TRAVELS THROUGH THE SOUTH OF FRANCE,
IN THE INTERIOR OF THE PROVINCES
PROVENCE AND LANGUEDOC, IN THE YEARS 1807 AND 1808,
BY A ROUTE NEVER BEFORE PERFORMED, BEING ALONG THE BANKS OF
THE LOIRE, THE ISERE, AND THE GARONNE,
THROUGH THE GREATER PART OF THEIR COURSE.
MADE BY PERMISSION OF THE FRENCH GOVERNMENT.
BY LIEUTENANT-COLONEL PINKNEY, OF THE NORTH AMERICAN NATIVE RANGERS.
PRINTED FOR T. PURDAY AND SON, NO. 1, PATERNOSTER-ROW, AND TO BE HAD OF ALL BOOKSELLERS: BY B. McMILLAN, BOW STREET, COVENT GARDEN. 1809.
Anxiety to see France—Departure from Baltimore—Singular Adventures of the Captain—Character—Employment during the Voyage—Arrival at Liverpool—Stay—Departure for Calais
Morning View of Port—Arrival and landing—A Day at Calais—French Market, and Prices of Provisions
Purchase of a Norman Horse—Visit in the Country—Family of a French Gentleman—Elegance of French domestic Economy—Dance on the Green—Return to Calais
French Cottages—Ludicrous Exhibition—French Travellers—Chaise de Poste—Posting in France—Departure from Calais—Beautiful Vicinity of Boulogne
Boulogne—Dress of the Inhabitants—The Pier—Theatre—Caution in the Exchange of Money—Beautiful Landscape, and Conversation with a French Veteran—Character of Mr. Parker's Hotel—Departure, and romantic Road—Fete Champetre in a Village on a Hill at Montreuil—Ruined Church and Convent,
Departure from Montreuil—French Conscripts—Extreme Youth—Excellent Roads—Country Labourers—Court for the Claims of Emigrants—Abbeville—Companion on the Road—Amiens,
General Character of the Town—Public Walk—Gardens—Half-yearly Fair—Gaining Houses—Table d'Hotes—English at Amiens—Expence of Living,
French and English Roads compared—Gaiety of French Labourers—Breteuil—Apple-trees in the midst of Corn-fields—Beautiful Scenery—Cheap Price of Land in France—Clermont—Bad Management of the French Farmers—Chantilly-Arrival at Paris,
A Week in Paris—Objects and Occurrences—National Library—A French Rout—Fashionable French Supper—Conceits—Presentation at Court—Audience,
Departure from Paris for the Loire—Breakfast at Palaiseau—A Peasant's Wife—Rambouillet—Magnificent Chateau—French Cure—Chartres—Difference of Old French and English Towns—Subterraneous Church—Curious Preservation of the Dead—Angers—Arrival at Nantes,
Nantes—Beautiful Situation—Analogy of Architecture with the Character of its Age—Singular Vow of Francis the Second—Departure from Nantes—Country between Nantes and Angers—Angers,
Angers—Situation—Antiquity and Face of the Town—Grand Cathedral—Markets—Prices of Provisions—Public Walks—Manners and Diversions of the Inhabitants—Departure from Angers—Country between Angers and Saumur—Saumur,
Tours—Situation and general Appearance of it—Origin of the Name of Huguenots—Cathedral Church of St. Martin—The Quay—Markets—Public Walk—Classes of Inhabitants—Environs—Expences of Living—Departure from Tours—Country between Tours and Amboise,
Lovely Country between Amboise and Blois—Ecures—Beautiful Village—French Harvesters—Chousi—Village Inn—Blois—Situation—Church—Market—Price of Provisions,
Houses in Chalk Hills—Magnificent Castle at Chambord—Return from Chambord by Moon-light—St. Laurence on the Waters,
Comparative Estimate of French and English Country Inns—Tremendous Hail Storm—Country Masquerade—La Charite—Beauty and Luxuriance of its Environs—Nevers—Fille-de-Chambre—Lovely Country between Nevers and Moulins-Treading Corn—Moulins—Price of Provisions
Country between Moulins and Rouane—Bresle—Account of the Provinces of the Nivernois and Bourbonnois—Climate—Face of the Country—Soil—Natural Produce—Agricultural Produce—Kitchen Garden—French Yeomen—Landlords—Price of Land—Leases—General Character of the French Provincial Farmers
Lyons—Town-Hall—Hotel de Dieu—Manufactories—Price of Provisions—State of Society—Hospitality to Strangers—Manners—Mode of Living—Departure—Vienne—French Lovers
Avignon—Situation—Climate—Streets and Houses—Public Buildings—Palace—Cathedral—Petrarch and Laura—Society at Avignon—Ladies—Public Walks-—Prices of Provisions—Markets
Departure from Avignon—Olive and Mulberry Fields—Orgon—St. Canat—French Divorces—Inn at St. Canat—Aix—Situation—Cathedral—Society—Provisions—Price of Land—Marseilles—Conclusion
Anxiety to see France—Departure from Baltimore—Singular Adventures of the Captain—Character—Employment during the Voyage—Arrival at Liverpool—Stay—Departure for Calais.
FROM my earliest life I had most anxiously wished to visit France—a country which, in arts and science, and in eminent men, both of former ages and of the present times, stands in the foremost rank of civilized nations. What a man wishes anxiously, he seldom fails, at one period or other, to accomplish. An opportunity at length occurred—the situation of my private affairs, as well as of my public duties, admitted of my absence.
I embarked at Baltimore for Liverpool in the month of April, 1807. The vessel, which was a mere trader, and which had likewise some connexions at Calais, was to sail for Liverpool in the first instance, and thence, after the accomplishment of some private affairs, was to pass to Calais, and thence home. I do not profess to understand the business of merchants; but I must express my admiration at the ingenuity with which they defy and elude the laws of all countries. I suppose, however, that this is considered as perfectly consistent with mercantile honour. Every trader has a morality of his own; and without any intention of depreciating the mercantile class, so far I must be allowed to say, that the merchants are not very strict in their morality. Trade may improve the wealth of a nation, but it most certainly does not improve their morals.
The Captain with whom I sailed was a true character. Captain Eliab Jones, as he related his history to me, was the son of a very respectable clergyman in the West of England. His mother died when he was a boy about twelve years of age, leaving his father with a very large family. The father married again. Young Eliab either actually was, or fancifully believed himself to be, ill-treated by his step-mother. Under this real or imaginary suffering he eloped from his father's house; and making the best of his way for a sea-port, bound himself apprentice to the master of a coasting vessel. In this manner he continued to work, to use his own expressions, like a galley-slave for five years, when he obtained the situation of mate of an Indiaman. He progressively rose, till he happened unfortunately to quarrel with his Captain, which induced him to quit the service of the Company. In the course of his voyages to India, and in the Indian seas, he made what he thought an important discovery relative to the southern whale fishery: he communicated it to a mercantile house upon his return, and was employed by them in the speculation. He now, however, became unfortunate for the first time: his ship was wrecked off the island of Olaheite, and the crew and himself compelled to remain for two or three years on that barbarous but beautiful island.
Such is the outline of Captain Eliab's adventures, with the detail of which he amused me during our voyage. His character, however, deserves some mention. If there is an honest man under the canopy of Heaven, it was Captain Eliab; but his honesty was so plain and downright, so simple and unqualified, that I know not how to describe it than by the plain terms, that he was a strictly just and upright man. He had a sense of honour—a natural feeling of what was right—which seemed extraordinary, when compared with the irregular course of his life. Had he passed through every stage of education, had he been formed from his childhood to manhood under the anxious supervision of the most exemplary parents, he could not have been more strict. I most sincerely hope, that it will be hereafter my fortune to meet with this estimable man, and to enumerate him amongst my friends. I must conclude this brief character of him by one additional trait. A more pious Christian, but without presbyterianism, did not exist than Captain Eliab. He attributed all his good fortune to the blessing of Providence; and if any man was an example that virtue, even in this life, has its reward, it was Captain Eliab. In dangers common to many, he had repeatedly almost alone escaped.
I had no other companion but the worthy Captain: I was his only passenger, and we passed much of our time in the reading of his voyages, of which he had kept an ample journal. His education having been rude and imperfect, the style of his writing was more forcible than pure or correct. I thought his account so interesting, and in many points so important, that I endeavoured to persuade him to give it to the public; and to induce him to it, offered to assist him, during our voyage, in putting it into form. The worthy man accepted my offer, but I found that I had undertaken a work to which I was unequal. I laboured, however, incessantly, and before our arrival had completed so much of it, as to induce the Captain to put it into the hands of a bookseller, by whom, as I have since understood, it was transferred into the hands of a literary gentleman to complete. In some misfortune the manuscript has been lost; and the Captain being in America, there is probably an end of it for ever. All I can now say is, that the public have sustained an important loss.
