Travels, chiefly on Foot, through several parts of England in 1782, described in Letters to a Friend/Chapter X
|←Chapter IX||Travels, chiefly on Foot, through several parts of England in 1782, described in Letters to a Friend by
Oxford, June 25.
To what various, singular, and unaccountable fatalities and adventures are not foot-travellers exposed, in this land of carriages and horses! But, I will begin my relation in form and order.
In Windsor, I was obliged to pay for an old fowl I had for supper, for a bedroom which I procured with some difficulty, and not without murmurs, and in which, to complete my misadventures, I was disturbed by a drunken fellow; and for a couple of dishes of tea, nine shillings, of which the fowl alone was charged six shillings.
As I was going away the waiter, who had served me with so very ill a grace, placed himself on the stairs and said, "Pray remember the waiter." I gave him three halfpence, on which he saluted me with the heartiest "G-d d-n you, sir!" I had ever heard. At the door stood the cross maid, who also accosted me with, "Pray remember the chambermaid." "Yes, yes," said I, "I shall long remember your most ill-mannered behaviour and shameful incivility;" and so I gave her nothing. I hope she was stung and nettled at my reproof; however, she strove to stifle her anger by a contemptuous, loud, hoarse laugh. Thus, as I left Windsor, I was literally followed by abuses and curses.
I am very sorry to say that I rejoiced when I once more perceived the towers of Windsor behind me. It is not proper for wanderers to be prowling near the palaces of kings, and so I sat me down, philosophically, in the shade of a green hedge, and again read Milton, no friend of kings, though the first of poets. Whatever I may think of their inns, it is impossible not to admire and be charmed with this country.
I took my way through Slough, by Salthill, to Maidenhead. At Salthill, which can hardly be called even a village, I saw a barber's shop, and so I resolved to get myself both shaved and dressed. For putting my hair a little in order, and shaving me, I was forced to pay him a shilling. Opposite to this shop there stands an elegant house and a neat garden.
Between Salthill and Maidenhead, I met with the first very remarkable and alarming adventure that has occurred during my pilgrimage.
Hitherto I had scarcely met a single foot passenger, whilst coaches without number every moment rolled past me, for there are few roads, even in England, more crowded than this western road, which leads to Bath and Bristol as well as to Oxford. I now also began to meet numbers of people on horseback, which is by no means an usual method of travelling.
The road now led me along a low sunken piece of ground between high trees, so that I could not see far before me, when a fellow in a brown frock and round hat, with a stick in his hand a great deal stronger than mine, came up to me. His countenance immediately struck me as having in it something suspicious. He however passed me; but, before I was aware, he turned back and asked me for a halfpenny to buy, as he said, some bread, as he had eaten nothing that day. I felt in my pocket, and found that I had no halfpence: no, nor even a sixpence; in short, nothing but shillings. I told him the circumstance, which I hoped would excuse me; on which he said, with an air and manner the drift of which I could not understand, "God bless my soul!" This drew my attention still closer to the huge brawny fist, which grasped his stick, and that closer attention determined me immediately to put my hand in my pocket and give him a shilling. Meanwhile a coach came up. The fellow thanked me and went on. Had the coach come a moment sooner, I should not easily have given him the shilling, which, God knows, I could not well spare. Whether this was a footpad or not, I will not pretend to say, but he had every appearance of it.
I now came to Maidenhead bridge, which is five-and-twenty English miles from London.
The English milestones give me much pleasure, and they certainly are a great convenience to travellers. They have often seemed to ease me of half the distance of a journey merely by telling me how far I had already gone, and by assuring me that I was on the right road. For, besides the distance from London, every milestone informs you that to the next place is so many miles, and where there are cross- roads there are direction-posts, so that it is hardly possible to lose one's-self in walking. I must confess that all this journey has seemed but as it were one continued walk for pleasure.
From Maidenhead bridge there is a delightful prospect towards a hill, which extends itself along the right bank of the Thames, and on the top of it there are two beautiful country seats, all surrounded with meadows and parks. The first is called Taplow, and belongs to the Earl of Inchiquin; and a little farther Cliefden, which also belongs to him.
These villas seem all to be surrounded with green meadows, lying along thick woods, and, altogether, are most charming.
From this bridge it is not far to Maidenhead, near which, on the left, is another prospect of a beautiful seat, belonging to Pennyston Powney, Esq.
