delightful: a bright sun, with a refreshing cool breeze, and an elasticity and lightness in the air, gave animation and cheerfulness to us all. The sky was generally of a cloudless azure, and the nights almost as light and as free from damps as the days: I never beheld the moon in greater majesty. Airaines is an uninteresting little town, not worth mentioning. Our postillion here was a most ruffian-like, cut-throat looking creature, all over dirt, and having a true jacobinical air. He cast several glances full of sullenness and malignity at my companions; so much so, that I felt very thankful we were in the cheerful haunts of men, and not in the solitary Alps, or the black forests of Germany, with such a conductor.
We dined at Granvilliers, where we were waited upon by a little girl of thirteen, fair and lively enough, with an English bloom. She spoke our language remarkably well, although she had only been six months en pension at Amiens, in order to acquire it! Her instructress was a French woman, which is singular, for she seemed to have given her little pupil a perfect knowledge of our idiom, and an excellent accent.
From Granvilliers to Marseille, the country rapidly improves in beauty. Just beyond the latter place we remarked a very fine old chateau, embosomed in extensive woods: it must formerly have belonged to some of the rich noblesse, and perhaps does so still. Near Marseille, vineyards appeared for the first time. We now approached the town of Beauvais, which had a very pretty effect, surrounded by woods, with the cathedral standing proudly conspicuous over all. It just now occurs to me to mention (though not immediately à-propos to Beauvais), that the houses, in most of the French towns and villages we have yet seen, are numbered, and in a singular method; for the several streets are not allowed their numbers, separately reckoned, but they go on counting from the first house in the place to the last, so that it sometimes happens you might be directed to call upon a friend at number 1000, or 2000, and so on. In Paris they have another peculiarity, for the even numbers, such as 2, 4, 6, 8, &c. are all on one side of the street, and the odd ones, 7, 9, 11, &c. on the other.
Beauvais is a filthy town; the streets narrow and dark, and the houses very ordinary. The diversity of intolerable smells here nearly overset me, and made me wish almost to lose the power of my olfactory nerves. The inn was miserable, dirty, inconvenient, badly attended, and noisy. The only good things we met with were beds; indeed we have been fortunate in that respect every where, and the linen throughout France is excellent and plentiful.
We had (with some difficulty) prevailed upon the awkward Maritornes of a fille de chambre to set a tea-board before us in the little chair-lumbered closet dignified by the name of a salle a manger, and into which three or four doors were perpetually opened sans ceremonie, when our Swiss travelling valet, Christian, came in to tell us of the hard fate of an English family who were just arrived, and whose fatigue obliged them to sleep here; but as the sitting-rooms were all occupied, they were under the necessity of taking their tea in the kitchen, which did not, alas! boast the cheerful and clean appearance of the cottage kitchens I have formerly described. Common politeness, therefore, laid us under the necessity of sending an invitation to these unfortunates, to share our sitting-room, and join us at our tea. Accordingly, in came two ladies; one a fat, comely, masculine dame, of a certain age; the other lean, tall, plain, and some few years younger. In a few minutes they were joined by a large, gruff, sour-looking old gentleman (the husband of the elder lady), who, without attempting any salutation or apology to us, began to express his dissatisfaction at finding tea going forward, 'when you know (said he) I never drink any.' He then settled himself at a small table, and ordered a pâté for his supper. The style of the ladies may easily be guessed by the sort of language in which they described every thing they had seen. The younger, mentioning a tempestuous passage which they had encountered, from Dover to Boulogne, told us that the air smelt quite sulphurus, and the lightning tizzed in the water very frightfully. The old gentleman grumbled himself by degrees into conversation, and we soon discovered that he was a genuine Squire Sullen, and that his companions were fully aware of it. These poor people seemed to dislike almost all they had met with in France; persons, places, travelling, &c. They beheld every thing en noir, and appeared to make mountains of mole-hills. Peace be with them! and a speedy release from each other's society.
