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   Chapter 11 TRAVELLING.

Autobiographic Sketches By Thomas de Quincey Characters: 43856

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

It was late in October, or early in November, that I quitted Connaught with Lord Westport; and very slowly, making many leisurely deviations from the direct route, travelled back to Dublin. Thence, after some little stay, we recrossed St. George's Channel, landed at Holyhead, and then, by exactly the same route as we had pursued in early June, we posted through Bangor, Conway, Llanrwst, Llangollen, until once again we found ourselves in England, and, as a matter of course, making for Birmingham. But why making for Birmingham? Simply because Birmingham, under the old dynasty of stage coaches and post chaises, was the centre of our travelling system, and held in England something of that rank which the golden milestone of Rome held in the Italian peninsula.

At Birmingham it was (which I, like myriads beside, had traversed a score of times without ever yet having visited it as a terminus ad quem) that I parted with my friend Lord Westport. His route lay through Oxford; and stopping, therefore, no longer than was necessary to harness fresh horses,-an operation, however, which was seldom accomplished in less than half an hour at that era,-he went on directly to Stratford. My own destination was yet doubtful. I had been directed, in Dublin, to inquire at the Birmingham post office for a letter which would guide my motions. There, accordingly, upon sending for it, lay the expected letter from my mother; from which I learned that my sister was visiting at Laxton, in Northamptonshire, the seat of an old friend, to which I also had an invitation. My route to this lay through Stamford. Thither I could not go by a stage coach until the following day; and of necessity I prepared to make the most of my present day in gloomy, noisy, and, at that time, dirty Birmingham.

Be not offended, compatriot of Birmingham, that I salute your natal town with these disparaging epithets. It is not my habit to indulge rash impulses of contempt towards any man or body of men, wheresoever collected, far less towards a race of high-minded and most intelligent citizens, such as Birmingham has exhibited to the admiration of all Europe. But as to the noise and the gloom which I ascribe to you, those features of your town will illustrate what the Germans mean by a one-sided [1] (ein-seitiger) judgment. There are, I can well believe, thousands to whom Birmingham is another name for domestic peace, and for a reasonable share of sunshine. But in my case, who have passed through Birmingham a hundred times, it always happened to rain, except once; and that once the Shrewsbury mail carried me so rapidly away, that I had not time to examine the sunshine, or see whether it might not be some gilt Birmingham counterfeit; for you know, men of Birmingham, that you can counterfeit-such is your cleverness-all things in heaven and earth, from Jove's thunderbolts down to a tailor's bodkin. Therefore, the gloom is to be charged to my bad luck. Then, as to the noise, never did I sleep at that enormous Hen and Chickens [2] to which usually my destiny brought me, but I had reason to complain that the discreet hen did not gather her vagrant flock to roost at less variable hours. Till two or three, I was kept waking by those who were retiring; and about three commenced the morning functions of the porter, or of "boots," or of "underboots," who began their rounds for collecting the several freights for the Highflyer, or the Tally-ho, or the Bang-up, to all points of the compass, and too often (as must happen in such immense establishments) blundered into my room with that appalling, "Now, sir, the horses are coming out." So that rarely, indeed, have I happened to sleep in Birmingham. But the dirt!-that sticks a little with you, friend of Birmingham. How do I explain away that? Know, then, reader, that at the time I speak of, and in the way I speak of, viz., in streets and inns, all England was dirty.

* * * * *

Being left therefore alone for the whole of a rainy day in Birmingham, and Birmingham being as yet the centre of our travelling system, I cannot do better than spend my Birmingham day in reviewing the most lively of its reminiscences.