All this knowledge I have gained chiefly from my English guide; which I have constantly in my hand; and in which everything most worthy of notice in every mile is marked. These notices I get confirmed or refuted by the people at whose houses I stop; who wonder how I, who am a foreigner, have come to be so well acquainted with their country.
Maidenhead is a place of little note; for some mulled ale, which I desired them to make me, I was obliged to pay ninepence. I fancy they did not take me to be either a great, or a very rich man, for I heard them say, as I passed on, "A stout fellow!" This, though perhaps not untrue, did not seem to sound in my ears as very respectful.
At the end of the village was a shoemaker's shop, just as at the end of Salthill there was a barber's shop.
From hence I went to Henley, which is eleven miles from Maidenhead, and thirty-six from London.
Having walked pretty fast for six English miles together, and being now only five miles from Henley, I came to a rising ground where there just happened to be a milestone, near which I sat down, to enjoy one of the most delightful prospects, the contemplation of which I recommend to everyone who may ever happen to come to this spot. Close before me rose a soft hill, full of green cornfields, fenced with quick-hedges, and the top of it was encircled with a wood.
At some little distance, in a large semicircle, one green hill rose after another, all around me, gently raising themselves aloft from the banks of the Thames, and on which woods, meadows, arable lands, and villages were interspersed in the greatest and most beautiful variety; whilst at their foot the Thames meandered, in most picturesque windings, among villages, gentlemen's seats, and green vales.
The banks of the Thames are everywhere beautiful, everywhere charming; how delighted was I with the sight of it when, having lost it for a short time, I suddenly and unexpectedly saw it again with all its beautiful banks. In the vale below, flocks were feeding; and from the hills I heard the sweet chimes of distant bells.
The circumstance that renders these English prospects so enchantingly beautiful, is a concurrence and union of the tout ensemble. Everything coincides and conspires to render them fine, moving pictures. It is impossible to name, or find a spot, on which the eye would not delight to dwell. Any of the least beautiful of any of these views that I have seen in England would, anywhere in Germany, be deemed a paradise.
Reinforced, as it were, by this gratifying prospect, to support fresh fatigues, I now walked a quick pace, both up and down the hills, the five remaining miles to Henley, where I arrived about four in the afternoon.
To the left, just before I got to Henley, on this side of the Thames, I saw on a hill a fine park and a magnificent country seat, at present occupied by General Conway.
Just before my entrance into Henley, I walked a little directly on the banks of the Thames; and sat myself down in the high grass, whilst opposite to me, on the other side, lay the park on the hill. As I was a little tired, I fell asleep, and when I awoke the last rays of the setting sun just shone upon me.
Invigorated by this sweet, though short, slumber, I walked on and entered the town. Its appearance, however, indicated that it was too fine a place for me, and so I determined to stop at an inn on the road-side, such a one as the Vicar of Wakefield well calls, "the resort of indigence and frugality."
The worst of it was, no one, even in these places of refuge, would take me in. Yet, on this road, I met two farmers, the first of whom I asked whether he thought I could get a night's lodging at a house which I saw at a distance, by the road side. "Yes, sir, I daresay you may," he replied. But he was mistaken: when I came there, I was accosted with that same harsh salutation, which though, alas, no longer quite new to me, was still unpleasing to my ears; "We have got no beds; you can't stay here to-night." It was the same at the other inn on the road; I was therefore obliged to determine to walk on as far as Nettlebed, which was five miles farther, where I arrived rather late in the evening, when it was indeed quite dark.
Everything seemed to be all alive in this little village; there was a party of militia soldiers who were dancing, singing, and making merry. Immediately on my entrance into the village, the first house that I saw, lying on my left, was an inn, from which, as usual in England, a large beam extended across the street to the opposite house, from which hung dangling an astonishing large sign, with the name of the proprietor.
"May I stay here to-night?" I asked with eagerness. "Why, yes, you may;" an answer which, however cold and surly, made me exceedingly happy.
They showed me into the kitchen, and set me down to sup at the same table with some soldiers and the servants. I now, for the first time, found myself in one of those kitchens which I had so often read of in Fielding's fine novels; and which certainly give one, on the whole, a very accurate idea of English manners.
