Before I tell you anything of the place where I now am, I will proceed regularly in my narrative, and so begin now where I left off in my last letter. On Tuesday afternoon Mr. Maud took me to the different walks about Oxford, and often remarked, that they were not only the finest in England, but he believed in Europe. I own I do not think he over-rated their merit. There is one in particular near the river, and close to some charming meadows, behind Corpus Christi College, which may fairly challenge the world.
We here seated ourselves on a bench, and Mr. Maud drew a review from his pocket, where, among other things, a German book of Professor Beckman’s was reviewed and applauded. Mr. Maud seemed, on this occasion, to show some respect for German literature. At length we parted. He went to fill up the vacancy of the clerk’s place at Dorchester, and I to the Mitre, to prepare for my departure from Oxford, which took place on Wednesday morning at three o’clock, in the post-coach. Considering the pleasing, if not kind attention shown me here, I own I thought my bill not unreasonable; though to be sure, it made a great hole in my little purse.
Within this coach there was another young man, who, though dressed in black, yet to judge from the cockade in his hat might be an officer. The outside was quite full with soldiers and their wives. The women of the lower class here wear a kind of short cloak made of red cloth: but women in general, from the highest to the lowest, wear hats, which differ from each other less in fashion than they do in fineness.
Fashion is so generally attended to among the English women, that the poorest maid-servant is careful to be in the fashion. They seem to be particularly so in their hats or bonnets, which they all wear: and they are in my opinion far more becoming than the very unsightly hoods and caps which our German women, of the rank of citizens, wear. There is, through all ranks here, not near so great a distinction between high and low as there is in Germany.
I had, during this day, a little headache; which rendered me more silent and reserved to my company than is either usual in England or natural to me. The English are taxed, perhaps too hastily, with being shy and distant to strangers. I do not think this was, even formerly, their true character; or that any such sentiment is conveyed in Virgil’s “Hospitibus feros.” Be this as it may, the case was here reversed. The Englishman here spoke to me several times in a very friendly manner, while I testified not the least inclination to enter into conversation with him.
He however owned afterwards that it was this very apparent reserve of mine that first gained me his good opinion.
He said he had studied physic, but with no immediate view of practising it. His intention, he said, was to go to the East Indies, and there, first, to try his fortune as an officer. And he was now going to Birmingham, merely to take leave of his three sisters, whom he much loved, and who were at school there.
I endeavoured to merit his confidence by telling him in my turn of my journey on foot through England; and by relating to him a few of the most remarkable of my adventures. He frankly told me he thought it was venturing a great deal, yet he applauded the design of my journey, and did not severely censure my plan. On my asking him why Englishmen, who were so remarkable for acting up to their own notions and ideas, did not, now and then, merely to see life in every point of view, travel on foot. “Oh,” said he, “we are too rich, too lazy, and too proud.”
And most true it is, that the poorest Englishman one sees, is prouder and better pleased to expose himself to the danger of having his neck broken on the outside of a stage, than to walk any considerable distance, though he might walk ever so much at his ease. I own I was frightened and distressed when I saw the women, where we occasionally stopped, get down from the top of the coach. One of them was actually once in much danger of a terrible fall from the roof, because, just as she was going to alight, the horses all at once unexpectedly went on. From Oxford to Birmingham is sixty-two miles; but all that was to be seen between the two places was entirely lost to me, for I was again mewed up in a post-coach, and driven along with such velocity from one place to another, that I seemed to myself as doing nothing less than travelling.
My companion, however, made me amends in some measure for this loss. He seemed to be an exceedingly good-tempered and intelligent man; and I felt in this short time a prepossession in his favour one does not easily form for an ordinary person. This, I flattered myself, was also the case with him, and it would mortify me not a little to think he had quite forgotten me, as I am sure I shall never forget him.
Just as we had been sometime eagerly conversing about Shakespeare, we arrived, without either of us having thought of it, at Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace, where our coach stopped, that being the end of one stage. We were still two-and-twenty miles from Birmingham, and ninety-four from London. I need not tell you what our feelings were, on thus setting our feet on classic ground.
It was here that perhaps the greatest genius nature ever produced was born. Here he first lisped his native tongue; here first conceived the embryos of those compositions which were afterwards to charm a listening world; and on these plains the young Hercules first played. And here, too, in this lowly hut, with a few friends, he happily spent the decline of his life, after having retired from the great theatre of that busy world whose manners he had so faithfully portrayed.
The river Avon is here pretty broad, and a row of neat though humble cottages, only one storey high, with shingled roofs, are ranged all along its banks. These houses impressed me strongly with the idea of patriarchal simplicity and content.
We went to see Shakespeare’s own house, which, of all the houses at Stratford I think is now the worst, and one that made the least appearance. Yet, who would not be proud to be the owner of it? There now however lived in it only two old people, who show it to strangers for a trifle, and what little they earn thus is their chief income.
Shakespeare’s chair, in which he used to sit before the door, was so cut to pieces that it hardly looked like a chair; for every one that travels through Stratford cuts off a chip as a remembrance, which he carefully preserves, and deems a precious relic, I also cut myself a piece of it, but reverencing Shakespeare as I do, I am almost ashamed to own to you it was so small that I have lost it, and therefore you will not see it on my return.
As we travelled, I observed every spot with attention, fancying to myself that such or such a spot might be the place where such a genius as Shakespeare’s first dawned, and received those first impressions from surrounding nature which are so strongly marked in all his works. The first impressions of childhood, I knew, were strong and permanent; of course I made sure of seeing here some images at least of the wonderful conceptions of this wonderful man. But my imagination misled me, and I was disappointed; for I saw nothing in the country thereabouts at all striking, or in any respect particularly beautiful. It was not at all wild and romantic; but rather distinguished for an air of neatness and simplicity.
