Travels, chiefly on Foot, through several parts of England in 1782, described in Letters to a Friend/Chapter IV
The 9th June, 1782.
I preached this day at the German church on Ludgate Hill, for the Rev. Mr. Wendeborn. He is the author of "Die statischen Beytrage zur nahern Kentniss Grossbrittaniens." This valuable book has already been of uncommon service to me, and I cannot but recommend it to everyone who goes to England. It is the more useful, as you can with ease carry it in your pocket, and you find in it information on every subject. It is natural to suppose that Mr. Wendeborn, who has now been a length of time in England, must have been able more frequently, and with greater exactness to make his observations, than those who only pass through, or make a very short stay. It is almost impossible for anyone, who has this book always at hand, to omit anything worthy of notice in or about London; or not to learn all that is most material to know of the state and situation of the kingdom in general.
Mr. Wendeborn lives in New Inn, near Temple Bar, in a philosophical, but not unimproving, retirement. He is almost become a native; and his library consists chiefly of English books. Before I proceed, I must just mention, that he has not hired, but bought his apartments in this great building, called New Inn: and this, I believe, is pretty generally the case with the lodgings in this place. A purchaser of any of these rooms is considered as a proprietor; and one who has got a house and home, and has a right, in parliamentary or other elections, to give his vote, if he is not a foreigner, which is the case with Mr. Wendeborn, who, nevertheless, was visited by Mr. Fox when he was to be chosen member for Westminster.
I saw, for the first time, at Mr. Wendeborn's, a very useful machine, which is little known in Germany, or at least not much used.
This is a press in which, by means of very strong iron springs, a written paper may be printed on another blank paper, and you thus save yourself the trouble of copying; and at the same time multiply your own handwriting. Mr. Wendeborn makes use of this machine every time he sends manuscripts abroad, of which he wishes to keep a copy. This machine was of mahogany, and cost pretty high. I suppose it is because the inhabitants of London rise so late, that divine service begin only at half-past ten o'clock. I missed Mr. Wendeborn this morning, and was therefore obliged to enquire of the door-keeper at St. Paul's for a direction to the German church, where I was to preach. He did not know it. I then asked at another church, not far from thence. Here I was directed right, and after I had passed through an iron gate to the end of a long passage, I arrived just in time at the church, where, after the sermon, I was obliged to read a public thanksgiving for the safe arrival of our ship. The German clergy here dress exactly the same as the English clergy--i.e., in long robes with wide sleeves--in which I likewise was obliged to wrap myself. Mr. Wendeborn wears his own hair, which curls naturally, and the toupee is combed up.
The other German clergymen whom I have seen wear wigs, as well as many of the English.
I yesterday waited on our ambassador, Count Lucy, and was agreeably surprised at the simplicity of his manner of living. He lives in a small private house. His secretary lives upstairs, where also I met with the Prussian consul, who happened just then to be paying him a visit. Below, on the right hand, I was immediately shown into his Excellency's room, without being obliged to pass through an antechamber. He wore a blue coat, with a red collar and red facings. He conversed with me, as we drank a dish of coffee, on various learned topics; and when I told him of the great dispute now going on about the tacismus or stacismus, he declared himself, as a born Greek, for the stacismus.
When I came to take my leave, he desired me to come and see him without ceremony whenever it suited me, as he should be always happy to see me.
Mr. Leonhard, who has translated several celebrated English plays, such as "The School for Scandal," and some others, lives here as a private person, instructing Germans in English, and Englishmen in German, with great ability. He also it is who writes the articles concerning England for the new Hamburgh newspaper, for which he is paid a stated yearly stipend. I may add also, that he is the master of a German Freemasons' lodge in London, and representative of all the German lodges in England--an employment of far more trouble than profit to him, for all the world applies to him in all cases and emergencies. I also was recommended to him from Hamburgh. He is a very complaisant man, and has already shown me many civilities. He repeats English poetry with great propriety, and speaks the language nearly with the same facility as he does his mother language. He is married to an amiable Englishwoman. I wish him all possible happiness. And now let me tell you something of the so often imitated, but perhaps inimitable
I yesterday visited Vauxhall for the first time. I had not far to go from my lodgings, in the Adelphi Buildings, to Westminster Bridge, where you always find a great number of boats on the Thames, which are ready on the least signal to serve those who will pay them a shilling or sixpence, or according to the distance.
From hence I went up the Thames to Vauxhall, and as I passed along I saw Lambeth; and the venerable old palace belonging to the archbishops of Canterbury lying on my left.
Vauxhall is, properly speaking, the name of a little village in which the garden, now almost exclusively bearing the same name, is situated. You pay a shilling entrance.
On entering it, I really found, or fancied I found, some resemblance to our Berlin Vauxhall, if, according to Virgil, I may be permitted to compare small things with great ones. The walks at least, with the paintings at the end, and the high trees, which, here and there form a beautiful grove, or wood, on either side, were so similar to those of Berlin, that often, as I walked along them, I seemed to transport myself, in imagination, once more to Berlin, and forgot for a moment that immense seas, and mountains, and kingdoms now lie between us. I was the more tempted to indulge in this reverie as I actually met with several gentlemen, inhabitants of Berlin, in particular Mr. S--r, and some others, with whom I spent the evening in the most agreeable manner. Here and there (particularly in one of the charming woods which art has formed in this garden) you are pleasingly surprised by the sudden appearance of the statues of the most renowned English poets and philosophers, such as Milton, Thomson, and others. But, what gave me most pleasure was the statue of the German composer Handel, which, on entering the garden, is not far distant from the orchestra.
