Travels in England in 1782, by Karl Philipp Moritz

CHAPTER VI.

London, June 17th, 1782.

I have now been pretty nearly all over London, and, according to my own notions, have now seen most of the things I was most anxious to see. Hereafter, then, I propose to make an excursion into the country; and this purpose, by the blessing of God, I hope to be able to carry into effect in a very few days, for my curiosity is here almost satiated. I seem to be tired and sick of the smoke of these sea-coal fires, and I long, with almost childish impatience, once more to breathe a fresher and clearer air.

It must, I think, be owned, that upon the whole, London is neither so handsomely nor so well built as Berlin is; but then it certainly has far more fine squares. Of these there are many that in real magnificence and beautiful symmetry far surpass our Gens d’Armes Markt, our Denhoschen and William’s Place. The squares or quadrangular places contain the best and most beautiful buildings of London; a spacious street, next to the houses, goes all round them, and within that there is generally a round grass-plot, railed in with iron rails, in the centre of which, in many of them, there is a statue, which statues most commonly are equestrian and gilt. In Grosvenor Square, instead of this green plot or area, there is a little circular wood, intended, no doubt, to give one the idea of rus in urbe.

One of the longest and pleasantest walks I have yet taken is from Paddington to Islington; where to the left you have a fine prospect of the neighbouring hills, and in particular of the village of Hampstead, which is built on one of them; and to the right the streets of London furnish an endless variety of interesting views. It is true that it is dangerous to walk here alone, especially in the afternoon and in an evening, or at night, for it was only last week that a man was robbed and murdered on this very same road. But I now hasten to another and a more pleasing topic:

The British Museum.

I have had the happiness to become acquainted with the Rev. Mr. Woide; who, though well known all over Europe to be one of the most learned men of the age, is yet, if possible, less estimable for his learning than he is for his unaffected goodness of heart. He holds a respectable office in the museum, and was obliging enough to procure me permission to see it, luckily the day before it was shut up. In general you must give in your name a fortnight before you can he admitted. But after all, I am sorry to say, it was the rooms, the glass cases, the shelves, or the repository for the books in the British Museum which I saw, and not the museum itself, we were hurried on so rapidly through the apartments. The company, who saw it when and as I did, was various, and some of all sorts; some, I believe, of the very lowest classes of the people, of both sexes; for, as it is the property of the nation, every one has the same right (I use the term of the country) to see it that another has. I had Mr. Wendeborn’s book in my pocket, and it, at least, enabled me to take a somewhat more particular notice of some of the principal things; such as the Egyptian mummy, a head of Homer, &c. The rest of the company, observing that I had some assistance which they had not, soon gathered round me; I pointed out to them as we went along, from Mr. Wendeborn’s German book, what there was most worth seeing here. The gentleman who conducted us took little pains to conceal the contempt which he felt for my communications when he found out that it was only a German description of the British Museum I had got. The rapidly passing through this vast suite of rooms, in a space of time little, if at all, exceeding an hour, with leisure just to cast one poor longing look of astonishment on all these stupendous treasures of natural curiosities, antiquities, and literature, in the contemplation of which you could with pleasure spend years, and a whole life might be employed in the study of them — quite confuses, stuns, and overpowers one. In some branches this collection is said to be far surpassed by some others; but taken altogether, and for size, it certainly is equalled by none. The few foreign divines who travel through England generally desire to have the Alexandrian manuscript shewn them, in order to be convinced with their own eyes whether the passage, “These are the three that bear record, &c.,” is to be found there or not.

The Rev. Mr. Woide lives at a place called Lisson Street, not far from Paddington; a very village-looking little town, at the west end of London. It is quite a rural and pleasant situation; for here I either do, or fancy I do, already breathe a purer and freer air than in the midst of the town. Of his great abilities, and particularly in oriental literature, I need not inform you; but it will give you pleasure to hear that he is actually meditating a fac-simile edition of the Alexandrian MS. I have already mentioned the infinite obligations I lie under to this excellent man for his extraordinary courtesy and kindness.

The Theatre in the Haymarket.