We arrived at Birmingham about three o’clock in the afternoon. I had already paid sixteen shillings at Stratford for my place in the coach from Oxford to Birmingham. At Oxford they had not asked anything of me, and indeed you are not obliged in general in England, as you are in Germany, to pay your passage beforehand.
My companion and myself alighted at the inn where the coach stopped. We parted with some reluctance, and I was obliged to promise him that, on my return to London, I would certainly call on him, for which purpose he gave me his address. His father was Dr. Wilson, a celebrated author in his particular style of writing.
I now inquired for the house of Mr. Fothergill, to whom I was recommended, and I was readily directed to it, but had the misfortune to learn, at the same time, that this very Mr. Fothergill had died about eight days before. As, therefore, under these circumstances, my recommendation to him was likely to be but of little use, I had the less desire to tarry long at Birmingham, and so, without staying a minute longer, I immediately inquired the road to Derby, and left Birmingham. Of this famous manufacturing town, therefore, I can give you no account.
The road from Birmingham onwards is not very agreeable, being in general uncommonly sandy. Yet the same evening I reached a little place called Sutton, where everything, however, appeared to be too grand for me to hope to obtain lodgings in it, till quite at the end of it I came to a small inn with the sign of the Swan, under which was written Aulton, brickmaker.
This seemed to have something in it that suited me, and therefore I boldly went into it; and when in I did not immediately, as heretofore, inquire if I could stay all night there, but asked for a pint of ale. I own I felt myself disheartened by their calling me nothing but master, and by their showing me into the kitchen, where the landlady was sitting at a table and complaining much of the toothache. The compassion I expressed for her on this account, as a stranger, seemed soon to recommend me to her favour, and she herself asked me if I would not stay the night there? To this I most readily assented; and thus I was again happy in a lodging for another night.
The company I here met with consisted of a female chimney-sweeper and her children, who, on my sitting down in the kitchen, soon drank to my health, and began a conversation with me and the landlady.
She related to us her history, which I am not ashamed to own I thought not uninteresting. She had married early, but had the hard luck to be soon deprived of her husband, by his being pressed as a soldier. She neither saw nor heard of him for many years, so concluded he was dead. Thus destitute, she lived seven years as a servant in Ireland, without any one’s knowing that she was married. During this time her husband, who was a chimney-sweeper, came back to England and settled at Lichfield, resumed his old trade, and did well in it. As soon as he was in good circumstances, he everywhere made inquiry for his wife, and at last found out where she was, and immediately fetched her from Ireland. There surely is something pleasing in this constancy of affection in a chimney-sweeper. She told us, with tears in her eyes, in what a style of grandeur he had conducted her into Lichfield; and how, in honour to her, he made a splendid feast on the occasion. At this same Lichfield, which is only two miles from Sutton, and through which she said the road lay which I was to travel tomorrow, she still lived with this same excellent husband, where they were noted for their industry, where everybody respected them, and where, though in the lowest sphere, they are passing through life neither uselessly nor unhappily.
The landlady, during her absence, told me as in confidence, that this chimney-sweeper’s husband, as meanly as I might fancy she now appeared, was worth a thousand pounds, and that without reckoning in their plate and furniture, that he always wore his silver watch, and that when he passed through Sutton, and lodged there, he paid like a nobleman.
She further remarked that the wife was indeed rather low-lived; but that the husband was one of the best-behaved, politest, and civilest men in the world. I had myself taken notice that this same dingy companion of mine had something singularly coarse and vulgar in her pronunciation. The word old, for example, she sounded like auld. In other respects, I had not yet remarked any striking variety or difference from the pronunciation of Oxford or London.
To-morrow the chimney-sweeper, said she, her husband, would not be at home, but if I came back by the way of Lichfield, she would take the liberty to request the honour of a visit, and to this end she told me her name and the place of her abode.
At night the rest of the family, a son and daughter of the landlady, came home, and paid all possible attention to their sick mother. I supped with the family, and they here behaved to me as if we had already lived many years together.
Happening to mention that I was, if not a scholar, yet a student, the son told me there was at Sutton a celebrated grammar-school, where the school-master received two hundred pounds a year settled salary, besides the income arising from the scholars.
And this was only in a village. I thought, and not without some shame and sorrow, of our grammar-schools in Germany, and the miserable pay of the masters.
When I paid my reckoning the next morning, I observed the uncommon difference here and at Windsor, Nettlebed, and Oxford. At Oxford I was obliged to pay for my supper, bed, and breakfast at least three shillings, and one to the waiter. I here paid for my supper, bed, and breakfast only one shilling, and to the daughter, whom I was to consider as chambermaid, fourpence; for which she very civilly thanked me, and gave me a written recommendation to an inn at Lichfield, where I should be well lodged, as the people in Lichfield were, in general, she said, very proud. This written recommendation was a masterpiece of orthography, and showed that in England, as well as elsewhere, there are people who write entirely from the ear, and as they pronounce. In English, however, it seems to look particularly odd, but perhaps that may be the case in all languages that are not native.
I took leave here, as one does of good friends, with a certain promise that on my return I would certainly call on them again.
At noon I got to Lichfield, an old-fashioned town with narrow dirty streets, where for the first time I saw round panes of glass in the windows. The place to mime wore an unfriendly appearance; I therefore made no use of my recommendation, but went straight through, and only bought some bread at a baker’s, which I took along with me.
