NOTES OF AN OVERLAND JOURNEY THROUGH FRANCE AND EGYPT TO BOMBAY.
BY THE LATE MISS EMMA ROBERTS.
WITH A MEMOIR.
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LONDON TO PARIS.
Departure from London—A French Steam-vessel—Unfavourable Weather—Arrival at Havre—Difficulties at the Custom-house—Description of Havre—Embarkation on the Steamer for Rouen—Appearance of the Country—Inclemency of the Weather—Arrival at Rouen—Description of Rouen—Departure by the Boat for Paris—Scenes and Traditions on the Banks of the Seine—Journey by the Railroad to Paris—The Douaniers—Observations on the Journey up the Seine
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PARIS TO MARSEILLES.
Description of Paris—Departure by the Diligence—The Country—The Vineyards—Hotels and fare—Arrival at Lyons—Description of the City—Departure in the Steam-boat for Arles—Descent of the Rhone—Beauty and Variety of the Scenery—Confusion on disembarking at Beaucaire—A Passenger Drowned—Arrival at Arles—Description of the Town—Embarkation in the Steamer for Marseilles—Entrance into the Mediterranean—Picturesque Approach to Marseilles—Arrival in the Harbour—Description of Marseilles—Observations upon the Journey through France by Ladies
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MARSEILLES TO ALEXANDRIA.
Vexations at the Custom-house—Embarkation on the Malta Steamer—Difficulties of exit from the Harbour—Storm—Disagreeable Motion of the Steam-vessel—Passengers—Arrival at Malta—Description of the City—Vehicles—Dress of the Maltese Women—State of Society—Church of St. John—The Palace—The Cemetery of the Capuchin Convent—Intolerance of the Roman Catholic Priesthood—Shops, Cafes, and Hotels—Manufactures and Products of Malta—Heat of the Island—Embarkation on board an English Government Steamer—Passengers—A young Egyptian—Arrival at Alexandria—Turkish and Egyptian Fleets—Aspect of the City from the Sea—Landing
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ALEXANDRIA TO BOULAK.
Description of Alexandria—Hotels—Houses—Streets—Frank Shops—Cafes—Equipages—Arrangements for the Journey to Suez—Pompey's Pillar—Turkish and Arab Burial-grounds—Preparations for the Journey to Cairo—Embarkation on the Canal—Bad accommodation in the Boat—Banks of the Canal—Varieties of Costume in Egypt—Collision during the night—Atfee—Its wretched appearance—The Pasha—Exchange of Boats—Disappointment at the Nile—Scarcity of Trees—Manners of the Boatmen—Aspect of the Villages—The Marquess of Waterford—The Mughreebee Magician—First sight of the Pyramids—Arrival at Boulak, the Port of Cairo
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Arrival at Boulak—Description of the place—Moolid, or Religious Fair—Surprise of the People—The Hotel at Cairo—Description of the City—The Citadel—View from thence—The City—The Shops—The Streets—The interior of the Pasha's Palace—Pictures—Furniture—Military Band—Affray between a Man and Woman—Indifference of the Police to Street Broils—Natives beaten by Englishmen—Visit to an English Antiquary—By-ways of the City—Interior of the Houses—Nubian Slave-market—Gypsies—Preparation for Departure to Suez—Mode of driving in the Streets of Cairo—Leave the City—The Changes in travelling in Egypt—Attractions of Cairo
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Equipage for crossing the Desert—Donkey-chairs—Sense of calmness and tranquillity on entering the Desert—Nothing dismal in its aspect—The Travellers' Bungalow—Inconvenient construction of these buildings—Kafila of the Governor of Jiddah and his Lady—Their Equipage—Bedouins—Impositions practised on Travellers—Desert Travelling not disagreeable—Report of the sailing of the Steamer—Frequency of false reports—Ease with which an infant of the party bore the journey—A wheeled carriage crossing the Desert—Parties of Passengers from Suez encountered—One of Mr. Hill's tilted Caravans—Difficulty of procuring water at the Travellers' Bungalow—A night in the Desert—Magnificent sunrise—First sight of the Red Sea and the Town of Suez—Miserable appearance of the latter—Engagement of a Passage to Bombay
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SUEZ TO ADEN.
Travellers assembling at Suez—Remarks on the Pasha's Government—Embarkation on the Steamer—Miserable accommodation in the Berenice, and awkwardness of the attendants—Government Ships not adapted to carry Passengers—Cause of the miserable state of the Red Sea Steamers—Shores of the Red Sea—Arrival at Mocha—Its appearance from the Sea—Arrival at Aden—Its wild and rocky appearance on landing—Cape Aden—The Town—Singular appearance of the Houses—The Garrison expecting an attack by the Arabs—Discontent of the Servants of Europeans at Aden—Complaints by Anglo-Indians against Servants—Causes—Little to interest Europeans in Aden
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Commanding situation of Aden—Its importance in former times—But few remains of its grandeur—Its facilities as a retreat for the piratical hordes of the Desert—The loss of its trade followed by reduction of the population—Speculations as to the probability of ultimately resisting the Arabs—Exaggerated notions entertained by the Shiekhs of the wealth of the British—Aden a free Port would be the Queen of the adjacent Seas—Its advantages over Mocha—The Inhabitants of Aden—The Jews—The Banians—The Soomalees—The Arabs—Hopes of the prosperity of Aden—Goods in request there—Exports—Re-embarkation on the Steamer—Want of attention—Makallah—Description of the place—Its products—The Gazelle—Traveller in Abyssinia—Adventurous English Travellers—Attractions of the Arab life—Arrival at Bombay
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Contrast between landing at Bombay and at Calcutta—First feelings those of disappointment—Aspect of the place improves—Scenery of the Island magnificent, abounding with fine Landscapes—Luxuriance and elegance of the Palms—Profusion and contrast of the Trees—Multitude of large Houses in Gardens—Squalid, dirty appearance of the Native Crowd—Costume of the Natives—Inferior to the Costume of Bengal—Countenances not so handsome—The Drive to the Fort—The Burrah Bazaar—Parsee Houses—"God-shops" of the Jains—General use of Chairs amongst the Natives—Interior of the Native Houses—The Sailors' Home—The Native Town—Improvements—The Streets animated and picturesque—Number of Vehicles—The Native Females—The Parsee Women—The Esplanade—Tents and Bungalows—The Fort—The China Bazaar—A Native School—Visit to a Parsee Warehouse—Real ornamental China-ware—Apprehension of Fire in the Fort—Houses fired by Rats—Illumination of Native Houses—Discordant noise of Native Magic—The great variety of Religions in Bombay productive of lamp-lighting and drumming
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Bombay the rising Presidency—Probability of its becoming the Seat of Government—The Anglo-Indian Society of Bombay—Style of Living—The Gardens inferior to those of Bengal—Interiors of the Houses more embellished—Absence of Glass-windows an evil—The Bungalows—The Encamping-ground—Facility and despatch of a change of residence—Visit to a tent entertainment—Inconveniences attending a residence in tents—Want of Hotels and Boarding-houses—Deficiency of public Amusements in Bombay—Lectures and Conversaziones suggested, as means of bringing the native community into more frequent intercourse with Europeans—English spoken by the superior classes of Natives—Natives form a very large portion of the wealth and intelligence of Bombay—Nothing approaching the idea of a City to be seen—The climate more salubrious than that of Bengal—Wind blows hot and cold at the same time—Convenience a stranger finds in so many domestic servants speaking English—Their peculiar mode of speaking it—Dress of servants—Their wages—The Cooks—Improved by Lord Clare—Appointments of the tables—The Ramoosee Watchmen—Their vociferations during the night—Fidelity of the Natives—Controversy concerning their disregard of truth.
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Residences for the Governor—Parell—Its Gardens—Profusion of Roses—Receptions at Government-house—The evening-parties—The grounds and gardens of Parell inferior to those at Barrackpore—The Duke of Wellington partial to Parell—Anecdotes of his Grace in India—Sir James Mackintosh—His forgetfulness of India—The Horticultural Society—Malabar Point, a retreat in the hot weather—The Sea-view beautiful—The nuisance of fish—Serious effects at Bombay of the stoppage of the trade with China—Ill-condition of the poorer classes of Natives—Frequency of Fires—Houses of the Parsees—Parsee Women—Masculine air of the other Native Females of the lower orders who appear in public—Bangle-shops—Liqueur-shops—Drunkenness amongst Natives not uncommon here, from the temptations held out—The Sailors' Home—Arabs, Greeks, Chinamen—The latter few and shabby—Portuguese Padres—Superiority of the Native Town of Bombay over that of Calcutta—Statue of Lord Cornwallis—Bullock-carriages—High price and inferiority of horses in Bombay—Hay-stacks—Novel mode of stacking
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The Climate of Bombay treacherous in the cold season—The land-wind injurious to health—The Air freely admitted into Rooms—The Climate of the Red Sea not injurious to Silk dresses—Advice to lady-passengers on the subject of dress—The Shops of Bombay badly provided—Speculations on the site of the City, should the seat of Government be removed hither—The Esplanade—Exercise of Sailors on Shore and on Ship-board—Mock-fight—Departure of Sir Henry Fane—Visit to a fair in Mahim Wood—Prophecy—Shrine of Mugdooree Sahib—Description of the Fair—Visit to the mansion of a Moonshee—His Family—Crowds of Vehicles returning from the Fair—Tanks—Festival of the Duwallee—Visit to a Parsee—Singular ceremony—The Women of India impede the advance of improvement—They oppose every departure from established rules—Effect of Education in Bombay yet superficial—Cause of the backwardness of Native Education
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Experience has, especially of late years, amply refuted the barbarous error, which attributes to Nature a niggardliness towards the minds of that sex to which she has been most prodigal of personal gifts; the highest walks of science and literature in this country have been graced by female authors, and, perhaps, the purity and refinement which pervade our works of imagination, compared with those of former days, may not unjustly be traced to the larger share which feminine pens now have in the production of these works. It would appear to countenance the heretical notion just condemned, to assume that a robust organization is essential to the proper development and exercise of the powers of the understanding; but it is certain that, in several instances, individuals, who have exhibited the most striking examples of female pre-eminence, have not reached the full maturity of their intellectual growth, but have been lost to the world in a premature grave: to the names of Felicia Hemans and Laetitia E. Landon, besides others, is now added that of Emma Roberts, who, although in respect of poetical genius she cannot be placed upon a level with the two writers just named, yet in the vigour of her faculties, and in the variety of her talents, is worthy of being associated with them as another evidence against the asserted mental inequality of the sexes.
