Philip Thicknesse.

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

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to be registered than observation. When you are tired of my register,
remember, I can _take_ as well as _give a hint_.



After a voyage of one whole, and one half day, without sail or oar, we
arrived here from Lyons. The weather was just such as we could wish and
such as did not drive us out of the seat of my _cabriolet_ into the
cabbin, which was full of priests, monks, friars, milleners, &c. a
motley crew! who were very noisy, and what they thought, I dare say,
very good company; the deck, indeed, afforded better and purer air;
three officers, and a priest; but it was not till late the first day
before they took any civil notice of us; and if a Frenchman shews any
backwardness of that sort, an Englishman, I think, had better _hold up_;
this rule I always religiously observe. When the night came on, we
landed in as much disorder as the troops were embarked at _St. Cas_,
and lodged in a miserable _auberge_. It was therefore no mortification
to be called forth for embarkation before day-light. The bad night's
lodging was, however, amply made up to us, by the beautiful and
picturesque objects and variety which every minute produced. For the
banks of this mighty river are not only charged on both sides with a
great number of towns, villages, castles, _chateaux_, and farm-houses;
but the ragged and broken mountains above, and fertile vales between and
beneath, altogether exhibit a mixture of delight and astonishment, which
cannot be described, unless I had Gainsborough's elegant pencil, instead
of my own clumsy pen. Upon comparing notes, we found that the officers,
(and no men understand the _etiquette_ of travelling better than they
do,) had not fared much better than we had; one of them therefore
proposed, that we should all sup together that night at _Pont
St.-Esprit_, where, he assured us, there was one of the best cooks in
France, and he would undertake to regulate the supper at a reasonable
price. This was the first time we had eat with other company, though it
is the general practice in the southern parts of France. Upon entering
the house, where this _Maitre Cuisinier_ and prime minister of the
kitchen presided, I began to conceive but an indifferent opinion of the
Major's judgment; the house, the kitchen, the cook, were, in appearance,
all against it; yet, in spite of all, I never sat down to so good a
supper; and should be sorry to sit often at table, where such a one was
set before me. I will not - nay, I cannot tell you what we had; but you
will be surprised to know what we paid, - what think you of three livres
each? when I assure you, such a supper, if it were to be procured in
London, could not be provided for a guinea a head! and we were only
seven who sat down to it.

I must not omit to tell you, that all the second day's voyage we heard
much talk of the danger there would be in passing the Bridge of _Pont
St. Esprit_; and that many horses and men landed some miles before we
arrived there, choosing rather to walk or ride in the hot sun, than swim
through _so much danger_. Yet the truth is, there was none; and, I
believe, seldom is any. The _Patron_ of the barge, indeed, made a great
noise, and affected to shew how much skill was necessary to guide it
through the main arch, for I think the bridge consists of thirty; yet
the current itself must carry every thing through that approaches it,
and he must have skill, indeed, who could avoid it. There was not in the
least degree any fall; but yet, it passed through with such violence,
that we run half a league in a minute; and very soon after landed at the
town of Pont. St. Esprit, which has nothing in it very remarkable, but
this long bridge, the good cook, and the first olive tree we had seen.

This is Lower _Languedoc_, you know, and the province in which ten
thousand pounds were lately distributed by the sagacious Chancellor of
England, among an hundred French peasants; and though I was _weak
enough_ to think it _my property_, I am not wicked enough to envy them
their good fortune. If the decision made one man wretched; it made the
hearts of many glad; and I should be pleased to drink a bottle of wine
with any of my fortunate cousins, and will if I can find them out; for
they are my cousins; and I would shake an honest cousin by the hand tho'
he were in wooden shoes, with more pleasure than I would the honest
Chancellor, who put them _so unexpectedly_ upon a better footing. I
think, by the _laws_ of England, no money is to be transported into
other kingdoms; by the JUSTICE of it, it may, and is; - if so, law and
justice are still at variance; which puts me in mind of what a great
man once said upon reading the confirmation of a decree in the House of
Lords, from an Irish appeal: - "It is (said he) so very absurd,
inconsistent, and intricate, that, in truth, I am afraid it is really
made according to law."