Last week I went twice to an English play-house. The first time “The Nabob” was represented, of which the late Mr. Foote was the author, and for the entertainment, a very pleasing and laughable musical farce, called “The Agreeable Surprise.” The second time I saw “The English Merchant:” which piece has been translated into German, and is known among us by the title of “The Scotchwoman,” or “The Coffee-house.” I have not yet seen the theatres of Covent Garden and Drury Lane, because they are not open in summer. The best actors also usually spend May and October in the country, and only perform in winter.

A very few excepted, the comedians whom I saw were certainly nothing extraordinary. For a seat in the boxes you pay five shillings, in the pit three, in the first gallery two, and in the second or upper gallery, one shilling. And it is the tenants in this upper gallery who, for their shilling, make all that noise and uproar for which the English play-houses are so famous. I was in the pit, which gradually rises, amphitheatre-wise, from the orchestra, and is furnished with benches, one above another, from the top to the bottom. Often and often, whilst I sat there, did a rotten orange, or pieces of the peel of an orange, fly past me, or past some of my neighbours, and once one of them actually hit my hat, without my daring to look round, for fear another might then hit me on my face.

All over London as one walks, one everywhere, in the season, sees oranges to sell; and they are in general sold tolerably cheap, one and even sometimes two for a halfpenny; or, in our money, threepence. At the play-house, however, they charged me sixpence for one orange, and that noways remarkably good.

Besides this perpetual pelting from the gallery, which renders an English play-house so uncomfortable, there is no end to their calling out and knocking with their sticks till the curtain is drawn up. I saw a miller’s, or a baker’s boy, thus, like a huge booby, leaning over the rails and knocking again and again on the outside, with all his might, so that he was seen by everybody, without being in the least ashamed or abashed. I sometimes heard, too, the people in the lower or middle gallery quarrelling with those of the upper one. Behind me, in the pit, sat a young fop, who, in order to display his costly stone buckles with the utmost brilliancy, continually put his foot on my bench, and even sometimes upon my coat, which I could avoid only by sparing him as much space from my portion of the seat as would make him a footstool. In the boxes, quite in a corner, sat several servants, who were said to be placed there to keep the seats for the families they served till they should arrive; they seemed to sit remarkably close and still, the reason of which, I was told, was their apprehension of being pelted; for if one of them dares but to look out of the box, he is immediately saluted with a shower of orange peel from the gallery.

In Foote’s “Nabob” there are sundry local and personal satires which are entirely lost to a foreigner. The character of the Nabob was performed by a Mr. Palmer. The jett of the character is, this Nabob, with many affected airs and constant aims at gentility, is still but a silly fellow, unexpectedly come into the possession of immense riches, and therefore, of course, paid much court to by a society of natural philosophers, Quakers, and I do not know who besides. Being tempted to become one of their members, he is elected, and in order to ridicule these would-be philosophers, but real knaves, a fine flowery fustian speech is put into his mouth, which he delivers with prodigious pomp and importance, and is listened to by the philosophers with infinite complacency. The two scenes of the Quakers and philosophers, who, with countenances full of imaginary importance, were seated at a green table with their president at their head while the secretary, with the utmost care, was making an inventory of the ridiculous presents of the Nabob, were truly laughable. One of the last scenes was best received: it is that in which the Nabob’s friend and school-fellow visit him, and address him without ceremony by his Christian name; but to all their questions of “Whether he does not recollect them? Whether he does not remember such and such a play; or such and such a scrape into which they had fallen in their youth?” he uniformly answers with a look of ineffable contempt, only, “No sir!” Nothing can possibly be more ludicrous, nor more comic.

The entertainment, “The Agreeable Surprise,” is really a very diverting farce. I observed that, in England also, they represent school-masters in ridiculous characters on the stage, which, though I am sorry for, I own I do not wonder at, as the pedantry of school-masters in England, they tell me, is carried at least as far as it is elsewhere. The same person who, in the play, performed the school-fellow of the Nabob with a great deal of nature and original humour, here acted the part of the school-master: his name is Edwin, and he is, without doubt, one of the best actors of all that I have seen.

This school-master is in love with a certain country girl, whose name is Cowslip, to whom he makes a declaration of his passion in a strange mythological, grammatical style and manner, and to whom, among other fooleries, he sings, quite enraptured, the following air, and seems to work himself at least up to such a transport of passion as quite overpowers him. He begins, you will observe, with the conjugation, and ends with the declensions and the genders; the whole is inimitably droll:

“Amo, amas,
I love a lass,
She is so sweet and tender,
It is sweet Cowslip’s Grace
In the Nominative Case.
And in the feminine Gender.”