Miss Roberts belonged to a Welsh family of great respectability. Her grandfather, who was a gentleman of good property, and served the office of High Sheriff for Denbighshire, North Wales, possessed the fine estate of Kenmell Park in that county, which was disposed of after his death to Colonel Hughes, the present Lord Dinorben, whose seat it continues to be. He had three sons, all of whom entered a military life, which seems to have had peculiar attractions to this gallant family. The eldest, the late General Thomas Roberts, raised a regiment, which became the 111th, and it is said he frequently officiated as Gold Stick in Waiting to George the Third. A son of General Roberts was aide-de-camp to Sir Arthur Wellesley in Portugal, was taken prisoner by the French, and detained during the war: he afterwards rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. The second son, Colonel David Roberts, of the 51st regiment, distinguished himself in the Peninsular war, having, on the 7th January, 1809, during Sir John Moore's retreat, near the heights of Lugo, headed a party which repulsed the French Light Brigade, on which occasion his cloak was riddled with bullets, two of which passed through his right-hand, which was amputated. He was then a major, but afterwards commanded the regiment, in Lord Dalhousie's brigade, and subsequently in Flanders, and was so seriously and repeatedly wounded, that his pensions for wounds amounted to L500 a year. Colonel Roberts was an author, and wrote, amongst other things, the comic military sketch called Johnny Newcome. The youngest son, William (the father of Miss Roberts), in the course of his travels on the continent, in early life, formed some intimacies at the Court of St. Petersburgh (to which he was introduced by the British Ambassador), and eventually entered the Russian service; he was made aide-de-camp to General Lloyd, his countryman, and served with great distinction in several campaigns against the Turks. He afterwards entered the British army, but had not attained a higher rank than that of captain (with the paymastership of his regiment), when he died, leaving a widow, a son (who died a lieutenant in the army), and two daughters.
Emma, the youngest daughter of Captain Roberts, was born about the year 1794. After the death of her father, she resided with her mother, a lady of some literary pretensions, at Bath. Though possessed of a very attractive person, though of a lively disposition, and peculiarly fitted to shine in the gayest circles of social life, her thirst for letters was unquenchable, and the extent of her reading proves that her early years must have been years of application.
Her first literary work was in the grave department of history,—Memoirs of the Rival Houses of York and Lancaster, or the White and Red Roses, which was published in two volumes, 1827. In the preparation of this work, Miss Roberts prosecuted her researches into the historical records at the Museum with so much diligence and perseverance, as to attract the notice of the officers of that institution, who rendered her much assistance. This work did not take hold of public attention; the narrative is perspicuously and pleasingly written, but it throws no additional light upon the events of the time. It is not unusual for young writers, in their first essay, to mistake the bent of their powers.
On the death of her mother and the marriage of her sister to an officer of the Bengal army (Captain R.A. M'Naghten), Miss Roberts accompanied Mrs. M'Naghten and her husband to India, in February 1828, taking her passage in the Sir David Scott, to Bengal. From Calcutta she proceeded with them to the Upper Provinces, where she spent the years 1829 and 1830, between the stations of Agra, Cawnpore, and Etawah. Her active and inquisitive mind was constantly employed in noting the new and extraordinary scenes around her, the physical aspect of the country, the peculiar traits of its population, and the manners of both natives and Anglo-Indians: the strong and faithful impressions they made never faded from a memory remarkably retentive. It is to these favourable opportunities of diversified observation, in her journeys by land and water, along the majestic Ganges, or by the dawk conveyance in a palanquin, and in her residence for so long a period away from the metropolis of British India, which exhibits but a mongrel kind of Eastern society, that the English public owe those admirable pictures of Indian scenery and manners, which have conquered, or contributed to conquer, its habitual distaste for such topics.
Whilst at Cawnpore, Miss Roberts committed to the press a little volume of poetry, entitled Oriental Scenes, which she dedicated to her friend Miss Landon, then rising into eminence under the well-known designation of L.E.L. This volume, which she republished in England, in 1832, contains some very pleasing specimens of glowing description, graceful imagery, and well-turned expression, which show that her powers required only cultivation to have secured to her a respectable rank among modern poets.
Mrs. M'Naghten died in 1831, and about this time (either soon after or shortly before the death of her sister), she exchanged provincial scenes and society for the more cheerful atmosphere of Calcutta, where a new world of observation and of employment opened to her. The sketches she has given of the City of Palaces, and of its inhabitants, prove how accurately she had seized their characteristic features. Here her pen was called into incessant activity; besides various contributions to Annuals and other ephemeral works, Miss Roberts undertook the formidable task (doubly formidable in such a climate) of editing a newspaper, and the Oriental Observer, whilst under her direction, was enriched by some valuable articles written by herself, indicating the versatility of her talents, the extent of her resources, and the large area of knowledge over which her active mind had ranged.
This severe over-employment, however, entailed the inevitable penalty, loss of health, and in 1832, being now bound by no powerful tie to India, and looking forward, perhaps, with innocent ambition, to a less confined theatre for the display of her talents and acquisitions, she quitted the country, and returned to England, the voyage completely repairing the injury which the climate of India had wrought upon her constitution. The reputation she had acquired preceded her to this country, where she had many literary acquaintances, some of whom had reached a high station in public esteem; and her entrance into the best literary circles of the metropolis was thereby facilitated; but the position which she was entitled to claim was spontaneously conceded to talents such as hers, set off by engaging and unaffected manners, warmth and benevolence of heart, equanimity and serenity of temper.
The fruits of her observations in the East were given to the world in several series of admirable papers, published in the Asiatic Journal,[A] a periodical work to which she contributed with indefatigable zeal and success, from shortly after her return to England until her death. A selection of those papers was published, in three volumes, in 1835, under the title of Scenes and Characteristics of Hindostan, which has had a large circulation, and (a very unusual circumstance attending works on Indian subjects) soon reached a second edition. This work established Miss Roberts's reputation as a writer of unrivalled excellence in this province, which demands a union of quick and acute discernment with the faculty of vivid and graphic delineation. Of the many attempts which have been made in this country to furnish popular draughts of Indian "Scenes and Characteristics," that of Miss Roberts is the only one which has perfectly succeeded.
Her pen now came into extensive requisition, and the miscellaneous information with which she had stored her mind enabled her, with the aid of great fluency of composition and unremitted industry, to perform a quantity and a variety of literary labour, astonishing to her friends, when they considered that Miss Roberts did not seclude herself from society, but mixed in parties, where her conversational talents rendered her highly acceptable, and carried on, besides, a very extensive correspondence. History, biography, poetry, tales, local descriptions, foreign correspondence, didactic essays, even the culinary art, by turns employed her versatile powers. Most of these compositions were occasional pieces, furnished to periodical works; to some she attached her name, and a few were separately published. Amongst the latter is a very pleasing biographical sketch of Mrs. Maclean (formerly Miss Landon), one of her oldest and dearest friends.
It was now seven years since she had quitted British India, during which period important events had occurred, which wrought material changes in its political and social aspects. The extinction of the East-India Company's commercial privileges had imparted a new tone to its government, given a freer scope to the principle of innovation, and poured a fresh European infusion into its Anglo-Indian society; steam navigation and an overland communication between England and her Eastern empire were bringing into operation new elements of mutation, and the domestic historian of India (as Miss Roberts may be appropriately termed) felt a natural curiosity to observe the progress of these changes, and to compare the British India of 1830 with that of 1840. With a view of enlarging the sphere of her knowledge of the country, and of deriving every practicable advantage from a twelve-months' visit, she determined to examine India on its Western side, and (contrary to the urgent advice of many of her friends) to encounter the inconveniences of performing the journey overland, through France and Egypt. Previous to her departure, she entered into an arrangement with the Asiatic Journal (the depository of most of her papers on Indian subjects) to transmit, on her way, a series of papers for publication in that work, descriptive of the objects and incidents met with in the overland route, and of the "rising presidency," as she termed Bombay. By a singular coincidence, the last paper of this series was published in the very number of the Asiatic Journal[B] which announced her death. These papers, which are now before the reader, carry on the biography of Miss Roberts almost to the end of her life.