At night I reached Burton, where the famous Burton ale is brewed. By this time I felt myself pretty well tired, and therefore proposed to stay the night here. But my courage failed me, and I dropped the resolution immediately on my entering the town. The houses and everything else seemed to wear as grand an appearance, almost, as if I had been still in London. And yet the manners of some of its inhabitants were so thoroughly rustic and rude, that I saw them actually pointing at me with their fingers as a foreigner. And now, to complete my chagrin and mortification, I came to a long street, where everybody on both sides of the way were at their doors, and actually made me run the gauntlet through their inquiring looks. Some even hissed at me as I passed along. All my arguments to induce me to pluck up my courage, such as the certainty that I should never see these people again nor they me, were of no use. Burton became odious and almost insupportable to me; and the street appeared as long and tired me as much, as if I had walked a mile. This strongly-marked contemptuous treatment of a stranger, who was travelling through their country merely from the respect he bore it, I experienced nowhere but at Burton.
How happy did I feel when I again found myself out of their town, although at that moment I did not know where I should find a lodging for the night, and was, besides, excessively tired. But I pursued my journey, and still kept in the road to Derby, along a footpath which I knew to be right. It led across a very pleasant mead, the hedges of which were separated by stiles, over which I was often obliged to clamber. When I had walked some distance without meeting with an inn on the road, and it had already begun to be dark, I at last sat me down near a small toll-house, or a turnpike-gate, in order to rest myself, and also to see whether the man at the turnpike could and would lodge me.
After I had sat here a considerable time, a farmer came riding by, and asked me where I wanted to go? I told him I was so tired that I could go no farther. On this the good-natured and truly hospitable man, of his own accord and without the least distrust, offered to take me behind him on his horse and carry me to a neighbouring inn, where he said I might stay all night.
The horse was a tall one, and I could not easily get up. The turnpike-man, who appeared to be quite decrepid and infirm, on this came out. I took it for granted, however, that he who appeared to have hardly sufficient strength to support himself could not help me. This poor looking, feeble old man, however, took hold of me with one arm, and lifted me with a single jerk upon the horse so quick and so alertly that it quite astonished me.
And now I trotted on with my charming farmer, who did not ask me one single impertinent question, but set me down quietly at the inn, and immediately rode away to his own village, which lay to the left.
This inn was called the Bear, and not improperly; for the landlord went about and growled at his people just like a bear, so that at first I expected no favourable reception. I endeavoured to gentle him a little by asking for a mug of ale, and once or twice drinking to him. This succeeded; he soon became so very civil and conversable, that I began to think him quite a pleasant fellow. This device I had learnt of the “Vicar of Wakefield,” who always made his hosts affable by inviting them to drink with him. It was an expedient that suited me also in another point of view, as the strong ale of England did not at all agree with me.
This innkeeper called me sir; and he made his people lay a separate table for himself and me; for he said he could see plainly I was a gentleman.
In our chat, we talked much of George the Second, who appeared to be his favourite king, much more so than George the Third. And among others things, we talked of the battle at Dettingen, of which he knew many particulars. I was obliged also in my turn to tell him stories of our great King of Prussia, and his numerous armies, and also what sheep sold for in Prussia. After we had been thus talking some time, chiefly on political matters, he all at once asked me if I could blow the French horn? This he supposed I could do, only because I came from Germany; for he said he remembered, when he was a boy, a German had once stopped at the inn with his parents who blew the French horn extremely well. He therefore fancied this was a talent peculiar to the Germans.
I removed this error, and we resumed our political topics, while his children and servants at some distance listened with great respect to our conversation.
Thus I again spent a very agreeable evening; and when I had breakfasted in the morning, my bill was not more than it had been at Sutton. I at length reached the common before Derby on Friday morning. The air was mild, and I seemed to feel myself uncommonly cheerful and happy. About noon the romantic part of the country began to open upon me. I came to a lofty eminence, where all at once I saw a boundless prospect of hills before me, behind which fresh hills seemed always to arise, and to be infinite.
The ground now seemed undulatory, and to rise and fall like waves; when at the summit of the rise I seemed to be first raised aloft, and had an extensive view all around me, and the next moment, when I went down the hill, I lost it.
In the afternoon I saw Derby in the vale before me, and I was now an hundred and twenty-six miles from London. Derby is but a small, and not very considerable town. It was market-day when I got there, and I was obliged to pass through a crowd of people: but there was here no such odious curiosity, no offensive staring, as at Burton. At this place too I took notice that I began to be always civilly bowed to by the children of the villages through which I passed.
From Derby to the baths of Matlock, which is one of the most romantic situations, it was still fifteen miles. On my way thither, I came to a long and extensive village, which I believe was called Duffield. They here at least did not show me into the kitchen, but into the parlour; and I dined on cold victuals.
The prints and pictures which I have generally seen at these inns are, I think, almost always prints of the royal family, oftentimes in a group, where the king, as the father of the family, assembles his children around him; or else I have found a map of London, and not seldom the portrait of the King of Prussia; I have met with it several times. You also sometimes see some of the droll prints of Hogarth. The heat being now very great, I several times in this village heard the commiserating exclamation of “Good God Almighty!” by which the people expressed their pity for me, as being a poor foot passenger.
At night I again stopped at an inn on the road, about five miles from Matlock. I could easily have reached Matlock, but I wished rather to reserve the first view of the country till the next day than to get there when it was dark.
But I was not equally fortunate in this inn, as in the two former. The kitchen was full of farmers, among whom I could not distinguish the landlord, whose health I should otherwise immediately have drank. It is true I heard a country girl who was also in the kitchen, as often as she drank say, “Your health, gentlemen all!” But I do not know how it was, I forgot to drink any one’s health, which I afterwards found was taken much amiss. The landlord drank twice to my health sneeringly, as if to reprimand me for my incivility; and then began to join the rest in ridiculing me, who almost pointed at me with their fingers. I was thus obliged for a time to serve the farmers as a laughing-stock, till at length one of them compassionately said, “Nay, nay, we must do him no harm, for he is a stranger.” The landlord, I suppose, to excuse himself, as if he thought he had perhaps before gone too far said, “Ay, God forbid we should hurt any stranger,” and ceased his ridicule; but when I was going to drink his health, he slighted and refused my attention, and told me, with a sneer, all I had to do was to seat myself in the chimney-corner, and not trouble myself about the rest of the world. The landlady seemed to pity me, and so she led me into another room where I could be alone, saying, “What wicked people!”