On our way here we eat an humble meal; which was, nevertheless, a most
grateful _repas_, for it was under the principal arch of the _Pont du
Gard_. It will be needless to say more to you of this noble monument of
antiquity, than that the modern addition to it has not only made it more
durable, but more useful: in its original state, it conveyed only horse
and man, over the River _Gordon_, (perhaps _Gardon_) and water, to the
city of _Nismes_. By the modern addition, it now conveys every thing
over it, but water; as well as an high idea of Roman magnificence; for
beside the immense expence of erecting a bridge of a triple range of
arches, over a river, and thereby uniting the upper arches to the
mountains on each side, the source from whence the water was conveyed,
is six leagues distant from _Nismes_. The bridge is twenty-four _toises_
high, and above an hundred and thirty-three in length, and was _my sole
property_ for near three hours; for during that time, I saw neither man
nor beast come near it; every thing was so still and quiet, except the
murmuring stream which runs gently under two or three of the arches,
that I could almost have persuaded myself, from the silence, and rude
scenes which every way presented themselves, that all the world were as
dead as the men who erected it. That side of the bridge where none of
the modern additions appear, is nobly fillagreed by the hand of time;
and the other side is equally pleasing, by being a well executed support
to a building which, without its aid, would in a few ages more have
fallen into ruins.

I was astonished to find so fine a building standing in so pleasant a
spot, and which offers so many invitations to make it the abode of some
hermit, quite destitute of such an inhabitant; but it did not afford
even a beggar, to tell the strange stories which the common people
relate; tho' it could not fail of being a very lucrative post, were it
only from the bounty of strangers, who visit it out of curiosity; but a
Frenchman, whether monk, or mumper, has no idea of a life of solitude:
yet I am sure, were it in England, there are many of our, _first-rate
beggars_, who would lay down a large sum for a money of _such a walk_.
If a moiety of sweeping the kennel from the Mews-gate to the Irish
coffee-house opposite to it, could fetch a good price, and I was a
witness once that it did, to an unfortunate beggar-woman, who was
obliged by sickness to part with half of it; what might not a beggar
expect, who had the _sweeping_ of the _Pont du Gard_; or a monk, who
erected a confessional box near it for the benefit of _himself_, and the
fouls of poor travellers?

After examining every part of the bridge, above and below, I could not
find the least traces of any ancient inscription, except three initial
letters, C, P, A; but I found cut in _demi relief_ very extraordinary
kind of _priapus_, or rather group of them; the country people, for it
is much effaced, imagine it to be dogs in pursuit of a hare; but if I
may be permitted to _imagine_ too perhaps, indeed, with no better
judgment, might not the kind of representations be emblematical of the
populousness, of the country? though more probably the wanton fancies of
the master mason, or his journeymen; for they are too diminutive pieces
of work to bear any proportion to the whole, and are therefore
blemishes, not ornaments, even allowing that in those ages such kind of
works were not considered in the light they would be in these days of
more delicacy and refinement.



I have now been here some time, and have employed most of it, in
visiting daily the _Maison Carree_, the _Amphitheatre_, the Temple of
_Diana_, and other Roman remains, which this town abounds with above all
others in France, and which is all the town affords worthy of notice,
(for it is but a very indifferent one.) The greater part of the
inhabitants are Protestants, who meet publicly between two rocks, at a
little distance from the city, every Sunday, sometimes not less than
eighteen thousand, where their pastors, openly and audibly, perform
divine service, according to the rites of the reformed church: Such is
the difference between the mild government of _Louis_ the 16th, and that
which was practised in the reign of his great grandfather. But reason
and philosophy have made more rapid strides in France, within these few
years, than the arts and sciences. It is, however, a great and mighty
kingdom, blest with every convenience and comfort in life, as well as
many luxuries, beside good wine; and good wine, drank in moderation (and
_here_ nobody drinks it otherwise) is not only an excellent cordial to
the nerves, but I am persuaded it contributes to long life, and good
health. Here, where wine and _eau de vie_ is so plenty, and so cheap
too, you seldom meet a drunken peasant, and never see a gentleman
(_except he be a stranger_) in that shameful situation.