She quitted England in September, 1839, and, having suffered few annoyances on the journey, except a fever which attacked her in the Gulf, arrived in Bombay in November, where she experienced the most cordial reception from all classes, including the Governor and the most respectable of the native community. Miss Roberts was known to Sir James Carnac, and in his Excellency's family she became a guest for some time, quitting his hospitable mansion only to meet with a similar cordiality of welcome from other friends, at the presidency and in the interior. Her residence at Parell has enabled her to draw, with her accustomed felicity, in one of the papers published in this volume, a lively sketch of the domestic scenes and public receptions, as well as the local scenery, at this delightful place. It appears from her letters that Miss Roberts meditated a tour into Cutch or Guzerat, which probably was prevented by her subsequent illness. "It is my intention," she wrote from Parell, December 30th, 1839, "to go into the provinces, as I have received numerous invitations; I am at present divided between Guzerat and Cutch: by going to the latter, I might have an opportunity of seeing Scinde, the new Resident, Captain Outram, being anxious that I should visit it." She adds: "I have received much attention from the native gentlemen belonging to this presidency, and have, indeed, every reason to be pleased with my reception." She had projected a statistical work on this part of India, and in her private letters she speaks with grateful enthusiasm of the liberality with which the government records were opened to her, and of the alacrity with which Europeans and natives forwarded her views and inquiries. In a letter dated in February, 1840, she says: "I am very diligently employed in collecting materials for my work; I am pleased with the result of my labours, and think I shall be able to put a very valuable book upon Bombay before the public. I hope to go in a short time to Mahableshwar, and thence to Sattara, Beejapore, &c." Her literary aid was invoked by the conductors of periodical works at Bombay, to which she furnished some amusing pictures of home-scenes, drawn with the same spirit and truth as her Indian sketches. She likewise undertook the editorship of a new weekly paper, the Bombay United Service Gazette, and with the benevolence which formed so bright a feature in her character, she engaged with zeal in a scheme for rescuing the native women, who (as her observation led her to believe) impede the progress of improvement, from the indolence in which they are educated, by devising employments for them suited to their taste and capacity. The concluding chapter of this volume contains some very sound and salutary reflections upon native education.
Perhaps too close and unremitting application, in a climate which demands moderation in all pursuits that tax the powers of either mind or body, produced or aggravated a disease of the stomach, with which this lady was seriously attacked when on a visit to Colonel Ovans, the Resident at Sattara. Some indication of disordered health manifested itself whilst she was in the Hills. Writing from thence in April, and adverting to some incident which caused her vexation, she observed: "My health is failing me, and I can scarcely bear any increased subject of anxiety." She experienced in the family of Colonel Ovans all the attention and sympathy which the kindest hospitality could suggest; but her disorder increasing, she removed, in the hope of alleviating it by change of air, to Poona, and arrived at the house of her friend, Colonel Campbell, in that city, on the 16th of September. She expired unexpectedly on the following morning. Her remains are deposited near those of one of her own sex, who was also distinguished for her literary talents, Miss Jewsbury.
The death of Miss Roberts excited universal sorrow amongst all classes, European and native, at Bombay, as well as at the other presidencies, especially Calcutta, where the most cordial and flattering tributes to her memory appeared in the public journals. She had nearly completed her inquiries, and accomplished all the objects for which she had revisited the treacherous clime of India, and one of her latest letters to the writer of this Memoir expressed a cheerful anticipation of her speedy return to England! "I positively leave India next October, and am now looking joyfully to my return."
The person and manners of Miss Roberts were extremely prepossessing. In early life, she was handsome; and although latterly her figure had attained some degree of fulness, it had lost none of its ease and grace, whilst her pleasing features, marked by no lines of painful thought, were open and expressive, beaming with animation and good humour. She had not the slightest tinge of pedantry in her manner and deportment, which were natural and affable, so that a stranger never felt otherwise than at ease in her society. It was not her ambition to make a display of mental superiority, which inspires the other sex with any feelings but those of admiration—which is, indeed, tacitly resented as a species of tyranny, and frequently assigned as the ground of a certain prejudice against literary ladies. "It may safely he said," observes a friend of her's at Calcutta, "that, although devoted to literature as Miss Roberts was, yet in her conversation and demeanour she evinced less of what is known as 'blue' than any of her contemporaries, excepting Miss Landon." Another Calcutta acquaintance says: "Though her mind was deeply interested in subjects connected with literature, her attention was by no means absorbed by them, and she mixed cordially and freely in society without the least disposition to despise persons of less intellectual elevation. She had a true relish of all the little pleasures that promiscuous society affords, and did not underrate those talents which are better fitted for the drawing-room than the study." Her warmth of heart and kindness of disposition, which co-operated with her good sense in thus removing all disagreeable points from her external character, made her the sincerest of friends, and ever ready to engage in any work of charity or benevolence.
It would be affectation to attempt in this slight Memoir to elaborate a picture of the intellectual character of Miss Roberts, cut off, as she has been, before that character had been fully developed. The works, upon which her reputation as a writer principally rests, are not, perhaps, of a quality which calls for any commanding powers of mind. Her business was with the surfaces of things; her skill consisted in a species of photography, presenting perfect fac-similes of objects, animate and inanimate, in their natural forms and hues. Deep investigations, profound reflections, and laboured and learned disquisitions, would have defeated the very object of her lively sketches, which was to make them, not only faithful and exact, but popular. Of her success in this design, the following testimony from a competent authority, the Calcutta Literary Gazette, is distinct and decisive; and with this extract we may fitly close our melancholy office: "Nothing can be more minute and faithful than her pictures of external life and manners. She does not, indeed, go much beneath the surface, nor does she take profound or general views of human nature; but we can mention no traveller, who has thrown upon the printed page such true and vivid representations of all that strikes the eye of a stranger. Her book, entitled Scenes and Characteristics of Hindostan, is the best of its kind. Other travellers have excelled her in depth and sagacity of remark, in extent of information, and in mere force or elegance of style; but there is a vivacity, a delicacy, and a truth in her light sketches of all that lay immediately before her, that have never been surpassed in any book of travels that is at this moment present to our memory. She had a peculiar readiness in receiving, and a singular power of retaining, first impressions of the most minute and evanescent nature. She walked through a street or a bazaar, and every thing that passed over the mirror of her mind left a clear and lasting trace. She was thus enabled, even years after a visit to a place of interest, to describe every thing with the same freshness and fidelity as if she had taken notes upon the spot. They who have gone over the same ground are delighted to find in the perusal of her pages their own vague and half-faded impressions revived and defined by her magic glass, while the novelty and vividness of her foreign pictures make her home-readers feel that they are nearly as much entitled to be called travellers as the fair author herself."
[Footnote A: The first appeared in the Journal for December, 1832.]
[Footnote B: For December, 1840.]
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LONDON TO PARIS.
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Departure from London—A French Steam-vessel—Unfavourable Weather—Arrival at Havre—Difficulties at the Custom-house—Description of Havre—Embarkation on the Steamer for Rouen—Appearance of the Country—Inclemency of the Weather—Arrival at Rouen—Description of Rouen—Departure by the Boat for Paris—Scenes and Traditions on the Banks of the Seine—Journey by the Railroad to Paris—The Douaniers—Observations on the Journey up the Seine.
A strong predilection in favour of river scenery induced me, at the commencement of an overland journey to Bombay, through France and Egypt, to take a passage from London in a steamer bound to Havre. Accordingly, on the 1st of September, 1839, accompanied by some friends, one of whom was to perform the whole journey with me, I embarked on board the Phenix, a French vessel, which left the Tower Stairs at about ten o'clock in the morning.
The weather was showery, but occasional gleams of sunshine encouraged us to hope that it might clear up, and permit us to keep the deck during the greater part of the voyage, which we expected to perform in eighteen hours. To the majority of readers, in these days of universal travelling, it will be superfluous to describe a steam-boat; but there may possibly be some quiet people who are still ignorant of the sort of accommodation which it affords, and to whom the description will not be unacceptable.
The Phenix is a fine vessel of its class, five hundred tons burthen, and 160-horse power. It was handsomely fitted up, and the vases of flowers upon the chimney-piece in the principal saloon, and other ornaments scattered about, gave to the whole a gay appearance, as if the party assembled had been wholly bent upon pleasure. The ladies' cabin was divided by a staircase; but there were what, in a sort of mockery, are called "state-cabins" opening into that appropriated to the general use, around which were sofas, and bed-places upon a sort of shelf above, for the accommodation of the gentlemen. This apartment was handsomely carpeted, and otherwise well furnished; the steward and his assistant having the appearance of the better class of waiters belonging to a well-frequented hotel: all the servants were English, and the whole afforded a most delightful contrast to the sort of packets which many of the party on board were quite old enough to remember.
The passengers were numerous, and apparently inclined to make themselves agreeable to each other; one, an American, objected to the sight of a footman, who came upon the quarter-deck for a few minutes, observing that such a thing would not be permitted in his country.
