Philip Thicknesse.

A Year's Journey through France and Part of Spain, 1777 Volume 1 (of 2) online

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Printed by J. Williams, (No. 21.) Skinner-Row.

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* * * * *


CALAIS, June 20th, 1775


As you are kind enough to say, that those letters which I wrote from
this kingdom, nine or ten years ago, were of some use to you, in the
little tour you made through France soon after, and as they have been
considered in some degree to be so to many other persons, (since their
publication) who were unacquainted with the manners and customs of the
French nation, I shall endeavour to bring together, in this second
correspondence with you, not only some of the former hints I gave you,
but such other remarks as a longer acquaintance with the country, and a
more extensive tour, may furnish me with; but before I proceed any
further, let me remind you, of one great fault I was then guilty of; for
though your partiality to me might induce you to overlook it, the public
did not, I mean that of writing when my temper was disturbed, either by
cross incidents I met with upon the road, or disagreeable news which
often followed me from my own country into this. I need not tell a man
of your discernment, in what a different light all objects, whether
animate, or inanimate, appear to those, whose temper is disturbed,
either by ill health, ill treatment, or, what is perhaps more prevalent
than either, the chagrin he may feel at not being rated in the
estimation of others, according to that value he puts upon himself.
Could Dr. Smollett rise from the dead, and sit down in perfect health,
and good temper, and read his travels through France and Italy, he
would probably find most of his anger turned upon himself. But, poor
man! he was ill; and meeting with, what every stranger must expect to
meet at most French inns, want of cleanliness, imposition, and
incivility; he was so much disturbed by those incidents, that to say no
more of the writings of an ingenious and deceased author, his travels
into France, and Italy, are the least entertaining, in my humble
opinion, of all his works. Indeed I have observed that most travellers
fall into one extreme, or the other, and either are all panegyric or all
censure; in which case, all they say cannot be just; for, as all nations
are governed by men, and the bulk of men of all nations live by artifice
of one kind or other, the few men who pass among them, without any
sinister views, cannot avoid feeling, and but few from complaining of
the ill treatment they meet with; not considering one of Swift's shrewd
remarks; _I never_ said he, _knew a man who could not bear the
misfortunes of another perfectly like a Christian_.

Remember therefore, when I tell you how ill I have been treated either
by _Lords_ or _Aubergists_, or how dirtily served by either, it is to
prepare myself and you too, to be content with neighbours' fare.

When a man writes remarks upon the manners and customs of other nations,
he should endeavour to wean himself from all partiality for his own; and
I need not tell you that I am in _full possession_ of that single
qualification, which I hope will make you some amends for my defects in
all the others; for it is certainly unjust, uncandid, and illiberal, to
pronounce a custom or fashion absurd, because it does not coincide with
our ideas of propriety. A Turk who travelled into England, would, upon
his return to Constantinople, tell his countrymen, that at Canterbury;
(bring out of _opium_,) his host did not know even what he demanded;
and that it was with some difficulty he found out, that there were shops
in the town where _opium_ was sold, and even then, it was with greater,
he could prevail upon the vender of it to let him have above half an
ounce: if he were questioned, why all these precautions? he would tell
them, laughingly, that Englishmen believe _opium_ to be a deadly poison,
and those people suspected that he either meant to kill himself, or to
poison another man with it.