We went (although the day was sinking into twilight) to view the magnificent cathedral, which for beauty of architecture I have seldom seen equalled. It is not finished. The different chapels of the saints, and the high altar, were very striking, seen through the solemn gloom of the fine old stained glass windows. Lights were burning before the shrine of one single saint, the patron of the town; they twinkled dimly through the Gothic pillars and tracery, and had a highly picturesque and singular effect[2 - The principal beauty of this cathedral is the choir, and it is also famous for Gobelin tapestry.]. Many peasants were kneeling round the altar at this shrine, and the old woman (our guide) informed us they were praying for rain, now the harvest was got safely in: we asked her if she thought the saint would grant their prayers, and she replied she had no doubt but that he would. Prostrate on the steps of the altars, in the different small chapels of this cathedral, half lost in shadow, were several other devotees, who had come there for the purpose of confessing themselves previous to the great and solemn festival of the assomption de la Sainte Vierge, which was to take place on the morrow. Altogether the spectacle was interesting and imposing, nor could I find any disposition in my heart to ridicule a religion which seemed to be carried on with so much sacred solemnity, and in so awe inspiring a temple. Certainly the absence of pews in the body of a place of public worship is a great advantage, both in a religious and a picturesque point of view. There is something soothing and elevating to the imagination in the idea of so grand a building being open equally, and at all times, to the noble and the peasant, who, it might easily happen, may be seen side by side kneeling on the same steps of the magnificent altar, wrapt in devout adoration of that Being, in whose sight all men are equal. In my opinion (and I have ever since I can remember thought the same) a Gothic cathedral is the most appropriate style of building for a place dedicated to the worship of the Almighty, nor can I look upon the magnificent style in which the Roman catholics adorn their altars, and array their officiating priests, without some feelings of approbation and reverence.
We were right glad to quit Beauvais early the next morning; and, as we advanced towards Beaumont, were delighted with the beauty of its environs. The river Seine has a fine appearance here, although vastly inferior to our Thames; and we remarked a great number of chateaus rising among the woods, on every side: many of them, with their parks and domains, were really superb. Some peasants here attempted to impose upon us as foreigners, in a very disgusting manner, asking a franc for a couple of greengages, and three sous a-piece for pears, which they offered at the windows of our carriage. Our servant was very indignant at their impudence, and sent them off in a hurry, saying, "Dey ought to be shamed of demselves." Upon entering Beaumont, we met the population of the place returning from mass, in their costumes des fêtes. Nothing can well be more sweetly pretty, and delicately neat, than the dress of the women! snowy caps, with deep lace or thin linon borders plaited, white cotton gowns and stockings, gay coloured cotton handkerchiefs crossed smartly over the bosom so as to display the shape to advantage, a large gold cross suspended from the neck by a black narrow riband, or gold chain, with ear-rings, and pin for the forehead of the same material. Some few wore a crimson apron and bib, over the white gown, and others crimson gowns, with aprons of a bright antique sort of blue – a mixture of colours which is for ever to be remarked in the paintings of the old masters, and which has a singularly becoming effect upon the skin. A little worked muslin fischu, with a vandyke bordering, is sometimes added, as a finish to the dress, worn over all.
We now came to St. Denis, and at length beheld Paris! We did not pass the heights of Montmartre, &c. without emotion, when we recollected the memorable contest which so lately took place there between the veteran Blucher and the French! The country in the immediate vicinity of Paris is flat and ugly; but we thought not of nature upon entering this celebrated work and wonder of art. Covered with dust, and followed by the eyes of the multitude, who easily discovered our English physiognomies, we drove up to several hotels, at every one of which we were refused admittance for want of room to accommodate us, there being at this moment no less than thirty thousand English at Paris. At last, we were comfortably housed at the hotel Rivoli (near the jardins des Tuileries), one of the best in the city, where we found abundant civility and attention, and every convenience.
Why should I attempt to describe Paris? It has already and so often been done by abler pens than mine, that the very school girl in a country town in England is perfectly acquainted with all its lions; I shall only say, that we spent so short a time there, and I was so afraid of exhausting my stock of strength, which was fully wanted for the journey to Geneva, &c. that I did not even attempt to see every thing that might have been seen.