The revolution in the whole apparatus, means, machinery, and dependences of that system-a revolution begun, carried through, and perfected within the period of my own personal experience-merits a word or two of illustration in the most cursory memoirs that profess any attention at all to the shifting scenery and moving forces of the age, whether manifested in great effects or in little. And these particular effects, though little, when regarded in their separate details, are not little in their final amount. On the contrary, I have always maintained, that under a representative government, where the great cities of the empire must naturally have the power, each in its proportion, of reacting upon the capital and the councils of the nation in so conspicious a way, there is a result waiting on the final improvements of the arts of travelling, and of transmitting intelligence with velocity, such as cannot be properly appreciated in the absence of all historical experience. Conceive a state of communication between the centre and the extremities of a great people, kept up with a uniformity of reciprocation so exquisite as to imitate the flowing and ebbing of the sea, or the systole and diastole of the human heart; day and night, waking and sleeping, not succeeding to each other with more absolute certainty than the acts of the metropolis and the controlling notice of the provinces, whether in the way of support or of resistance. Action and reaction from every point of the compass being thus perfect and instantaneous, we should then first begin to understand, in a practical sense, what is meant by the unity of a political body, and we should approach to a more adequate appreciation of the powers which are latent in organization. For it must be considered that hitherto, under the most complex organization, and that which has best attained its purposes, the national will has never been able to express itself upon one in a thousand of the public acts, simply because the national voice was lost in the distance, and could not collect itself through the time and the space rapidly enough to connect itself immediately with the evanescent measure of the moment. But, as the system of intercourse is gradually expanding, these bars of space and time are in the same degree contracting, until finally we may expect them altogether to vanish; and then every part of the empire will react upon the whole with the power, life, and effect of immediate conference amongst parties brought face to face. Then first will be seen a political system truly organic-i.e., in which each acts upon all, and all react upon each; and a new earth will arise from the indirect agency of this merely physical revolution. Already, in this paragraph, written twenty years ago, a prefiguring instinct spoke within me of some great secret yet to come in the art of distant communication. At present I am content to regard the electric telegraph as the oracular response to that prefiguration. But I still look for some higher and transcendent response.