A French gentleman, who travelled some years since into Spain, had
letters of recommendation to a Spanish Bishop, who received him with
every mark of politeness, and treated him with much hospitality: soon
after he retired to his bedchamber, a priest entered it,[A] holding a
vessel in his hand, which was covered with a clean napkin; he said
something; but the Frenchman understanding but little Spanish,
intimated by signs his thanks, and desired him to put it down,
believing, that his friend, the Bishop, had sent him a plate of
sweetmeats, fruit, iced cream, or some kind of refreshment to eat before
he went to bed, or to refresh his exhausted spirits in the night; but
his astonishment was great indeed, when he found the priest put the
present under the side of the bed; and more so, when he perceived that
it was only a _pot de chambre_; - for, says the Frenchman, "in Spain,
they do not use the _chaise percee_!" The Frenchman is surprized at the
Spaniard, for not using so convenient a vehicle; the Englishman is
equally surprized, that the Frenchman does; - the Frenchman is always
attentive to his own person, and scarce ever appears but clean and well
dressed; while his house and private apartments are perhaps covered with
litter and dirt, and in the utmost confusion; - the Englishman, on the
other hand, often neglects his external dress; but his house is always
exquisitely clean, and every thing in it kept in the nicest order; and
who shall say, which of the two judge the best for their own ease and
happiness? I am sure the Frenchman will not give up his powdered hair,
and laced coat, for a clean house; nor do I believe those fineries would
sit quietly upon the back of an Englishman, in a dirty one. In short, my
dear sir, we must take the world, and the things in it, as they are; it
is a dirty world, but like France, has a vast number of good things in
it, and such as I meet with, in this my third tour, which shall be a
long one, if I am not _stopped_ by the way, you shall have such an
account of as I am able to convey to you: I will not attempt to _top the
traveller_ upon you, nor raise monuments of wonder, where none are to be
seen; there is real matter enough to be found upon this great continent,
to amuse a man who travels slowly over it, to see what is to be seen,
and who wishes not to be seen himself. My style of travelling is such,
that I can never be disturbed in mind for want of respect, but rather be
surprised when I meet with even common civility. And, after all, what
does it signify, whether Monsieur _ou Tel_ travels in a laced coat _et
très bien mis_, attended by half a dozen servants, or, as Pope says,

"will run
The Lord knows whither in a chaise and one."

I am, your's &c.

[A] The Bishops in Spain are attended and waited upon by inferior


June 25th, 1766.

Before I leave Calais, let me remind you, that an English guinea is
worth more than a _Louis d'or_; and observe, that the first question _my
friend Mons. Dessein_, at the _Hotel D'Angleterre_ will put to you,
(after he has made his bow, and given you a side look, as a cock does at
a barley-corn) is, whether you have any guineas to change? because he
gets by each guinea, full weight, ten _Sols_. By this hint, you will
conclude, he will not, upon your return, ask you for your French Gold;
but in this too you will be mistaken, for he finds an advantage in that
also; he will, not indeed give you guineas, but, in lieu thereof, he has
always a large quantity of _Birmingham Shillings_, to truck with you for
your _Louis d'ors_. I am afraid, when Lord North took into
consideration the state of the gold coin, he did not know, that the
better state it is put into in England, is the surest means of
transporting it into France, and other countries; and that scarce a
single guinea which travellers carry with them to France, (and many
hundred go every week) ever returns to England: Beside this, the
quantity of gold carried over to the ports of _Dunkirk_, _Boulogne_, and
_Calais_, by the Smugglers, who always pay ready money, is incredible;
but as money, and matters of that kind, are what I have but _little
concern in_, I will not enlarge upon a subject no way interesting to me,
and shall only observe, that my landlord, _Mons. Dessein_, who was
behind-hand with the world ten years ago, is now become one of the
richest men in _Calais_, has built a little Theatre in his garden, and
has united the profitable business of a Banker, to that of a Publican;
and by studying the _Gout_ of the English nation, and changing their
gold into French currency, has made, they say, a _Demi Plumb_.

Notwithstanding the contiguity of _Calais_ to England, and the great
quantity of poultry, vegetables, game, &c. which are bought up every
market-day, and conveyed to your coast, I am inclined to believe, there
are not many parts of France where a man, who has but little money, can
make it go further than in this town; nor is there any town in England,
where the fishery is conducted with so much industry.

