Travels in England in 1782, by Karl Philipp Moritz

CHAPTER XIII.

London, 15th July, 1782.

The journey from Northampton to London I can again hardly call a journey, but rather a perpetual motion, or removal from one place to another, in a close box; during your conveyance you may, perhaps, if you are in luck, converse with two or three people shut up along with you.

But I was not so fortunate, for my three travelling companions were all farmers, who slept so soundly that even the hearty knocks of the head with which they often saluted each other, did not awake them.

Their faces, bloated and discoloured by their copious use of ale and brandy, looked, as they lay before me, like so many lumps of dead flesh. When now and then they woke, sheep, in which they all dealt, was the first and last topic of their conversation. One of the three, however, differed not a little from the other two; his face was sallow and thin, his eyes quite sunk and hollow, his long, lank fingers hung quite loose, and as if detached from his hands. He was, in short, the picture of avarice and misanthropy. The former he certainly was; for at every stage he refused to give the coachman the accustomed perquisite, which every body else paid; and every farthing he was forced to part with, forced a “G-d d — n” from his heart. As he sat in the coach, he seemed anxious to shun the light; and so shut up every window that he could come at, except when now and then I opened them to take a slight view of the charms of the country through which we seemed to be flying, rather than driving.

Our road lay through Newport Pagnell, Dunstable, St. Albans, Barnet, to Islington, or rather to London itself. But these names are all I know of the different places.

At Dunstable, if I do not mistake, we breakfasted; and here, as is usual, everything was paid for in common by all the passengers; as I did not know this, I ordered coffee separately; however, when it came, the three farmers also drank of it, and gave me some of their tea.

They asked me what part of the world I came from; whereas we in Germany generally inquired what countryman a person is.

When we had breakfasted, and were again seated in the coach, all the farmers, the lean one excepted, seemed quite alive again, and now began a conversation on religion and on politics.

One of them brought the history of Samson on the carpet, which the clergyman of his parish, he said, had lately explained, I dare say very satisfactorily; though this honest farmer still had a great many doubts about the great gate which Samson carried away, and about the foxes with the firebrands between their tails. In other respects, however, the man seemed not to be either uninformed or sceptical.

They now proceeded to relate to each other various stories, chiefly out of the Bible; not merely as important facts, but as interesting narratives, which they would have told and listened to with equal satisfaction had they met them anywhere else. One of them had only heard these stories from his minister in the church, not being able to read them himself.

The one that sat next to him now began to talk about the Jews of the Old Testament, and assured us that the present race were all descended from those old ones. “Ay, and they are all damned to all eternity!” said his companion, as coolly and as confidently as if at that moment he had seen them burning in the bottomless pit.

We now frequently took up fresh passengers, who only rode a short distance with us, and then got out again. Among others was a woman from London, whose business was the making of brandy. She entertained us with a very circumstantial narrative of all the shocking scenes during the late riot in that city. What particularly struck me was her saying that she saw a man, opposite to her house, who was so furious, that he stood on the wall of a house that was already half burnt down, and there, like a demon, with his own hands pulled down and tossed about the bricks which the fire had spared, till at length he was shot, and fell back among the flames.

At length we arrived at London without any accident, in a hard rain, about one o’clock. I had been obliged to pay sixteen shillings beforehand at Northampton, for the sixty miles to London. This the coachman seemed not to know for certain, and therefore asked me more earnestly if I was sure I had paid: I assured him I had, and he took my word.

I looked like a crazy creature when I arrived in London; notwithstanding which, Mr. Pointer, with whom I left my trunk, received me in the most friendly manner, and desired me during dinner to relate to him my adventures.

The same evening I called on Mr. Leonhardi, who, as I did not wish to hire a lodging for the few days I might be obliged to wait for a fair wind, got me into the Freemasons’ Tavern. And here I have been waiting these eight days, and the wind still continues contrary for Hambro’; though I do now most heartily wish for a fair wind, as I can no longer make any improvement by my stay, since I must keep myself in constant readiness to embark whenever the wind changes; and therefore I dare go no great distance.