Perhaps there is not, on any part of the Continent, a city or town which
has been so frequently sacked by foreign invaders, nor so deeply stained
with human blood, by civil and religious wars, as this: every street and
ancient building within its walls still exhibit many strong marks of the
excesses committed by the hands of domestic as well as foreign
barbarians, except only the Temple now called, and so called from its
form, the _Maison Carree_, which has stood near eighteen hundred years,
without receiving any other injuries than the injuries of time; and time
has given it rather the face of age, than that of ruins, for it still
stands firm and upright; and though not quite perfect in every part, yet
it preserves all its due proportions, and enough of its original and
lesser beauties, to astonish and delight every beholder, and that too in
a very particular manner. It is said, and I have felt the truth of it in
part, that there does not exist, at this day, any building, ancient or
modern, which conveys so secret a pleasure, not only to the
_connoisseur_, but to the clown also, whenever, or how often soever they
approach it. The proportions and beauties of the whole building are so
intimately united, that they may be compared to good breeding in men; it
is what every body perceives, and is captivated with, but what few can
define. That it has an irresistible beauty which delights men of sense,
and which _charms_ the eyes of the vulgar, I think must be admitted; for
no other possible reason can be assigned why this building alone,
standing in the very centre of a city, wherein every excess which
religious fury could inspire, or barbarous manners could suggest, has
stood so many ages the only uninsulted monument of antiquity, either
within or without the walls; especially, as a very few men might, with
very little labour, soon tumble it into a heap of rubbish.

The _Amphitheatre_ has a thousand marks of violences committed upon it,
by fire, sledges, battering rams, &c. which its great solidity and
strength alone resisted.

The _Temple of Diana_ is so nearly destroyed, that, in an age or two
more no vestige of it will remain; but the _Maison Carree_ is still so
perfect and beautiful, that when _Cardinal Alberoni_ first saw it, he
said it wanted only _une boete d'or pour le defendre des injures de
l'air_; and it certainly has received no other, than such as rain, and
wind, and heat, and cold, have made upon it; and those are rather marks
of dignity, than deformity. What reason else, then, can be assigned for
its preservation to this day; but that the savage and the saint have
been equally awed by its superlative beauty.

Having said thus much of the perfections of this edifice, I must however
confess, it is not, nor ever was, perfect, for it has some original
blemishes, but such as escape the observation of most men, who have not
time to examine the parts separately, and with a critical eye. There
are, for example, thirty modillions on the cornice, on one side and
thirty-two on the other; there are sixty-two on the west side, and only
fifty-four on the east; with some other little faults which its aged
beauty justifies my omitting; for they are such perhaps as, if removed,
would not add any thing to the general proportions of the whole. No-body
objected to the moles on Lady Coventry's face; those specks were too
trifling, where the _tout ensemble_ was so perfect.

_Cardinal Richlieu_, I am assured, had several consultations with
builders of eminence, and architects of genius, to consider whether it
was practicable to remove all the parts of this edifice, and re-erect it
at _Versailles_: and, I have no doubt, but Lewis the 14th might have
raised this monument to his fame there, for half the money he expended
in murdering and driving out of that province sixty thousand of his
faithful and ingenious subjects, merely on the score of Religion; an
act, which is now equally abhorred by Catholics, as well as Protestants.
But, Lord Chesterfield justly observes, that there is no brute so
fierce, no criminal so guilty, as the creature called a Sovereign,
whether King, Sultan, or Sophy; who thinks himself, either by divine or
human right, vested with absolute power of destroying his