I left this unfriendly roof early the next morning, and now quickly proceeded to Matlock.
The extent of my journey I had now resolved should be the great cavern near Castleton, in the high Peak of Derbyshire. It was about twenty miles beyond Matlock.
The country here had quite a different appearance from that at Windsor and Richmond. Instead of green meadows and pleasant hills, I now saw barren mountains and lofty rocks; instead of fine living hedges, the fields and pasture lands here were fenced with a wall of grey stone; and of this very same stone, which is here everywhere to be found in plenty, all the houses are built in a very uniform and patriarchal manner, inasmuch as the rough stones are almost without any preparation placed one upon another, and compose four walls, so that in case of necessity, a man might here without much trouble build himself a house. At Derby the houses seem to be built of the same stone.
The situation of Matlock itself surpassed every idea I had formed of it. On the right were some elegant houses for the bathing company, and lesser cottages suspended like birds’ nests in a high rock; to the left, deep in the bottom, there was a fine bold river, which was almost hid from the eye by a majestic arch formed by high trees, which hung over it. A prodigious stone wall extended itself above a mile along its border, and all along there is a singularly romantic and beautiful secret walk, sheltered and adorned by many beautiful shrubs.
The steep rock was covered at the top with green bushes, and now and then a sheep, or a cow, separated from the grazing flock, came to the edge of the precipice, and peeped over it.
I have got, in Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” which I am reading thoroughly through, just to the part where he describes Paradise, when I arrived here and the following passage, which I read at the brink of the river, had a most striking and pleasing effect on me. The landscape here described was as exactly similar to that I saw before me, as if the poet had taken it from hence
“— delicious Paradise,
Now nearer, crowns with her enclosure green,
As with a rural mound, the champion head
Of a steep wilderness, whose hairy sides
With thicket overgrown, grotesque and wild,
Access denied.”— Book IV. v. 132.
From Matlock Baths you go over Matlock Bridge, to the little town of Matlock itself, which, in reality, scarcely deserves the name of a village, as it consists of but a few and miserable houses. There is here, on account of the baths, a number of horses and carriages, and a great thoroughfare. From hence I came through some villages to a small town of the name of Bakewell. The whole country in this part is hilly and romantic. Often my way led me, by small passes, over astonishing eminences, where, in the deep below me, I saw a few huts or cottages lying. The fencing of the fields with grey stone gave the whole a wild and not very promising appearance. The hills were in general not wooded, but naked and barren; and you saw the flocks at a distance grazing on their summit.
As I was coming through one of the villages, I heard a great farmer’s boy eagerly ask another if he did not think I was a Frenchman. It seemed as if he had been waiting some time to see the wonder; for, he spoke as though his wish was now accomplished.
When I was past Bakewell, a place far inferior to Derby, I came by the side of a broad river, to a small eminence, where a fine cultivated field lay before me. This field, all at once, made an indescribable and very pleasing impression on me, which at first, I could not account for; till I recollected having seen, in my childhood, near the village where I was educated, a situation strikingly similar to that now before me here in England.
This field, as if it had been in Germany, was not enclosed with hedges, but every spot in it was uninterruptedly diversified with all kinds of crops and growths of different green and yellowish colours, which gave the whole a most pleasing effect; but besides this large field, the general view of the country, and a thousand other little circumstances which I cannot now particularly enumerate, served to bring back to my recollection the years of my youth.
Here I rested myself a while, and when I was going on again I thought of the place of my residence, on all my acquaintances, and not a little on you, my dearest friend, and imagined what you would think and say, if you were to see your friend thus wandering here all alone, totally unknown, and in a foreign land. And at that moment I first seriously felt the idea of distance, and the thought that I was now in England, so very far from all I loved, or who loved me, produced in me such sensations as I have not often felt.
It was perhaps the same with you, my dearest friend, when on our journey to Hamburg we drove from Perlsbeg, to your birthplace, the village of Boberow; where, among the farmers, you again found your own playmates, one of whom was now become the bailiff of the place. On your asking them whether they knew you, one and all of them answered so heartily, “O, yes, yes — why, your are Master Frederic.” The pedantic school-master, you will remember, was not so frank. He expressed himself in the stiff town phrase of, “He had not the honour of knowing you, as during your residence in that village, when a child, he had not been in loco.”
I now came through a little place of the name of Ashford, and wished to reach the small village of Wardlow, which was only three miles distant, when two men came after me, at a distance, whom I had already seen at Matlock, who called to me to wait for them. These were the only foot passengers since Mr. Maud, who had offered to walk with me.
The one was a saddler, and wore a short brown jacket and an apron, with a round hat. The other was very decently dressed, but a very silent man, whereas the saddler was quite talkative.
I listened with astonishment when I heard him begin to speak of Homer, of Horace, and of Virgil; and still more when he quoted several passages, by memory, from each of these authors, pronouncing the words, and laying his emphasis, with as much propriety as I could possibly have expected, had he been educated at Cambridge or at Oxford. He advised me not to go to Wardlow, where I should find bad accommodations, but rather a few miles to Tideswell, where he lived. This name is, by a singular abbreviation, pronounced Tidsel, the same as Birmingham is called by the common people Brummidgeham.
We halted at a small ale-house on the road-side, where the saddler stopped to drink and talk, and from whence he was in no haste to depart. He had the generosity and honour, however, to pay my share of the reckoning, because, as he said, he had brought me hither.
