Charles P. Moritz’s “Travels, chiefly on foot, through several parts of England in 1782, described in Letters to a Friend,” were translated from the German by a lady, and published in 1795. John Pinkerton included them in the second volume of his Collection of Voyages and Travels.
The writer of this account of England as it was about a hundred years ago, and seven years before the French Revolution, was a young Prussian clergyman, simply religious, calmly enthusiastic for the freer forms of citizenship, which he found in England and contrasted with the military system of Berlin. The touch of his times was upon him, with some of the feeling that caused Frenchmen, after the first outbreak of the Revolution, to hail Englishmen as “their forerunners in the glorious race.” He had learnt English at home, and read Milton, whose name was inscribed then in German literature on the banners of the free.
In 1782 Charles Moritz came to England with little in his purse and “Paradise Lost” in his pocket, which he meant to read in the Land of Milton. He came ready to admire, and enthusiasm adds some colour to his earliest impressions; but when they were coloured again by hard experience, the quiet living sympathy remained. There is nothing small in the young Pastor Moritz, we feel a noble nature in his true simplicity of character.
He stayed seven weeks with us, three of them in London. He travelled on foot to Richmond, Windsor, Oxford, Birmingham, and Matlock, with some experience of a stage coach on the way back; and when, in dread of being hurled from his perch on the top as the coach flew down hill, he tried a safer berth among the luggage in the basket, he had further experience. It was like that of Hood’s old lady, in the same place of inviting shelter, who, when she crept out, had only breath enough left to murmur, “Oh, them boxes!”
Pastor Moritz’s experience of inns was such as he hardly could pick up in these days of the free use of the feet. But in those days everybody who was anybody rode. And even now, there might be cold welcome to a shabby-looking pedestrian without a knapsack. Pastor Moritz had his Milton in one pocket and his change of linen in the other. From some inns he was turned away as a tramp, and in others he found cold comfort. Yet he could be proud of a bit of practical wisdom drawn by himself out of the “Vicar of Wakefield,” that taught him to conciliate the innkeeper by drinking with him; and the more the innkeeper drank of the ale ordered the better, because Pastor Moritz did not like it, and it did not like him. He also felt experienced in the ways of the world when, having taken example from the manners of a bar-maid, if he drank in a full room he did not omit to say, “Your healths, gentlemen all.”
Fielding’s Parson Adams, with his AEschylus in his pocket, and Parson Moritz with his Milton, have points of likeness that bear strong witness to Fielding’s power of entering into the spirit of a true and gentle nature. After the first touches of enthusiastic sentiment, that represent real freshness of enjoyment, there is no reaction to excess in opposite extreme. The young foot traveller settles down to simple truth, retains his faith in English character, and reports ill-usage without a word of bitterness.
The great charm of this book is its unconscious expression of the writer’s character. His simple truthfulness presents to us of 1886 as much of the England of 1782 as he was able to see with eyes full of intelligence and a heart full of kindness. He heard Burke speak on the death of his friend and patron Lord Rockingham, with sudden rebuke to an indolent and inattentive house. He heard young Pitt, and saw how he could fix, boy as he looked, every man’s attention.
“Oh, wad some power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae many a blunder free us,
And foolish notion.”
And when the power is so friendly as that of the Pastor Moritz, we may, if wise, know ourselves better than from a thousand satires, but if foolish we may let all run into self-praise.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53