In this employment our voyage, upon my part at least, passed unperceived, and I was at Liverpool, before I was well sensible that I had left America. Nothing is more tedious than a sea voyage, age, to those whose minds, are intent only upon their passage. In travelling by land, the mind is recreated by variety, and relieved by the novelty of the successive objects which pass before it; but in a voyage by sea, it is inconceivable how wearisome are the sameness and uniformity, which, day after day, meet the eye. When I could not otherwise occupy my mind, I endeavoured to force myself into a doze, that I might have a chance of a dream. One of the best rules of philosophy is, that happiness is an art—a science—a habit and quality of mind, which self-management may in a great degree command and procure. Experience has taught me that this is true. I had made many sea voyages before this, and therefore had repeated proofs of the observation of Lord Bacon, that, of all human progresses, nothing is so barren of all possibility of remark as a voyage by sea; nothing, therefore, is so irksome, to a mind of any vigour or activity. If a man, by long habit, has obtained the knack of retiring into himself—of putting all his faculties to perfect rest, and becoming like the mast of the vessel—a sea voyage may suit him; but to those who cannot sleep in an hammock eighteen hours out of the twenty-four, I would recommend any thing but travel by sea. Cato, as his Aphorisms inform us, never repented but of two things; and the one was, that he went a journey by sea when he might have gone it by land.
The sight of land, after a long voyage, is delightful in the extreme; and I experienced the truth of another remark, that it might be smelt as we approached, even when beyond our sight. I do not know to what to compare its peculiar odour, but the sensations very much resemble those which are excited by the freshness of the country, after leaving a thick-built and smoky city. The sea air is infinitely more sharp than the land air; and as you approach the land, and compare the two, you discover the greater humidity of the one. The sea air, however, has one most extraordinary quality—it removes a cough or cold almost instantaneously. The temperance, moreover, which it compels in those who cannot eat sea provisions, is very conducive to health.
We reached Liverpool without any accident; and as the Captain's business was of a nature which would necessarily detain him for some days, I availed myself of the opportunity, and visited the British metropolis. No city has been more improved within a short period than London. When I saw it before, which was in my earlier days, there were innumerable narrow streets, and miserable alleys, where there are now squares, or long and broad streets, reaching from one end of the town to the other: I observed this particularly, in the long street which extends from Charing Cross to the Parliament Houses. In England, both government and people concur in this improvement.
From London, finding I had sufficient time, I visited Canterbury, and thence Dover. If I were to fix in England, it should be in Canterbury. The country is rich and delightful; and the society, consisting chiefly of those attached to the cathedral church, and to such of their families as have fixed there, elegant, and well informed, I have heard, and I believe it, that Salisbury and Canterbury are the two most elegant towns, in this respect, in England, and that many wealthy foreigners have in consequence made them their residence.
Dover is an horrible place—a nest of fishermen and smugglers: a noble beach is hampered by rope-works, and all the filth attendant upon them. I never saw an excellent and beautiful natural situation so miserably spoilt.
The Captain being ready, and my necessary papers procured, I joined, and having set sail, we were alternately tossed and becalmed for nearly three weeks, and almost daily in sight of land. Some of the spring winds in the English seas are very violent. A favourable breeze at length sprung up, and we flew before the wind. "If this continues," said our Captain, "we shall reach Calais before daylight." This was at sunset; and we had been so driven to sea by a contrary wind on the preceding day, that neither the coast of England nor France were visible. From Dover to Calais the voyage is frequently made in four hours.
Several observations very forcibly struck me in the course of my passage, one of which I must be allowed to mention. I had repeatedly heard, and now knew from experience, the immense superiority of the English commerce over that of France and every nation in the world; but till I had made this voyage, I never had a sufficient conception of the degree of this superiority. I have no hesitation to say, that for one French vessel there were two hundred English. The English fleet has literally swept the seas of all the ships of their enemies; and a French ship is so rare, as to be noted in a journal across the Atlantic, as a kind of phenomenon. A curious question here suggests itself—Will the English Government be so enabled to avail themselves of this maritime superiority, as to counterweigh against the continental predominance of the French Emperor?—Can the Continent be reconquered at sea?—Will the French Emperor exchange the kingdoms of Europe for West India Colonies; or is he too well instructed in the actual worth of these Colonies, to purchase them at any price?—These questions are important, and an answer to them might illustrate the fate of Europe, and the probable termination of the war.
I must not omit one advice to travellers by sea. The biscuit in a long voyage becomes uneatable, and flower will not keep. I was advised by a friend, as a remedy against this inconvenience, to take a large store of what are called gingerbread nuts, made without yeast, and hotly spiced. I kept them close in a tin cannister, and carefully excluded the air. I found them most fully to answer the purpose: they were very little injured when I reached Liverpool, and, I believe, would have sustained no damage whatever, if I had as carefully excluded the air as at first.
Morning View of Port—Arrival and landing—A Day at Calais.—French Market, and Prices of Provisions.
THE Master's prediction proved true, and indeed in a shorter time than he had expected. An unusual bustle on the deck awakened me about midnight; and as my anxious curiosity would not suffer me to remain in my hammock, I was shortly upon deck, and was told in answer to my inquiries, that a fine breeze had sprung up to the south-west, and that we should reach the port of our destination by day-break. This intelligence, added to the fineness of the night, which was still clear, would have induced me to remain above, but by a violent blow from one of the ropes, I was soon given to understand that it was prudent for me to retire. The crew and ship seemed each to partake of the bustle and agitation of each other; the masts bent, the timbers cracked, and ropes flew about in all directions.
It may be imagined, that though returning to my hammock, I did not return to my repose. I lay in all the restlessness of expectation till day-break, when the Captain summoned me upon deck by the grateful intelligence that we were entering the port of Calais. Hurrying upon deck, I beheld a spectacle which immediately dispelled all the uneasy sensations attendant upon a sleepless night. It was one of the finest mornings of the latter end of June; the sun had not risen, but the heavens were already painted with his ascending glories. I repeated in a kind of poetical rapture the inimitable metaphoric epithet of the Poet of Nature; an epithet preserved so faithfully, and therefore with so much genius, by his English translator, Pope. The rosy-fingered morn, indeed, appeared in all her plenitude of natural beauty; and the Sun, that he might not long lose the sight of his lovely spouse, followed her steps very shortly, and exhibited himself just surmounting the hills to the east of Calais.
The sea was unruffled, and we were sailing towards the pier with full sail, and a gentle morning breeze. The land and town, at first faint, became gradually more distinct and enlarged, till we at length saw the people on shore hurrying down to the pier, so as to be present at our anchoring and debarkation. The French in general are much earlier risers than either the Americans or the English; and by the time we were off the pier, about seven in the morning, half of the town of Calais were out to receive and welcome us. The French, moreover, as on every occasion of my intercourse with them I found them afterwards, appeared to me to be equally prominently different from all nations in another quality—a prompt and social nature, a natural benevolence, or habitual civility, which leads them instinctively, and not unfrequently impertinently, into acts of kindness and consideration. Let a stranger land at an English or an American port, and he is truly a stranger; his inquiries will scarcely obtain a civil answer; and any appearance of strangeness and embarrassment will only bring the boys at his heels. On the other hand, let him land in any French port, and almost every one who shall meet him will salute him with the complacency of hospitality; his inquiries, indeed, will not be answered, because the person of whom he shall make them, will accompany him to the inn, or other object of his question.
I have frequently heard, and still more frequently read, that the English nation were characteristically the most good-natured people in the world, and that the Americans, as descendants from the same stock, had not lost this virtue of the parent tree. I give no credit to the justice of this observation. Experience has convinced me, that neither the English nor the Americans deserve it as a national distinction. The French are, beyond all manner of doubt, the most good-humoured people on the surface of the earth; if we understand at least by the term, good-humour those minor courtesies, those considerate kindnesses, those cursory attentions, which, though they cost little to the giver, are not the less valuable to the receiver; which soften the asperities of life, and by their frequent occurrence, and the constant necessity in which we stand of them, have an aggregate, if not an individual importance. The English, perhaps, as nationally possessing the more solid virtues, may be the best friends, and the most generous benefactors; but as friendship, in this more exalted acceptation of it, is rare, and beneficence almost miraculous, it is a serious question with me, which is the most useful being in society—the light good-humoured Frenchman, or the slow meditating Englishman?
There was the usual bustle, as to who should be the bearers of our luggage; a thousand ragged figures, more resembling scarecrows than human beings, seized them from the hands of each other, and we might have bid our property a last farewell perhaps, had it not been for the ill-humour of our Captain. He laid about him with more vigour than mercy, and in a manner which surprised me, either that he should venture, or that even the miserable objects before us should bear. Had he exerted his hands and his oar in a similar manner either in England or in America, he would have been compelled to vindicate his assumed superiority by his superior manhood. Here every one fled before him, and yielded him as much submission and obedience, as if he had been the prefect himself.