As soon as the vessel got under weigh, preparations were made for breakfast, which was served, a la fourchette, in very excellent style, the cookery being a happy combination of the French and English modes. At the conclusion of the repast, we repaired to the deck, all being anxious to see the British Queen, which was getting her steam up, at Gravesend. We were alongside this superb vessel for a few minutes, putting some persons on board who had come down the river in the Phenix for the purpose of paying it a visit; and taking advantage of a favourable breeze, we hoisted a sail, and went along at a rate which gave us hope of a speedy arrival at Havre.
After passing the Nore, however, our progress was impeded; and at length, when off Margate, we were obliged to lie-to, in order to wait for the turn of the tide: the wind blowing so strongly as to render it questionable whether we could get round the Foreland. The sun was shining on the buildings at Margate, and the bells knolling for evening service; affording a home-scene of comfort and tranquillity which it was agreeable to carry abroad as one of the last reminiscences of England.
In about three hours, we got the steam up again, and saw the British Queen in the distance, still lying to, and apparently, notwithstanding her prodigious power, unable to get down the Channel.
Dinner was served while the Phenix lay off Margate; but it was thinly attended, the motion of the vessel having sent many persons to their cabins, while others were totally deprived of all appetite. An elderly gentleman, who sate upon my left hand, complained exceedingly of his inability to partake of the good things before him; and one or two left the table in despair. Again we sought the deck, and saw the sun sink behind an ominous mass of clouds; the sky, however, cleared, and the stars came out, reviving our spirits with hopes of a fine night. Unfortunately, soon after nine o'clock, a heavy squall obliged us to go below, and one of my female friends and myself took possession of a state cabin, and prepared to seek repose.
It was my first voyage on board a steamer, and though the tremulous motion and the stamping of the engine are anything but agreeable, I prefer it to the violent rolling and pitching of a sailing vessel. We were certainly not nearly so much knocked about; the vases of flowers were taken off the mantel-piece, and placed upon the floor, but beyond this there were no precautions taken to prevent the movables from getting adrift; every thing remained quiet upon the tables, a circumstance which could not have happened in so heavy a sea in any vessel not steadied by the apparatus carried by a steamer.
The Phenix laboured heavily through the water; a torrent of rain soon cleared the deck of all the passengers, and the melancholy voices calling for the steward showed the miserable plight to which the male portion of the party was reduced. Daylight appeared without giving hope of better weather; and it was not until the vessel had reached the pier at Havre, which it did not make until after three o'clock P.M. on Monday, that the passengers were able to re-assemble. Many had not tasted food since their embarkation, and none had been able to take breakfast on the morning of their arrival.
And here, for the benefit of future travellers, it may not be amiss to say, that a small medicine-chest, which had been packed in a carpet-bag, was detained at the custom-house; and that the following day we experienced some difficulty in getting it passed, being told that it was contraband; indeed, but for an idea that the whole party were going on to Bombay, and would require the drugs for their own consumption, we should not have succeeded in rescuing it from the hands of the Philistines. The day was too far advanced to admit of our getting the remainder of the baggage examined, a mischance which detained us a day at Havre, the steamer to Rouen starting at four o'clock in the morning.
The weather was too unpropitious to admit of our seeing much of the environs of the town. Like all English travellers, we walked about as much as we could, peeped into the churches, made purchases of things we wanted and things we did not want, and got some of our gold converted into French money. We met and greeted several of our fellow-passengers, for though little conversation, in consequence of the inclemency of the weather, had taken place on board the Phenix, we all seemed to congratulate each other upon our escape from the horrors of the voyage.
The gale increased rather than abated, and we now began to entertain fears of another day's detention at Havre, the steamer from Rouen not having arrived; and though we were very comfortably lodged, and found the town superior to the expectations we had formed of a sea-port of no very great consideration, we had no desire to spend more time in it than we could help.
Havre appears to carry on a considerable commerce with India, several shops being wholly devoted to the sale of the productions of the East, while the number of parrots and monkeys to be seen show that the intercourse must be very extensive. The shops had a very English air about them, and though the houses were taller, and rather more dilapidated in their appearance, than they are usually found at home, they reminded us of familiar scenes. Hamlet was announced for the evening's performance at the theatre, and but for the novelty of dining at a table d'hote, we might have fancied ourselves still in England.
The Hotel de l'Europe is the best in Havre; there are several others very respectable, and more picturesque, from the ancient style of the building: all were full, intercourse with Havre being on the increase. English carriages were arriving every hour; the steamer from Southampton brought an immense number of passengers, and travellers seemed to flock in from every part of the world. We were amused by seeing a well-dressed and well-mannered Russian lady, at the table d'hote, fill her plate half-full of oil, and just dip the salad into it.
It was the first time that one of my friends and myself had ever visited France, and we endeavoured as much as possible to accommodate ourselves to the manners of a strange country. We could not, however, entirely give up our English habits, and ordered tea in the evening in our private apartments: the French are by this time well accustomed to requisitions of this nature, and few places are now unsupplied with a tea-pot.
On Tuesday morning, we were up at four o'clock, in order to embark on board the steamer for Rouen. It rained heavily, and any hopes, the interposition of the high houses gave, that the wind had abated, were destroyed upon turning the first angle, and after a hasty glance at the threatening sky and surging waters, we went below, intending, if possible, to remain there until the weather should clear.
Passengers now came flocking in; many respectable French families, with their children and neatly dressed bonnes, were of the party; but the young folk speedily becoming very sick, we sought the deck, and in spite of the rain, which still continued to fall, established ourselves as well as we were able.
Upon entering the river, the turbulence of the water subsided a little, and a gleam of sunshine, the first that smiled upon us, shewed a chateau and town nestling in the midst of gardens and orchards, and spreading down to the water's edge. The banks on either side were picturesque, presenting the most pleasing pictures of rural enjoyment, and conveying an idea of comfort which we had not previously associated with the smaller classes of country residences in France. The houses were cleanly on the outside, at least, and neither paint nor white-wash was spared in their decoration; the surrounding parterres were gay with flowers, amid which, as with us, dahlias made a very conspicuous appearance. They were not, we thought, quite so large and luxuriant as those which we see in our cottage-gardens at home; and this remark we found afterwards would apply to the more carefully tended plants in the pleasure-grounds of palaces. We are probably more skilful in the adaptation of soil to foreign importations, and therefore succeed in producing a finer flower.
In my baggage I had brought a large basket-full of the roots of our English hearts-ease, as a present to a French gentleman, who had expressed a wish, in the early part of the summer, to take some with him from London, he having been much delighted with the superior beauty of those which he had seen in our English gardens; they were not then in a fit state for transplanting, and having, through the kindness of the secretary of the Royal Botanic Society, been enabled to carry away an extensive and choice collection of roots, I indulge a hope that I may be instrumental in spreading the finest varieties of this pretty flower throughout France.
We lost, of course, many scenes of beauty and interest, in consequence of the inclemency of the weather. Just as we arrived at a most beautiful place, a church of elegant architecture rising in the centre, with gay-looking villas clustered round, the gathering clouds united over our devoted heads, the rain, descending in a cataract, beat down the smoke to the very decks, so that we all looked and felt as if we had been up the chimney, and the whole lovely scene was lost to us in a moment. The rain continued for about an hour after this, and then the sky began to clear.
We reached Rouen at about half-past twelve. The approach is very fine, and the city makes an imposing appearance from the river. We had been recommended to the Hotel d'Angleterre, which is the best, but were so strongly tempted to rush into the hotel immediately opposite, that, trusting to its exterior, we hastened to house ourselves, and found no reason to repent our choice. We were shown into very handsome apartments, and found the staircases, lobbies, and ante-chambers as clean as we could desire. A change of attire and breakfast enabled us to sally forth to see as much of the town and its neighbourhood as our time would admit.
The modern portion of Rouen is extremely handsome; the quay being lined with a series of lofty stone mansions, built in the style which is now beginning to be adopted in London. The public buildings are particularly fine, and there are two splendid bridges, one of stone, and one upon the suspension principle. Very extensive improvements are going on, and it seems as if, in the course of a very few years, the worst portions of the town will be replaced by new and elegant erections. Meantime, imagination can scarcely afford more than a faint idea of the horrors of the narrow, dirty streets, flanked on either side by lofty squalid houses, in the very last stage of dilapidation.
The cathedral stands in a small square, or market-place, where the houses, though somewhat better than their neighbours in the lanes, have a very miserable appearance; they make a striking picture, but the reality sadly detracts from the pleasure which the eye would otherwise take in surveying the fine old church, with which, through the medium of engravings, it has been long familiar. Many workmen are at present employed in repairing the damage which time has inflicted upon this ancient edifice.
The interior, though striking from its vastness, is at first rather disappointing, its splendid windows of stained glass being the most prominent of its ornaments. In pacing the long aisles, and pausing before the small chapels, the scene grows upon the mind, and the monuments, though comparatively few, are very interesting. An effigy of Richard Coeur de Lion, lately discovered while looking for the fiery monarch's heart, which was buried in Rouen, is shown as one of the chief curiosities of the place.
The porter of the cathedral inhabited an extremely small dwelling, built up against the wall, and surrounded by high, dark buildings; but we were pleased to see that he had cheered this dismal place of abode by a gay parterre, several rich-looking flowers occupying pots beneath his windows.