Everybody here is now full of the Marquis of Rockingham’s death, and the change of the ministry in consequence of it. They are much displeased that Fox has given up his seat; and yet it is singular, they still are much concerned, and interest themselves for him, as if whatever interested him were the interest of the nation. On Tuesday there was a highly important debate in Parliament. Fox was called on to assign the true reasons of his resignation before the nation. At eleven o’clock the gallery was so full that nobody could get a place, and the debates only began at three, and lasted this evening till ten.

About four Fox came. Every one was full of expectation. He spoke at first with great vehemence, but it was observed that he gradually became more and more moderate, and when at length he had vindicated the step he had taken, and showed it to be, in every point of view, just, wise, and honourable, he added, with great force and pathos, “and now I stand here once more as poor as ever I was.” It was impossible to hear such a speech and such declarations unmoved.

General Conway then gave his reasons why he did not resign, though he was of the same political principles as Mr. Fox and Mr. Burke; he was of the same opinion with them in regard to the independency of America; the more equal representation of the people in Parliament, and the regulations necessary in Ireland; but he did not think the present minister, Lord Shelburne, would act contrary to those principles. As soon as he did, he should likewise resign, but not before.

Burke now stood up and made a most elegant though florid speech, in praise of the late Marquis of Rockingham. As he did not meet with sufficient attention, and heard much talking and many murmurs, he said, with much vehemence and a sense of injured merit, “This is not treatment for so old a member of Parliament as I am, and I will be heard!”— on which there was immediately a most profound silence. After he had said much more in praise of Rockingham, he sub-joined, that with regard to General Conway’s remaining in the ministry, it reminded him of a fable he had heard in his youth, of a wolf, who, on having clothed himself as a sheep, was let into the fold by a lamb, who indeed did say to him, “Where did you get those long nails, and those sharp teeth, mamma?” But nevertheless let him in; the consequence of which was he murdered the whole flock. Now with respect to General Conway, it appeared to him, just as though the lamb certainly did perceive the nails and teeth of the wolf, but notwithstanding, was so good-tempered to believe that the wolf would change his nature, and become a lamb. By this, he did not mean to reflect on Lord Shelburne: only of this he was certain, that the present administration was a thousand times worse than that under Lord North (who was present).

When I heard Mr. Pitt speak for the first time, I was astonished that a man of so youthful an appearance should stand up at all; but I was still more astonished to see how, while he spoke, he engaged universal attention. He seems to me not to be more than one-and-twenty. This same Pitt is now minister, and even Chancellor of the Exchequer.

It is shocking to a foreigner, to see what violent satires on men, rather than on things, daily appear in the newspapers, of which they tell me there are at least a dozen, if not more, published every day. Some of them side with the Ministry, and still more I think with the Opposition. A paper that should be quite impartial, if that were possible, I apprehend would be deemed so insipid as to find no readers. No longer ago than yesterday, it was mentioned in one of these newspapers, that when Fox, who is fallen, saw so young a man as Pitt made the minister, he exclaimed with Satan, who, in “Paradise Lost,” on perceiving the man approved by God, called out, “O hateful sight!”

On Thursday the king went with the usual solemnity to prorogue the Parliament for a stated time. But I pass this over as a matter that has already been so often described.

I have also, during this period, become acquainted with Baron Grothaus, the famous walker, to whom I had also a letter of recommendation from Baron Groote of Hambro’. He lives in Chesterfield House, not far from General Paoli, to whom he has promised to introduce me, if I have time to call on him again.

I have suffered much this week from the violent cough I brought with me from the hole in Derbyshire, so that I could not for some days stir; during which time Messrs. Schonborn and Leonhardi have visited me very attentively, and contributed much to my amendment.