The extreme height of the houses, and narrowness of the streets, together with the inconceivable variety of horrible smells in all parts of the town, and the want of pavements for pedestrians, made an extremely unpleasant impression upon me. The gaiety and fancy displayed in the signs over the shops (every one of which has an emblematic device peculiar to itself) were very striking, however, as well as their markets, where Pomona seemed to have lavished the choicest treasures of her horn: indeed I never beheld such a profusion of exquisite fruits and vegetables, the cheapness of which astonished us natives of a more niggard clime not a little. The quantities of cooling and refreshing beverages, sold in every corner of the streets, were also quite a novel thing to us, as well as the circumstance of all the world sitting on hired chairs out of doors, sipping lemonade, or eating ices.
I did not remark, I must confess, that appearance of excessive animation and enjoyment, which I had been led to expect among the Parisians; on the contrary, I saw full as many grave faces as in notre triste pays, as they call it. The Palais Royal I thought a very amusing place; and the fountain in the midst is most beautiful and refreshing, throwing up a stream of water, which in its descent resembles a weeping willow. The fountain of the Lions, also, is still superior, and I think them among the most agreeable objects in Paris. The Boulevards are an airy, cheerful situation, and the moving scene constantly going on there put me in mind of a perpetual fair.
The gentlemen went to the Opera Françoise, where the splendour of the ballet, and the superiority of the dancing, struck them with astonishment and admiration. They visited Tivoli (which did not appear to them to be so good a thing of the sort as our Vauxhall); and I went one evening to the Beaujon, and les Montaignes Russes, in les Champs Elysées. Both the latter, however, were shut; that is, no sliding in the cars was going on, for there had been so many fatal accidents lately, that the rage for this amusement was over. I did not like les Champs Elysées so well as our Kensington Gardens; the want of turf was unpardonable in our English eyes. La place de Louis XV., opposite the Tuileries, where the unfortunate Louis XVI. was executed, is very superb in itself, as well as interesting from its melancholy legends. I was rather disappointed in les jardins des Tuileries, admiring the fine orange-trees in tubs there more than the gardens themselves. We saw the remains of that horrible monument of cruelty, injustice, and despotism, the Bastile; and drove past the entrance to the celebrated Jardin des plantes, which we did not enter, as I had already seen a very fine botanical collection at Kew, and a much superior set of wild beasts at Exeter Change.
To the Louvre, however, even in its present state of diminished splendour, no words of mine can do justice; its superb gallery far exceeded even my expectations, which had been highly excited by all I had ever heard upon the subject: to see the paintings properly, one ought to go there every day for a week. We had only time particularly to distinguish several landscapes of Claude Lorraine, beautiful beyond all idea, and the set of historical pictures illustrative of the life of Henri quatre, by Rubens: I was much struck with the fine countenance and person of the gallant monarch. A Saint Sebastian also, by Guido, rivetted my delighted attention. A friend of ours has painted an exquisite miniature copy of it, with which I remember being greatly struck in England, but it was not until I had seen the original that I was fully aware of its extraordinary merit. The gallery itself is a most magnificent thing; it really is quite a long fatiguing walk from one end of it to the other; and the crowds of people of all ranks who are constantly to be met with there render it altogether one of the most curious and interesting spectacles in Europe.
I was much amused with the shops, particularly the confectioners; the ingenious and endless devices into which they form their delicious bon bons and dried fruits are really surprising, and we purchased specimens of their different fancies, to astonish our English friends upon our return home. The vendeurs des tisannes (cooling beverages, something like eau de groseilles, or lemonade), going about with their stock in trade strapped to their backs like walking tea-urns, were curious figures. The vessel which holds the tisanne is not unlike a long violin case in shape, with a spout to it; it finishes at the top like a Chinese pagoda, and is sometimes covered with little jingling bells, and hung round with pretty silver mugs. The dress of the petites bourgeoises is quite distinct from that of every other rank of person; it is rather smart and neat than otherwise, but not at all picturesque.
