Hester Lynch Piozzi.

Observations and Reflections Made in the Course of a Journey through France, Italy, and Germany, Vol. I online

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Vol. I.


Printed for A. STRAHAN; and T. CADELL in the Strand,



I was made to observe at Rome some vestiges of an ancient custom very
proper in those days - it was the parading of the streets by a set of
people called _Preciæ_, who went some minutes before the _Flamen Dialis_
to bid the inhabitants leave work or play, and attend wholly to the
procession; but if ill omens prevented the pageants from passing, or if
the occasion of the show was deemed scarcely worthy its celebration,
these _Preciæ_ stood a chance of being ill-treated by the spectators. A
Prefatory introduction to a work like this, can hope little better usage
from the Public than they had; it proclaims the approach of what has
often passed by before, adorned most certainly with greater splendour,
perhaps conducted too with greater regularity and skill: Yet will I not
despair of giving at least a momentary amusement to my countrymen in
general, while their entertainment shall serve as a vehicle for
conveying expressions of particular kindness to those foreign
individuals, whose tenderness softened the sorrows of absence, and who
eagerly endeavoured by unmerited attentions to supply the loss of their
company on whom nature and habit had given me stronger claims.

That I should make some reflections, or write down some observations, in
the course of a long journey, is not strange; that I should present them
before the Public is I hope not too daring: the presumption grew up out
of their acknowledged favour, and if too kind culture has encouraged a
coarse plant till it runs to seed, a little coldness from the same
quarter will soon prove sufficient to kill it. The flattering partiality
of private partisans sometimes induces authors to venture forth, and
stand a public decision; but it is often found to betray them too; not
to be tossed by waves of perpetual contention, but rather to sink in the
silence of total neglect. What wonder! He who swims in oil must be
buoyant indeed, if he escapes falling certainly, though gently, to the
bottom; while he who commits his safety to the bosom of the
wide-embracing ocean, is sure to be strongly supported, or at worst
thrown upon the shore.

On this principle it has been still my study to obtain from a humane and
generous Public that shelter their protection best affords from the
poisoned arrows of private malignity; for though it is not difficult to
despise the attempts of petty malice, I will not say with the
Philosopher, that I mean to build a monument to my fame with the stones
thrown at me to break my bones; nor yet pretend to the art of Swift's
German Wonder-doer, who promised to make them fall about his head like
so many pillows. Ink, as it resembles Styx in its colour, should
resemble it a little in its operation too; whoever has been once _dipt_
should become _invulnerable_: But it is not so; the irritability of
authors has long been enrolled among the comforts of ill-nature, and the
triumphs of stupidity; such let it long remain! Let me at least take
care in the worst storms that may arise in public or in private life, to
say with Lear,

- I'm one
More sinn'd against, than sinning.

For the book - I have not thrown my thoughts into the form of private
letters; because a work of which truth is the best recommendation,
should not above all others begin with a lie. My old acquaintance rather
chose to amuse themselves with conjectures, than to flatter me with
tender inquiries during my absence; our correspondence then would not
have been any amusement to the Public, whose treatment of me deserves
every possible acknowledgment; and more than those acknowledgments will
I not add - to a work, which, such as it is, I submit to their candour,
resolving to think as little of the event as I can help; for the labours
of the press resemble those of the toilette, both should be attended to,
and finished with care; but once complete, should take up no more of our
attention; unless we are disposed at evening to destroy all effect of
our morning's study.



France, Italy, and Germany.

* * * * *



September 7, 1784.

Of all pleasure, I see much may be destroyed by eagerness of
anticipation: I had told my female companion, to whom travelling was
new, how she would be surprized and astonished, at the difference found
in crossing the narrow sea from England to France, and now she is not
astonished at all; why should she? We have lingered and loitered six and
twenty hours from port to port, while sickness and fatigue made her feel
as if much more time still had elapsed since she quitted the opposite
shore. The truth is, we wanted wind exceedingly; and the flights of
shaggs, and shoals of maycril, both beautiful enough, and both uncommon
too at this season, made us very little amends for the tediousness of a
night passed on ship-board.