_Louis_ the XIth of France caused the Duke of _Nemours_, a descendant
of King _Clovis_, to be executed at Paris, and placed his children
under the scaffold, that the blood of their father might run upon their
heads; in which bloody condition they were returned to the Bastile, and
there shut up in iron cages: and a King of SIAM, having lost his
daughter, and fancying she was poisoned, put most of his court, young
and old, to death, by the most exquisite torture; by this horrid act of
cruelty, near two thousand of the principal courtiers suffered the most
dreadful deaths; the great Mandarins, their wives, and children, being
all scorched with fire, and mangled with knives, before they were
admitted to his last favour, - that of being thrown to the elephants.

But to have done with sad subjects. - It was not till the year 1758 that
it was certainly known at what time, or for what purpose, the _Maison
Carree_ was erected; but fortunately, the same town which produced the
building so many ages ago, produced in the latter end of the last, a
Gentleman, of whom it may be justly said, he left no stone unturned to
come at the truth. This is _Mons. Seguier_, whose long life has been
employed in collecting a cabinet of Roman antiquities, and natural
curiosities, and whose penetrating genius alone could have discovered,
by the means he did, an inscription, of which not a single letter has
been seen for many ages; but this _habile observateur_, perceiving a
great number of irregular holes upon the frontal and frize of this
edifice, concluded that they were the cramp-holes which had formerly
held an inscription, and which, according to the practice of the
Romans, were often composed of single letters of bronze. _Mons. Seguier_
therefore erected scaffolding, and took off on paper the distances and
situation of the several holes, and after nicely examining the
disposition of them, and being assisted by a few faint traces of some of
the letters, which had been impressed on the stones, brought forth, to
the full satisfaction of every body, the original inscription, which
was laid before _l'Academie des Inscriptions & de Belles Lettres de
Paris_ of which he is a member, and from whom he received their public
thanks; having unanimously agreed that there was not a doubt remained
but that he had produced the true reading: which is as follows:

+ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -+
| |
+ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -+

The _Maison Carree_ is not however, quite square, being something more
in length than breadth; it is eighty-two feet long and thirty-seven and
a half high, exclusive of the square socle on which it stands, and which
is, at this time, six feet above the surface; it is divided into two
parts, one enclosed, the other open; the facade is adorned with six
fluted pillars of the Corinthian order, and the cornice and front are
decorated with all the beauties of architecture. The frize is quite
plain, and without any of those bas-reliefs or ornaments which are on
the sides, where the foliage of the olive leaf is exquisitely finished.
On each side over the door, which opens into the enclosed part, two
large stones, like the but-ends of joists, project about three feet, and
these stones are pierced through with two large mortices, six inches
long, and three wide; they are a striking blemish, and must therefore
have been fixed, for some very necessary purpose - for what, I will not
risque my opinion; it is enough to have mentioned them to you. As to the
inside, little need be said; but, that, being now consecrated to the
service of GOD, and the use of the order of _Augustines_, it is filled
up with altars, _ex votos_, statues, &c. but such as we may reasonably
conclude, have not, exclusive of a religious consideration, all those
beauties which were once placed within a Temple, the outward structure
of which was so highly finished.

Truth and concern compel me to conclude this account of the _Maison
Carree_, in lamenting, that the inhabitants of Nismes (who are in
general a very respectable body of people) suffer this noble edifice to
be defiled by every species of filth that poverty and neglect can
occasion. The approach to it is through an old ragged kind of barn door:
it is surrounded with mean houses, and disgraced on every side with
filth, and the _offerings_ of the nearest inhabitants. I know not any
part of London but what would be a better situation for it, than where
it now stands: I will not except even Rag-fair, nor Hockly in the Hole.