Those two sentences in particular, “in the Nominative Case,” and “in the feminine Gender,” he affects to sing in a particularly languishing air, as if confident that it was irresistible. This Edwin, in all his comic characters, still preserves something so inexpressibly good-tempered in his countenance, that notwithstanding all his burlesques and even grotesque buffoonery, you cannot but be pleased with him. I own, I felt myself doubly interested for every character which he represented. Nothing could equal the tone and countenance of self-satisfaction with which he answered one who asked him whether he was a scholar? “Why, I was a master of scholars.” A Mrs. Webb represented a cheesemonger, and played the part of a woman of the lower class so naturally as I have nowhere else ever seen equalled. Her huge, fat, and lusty carcase, and the whole of her external appearance seemed quite to be cut out for it.

Poor Edwin was obliged, as school-master, to sing himself almost hoarse, as he sometimes was called on to repeat his declension and conjugation songs two or three times, only because it pleased the upper gallery, or “the gods,” as the English call them, to roar out “encore.” Add to all this, he was farther forced to thank them with a low bow for the great honour done him by their applause.

One of the highest comic touches in the piece seemed to me to consist in a lie, which always became more and more enormous in the mouths of those who told it again, during the whole of the piece. This kept the audience in almost a continual fit of laughter. This farce is not yet printed, or I really think I should be tempted to venture to make a translation, or rather an imitation of it.

“The English Merchant, or the Scotchwoman,” I have seen much better performed abroad than it was here. Mr. Fleck, at Hamburg, in particular, played the part of the English merchant with more interest, truth, and propriety than one Aickin did here. He seemed to me to fail totally in expressing the peculiar and original character of Freeport; instead of which, by his measured step and deliberate, affected manner of speaking, he converted him into a mere fine gentleman.

The trusty old servant who wishes to give up his life for his master he, too, had the stately walk, or strut, of a minister. The character of the newspaper writer was performed by the same Mr. Palmer who acted the part of the Nabob, but every one said, what I thought, that he made him far too much of a gentleman. His person, and his dress also, were too handsome for the character.

The character of Amelia was performed by an actress, who made her first appearance on the stage, and from a timidity natural on such an occasion, and not unbecoming, spoke rather low, so that she could not everywhere be heard; “Speak louder! speak louder!” cried out some rude fellow from the upper-gallery, and she immediately, with infinite condescension, did all she could, and not unsuccessfully, to please even an upper gallery critic.

The persons near me, in the pit, were often extravagantly lavish of their applause. They sometimes clapped a single solitary sentiment, that was almost as unmeaning as it was short, if it happened to be pronounced only with some little emphasis, or to contain some little point, some popular doctrine, a singularly pathetic stroke, or turn of wit.

“The Agreeable Surprise” was repeated, and I saw it a second time with unabated pleasure. It is become a favourite piece, and always announced with the addition of the favourite musical farce. The theatre appeared to me somewhat larger than the one at Hamburg, and the house was both times very full. Thus much for English plays, play-houses, and players.

English Customs and Education.

A few words more respecting pedantry. I have seen the regulation of one seminary of learning, here called an academy. Of these places of education, there is a prodigious number in London, though, notwithstanding their pompous names, they are in reality nothing more than small schools set up by private persons, for children and young people.

One of the Englishmen who were my travelling companions, made me acquainted with a Dr. G— who lives near P — and keeps an academy for the education of twelve young people, which number is here, as well as at our Mr. Kumpe’s, never exceeded, and the same plan has been adopted and followed by many others, both here and elsewhere.

At the entrance I perceived over the door of the house a large board, and written on it, Dr. G—‘s Academy. Dr. G— received me with great courtesy as a foreigner, and shewed me his school-room, which was furnished just in the same manner as the classes in our public schools are, with benches and a professor’s chair or pulpit.

The usher at Dr. G—‘s is a young clergyman, who, seated also in a chair or desk, instructs the boys in the Greek and Latin grammars.