The French seem to have no idea of the art of pugilism, and with the sole exception of the military, no point of honour which renders them impatient under any merited personal castigation. They take a blow with great sang froid. Whether from good humour, or cowardice; whether that they thought they deserved it, or that they feared to resent it, the single arm of our Captain chastised a whole rabble of them, and they made a lane for as many of us as chose to land, accompanied by such porters as we had ourselves selected. Three or four of them, however, were still importuning us to permit them to show us to an inn; but as we had already made our selection in this point likewise, our Captain returned them no answer, but by a rough mimickry of their address and gesticulation.
After our luggage had undergone the customary examination by the officers of the customs, in the execution of which office a liberal fee procured us much civility, we were informed that it was necessary to present ourselves before the Commissary, for that so many Englishmen had obtained admission as Americans, that the French government had found it necessary to have recourse to an unusual strictness, and that the Commissary had it in orders not to suffer any one to proceed till after the most rigid inquiry into his passport and business.
Accordingly, having seen our luggage into a wheel-barrow, which the Captain insisted should accompany us, we waited upon the Commissary, but were not fortunate enough to find him at his office. A little dirty boy informed us, that Mons. Mangouit had gone out to visit a neighbour, but that if we would wait till twelve o'clock (it was now about nine), we should infallibly see him, and have our business duly dispatched. The office in which we were to wait for this Mons. Mangouit for three hours, was about five feet in length by three in width, very dirty, without a chair, and in every respect resembling a cobler's stall in one of the most obscure streets of London. Mons. Commissary's inkstand was a coffee-cup without an handle, and his book of entries a quire of dirty writing-paper. This did not give us much idea either of the personal consequence of Mons. Mangouit, or of the grandeur of the Republic.
The boy was sent out to summon his master, as a preferable way to our waiting till twelve o'clock. Monsieur at length made his appearance; a little, mean-looking man, with a very dirty shirt, a well-powdered head, a smirking, bowing coxcomb. He informed us with many apologies, unnecessary at least in a public officer, that he was under the necessity of doing his duty; that his duty was to examine us according to some queries transmitted to him; but that we appeared gentlemen, true Americans, and not English spies.
After a long harangue, in which the little gentleman appeared very much pleased with himself, he concluded by demanding our passport, upon sight of which he declared himself satisfied, and promised to make us out others for passing into the interior. We were desired to call for these in the evening, or he would himself do us the honour to wait upon us with them at our hotel. Considering the latter as a kind of self-invitation to dine with us, we mentioned our dinner hour, and other et ceteras. Mons. Mangouit smiled his acquiescence, and we left him, in the hopes that he would at least change his linen.
Upon leaving the Commissary, our wheel-barrow was again put in motion, and accompanied us to Dessein's. This hotel still maintains its reputation and its name. After seeing almost all France, we had no hesitation in pronouncing it to be the only inn which could enter into any reasonable comparison with any of the respectable taverns either of England or America. In no country but in America and England, have they any idea of that first of comforts to the wearied traveller, a clean and housewife-like bed. I speak from woeful experience, when I advise every traveller to consider a pair of sheets and a counterpane as necessary a part of his luggage as a change of shirts. He will travel but few miles from Calais, before he will understand the necessity of this admonition.
We ordered an early dinner, and sallied forth to see the town. It has nothing, however, to distinguish it from other provincial towns, or rather sea-ports, of the second order. It has been compared to Dover, but I think rather resembles Folkstone. The streets are irregular, the houses old and lofty, and the pavement the most execrable that can be imagined. There was certainly more bustle and activity than is usual in an English or in an American town of the same rank; and this appeared to us the more surprising, as we could see no object for all this hurry and loquacity. To judge by appearance, the people of Calais had no other more important business than to make their remarks upon us as we passed their doors or shops. There was no shipping in the harbour, and even the stock in the shops had every appearance of having remained long, and having to remain longer in its fixed repose.
Being the market-day, we had the curiosity to inquire the price of several articles of provision, and to compare them with those of their neighbours on the opposite side of the channel. The market was well stocked; there was an incredible quantity of poultry, lamb, butter, eggs, and herbs. A couple of fowls were three livres, at a time that they were seven or eight shillings in London; a young goose, two livres twelve sous (2s. 2d.). Lamb was sold as in England, by the quarter or side, and was about sixpence English money per pound; beef about fourpence halfpenny, and mutton (not very good) fourpence. Upon the whole, the money price of every thing appeared about one-half cheaper than in England; but whether this difference is not in some degree compensated in England by the superiority of quality, is what I cannot exactly decide. The beef was certainly not so good as that to which I had been accustomed in London; but, on the other hand, in the progress of my journey, the mutton and lamb, when I could get it dressed to my wishes, appeared sweeter. The short feed gives it the taste of Welsh mutton, but the consumption of it is scarcely sufficient to encourage the feeders. The manner, moreover, in which these meats are employed and served in French cooking, is such as not to encourage the feeder to any superior care. Lean meat answers the purposes of bouille as well as the fat meat, and it is of little concern what that joint is which is only to be boiled down to its very fibres. The old proverb, that God sent meats, and the d—- l cooks, is verified in every kitchen in France.
We returned to Quillac's to dinner, which, according to our orders, was composed in the English style, except a French dish or two for Mons. Mangouit. This gentleman now appeared altogether as full-dressed as he had before been in full dishabille. We exchanged much conversation on Calais and England, and a word or two respecting the French Emperor. He appeared much better informed than we had previously concluded from his coxcomical exterior. He seemed indeed quite another man.
He accompanied us after dinner to the comedy: the theatre is within the circuit of the inn. The performers were not intolerable, and the piece, which was what they call a proverb (a fable constructed so as to give a ludicrous verification or contradiction to an old saying), was amusing. I thought I had some obscure recollection of a face amongst the female performers, and learned afterwards, that it was one of the maids of the inn; a lively brisk girl, and a volunteer, from her love of the drama. In this period of war between England and France, Calais has not the honour of a dramatic corps to herself, but occasionally participates in one belonging to the district.
The play being over very early, we finished the evening in our own style, a proceeding we had cause to repent the following day, as the Cote rolie did not agree with us so well as old Port. I suffered so much from the consequent relaxation, that I never repeated the occasion. It produced still another effect; it removed my previous admiration of French sobriety. There is little merit, I should think, in abstaining from such a constant use of medicine.
Purchase of a Norman Horse—Visit in the Country—Family of a French Gentleman—Elegance of French domestic Economy—Dance on the Green—Return to Calais.
NOTWITHSTANDING the merited reprobation to be met with in every traveller, of French beds and French chamberlains, we had no cause to complain of our accommodation in this respect at Dessein's. This house, though it has changed masters, is conducted as well as formerly, and there was nothing in it, which could have made the most determined lover of ease repent his having crossed the Channel.
After our breakfast on the morning following our arrival, I began to consider with myself on the most suitable way of executing my purpose—of seeing France and Frenchmen, the scenery and manners, to the best advantage. I called in my landlord to my consultation; and having explained my peculiar views, was advised by him to purchase a Norman horse, one of which he happened to have in his stables; a circumstance which perhaps suggested the advice. Be this as it may, I adopted his recommendation, and I had no cause to repent it. The bargain was struck upon the spot; and for twenty-seven Louis I became master of a horse, upon whom, taking into the computation crossroads and occasional deviations, I performed a journey not less than two thousand miles; and in the whole of this course, without a stumble sufficient to shake me from my seat. The Norman horses are low and thick, and like all of this make, very steady, sure, and strong. They will make a stage of thirty miles without a bait, and will eat the coarsest food. From some indications of former habits about my own horse, I was several times led to conclude, that he had been more accustomed to feed about the lanes, and live on his wits, as it were, than in any settled habitation, either meadow or stable. I never had a brute companion to which I took a greater fancy.
Having a letter to a gentleman resident about two miles from Calais, I had occasion to inquire the way of a very pretty peasant girl whom I overtook on the road, just above the town. The way was by a path over the fields: the young peasant was going to some house a mile or two beyond the object of my destination, and, as I have reason to believe, not exactly in the same line. Finding me a stranger, however, she accompanied me, without hesitation, up a narrow cross-road, that she might put me into the foot-path; and when we had come to it, finding some difficulty in giving intelligibly a complex direction, she concluded by saying she would go that way herself. I was too pleased with my companion to decline her civility. I learned in the course of my walk that she was the daughter of a small farmer: the farm was small indeed, being about half an arpent, or acre. She had been to Calais to take some butter, and had the same journey three mornings in the week. Her father had one cow of his own, and rented two others, for each of which he paid a Louis annually. The two latter fed by the road-sides. Her father earned twenty sols a day as a labourer, and had a small pension from the Government, as a veteran and wounded soldier. Upon this little they seemed, according to her answers, to live very comfortably, not to say substantially. Poultry, chesnuts, milk, and dried fruit, formed their daily support. "We never buy meat," said she, "because we can raise more poultry than we can sell."