The reader whose birth attaches him to this present generation, having known only macadamized roads, cannot easily bring before his imagination the antique and almost aboriginal state of things which marked our travelling system down to the end of the eighteenth century, and nearly through the first decennium of the present. A very few lines will suffice for some broad notices of our condition, in this respect, through the last two centuries. In the Parliament war, (1642-6,) it is an interesting fact, but at the same time calculated to mislead the incautious reader, that some officers of distinction, on both sides, brought close carriages to head quarters; and sometimes they went even upon the field of battle in these carriages, not mounting on horseback until the preparations were beginning for some important manoeuvre, or for a general movement. The same thing had been done throughout the Thirty Years' war, both by the Bavarian, imperial, and afterwards by the Swedish officers of rank. And it marks the great diffusion of these luxuries about this era, that on occasion of the reinstalment of two princes of Mecklenburg, who had been violently dispossessed by Wallenstein, upwards of eighty coaches mustered at a short notice, partly from the territorial nobility, partly from the camp. Precisely, however, at military head quarters, and on the route of an army, carriages of this description were an available and a most useful means of transport. Cumbrous and unweildy they were, as we know by pictures; and they could not have been otherwise, for they were built to meet the roads. Carriages of our present light and reedy (almost, one might say, corky) construction would, on the roads of Germany or of England, in that age, have foundered within the first two hours. To our ancestors, such carriages would have seemed playthings for children. Cumbrous as the carriages of that day were, they could not be more so than artillery or baggage wagons: where these could go, coaches could go. So that, in the march of an army, there was a perpetual guaranty to those who had coaches for the possibility of their transit. And hence, and not because the roads were at at all better than they have been generally described in those days, we are to explain the fact, that both in the royal camp, in Lord Manchester's, and afterwards in General Fairfax's and Cromwell's, coaches were an ordinary part of the camp equipage. The roads, meantime, were as they have been described, viz., ditches, morasses, and sometimes channels for the course of small brooks. Nor did they improve, except for short reaches, and under peculiar local advantages, throughout that century. Spite of the roads, however, publick carriages began to pierce England, in various lines, from the era of 1660. Circumstantial notices of these may be found in Lord Auckland's (Sir Frederic Eden's) large work on the poor laws. That to York, for example, (two hundred miles,) took a fortnight in the journey, or about fourteen miles a day. But Chamberlayne, who had a personal knowledge of these public carriages, says enough to show that, if slow, they were cheap; half a crown being the usual rate for fifteen miles, (i.e., 2_d._ a mile.) Public conveyances, multiplying rapidly, could not but diffuse a general call for improved roads; improved both in dimensions and also in the art of construction. For it is observable, that, so early as Queen Elizabeth's days, England, the most equestrian of nations, already presented to its inhabitants a general system of decent bridle roads. Even at this day, it is doubtful whether any man, taking all hinderances into account, and having laid no previous relays of horses, could much exceed the exploit of Carey, (afterwards Lord Monmouth,) a younger son of the first Lord Hunsden, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth. Yet we must not forget that the particular road concerned in this exploit was the Great North Road, (as it is still called by way of distinction,) lying through Doncaster and York, between the northern and southern capitals of the island. But roads less frequented were tolerable as bridle roads; whilst all alike, having been originally laid down with no view to the broad and ample coaches, from 1570 to 1700, scratched the panels on each side as they crept along. Even in the nineteenth century, I have known a case in the sequestered district of Egremont, in Cumberland, where a post chaise, of the common narrow dimensions, was obliged to retrace its route of fourteen miles, on coming to a bridge built in some remote age, when as yet post chaises were neither known nor anticipated, and, unfortunately, too narrow by three or four inches. In all the provinces of England, when the soil was deep and adhesive, a worse evil beset the stately equipage. An Italian of rank, who has left a record of his perilous adventure, visited, or attempted to visit, Petworth, near London, (then a seat of the Percys, now of Lord Egremont,) about the year 1685. I forget how many times he was overturned within one particular stretch of five miles; but I remember that it was a subject of gratitude (and, upon meditating a return by the same route a subject of pleasing hope) to dwell upon the softlying which was to be found in that good-natured morass. Yet this was, doubtless, a pet road, (sinful punister! dream not that I glance at _Pet_worth,) and an improved road. Such as this, I have good reason to think, were most of the roads in England, unless upon the rocky strata which stretch northwards from Derbyshire to Cumberland and Northumberland. The public carriages were the first harbingers of a change for the better; as these grew and prospered, slender lines of improvement began to vein and streak the map. And Parliament began to show their zeal, though not always a corresponding knowledge, by legislating backwards and forwards on the breadth of wagon wheel tires, &c. But not until our cotton system began to put forth blossoms, not until our trade and our steam engines began to stimulate the coal mines, which in their turn stimulated them, did any great energy apply itself to our roads. In my childhood, standing with one or two of my brothers and sisters at the front windows of my mother's carriage, I remember one unvarying set of images before us. The postilion (for so were all carriages then driven) was employed, not by fits and starts, but always and eternally, in quartering [3] i.e., in crossing from side to side-according to the casualties of the ground. Before you stretched a wintry length of lane, with ruts deep enough to fracture the leg of a horse, filled to the brim with standing pools of rain water; and the collateral chambers of these ruts kept from becoming confluent by thin ridges, such as the Romans called lirae, to maintain the footing upon which lirae, so as not to swerve, (or, as the Romans would say, delirare,) was a trial of some skill both for the horses and their postilion. It was, indeed, next to impossible for any horse, on such a narrow crust of separation, not to grow delirious in the Roman metaphor; and the nervous anxiety, which haunted me when a child, was much fed by this very image so often before my eye, and the sympathy with which I followed the motion of the docile creature's legs. Go to sleep at the beginning of a stage, and the last thing you saw-wake up, and the first thing you saw-was the line of wintry pools, the poor off-horse planting his steps with care, and the cautious postilion gently applying his spur, whilst manoeuvring across this system of grooves with some sort of science that looked like a gypsy's palmistry; so equally unintelligible to me were his motions, in what he sought and in what he avoided.