Such an under-teacher is called an usher, and by what I can learn, is commonly a tormented being, exactly answering the exquisite description given of him in the “Vicar of Wakefield.” We went in during the hours of attendance, and he was just hearing the boys decline their Latin, which he did in the old jog-trot way; and I own it had an odd sound to my ears, when instead of pronouncing, for example viri veeree I heard them say viri, of the man, exactly according to the English pronunciation, and viro, to the man. The case was just the same afterwards with the Greek.

Mr. G— invited us to dinner, when I became acquainted with his wife, a very genteel young woman, whose behaviour to the children was such that she might be said to contribute more to their education than any one else. The children drank nothing but water. For every boarder Dr. G— receives yearly no more than thirty pounds sterling, which however, he complained of as being too little. From forty to fifty pounds is the most that is generally paid in these academies.

I told him of our improvements in the manner of education, and also spoke to him of the apparent great worth of character of his usher. He listened very attentively, but seemed to have thought little himself on this subject. Before and after dinner the Lord’s Prayer was repeated in French, which is done in several places, as if they were eager not to waste without some improvement, even this opportunity also, to practise the French, and thus at once accomplish two points. I afterwards told him my opinion of this species of prayer, which however, he did not take amiss.

After dinner the boys had leave to play in a very small yard, which in most schools or academies, in the city of London, is the ne plus ultra of their playground in their hours of recreation. But Mr. G— has another garden at the end of the town, where he sometimes takes them to walk.

After dinner Mr. G— himself instructed the children in writing, arithmetic, and French, all which seemed to be well taught here, especially writing, in which the young people in England far surpass, I believe, all others. This may perhaps be owing to their having occasion to learn only one sort of letters. As the midsummer holidays were now approaching (at which time the children in all the academies go home for four weeks), everyone was obliged with the utmost care to copy a written model, in order to show it to their parents, because this article is most particularly examined, as everybody can tell what is or is not good writing. The boys knew all the rules of syntax by heart.

All these academies are in general called boarding-schools. Some few retain the old name of schools only, though it is possible that in real merit they may excel the so much-boasted of academies.

It is in general the clergy, who have small incomes, who set up these schools both in town and country, and grown up people who are foreigners, are also admitted here to learn the English language. Mr. G— charged for board, lodging, and instruction in the English, two guineas a-week. He however, who is desirous of perfecting himself in the English, will do better to go some distance into the country, and board himself with any clergyman who takes scholars, where he will hear nothing but English spoken, and may at every opportunity be taught both by young and old.

There are in England, besides the two universities, but few great schools or colleges. In London, there are only St. Paul’s and Westminster schools; the rest are almost all private institutions, in which there reigns a kind of family education, which is certainly the most natural, if properly conducted. Some few grammar schools, or Latin schools, are notwithstanding here and there to be met with, where the master receives a fixed salary, besides the ordinary profits of the school paid by the scholars.

You see in the streets of London, great and little boys running about in long blue coats, which, like robes, reach quite down to the feet, and little white bands, such as the clergy wear. These belong to a charitable institution, or school, which hears the name of the Blue Coat School. The singing of the choristers in the streets, so usual with us, is not at all customary here. Indeed, there is in England, or at least in London, such a constant walking, riding, and driving up and down in the streets, that it would not be very practicable. Parents here in general, nay even those of the lowest classes, seem to be kind and indulgent to their children, and do not, like our common people, break their spirits too much by blows and sharp language. Children should certainly be inured early to set a proper value on themselves; whereas with us, parents of the lower class bring up their children to the same slavery under which they themselves groan.

Notwithstanding the constant new appetites and calls of fashion, they here remain faithful to nature — till a certain age. What a contrast, when I figure to myself our petted, pale-faced Berlin boys, at six years old, with a large bag, and all the parade of grown-up persons, nay even with laced coats; and here, on the contrary see nothing but fine, ruddy, slim, active boys, with their bosoms open, and their hair cut on their forehead, whilst behind it flows naturally in ringlets. It is something uncommon here to meet a young man, and more especially a boy, with a pale or sallow face, with deformed features, or disproportioned limbs. With us, alas! it is not to be concealed, the case is very much otherwise; if it were not, handsome people would hardly strike us so very much as they do in this country.