Seeing the sun rise and set, however, upon an unobstructed horizon, was
a new idea gained to me, who never till now had the opportunity. It
confirmed the truth of that maxim which tells us, that the human mind
must have something left to supply for itself on the sight of all
sublunary objects. When my eyes have watched the rising or setting sun
through a thick crowd of intervening trees, or seen it sink gradually
behind a hill which obstructed my closer observation, fancy has always
painted the full view finer than at last I found it; and if the sun
itself cannot satisfy the cravings of a thirsty imagination, let it at
least convince us that nothing on this side Heaven can satisfy them, and
_set our affections_ accordingly.

Pious reflections remind one of monks and nuns; I enquired of the
Franciscan friar who attended us at the inn, what was become of Father
Felix, who did the duties of the quête; as it is called, about a dozen
years ago, when I recollect minding that his manners and story struck
Dr. Johnson exceedingly, who said that so complete a character could
scarcely be found in romance. He had been a soldier, it seems, and was
no incompetent or mean scholar: the books we found open in his cell,
shewed he had not neglected modern or colloquial knowledge; there was a
translation of Addison's Spectators, and Rapin's Dissertation on the
contending Parties of England called Whig and Tory. He had likewise a
violin, and some printed music, for his entertainment. I was glad to
hear he was well, and travelling to Barcelona on foot by orders of the

After dinner we set out to see Miss Grey, at her convent of Dominican
Nuns; who, I hoped, would have remembered me, as many of the ladies
there had seized much of my attention when last abroad; they had however
all forgotten me, nor could call to mind how much they had once admired
the beauty of my eldest daughter, then a child, which I thought
impossible to forget: one is always more important in one's own eyes
than in those of others; but no one is of importance to a Nun, who is
and ought to be employed in other speculations.

When the Great Mogul showed his splendour to a travelling dervise, who
expressed his little admiration of it - "Shall you not often be thinking
of me in future?" said the monarch. "Perhaps I might," replied the
religieux, "if I were not always thinking upon God."

The women spinning at their doors here, or making lace, or employing
themselves in some manner, is particularly consolatory to a British eye;
yet I do not recollect it struck me last time I was over: industry
without bustle, and some appearance of gain without fraud, comfort one's
heart; while all the profits of commerce scarcely can be said to make
immediate compensation to a delicate mind, for the noise and brutality
observed in an English port. I looked again for the chapel, where the
model of a ship, elegantly constructed, hung from the top, and found it
in good preservation: some scrupulous man had made the ship, it seems,
and thought, perhaps justly too, that he had spent a greater portion of
time and care on the workmanship than he ought to have done; so
resolving no longer to indulge his vanity or fondness, fairly hung it up
in the convent chapel, and made a solemn vow to look on it no more. I
remember a much stronger instance of self-denial practised by a pretty
young lady of Paris once, who was enjoined by her confessor to wring off
the neck of her favourite bullfinch, as a penance for having passed too
much time in teaching him to pipe tunes, peck from her hand, &c. - She
obeyed; but never could be prevailed on to see the priest again.

We are going now to leave Calais, where the women in long white camblet
clokes, soldiers with whiskers, girls in neat slippers, and short
petticoats contrived to show them, who wait upon you at the
inn; - postillions with greasy night-caps, and vast jack-boots, driving
your carriage harnessed with ropes, and adorned with sheep-skins, can
never fail to strike an Englishman at his first going abroad: - But what
is our difference of manners, compared to that prodigious effect
produced by the much shorter passage from Spain to Africa; where an
hour's time, and sixteen miles space only, carries you from Europe, from
civilization, from Christianity. A gentleman's description of his
feelings on that occasion rushes now on my mind, and makes me half
ashamed to sit here, in Dessein's parlour, writing remarks, in good
time! - upon places as well known as Westminster-bridge to almost all
those who cross it at this moment; while the custom-house officers
intrusion puts me the less out of humour, from the consciousness that,
if I am disturbed, I am disturbed from doing _nothing_.