The country around Calais has so exact a resemblance to that of the opposite coast, as to appear almost a counterpart, and as if the sea had worked itself a channel, and thus divided a broad and lofty hill. It is not, however, quite so barren and cheerless as in the immediate precincts of Dover. Vegetation, what there was of it, seemed stronger, and trees grow nearer to the cliffs. There were likewise many flowers which I had never seen about Dover and the Kentish coast. But on the whole, the country was so similar that I in vain looked around me for something to note.
The gentleman to whom I had brought a letter of introduction was at Paris; but I saw his son, to whom I was therefore compelled to introduce myself. The young man lamented much that his father was from home, and that he could not receive me in a manner which was suitable to a gentleman of my appearance; the friend of Mr. Pinckney, who was the beloved friend of his father. All these things are matter of course to all Frenchmen, who are never at a loss for civility and terms of endearment. A young English gentleman of the same age with this youth (about nineteen), would either have affronted you by his sulky reserve, or compelled you as a matter of charity to leave him, to release him from blushing and stammering. On the other hand, young Tantuis and myself were intimates in the moment after our first introduction.
Upon entering the house, and a parlour opening upon a lawn in the back part, I was introduced to Mademoiselle his sister, a beautiful girl, a year, or perhaps more, younger than her brother. She rose from an English piano as I entered, whilst her brother introduced me with a preamble, which he rolled off his tongue in a moment. A refreshment of fruit, capillaire, and a sweet wine, of which I knew not the name, was shortly placed before me, and the young people conversed with me about England and Calais, and whatever I told them of my own concerns, with as much ease and apparent interest, as if we had been born and lived in the same village.
Mademoiselle informed me, that the people in Calais had no character at all; that they were fishermen and smugglers, which last business they carried on in war as well as in peace, and had no reputation either for honesty or industry; that she had no visiting society at Calais, and never went to the town but on household business; that the price of every thing had doubled within four years, but that the late plenty, and the successes of the Emperor, were bringing every thing to their former standard; that her father payed very moderate taxes; her brother stated about five Louis annually; but they differed in this point. The house was of that size and order, which in England would have paid at least thirty pounds, and added to this was a domain of between sixty and seventy arpents.
The dinner, whether in compliment to me, or that things have now all taken this turn in France, was in substance so completely English, and served up in a manner so English, as almost to call forth an exclamation of surprise. When we enter a new country, we so fully expect to find every thing new, as to be surprised at almost any necessary coincidence. This characteristic difference is very rapidly wearing off in every kingdom in Europe. A couple of fowls, a rice-pudding, and a small chine, composed our dinner. It was served in a pretty kind of china, and with silver forks. The cloth was removed as in England, and the table covered with dried fruits, confectionary, and coffee; a tall silver epergne supporting small bottles of capillaire, and sweetmeats in cut glass. The fruits were in plates very tastily painted in landscape by Mademoiselle; and at the top and bottom of the table was a silver image of Vertumnus and Pomona, of the same height with the epergne in the centre. The covering of the table was a fine deep green cloth, spotted with the simple flower called the double daisy.
I am the more particular in this description, as the dinner was thus served, and the table thus appointed, without any apparent preparation, as if it was all in their due and daily course. Indeed, I have had occasion frequently to observe, that the French ladies infinitely excel those of every other nation in these minor elegancies; in a cheap and tasteful simplicity, and in giving a value to indifferent things by a manner peculiar to themselves. Mademoiselle left us after the first cup of coffee, saying, that she had heard that it was a custom in England, that gentlemen should have their own conversation after dinner. I endeavoured to turn off a compliment in the French style upon this observation, but felt extremely awkward, upon foundering in the middle of it, for want of more familiar acquaintance with the language. Monsieur, her brother, perceived my embarrassment, and becoming my interpreter, helped me out of it with much good-humour, and with some dexterity. I resolved, however, another time, never to tilt with a French lady in compliment.
Being alone with the young man, I made some inquiries upon subjects upon which I wanted information, and found him at once communicative and intelligent. The agriculture of the country about Calais appears to be wretched. The soil is in general very good, except where the substratum of chalk, or marle, rises too near the surface, which is the case immediately on the cliffs. The course of the crops is bad indeed—fallow, rye, oats. In some land it is fallow, wheat, and barley. In no farm, however, is the fallow laid aside; it is considered as indispensable for wheat, and on poor lands for rye. The produce, reduced to English Winchester measure, is about nineteen bushels of wheat, and twenty-three or twenty-four of barley. Besides the fallow, they manure for wheat. The manure in the immediate vicinity of Calais is the dung of the stable-keepers and the filth of that town. The rent of the land around Calais, within the daily market of the town, is as high as sixty livres; but beyond the circuit of the town, is about twenty livres (sixteen shillings). Since the settlement of the Government, the price of land has risen; twenty Louis an acre is now the average price in the purchase of a large farm. There are no tithes, but a small rate for the officiating minister. Labourers earn thirty sous per day (about fifteen-pence English), and women, in picking stones, &c. half that sum. Rents, since the Revolution, are all in money; but there are some instances of personal service, and which are held to be legal even under the present state of things, provided they relate to husbandry, and not to any servitude or attendance upon the person of the landlord. Upon the whole, I found that the Revolution had much improved the condition of the farmers, having relieved them from feudal tenures and lay-tithes. Oh the other hand, some of the proprietors, even in the neighbourhood of Calais, had lost nearly the whole of the rents, under the interpretation of the law respecting what were to be considered as feudal impositions. The Commissioners acting under these laws had determined all old rents to come under this description, and had thus rendered the tenants under lease proprietors of the lands.
The young lady who had left as returned towards evening, and by her heightened colour, and a small parcel in her hand, appeared to have walked some distance. Her brother, doubtless from a sympathetic nature, guessed in an instant the object of her walk. "You have been to Calais," said he. "Yes," replied she, with the lovely smile of kindness; "I thought that Monsieur would like some tea after the manner of his countrymen, and having only coffee in the house, I walked to Calais to procure some." I again felt the want of French loquacity and readiness. My heart was more eloquent than my tongue. I rose, and involuntarily took and pressed the hand of the sweet girl. Who will now say that the French are not characteristically a good-humoured people, and that a lovely French girl is not an angel? I thought so at the time, and though my heart has now cooled, I think so still. I feel even no common inclination to, describe this young French beauty, but that I will not do her the injustice to copy off an image which remains more faithfully and warmly imprinted on my memory.
The house, as I have mentioned, opened behind on a lawn, with which the drawing-room was even, so that its doors and windows opened immediately upon it. This lawn could not be less than four or five English acres in extent, and was girded entirely around by a circle of lofty trees from within, and an ancient sea-stone wall, very thick and high, from without. The trunks of the trees and the wall were hid by a thick copse or shrubbery of laurels, myrtles, cedars, and other similar shrubs, so as to render the enclosed lawn the most beautiful and sequestered spot I had ever seen. On the further extremity from the house was an avenue from the lawn to the garden, which was likewise spacious, and surrounded by a continuation of the same wall. In the further corner of the latter was a summer-house, erected on the top of the wall, so as to look over it on the fields and the distant sea.
Tea was here served up to us in a manner neither French nor English, but partaking of both. Plates of cold chicken, slices of chine, cakes, sweetmeats, and the whitest bread, composed a kind of mixed repast, between the English tea and the French supper. The good-humour and vivacity of my young friends, and the prospect from the windows, which was as extensive as beautiful, rendered it a refreshment peculiarly cheering to the spirits of a traveller.
Before the conclusion of it, I had another specimen of French manners and French benevolence. A party of young ladies were announced as visitors, and followed immediately the servant who conducted them. Speaking all at once, they informed Mademoiselle T——, that they had learned the arrival of her English friend (so they did me the honour to call me), and knowing her father was at Paris, had hurried off to assist her in giving Monsieur a due welcome. They mentioned several other names, which were coming with the same friendly purpose; a piece of information, which caused the young Monsieur T—— to make me a hasty bow, and leave me with the ladies. He returned in a short time, and the sound of fiddles tuning below on the lawn, rendered any explanation unnecessary. We immediately descended; the promised ladies, and their partners, soon made their appearance; and the merry dance on the green began. As the stranger of the company, I had of course the honour of leading Mademoiselle T——. In the course of the dance other visitors appeared, who formed themselves into cotillions and reels; and the lawn being at length well filled, the evening delightful, and the moon risen in all her full glory, the whole formed a scene truly picturesque.
After an evening, or rather a night, thus protracted to a late hour, I returned to Calais; and was accompanied to the immediate adjacency by one of the parties, consisting of two ladies and a gentleman. I was assailed by many kind importunities to repeat my visit; but as I intended to leave Calais on the morrow, I made my best possible excuses.
French Cottages.—Ludicrous exhibition.—French Travellers—Chaise de Poste.—Posting in France.—Departure from Calais.—Beautiful Vicinity of Boulogne.