I may add, by way of illustration, and at the risk of gossiping, which, after all, is not the worst of things, a brief notice of my very first journey. I might be then seven years old. A young gentleman, the son of a wealthy banker, had to return home for the Christmas holidays to a town in Lincolnshire, distant from the public school where he was pursuing his education about a hundred miles. The school was in the neighborhood of Greenhay, my father's house. There were at that time no coaches in that direction; now (1833) there are many every day. The young gentleman advertised for a person to share the expense of a post chaise. By accident, I had an invitation of some standing to the same town, where I happened to have some female relatives of mature age, besides some youthful cousins. The two travellers elect soon heard of each other, and the arrangement was easily completed. It was my earliest migration from the paternal roof; and the anxieties of pleasure, too tumultuous, with some slight sense of undefined fears, combined to agitate my childish feelings. I had a vague, slight apprehension of my fellow-traveller, whom I had never seen, and whom my nursery maid, when dressing me, had described in no very amiable colors. But a good deal more I thought of Sherwood Forest, (the forest of Robin Hood,) which, as I had been told, we should cross after the night set in. At six o'clock I descended, and not, as usual, to the children's room, but, on this special morning of my life, to a room called the breakfast room: where I found a blazing fire, candles lighted, and the whole breakfast equipage, as if for my mother, set out, to my astonishment, for no greater personage than myself. The scene being in England, and on a December morning, I need scarcely say that it rained: the rain beat violently against the windows, the wind raved; and an aged servant, who did the honors of the breakfast table, pressed me urgently to eat. I need not say that I had no appetite: the fulness of my heart, both from busy anticipation, and from the parting which was at hand, had made me incapable of any other thought or attention but such as pointed to the coming journey. All circumstances in travelling, all scenes and situations of a representative and recurring character, are indescribably affecting, connected, as they have been, in so many myriads of minds, more especially in a land which is sending off forever its flowers and blossoms to a clime so remote as that of India, with heart-rending separations, and with farewells never to be repeated. But, amongst them all, none cleaves to my own feelings more indelibly, from having repeatedly been concerned, either as witness or as a principal party in its little drama, than the early breakfast on a wintry morning long before the darkness has given way, when the golden blaze of the hearth, and the bright glitter of candles, with female ministrations of gentleness more touching than on common occasions, all conspire to rekindle, as it were for a farewell gleam, the holy memorials of household affections. And many have, doubtless, had my feelings; for, I believe, few readers will ever forget the beautiful manner in which Mrs. Inchbald has treated such a scene in winding up the first part of her "Simple Story," and the power with which she has invested it.

Years, that seem innumerable, have passed since that December morning in my own life to which I am now recurring; and yet, even to this moment, I recollect the audible throbbing of heart, the leap and rushing of blood, which suddenly surprised me during a deep lull of the wind, when the aged attendant said, without hurry or agitation, but with something of a solemn tone, "That is the sound of wheels. I hear the chaise. Mr. H-- will be here directly." The road ran, for some distance, by a course pretty nearly equidistant from the house, so that the groaning of the wheels continued to catch the ear, as it swelled upon the wind, for some time without much alteration. At length a right-angled turn brought the road continually and rapidly nearer to the gates of the grounds, which had purposely been thrown open. At this point, however, a long career of raving arose; all other sounds were lost; and, for some time, I began to think we had been mistaken, when suddenly the loud trampling of horses' feet, as they whirled up the sweep below the windows, followed by a peal long and loud upon the bell, announced, beyond question, the summons for my departure. The door being thrown open, steps were heard loud and fast; and in the next moment, ushered by a servant, stalked forward, booted and fully equipped, my travelling companion-if such a word can at all express the relation between the arrogant young blood, just fresh from assuming the toga virilis, and a modest child of profound sensibilities, but shy and reserved beyond even English reserve. The aged servant, with apparently constrained civility, presented my mother's compliments to him, with a request that he would take breakfast. This he hastily and rather peremptorily declined. Me, however, he condescended to notice with an approving nod, slightly inquiring if I were the young gentleman who shared his post chaise. But, without allowing time for an answer, and striking his boot impatiently with a riding whip, he hoped I was ready. "Not until he has gone up to my mistress," replied my old protectress, in a tone of some asperity. Thither I ascended. What counsels and directions I might happen to receive at the maternal toilet, naturally I have forgotten. The most memorable circumstance to me was, that I, who had never till that time possessed the least or most contemptible coin, received, in a network purse, six glittering guineas, with instructions to put three immediately into Mr. H--'s hands, and the others when he should call for them.