Our way to this place lay through Boulogne; the situation of which is
pleasing, and the fish there excellent. I was glad to see Boulogne,
though I can scarcely tell why; but one is always glad to see something
new, and talk of something old: for example, the story I once heard of
Miss Ashe, speaking of poor Dr. James, who loved profligate conversation
dearly, - "That man should set up his quarters across the water," said
she; "why Boulogne would be a seraglio to him."

The country, as far as Montreuil, is a coarse one; _thin herbage in the
plains and fruitless fields_. The cattle too are miserably poor and
lean; but where there is no grass, we can scarcely expect them to be
fat: they must not feed on wheat, I suppose, and cannot digest tobacco.
Herds of swine, not flocks of sheep, meet one's eye upon the hills; and
the very few gentlemen's feats that we have passed by, seem out of
repair, and deserted. The French do not reside much in private houses,
as the English do; but while those of narrower fortunes flock to the
country towns within their reach, those of ampler purses repair to
Paris, where the rent of their estate supplies them with pleasures at no
very enormous expence. The road is magnificent, like our old-fashioned
avenue in a nobleman's park, but wider, and paved in the middle: this
convenience continued on for many hundred miles, and all at the king's
expence. Every man you meet, politely pulls off his hat _en passant_;
and the gentlemen have commonly a good horse under them, but certainly a
dressed one.

Sporting season is not come in yet, but, I believe the idea of sporting
seldom enters any head except an English one: here is prodigious plenty
of game, but the familiarity with which they walk about and sit by our
road-side, shews they feel no apprehensions.

Harvest, even in France, is extremely backward this year, I see; no
crops are yet got in, nor will reaping be likely to pay its own charges.
But though summer is come too late for profit, the pleasure it brings is
perhaps enhanced by delay: like a life, the early part of which has been
wasted in sickness, the possessor finds too little time remaining for
work, when health _does_ come; and spends all that he has left,
naturally enough, in enjoyment.

The pert vivacity of _La Fille_ at Montreuil was all we could find there
worth remarking: it filled up my notions of French flippancy agreeably
enough; as no English wench would so have answered one to be sure. She
had complained of our avant-coureur's behaviour. "_Il parle sur le bant
ton, mademoiselle_" (said I), "_mais il à le coeur bon_[A]:" "_Ouydà_"
(replied she, smartly), "_mais c'est le ton qui fait le chanson_[B]."


[Footnote A: He sets his talk to a sounding tune, my dear, but he is an
honest fellow.]

[Footnote B: But I always thought it was the tune which made the

The cathedral at Amiens made ample amends for the country we passed
through to see it; the _Nef d'Amiens_ deserves the fame of a first-rate
structure: and the ornaments of its high altar seem particularly well
chosen, of an excellent taste, and very capital execution. The vineyards
from thence hither shew, that either the climate, or season, or both,
improve upon one: the grapes climbing up some not very tall
golden-pippin trees, and mingling their fruits at the top, have a mighty
pleasing effect; and I observe the rage for Lombardy poplars is in equal
force here as about London: no tolerable house have I passed without
seeing long rows of them; all young plantations, as one may perceive by
their size. Refined countries always are panting for speedy enjoyment:
the maxim of _carpe diem_[Footnote: Seize the present moment.] came into
Rome when luxury triumphed there; and poets and philosophers lent their
assistance to decorate and dignify her gaudy car. Till then we read of
no such haste to be happy; and on the same principle, while Americans
contentedly wait the slow growth of their columnal chesnut, our hot-bed
inhabitants measure the slender poplar with canes, anxiously admiring
its quick growth and early elegance; yet are often cut down themselves,
before their youthful favourite can afford them either pleasure or