At no great distance from the house we came to a rising ground, where my philosophical saddler made me observe a prospect, which was perhaps the only one of the kind in England. Below us was a hollow, not unlike a huge kettle, hollowed out of the surrounding mass of earth; and at the bottom of it a little valley, where the green meadow was divided by a small rivulet, that ran in serpentine windings, its banks graced with the most inviting walks; behind a small winding, there is just seen a house where one of the most distinguished inhabitants of this happy vale, a great philosopher, lives retired, dedicating almost all his time to his favourite studies. He has transplanted a number of foreign plants into his grounds. My guide fell into almost a poetic rapture as he pointed out to me the beauties of this vale, while our third companion, who grew tired, became impatient at our tediousness.
We were now led by a steep road to the vale, through which we passed, and then ascended again among the hills on the other side.
Not far from Tideswell our third companion left us, as he lived in a neighbouring place. As we now at length saw Tideswell lying before us in the vale, the saddler began to give me an account of his family, adding, by way of episode, that he never quarrelled with his wife, nor had ever once threatened her with his fist, much less, ever lifted it against her. For his own sake, he said, he never called her names, nor gave her the lie. I must here observe, that it is the greatest offence you can give any one in England to say to him, YOU LIE.
To be called a LIAR is a still greater affront, and you ARE A DAMNED LIAR, is the very acme of vulgar abuse.
Just as in Germany, no one will bear the name of a SCOUNDREL, or KNAVE, or as in all quarrels, the bestowing such epithets on our adversary is the signal for fighting, so the term of a LIAR in England is the most offensive, and is always resented by blows. A man would never forgive himself, nor be forgiven, who could bear to be called a LIAR.
Our Jackey in London once looked at me with astonishment, on my happening to say to him in a joke, you ARE A LIAR. I assure you I had much to do before I could pacify him.
If one may form a judgment of the character of the whole nation, from such little circumstances as this, I must say this rooted hatred of the word liar appears to me to be no bad trait in the English.
But to return to my travelling companion, who further told me that he was obliged to earn his livelihood, at some distance from home, and that he was now returning for the first time, for these two months, to his family.
He showed me a row of trees near the town which he said his father had planted, and which, therefore, he never could look at but with emotion, though he passed them often as he went backwards and forwards on his little journeys to and from his birthplace. His father, he added, had once been a rich man, but had expended all his fortune to support one son. Unfortunately for himself as well as his family, his father had gone to America and left the rest of his children poor, notwithstanding which, his memory was still dear to him, and he was always affected by the sight of these trees.
Tideswell consists of two rows of low houses, built of rough grey stone. My guide, immediately on our entrance into the place, bade me take notice of the church, which was very handsome, and notwithstanding its age, had still some pretensions to be considered as an edifice built in the modern taste.
He now asked me whether he should show me to a great inn or to a cheap one, and as I preferred the latter, he went with me himself to a small public-house, and very particularly recommended me to their care as his fellow-traveller, and a clever man not without learning.
The people here also endeavoured to accommodate me most magnificently, and for this purpose gave me some toasted cheese, which was Cheshire cheese roasted and half melted at the fire. This, in England it seems, is reckoned good eating, but, unfortunately for me, I could not touch a bit of it; I therefore invited my landlord to partake of it, and he indeed seemed to feast on it. As I neither drank brandy nor ale, he told me I lived far too sparingly for a foot traveller; he wondered how I had strength to walk so well and so far.
I avail myself of this opportunity to observe that the English innkeepers are in general great ale drinkers, and for this reason most of them are gross and corpulent; in particular they are plump and rosy in their faces. I once heard it said of one of them, that the extravasated claret in his phiz might well remind one, as Falstaff says of Bardolph, of hell-fire.
The next morning my landlady did me the honour to drink coffee with me, but helped me very sparingly to milk and sugar. It was Sunday, and I went with my landlord to a barber, on whose shop was written “Shaving for a penny.” There were a great many inhabitants assembled there, who took me for a gentleman, on account, I suppose, of my hat, which I had bought in London for a guinea, and which they all admired. I considered this as a proof that pomp and finery had not yet become general thus far from London.
You frequently find in England, at many of the houses of the common people, printed papers, with sundry apt and good moral maxims and rules fastened against the room door, just as we find them in Germany. On such wretched paper some of the most delightful and the finest sentiments may be read, such as would do honour to any writer of any country.
For instance, I read among other things this golden rule on such an ordinary printed paper stuck against a room door, “Make no comparisons;” and if you consider how many quarrels, and how much mischief arise in the world from odious comparisons of the merits of one with the merits of another, the most delightful lessons of morality are contained in the few words of the above-mentioned rule.
A man to whom I gave sixpence conducted me out of the town to the road leading to Castleton, which was close to a wall of stones confusedly heaped one upon another, as I have before described. The whole country was hilly and rough, and the ground covered with brown heath. Here and there some sheep were feeding.
I made a little digression to a hill to the left, where I had a prospect awfully beautiful, composed almost entirely of naked rocks, far and near, among which, those that were entirely covered with black heath made a most tremendous appearance.
I was now a hundred and seventy miles from London, when I ascended one of the highest hills, and all at once perceived a beautiful vale below me, which was traversed by rivers and brooks and enclosed on all sides by hills. In this vale lay Castleton, a small town with low houses, which takes its name from an old castle, whose ruins are still to be seen here.
A narrow path, which wound itself down the side of the rock, led me through the vale into the street of Castleton, where I soon found an inn, and also soon dined. After dinner I made the best of my way to the cavern.
A little rivulet, which runs through the middle of the town, led me to its entrance.
I stood here a few moments, full of wonder and astonishment at the amazing height of the steep rock before me, covered on each side with ivy and other shrubs. At its summit are the decayed wall and towers of an ancient castle which formerly stood on this rock, and at its foot the monstrous aperture or mouth to the entrance of the cavern, where it is pitch dark when one looks down even at mid-day.