TWO days were amply sufficient to see all that Calais has to exhibit. After the first novelty is over, no place can please, except either by its intrinsic beauty, or the happy effect of habit. Calais, has no such intrinsic charms, and I was not disposed to try the result of the latter. I accordingly resolved to proceed on my road; but as the heat was excessive, deferred it till the evening.
The exercise of the preceding night had produced an unpleasant ferment in my blood, attended by an external feeling of feverish heat, and checked perspiration. Every traveller should be, in a degree, his own physician. I had recourse to a dip in the sea, and found immediate relief. Nothing, indeed, is so instantaneous a remedy, either for violent fatigue, or any of the other effects following unusual exercise, as this simple specific. After a ride of sixty or seventy miles through the most dusty roads, and under the hottest sun of a southern Midsummer, I have been restored to my morning freshness by the cold bath.
By the buildings which I observed to be going forward, I was led to a conclusion that Calais is a flourishing town; but I confess I saw no means to which I could attribute this prosperity. There was no appearance of commerce, and very little of industry. One circumstance was truly unaccountable to me. Though there were two or three ships laying unrigged, but otherwise sound, and in the best navigable condition, there was a building-yard, in which two new vessels were on the stock. These vessels, indeed, were of no considerable tonnage; but I confess myself at a loss to guess their object.
About a mile from Calais, is a beautiful avenue of the finest walnut and chesnut trees I have ever seen in France. They stand upon common land, and, of course, are public property. In the proper season of the year, the people of Calais repair hither for their evening dance; and such is the force of custom, the fruit remains untouched, and reserved for these occasions. Every one then takes what he pleases, but carries nothing home beyond what may suffice for his consumption on the way.
In my walk thither I passed several cottages, and entered some. The inhabitants seemed happy, and to possess some substantial comforts. The greater part of these cottages had a walnut or chestnut tree before them, around which was a rustic seat, and which, as overshadowed by the broad branches and luxuriant foliage, composed a very pleasing image. The manner in which the sod was partially worn under most of them, explained their nightly purpose; or if there could yet be any doubt, the flute and fiddle, pendant in almost every house, spoke a still more intelligible language.
I entered no house so poor, and met with no inhabitant so inhospitable, as not to receive the offer either of milk, or some sort of wine; and every one seemed to take a refusal as if they had solicited, and had not obtained, an act of kindness. If the French are not the most hospitable people in the world, they have at least the art of appearing so. I speak here only of the peasantry, and from first impressions.
The rent of one of these cottages, of two floors and two rooms on each, is thirty-five livres. They have generally a small garden, and about one hundred yards of common land between the road and the house, on which grows the indispensable walnut or chestnut tree. The windows are glazed, but the glass is usually taken out in summer. The walls are generally sea-stone, but are clothed with grape vines, or other shrubs, which, curling around the casements, render them shady and picturesque. The bread is made of wheat meal, but in some cottages consisted of thin cakes without leven, and made of buck-wheat. Their common beverage is a weak wine, sweet and pleasant to the taste. In some houses it very nearly resembled the good metheglin, very common in the northern counties of England. Eggs, bacon, poultry, and vegetables, seemed in great plenty, and, as I understood, composed the dinners of the peasantry twice a week at least. I was surprised at this evident abundance in a class in which I should not have expected it. Something of it, I fear, must be imputed to the extraordinary profits of the smuggling which is carried on along the coast.
I was pleased to see, that even the horrible Revolution had not banished all religion from Calais. I understood that the church was well attended, and that high mass was as much honoured as hitherto. Every one spoke of the Revolution with execration, and of the Emperor with satisfaction. Bonaparte has certainly gained the hearts of the French people by administering to their national vanity.
Returning home from my walk, I was witness to a singular exhibition in the streets. A crowd had collected around a narrow elevated stage, which, at a distant view, led me to expect the appearance, of my friend Punch. I was not altogether deceived: it was a kind of Bartholomew drama, in which the parts were performed by puppets. It differed only from what I had seen in England by the wit of the speakers, and a kind of design, connexion, and uniformity in the fable. The name of it, as announced by the manager, was, The Convention of Kings against France and Bonaparte.
The puppets, who each spoke in their turn, were, the King of England, the King of Naples, the Emperor of Austria, the Pope, and the Grand Signor. The dialogue was indescribably ridiculous. The piece opened with a council, in which the King of England entreated all his brother sovereigns to declare war against France and the French Emperor, and proceeded to assign some ludicrous reasons as applicable to each. "My contribution to the grand alliance," concludes his Majesty, "shall be in money; both because I have more Louis to spare, and because the best advantage of a rich nation is, that it can purchase others to light its battles!" The Grand Signor approves the proposal, and throws down his cimeter. "I will give my cimeter," says he; "but being a prophet as well as a sovereign, and having such a family of wives, I deem it unseemly to use it myself. Let England take it, and give it to any one who will use it manfully." The Pope, in his turn, gives his blessing. "If the war should succeed, you will have to thank my benediction for the victory; if it should fail, it will be from the efficacy of the blessing that a man of you will be saved alive." The Emperor then asks what is the amount of England's contribution; and his British Majesty throws him a purse. His Imperial Majesty, after feeling the weight, takes up the cimeter of the Grand Signor, and retires. The drama then proceeds to the representation of the different battles of Bonaparte, in all of which it gave him the victory, &c.
After a light dinner, in which with some difficulty I procured fish, and with still more had it dressed in the English mode, I mounted my horse, and proceeded on my journey in the road to Boulogne. I had now my first trial of my Norman horse; he fully answered my expectations, and almost my wishes. He had a leisurely lounging walk, which seemed well suited to an observant traveller. It is well known of Erasmus, that he wrote the best of his works, and made a whole course of the Classics, on horseback; and I have no doubt but that I could have both read and written on the back of my Norman. To make up, however, for this tardiness, he was a good-humoured, patient, and sure-footed beast; but would stretch out his neck now and then to get a passing bite of the wheat which grew by the road side. I wished to get on to Boulogne to sleep, and therefore tried all his paces; but found his trotting scarcely tolerable by human feeling.
The road from Calais, for the first twelve miles, is open and hilly. On each side of the main way is a smaller road, which is the summer, as the other is the winter one. The day being very fine, and not too warm, I enjoyed myself much. I passed many fields in which the country people were making hay: they seemed very merry. The fellow who loaded the cart had a cocked hat, and by his erectness I should have thought to have been a soldier, but that every one who passed me had nearly the same air, and the same hat. Some of the hay-makers called to me, but in such barbarous patois, that I could make nothing of them. One company of them, saluting me from a distance, deputed a girl to make known their wishes. Seeing her to be young, and expecting her to be handsome, I checked my horse; but a nearer view correcting my error, and exhibiting her only a coarse masculine wench, I pushed forwards, without waiting her embassy. The peasant women of France work so hard, as to lose every appearance of youth in the face, whilst they retain it in the person; and it is therefore no uncommon thing to see the person of a Venus, and the face of an old monkey. I passed by a set of these labourers sitting under a tree, and taking that repast which, in the North of England, is called "fours," from being usually taken by harvest labourers at that time of the day. The party consisted of about a dozen women and girls, and but one man. I was invited to drink some of their wine, and being by the road side, could not refuse. My horse was led under the tree: I was compelled to dismount, and to share their repast, such as it was. Some money which I offered was refused. I made my choice amongst one of my entertainers, and could do no less than salute her. This produced great noise and merriment, and gave free reins to French levity and coquetry; in a word, I was obliged to salute them all. My favourite and first choice gave me her hand on my departure: she might have sat for Prior's Nut-Brown Maid.
The main purpose of my journey being rather to see the manners of the people, than the brick and mortar of the towns, I had formed a resolution to seek the necessary refreshment as seldom as possible at inns, and as often as possible in the houses of the humbler farmers, and the better kind of peasantry. About fifteen miles from Calais my horse and myself were looking out for something of this kind, and one shortly appeared about three hundred yards on the left side of the road. It was a cottage in the midst of a garden, and the whole surrounded by an hedge, which looked delightfully green and refreshing. The garden was all in flower and bloom. The walls of the cottage were robed in the same livery of Nature. I had seen such cottages in Kent and in Devonshire, but in no other part of the world. The inhabitants were simple people, small farmers, having about ten or fifteen acres of land. Some grass was immediately cut for my horse, and the coffee which I produced from my pocket was speedily set before me, with cakes, wine, some meat, and cheese, the French peasantry having no idea of what we call tea. Throwing the windows up, so as to enjoy the scenery and freshness of the garden; sitting upon one chair, and resting a leg upon the other; alternately pouring out my coffee, and reading a pocket-edition of Thomson's Seasons, I enjoyed one of those moments which give a zest to life; I felt happy, and in peace and in love with all around me.