This orchestra is among a number of trees situated as in a little wood, and is an exceedingly handsome one. As you enter the garden, you immediately hear the sound of vocal and instrumental music. There are several female singers constantly hired here to sing in public.
On each side of the orchestra are small boxes, with tables and benches, in which you sup. The walks before these, as well as in every other part of the garden, are crowded with people of all ranks. I supped here with Mr. S--r, and the secretary of the Prussian ambassador, besides a few other gentlemen from Berlin; but what most astonished me was the boldness of the women of the town, who often rushed in upon us by half dozens, and in the most shameless manner importuned us for wine, for themselves and their followers. Our gentlemen thought it either unwise, unkind, or unsafe, to refuse them so small a boon altogether.
Latish in the evening we were entertained with a sight, that is indeed singularly curious and interesting. In a particular part of the garden a curtain was drawn up, and by means of some mechanism of extraordinary ingenuity, the eye and the ear are so completely deceived, that it is not easy to persuade one's self it is a deception, and that one does not actually see and hear a natural waterfall from a high rock. As everyone was flocking to this scene in crowds, there arose all at once a loud cry of "Take care of your pockets." This informed us, but too clearly, that there were some pickpockets among the crowd, who had already made some fortunate strokes.
The rotunda, a magnificent circular building in the garden, particularly engaged my attention. By means of beautiful chandeliers, and large mirrors, it was illuminated in the most superb manner; and everywhere decorated with delightful paintings, and statues, in the contemplation of which you may spend several hours very agreeably, when you are tired of the crowd and the bustle, in the walks of the garden.
Among the paintings one represents the surrender of a besieged city. If you look at this painting with attention, for any length of time, it affects you so much that you even shed tears. The expression of the greatest distress, even bordering on despair, on the part of the besieged, the fearful expectation of the uncertain issue, and what the victor will determine concerning those unfortunate people, may all be read so plainly, and so naturally in the countenances of the inhabitants, who are imploring for mercy, from the hoary head to the suckling whom his mother holds up, that you quite forget yourself, and in the end scarcely believe it to be a painting before you.
You also here find the busts of the best English authors, placed all round on the sides. Thus a Briton again meets with his Shakespeare, Locke, Milton, and Dryden in the public places of his amusements; and there also reveres their memory. Even the common people thus become familiar with the names of those who have done honour to their nation; and are taught to mention them with veneration. For this rotunda is also an orchestra in which the music is performed in rainy weather. But enough of Vauxhall!
Certain it is that the English classical authors are read more generally, beyond all comparison, than the German; which in general are read only by the learned; or, at most, by the middle class of people. The English national authors are in all hands, and read by all people, of which the innumerable editions they have gone through are a sufficient proof.
My landlady, who is only a tailor's widow, reads her Milton; and tells me, that her late husband first fell in love with her on this very account: because she read Milton with such proper emphasis. This single instance, perhaps, would prove but little; but I have conversed with several people of the lower class, who all knew their national authors, and who all have read many, if not all, of them. This elevates the lower ranks, and brings them nearer to the higher. There is hardly any argument or dispute in conversation, in the higher ranks, about which the lower cannot also converse or give their opinion. Now, in Germany, since Gellert, there has as yet been no poet's name familiar to the people. But the quick sale of the classical authors is here promoted also by cheap and convenient editions. They have them all bound in pocket volumes, as well as in a more pompous style. I myself bought Milton in duodecimo for two shillings, neatly bound; it is such a one as I can, with great convenience, carry in my pocket. It also appears to me to be a good fashion, which prevails here, and here only, that the books which are most read, are always to be had already well and neatly bound. At stalls, and in the streets, you every now and then meet with a sort of antiquarians, who sell single or odd volumes; sometimes perhaps of Shakespeare, etc., so low as a penny; nay, even sometimes for a halfpenny a piece. Of one of these itinerant antiquarians I bought the two volumes of the Vicar of Wakefield for sixpence, i.e. for the half of an English shilling. In what estimation our German literature is held in England, I was enabled to judge, in some degree, by the printed proposals of a book which I saw. The title was, "The Entertaining Museum, or Complete Circulating Library," which is to contain a list of all the English classical authors, as well as translations of the best French, Spanish, Italian, and even German novels.
The moderate price of this book deserves also to be noticed; as by such means books in England come more within the reach of the people; and of course are more generally distributed among them. The advertisement mentions that in order that everyone may have it in his power to buy this work, and at once to furnish himself with a very valuable library, without perceiving the expense, a number will be sent out weekly, which, stitched, costs sixpence, and bound with the title on the back, ninepence. The twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth numbers contain the first and second volume of the Vicar of Wakefield, which I had just bought of the antiquarian above- mentioned.
The only translation from the German which has been particularly successful in England, is Gesner's "Death of Abel." The translation of that work has been oftener reprinted in England than ever the original was in Germany. I have actually seen the eighteenth edition of it; and if the English preface is to be regarded, it was written by a lady. "Klopstock's Messiah," as is well known, has been here but ill received; to be sure, they say it is but indifferently translated. I have not yet been able to obtain a sight of it. The Rev. Mr. Wendeborn has written a grammar for the German language in English, for the use of Englishmen, which has met with much applause.
I must not forget to mention, that the works of Mr. Jacob Boehmen are all translated into English.