I do not remember to have heard a single note of agreeable music while I was in Paris, except that which regaled our ears in an opposite hotel (belonging to Count S.) the second evening of our arrival. This nobleman (of an Irish family, but now a naturalized Frenchman) gave a grand dinner (in a temporary banqueting-room, built out upon the leads of the house à la troisieme étage) to the English; and, during the entertainment, his band of musicians played several pieces, amongst others the celebrated national air, still dear to the French, of Vive Henri quatre; they then attempted God save the King, but made a dreadful business of it, which I attribute less to professional ignorance than to the impossibility of their being able to feel it, or to enter into the spirit of it con amore! The ballad singers (at least all of them that we had an opportunity of hearing) have harsh wiry voices and nasal tones; the latter circumstance, however, is almost inseparable from their language. I could not but be diverted with the espièglerie of the fille de chambre who attended me at the hotel de Rivoli: she was ugly, but shrewd, and very active and civil. I asked her if Count S. was a young man; upon which she hopped round the room in the most ridiculous manner possible, imitating the action of a decrepit old person. Jeune! (said she) oh mon Dieu, que non! c'est un vieux Monsieurqui va toujours comme cela! I inquired if she knew why he gave this fête. Oh, je n'en sais rien, mais, le pauvre homme, il n'a que tres peu de temps encore à restre dans ce monde ci, et je crois qu'il aime à faire parler de lui, avant de partir pour l'autre.
As to the personal charms of the women here, they appeared to me to be very mediocre; we remarked three or four pretty faces, but not one that had any claim to superior beauty. The people were all civil to us, except one woman, who kept a little shop for bijouterie in le Palais Royal: nothing could be more pert and sulky than her language and manner; she looked as if she hated us and our nation altogether. We heard reports from other English people residing here, that it was very common for the lower orders of French to treat us with marked incivility and dislike; indeed that they should do so, under the present circumstances, ought not to be wondered at. The bronze statue of Henri quatre was erecting during our stay; we passed by the spot (close to the Pont Neuf), and beheld a mob assembled around it, with gens d'armes on duty: we did not see the statue itself, it being at that moment covered with a purple mantle, studded with golden fleurs de lis. The various political parties speak differently of this affair: some say the brass of the statue will soon be converted into mortars, and others, that it is built upon a rock, and will stand for ever! The bridges appeared to us all vastly inferior to ours in London; that of Waterloo, in the Strand, makes them shrink into utter insignificance in comparison! but the palaces and public buildings are, on the contrary, infinitely finer than our own. Nothing can be more magnificent, or in a more noble taste! I was very much amused by the novelty (totally unknown to ladies in England) of dining at a restaurateur's. Curiosity induced me to accompany Mr. Baillie, and our friend, to Véry's, and the next day to Beauvilliers', two of the most distinguished in the profession in Paris; and the excellence of the cookery almost awakened (or rather I should say created) in me a spirit of gourmandise. There were a few other ladies present, which was a sort of sanction for me. A Russian or Prussian officer (by his appearance) sat at one of the little tables next to us, at Beauvilliers', and very nearly made me sick by the sight of his long, thick, greasy moustaches, and his disgusting habit of spitting every instant upon the floor. I observed that the French people eat their vegetables (always dressed with white sauce) after the meat, &c. and as a sort of dessert or bonne bouche even after they have finished their sweet dishes: to us this seems an odd custom. We took our coffee and liqueurs at a Café near the Tuileries, and then, while the gentlemen went to the opera, I returned to the hotel, to go on with my journal.