The chimney in this kitchen, where they were roasting and boiling, seemed to be taken off from the rest of the room and enclosed by a wooden partition; the rest of the apartment was made use of as a sitting and eating-room. All round on the sides were shelves with pewter dishes and plates, and the ceiling was well stored with provisions of various kinds, such as sugar-loaves, black-puddings, hams, sausages, flitches of bacon, &c.
While I was eating, a post-chaise drove up, and in a moment both the folding-doors were thrown open and the whole house set in motion, in order to receive, with all due respect, these guests, who, no doubt, were supposed to be persons of consequence. The gentlemen alighted, however, only for a moment, and called for nothing but a couple of pots of beer, and then drove away again. Notwithstanding, the people of the house behaved to them with all possible attention, for they came in a post-chaise.
Though this was only an ordinary village, and they certainly did not take me for a person of consequence, they yet gave me a carpeted bedroom, and a very good bed.
The next morning I put on clean linen, which I had along with me, and dressed myself as well as I could. And now, when I thus made my appearance, they did not, as they had the evening before, show me into the kitchen, but into the parlour, a room that seemed to be allotted for strangers, on the ground-floor. I was also now addressed by the most respectful term, "sir;" whereas the evening before I had been called only "master": by this latter appellation, I believe, it is usual to address only farmers and quite common people.
This was Sunday, and all the family were in their Sunday-clothes. I now began to be much pleased with this village, and so I resolved to stop at it for the day, and attend divine service. For this purpose I borrowed a prayer-book of my host. Mr. Illing was his name, which struck me the more, perhaps, because it is a very common name in Germany. During my breakfast I read over several parts of the English liturgy, and could not help being struck at the circumstance that every word in the whole service seems to be prescribed and dictated to the clergyman. They do not visit the sick but by a prescribed form; as, for instance, they must begin by saying, "Peace be to this house," &c.
Its being called a prayer-book, rather than, like ours, a hymn-book, arises from the nature of the English service, which is composed very little of singing, and almost entirely of praying. The psalms of David, however, are here translated into English verse, and are generally printed at the end of English prayer-books.
The prayer-book which my landlord lent me was quite a family piece, for all his children's births and names, and also his own wedding- day, were very carefully set down on it. Even on this account alone the book would not have been uninteresting to me.
At half-past nine the service began. Directly opposite to our house, the boys of the village were all drawn up, as if they had been recruits to be drilled; all well-looking, healthy lads, neat and decently dressed, and with their hair cut short and combed on the forehead, according to the English fashion; their bosoms were open, and the white frills of their shirts turned back on each side. They seemed to be drawn up here at the entrance of the village merely to wait the arrival of the clergyman.
I walked a little way out of the village, where, at some distance, I saw several people coming from another village, to attend divine service here at Nettlebed.
At length came the parson on horseback. The boys pulled off their hats, and all made him very low bows. He appeared to be rather an elderly man, and wore his own hair round and decently dressed, or rather curled naturally.
The bell now rung in, and so I too, with a sort of secret proud sensation, as if I also had been an Englishman, went with my prayer- book under my arm to church, along with the rest of the congregation; and when I got into the church, the clerk very civilly seated me close to the pulpit.
Nothing can possibly be more simple, apt, and becoming than the few decorations of this church.
Directly over the altar, on two tables in large letters, the ten commandments were written. There surely is much wisdom and propriety in thus placing, full in the view of the people, the sum and substance of all morality.
Under the pulpit near the steps that led up to it, was a desk, from which the clergyman read the liturgy, the responses were all regularly made by the clerk; the whole congregation joining occasionally, though but in a low voice; as for instance, the minister said, "Lord, have mercy upon us!" the clerk and the congregation immediately subjoin, "and forgive us all our sins." In general, when the clergyman offers up a prayer, the clerk and the whole congregation answer only, Amen!
The English service must needs be exceedingly fatiguing to the officiating minister, inasmuch as besides a sermon, the greatest part of the liturgy falls to his share to read, besides the psalms and two lessons.
The joining of the whole congregation in prayer has something exceedingly solemn and affecting in it.
Two soldiers, who sat near me in the church, and who had probably been in London, seemed to wish to pass for philosophers, and wits; for they did not join in the prayers of the church.
The service was now pretty well advanced, when I observed some little stir in the desk, the clerk was busy, and they seemed to be preparing for something new and solemn, and I also perceived several musical instruments. The clergyman now stopped, and the clerk then said in a loud voice, "Let us sing to the praise and glory of God, the forty-seventh psalm."