Proceeding upon my journey, two miles on the Calais side of Boulogne I fell in with an overturned chaise, which the postillion was trying to raise. The vehicle was a chaise de poste, the ordinary travelling carriage of the country, and a thing in a civilized country wretched beyond conception. It was drawn by three horses, one in the shafts, and one on each side. The postillion had ridden on the one on the driving side; he was a little punch fellow, and in a pair of boots like fire-buckets. The travellers consisted of an old French lady and gentleman; Madame in a high crimped cap, and stiff long whalebone stays. Monsieur informed me very courteously of the cause of the accident, whilst Madame alternately curtsied to me and menaced and scolded the postillion. The French postillions, indeed, are the most intolerable set of beings. They never hesitate to get off their horses, suffer them to go forwards, and follow them very leisurely behind. I saw several instances in which they had suffered the traces to twist round the horses' legs, so that on descending an hill, their escape with life must be a miracle.
I shall briefly observe, now I am upon this subject, that posting is nearly as dear in France as in England. A post in France is six miles, and one shilling and threepence is charged for each horse, and sevenpence for the driver. The price, therefore, for two horses would be three shillings and a penny; but whatever number of persons there may be, a horse is charged for each. The postillions, moreover, expect at least double of what the book of regulations allows them, as matter of right.
I reached Boulogne about sunset, and was much pleased with its vicinity. On each side of the road, and at different distances, from two hundred yards to a mile, were groves of trees, in which were situated some ancient chateaux. Many of them were indeed in ruin from the effects of the Revolution. Upon entering the town, I inquired the way to the Hotel d'Angleterre, which is kept by an Englishman of the name of Parker, Bonaparte having specially exempted him from the edicts respecting aliens. I had a good supper, but an indifferent bed, and the close situation rendered the heat of the night still more oppressive. Mr. Parker himself was absent, and had left the management with a French young woman, who would not suffer me to write uninterrupted, and seemed to take much offence that I did not invite her to take her seat at the supper table. I believe I was the only male traveller in the inn; and flattery, and even substantial gallantry, is so necessary and so natural to French women, that they look to it as their due, and conceive themselves injured when it is withholden.
Boulogne—Dress of the Inhabitants—The Pier—Theatre—Caution in the Exchange of Money—Beautiful Landscape, and Conversation With a French Veteran—Character of Mr. Parker's Hotel—Departure, and romantic Road—Fete Champetre in a Village on a hill at Montreuil—Ruined Church and Convent.
I had heard so bad a report of Boulogne, as to be agreeably surprised when I found it so little deserving it. I spent the greater part of a day in it with much pleasure, and but that I wished to get to Paris, should have continued longer.
Boulogne is very agreeably situated, and the views from the high grounds on each side are delightful. The landscape from the ramparts is not to be exceeded, but is not seen to advantage except when there is high water in the river. There is an evident mixture of strangers and natives amongst the inhabitants. There are many resident English, who have been nationalized by express edict, or the construction of the law. I heard it casually mentioned, that these were not the most respectable class of inhabitants, though many of them are rich, and all of them are active. The English and French women, whom I met with in the streets, were each dressed in their peculiar fashion; the English women as they dress in the country towns of England; the French without hats, with close caps, and cloaks down to the feet. This fashion I found to be peculiar to Boulogne and its promenade. The town is, upon the whole, clean, lively, brisk, and flourishing; the houses are in good repair, and many others were building.
I walked down to the pier, and my conclusion was, that the English Ministry were mad when they attempted any thing against Boulogne. The harbour appeared to me impregnable. I must confess, however, that the French appeared to me equally mad, in expecting any thing from their flotilla. Three English frigates would sink the whole force at Boulogne in the open sea. The French seem to know this; yet, to amuse the populace, and to play upon the fears of the English Ministry, the farce is kept up, and daily reports are made by the Commandant of the state of the flotilla. There is a delightful walk on the beach, which is a flat strand of firm sand, as far as the tide reaches. In the summer evenings when the tide serves, this is the favourite promenade this is likewise the parade, as the soldiers are occasionally here exercised.
There is a tolerable theatre, but the dramatic corps are not stationary. They were not in the town whilst I was there, so that I can speak of their merits only by report. One of the actresses was highly spoken of, and had indeed reached the reward of her eminence; having been called to the Parisian stage. Bonaparte is notoriously, perhaps politically, attached to the drama, and is no sooner informed of any good performer on a provincial stage, than he issues his command for his appearance and engagement at Paris.
The principal church at Boulogne is a good and respectable structure, and I learned with much satisfaction and some surprise, that on the Sabbath at least it was crowded. The people of Boulogne execrate the Revolution, and avert from all mention and memory of it, and not without reason, as their environs have been in some degree spoiled by its excesses. Several miles on the road from Boulogne, those sad monuments of the popular phrensy, ruined chateaux, and churches converted into stables or granaries, force the memory back upon those melancholy times, when the property and religion of a nation became the but of bandits and atheists. May the world itself perish, before such an era shall return or become general!
I had received from an American house in London some bills on a mercantile house at Boulogne; a very convenient method, and which I would therefore recommend to other travellers, as they hereby save very considerably, such bills being usually given at some advantage in favour of those who purchase them by coin. Bills on Boulogne, Bourdeaux, and Havre, are always to be had of the American brokers, either in London or in New York. One advantage in this exchange is, that bills may be had of any date, in which case you may suit the occasions, and put the discount into your own pocket. My bill on Boulogne was for 3000 francs, about 130l. English. I received it in Louis d'ors and ecus. In the progress of my journey, several of the Louis were refused, as deficient in weight, and I was advised in future never to take a Louis without seeing that it was weight. The French coin is indeed in a very bad state, which here, as elsewhere, is attributed to the Jews.
On the Paris side of Boulogne is a landscape and walk of most exquisite beauty. The river, after some smaller meanders, takes a wide reach through a beautiful vale, and shortly after flows into the sea through two hills, which open as it were to receive it. I walked along the banks to have a better view, and got into converse with a soldier, who had been in the battle of Marengo. He gave me a very lively account of the conduct of that extraordinary man, the French Emperor, in this grand event of his life. His expression was, that he looked over the battle as if looking upon a chess-board: that he made it a rule never to engage personally, till he saw the whole plan of the battle in execution; that he would then ride alternately to each division, and encourage them by fighting awhile with them: that he visited all the sick and wounded soldiers the day after the battle, inquired into the nature of their wound, where and how it was received; and if there were any circumstances of peculiar merit or peculiar distress, noted it down, and invariably acted upon this memorandum: that he punished adultery in a soldier's wife, if they were both in the camp, by the death of the woman; if the offending was not in the field, and therefore not within the reach of a court-martial, the soldier had a divorce on simple proof of the offence before any mayor or magistrate. I demanded of this veteran, pointing to the flotilla, when the Emperor intended to invade England? He perceived the smile which accompanied this question, and instantaneously, with a fierce look of suspicion and resolution, demanded of me my passport. Though the abruptness of his conduct startled me, I could not but regard him with some admiration. A long, thin, spare figure of 55, was so sensible of the honour of his country, as to take fire even at a jest at it as at a personal insult. It is to this spirit that France owes half her victories.
As soon as the heat of the day had declined, having satisfied my curiosity as to Boulogne, I called for my bill and my horse, intending to get on to Montreuil, where I had fixed upon sleeping. My bill was extravagant to a degree; a circumstance I imputed to the want of some due attentions to Madame. These kind of people have always the revenge in their own hands. As I did not see Mr. Parker, I know not whether to recommend his inn or not. He has some excellent Burgundy, but the charges are high, the attendance not good, and the situation in summer close and stifling. Madame, however, is a very pretty woman, and seems a very good-humoured one, if her expectations are answered. She is a true French woman, however, and expects gallantry even from a weary traveller.
I found the road improve much as I advanced; the country became more enclosed, and bore a strong resemblance to the most cultivated parts of England. The cherry trees standing in the midst of the corn had a very pretty effect; the fields had the appearance of gardens, and some of the gardens had the wildness of the field. The season was evidently more advanced than in England; there were more fruits and flowers, and the bloom was more bossy and luxuriant. Several smaller roads led from the main road, and the spires of the village churches, as seen in the side landscape, rising above the tops of the trees, invited the fancy to combine some rural images, and weave itself at least an imaginary Arcadia. The persons I met or overtook upon the road were not altogether in unison with what I must call the romance of the scene. Every carter drove his vehicle in a cocked-hat, and the women had all wooden shoes. Boys and girls of twelve years old were in rags, which very ill covered them. Nor was there any of the briskness visible on a high road in England. A single cart, and a waggon, were all the vehicles that I saw between Boulogne and Abbeville. In England, in the same space, I should have seen a dozen, or score.