Our next pilgrimage was to the statue of Joan of Arc, which we approached through narrow streets, so dirty from the late heavy rains, as to be scarcely passable. We had, as we might have expected, little to reward us, except the associations connected with the Maid of Orleans, and her cruel persecutors. The spot had been to me, from my earliest years, one which I had felt a wish to visit, my researches, while writing the Memoirs of the Rival Houses of York and Lancaster, materially increasing the interest which an earlier perusal of the history of England and France had created, concerning scenes trodden by the brave, the great, and the good. However mistaken might have been their notions, however impolitic their actions, we cannot contemplate the characters of the Paladins, who have made Rouen famous, without feelings of respect. The murder of Joan of Arc formed the sole blot on the escutcheon of John Duke of Bedford, and the faults and vices of his companions in arms were the offspring of the times in which they lived.
We were surprised by the excellence of the shops, even in the most dilapidated parts of the city of Rouen, the windows in every direction exhibiting a gay assemblage of goods of all descriptions, while the confectioners were little, if at all, inferior to those of Paris. One small square in particular, in which a market was held, was very striking, from the contrast between the valuable products sold, and the houses which contained them. Seven or eight stories in height, weather-stained, and dilapidated, the lower floors exhibited handsome porcelain and other costly articles, which gave an impression of wealth in the owners, that astonished those amongst our party who were strangers to the country. Our hearts absolutely sunk within us as we thought of the wretchedness of the interiors, the misery of being obliged to inhabit any one of the numerous suites of apartments rising tier above tier, and from which it would be absolutely impossible to banish vermin of every description.
The French appear certainly to be beginning to study home comforts, all the modern houses being built upon very commodious plans; still the middling classes, in the towns at least, are miserably lodged, in comparison with the same grades in England, families of apparently great respectability inhabiting places so desolate as to strike one with horror.
After picking our way through the least objectionable of the streets in the heart of the city, we were glad to escape into the open air, and solace ourselves with the views presented on the neighbouring heights. Nothing can be finer than the landscapes round Rouen; every necessary of life appears to be cheap and plentiful, and persons desirous of a quiet and economical residence abroad might spend their time very happily in the outskirts of this picturesque city.
We found the guests at the table-d'hote chiefly English, travellers like ourselves, and some of our party recognised London acquaintance among those who, upon hearing our intention to proceed the following day up the Seine to Paris, recommended the boat by which they had arrived—the Etoile.
Again we were summoned at four o'clock in the morning, and wended our way, along the banks of the river, to the starting-place, which was just beyond the second bridge. The one large boat, which conveyed passengers from Havre, was here exchanged for two smaller, better suited to the state of the river. We were taught to expect rather a large party, as we had understood that forty persons were going from our hotel.
The bell of the Dorade, the opposition vessel, was sounding its tocsin to summon passengers on board, while ours was altogether mute. Presently, through the grey mist of the morning, we observed parties flocking down to the place of embarkation, who, somewhat to our surprise, all entered the other vessel. A large boat in the centre, in which the baggage is deposited, was speedily filled, carpet bags being piled upon carpet bags, until a goodly pyramid arose, which the rising sun touched with every colour of the prism. The decks of the Dorade were now crowded with passengers, while two respectable-looking young women, in addition to ourselves, formed the whole of our company.
Our bell now gave out a few faint sounds, as if rather in compliance with the usual forms observed, than from any hope that its warning voice would be heeded; and getting up our steam, we took the lead gallantly, as if determined to leave the heavier boat behind. Presently, however, the Dorade passed us with all her gay company, and speeding swiftly on her way, would have been out of sight in a few minutes, but for the windings of the river, which showed us her smoke like a pennon in the distance. We were now left alone in our glory, and felt assured of what we had more than suspected before, namely, that we had got into the wrong boat. We then, though rather too late, inquired the cause of the extraordinary disproportion of the passengers, and were told that the Etoile was the favourite boat going down the river, while the Dorade had it hollow in going up.
We now began to consider the circumstances of the case, and the chances of our not arriving time enough at the place of debarkation to get on to Paris by the rail-road that night. Agreeing that the detention would not be of the least consequence, that we should enjoy having the whole boat to ourselves, and the slow method of travelling, which would enable us the better to contemplate the beauties of the river, we made up our minds to a day of great enjoyment. The weather was fine, a cool breeze allaying the heat of the sun, which shone upon us occasionally through clouds too high to afford any apprehension of rain.
The boat was very elegantly fitted up below, the ladies' cabin, in particular, being splendidly furnished. Above, the choice of seats proved very acceptable, since, in consequence of a new-fangled apparatus, we had four chimnies, whence sparks escaped in a constant shower, threatening destruction to any garment that might be exposed to them. Seated, therefore, at the prow, beyond the reach of this fiery shower, after partaking of an excellent breakfast, there being a first-rate restaurateur on board, we began to converse with a very intelligent boatman, who amused us with the legends of the river and accounts of the different places which we passed.
At Blossville-Bon-Secours there is an extremely steep hill, with a chapel, dedicated to the Virgin, at the summit; the holy edifice is, upon ordinary occasions, approached by a circuitous winding road, but at Easter and other great festivals, thousands of persons flock from all parts, for the purpose of making a pilgrimage up the steepest portion of the ascent, in order to fulfil vows previously made, and to pay their homage to the holy mother of God. There was a waggery in our friend's eye, as he described the sufferings of the devout upon these occasions, which indicated an opinion that, however meritorious the act, and however efficacious in shortening the path to heaven, he himself entertained no desire to try it. This man had seen something of the world, his maritime occupation having formerly led him to distant places; he had been a sailor all his life, was well acquainted with Marseilles, which he described with great enthusiasm, and gave us to understand that, having had a good offer elsewhere, this would be one of his last voyages in the Etoile, since he worked hard in it, without getting any credit.
At the town of Elboeuf, we picked up another passenger; a country woman, with a basket or two, and a high Normandy cap, had come on board at one of the villages; and with this small reinforcement we proceeded, halting occasionally to mend some damage in the engine, and putting up a sail whenever we could take advantage of the breeze.
Arriving at La Roquelle, our cicerone pointed out to us the ruined walls of what once had been a very splendid chateau; its former owner being an inveterate gamester, having lost large sums of money, at length staked the chateau to an Englishman, who won it. Upon arriving to take possession, he was disappointed to find that he had only gained the chateau, and that the large estate attached to it was not in the bond. Being unable to keep it up without the surrounding property, he determined that no other person should enjoy it, and therefore, greatly to the annoyance of the people in the neighbourhood, he pulled it down. The present proprietor now lives in an adjacent farm-house, and the story, whether true or false, tells greatly to the prejudice of the English, and our friend, in particular, spoke of it as a most barbarous act.
We found the chateaux on the banks of the Seine very numerous; many were of great magnitude, and flanked by magnificent woods, the greater number being clipped into the appearance of walls, and cut out into long avenues and arcades, intersecting each other at right angles, in the very worst taste, according to the English idea of landscape-gardening. There was something, however, extremely grand and imposing in this formal style, and we were at least pleased with the novelty which it afforded.
At Andelys, perched upon a conical hill, are the picturesque remains of the chateau Gaillard, which was built by Richard Coeur de Lion, and must formerly have been of very great extent, its walls reaching down to the river's brink. We were told that the chateau furnished stabling for a thousand horses, and that there was a subterranean passage which led to the great Andelys. This passage is now undergoing a partial clearing, for the purpose of increasing the interest of the place, by exhibiting it to strangers who may visit the neighbourhood. Our informant proceeded to say, that during several years, an old witch inhabited the ruins, who was at once the oracle and the terror of the neighbourhood.
The sketch-books of the party were here placed in requisition, and though the celerity with which a steamer strides through the water is not very favourable to the artist, a better idea of the scene was given than that which we found in the Guide Book. The banks of the Seine present a succession of pictures, all well worthy of the pencil, and those who are fond of the picturesque, and who have time at their disposal, will find the voyage up the river replete with the most interesting materials.
The first sight of the vineyards, which began to spread themselves up the steep sides of the hills, delighted us all; and our prospects now began to be diversified with rock, which in a thousand fantastic forms showed itself along the heights. The country seemed thickly spread with villages, many at the edge of the water, others receding into winding valleys, and all boasting some peculiar beauty. Whether upon a nearer approach they would have been equally pleasing, it is not possible to say; but, from our position, we saw nothing to offend the eye, either in the cottages or the people; some of the very humblest of the dwellings boasted their little gardens, now gay with sun-flowers and dahlias, while the better sort, with their bright panes of glass, and clean muslin window-curtains, looked as if they would afford very desirable homes.
A present of a bottle of wine made our boatmen very happy. They produced one of those huge masses of bread, which seems the principal food of the lower classes, and sate down to their meal with great content. Our dinner, which we had ordered rather early, was delayed by the arrival of the boat at Vernon, where we were obliged, according to the French phrase, to "mount the bridge." It was built, agreeably to the old mode of construction, with a mill in the centre, and the difficulty, and even danger, of getting through the arch, could not be called inconsiderable. Letting off the steam, we were hauled up by persons stationed for the purpose; and just as we got through, passed the steamers going down to Rouen, the partners of the vessels which went up in the morning; both were full, our star being the only unlucky one. However, what might have been a hardship to many others was none to us, it being scarcely possible to imagine any thing more delightful than a voyage which, though comparatively slow, was the reverse of tedious, and in which we could discourse unrestrainedly, and occupy any part of the vessel most agreeable to ourselves. We picked up a very respectable man and his daughter, an interesting little girl, who spoke English very tolerably, and seemed delighted to meet with English ladies; and also an exquisite, dressed in the first style of the Parisian mode, but of him we saw little, he being wholly occupied with himself.