As I was standing here full of admiration, I perceived, at the entrance of the cavern, a man of a rude and rough appearance, who asked me if I wished to see the Peak, and the echo strongly reverberated his coarse voice.
Answering as I did in the affirmative, he next further asked me if I should want to be carried to the other side of the stream, telling me at the same time what the sum would be which I must pay for it.
This man had, along with his black stringy hair and his dirty and tattered clothes, such a singularly wild and infernal look, that he actually struck me as a real Charon. His voice, and the questions he asked me, were not of a kind to remove this notion, so that, far from its requiring any effort of imagination, I found it not easy to avoid believing that, at length, I had actually reached Avernus, was about to cross Acheron, and to be ferried by Charon.
I had no sooner agreed to his demand, than he told me all I had to do was boldly to follow him, and thus we entered the cavern.
To the left, in the entrance of the cavern, lay the trunk of a tree that had been cut down, on which several of the boys of the town were playing.
Our way seemed to be altogether on a descent, though not steep, so that the light which came in at the mouth of the cavern near the entrance gradually forsook us, and when we had gone forward a few steps farther, I was astonished by a sight which, of all other, I here the least expected. I perceived to the right, in the hollow of the cavern, a whole subterranean village, where the inhabitants, on account of its being Sunday, were resting from their work, and with happy and cheerful looks were sitting at the doors of their huts along with their children.
We had scarcely passed these small subterranean houses when I perceived a number of large wheels, on which on week days these human moles, the inhabitants of the cavern, make ropes.
I fancied I here saw the wheel of Ixion, and the incessant labour of the Danaides.
The opening through which the light came seemed, as we descended, every moment to become less and less, and the darkness at every step to increase, till at length only a few rays appeared, as if darting through a crevice, and just tinging the small clouds of smoke which, at dusk, raised themselves to the mouth of the cavern.
This gradual growth, or increase of darkness, awakens in a contemplative mind a soft melancholy. As you go down the gentle descent of the cavern, you can hardly help fancying the moment is come when, without pain or grief, the thread of life is about to be snapped; and that you are now going thus quietly to that land of peace where trouble is no more.
At length the great cavern in the rock closed itself, in the same manner as heaven and earth seem to join each other, when we came to a little door, where an old woman came out of one of the huts, and brought two candles, of which we each took one.
My guide now opened the door, which completely shut out the faint glimmering of light, which, till then, it was still possible to perceive, and led us to the inmost centre of this dreary temple of old Chaos and Night, as if, till now, we had only been traversing the outer courts. The rock was here so low, that we were obliged to stoop very much for some few steps in order to get through; but how great was my astonishment, when we had passed this narrow passage and again stood upright, at once to perceive, as well as the feeble light of our candles would permit, the amazing length, breadth, and height of the cavern; compared to which the monstrous opening through which we had already passed was nothing!
After we had wandered here more than an hour, as beneath a dark and dusky sky, on a level, sandy soil, the rock gradually lowered itself, and we suddenly found ourselves on the edge of a broad river, which, from the glimmering of our candles amid the total darkness, suggested sundry interesting reflections. To the side of this river a small boat was moored, with some straw in its bottom. Into this boat my guide desired me to step, and lay myself down in it quite flat; because, as he said, towards the middle of the river, the rock would almost touch the water.
When I had laid myself down as directed, he himself jumped into the water, and drew the boat after him.
All around us was one still, solemn, and deadly silence; and as the boat advanced, the rock seemed to stoop, and come nearer and nearer to us, till at length it nearly touched my face; and as I lay, I could hardly hold the candle upright. I seemed to myself to be in a coffin rather than in a boat, as I had no room to stir hand or foot till we had passed this frightful strait, and the rock rose again on the other side, where my guide once more handed me ashore.
The cavern was now become, all at once, broad and high: and then suddenly it was again low and narrow.
I observed on both sides as we passed along a prodigious number of great and small petrified plants and animals, which, however, we could not examine, unless we had been disposed to spend some days in the cavern.
And thus we arrived at the opposite side, at the second river or stream, which, however, was not so broad as the first, as one may see across it to the other side; across this stream my guide carried me on his shoulders, because there was here no boat to carry us over.
From thence we only went a few steps farther, when we came to a very small piece of water which extended itself lengthways, and led us to the end of the cavern.
The path along the edge of this water was wet and slippery, and sometimes so very narrow, that one can hardly set one foot before the other.
Notwithstanding, I wandered with pleasure on this subterranean shore, and was regaling myself with the interesting contemplation of all these various wonderful objects, in this land of darkness and shadow of death, when, all at once, something like music at a distance sounded in mine ears.
I instantly stopped, full of astonishment, and eagerly asked my guide what this might mean? He answered, “Only have patience, and you shall soon see.”
But as we advanced, the sounds of harmony seemed to die away; the noise became weaker and weaker; and at length it seemed to sink into a gentle hissing or hum, like distant drops of falling rain.
And how great was my amazement when, ere long, I actually saw and felt a violent shower of rain falling from the rock, as from a thick cloud, whose drops, which now fell on our candles, had caused that same melancholy sound which I had heard at a distance.
This was what is here called a mizzling rain, which fell from the ceiling or roof of the cavern, through the veins of the rock.
We did not dare to approach too near with our candles, as they might easily have been extinguished by the falling drops; and so we perhaps have been forced to seek our way back in vain.
We continued our march therefore along the side of the water, and often saw on the sides large apertures in the rock, which seemed to be new or subordinate caverns, all which we passed without looking into. At length my guide prepared me for one of the finest sights we had yet seen, which we should now soon behold.
And we had hardly gone on a few paces, when we entered what might easily have been taken for a majestic temple, with lofty arches, supported by beautiful pillars, formed by the plastic hand of some ingenious artist.