I cannot well express how affecting and edifying it seemed to me, to hear this whole orderly and decent congregation, in this small country church, joining together with vocal and instrumental music, in the praise of their Maker. It was the more grateful, as having been performed, not by mercenary musicians, but by the peaceful and pious inhabitants of this sweet village. I can hardly figure to myself any offering more likely to be grateful to God.
The congregation sang and prayed alternately several times, and the tunes of the psalms were particularly lively and cheerful, though at the same time sufficiently grave, and uncommonly interesting. I am a warm admirer of all sacred music, and I cannot but add that that of the Church of England is particularly calculated to raise the heart to devotion; I own it often affected me even to tears.
The clergyman now stood up and made a short but very proper discourse on this text: "Not all they who say, Lord, Lord! shall enter the kingdom of heaven." His language was particularly plain, though forcible; his arguments were no less plain, convincing, and earnest, but contained nothing that was particularly striking. I do not think the sermon lasted more than half an hour.
This clergyman had not perhaps a very prepossessing appearance; I thought him also a little distant and reserved, and I did not quite like his returning the bows of the farmers with a very formal nod.
I stayed till the service was quite over, and then went out of the church with the congregation, and amused myself with reading the inscriptions on the tombstones in the churchyard, which in general, are simpler, more pathetic, and better written than ours.
There were some of them which, to be sure, were ludicrous and laughable enough.
Among these is one on the tomb of a smith, which on account of its singularity, I here copy and send you.
"My sledge and anvil he declined,
My bellows too have lost their wind;
My fire's extinct, my forge decayed,
My coals are spent, my iron's gone,
My nails are drove: my work is done."
Many of these epitaphs closed with the following quaint rhymes:
"Physicians were in vain;
God knew the best;
So here I rest."
In the body of the church I saw a marble monument of a son of the celebrated Dr. Wallis, with the following simple and affecting inscription:
"The same good sense which qualified him for every public employment
Taught him to spend his life here in retirement."
All the farmers whom I saw there were dressed, not as ours are, in coarse frocks, but with some taste, in fine good cloth; and were to be distinguished from the people of the town, not so much by their dress, as by the greater simplicity and modesty of their behaviour.
Some soldiers, who probably were ambitious of being thought to know the world, and to be wits, joined me, as I was looking at the church, and seemed to be quite ashamed of it, as they said it was only a very miserable church. On which I took the liberty to inform them, that no church could be miserable which contained orderly and good people.
I stayed here to dinner. In the afternoon there was no service; the young people however, went to church, and there sang some few psalms; others of the congregation were also present. This was conducted with so much decorum, that I could hardly help considering it as actually a kind of church-service. I stayed with great pleasure till this meeting also was over.
I seemed indeed to be enchanted, and as if I could not leave this village. Three times did I get off, in order to go on farther, and as often returned, more than half resolved to spend a week, or more, in my favourite Nettlebed.
But the recollection that I had but a few weeks to stay in England, and that I must see Derbyshire, at length drove me away. I cast many a longing, lingering look on the little church-steeple, and those hospitable friendly roofs, where, all that morning, I had found myself so perfectly at home.
It was now nearly three o'clock in the afternoon when I left this place, and I was still eighteen miles from Oxford. However, I seemed resolved to make more than one stage of it to Oxford, that seat of the muses, and so, by passing the night about five miles from it, to reach it in good time next morning.
The road from Nettlebed seemed to me but as one long fine gravel walk in a neat garden. And my pace in it was varied, like that of one walking in a garden: I sometimes walked quick, then slow, and then sat down and read Milton.
When I had got about eight miles from Nettlebed, and was now not far from Dorchester, I had the Thames at some distance on my left, and on the opposite side I saw an extensive hill, behind which a tall mast seemed to rise. This led me to suppose that on the other side of the hill there must needs also be a river. The prospect I promised myself from this hill could not possibly be passed, and so I went out of the road to the left over a bridge across the Thames, and mounted the hill, always keeping the mast in view. When I had attained the summit, I found (and not without some shame and chagrin) that it was all an illusion. There was, in fact, nothing before me but a great plain, and the mast had been fixed there, either as a maypole only, or to entice curious people out of their way.