One morning we devoted to an expedition to the interesting cemetery of Père de la Chaise, the celebrated confessor of Louis quatorze. The house in which he resided stands in the midst, and is preserved as a sacred ruin. Nothing can be more striking, and affecting to the imagination, than this place of burial; it is of considerable extent, with a well managed relief of shade and inequality of ground. The tombs and graves are kept in the highest order and repair, and almost all of them are planted with shrubs and fragrant flowers, mingled with the mournful cypress and yew: the acacia tree also is planted here in great abundance, and the wild vine trails its broad leaves and graceful clusters over many of the monuments. We remarked several beautiful tombs; amongst others, a light Gothic temple, which contains the mouldering remains of Abelard and Eloise, brought from the former place of their interment to the present appropriate and lovely situation: their statues lie side by side carved in stone, in their religious habits, their heads resting on cushions, and his feet upon a dog. All this did him too much honour; as he was the most selfish tyrannical lover in the world, and quite unworthy, in my opinion, of the attachment of the unfortunate Eloise. Several of the inscriptions on humbler tombs were affecting from their brevity and simplicity; upon that of a man in the prime of life we read the following short sentence: A la memoire de mon meilleur ami—c'étoit mon frere! On another, Cigit P – N – : son epouse perd en lui le plus tendre de ses amis, et ses enfans un modele de vertu. And upon one raised by its parents to the memory of a child, ci git notre fils cheri; a little crown of artificial orange blossoms, half blown, was in a glass-case at his head. We observed many garlands of fresh and sweet flowers, hung upon the graves; every thing marked the existence of tender remembrance and regret: it appears to me as if in this place, alone, the dead were never forgotten. I ought, however, to make honourable mention of a similar custom in Wales. A woman was kneeling upon one of the tombs (which was overgrown by fragrant shrubs), weeping bitterly, and I felt a great inclination to bear her company: the last roses of summer were still lingering here, and she was gathering one as we passed. There is a remarkably fine view of Paris from the mount on which the house of Père de la Chaise stands. I said it was preserved as a sacred ruin, but I, as a protestant, could not look with much veneration upon it, as the residence of the instigator of the revocation of the edict of Nantes; that foul stain upon the character, and disgrace to the understanding of le grand Louis, which will ever be remembered with indignation by every candid and liberal Christian. But Protestantism has likewise its bigots, almost as remorseless, and equally blind! witness some sentiments discovered in the discourses of furious Calvin, and John Knox; witness the actions of Cromwell, and his fanatical roundheads; witness (alas! in our own days), the uncharitable and horribly presumptuous principles and tenets of the Methodists and Saints! But this is another digression: I return to the view of Paris. It is, as I said before, extremely fine; you have a bird's eye prospect of the whole city, with the proud towers of Notre Dame eminently conspicuous, and the gilded dome of l'hôpital des Invalides, glittering in the sun. A word (only one word) relative to the French custom of gilding so much and so gaudily; it quite spoils the dignified effect of some of their noblest works of architecture, and puts one in mind of a child who prefers the showy ostentation of gold leaf upon his gingerbread to the more wholesome taste of its own plain and unornamented excellence. I have met with English people, however, who are vastly delighted with this false style of decoration.
Before I take leave of Paris, I ought in justice to acknowledge that I have not had an opportunity of enjoying its chief and proudest attraction; I mean its best society. Our time did not allow of any intercourse of this nature, and I regretted it much, because I have always heard (and from those most capable of judging rightly) that the tone of conversation in the upper circles here is remarkably attractive and delightful; and that lovers of good taste, high breeding, social enjoyment, and literary pursuits, would find themselves in Paris en pays de connoissance. Deprived of this gratification, we felt (at least Mr. B. and myself) no sort of reluctance or regret when the day of our departure arrived: for our friend Mr. W. I will not so confidently answer; he had been in Paris twice before, had met with many agreeable people there, and consequently felt more at home among them.
As for me in particular, I can only say that Paris made no great impression upon my fancy, and none at all upon my feelings; (always excepting the Louvre, the cimetiere of Père de la Chaise, and one or two other interesting spectacles): and that I was, as I before observed, so overpowered by its inconceivably filthy effluvia, and the wretched inconvenience of its streets (both for walking and going in a carriage), that I rather felt an exhilaration of spirits than otherwise when we finally bade it adieu.