This subterranean temple, in the structure of which no human hand had borne a part, appeared to me at that moment to surpass all the most stupendous buildings in the world, in point of regularity, magnificence, and beauty.
Full of admiration and reverence, here, even in the inmost recesses of nature, I saw the majesty of the Creator displayed; and before I quitted this temple, here, in this solemn silence and holy gloom, I thought it would be a becoming act of true religion to adore, as I cordially did, the God of nature.
We now drew near the end of our journey. Our faithful companion, the water, guided us through the remainder of the cavern, where the rock is arched for the last time, and then sinks till it touches the water, which here forms a semicircle, and thus the cavern closes, so that no mortal can go one step farther.
My guide here again jumped into the water, swam a little way under the rock, and then came back quite wet, to show me that it was impossible to go any further, unless this rock could be blown up with powder, and a second cavern opened. I now thought all we had to do was to return the nearest way; but there were new difficulties still to encounter, and new scenes to behold still more beautiful than any I had yet seen.
My guide now turned and went back towards the left, where I followed him through a large opening in the rock.
And here he first asked me if I could determine to creep a considerable distance through the rock, where it nearly touched the ground. Having consented to do so, he told me I had only to follow him, warning me at the same time to take great care of my candle.
Thus we crept on our hands and feet, on the wet and muddy ground, through the opening in the rock, which was often scarcely large enough for us to get through with our bodies.
When at length we had got through this troublesome passage, I saw in the cavern a steep hill, which was so high that it seemed to lose itself as in a cloud, in the summit of the rock.
This hill was so wet and slippery, that as soon as I attempted to ascend, I fell down. My guide, however, took hold of my hand and told me I had only resolutely to follow him.
We now ascended such an amazing height, and there were such precipices on each side, that it makes me giddy even now when I think of it.
When we at length had gained the summit, where the hill seemed to lose itself in the rock, my guide placed me where I could stand firm, and told me to stay there quietly. In the meantime he himself went down the hill with his candle, and left me alone.
I lost sight of him for some moments, but at length I perceived, not him, indeed, but his candle, quite in the bottom, from whence it seemed to shine like a bright and twinkling star.
After I had enjoyed this indescribably beautiful sight for some time, my guide came back, and carried me safely down the hill again on his shoulders. And as I now stood below, he went up and let his candle shine again through an opening of the rock, while I covered mine with my hand; and it was now as if on a dark night a bright star shone down upon me, a sight which, in point of beauty, far surpassed all that I had ever seen.
Our journey was now ended, and we returned, not without trouble and difficulty, through the narrow passage. We again entered the temple we had a short time before left; again heard the pattering of the rain, which sounded as rain when we were near it, but which at a distance seemed a sonorous, dull, and melancholy hum; and now again we returned across the quiet streams through the capacious entrance of the cavern to the little door, where we had before taken our leave of daylight, which, after so long a darkness, we now again hailed with joy.
Before my guide opened the door, he told me I should now have a view of a sight that would surpass all the foregoing. I found that he was in the right, for when he had only half opened the door, it really seemed as if I was looking into Elysium.
The day seemed to be gradually breaking, and night and darkness to have vanished. At a distance you again just saw the smoke of the cottages, and then the cottages themselves; and as we ascended we saw the boys still playing around the hewn trunk, till at length the reddish purple stripes in the sky faintly appeared through the mouth of the hole; yet, just as we came out, the sun was setting in the west.
Thus had I spent nearly the whole afternoon till it was quite evening in the cavern; and when I looked at myself, I was, as to my dress, not much unlike my guide; my shoes scarcely hung to my feet, they were so soft and so torn by walking so long on the damp sand, and the hard pointed stones.
I paid no more than half-a-crown for seeing all that I had seen, with a trifle to my guide; for it seems he does not get the half-crown, but is obliged to account for it to his master, who lives very comfortably on the revenue he derives from this cavern, and is able to keep a man to show it to strangers.
When I came home I sent for a shoemaker. There was one who lived just opposite; and he immediately came to examine my shoes. He told me he could not sufficiently wonder at the badness of the work, for they were shoes I had brought from Germany. Notwithstanding this, he undertook, as he had no new ones ready, to mend them for me as well as he could. This led me to make a very agreeable acquaintance with this shoemaker; for when I expressed to him my admiration of the cavern, it pleased him greatly that in so insignificant a place as Castleton there should be anything which could inspire people with astonishment, who came from such distant countries; and thereupon offered to take a walk with me, to show me, at no great distance, the famous mountain called Mam Tor, which is reckoned among the things of most note in Derbyshire.
This mountain is covered with verdure on its summit and sides; but at the end it is a steep precipice. The middle part does not, like other mountains, consist of rock, but of a loose earth, which gives way, and either rolls from the top of the precipice in little pieces, or tears itself loose in large masses, and falls with a thundering crash, thus forming a hill on its side which is continually increasing.
From these circumstances probably is derived the name of Mam Tor, which literally signifies Mother Hill; for Tor is either an abbreviation of, or the old word for, Tower, and means not only a lofty building, but any eminence. Mam is a familiar term, that obtains in all languages, for Mother; and this mountain, like a mother, produces several other small hills.
The inhabitants here have a superstitious notion that this mountain, notwithstanding its daily loss, never decreases, but always keeps its own, and remains the same.
My companion told me a shocking history of an inhabitant of Castleton who laid a wager that he would ascend this steep precipice.
As the lower part is not quite so steep, but rather slanting upwards, he could get good hold in this soft loose earth, and clambered up, without looking round. At length he had gained more than half the ascent, and was just at the part where it projects and overlooks its basis. From this astonishing height the unfortunate man cast down his eyes, whilst the threatening point of the rock hung over him, with tottering masses of earth.