The rest of my mother's counsels, If deep, were not long; she, who had always something of a Roman firmness, shed more milk of roses, I believe, upon my cheeks than tears; and why not? What should there be to her corresponding to an ignorant child's sense of pathos, in a little journey of about a hundred miles? Outside her door, however, there awaited me some silly creatures, women of course, old and young, from the nursery and the kitchen, who gave, and who received, those fervent kisses which wait only upon love without awe and without disguise. Heavens! what rosaries might be strung for the memory of sweet female kisses, given without check or art, before one is of an age to value them! And again, how sweet is the touch of female hands as they array one for a journey! If any thing needs fastening, whether by pinning, tying, or any other contrivance, how perfect is one's confidence in female skill; as if, by mere virtue of her sex and feminine instinct, a woman could not possibly fail to know the best and readiest way of adjusting every case that could arise in dress. Mine was hastil

y completed amongst them: each had a pin to draw from her bosom, in order to put something to rights about my throat or hands; and a chorus of "God bless hims!" was arising, when, from below, young Mephistopheles murmured an impatient groan, and perhaps the horses snorted. I found myself lifted into the chaise; counsels about the night and the cold flowing in upon me, to which Mephistopheles listened with derision or astonishment. I and he had each our separate corner; and, except to request that I would draw up one of the glasses, I do not think he condescended to address one word to me until dusk, when we found ourselves rattling into Chesterfield, having barely accomplished four stages, or forty or forty-two miles, in about nine hours. This, except on the Bath or great north roads, may be taken as a standard amount of performance, in 1794, (the year I am recording,) and even ten years later. [4] In these present hurrying and tumultuous days, whether time is really of more value, I cannot say; but all people on the establishment of inns are required to suppose it of the most awful value. Nowadays, (1833,) no sooner have the horses stopped at the gateway of a posting house than a summons is passed down to the stables; and in less than one minute, upon a great road, the horses next in rotation, always ready harnessed when expecting to come on duty, are heard trotting down the yard. "Putting to" and transferring the luggage, (supposing your conveyance a common post chaise,) once a work of at least thirty minutes, is now easily accomplished in three. And scarcely have you paid the ex- postilion before his successor is mounted; the hostler is standing ready with the steps in his hands to receive his invariable sixpence; the door is closed; the representative waiter bows his acknowledgment for the house, and you are off at a pace never less than ten miles an hour; the total detention at each stage not averaging above four minutes. Then, (i.e., at the latter end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century,) half an hour was the minimum of time spent at each change of horses. Your arrival produced a great bustle of unloading and unharnessing; as a matter of course, you alighted and went into the inn; if you sallied out to report progress, after waiting twenty minutes, no signs appeared of any stir about the stables. The most choleric person could not much expedite preparations, which loitered not so much from any indolence in the attendants, as from faulty arrangements and total defect of forecasting. The pace was such as the roads of that day allowed; never so much as six miles an hour, except upon a very great road, and then only by extra payment to the driver. Yet, even under this comparatively miserable system, how superior was England, as a land for the traveller, to all the rest of the world, Sweden only excepted! Bad as were the roads, and defective as were all the arrangements, still you had these advantages: no town so insignificant, no posting house so solitary, but that at all seasons, except a contested election, it could furnish horses without delay, and without license to distress the neighboring farmers. On the worst road, and on a winter's day, with no more than a single pair of horses, you generally made out sixty miles; even if it were necessary to travel through the night, you could continue to make way, although more slowly; and finally, if you were of a temper to brook delay, and did not exact from all persons the haste or energy of Hotspurs, the whole system in those days was full of respectability and luxurious ease, and well fitted to renew the image of the home you had left, if not in its elegances, yet in all its substantial comforts. What cosy old parlors in those days! low roofed, glowing with ample fires, and fenced from the blasts of doors by screens, whose foldings were, or seemed to be, infinite. What motherly landladies! won, how readily, to kindness the most lavish, by the mere attractions of simplicity and youthful innocence, and finding so much interest in the bare circumstance of being a traveller at a childish age. Then what blooming young handmaidens! how different from the knowing and worldly demireps of modern high roads! And sometimes gray-headed, faithful waiters, how sincere and how attentive, by comparison with their flippant successors, the eternal "coming, sir, coming," of our improved generation!