I have been obliged to relate as much about my journey out of London here as I probably shall in Germany of all England in general. To most people to whom I give an account of my journey, what I have seen is quite new. I must, however, here insert a few remarks on the elocution, or manner of speaking, of this country, which I had forgot before to write to you.

English eloquence appears to me not to be nearly so capable of so much variety and diffusion as ours is. Add to this, in their Parliamentary speeches, in sermons in the pulpit, in the dialogues on the stage; nay, even in common conversation, their periods at the end of a sentence are always accompanied by a certain singular uniform fall of the voice, which, notwithstanding its monotony has in it something so peculiar, and so difficult, that I defy any foreigner ever completely to acquire it. Mr. Leonhardi in particular seemed to me, in some passages which he repeated out of Hamlet, to have learnt to sink his voice in the true English manner; yet any one might know from his speaking that he is not an Englishman. The English place the accent oftener on the adjectives than they do on the substantive, which, though undoubtedly the most significant word in any sentence, has frequently less stress laid on it than you hear laid on mere epithets. On the stage they pronounce the syllables and words extremely distinct, so that at the theatres you may always gain most instruction in English elocution and pronunciation.

This kingdom is remarkable for running into dialect: even in London they are said to have one. They say, for example, “it a’nt” instead of “it is not;” “I don’t know,” for “I do not know;” “I don’t know him,” for “I do not know him;” the latter of which phrases has often deceived me, as I mistook a negative for an affirmative.

The word “sir,” in English, has a great variety of significations. With the appellation of “sir,” an Englishman addresses his king, his friend, his foe, his servant, and his dog; he makes use of it when asking a question politely; and a member of Parliament, merely to fill up a vacancy, when he happens to be at a loss. “Sir?” in an inquiring tone of voice, signifies what is your desire? “Sir!” in a humble tone — gracious Sovereign! —“Sir!” in surly tone, a box on the ear at your service! To a dog it means a good beating. And in a speech in Parliament, accompanied by a pause, it signifies, I cannot now recollect what it is I wish to say farther.

I do not recollect to have heard any expression repeated oftener than this, “Never mind it!” A porter one day fell down, and cut his head on the pavement: “O, never mind it!” said an Englishman who happened to be passing by. When I had my trunk fetched from the ship in a boat, the waterman rowed among the boats, and his boy, who stood at the head of his boat, got a sound drubbing, because the others would not let him pass: “O, never mind it!” said the old one, and kept rowing on.

The Germans who have been here any time almost constantly make use of Anglicisms, such as “es will nicht thun” (it will not do), instead of es ist nicht hinlanglich (it is not sufficient), and many such. Nay, some even say, “Ich habe es nicht geminded” (I did not mind it), instead of ich habe mich nicht daran errinnert, oder daran gedacht (I did not recollect it, or I did not think of it).

You can immediately distinguish Englishmen when they speak German, by their pronunciation according to the English manner; instead of Ich befinde mich wohl, they say Ich befirmich u’hol (I am very well), the w being as little noticed as u quickly sounded.

I have often heard, when directing any one in the street, the phrase, “Go down the street as far as ever you can go, and ask anybody.” Just as we say, “Every child can direct you.”

I have already noticed in England they learn to write a much finer hand than with us. This probably arises from their making use of only one kind of writing, in which the letters are all so exact that you would take it for print.

In general, in speaking, reading, in their expressions, and in writing, they seem, in England, to have more decided rules than we have. The lowest man expresses himself in proper phrases, and he who publishes a book, at least writes correctly, though the matter be ever so ordinary. In point of style, when they write, they seem to be all of the same country, profession, rank, and station.

The printed English sermons are beyond all question the best in the world; yet I have sometimes heard sad, miserable stuff from their pulpits. I have been in some churches where the sermons seem to have been transcribed or compiled from essays and pamphlets; and the motley composition, after all, very badly put together. It is said that there are a few in London, by whom some of the English clergy are supposed to get their sermons made for money.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09