Yesterday I visited my unfortunate daughter, at the convent at
_Ardres_; - but why do I say unfortunate? She is unfortunate only, in the
eyes of the world, not in her own; nor indeed in mine, because she
assured me she is happy. I left her here, you know, ten years ago, by
way of education, and learning the language; but the small-pox, which
seized her soon after, made such havock on a face, rather favoured by
nature, that she desired to hide it from the world, and spend her life
in that retirement, which I had chosen only to qualify her _for_ the
world. I left her a child; I found her a sensible woman; full of
affection and duty; and her mangled and seamed face, so softened by an
easy mind, and a good conscience, that she appeared in my partial eyes,
rather an agreeable than a plain woman; but she did not omit to signify
to me, that what others considered her misfortune, she considered (as it
was not her fault) a happy circumstance; "if my face is plain (said she)
my heart is light, and I am sure it will make as good a figure in the
earth, as the fairest, and most beautiful." My only concern is, that I
find the _Prieure_ of this convent, either for want of more knowledge,
or more money, or both, had received, as parlour boarders, some English
ladies of very suspicious characters. As the conversation of such women
might interrupt, and disturb that peace and tranquillity of mind, in
which I found my daughter, I told the _Prieure_ my sentiments on that
subject, not only with freedom, but with some degree of severity; and
endeavoured to convince her, how very unwarrantably, if not
irreligiously she acted. An abandoned, or vicious woman, may paint the
pleasures of this world in such gaudy colours, to a poor innocent Nun,
so as to induce her to forget, or become less attentive to the
professions she has made to the next.

It was near this town, you know, that the famous interview passed
between Henry the Eighth, and _Francis_ the First, in the year 1520; and
though it lasted twenty-eight days, and was an event which produced at
that time so many amusements to all present, and so much conversation
throughout Europe, the inhabitants of this, town, or Calais, seem to
know little of it, but that one of the bastions at _Ardres_ is called
the Bastion of the Two Kings. - There still remains, however, in the
front of one of the houses in _Calais_, upon an ornamented stone, cut in
old letter,

=God Save the King=;

And I suppose that stone was put, where it now remains, by some loyal
subject, before the King arrived, as it is in a street which leads from
the gate (now stopped up) which Henry passed through.


In a very few days I shall leave this town, and having procured letters
of recommendation from some men of fashion, now in England, to their
friends in _Spain_, I am determined to traverse this, and make a little
tour into that kingdom; so you may expect something more from me, than
merely such remarks as may be useful to you on any future tour you make
in France; I mean to conduct you at least over the _Pyrenean_ hills to
_Barcelona_; for, though I have been two or three times before in Spain,
it was early in life, and when my mind was more employed in observing
the _customs_ and _manors_ of the birds, and beasts of the field, than
of their lords and masters, and made too, on the other side of that
kingdom. Having seen as much of Paris as I desired, some years ago, I
intend to pass through the provinces of _Artois_, _Champaigne_,
_Bourgogne_, and so on to _Lyons_; by which route you will perceive, I
shall leave the capital of this kingdom many leagues on my right hand,
and see some considerable towns, and taste now and then of the most
delicious wines, on the spots which produce them; beside this, I have a
great desire to see the remains of a Roman subterranean town, lately
discovered in _Champaigne_, which perhaps may gratify my curiosity in
some degree, and thereby lessen that desire I have: long had of visiting
_Herculaneum_, an _under-ground_ town you know, I always said I would
visit, if a certain person happened to be put _under-ground_ before me;
but the CAUSE, and the event, in all human affairs, are not to be
fathomed by men; for though the event happened, the _cause_ frustrated
my design; and I must cross the _Pyranean_ not the _Alpian_ hills. But
lest I forget it, let me tell you, that as my travelling must be upon
the frugal plan, I have sold my four-wheel post-chaise, to _Mons.
Dessein_, for twenty-two guineas, and bought a French _cabriolet_, for
ten, and likewise a very handsome English coach-horse, (a little touched
in the wind indeed) for seven. This equipage I have fitted up with every
convenience I can contrive, to carry me, my wife, two daughters, and all
my _other_ baggage; you will conclude therefore, _light_ as the latter
may be, we are _bien charge_; but as we move slowly, not above seven
leagues a day, I shall have the more leisure to look about me, and to
consider what sort of remarks may prove most worthy of communicating
from time to time to you. I shall be glad to leave this town, though it
is in one respect, something like your's,[B] everyday producing many
_strange faces_, and some very agreeable acquaintance. The arrival of
the packet-boats from Dover constitutes the principal amusement of this