I therefore now again, slowly and sullenly, descended the hill, at the bottom of which was a house, where several people were looking out of the window, and, as I supposed, laughing at me. Even if it were so, it seemed to be but fair, and so it rather amused, than vexed me, and I continued to jog on, without much regretting my waste journey to the mast.
Not far from Dorchester, I had another delightful view. The country here became so fine, that I positively could not prevail on myself to quit it, and so I laid myself down on the green turf, which was so fresh and sweet, that I could almost have been contented, like Nebuchadnezzar, to have grazed on it. The moon was at the full; the sun darted its last parting rays through the green hedges, to all which was added, the overpowering fragrance of the meadows, the diversified song of the birds, the hills that skirted the Thames, some of them of a light, and others of a dark-green hue, with the tufted tops of trees dispersed here and there among them. The contemplation of all these delightful circumstances well-nigh overcame me.
I arrived rather late at Dorchester. This is only a small place, but there is in it a large and noble old church. As I was walking along, I saw several ladies with their heads dressed, leaning out of their windows, or standing before the houses, and this made me conclude that this was too fine a place for me, and so I determined to walk on three-quarters of a mile farther to Nuneham, which place is only five miles from Oxford. When I reached Nuneham, I was not a little tired, and it was also quite dark.
The place consists of two rows of low, neat houses, built close to each other, and as regular and uniform as a London street. All the doors seemed to be shut, and even a light was to be seen only in a few of them.
At length quite at the end of the place, I perceived a great sign hanging across the street, and the last house to the left was the inn, at which everything seemed to be still in motion.
I entered without ceremony, and told them my errand, which was, that I intended to sleep there that night. "By no means," was the answer, "it was utterly impossible; the whole house was full, and all their beds engaged, and, as I had come so far, I might even as well walk on the remaining five miles to Oxford."
Being very hungry, I requested that, at least, they would give me something to eat. To this they answered that, as I could not stay all night there, it would be more proper for me to sup where I lodged, and so I might go on.
At length, quite humbled by the untowardness of my circumstances, I asked for a pot of beer, and that they did vouchsafe to give me, for ready money only; but a bit of bread to eat with it (for which also I would willingly have paid) they peremptorily refused me.
Such unparalleled inhospitality I really could not have expected in an English inn, but resolving, with a kind of spiteful indignation, to see how far their inhumanity would carry them, I begged that they would only let me sleep on a bench, and merely give me house-room, adding, that if they would grant me that boon only, I would pay them the same as for a bed, for, that I was so tired, I could not possibly go any farther. Even in the moment that I was thus humbly soliciting this humble boon, they banged the door to full in my face.
As here, in a small village, they had refused to receive me, it seemed to be presumption to hope that I should gain admittance at Oxford. What could I do? I was much tired, and so, as it was not a very cold night, I resolved to pass it in the open air; in this resolution, bouncing from this rude inn, I went to look out for a convenient spot for that purpose in an adjoining field, beneath some friendly tree. Just as I had found a place, which I thought would do, and was going to pull off my great coat to lay under my head by way of pillow, I heard someone behind me, following me with a quick pace. At first I was alarmed, but my fears were soon dispelled by his calling after me, and asking "if I would accept of company."
As little as anyone is to be trusted who thus follows you into a field in a dark night, yet it was a pleasure to me to find that there were still some beings not quite inhuman, and at least one person who still interested himself about me, I therefore stopped, and as he came up to me he said that if I was a good walker, we might keep each other company, as he was also going to Oxford. I readily accepted of his proposal, and so we immediately set off together.
Now, as I could not tell whether my travelling companion was to be trusted or not, I soon took an opportunity to let him know that I was poor, and much distressed. To confirm this, I told him of the inhumanity with which I had just been treated at the inn, where they refused a poor wanderer so much as a place to lay his head, or even a morsel of bread for his money.
My companion somewhat excused the people by saying that the house was really full of people who had been at work in the neighbourhood, and now slept there. But that they had refused me a bit of bread he certainly could not justify. As we went along, other topics of conversation were started, and among other things he asked me where I came from that day.
I answered from Nettlebed, and added, that I had attended divine service there that morning.