Such an honest, old, butler-looking servant waited on us during dinner at Chesterfield, carving for me, and urging me to eat. Even Mephistopheles found his pride relax under the influence of wine; and when loosened from this restraint, his kindness was not deficient. To me he showed it in pressing wine upon me, without stint or measure. The elegances which he had observed in such parts of my mother's establishment as could be supposed to meet his eye on so hasty a visit, had impressed him perhaps favorably towards myself; and could I have a little altered my age, or dismissed my excessive reserve, I doubt not that he would have admitted me, in default of a more suitable comrade, to his entire confidence for the rest of the road. Dinner finished, and myself at least, for the first time in my childish life, somewhat perhaps overcharged with wine, the bill was called for, the waiter paid in the lavish style of antique England, and we heard our chaise drawing up under the gateway,-the invariable custom of those days,-by which you were spared the trouble of going into the street; stepping from the hall of the inn right into your carriage. I had been kept back for a minute or so by the landlady and her attendant nymphs, to be dressed and kissed; and, on seating myself in the chaise, which was well lighted with lamps, I found my lordly young principal in conversation with the landlord, first upon the price of oats,-which youthful horsemen always affect to inquire after with interest,-but, secondly, upon a topic more immediately at his heart-viz., the reputation of the road. At that time of day, when gold had not yet disappeared from the circulation, no traveller carried any other sort of money about him; and there was consequently a rich encouragement to highwaymen, which vanished almost entirely with Mr. Pitt's act of 1797 for restricting cash payments. Property which could be identified and traced was a perilous sort of plunder; and from that time the free trade of the road almost perished as a regular occupation. At this period it did certainly maintain a languishing existence; here and there it might have a casual run of success; and, as these local ebbs and flows were continually shifting, perhaps, after all, the trade might lie amongst a small number of hands. Universally, however, the landlords showed some shrewdness, or even sagacity, in qualifying, according to the circumstances of the inquirer, the sort of credit which they allowed to the exaggerated ill fame of the roads. Returning on this very road, some months after, with a timid female relative, who put her questions with undisguised and distressing alarm, the very same people, one and all, assured her that the danger was next to nothing. Not so at present: rightly presuming that a haughty cavalier of eighteen, flushed with wine and youthful blood, would listen with disgust to a picture too amiable and pacific of the roads before him, Mr. Spread Eagle replied with the air of one who knew more than he altogether liked to tell; and looking suspiciously amongst the strange faces lit up by the light of the carriage lamps-"Why, sir, there have been ugly stories afloat; I cannot deny it; and sometimes, you know, sir,"-winking sagaciously, to which a knowing nod of assent was returned,-"it may not be quite safe to tell all one knows. But you can understand me. The forest, you are well aware, sir, is the forest: it never was much to be trusted, by all accounts, in my father's time, and I suppose will not be better in mine. But you must keep a sharp lookout; and, Tom," speaking to the postilion, "mind, when you pass the third gate, to go pretty smartly by the thicket." Tom replied in a tone of importance to this professional appeal. General valedictions were exchanged, the landlord bowed, and we moved off for the forest. Mephistopheles had his travelling case of pistols. These he began now to examine; for sometimes, said he, I have known such a trick as drawing the charge whilst one happened to be taking a glass of wine. Wine had unlocked his heart,-the prospect of the forest and the advancing night excited him,-and even of such a child as myself he was now disposed to make a confidant. "Did you observe," said he, "that ill-looking fellow, as big as a camel, who stood on the landlord's left hand? "Was it the man, I asked timidly, who seemed by his dress to be a farmer? "Farmer, you call him! Ah! my young friend, that shows your little knowledge of the world. He is a scoundrel, the bloodiest of scoundrels. And so I trust to convince him before many hours are gone over our heads." Whilst saying this, he employed himself in priming his pistols; then, after a pause, he went on thus: "No, my young friend, this alone shows his base purposes-his calling himself a farmer. Farmer he is not, but a desperate highwayman, of which I have full proof. I watched his malicious glances whilst the landlord was talking; and I could swear to his traitorous intentions." So speaking, he threw anxious glances on each side as we continued to advance: we were both somewhat excited; he by the spirit of adventure, I by sympathy with him-and both by wine. The wine, however, soon applied a remedy to its own delusions; six miles from the town we had left, both of us were in a bad condition for resisting highwaymen with effect-being fast asleep. Suddenly a most abrupt halt awoke us,-Mephistopheles felt for his pistols,-the door flew open, and the lights of the assembled group announced to us that we had reached Mansfield. That night we went on to Newark, at which place about forty miles of our journey remailed. This distance we performed, of course, on the following day, between breakfast and dinner. But it serves strikingly to illustrate the state of roads in England, whenever your affairs led you into districts a little retired from the capital routes of the public travelling, that, for one twenty-mile stage,-viz. from Newark to Sleaford,-they refused to take us forward with less than four horses. This was neither a fraud, as our eyes soon convinced us, (for even four horses could scarcely extricate the chaise from the deep sloughs which occasionally seamed the road through tracts of two or three miles in succession,) nor was it an accident of the weather. In all seasons the same demand was enforced, as my female protectress found in conducting me back at a fine season of the year, and had always found in traversing the same route. The England of that date (1794) exhibited many similar cases. At present I know of but one stage in all England where a traveller, without regard to weight, is called upon to take four horses; and that is at Ambleside, in going by the direct road to Carlisle. The first stage to Patterdale lies over the mountain of Kirkstone, and the ascent is not only toilsome, (continuing for above three miles, with occasional intermissions,) but at times is carried over summits too steep for a road by all the rules of engineering, and yet too little frequented to offer any means of repaying the cost of smoothing the difficulties.