The greater part of the English _transports_ who come over, do not
proceed much further than to see the tobacco plantations near _St.
Omer_'s; nor is their return home less entertaining than their arrival,
as many of them are people of such _quick parts_, that they acquire, in
a week's tour to _Dunkirk_, _Bologne_, and _St. Omer_'s, the _language_,
dress and manners of the country. You must not, however, expect to hear
again from me, till I am further _a-field_. But lest I forget to mention
it in a future letter, let me refresh your memory, as to your conduct at
Dover, at Sea, and at _Calais_. In the first of these three disagreeable
places, (and the first is the worst) you will soon be applied to by one
of the Captains of the packets, or bye-boats, and if you hire the boat
to yourself, he will demand five guineas; if you treat with another, it
is all one, because they are all, except one, partners and equally
interested; and therefore will abate nothing. Captain Watson is the
only one who _swims upon his own bottom_; and as he is a good seaman,
and has a clean, convenient, nay an elegant vessel, I would rather turn
the scale in his favour, because I am, as you will be, an enemy to all
associations which have a tendency to imposition upon the public, and
oppression to such who will not join in the general confederacy; yet I
must, in justice to the Captains of the confederate party, acknowledge,
that their vessels are all good; _well found_; and that they are civil,
decent-behaved men. As it is natural for them to endeavour to make the
most of each _trip_, they will, if they can, foist a few passengers upon
you, even after you have taken the vessel to your own use only. If you
are alone, this intrusion is not agreeable, but if you have ladies with
you, never submit to it; if they introduce men, who appear like
gentlemen upon your vessel, you cannot avoid treating them as such; if
women, you cannot avoid them treating them with more attention than may
be convenient, because they _are_ women; but were it only in
consideration of the sea-sickness and its _consequences_, can any thing
be more disagreeable than to admit people to _pot_ and _porringer_ with
you, in a small close cabin, with whom you would neither eat, drink, or
converse, in any other place? but these are not the only reasons; every
gentleman going to France should avoid making new acquaintance, at
Dover, at Sea, or at _Calais_: many _adventurers_ are always passing,
and many honest men are often led into grievous and dangerous situations
by such inconsiderate connections; nay, the best, and wisest men, are
the most liable to be off their guard, and therefore you will excuse my
pointing it out to you.

I could indeed relate some alarming consequences, nay, some fatal ones,
which have befallen men of honour and character in this country, from
such unguarded connections; and such as they would not have been drawn
into, on the other side of the "_invidious Streight_." When an
Englishman leaves his own country, and is got no further from it than to
this town, he looks back upon it with an eye of partial affection; no
wonder then, if he feels more disposed to be kind to a countryman and a
stranger he may meet in this. - I do not think it would be difficult to
point out, what degree of intimacy would arise between two men who knew
but little of each other, according to the part of the world they were
to meet in. - I remember the time, when I only knew your person, and
coveted your acquaintance; at that time we lived in the same town, knew
each other's general character, but passed without speaking, or even the
compliment of the hat; yet had we met in London, we should certainly
have taken some civil notice of each other: had the interview been at
York, it is five to one but it would have produced a conversation: at
Edinburgh, or Dublin, we should have dined, or gone to the play
together: but if we had met at Barbadoes, I should have been invited to
spend a month at your PENN, and experienced many of those marks of
hospitality, friendship, and generosity, I have found from the Creoles
in general. When you get upon the French coast, the packet brings to,
and is soon boarded by a French boat, to carry the passengers on shore;
this passage is much longer than it appears to be, is always
disagreeable, and sometimes dangerous; and the landing, if the water be
very low, intolerable: in this case, never mind the advice of the
Captain; his advice is, and must be regulated by his _own_ and his
owner's interest, more than your convenience; therefore stay on board
till there is water enough to sail up to the town, and be landed by a
plank laid from the packet to the shore, and do not suffer any body to
persuade you to go into a boat, or to be put on shore, by any other
method, tho' the _packet-men_ and the _Frenchmen_ unite to persuade you
so to do, because they are mutually benefited by putting you to more
expence, and the latter are entertained with seeing your cloaths
dirted, or the ladies _frighted_. If most of the packet-boats are in
_Calais_ harbour, your Captain will use every argument in his power to
persuade you to go on shore, in the French boat, because he will, in
that case, return directly to Dover, and thereby save eight-and-twenty
shillings port duty. When we came over, I prevailed upon a large company
to stay on board till there was water enough to sail into the harbour:
it is not in the power of the Captain to deceive you as to that matter,
because there is a red flag hoisted gradually higher and higher, as the
water flows into the harbour, at a little fort which stands upon
_stilts_ near the entrance of it. When you are got on shore, go directly
to _Dessein_'s; and be in no trouble about your baggage, horses, or
coach; the former will be all carried, by men appointed for that
purpose, safely to the Custom-house, and the latter wheeled up to your
_Hotel_, where you will sit down more quietly, and be entertained more
decently, than at Dover.


