Travels, chiefly on Foot, through several parts of England in 1782, described in Letters to a Friend/Chapter I
On the Thames, 31st May.
At length, my dearest Gedike, I find myself safely landed on the happy shores of that country, a sight of which has, for many years, been my most earnest wish; and whither I have so often in imagination transported myself. A few hours ago the green hills of England yet swam imperfectly before our eyes, scarcely perceptible in the distant horizon: they now unfold themselves on either side, forming as it were a double amphitheatre. The sun bursts through the clouds, and gilds alternately the shrubs and meadows on the distant shores, and we now espy the tops of two masts of ships just peeping above the surface of the deep. What an awful warning to adventurous men! We now sail close by those very sands (the Goodwin) where so many unfortunate persons have found their graves.
The shores now regularly draw nearer to each other: the danger of the voyage is over; and the season for enjoyment, unembittered by cares, commences. How do we feel ourselves, we, who have long been wandering as it were, in a boundless space, on having once more gained prospects that are not without limits! I should imagine our sensations as somewhat like those of the traveller who traverses the immeasurable deserts of America, when fortunately he obtains a hut wherein to shelter himself; in those moments he certainly enjoys himself; nor does he then complain of its being too small. It is indeed the lot of man to be always circumscribed to a narrow space, even when he wanders over the most extensive regions; even when the huge sea envelops him all around, and wraps him close to its bosom, in the act, as it were, of swallowing him up in a moment: still he is separated from all the circumjacent immensity of space only by one small part, or insignificant portion of that immensity.
That portion of this space, which I now see surrounding me, is a most delightful selection from the whole of beautiful nature. Here is the Thames full of large and small ships and boats, dispersed here and there, which are either sailing on with us, or lying at anchor; and there the hills on either side, clad with so soft and mild a green, as I have nowhere else ever seen equalled. The charming banks of the Elbe, which I so lately quitted, are as much surpassed by these shores as autumn is by spring! I see everywhere nothing but fertile and cultivated lands; and those living hedges which in England more than in any other country, form the boundaries of the green cornfields, and give to the whole of the distant country the appearance of a large and majestic garden. The neat villages and small towns with sundry intermediate country seats, suggest ideas of prosperity and opulence which is not possible to describe.
The prospect towards Gravesend is particularly beautiful. It is a clever little town, built on the side of a hill; about which there lie hill and dale and meadows, and arable land, intermixed with pleasure grounds and country seats; all diversified in the most agreeable manner. On one of the highest of these hills near Gravesend stands a windmill, which is a very good object, as you see it at some distance, as well as part of the country around it, on the windings of the Thames. But as few human pleasures are ever complete and perfect, we too, amidst the pleasing contemplation of all these beauties, found ourselves exposed on the quarter-deck to uncommonly cold and piercing weather. An unintermitting violent shower of rain has driven me into the cabin, where I am now endeavouring to divert a gloomy hour by giving you the description of a pleasing one.