This charming palace and gardens were new to neither of us, yet lovely
to both: the tame fish, I remember so well to have fed from my hand
eleven or twelve years ago, are turned almost all white; can it be with
age I wonder? the naturalists must tell. I once saw a carp which weighed
six pounds and an half taken out of a pond in Hertfordshire, where the
owners knew it had resided forty years at least; and it was not white,
but of the common colour: Quere, how long will they live? and when will
they begin to change? The stables struck me as more magnificent this
time than the last I saw them; the hounds were always dirtily and ill
kept; but hunting is not the taste of any nation now but ours; none but
a young English heir says to his estate as Goliah did to David, _Come to
me, and I will give thee to the beasts of the field, and to the fowls of
the air_; as some of our old books of piety reproach us. Every trick
that money can play with the most lavish abundance of water is here
exhibited; nor is the sight of a _jet d'eau_, or the murmur of an
artificial cascade, undelightful in a hot day, let the Nature-mongers
say what they please. The prince's cabinet, for a private collection, is
not a mean one; but I was sorry to see his quadrant rusted to the globe
almost, and the poor planetarium out of all repair. The great stuffed
dog is a curiosity however; I never saw any of the canine species so
large, and withal so beautiful, living or dead.

The theatre belonging to the house is a lovely one; and the truly
princely possessor, when he heard once that an English gentleman,
travelling for amusement, had called at Chantilly too late to enjoy the
diversion, instantly, though past twelve o'clock at night, ordered a new
representation, that his curiosity might be gratified. This is the same
Prince of Condè, who going from Paris to his country-seat here for a
month or two, when his eldest son was nine years old, left him fifty
louis d'ors as an allowance during his absence. At his return to town,
the boy produced his purse, crying "_Papa! here's all the money safe, I
have never touched it once_" - The Prince, in reply, took him gravely to
the window, and opening it, very quietly poured all the louis d'ors into
the street; saying, "Now, if you have neither virtue enough to give away
your money, nor spirit enough to spend it, always _do this_ for the
future, do you hear; that the poor may at least have a _chance for it_."


The fine paved road to this town has many inconveniencies, and jars the
nerves terribly with its perpetual rattle; the approach however always
strikes one as very fine, I think, and the boulevards and guingettes
look always pretty too: as wine, beer, and spirits are not permitted to
be sold there, one sees what England does not even pretend to exhibit,
which is gaiety without noise, and a crowd without a riot. I was pleased
to go over the churches again too, and re-experience that particular
sensation which the disposition of St. Rocque's altars and ornaments
alone can give. In the evening we looked at the new square called the
Palais Royal, whence the Due de Chartres has removed a vast number of
noble trees, which it was a sin and shame to profane with an axe, after
they had adorned that spot for so many centuries. - The people were
accordingly as angry, I believe, as Frenchmen can be, when the folly was
first committed: the court, however, had wit enough to convert the place
into a sort of Vauxhall, with tents, fountains, shops, full of frippery,
brilliant at once and worthless, to attract them; with coffeehouses
surrounding it on every side; and now they are all again _merry_ and
_happy_, synonymous terms at Paris, though often disunited in London;
and _Vive le Duc de Chartres_!

The French are really a contented race of mortals; - precluded almost
from possibility of adventure, the low Parisian leads a gentle humble
life, nor envies that greatness he never can obtain; but either wonders
delightedly, or diverts himself philosophically with the sight of
splendours which seldom fail to excite serious envy in an Englishman,
and sometimes occasion even suicide, from disappointed hopes, which
never could take root in the heart of these unaspiring people.
Reflections of this cast are suggested to one here in every shop, where
the behaviour of the matter at first sight contradicts all that our
satirists tell us of the _supple Gaul_, &c. A mercer in this town shews
you a few silks, and those he scarcely opens; _vous devez
choisir_[Footnote: Chuse what you like.], is all he thinks of saying, to
invite your custom; then takes out his snuff-box, and yawns in your
face, fatigued by your inquiries. For my own part, I find my natural
disgust of such behaviour greatly repelled, by the recollection that the
man I am speaking to is no inhabitant of

A happy land, where circulating pow'r
Flows thro' each member of th'embodied state -


and I feel well-inclined to respect the peaceful tenor of a life, which
likes not to be broken in upon, for the sake of obtaining riches, which
when gotten must end only in the pleasure of counting them. A Frenchman
who should make his fortune by trade tomorrow, would be no nearer
advancement in society or situation: why then should he solicit, by arts
he is too lazy to delight in the practice of, that opulence which would
afford so slight an improvement to his comforts? He lives as well as he
wishes already; he goes to the Boulevards every night, treats his wife
with a glass of lemonade or ice, and holds up his babies by turns, to
hear the jokes of _Jean Pottage_. Were he to recommend his goods, like
the Londoner, with studied eloquence and attentive flattery, he could
not hope like him that the eloquence he now bestows on the decorations
of a hat, or the varnish of an equipage, may one day serve to torment a
minister, and obtain a post of honour for his son; he could not hope
that on some future day his flattery might be listened to by some lady
of more birth than beauty, or riches perhaps, when happily employed upon
a very different subject, and be the means of lifting himself into a
state of distinction, his children too into public notoriety.