The state in which that once-superb edifice, the Temple of Diana, now
appears; with concern, I perceived that there remains only enough to
give the spectator an idea of its former beauty; for though the roof has
been broken down, and every part of it so wantonly abused yet enough
remains, within, and without, to bear testimony that it was built, not
only by the greatest architect, but enriched also by the hands of other
great artists: indeed, the mason's work alone is, at this day,
wonderful; for the stones with which it is built, and which are very
large, are so truly worked, and artfully laid, without either cement or
mortar, that many of the joints are scarce visible; nor is it possible
to put the point of a penknife between those which are most open. This
Temple too is, like the _Maison Carree_, shut up by an old barn-door: a
man, however, attends to open it; where, upon entering, you will find a
striking picture of the folly of all human grandeur; for the area is
covered with broken statues, busts, urns, vases, cornices, frizes,
inscriptions, and various fragments of exquisite workmanship, lying in
the utmost disorder, one upon another, like the stript dead in a field
of battle. Here, the ghost of Shakespeare appeared before my eyes,
holding in his hand a label, on which was engraven those words you have
so often read in his works, and now see upon his monument.

I have often wondered, that some man of taste and fortune in England,
where so much attention is paid to gardening, never converted one spot
to an _Il Penseroso_, and another to _L'Allegro_. If a thing of that
kind was to be done, what would not a man of such a turn give for an
_Il Penseroso_, as this Temple now is? - where sweet melancholy sits,
with a look

"That's fastened to the ground,
A tongue chain'd up, without a sound."

The modern fountain of _Nismes_ or rather the Roman fountain recovered,
and re-built, falls just before this Temple; and the noble and extensive
walks, which surround this pure and plentiful stream, are indeed very
magnificent: what then must it have been in the days of the Romans, when
the Temple, the fountain, the statues, vases, &c. stood perfect, and in
their proper order? Though this building has been called the Temple of
Diana, by a tradition immemorial, yet it may be much doubted, whether it
was so. The Temples erected, you know, to the daughter of Jupiter, were
all of the Ionic order, and this is a mixture of the Corinthian, and
Composit. Is it not, therefore, more probable, from the number of niches
in it to contain statues, that it was, in fact, a Pantheon? Directly
opposite to the entrance door, are three great tabernacles; on that of
the middle stood the principal altar; and on the side walls were twelve
niches, six on the right-hand are still perfect. The building is eleven
_toises_ five feet long, and six _toises_ wide, and was thrown into its
present ruinous state during the civil wars of Henry the Third; and yet,
in spite of the modern statues, and gaudy ornaments, which the
inhabitants have bestrewed to decorate their matchless fountain, the
Temple of Diana is still the greatest ornament it has to boast of.



Never was a traveller more disappointed than I was upon entering into
this renowned city; a city, the name of which my ears have been familiar
to, ever since I first heard of disease or medicine. I expected to find
it filled with palaces; and to perceive the superiority of the soft air
it is so celebrated for, above all other places; instead of which, I was
accompanied for many miles before I entered it with thousands of
Moschettos, which, in spite of all the hostilities we committed upon
them, made our faces, hands and legs, as bad in appearance as persons
just recovering from a plentiful crop of the small-pox, and infinitely
more miserable. Bad as these flies are in the West-Indies, I suffered
more in a few days from them at, and near Montpellier, than I did for
some years in Jamaica.

However fine and salubrious the air of this town might have been
formerly, it is far otherwise now; and it may be naturally accounted
for; the sea has retired from the coast, and has left three leagues of
marshy ground between it and the town, where the hot sun, and stagnated
waters, breed not only flies, but distempers also; beside this, there
is, and ever was, something very peculiar in the air of the town itself:
it is the only town in France where verdigris is made in any great
quantity; and this, I am inclined to think, is not a very favourable
circumstance; where the air is so disposed to cankerise, and corrode
copper, it cannot be so pure, as where none can be produced; but here,

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Online LibraryPhilip ThicknesseA Year's Journey through France and Part of Spain, 1777 Volume 1 (of 2) → online text (page 3 of 11)