It was not until after the year 1715 that the main improvement took place in the English travelling system, so far as regarded speed. It is, in reality, to Mr. Macadam that we owe it. All the roads in England, within a few years, were remodelled, and upon principles of Roman science. From mere beds of torrents and systems of ruts, they were raised universally to the condition and appearance of gravel walks in private parks or shrubberies. The average rate of velocity was, in consequence, exactly doubled-ten miles an hour being now generally accomplished, instead of five. And at the moment when all further improvement upon this system had become hopeless, a new prospect was suddenly opened to us by railroads; which again, considering how much they have already exceeded the maximum of possibility, as laid down by all engineers during the progress of the Manchester and Liverpool line, may soon give way to new modes of locomotion still more astonishing to our preconceptions.

One point of refinement, as regards the comfort of travellers, remains to be mentioned, in which the improvement began a good deal earlier, perhaps by ten years, than in the construction of the roads. Luxurious as was the system of English travelling at all periods, after the general establishment of post chaises, it must be granted that, in the circumstance of cleanliness, there was far from being that attention, or that provision for the traveller's comfort, which might have been anticipated from the general habits of the country. I, at all periods of my life a great traveller, was witness, to the first steps and the whole struggle of this revolution. Maréchal Saxe professed always to look under his bed, applying his caution chiefly to the attempts of robbers. Now, if at the greatest inns of England you had, in the days I speak of, adopted this marshal's policy of reconnoitring, what would you have seen? Beyond a doubt, you would have seen what, upon all principles of seniority, was entitled to your veneration, viz., a dense accumulation of dust far older than yourself. A foreign author made some experiments upon the deposition of dust, and the rate of its accumulation, in a room left wholly undisturbed. If I recollect, a century would produce a stratum about half an inch in depth. Upon this principle, I conjecture that much dust which I have seen in inns, during the first four or five years of the present century, must have belonged to the reign of George II. It was, however, upon travellers by coaches that the full oppression of the old vicious system operated. The elder Scaliger mentions, as a characteristic of the English in his day, (about 1530,) a horror of cold water; in which, however, there must have been some mistake. [5] Nowhere could he and his foreign companions obtain the luxury of cold water for washing their hands either before or after dinner. One day he and his party dined with the lord chancellor; and now, thought he, for very shame they will allow us some means of purification. Not at all; the chancellor viewed this outlandish novelty with the same jealousy as others. However, on the earnest petition of Scaliger, he made an order that a basin or other vessel of cold water should be produced. His household bowed to this judgment, and a slop basin was cautiously introduced. "What!" said Scaliger, "only one, and we so many?" Even that one contained but a teacup full of water: but the great scholar soon found that he must be thankful for what he had got. It had cost the whole strength of the English chancery to produce that single cup of water; and, for that day, no man in his senses could look for a second. Pretty much the same struggle, and for the same cheap reform, commenced about the year 1805-6. Post-chaise travellers could, of course, have what they liked; and generally they asked for a bed room. It is of coach travellers I speak. And the particular innovation in question commenced, as was natural, with the mail coach, which, from the much higher scale of its fares, commanded a much more select class of company. I was a party to the very earliest attempts at breaking ground in this alarming revolution. Well do I remember the astonishment of some waiters, the indignation of others, the sympathetic uproars which spread to the bar, to the kitchen, and even to the stables, at the first opening of our extravagant demands. Sometimes even the landlady thought the case worthy of her interference, and came forward to remonstrate with us upon our unheard-of conduct. But gradually we made way. Like Scaliger, at first we got but one basin amongst us, and that one was brought into the breakfast room; but scarcely had two years revolved before we began to see four, and all appurtenances, arranged duly in correspondence to the number of inside passengers by the mail; and, as outside travelling was continually gaining ground amongst the wealthier classes, more comprehensive arrangements were often made; though, even to this day, so much influence survives, from the original aristocratic principle upon which public carriages were constructed, that on the mail coaches there still prevails the most scandalous inattention to the comfort, and even to the security, of the outside passengers: a slippery glazed roof frequently makes the sitting a matter of effort and anxiety, whilst the little iron side rail of four inches in height serves no one purpose but that of bruising the thigh. Concurrently with these reforms in the system of personal cleanliness, others were silently making way through all departments of the household economy. Dust, from the reign of George II., became scarcer; gradually it came to bear an antiquarian value: basins lost their grim appearance, and looked as clean as in gentlemen's houses. And at length the whole system was so thoroughly ventilated and purified, that all good inns, nay, generally speaking, even second-rate inns, at this day, reflect the best features, as to cleanliness and neatness, of well-managed private establishments.