"As you probably passed through Dorchester this afternoon," said he, "you might have heard me preach also, had you come into the church there, for that is my curacy, from which I am just come, and am now returning to Oxford." "So you are a clergyman;" said I, quite overjoyed that, in a dark night, I had met a companion on the road, who was of the same profession as myself. "And I, also," said I, "am a preacher of the gospel, though not of this country." And now I thought it right to give him to understand, that it was not, as I had before intimated, out of absolute poverty, but with a view of becoming better acquainted with men and manners, that I thus travelled on foot. He was as much pleased with this agreeable meeting as myself, and before we took a step farther, we cordially shook hands.
He now began to address me in Latin, and on my answering him in that language, which I attempted to pronounce according to the English manner of speaking it, he applauded me not a little for my correct pronunciation. He then told me, that some years ago, in the night also, and nearly at the same spot where he found me, he had met another German, who likewise spoke to him in Latin; but this unknown countryman of mine had pronounced it so very badly, that he said it was absolutely unintelligible.
The conversation now turned on various theological matters; and among others on the novel notions of a Dr. Priestly, whom he roundly blamed. I was not at all disposed to dispute that point with him, and so, professing with great sincerity, a high esteem for the Church of England, and great respect and regard for its clergy, I seemed to gain his good opinion.
Beguiling the tediousness of the road by such discourse, we were now got, almost without knowing it, quite to Oxford.
He told me I should now see one of the finest and most beautiful cities, not only in England, but in all Europe. All he lamented, was, that on account of the darkness of the night, I should not immediately see it.
This really was the case: "And now," said he, as we entered the town, "I introduce you into Oxford by one of the finest, the longest, and most beautiful streets, not only in this city, but in England, and I may safely add in all Europe."
The beauty and the magnificence of the street I could not distinguish; but of its length I was perfectly sensible by my fatigue; for we still went on, and still through the longest, the finest, and most beautiful street in Europe, which seemed to have no end; nor had I any assurance that I should be able to find a bed for myself in all this famous street. At length my companion stopped to take leave of me, and said he should now go to his college.
"And I," said I, "will seat myself for the night on this stone bench and await the morning, as it will be in vain for me, I imagine, to look for shelter in a house at this time of night."
"Seat yourself on a stone!" said my companion, and shook his head. "No, no! come along with me to a neighbouring ale-house, where it is possible they mayn't be gone to bed, and we may yet find company." We went on a few houses further, and then knocked at a door. It was then nearly twelve. They readily let us in; but how great was my astonishment, when, on being shown into a room on the left, I saw a great number of clergymen, all with their gowns and bands on, sitting round a large table, each with his pot of beer before him. My travelling companion introduced me to them, as a German clergyman, whom he could not sufficiently praise for my correct pronunciation of the Latin, my orthodoxy, and my good walking.
I now saw myself in a moment, as it were, all at once transported into the midst of a company, all apparently very respectable men, but all strangers to me. And it appeared to me extraordinary that I should, thus at midnight, be in Oxford, in a large company of Oxonian clergy, without well knowing how I had got there. Meanwhile, however, I took all the pains in my power to recommend myself to my company, and in the course of conversation, I gave them as good an account as I could of our German universities, neither denying nor concealing that, now and then, we had riots and disturbances. "Oh, we are very unruly here, too," said one of the clergymen as he took a hearty draught out of his pot of beer, and knocked on the table with his hand. The conversation now became louder, more general, and a little confused; they enquired after Mr. Bruns, at present professor at Helmstadt, and who was known by many of them.
Among these gentlemen there was one of the name of Clerk, who seemed ambitious to pass for a great wit, which he attempted by starting sundry objections to the Bible. I should have liked him better if he had confined himself to punning and playing on his own name, by telling us again and again, that he should still be at least a Clerk, even though he should never become a clergyman. Upon the whole, however, he was, in his way, a man of some humour, and an agreeable companion.
Among other objections to the Scriptures, he started this one to my travelling companion, whose name I now learnt was Maud, that it was said in the Bible that God was a wine-bibber. On this Mr. Maud fell into a violent passion, and maintained that it was utterly impossible that any such passage should be found in the Bible. Another divine, a Mr. Caern referred us to his absent brother, who had already been forty years in the church, and must certainly know something of such a passage if it were in the Bible, but he would venture to lay any wager his brother knew nothing of it.
"Waiter! fetch a Bible!" called out Mr. Clerk, and a great family Bible was immediately brought in, and opened on the table among all the beer jugs.
Mr. Clerk turned over a few leaves, and in the book of Judges, 9th chapter, verse xiii, he read, "Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man?"