RHEIMS, in Champagne.

Little or nothing occurred to me worth remarking to you on my journey
hither, but that the province of _Artois_ is a fine corn country, and
that the French farmers seem to understand that business perfectly well.
I was surprised to find, near _St. Omer_'s, large plantations of
tobacco, which had all the vigour and healthy appearance of that which I
have seen grow in _poor_ America. On my way here, (like the countryman
in London, in gazing about) I missed my road; but a civil, and, in
appearance, a substantial farmer, conducted us half a league over the
fields, and marked out the course to get into it again, without
returning directly back, a circumstance I much hate, though perhaps it
might have been the shorter way. However, before I gained the high road,
I stumbled upon a private one, which led us into a little village
pleasantly situated, and inhabited by none other but the poorest
peasants; whose tattered habits, wretched houses, and smiling
countenances, convinced me, that chearfulness and contentment shake
hands oftener under thatched than painted roofs. We found one of these
villagers as ready to boil our tea-kettle, provide butter, milk, &c. as
we were for our breakfasts; and during the preparation of it, I believe
every man, woman, and child of the hamlet, was come down to _look at
us_; for beside that wonderful curiosity common to this whole nation,
the inhabitants of this village had never before seen an Englishman;
they had heard indeed often of the country, they said, and that it was
_un pays très riche_. There was such a general delight in the faces of
every age, and so much civility, I was going to say politeness, shewn
to us, that I caught a temporary chearfulness in this village, which I
had not felt for some months before, and which I intend to carry with
me. I therefore took out my guittar, and played till I set the whole
assembly in motion; and some, in spite of their wooden shoes, and others
without any, danced in a manner not to be seen among our English
peasants. They had "shoes like a sauce-boat," but no "steeple-clock'd
hose." While we breakfasted, one of the villagers fed my horse with some
fresh-mowed hay, and it was with some difficulty I could prevail upon
him to be paid for it, because the trifle I offered was much more than
his _Court of Conscience_ informed him it was worth. I could moralize
here a little; but I will only ask you, in which state think you man is
best; the untaught man, in that of nature, or the man whose mind is
enlarged by education and a knowledge of the world? The behaviour of
the inhabitants of this little hamlet had a very forcible effect upon
me; because it brought me back to my earlier days, and reminded me of
the reception I met with in America by what we now call the _Savage_
Indians; yet I have been received in the same courteous manner in a
little hamlet, unarmed, and without any other protection but by the law
of nature, by those _savages_; - indeed it was before the _Savages of
Europe_ had instructed them in the art of war, or Mr. Whitfield had
preached _methodism_ among them. Therefore, I only tell you what they
_were_ in 1735, not what they _are at present_. When I visited them,
they walked in the flowery paths of Nature; now, I fear, they tread the
polluted roads of blood. Perhaps of all the uncivilized nations under
the sun, the native Indians of America _were_ the most humane; I have

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