This free, loose, and natural dress is worn till they are eighteen, or even till they are twenty. It is then, indeed, discontinued by the higher ranks, but with the common people it always remains the same. They then begin to have their hair dressed, and curled with irons, to give the head a large bushy appearance, and half their backs are covered with powder. I am obliged to remain still longer under the hands of an English, than I was under a German hair-dresser; and to sweat under his hot irons with which he curls my hair all over, in order that I may appear among Englishmen, somewhat English. I must here observe that the English hair-dressers are also barbers, an office however, which they perform very badly indeed; though I cannot but consider shaving as a far more proper employment for these petit maitres than it is for surgeons, who you know in our country are obliged to shave us. It is incredible how much the English at present Frenchify themselves; the only things yet wanting are bags and swords, with which at least I have seen no one walking publicly, but I am told they are worn at court.

In the morning it is usual to walk out in a sort of negligee or morning dress, your hair not dressed, but merely rolled up in rollers, and in a frock and boots. In Westminster, the morning lasts till four or five o’clock, at which time they dine, and supper and going to bed are regulated accordingly. They generally do not breakfast till ten o’clock. The farther you go from the court into the city, the more regular and domestic the people become; and there they generally dine about three o’clock, i.e. as soon as the business or ‘Change is over.

Trimmed suits are not yet worn, and the most usual dress is in summer, a short white waistcoat, black breeches, white silk stockings, and a frock, generally of very dark blue cloth, which looks like black; and the English seem in general to prefer dark colours. If you wish to be full dressed, you wear black. Officers rarely wear their uniforms, but dress like other people, and are to be known to be officers only by a cockade in their hats.

It is a common observation, that the more solicitous any people are about dress, the more effeminate they are. I attribute it entirely to this idle adventitious passion for finery, that these people are become so over and above careful of their persons; they are for ever, and on every occasion, putting one another on their guard against catching cold; “you’ll certainly catch cold,” they always tell you if you happen to be a little exposed to the draught of the air, or if you be not clad, as they think, sufficiently warm. The general topic of conversation in summer, is on the important objects of whether such and such an acquaintance be in town, or such a one in the country. Far from blaming it, I think it natural and commendable, that nearly one half of the inhabitants of this great city migrate into the country in summer. And into the country, I too, though not a Londoner, hope soon to wander.

Electricity happens at present to be the puppet-show of the English. Whoever at all understands electricity is sure of being noticed and successful. This a certain Mr. Katterfelto experiences, who gives himself out for a Prussian, speaks bad English, and understands beside the usual electrical and philosophical experiments, some legerdemain tricks, with which (at least according to the papers) he sets the whole world in wonder. For in almost every newspaper that appears, there are some verses on the great Katterfelto, which some one or other of his hearers are said to have made extempore. Every sensible person considers Katterfelto as a puppy, an ignoramus, a braggadocio, and an impostor; notwithstanding which he has a number of followers. He has demonstrated to the people, that the influenza is occasioned by a small kind of insect, which poisons the air; and a nostrum, which he pretends to have found out to prevent or destroy it, is eagerly bought of him. A few days ago he put into the papers: “It is true that Mr. Katterfelto has always wished for cold and rainy weather, in order to destroy the pernicious insects in the air; but now, on the contrary, he wishes for nothing more than for fair weather, as his majesty and the whole royal family have determined, the first fine day, to be eye-witnesses of the great wonder, which this learned philosopher will render visible to them.” Yet all this while the royal family have not so much as even thought of seeing the wonders of Mr. Katterfelto. This kind of rhodomontade is very finely expressed in English by the word puff, which in its literal sense, signifies a blowing, or violent gust of wind, and in the metaphorical sense, a boasting or bragging.

Of such puffs the English newspapers are daily full, particularly of quack medicines and empirics, by means of which many a one here (and among others a German who goes by the name of the German doctor) are become rich. An advertisement of a lottery in the papers begins with capitals in this manner — “Ten Thousand Pounds for a Sixpence! Yes, however astonishing it may seem, it is nevertheless undoubtedly true, that for the small stake of sixpence, ten thousand pounds, and other capital prizes, may be won, etc.”— But enough for this time of the puffs of the English.