Mr. Maud and Mr. Caern, who had before been most violent, now sat as if struck dumb. A silence of some minutes prevailed, when all at once, the spirit of revelation seemed to come on me, and I said, "Why, gentlemen, you must be sensible that it is but an allegorical expression;" and I added, "how often in the Bible are kings called gods!"
"Why, yes, to be sure," said Mr. Maud and Mr. Caern, "it is an allegorical expression; nothing can be more clear; it is a metaphor, and therefore it is absurd to understand it in a literal sense." And now they, in their turn, triumphed over poor Clerk, and drank large draughts to my health in strong ale; which, as my company seemed to like so much, I was sorry I could not like. It either intoxicated or stupefied me; and I do think it overpowers one much sooner than so much wine would. The conversation now turned on many other different subjects. At last, when morning drew near, Mr. Maud suddenly exclaimed, "D-n me, I must read prayers this morning at All-Souls!" D-n me is an abbreviation of G-d d-n me; which, in England, does not seem to mean more mischief or harm than any of our or their common expletives in conversation, such as O gemini! or, The deuce take me!
Before Mr. Maud went away, he invited me to go and see him in the morning, and very politely offered himself to show me the curiosities of Oxford. The rest of the company now also dispersed; and as I had once (though in so singular a manner) been introduced into so reputable a society, the people of the house made no difficulty of giving me lodging, but with great civility showed me a very decent bed-chamber.
I am almost ashamed to own, that next morning, when I awoke, I had got so dreadful a headache, from the copious and numerous toasts of my jolly and reverend friends, that I could not possibly get up; still less could I wait on Mr. Maud at his college.
The inn where I was goes by the name of the Mitre. Compared to Windsor, I here found prince-like attendance. Being, perhaps, a little elevated the preceding evening, I had in the gaiety, or perhaps in the vanity of my heart, told the waiter, that he must not think, because I came on foot, that therefore I should give him less than others gave. I assured him of the contrary. It was probably not a little owing to this assurance that I had so much attention shown to me.
I now determined to stay at least a couple of days at Oxford; it was necessary and proper, if for no other reason, yet merely that I might have clean linen. No people are so cleanly as the English, nor so particular about neat and clean linen. For, one afternoon, my shirt not having been lately changed, as I was walking through a little street, I heard two women, who were standing at a door, call after me, "Look at the gentleman there! a fine gentleman, indeed, who cannot afford even a clean shirt!"
I dined below with the family, and a few other persons, and the conversation in general was agreeable enough. I was obliged to tell them many wonderful stories (for who are so illiterate or insensible as not to be delighted with the marvellous!) concerning Germany and the King of Prussia. They could not sufficiently admire my courage in determining to travel on foot, although they could not help approving of the motive. At length, however, it came out, and they candidly owned, that I should not have been received into their house, had I not been introduced as I was.
I was now confirmed in my suspicions, that, in England, any person undertaking so long a journey on foot, is sure to be looked upon and considered as either a beggar or a vagabond, or some necessitous wretch, which is a character not much more popular than that of a rogue; so that I could now easily account for my reception in Windsor and at Nuneham. But, with all my partiality for this country, it is impossible even in theory, and much less so in practice, to approve of a system which confines all the pleasures and benefits of travel to the rich. A poor peripatetic is hardly allowed even the humble merit of being honest.
As I still intended to pursue my journey to Derbyshire, I was advised (at least till I got further into the country) to take a place in a post-coach. They told me that the further I got from London, the more reasonable and humble I should find the people; everything would be cheaper, and everybody more hospitable. This determined me to go in the post-coach from Oxford to Birmingham; where Mr. Pointer, of London, had recommended me to a Mr. Fothergill, a merchant there; and from thence to continue my journey on foot.
Monday I spent at Oxford, but rather unpleasantly, on account of my headache. Mr. Maud himself came to fetch me, as he had promised he would, but I found myself unable to go with him.
Notwithstanding this, in the afternoon, I took a little walk up a hill, which lies to the north of Oxford; and from the top of which I could see the whole city; which did not, however, appear to me nearly so beautiful and magnificent as Mr. Maud had described it to me during our last night's walk.
The colleges are mostly in the Gothic taste, and much overloaded with ornaments, and built with grey stone; which, perhaps, while it is new, looks pretty well, but it has now the most dingy, dirty, and disgusting appearance that you can possibly imagine.