He trembled all over, and was just going to relinquish his hold, not daring to move backwards or forwards; in this manner he hung for some time between heaven and earth, surrounded by despair. However, his sinews would bear it no longer, and therefore, in an effort of despair, he once more collected all his strength and got hold of first one loose stone, and then another, all of which would have failed him had he not immediately caught hold of another. By these means, however, at length, to his own, as well as to the astonishment of all the spectators, he avoided almost instant and certain death, safely gained the summit of the hill, and won his wager.
I trembled as I heard this relation, seeing the mountain and the precipice in question so near to me, I could not help figuring to myself the man clambering up it.
Not far from hence is Elden Hole, a cavity or pit, or hole in the earth, of such a monstrous depth, that if you throw in a pebble stone, and lay your ear to the edge of the hole, you hear it falling for a long time.
As soon as it comes to the bottom it emits a sound as if some one were uttering a loud sigh. The first noise it makes on its being first parted with affects the ear like a subterranean thunder. This rumbling or thundering noise continues for some time, and then decreases as the stone falls against first one hard rock and then another at a greater and a greater depth, and at length, when it has for some time been falling, the noise stops with a kind of whizzing or a hissing murmur. The people have also a world of superstitious stories relating to this place, one of which is that some person once threw into it a goose, which appeared again at two miles’ distance in the great cavern I have already mentioned, quite stripped of its feathers. But I will not stuff my letters with many of these fabulous histories.
They reckon that they have in Derbyshire seven wonders of nature, of which this Elden Hole, the hill of Mam Tor, and the great cavern I have been at are the principal.
The remaining four wonders are Pool’s Hole, which has some resemblance to this that I have seen, as I am told, for I did not see it; next St. Anne’s Well, where there are two springs which rise close to each other, the one of which is boiling hot, the other as cold as ice; the next is Tide’s Well, not far from the town of that name through which I passed. It is a spring or well, which in general flows or runs underground imperceptibly, and then all at once rushes forth with a mighty rumbling or subterranean noise, which is said to have something musical in it, and overflows its banks; lastly Chatsworth, a palace or seat belonging to the Dukes of Devonshire, at the foot of a mountain whose summit is covered with eternal snow, and therefore always gives one the idea of winter, at the same time that the most delightful spring blooms at its foot. I can give you no further description of these latter wonders, as I only know them by the account given me by others. They were the subjects with which my guide, the shoemaker, entertained me during our walk.
While this man was showing me everything within his knowledge that he thought most interesting, he often expressed his admiration on thinking how much of the world I had already seen; and the idea excited in him so lively a desire to travel, that I had much to do to reason him out of it. He could not help talking of it the whole evening, and again and again protested that, had he not got a wife and child, he would set off in the morning at daybreak along with me; for here in Castleton there is but little to be earned by the hardest labour or even genius. Provisions are not cheap, and in short, there is no scope for exertion. This honest man was not yet thirty.
As we returned, he wished yet to show me the lead mines, but it was too late. Yet, late as it was, he mended my shoes the same evening, and I must do him the justice to add in a very masterly manner.
But I am sorry to tell you I have brought a cough from the cavern that does not at all please me; indeed, it occasions me no little pain, which makes me suppose that one must needs breathe a very unwholesome damp air in this cavern. But then, were that the case, I do not comprehend how my friend Charon should have held it out so long and so well as he has.
This morning I was up very early in order to view the ruins, and to climb a high hill alongside of them. The ruins are directly over the mouth of the hole on the hill, which extends itself some distance over the cavern beyond the ruins, and always widens, though here in front it is so narrow that the building takes up the whole.
From the ruins all around there is nothing but steep rock, so that there is no access to it but from the town, where a crooked path from the foot of the hill is hewn in the rock, but is also prodigiously steep.
The spot on which the ruins stand is now all overgrown with nettles and thistles. Formerly, it is said, there was a bridge from this mountain to the opposite one, of which one may yet discover some traces, as in the vale which divides the two rocks we still find the remains of some of the arches on which the bridge rested. This vale, which lies at the back of the ruins and probably over the cavern, is called the Cave’s Way, and is one of the greatest thoroughfares to the town. In the part at which, at some distance, it begins to descend between these two mountains, its descent is so gentle that one is not at all tired in going down it; but if you should happen to miss the way between the two rocks and continue on the heights, you are in great danger of falling from the rock, which every moment becomes steeper and steeper.
The mountain on which the ruins stand is everywhere rocky. The one on the left of it, which is separated by the vale, is perfectly verdant and fertile, and on its summit the pasture hands are divided by stones, piled up in the form of a wall. This green mountain is at least three times as high as that on which the ruins stand.
I began to clamber up the green mountain, which is also pretty steep; and when I had got more than half way up without having once looked back, I was nearly in the same situation as the adventurer who clambered up Mam Tor Hill, for when I looked round, I found my eye had not been trained to view, unmoved, so prodigious a height. Castleton with the surrounding country lay below me like a map, the roofs of the houses seemed almost close to the ground, and the mountain with the ruins itself seemed to be lying at my feet.
I grew giddy at the prospect, and it required all my reason to convince me that I was in no danger, and that, at all events, I could only scramble down the green turf in the same manner as I had got up. At length I seemed to grow accustomed to this view till it really gave me pleasure, and I now climbed quite to the summit and walked over the meadows, and at length reached the way which gradually descends between the two mountains.
At the top of the green mountain I met with some neat country girls, who were milking their cows, and coming this same way with their milk-pails on their heads.
This little rural party formed a beautiful group when some of them with their milk-pails took shelter, as it began to rain, under a part of the rock, beneath which they sat down on natural stone benches, and there, with pastoral innocence and glee, talked and laughed till the shower was over.
My way led me into the town, from whence I now write, and which I intend leaving in order to begin my journey back to London, but I think I shall not now pursue quite the same road.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11