On the morning of our departure it rained a good deal, and our postillion had taken care to fence himself against the weather; for he had disguised himself in a long shaggy dress of goats' skins, bearing a very accurate resemblance to the prints of Robinson Crusoe. We observed this done by others, more than once. The horses had little bells fastened to their harness; which practice is very common, we were told, both in France and Italy. All the roads in the former, and most of them in the latter country, are good; wide, smooth, and generally paved in the middle, which has a noisy effect, but it renders the draught for horses much easier than the road, in wet weather, or when they work in very heavy carriages. Avenues are general; they improve the face of the country when seen at a distance, but are monotonous and tiresome in themselves. I used formerly to admire roads leading though avenues, but it is possible to have too much of this. Between Villejuif and Fromenteau we observed a pillar on the left with the following chivalrous inscription; Dieu, le Roi, les Dames! I was going to rejoice in this apparent proof of the gallant spirit of the nation, but I recollected the celebrated words of Burke, in his letter upon the French revolution, and sighed as I involuntarily repeated, "The age of chivalry is no more."
Just beyond Fromenteau, the country is really fine: woods, villages, chateaus were in abundance, and the river Seine appeared to much advantage; we remarked two stone fountains, one on each side of the road, with the fleurs de lis engraved upon them, built by Louis XV. The French mile-stones here have quite a classical air, resembling broken columns; they are not properly mile-stones, but serve to mark the half leagues.
At Essone, where we changed horses, the postillion came out in a white night-cap (or rather a cap which once had boasted that title of purity), loose blue trowsers reaching scantily below the knee, and sans shoes or stockings of any sort: upon seeing that his services were wanted, he threw on an old japan hat, jumped into his jack boots, and clawing up the reins, drove off with an air of as much importance and self satisfaction as the smartest-clad post-boy on the Epsom road during the race week.
In the stubble fields near Fontainbleau, we observed great quantities of partridges. The shepherds here sleep in little moveable houses or huts, upon wheels, somewhat inferior to a good English dog-kennel. At Chailly, we saw the Virgin Mary looking out of a round hole in the wall, and not at all more dignified in her appearance than the well-known hero of Coventry. We now exchanged our driver for a spirited old gentleman, who frolicked along beneath the burthen of threescore or more, seeming to bid defiance to the whole collection of pains and HH's (vide Kemble's classical pronunciation). Perhaps, reader, I do not make my meaning perfectly clear; but that does not signify, the first authors write in this way; and besides, I know what I mean myself, which is not always the case even with them. We remarked in the course of our journey a great number of similar merry Nestors, and found, almost invariably, that they drove us faster, better, and in a superior style altogether to their younger competitors. I suppose they have a sort of pride in thus displaying their activity, which a middle-aged man does not feel.
We entered the superb forest of Fontainbleau just as the day began to decline; the sombre gloom and peculiar smell of the leaves were very agreeable. I have ever loved forest scenery, and would prefer a constant residence in its vicinity to that of mountain, lake, or plain: the trees here were chiefly beech, mixed with silver poplars, birch, and a few oaks. How was it possible to thread these mazes without thinking of Henri quatre, and his famous hunting adventure in the miller's hut? I almost expected to see the stately shade of the noble monarch start from each shadowy dell. Methought the sullen, yet faithful Sully, emerged from the dark glades on the opposite side, seeking in vain for the benighted sovereign; and venting his affectionate inquietudes in the language of apparent severity and ill humour. I thought – but it does not matter what more I thought, in which opinion I dare say my reader will fully agree with me. We arrived at our inn (la Galère), and well did it deserve that name, for never poor slave chained to the bench and oar suffered more severely from the merciless lash of his task-master than I did from the tormenting tyranny of the bugs, which swarmed in this detestable place. There was no sitting-room immediately ready for our reception, so we sat down in the old, lofty, smoke-stained kitchen, and amused ourselves with observing the progress of our supper, in company with a very sociable little dog, (who took a great fancy to me,) and Monsieur le Chef, an appropriate name, invariably given to the cook in most parts of the Continent.
When we retired to rest for the night, no words can express the disgust which assailed us: finding it impossible to remain in bed, I was obliged to lie in the middle of the room, upon six hard, worm-eaten, wooden chairs, whose ruthless angles ran into my wearied frame, and rendered every bone sore before morning; but even this did not save me, for the vermin ascended by the legs of the chairs, and really almost eat me up, as the rats did Southey's Bishop Hatto[3 - Vide Southey's Miscellaneous Poems.]. My imagination for several days after this adventure was so deeply saturated with their nauseous idea, that every object brought them in some way or other before me.