Only one of these colleges is in the modern style. The houses of the city are in general ordinary, in some parts quite miserable; in some streets they are only one story high, and have shingled roofs. To me Oxford seemed to have but a dull and gloomy look; and I cannot but wonder how it ever came to be considered as so fine a city, and next to London.
I remained on the hill, on which there was a flight of steps that led to a subterraneous walk, till sunset, and saw several students walking here, who wore their black gowns over their coloured clothes, and flat square hats, just like those I had seen worn by the Eton scholars. This is the general dress of all those who belong to the universities, with the exception of a very trifling difference, by which persons of high birth and rank are distinguished.
It is probably on account of these gowns that the members of the university are called Gownsmen, to distinguish them from the citizens, who are called Townsmen; and when you want to mention all the inhabitants of Oxford together, you say, "the whole town, Gownsmen and Townsmen."
This dress, I must own, pleases me far beyond the boots, cockades, and other frippery, of many of our students. Nor am I less delighted with the better behaviour and conduct which, in general, does so much credit to the students of Oxford.
The next morning Mr. Maud, according to his promise, showed me some of the things most worthy of notice in Oxford. And first he took me to his own room in his own college, which was on the ground floor, very low and dark, and resembled a cell, at least as much as a place of study. The name of this college is Corpus Christi. He next conducted me to All Souls' College, a very elegant building, in which the chapel is particularly beautiful. Mr. Maud also showed me, over the altar here, a fine painting of Mengs, at the sight of which he showed far more sensibility than I thought him possessed of. He said that notwithstanding he saw that painting almost daily, he never saw it without being much affected.
The painting represented Mary Magdalene when she first suddenly sees Jesus standing before her, and falls at His feet. And in her countenance pain, joy, grief, in short almost all the strongest of our passions, are expressed in so masterly a manner, that no man of true taste was ever tired of contemplating it; the longer it is looked at the more it is admired. He now also showed me the library of this college, which is provided with a gallery round the top, and the whole is most admirably regulated and arranged. Among other things, I here saw a description of Oxford, with plates to illustrate it: and I cannot help observing what, though trite, is true, that all these places look much better, and are far more beautiful on paper, than they appeared to me to be as I looked at them where they actually stand.
Afterwards Mr. Maud conducted me to the Bodleian Library, which is not unworthy of being compared to the Vatican at Rome; and next to the building which is called the Theatre, and where the public orations are delivered. This is a circular building with a gallery all round it, which is furnished with benches one above the other, on which the doctors, masters of arts, and students sit, and directly opposite to each other are erected two chairs, or pulpits, from which the disputants harangue and contend.
Christ Church and Queen's College are the most modern, and, I think, indisputably the best built of all the colleges. Balliol College seems particularly to be distinguished on account of its antiquity, and its complete Gothic style of building.
Mr. Maud told me that a good deal of money might be sometimes earned by preaching at Oxford; for all the members of a certain standing are obliged in their turn to preach in the church of the university; but many of them, when it comes to their turn, prefer the procuring a substitute; and so not unfrequently pay as high as five or six guineas for a sermon.
Mr. Maud also told me he had been now eighteen years at this university, and might be made a doctor whenever he chose it: he was a master of arts, and according to his own account gave lectures in his college on the classics. He also did the duty and officiated as curate, occasionally, in some of the neighbouring villages. Going along the street we met the English poet laureate, Warton, now rather an elderly man; and yet he is still the fellow of a college. His greatest pleasure next to poetry is, as Mr. Maud told me, shooting wild ducks.
Mr. Maud seemed upon the whole to be a most worthy and philanthropic man. He told me, that where he now officiated the clerk was dead, and had left a numerous family in the greatest distress; and that he was going to the place next day, on purpose to try if he could bring about the election of the son, a lad about sixteen years of age, in the place of his deceased father, as clerk, to support a necessitous family.
At the Mitre, the inn where I lodged, there was hardly a minute in which some students or others did not call, either to drink, or to amuse themselves in conversation with the daughter of the landlord, who is not only handsome, but sensible, and well behaved.
They often spoke to me much in praise of a German, of the name of Mitchel, at least they pronounced it so, who had for many years rendered himself famous as a musician. I was rejoiced to hear one of my countrymen thus praised by the English; and wished to have paid him a visit, but I had not the good fortune to find him at home.