I yesterday dined with the Rev. Mr. Schrader, son-inlaw to Professor Foster of Halle. He is chaplain to the German chapel at St. James’s; but besides himself he has a colleague or a reader, who is also in orders, but has only fifty pounds yearly salary. Mr. Schrader also instructs the younger princes and princesses of the royal family in their religion. At his house I saw the two chaplains, Mr. Lindeman and Mr. Kritter, who went with the Hanoverian troops to Minorca, and who were returned with the garrison. They were exposed to every danger along with the troops. The German clergy, as well as every other person in any public station immediately under Government, are obliged to pay a considerable tax out of their salaries.

The English clergy (and I fear those still more particularly who live in London) are noticeable, and lamentably conspicuous, by a very free, secular, and irregular way of life. Since my residence in England, one has fought a duel in Hyde Park, and shot has antagonist. He was tried for the offence, and it was evident the judge thought him guilty of murder; but the jury declared him guilty only of manslaughter; and on this verdict he was burnt in the hand, if that may be called burning which is done with a cold iron; this being a privilege which the nobility and clergy enjoy above other murderers.

Yesterday week, after I had preached for Mr. Wendeborne, we passed an English church in which, we understood the sermon was not yet quite finished. On this we went in, and then I heard a young man preaching, with a tolerable good voice, and a proper delivery; but, like the English in general, his manner was unimpassioned, and his tone monotonous. From the church we went to a coffee-house opposite to it, and there we dined. We had not been long there before the same clergyman whom we had just heard preaching, also came in. He called for pen and ink, and hastily wrote down a few pages on a long sheet of paper, which he put into his pocket; I suppose it was some rough sketch or memorandum that occurred to him at that moment, and which he thus reserved for some future sermon. He too ordered some dinner, which he had no sooner ate, than he returned immediately to the same church. We followed him, and he again mounted the pulpit, where he drew from his pocket a written paper, or book of notes, and delivered in all probability those very words which he had just before composed in our presence at the coffee-house.

In these coffee-houses, however, there generally prevails a very decorous stillness and silence. Everyone speaks softly to those only who sit next him. The greater part read the newspapers, and no one ever disturbs another. The room is commonly on the ground floor, and you enter it immediately from the street; the seats are divided by wooden wainscot partitions. Many letters and projects are here written and planned, and many of those that you find in the papers are dated from some of these coffee-houses. There is, therefore, nothing incredible, nor very extraordinary, in a person’s composing a sermon here, excepting that one would imagine it might have been done better at home, and certainly should not have thus been put off to the last minute.

Another long walk that I have taken pretty often, is through Hanover Square and Cavendish Square, to Bulstrode Street, near Paddington, where the Danish ambassador lives, and where I have often visited the Danish Charge d’Affaires, M. Schornborn. He is well known in Germany, as having attempted to translate Pindar into German. Besides this, and besides being known to be a man of genius, he is known to be a great proficient in most of the branches of natural philosophy. I have spent many very pleasant hours with him.

Sublime poetry, and in particular odes, are his forte; there are indeed few departments of learning in which he has not extensive knowledge, and he is also well read in the Greek and Roman authors. Everything he studies, he studies merely from the love he bears to the science itself, and by no means for the love of fame.

One could hardly help saying it is a pity that so excellent a man should be so little known, were it not generally the case with men of transcendent merit. But what makes him still more valuable is his pure and open soul, and his amiable unaffected simplicity of character, which has gained him the love and confidence of all who know him. He has heretofore been secretary to the ambassador at Algiers; and even here in London, when he is not occupied by the business arising from his public station, he lives exceedingly retired, and devotes his time almost entirely to the study of the sciences. The more agreeable I find such an acquaintance, the harder it will be for me to lose, as I soon must, his learned, his instructive, and his friendly conversation.

I have seen the large Freemasons’ Hall here, at the tavern of the same name. This hall is of an astonishing height and breadth, and to me it looked almost like a church. The orchestra is very much raised, and from that you have a fine view of the whole hall, which makes a majestic appearance. The building is said to have cost an immense sum. But to that the lodges in Germany also contributed. Freemasonry seems to be held in but little estimation in England, perhaps because most of the lodges are now degenerated into mere drinking clubs; though I hope there still are some who assemble for nobler and more essential purposes. The Duke of Cumberland is now grand master.

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