History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

23 June 2014


View of Dover 1746/7

Richard Wilson

I love period sources, and nothing beats a foreigner's take on a locality, as they note down all kinds of strange little observations. Charles P. Moritz was a German traveler, and his “Travels, chiefly on foot, through several parts of England in 1782, described in Letters to a Friend" was translated into English and published in 1795.

Here's his take on arriving in England:

"London, 2nd June.

This morning those of us who were fellow passengers together in the great cabin, being six in number, requested to be set on shore in a boat, a little before the vessel got to Dartford, which is still sixteen miles from London.  This expedient is generally adopted, instead of going up the Thames, towards London, where on account of the astonishing number of ships, which are always more crowded together the nearer you approach the city, it frequently requires many days before a ship can finish her passage.  He therefore who wishes to lose no time unnecessarily, and wishes also to avoid other inconveniences, such as frequent stoppages, and perhaps, some alarming dashings against other ships, prefers travelling those few miles by land in a post-chaise, which is not very expensive, especially when three join together, as three passengers pay no more than one.  This indulgence is allowed by act of parliament.

As we left the vessel we were honoured with a general huzza, or in the English phrase with three cheers, echoed from the German sailors of our ship.  This nautical style of bidding their friends farewell our Germans have learned from the English.  The cliff where we landed was white and chalky, and as the distance was not great, nor other means of conveyance at hand, we resolved to go on foot to Dartford: immediately on landing we had a pretty steep hill to climb, and that gained, we arrived at the first English village, where an uncommon neatness in the structure of the houses, which in general are built with red bricks and flat roofs, struck me with a pleasing surprise, especially when I compared them with the long, rambling, inconvenient, and singularly mean cottages of our peasants.  We now continued our way through the different villages, each furnished with his staff, and thus exhibited no remote resemblance of a caravan.  Some few people who met us seemed to stare at us, struck, perhaps, by the singularity of our dress, or the peculiarity of our manner of travelling.  On our route we passed a wood where a troop of gipsies had taken up their abode around a fire under a tree.  The country, as we continued to advance, became more and more beautiful.  Naturally, perhaps, the earth is everywhere pretty much alike, but how different is it rendered by art!  How different is that on which I now tread from ours, and every other spot I have ever seen.  The soil is rich even to exuberance, the verdure of the trees and hedges, in short the whole of this paradisaical region is without a parallel!  The roads too are incomparable; I am astonished how they have got them so firm and solid; every step I took I felt, and was conscious it was English ground on which I trod.

We breakfasted at Dartford.  Here, for the first time, I saw an English soldier, in his red uniform, his hair cut short and combed back on his forehead, so as to afford a full view of his fine, broad, manly face.  Here too I first saw (what I deemed a true English fight) in the street, two boys boxing.

Our little party now separated, and got into two post-chaises, each of which hold three persons, though it must be owned three cannot sit quite so commodiously in these chaises as two: the hire of a post-chaise is a shilling for every English mile.  They may be compared to our extra posts, because they are to be had at all times.  But these carriages are very neat and lightly built, so that you hardly perceive their motion as they roll along these firm smooth roads; they have windows in front, and on both sides.  The horses are generally good, and the postillions particularly smart and active, and always ride on a full trot.  The one we had wore his hair cut short, a round hat, and a brown jacket of tolerable fine cloth, with a nosegay in his bosom.  Now and then, when he drove very hard, he looked round, and with a smile seemed to solicit our approbation.  A thousand charming spots, and beautiful landscapes, on which my eye would long have dwelt with rapture,
were now rapidly passed with the speed of an arrow.

Our road appeared to be undulatory, and our journey, like the journey of life, seemed to be a pretty regular alternation of up hill and down, and here and there it was diversified with copses and woods; the majestic Thames every now and then, like a little forest of masts, rising to our view, and anon losing itself among the delightful towns and villages.  The amazing large signs which at the entrance of villages hang in the middle of the street, being fastened to large beams, which are extended across the street from one house to another opposite to it, particularly struck me; these sign-posts have the appearance of gates or of gateways, for which I at first took them, but the whole apparatus, unnecessarily large as it seems to be, is intended for nothing more than to tell the inquisitive traveller that there is an inn.  At length, stunned as it were by this constant rapid succession of interesting objects to engage our attention, we arrived at Greenwich nearly in a state of stupefaction."

Tomorrow, we arrive in London ...


Blogger Helena said...

I think he liked it! It was heartening to read how much he liked the countryside, and how good the roads were (possibly because it was high summer). I hope he also likes the city once he gets there.

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating. Mind you, a shilling a mile seems rather expensive to me for the time!

6:47 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I've read the reverse about the roads, too (about how bad they were between the coast and Paris for example).

9:11 AM  

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