The steam-company are entering into an arrangement at Vernon for the construction of a lock similar to one already formed at Pont-de-l'Arche, which we had passed through in the morning, and which will obviate the inconvenience and difficulty of the present mode of navigating the river.
The next place of interest to which we came was Rosny, a village famous in the pages of history as the residence of the great and good, the friend and minister of Henry IV., the virtuous Sully. Our boatmen, who were not great antiquaries, said nothing about the early occupants of the chateau, exerting all their eloquence in praise of a later resident—the Duchesse de Berri. This lady rendered herself extremely popular in the vicinity, living in a style of princely splendour, and devoting her time to acts of munificence. Every year she portioned off a bride, giving a dowry to some respectable young lady of the neighbourhood, while to the poor she was a liberal and untiring benefactress. The boatmen blessed her as they passed, for to all she sent wine, and upon fete-days gave banquets to the rural population, to whom her remembrance will be ever dear. Our informants pointed out a small chapel, which they described as being very beautiful, which she had built as a depository for her husband's heart; this precious relic she carried away with her when she left Rosny, which she quitted with the regrets of every human being in the neighbourhood.
The chateau has been purchased by an English banker, but is now uninhabited: there was a report of its being about to be pulled down. It is a large, heavy building, not distinguished by any architectural beauty, yet having an imposing air, from its extent and solidity. It is surrounded by fine woods and pleasure-grounds, laid out in the formal style, which is still the characteristic of French landscape-gardening. Nothing can be more beautiful than the surrounding scenery, the winding river with its vineyards hanging in terraces from the opposite heights, the village reposing beneath sun-lit hills, while corn-fields, pasture-land, and cattle grazing, convey the most pleasing ideas of the comfort of those who dwell upon this luxuriant soil.
The city of Mantes now appeared in the distance, and as we approached it, our guides pointed out, on the opposite heights of Gassicourt, a hermitage and Calvary, which had formerly proved a great source of profit. An ascetic, of great pretensions to sanctity, took up his abode many years ago in this retreat, carrying on a thriving trade, every boat that passed contributing twopence, for which consideration the hermit rung a bell, to announce their arrival at the bridge of Mantes, giving notice to the town, in order to facilitate the transfer of baggage or passengers. This tax or tribute the hermit was not himself at the trouble of collecting, it being scrupulously despatched to him by the donors, who would have deemed it sinful to deprive the holy man of what they considered his just due.
The sort of piety, which once supported so great a multitude of religious mendicants, is greatly on the decline in France. A few crosses on the bridges and heights, and the dresses of the priesthood whom we encountered in the streets, were the only exterior signs of Roman Catholicism which we had yet seen. Our boatmen spoke with great respect of the Sisters of Charity, pointing out a convent which they inhabited, and told us that during illness they had themselves been greatly indebted to the care and attention of these benevolent women.
It was now growing dark, and we very narrowly escaped a serious accident in passing the bridge of Meulan, the boat coming into contact with one of the piers; fortunately, the danger was espied in time. There was now not the slightest chance of reaching Paris before the following morning; but we regretted nothing except the want of light, the gathering clouds rendering it impossible to see any thing of the scenery, which, we were told, increased in beauty at every mile. We consoled ourselves, however, with tea and whist in the cabin; in fact, we played with great perseverance throughout the whole of our journey, the spirits of the party never flagging for a single instant.
We found a good hotel at the landing-place, at which we arrived at a very late hour, and starting the next morning by the early train to Paris, passed by the rail-road through an extremely interesting country, leaving St. Germain-en-Laye behind, and tracking the windings of the Seine, now too shallow to admit of the navigation of boats of any burthen.
The construction of this rail-road was attended with considerable difficulty and great expense, on account of its being impeded by the works at Marli, for the supply of water to Versailles. The building of the bridges over the Seine, which it crosses three times, was also very costly. The carriages of the first class are very inferior to those of the same description upon the rail-roads in England, but they are sufficiently comfortable for so short a distance. We were set down at the barrier of Clichi, an inconvenient distance from the best part of Paris. Here we had to undergo a second inspection of our baggage, and I became somewhat alarmed for the fate of my medicine-chest. We had taken nothing else with as that could be seizable, and this was speedily perceived by the officials, who merely went through the form of an examination.
The divisions in one of my portmanteaus had excited some suspicion at Havre, one of the men fancying that he had made a grand discovery, when he pronounced it to have a false bottom. We explained the method of opening it to his satisfaction, and afterwards, in overhauling my bonnet-box, he expressed great regret at the derangement of the millinery, which certainly sustained some damage from his rough handling. Altogether, we had not to complain of any want of civility on the part of the custom-house officers; but travellers who take the overland route to India, through France, will do well to despatch all their heavy baggage by sea, nothing being more inconvenient than a multitude of boxes. I had reduced all my packages to four, namely, two portmanteaus, a bonnet-box, and a leather bag, which latter contained the medicine-chest, a kettle and lamp, lucifer-matches, &c; my bonnet-box was divided into two compartments, one of which contained my writing-case and a looking-glass; for as I merely intended to travel through a portion of our British possessions in India, and to return after the October monsoon of 1840, I wished to carry every thing absolutely necessary for my comfort about with we.
Another annoyance sustained by persons who take the route through France is, the trouble respecting their passports, which must be ready at all times when called upon for examination, and may be the cause of detention, if the proper forms are not scrupulously gone through. We were not certain whether it would be necessary to present ourselves in person at the Bureau des Passeports, Quai des Orfevres, in Paris, after having sent them to the British embassy; but we thought it better to avoid all danger of delay, and therefore drove to a quarter interesting on account of its being a place of some importance as the original portion of Paris, and situated on the island. In this neighbourhood there are also the famous Hotel Dieu and Notre Dame, to both of which places we paid a visit, looking en passant at the Morgue. The gentleman who accompanied us entered a building, with whose melancholy celebrity all are acquainted; but though it did not at that precise moment contain a corpse, the report did not induce us to follow his example: a circumstance which we afterwards regretted. It may be necessary to say, that at other places we sent our passports to the Hotel de Ville; but at Paris there is a different arrangement.
Although the journey up the Seine from Havre proved very delightful to me, I do not recommend it to others, especially those to whom time is of importance. There is always danger of detention, and the length of the sea-voyage, especially from London, may be productive of serious inconvenience. For seeing the country, it is certainly preferable to the diligence, and my experience will teach those who come after me to inquire into the character of the steam-boat before they enter it.
* * * * *
PARIS TO MARSEILLES.
* * * * *
Description of Paris—Departure by the Diligence—The Country—The Vineyards—Hotels and fare—Arrival at Lyons—Description of the City—Departure in the Steam-boat for Arles—Descent of the Rhone—Beauty and Variety of the Scenery—Confusion on disembarking at Beaucaire—A Passenger Drowned—Arrival at Arles—Description of the Town—Embarkation in the Steamer for Marseilles—Entrance into the Mediterranean—Picturesque approach to Marseilles—Arrival in the Harbour—Description of Marseilles—Observations upon the Journey through France by Ladies.
A week's residence in Paris does not give a stranger any title to decide upon the merits or demerits of that far-famed city. The period of the year (September) was not the most favourable for a visit, all the best families having emigrated to their country habitations, and the city consequently exhibited a deserted air, at variance with every preconceived notion of the gaiety of the French capital. The mixture of meanness and magnificence in the buildings, the dirt and bad smells, combine to give an unfavourable impression, which time only, and a better acquaintance with the more agreeable features of the place, can remove.
We had entertained a hope, upon our arrival in Paris, of getting the malle poste for our journey to Chalons; but it was engaged for at least a month in advance. We were not more fortunate, our party now being reduced to three, in our endeavour to secure the coupe, and were obliged to be contented with places (corners) in the interior. We despatched all our heavy goods—that is, the portmanteaus—by messagerie, to Marseilles, which was a great saving of trouble. Though the expense of this conveyance is enormous, it has the great advantage of speed, travelling nearly as quickly as the diligence, while by the roulage, which is cheaper, very inconvenient delays may be incurred.
We quitted Paris on the 13th of September, well pleased with the treatment we had received. Though the charges for lodging, washing, &c. were high, there was no attempt at imposition; our landlady would not allow us to pay any thing for the eighth day of our abode, although we thereby entered into another week. We had the pleasure of leaving every body well satisfied with us, and willing to receive another English party.
The diligence started at the appointed hour, namely, six o'clock in the evening. Unaccustomed to travel all night, we were rather anxious about breakfast, as we had merely stopped to change horses, without resting for any refreshment since we quitted Paris. Upon our arrival at Sens, at about seven o'clock in the morning, we were amused by the appearance of a party of persons running, gesticulating, and talking with all their might, who brought hot coffee, milk, bread, and fruit to the carriage-door. At first we were disinclined to avail ourselves of the breakfast thus offered, but learning that we should not get any thing else before twelve o'clock in the day, we overcame our scruples, and partook of the despised fare, which we found very good of its kind.