Not being pressed for time, the beauty of a scene at some little distance from the road-side tempted me to enter into a bye-lane, and take a nearer view of it. A village church, embosomed in a chesnut wood, just rose above the trees on the top of a hill; the setting sun was on its casements, and the foliage of the wood was burnished by the golden reflection. The distant hum of the village green was just audible; but not so the French horn, which echoed in full melody through the groves. Having rode about half a mile through a narrow sequestered lane, which strongly reminded me of the half-green and half-trodden bye-roads in Warwickshire, I came to the bottom of the hill, on the brow and summit of which the village and church were situated. I now saw whence the sound of the horn proceeded. On the left of the road was an ancient chateau situated in a park, or very extensive meadow, and ornamented as well by some venerable trees, as by a circular fence of flowering shrubs, guarded on the outside by a paling on a raised mound. The park or meadow having been newly mown, had an air at once ornamented and natural. A party of ladies were collected under a patch of trees situated in the middle of the lawn. I stopt at the gate to look at them, thinking myself unperceived: but in the same moment the gate was opened to me by a gentleman and two ladies, who were walking the round. An explanation was now necessary, and was accordingly given. The gentleman informed me upon his part, that the chateau belonged to Mons. St. Quentin, a Member of the French Senate, and a Judge of the District; that he had a party of friends with him upon the occasion of his lady's birth-day, and that they were about to begin dancing; that Mons. St. Quentin would highly congratulate himself on my accidental arrival. One of the ladies, having previously apologized and left us, had seemingly explained to Mons. St. Quentin the main circumstance belonging to me, for he now appeared, and repeated the invitation in his own person. The ladies added their kind importunities. I dismounted, gave my horse to a servant in waiting, and joined this happy and elegant party, for such it really was.
I had now, for the first time, an opportunity of forming an opinion of French beauty, the assemblage of ladies being very numerous, and all of them most elegantly dressed. Travelling, and the imitative arts, have given a most surprising uniformity to all the fashions of dress and ornament; and, whatever may be said to the contrary, there is a very slight difference between the scenes of a French and English polite assembly. If any thing, however, be distinguishable, it is more in degree than in substance. The French fashions, as I saw them here, differed in no other point from what I had seen in London, but in degree. The ladies were certainly more exposed about the necks, and their hair was dressed with more fancy; but the form was in almost every thing the same. The most elegant novelty was a hat, which doubled up like a fan, so that the ladies carried it in their hands. There were more coloured than white muslins; a variety which had a pretty effect amongst the trees and flowers. The same observation applies to the gentlemen. Their dresses were made as in England; but the pattern of the cloth, or some appendage to it, was different. One gentleman, habited in a grass-coloured silk coat, had very much the appearance of Beau Mordecai in the farce: the ladies, however, seemed to admire him, and in some conversation with him I found him, in despite of his coat, a very well-informed man. There were likewise three or four fancy dresses; a Dian, a wood-nymph, and a sweet girl playing upon a lute, habited according to a picture of Calypso by David. On the whole, there was certainly more fancy, more taste, and more elegance, than in an English party of the same description; though there were not so many handsome women as would have been the proportion of such an assembly in England.
A table was spread handsomely and substantially under a very large and lofty marquee. The outside was very prettily painted for the occasion—Venus commemorating her birth from the ocean. The French manage these things infinitely better than any other nation in the world. It was necessary, however, for the justice of the compliment, that the Venus should be a likeness of Madame St. Quentin, who was neither very young nor very handsome. The painter, however, got out of the scrape very well.
A small party accompanied me into the village, which was lively, and had some very neat houses. The peasantry, both men and women, had hats of straw; a manufactory which Mons. St. Quentin had introduced. A boy was reading at a cottage-door. I had the curiosity to see the book. It was a volume of Marmontel. His mother came out, invited us into the house, and in the course of some conversation, produced some drawings by this youth; they were very simple, and very masterly. The ladies purchased them at a good price. He had attained this excellence without a master, and Mons. St. Quentin, as we were informed, had been so pleased with him, as to take him into his house. His temper and manners, however, were not in unison with his taste, and his benefactor had been compelled to restore him to his mother, but still intended to send him to study at Paris. The boy's countenance was a direct lie to Lavater; his air was heavy, and absolutely without intelligence. Mons. St. Quentin had dismissed him his house on account of a very malignant sally of passion: a horse having thrown him by accident, the young demon took a knife from his pocket, and deliberately stabbed him three several times. Such was a peasant boy, now seemingly enveloped in the interesting simplicity of Marmontel. How inconsistent is what is called character!
I had a sweet ride for the remaining way to Montreuil by moon-light, accompanied by two gentlemen on horseback, who lived in that town. They related to me many melancholy incidents during the revolutionary period. Montreuil was formerly distributed into five parishes, and had five churches; but the people doubtless thinking that five was too many for the religion of the town, destroyed the other four, and sold the best part of the materials. Accordingly, when I entered the town, my eye was caught by a noble ruin, which upon inquiry I found to be the church of Notre Dame. This ruin is beautiful beyond description. The pillars which remain are noble, and the capitals and carving rich to a degree. It is astonishing to me that any reasonable beings, the inhabitants of a town, could thus destroy its chief ornament; but in the madness of the revolutionary fanatics, the sun itself would have been plucked from Heaven, if they could have reached it. I was sincerely happy to learn that religion had returned, and that there was a general inclination to subscribe for the repair, or rather rebuilding, of Notre Dame.
My friends took leave of me after recommending to me an inn kept by two sisters, the name of which I have forgotten. They were so handsome as to resemble English women, and what is very uncommon in this class of people in France, were totally without rouge. Whilst my supper was preparing, I had a moon-light walk round the town. The situation of it is at once commanding and beautiful. The ruins of a chateau, seen under the light of the moon, improved the scenery, and was another memento of the execrable Revolution. There are a number of pretty houses, and some of them substantial. One of them belonged to one of the gentlemen who accompanied me from Mons. St. Quentin's, and was his present residence, being all that remained to him of a noble property in the vicinity. This property had been sold by the nation, and the recovery of it had become impossible, though the gentleman was in tolerable favour with the government. Bonaparte had answered one of this gentleman's memorials by subscribing it with a sentence in his own writing: "We cannot re-purchase the nation." This gentleman spoke highly, but perhaps unjustly, of the vigour of Bonaparte's government, of his inflexible love of justice, and his personal attention to the administration. I compelled him, however, to acknowledge, that in his own immediate concerns, the justice of the French Chief was not proof against his passions. I mentioned the Duke of Enghien; the gentleman pushed on his horse, and begged me to say no more of the matter.
Upon my return I had an excellent supper, and what was still more welcome, a bed which reminded me of those at an English coffee-house.
Departure from Montreuil—French Conscripts—Extreme Youth—Excellent Roads—Country Labourers—Court for the Claims of Emigrants—Abbeville—Companion on the Road—Amiens.
AS I wished to reach Paris as soon as possible, I had ordered the chambermaid to call me at an early hour in the morning; but was awakened previous to the appointed time by some still earlier travellers—a very numerous detachment of conscripts, who were on their march for the central depot of the department. The greater part of them were boys, and were merry and noisy in a manner characteristic of the French youth. Seeing me at the window, one of them struck up a very lively reveillee, and was immediately joined by others who composed their marching band. They were attended, and their baggage carried, by a peculiar kind of cart—a platform erected on wheels, and on which they ascended when fatigued. The vehicles were prepared, the horses harnessed, and the young conscripts impatiently waiting for the word to march.
When I came down into the inn-yard, no one was stirring in the house except the ostler, who, upon my mentioning the component items of my entertainment, very fairly, as I thought, reckoned them up, and received the amount, taking care to remind me of the chambermaid. Having with some difficulty likewise procured from him a glass of milk, I mounted my horse, and followed the conscripts, who, with drum and fife, were merrily but regularly marching before me. The regularity of the march continued only till they got beyond the town, and down the hill, when the music ceased, the ranks broke, and every one walked or ran as he pleased. As they were somewhat too noisy for a meditating traveller, I put my horse to his mettle, and soon left them at a convenient distance.
I must cursorily observe, that the main circumstance which struck me in this detachment, was the extreme youth of the major part. I saw not a man amongst them, and some of them had an air the most perfectly childish. Bonaparte is said to prefer these young recruits. No army in Europe would have admitted them, with the exception of the French.
The road was truly excellent, though hilly, and indeed so continued till within a few miles of Abbeville. The present Emperor acts so far upon the system of the ancient monarchy, and considers the goodness of the highways as the most important and most immediate object of the administration; accordingly, the roads in France are still better than under the Bourbons, as Bonaparte sees every thing with his own eyes. Nothing, indeed, is wanting to quick travelling in France, but English drivers and English carriages. How would a mail-coach roll upon such a road! The French postillions, and even the French horses, such as I met on the road, have a kind of activity without progress—the postillions are very active in cracking their whips over their heads, and the horses shuffle about without mending their pace.