Emulation, ambition, avarice, however, must in all arbitrary governments
be confined to the great; the _other_ set of mortals, for there are none
there of _middling_ rank, live, as it should seem, like eunuchs in a
seraglio; feel themselves irrevocably doomed to promote the pleasure of
their superiors, nor ever dream of sighing for enjoyments from which an
irremeable boundary divides them. They see at the beginning of their
lives how that life must necessarily end, and trot with a quiet,
contented, and unaltered pace down their long, straight, and shaded
avenue; while we, with anxious solicitude, and restless hurry, watch the
quick turnings of our serpentine walk; which still presents, either to
sight or expectation, some changes of variety in the ever-shifting
prospect, till the unthought-of, unexpected end comes suddenly upon us,
and finishes at once the fluctuating scene. Reflections must now give
way to facts for a moment, though few English people want to be told
that every hotel here, belonging to people of condition, is shut out
from the street like our Burlington-house, which gives a general gloom
to the look of this city so famed for its gaiety: the streets are narrow
too, and ill-paved; and very noisy, from the echo made by stone
buildings drawn up to a prodigious height, many of the houses having
seven, and some of them even eight stories from the bottom. The
contradictions one meets with every moment likewise strike even a
cursory observer - a countess in a morning, her hair dressed, with
diamonds too perhaps, a dirty black handkerchief about her neck, and a
flat silver ring on her finger, like our ale-wives; a _femme publique_,
dressed avowedly for the purposes of alluring the men, with not a very
small crucifix hanging at her bosom; - and the Virgin Mary's sign at an
alehouse door, with these words,

Je suis la mere de mon Dieu,
Et la gardienne de ce lieu[C].

[Footnote C:
The mother of my God am I,
And keep this house right carefully.

I have, however, borrowed Bocage's Remarks upon the English nation,
which serve to damp my spirit of criticism exceedingly: She had more
opportunities than I for observation, not less quickness of discernment
surely; and her stay in London was longer than mine in Paris. - Yet, how
was she deceived in many points!

I will tell nothing that I did not _see_; and among the objects one
would certainly avoid seeing if it were possible, is the deformity of
the poor. - Such various modes of warping the human figure could hardly
be observed in England by a surgeon in high practice, as meet me about
this country incessantly. - I have seen them in the galleries and
outer-courts even of the palace itself, and am glad to turn my eyes for
relief on the Duke of Orleans's pictures; a glorious collection! The
Italian noblemen, in whose company we saw it, acknowledged with candour
the good taste of the selection; and I was glad to see again what had
delighted me so many years before: particularly, the three Marys, by
Annibale Caracci; and Rubens's odd conceit of making Juno's Peacock peck
Paris's leg, for having refused the apple to his mistress.

The manufacture at the Gobelins seems exceedingly improved; the
colouring less inharmonious, the drawing more correct; but our Parisians
are not just now thinking about such matters; they are all wild for love
of a new comedy, written by Mons. de Beaumarchais, and called, "Le
Mariage de Figaro," full of such wit as we were fond of in the reign of
Charles the Second, indecent merriment, and gross immorality; mixed,
however, with much acrimonious satire, as if Sir George Etherege and
Johnny Gay had clubbed their powers of ingenuity at once to divert and
to corrupt their auditors; who now carry the verses of this favourite
piece upon their fans, pocket-handkerchiefs, &c. as our women once did
those of the Beggar's Opera.

We have enjoyed some very agreeable society here in the company of Comte
Turconi, a Milanese Nobleman who, desirous to escape all the frivolous,

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