The country we passed through was rich with vineyards, and, on account of the undulating nature of the land, and the frequency of towns and villages, exceedingly pleasing to the eye. We were continually delighted with some splendid burst of scenery. There was no want of foliage, the absence of the magnificent timber which we find in England being the less remarkable, in consequence of the number of trees which, if not of very luxuriant growth, greatly embellish the landscape, while we saw the vine everywhere, the rich clusters of its grapes reaching to the edge of the road. Though robbed of its grace, and its lavish display of leaf and tendril, by the method of cultivating, each plant being reduced to the size of a small currant-bush, the foliage, clothing every hill with green, gave the country an aspect most grateful to those who are accustomed to English verdure.
We made our first halt at Auxerre, when a dejeuner a la fourchette was served up to the travellers in the diligence. A bad English dinner is a very bad thing, but a bad French one is infinitely worse. Hitherto, we had fed upon nothing but the most dainty fare of the best hotels and cafes, and I, at least, who wished to see as much as I could of France, was not displeased at the necessity of satisfying the cravings of appetite with bread and melon. There were numerous dishes, all very untempting, swimming in grease, and brought in a slovenly manner to the table; a roast fowl formed no exception, for it was sodden, half-raw, and saturated with oil. It was only at the very best hotels in France that we ever found fowls tolerably well roasted; generally speaking, they are never more than half-cooked, and are as unsightly as they are unsavoury. Our fellow-passengers did ample justice to the meal, from which we gladly escaped, in order to devote the brief remainder of our time to a hasty toilet.
From what we could see of it, Auxerre appeared to be a very pretty place, it being at this time perfectly enwreathed with vines. In fact, every step of our journey increased our regret that we should be obliged to hurry through a country which it would have delighted us to view at leisure, each town that we passed through offering some inducement to linger on the road. Active preparations were making for the vintage, the carts which we met or overtook being laden with wine-casks, and much did we desire to witness a process associated in our minds with the gayest scenes of rural festivity.
It would not be a fair criterion to judge of the accommodation afforded at the hotels of the French provinces by those at which the diligence changed horses; in some I observed that we were not shown into the best apartments reserved for public entertainment, but in none did we find any difficulty in procuring water to wash with, nor did we ever see a dish substituted for a basin. From our own observation, it seems evident that the inns in the provinces have been much improved since the peace with England, and it appeared to us, that no reasonable objection could be made to the accommodation supplied. Auxerre certainly furnished the worst specimen we met with on the road; at no other place had we any right to complain of our entertainment, and at some the fare might be called sumptuous.
On the third morning from our departure from Paris, when nearly exhausted, the rising sun gave us a view of the environs of Lyons. We had been afraid to stop at Chalons the day before, having been informed that the Saone was not sufficiently full to ensure the certainty of the steam-boat's arrival at the promised time at Lyons. This was a great disappointment, but we were rewarded by the rich and beautiful scenery which characterises the route by land. We could not help fancying that we could distinguish the home of Claude Melnotte amid those villages that dotted the splendid panorama; and the pleasure, with which I, at least, contemplated the fine old city, was not a little enhanced by its association with the Lady of Lyons and her peasant lover.
Lyons more than realised all the notions which I had formed concerning it, having an air of antique grandeur which I had vainly expected to find at Rouen. It is well-built throughout, without that striking contrast between the newer buildings and the more ancient edifices, which is so remarkable in the capital of Normandy. The Hotel de Ville, in the large square, is a particularly fine building, and the whole city looks as if it had been for centuries the seat of wealth and commerce.
Friends in England, and the few we met with or made in Paris, had furnished us with the names of the hotels it would be most advisable to put up at; but these lists were, as a matter of course, lost, and we usually made for the nearest to the place where we stopped. The Hotel de Paris, which looks upon the Hotel de Ville, was the one we selected at Lyons; it was large and commodious, but had a dull and melancholy air. As it is usual in French hotels, the building enclosed a court-yard in the centre, with galleries running round the three sides, and reaching to the upper stories. The furniture, handsome of its kind, was somewhat faded, adding to the gloom which is so often the characteristic of a provincial inn.
As soon as possible, we sallied forth, according to our usual wont, to see as much as we could of the town and its environs; both invited a longer stay, but we were anxious to be at Marseilles by the 19th, and therefore agreed to rise at half-past three on the following morning, in order to be ready for the steamer, which started an hour after. We had begun, indeed, to fancy sleep a superfluous indulgence; my female friend (Miss E.), as well as myself, suffering no other inconvenience from three nights spent in a diligence than that occasioned by swelled feet and ancles.
We found a very considerable number of persons in the steam-boat, many of whom were English, and amongst them a gentleman and his wife, who, with four children, were travelling to Nice, where they proposed to spend the winter. The fine weather of the preceding day had deserted us, and it rained in torrents during the first hours of the descent of the Rhone. The wet and cold became so difficult to bear, that I was glad to take up a position under the funnel of the steamer, where, protected a little from the rain, I speedily got dry and warm, enjoying the scenery in despite of the very unfavourable state of the weather. We missed our communicative boatman of the Seine, but met with a very intelligent German, who gave us an account of the remarkable places en route, pointing out a spot once exceedingly dangerous to boats ascending or descending, in consequence of a projecting rock, which, by the orders of the Emperor Napoleon, had been blown up.
All the steamers which leave Lyons profess to go as far as Arles; but, in order to ensure conveyance to that place the same evening, it is necessary to ascertain whether they carry freight to Beaucaire, for in that case they always stay the night to unlade, taking the boat on at an early hour the following morning. We found ourselves in this predicament; and perhaps, under all the circumstances to be related, it would be advisable to leave the Lyons boat at Avignon and proceed by land to Marseilles. Many of the passengers pursued this plan.
The weather cleared up in the middle of the day, and we passed Avignon in a rich crimson sunset, which threw its roseate flush upon the ruins of the Papal palace, and the walls and bastions of this far-famed city. Experience had shown us the impossibility of taking more than a cursory view of any place in which we could only sojourn for a single day, and therefore we satisfied ourselves with the glimpses which we caught of Avignon from the river. A half-finished bridge, apparently of ancient date, projects rudely into the middle of the stream; we passed through another more modern, though somewhat difficult to shoot; our voyage the whole day having been made under a succession of bridges, many upon the suspension principle, and extremely light and elegant. The beauty and variety of the scenery which presented itself, as we shot along the banks of the Rhone, were quite sufficient to engage our attention, and to make the hours fly swiftly along; there were few, however, of our fellow-travellers who did not resort to other methods of amusement.
After the weather had cleared, the decks dried, and the sun-beams, warming, without scorching, glanced through fleecy clouds, the greater number of the passengers remained in the cabin below, whence, the windows being small and high, there was literally nothing to be seen. They employed themselves in reading, writing, or working; the French ladies in particular being most industrious in plying the needle. We noticed one family especially, who scarcely shewed themselves upon deck. It consisted of the mother, an elderly lady, of a very prepossessing appearance, with her son and daughter; the former about thirty years old, the latter considerably younger. The dress of the ladies, which was perfectly neat, consisting of printed muslin dresses, black silk shawls, and drawn bonnets, seemed so completely English, that we could scarcely believe that they were not our own countrywomen; they were the most diligent of the workers and readers, and as we never went down into the cabin unless to take some refreshment, or to fetch any thing we wanted, a few brief civilities only passed between us, but these were so cordially offered, that we regretted that want of inclination to enjoy the air and prospect upon deck which detained the party below.
There was a restaurateur on board the steamer, who supplied the passengers, at any hour they pleased, with the articles inserted in his carte; every thing was very good of its kind, but the boat itself was neither handsomely nor conveniently fitted up, and I should recommend in preference the new iron steamers which have been lately introduced upon the Rhone.
It was about nine o'clock in the evening when we reached Beaucaire; one other boat stopped at this place, but the rest, to our mortification, went on to Arles. We were told that we must be at the river-side at four the next morning, in order to proceed, and we therefore could not reckon upon more than four or five hours' sleep. The night was very dark, and a scene of great confusion took place in the disembarkation. We had agreed to wait quietly until the remainder of the passengers got on shore; and Miss E. and myself, glad to escape from the bustle and confusion of the deck, went down below to collect our baggage, &c. The quay was crowded with porters, all vociferating and struggling to get hold of parcels to carry, while the commissionaires from the hotels were more than ever eager in their recommendations of their respective houses: their noise and gesticulations were so great, and their requests urged with so much boldness, that we might have been led to suppose we had fallen into the hands of banditti, who would plunder us the moment they got us into their clutches.
Miss E. had posted herself at an open window, watching this strange scene, and while thus employed, was startled by hearing a piercing scream, and a plunge into the water; at the same moment, the clamour on shore became excessive. We instantly rushed upon deck, where we found our other friend safe; and upon inquiring what had happened, were told that a box had fallen into the river. Not quite satisfied of the truth of this statement, we asked several other persons, and received the same answer, the master of the steamer assuring us that no more serious accident had occurred.