I passed several country labourers, men and women, going to their daily toil. I was informed by one of them, that he worked in the hay-field, and earned six-and-thirty sous (1s. 6d.) a day; that the wages for mowers were fifty sous (2s. 1d.), and two bottles of wine or cyder; that his wife had fourteen sous and her food; and boys and children old enough to rake, from six to twelve sous. He paid 25 livres annually for the rent of his cottage. When he had to support himself, he breakfasted on bread, and a glass or more of strong wine or brandy; dined on bread and cheese, and supped on bread and an apple. He wore leather shoes, except in wet weather, when he wore sabots, which cost about twelve sous per pair.
I passed more chateaux in ruins, and others shut up and forsaken. Some of them were very prettily situated, in patches of trees and amidst corn-fields. Several, as I understood, belonged to emigrants, whom Bonaparte had recalled by name, but who had not as yet returned. I learned with some satisfaction, that some shew of justice was still necessary. Where the property of the emigrants is unsold, and still in the hands of the nation, the emigrated proprietor is not totally without a chance of restitution. If he can come forwards, and prove, in a court established for the purpose, that he has merely been absent; that his absence was not without sufficient reasons; that he has not taken up arms against France; and finally, had returned as soon as he possessed the means—under these circumstances, the lands are restored. Even his children may succeed where himself shall fail. Upon proof of infancy at the time of emigration, and that they have at no time borne arms against the empire, the lands are not unfrequently decreed to them, even when the father's claim has been rejected.
I reached Bernay to breakfast, and, for the first time in France, met with a surly host and a sour hostess. The bread being stale, salt, and bitter, I desired it to be changed. The host obeyed, so far as to carry it out of the room and bring it in again. It was in vain, however, that I insisted upon the identity, till I desired him to bring what he had removed, and to compare it with what he had brought. He then flatly told me, that I must either have that or none; that it was as good bread as any in France, and that he intended to eat it for his own breakfast. His wife came in, hearing my raised voice, and maintained her husband's assertions very stoutly. For the sake of peace, I found it necessary to submit. He is a true hero who can support a contest with a man and his wife. The girl who waited on me seemed made of kinder materials. She laughed with much archness when I shewed her the bread, and its vigorous resistance to the edge of my knife. She was born in Musilius, and told me, with true French coquetry, that her sisters were as handsome as herself. She mentioned some English name (that of a valet, I suppose), and asked me if I knew him in London. If I should hereafter meet him, I was to remind him of Bernay. The charges, contrary to my expectations, were as moderate as the breakfast was indifferent; and the host did me the honour to wish me good morning. The hostess, however, was inflexibly sour, and saw me depart without a word, or even a salutation.
I had a most unpleasant ride to Abbeville, the heat of the day being extreme, and the road totally without any shelter. I imagined, however, that the heat was less oppressive than heat of the same intensity in England; but I know not whether this difference was any thing but imaginary. In foreign countries, we are so much upon the hunt for novelty, and so well predisposed to find it, that in things not strongly nor immediately the objects of sense, our impressions are not altogether to be trusted.
Abbeville, which I reached in good time for the table d'hote, which is held on every market-day, is a populous but a most unpleasant town. The inhabitants are stated to exceed 22,000; but I do not conceive that they can amount to one half of that number. The town has a most ruinous appearance, from the circumstance of many of the houses being built with wood; and by the forms of the windows and the doors, some of them must be very ancient. There are two or three manufactories of cloth, but none of them were in a flourishing condition. I went to visit that of Vanrobais, established by Louis XIV. and which still continues, though in ruins. The buildings are upon a very large scale; but too much was attempted for them to execute any thing in a workmanlike manner. There are different buildings for every different branch of the manufacture. I cannot but think, however, that they would have succeeded better if they had consulted the principle of the sub-division of labour. A man who is both a weaver and a spinner, will certainly not be both as good a weaver and as good a spinner, as another who is only a spinner or only a weaver: he will not have the same dexterity, and therefore will not do the same work. No business is done so well as that which is the sole object of attention. I saw likewise a manufactory of carpets, which seemed more flourishing. In the cloth manufactory, the earnings of the working manufacturers are about 36 sous per diem (1s. 6d.): in the carpet manufactories, somewhat more. The cloths, as far as I am a judge, seemed to me even to exceed those of England; but the carpets are much inferior. From some unaccountable reason, however, the cloths were much dearer than English broad cloth of the same quality. Whence does this happen, in a country where provisions are so much cheaper? Perhaps from that neglect of the sub-division of labour which I have above noticed.
Abbeville, like all the other principal towns through which I passed, bore melancholy marks of the Revolution. The handsome church which stood in the market-place is in ruins—scarcely a stone remains on the top of another. Many of the best houses were shut up, and others of the same description, evidently inhabited by people for whom they were not built. In many of them, one room only was inhabited; and in others, the second and third floors turned into granaries. Indeed, along the whole road from Abbeville to Paris, are innumerable chateaux, which are now only the cells of beggars, or of the lowest kind of peasantry.
An officer who was going to Amiens, joined company with me on the road to Pequigny, and, like every Frenchman of this class, became communicative almost in the same instant in which we had exchanged salutes. I found, however, that he knew nothing, except in his own profession; and I very strongly suspect, that he even here gave me some details of battles in which he had never been, or at least he made two or three geographical mistakes, for which I cannot otherwise account. He made no scruple of moving the Rhine a few degrees easterly; and constructed a bridge over the Adige without the help of the mason. I have not unfrequently, indeed, been surprized at the unaccountable ignorance betrayed by this class of men. It is to be hoped, that in another age this will pass away. My companion, however, had a good-humour which compensated for his ignorance; he alternately talked, sung, and dismounted from his horse to speak to every peasant girl who met us on the road; he seemed at home with every one, and made the time pass agreeably enough. He sung, at my request, the Marseillois, and sung it with such emphasis, energy, and attitude, as to make me sincerely repent the having called forth such a deafening exhibition of his powers. Though one or two travellers passed us whilst he was thus exhibiting, my gentleman was not in the slightest degree discomposed, but continued his song, his attitudes, and his grimaces, as if he were in the midst of a wood.
After a very long journey, in which my little Norman had performed to admiration, I reached Amiens about eight o'clock, on the sweetest summer evening imaginable. The aspect of Amiens, as it is approached by the road, resembles Canterbury—the cathedral rising above the town—the town, as it were, gathering around it as its parent and protector. My companion would not leave me till he had seen me to the inn, the Hotel d'Angleterre, when he took a farewell of me as if we had been intimate for years, and I have no doubt, thought no more of me after he had turned the corner of the street. These attentions, however, are not the less pleasing, and answer their purpose as well as if they were more permanent. Having ordered my supper, and seen my horse duly provided for, I walked through the town, which is clean, lively, and in many respects resembling towns of the third rate in England. I visited the cathedral, which pleased me much; but has been so often described, that I deem it unnecessary to say more of it. It was built by the English in the time of Henry VI. and the regency of the Duke of Bedford, and has much of the national taste of that people, and those times. Though strictly Gothic, it is light, and very tastefully ornamented: it infinitely exceeds any cathedral in England, with the exception of Westminster Abbey. I went to see likewise the Chateau d'Eau, the machine for supplying Amiens with water. There is nothing more than common in it, and the purpose would be answered better by pipes and a steam-engine. It excited one observation which I have since frequently made—that the French, with all their parade of science and ostentation of institutions, are still a century behind England in real practical knowledge. My Tour in France has at least taught me one lesson—never to be deceived by high-sounding names and pompous designations. I have not visited their schools for nothing. The French talk; the English act. A steady plodding Englishman will build an house, while a Frenchman is laying down rules for it. There is more of this idle pedantry in France than in any country on the face of the globe: every thing is done with science, and nothing with knowledge.
Walking through the market-place, my attention was taken by an unusual bustle—the erecting of scaffolds, booths, and other similar preparations. I learned, upon inquiry, that the half-yearly fair was to be held on the following day; a piece of information which confirmed my previous intention of passing that day at Amiens.
Upon returning to the inn, I had a supper as comfortable as any I had ever sat down to, even in England. The landlord, at my particular request, took his seat with me at table. He complained bitterly of the oppression of the taxes, and more particularly of their uncertainty, which was so indeterminate, according to his assertions, that the collectors took what they pleased, and employed their offices as means of favour, or to gratify their personal piques. One of the collectors of Amiens, it seems, was likewise an inn-keeper, who availed himself of the power of his office to harass his rival. There is no appeal, as long as the collector is faithful to the government, and pays in what he receives. The manner in which defaulters are treated, is peculiar to the French government. If the sum assessed be not paid within the appointed time, a soldier is billeted at the house of the defaulter, and another is daily added till the arrear be cleared. The greater part of the taxes have been imposed during the strong days of the Revolution; and as they are sufficiently productive, and the present government have not the odium of their first institution, they are suffered to continue upon their old foundation—that is to say, upon an infinite number of successive decrees, many of which contradict each other. No one, therefore, knows exactly what he has to pay, and any one may be made to pay according to the caprice of the collector.