We soon afterwards went on shore, which was then perfectly quiet, and, preceded by a commissionaire, who had persuaded the gentleman of our party to put himself under his convoy, we walked into the town. At a short distance from the water, we came upon an hotel of very prepossessing appearance, which we concluded to be the one to which we were bound. The windows of the lower and upper floors were all open, the rooms lighted, showing clean, gay-looking paper upon the walls, and furniture of a tempting appearance. Our conductor, however, passed the door, and dived down a lane, upon which we halted, and declared our resolution to go no further. After a little parley, and amongst other representations of the superior accommodations of the unknown hotel, an assurance that the stables were magnificent, we gained our point, and entered the house which had pleased us so much. We were met at the door by two well-dressed, good-looking women, who showed us into some excellent apartments up-stairs, all apparently newly-fitted up, and exceedingly well-furnished.
Ordering supper, we descended to the public room, and as we passed to a table at the farther end, noticed a young man sitting rather disconsolately at a window. We were laughing and talking with each other, when, suddenly starting up, the stranger youth exclaimed, "You are English? how glad I am to hear my own language spoken again!" He told us that he was travelling through France to Malta, and had come by the other steam-boat, in which there were no other English passengers beside himself. He then inquired whether a lady had not been drowned who came by our vessel; we answered no; but upon his assurance that such was the fact, we began to entertain a suspicion that the truth had been concealed from us. It was not, however, until the next morning, that we could learn the particulars. The gentleman who had accompanied us, and who had likewise been deceived by the statements made to him, ascertained that the accident had befallen the elderly French lady, with whose appearance we had been so much pleased. She had got on board a boat moored close to ours, and believing that she had only to step on shore, actually walked into the river. She was only ten minutes under water, and the probabilities are, that if the circumstance had been made known, and prompt assistance afforded, she might have been resuscitated. Amid the number of English passengers on board the steamer, the chances were very much in favour of its carrying a surgeon, accustomed to the best methods to be employed in such cases. No inquiry of the kind was made, and we understood that the body had been conveyed to a church, there to await the arrival of a medical man from the town.
We were, of course, inexpressibly shocked by this fatal catastrophe, the more so because we all felt that we might have been of use had we been told the truth. The grief and distraction of the son and daughter, who had thus lost a parent, very possibly prevented them from taking the best measures in a case of such emergence; whereas strangers, anxious to be of service, and having all their presence of mind at command, might have afforded very important assistance. How little had we thought, during the day spent so pleasantly upon the Rhone, that a fiat had passed which doomed one of the party to an untimely and violent death! Our spirits, which had been of the gayest nature, were damped by this incident, which recurred to our minds again and again, and we were continually recollecting some trifling circumstance which had prepossessed us in favour of the family, thus suddenly overwhelmed by so distressing an event.
A couple of hours brought us to Arles, where we arrived before the town was astir; the steamer to Marseilles did not leave the quay until twelve o'clock, and we were tantalized by the idea of the excellent night's rest we might have had if the steamer had fulfilled its agreement to go on to Arles. The Marseilles boat, though a fine vessel of its class, was better calculated for the conveyance of merchandize than of passengers; there being only one cabin, and no possibility of procuring any refreshment on board. This is the more inconvenient, as there is danger in bad weather of the passage into the harbour of Marseilles being retarded for several hours. We now lamented having slighted an invitation to comfortable quarters in Avignon, which we found on board the Lyons steamer, printed upon a large card.
We were much pleased with what we saw of Arles; it is a clean, well-built town, the streets generally rather narrow, but the houses good. In walking about, we found many of the outer doors open, and neat-looking female servants employed in sweeping the halls and entries. With what I hope may be deemed a pardonable curiosity, we peeped and sometimes stepped into these interiors, and were gratified by the neatness and even elegance which they exhibited. We found the people remarkably civil, and apparently too much accustomed to English travellers to trouble themselves about us. The hotel was not of the best class, and we only saw some very inferior cafes, consisting of one small room, with a curtain before the open door, and on the outside a rude representation, on a board, of a coffee-pot, and a cup and saucer. All the shops at Arles had curtains at the doors, a peculiarity which we had not previously observed in the towns of France. We went into a handsome church, where we found a few people, principally beggars, at prayers, and leaving a small donation in the poor-box, beguiled the time by walking and sitting in the boulevard of the town.
We were glad to embark at twelve o'clock, and soon afterwards we were again in motion. The Rhone is at this place a fine broad stream; but its banks were less interesting than those which we had passed the previous day. We came at length to a large tract of low land, washed on the other side by the Mediterranean, which we were told was tenanted by troops of wild horses, known by their being invariably white. There were certainly many horses to be seen, and amongst them numerous white ones; but they appeared to be exceedingly tame, and had probably only been turned out for the benefit of grazing on the salt marsh. Possibly there might be some difficulty in catching them in so large a plain, perfectly unenclosed, and they might have bred in these solitudes. There were also some very peaceable-looking donkeys to be seen, and now and then a few cows. We did not perceive any human habitations until we came to the extreme point, where one or two low, dreary-looking tenements had been raised.
The view for the last hour had been magnificent, extending over a splendid country to the lower Alps, and now Marseilles appeared in the distance, spread upon the side of a hill down to the water, and its environs stretching far and wide, villas and country mansions appearing in every direction. Upon entering the Mediterranean, we were struck by the line of demarcation which kept the green waters of the Rhone and the deep dark blue of the sea perfectly distinct from each other, there being no blending of tints. Here we were delighted by the appearance of a shoal of large fish, which were seen springing out of the water; several approached the steamer, gamboling about in the most beautiful manner possible, darting along close to the surface, and then making long leaps with their bodies in the air. One of our fellow-passengers, a German, with whom we had made acquaintance, hastened to fetch a gun; but, much to our joy, it missed fire in several attempts to discharge it at the beautiful creatures which had thus amused us with their sports. How strong must be the destructive propensity, when it leads men to wanton acts of barbarity like this; since, had a hundred fish been killed, there would have been no possibility of getting one on board, and the slaughter must merely have been perpetrated for slaughter's sake! Our remonstrances passed unheeded, and we therefore did not conceal our rejoicing over the disappointment.
The entrance into Marseilles is very picturesque, it being guarded on either side by high rocks, bold, and projecting in various shapes. We found the harbour crowded with vessels of various denominations, and amongst them several steamers, one a French ship of war, and another the English Government steamer, appointed to carry the mails to Malta. The smell arising from the stagnant water in the harbour of Marseilles was at first almost intolerable, and it was not without surprise that we saw several gay gondola-looking boats, with white and coloured awnings, filled with ladies and gentlemen, rowing about apparently for pleasure.
The clock struck five as we got on shore, and, much to our annoyance, we found that our first visit was to be paid to the customhouse. Upon embarking at Arles, a gens-d'armes had laid his finger upon our baggage, and demanded our keys; but upon a remonstrance at the absurdity of a re-examination, after it had passed through the whole of France, he allowed it to be put on board inviolate. Here, however, there was no escaping, and, tired as we were, and anxious to get to our hotel, we were obliged to submit to the delay. Fortunately, we were the first arrivals, and the search not being very strict, we were not detained more than ten minutes, or a quarter of an hour, which, under the circumstances, seemed an age. The nearest hotel was of course our place of refuge, and we were fortunate in speedily ending a very good one, the Hotel des Embassadeurs, an immense establishment, exceedingly well-conducted in every respect. Here we enjoyed the prospect of a night's rest, having, during a hundred and ten hours, only had about ten, at two different periods, in bed. Refreshed, however, by a change of dress, we had no inclination to anticipate the period of repose, but hurried our toilet, in order to join the dinner at the table-d'hote.
Marseilles struck us as being the handsomest and the cleanest town we had yet seen in France. All the houses are spacious and lofty, built of white stone, and in good condition, while every portion of the city is well paved, either after the English fashion, or with brick, quite even, and inserted in a very tasteful manner. Many of the streets are extremely wide, and some are adorned with handsome fountains. The shops are very elegant, and much more decorated than those of any other place in France; some had paintings upon glass, richly gilded, on either side of the doors, handsome curtains hung down within, and the merchandise displayed was of the best description. These shops were also well lighted, and together with the brilliant illuminations of the neighbouring cafes, gave the streets a very gay appearance. We wandered about until rather a late hour; the cafes, both inside and outside, were crowded with gentlemen; but in the promenades we saw fewer ladies than we had expected, and came to the conclusion—an erroneous one in all probability—that French women stay very much at home. Assuredly, the beauty of the night was most inviting; but, worn out at last, we were obliged to retire to our hotel.
The next day, we made inquiries concerning the steamers, and learned that the French boat was certainly to start on the following afternoon, the 21st, while the departure of the English vessel was uncertain, depending upon the arrival of the mails. Though disappointed at finding that the French steamer did not touch at Naples, as I had been led to believe, I felt inclined to take my passage in her; but the advantage of being in time to meet the Bombay steamer at Suez was so strongly urged upon me, in consequence of the ticklish state of affairs in Egypt, that, finding plenty of room on board the Niagara, we engaged a couple of berths in the ladies' cabins. Mehemet Ali was represented to us as being so obstinately determined to retain possession of the Turkish fleet, and the British Government so urgent with France to support the Porte against him, that, if this intelligence was to be depended upon, no time ought to be lost. It was with reluctance that I gave up my original intention of lingering on the road, and at Malta, but my unwillingness to run any risk of being shut out of Egypt prevailed. After executing this necessary business, we engaged a carriage, and paying a visit to the British consul, drove about the town and its environs, being the more pleased the more we saw of both. There appeared to be a deficiency of trees in the landscape, but a peculiar air of its own compensated for the want of foliage.