[1] It marks the rapidity with which new phrases float themselves into currency under our present omnipresence of the press, that this word, now (viz., in 1853) familiarly used in every newspaper, then (viz., in 1833) required a sort of apology to warrant its introduction.

[2] A well-known hotel, and also a coach inn, which we English in those days thought colossal. It was in fact, according to the spirit of Dr. Johnson's itty reply to Miss Knight, big enough for an island. But our transatlantic brothers, dwelling upon so mighty a continent, have gradually enlarged their scale of inns as of other objects into a size of commensurate grandeur. In two separate New York journals, which, by the kindness of American friends, are at this moment (April 26) lying before me, I read astounding illustrations of this. For instance: (1.) In "Putnam's Monthly" for April, 1853, the opening article, a very amusing one, entitled "New York daguerreotyped," estimates the hotel population of that vast city as "not much short of ten thousand;" and one individual hotel, apparently far from being the most conspicuous, viz., the Metropolitan, reputed to have "more than twelve miles of water and gas pipe, and two hundred and fifty servants," offers "accommodations for one thousand guests." (2.) Yet even this Titanic structure dwindles by comparison with The Mount Vernon Hotel at Cape May, N. J., (meant, I suppose, for New Jersey,) which advertises itself in the "New York Herald," of April 12, 1853, under the authority of Mr. J. Taber, its aspiring landlord, as offering accommodations, from the 20th of next June, to the romantic number of three thousand five hundred guests. The Birmingham Hen and Chickens undoubtedly had slight pretensions by the side of these behemoths and mammoths. And yet, as a street in a very little town may happen to be quite as noisy as a street in London, I can testify that any single gallery in this Birmingham hotel, if measured in importance by the elements of discomfort which it could develop, was entitled to an American rating. But alas! Fuit Ilium; I have not seen the ruins of this ancient hotel; but an instinct tells me that the railroad has run right through it; that the hen has ceased to lay golden eggs, and that her chickens are dispersed. (3.) As another illustration, I may mention that, in the middle of March, 1853, I received, as a present from New York, the following newspaper. Each page contained eleven columns, whereas our London "Times" contains only six. It was entitled "The New York Journal of Commerce," and was able to proclaim itself with truth the largest journal in the world. For 25-1/2 years it had existed in a smaller size, but even in this infant stage had so far outrun all other journals in size (measuring, from the first, 816 square inches) as to have earned the name of "the blanket sheet:" but this thriving baby had continued to grow, until at last, on March 1, 1853, it came out in a sheet "comprising an area of 2057-1/4 square inches, or 16- 2/3 square feet." This was the monster sent over the Atlantic to myself; and I really felt it as some relief to my terror, when I found the editor protesting that the monster should not be allowed to grow any more. I presume that it was meant to keep the hotels in countenance; for a journal on the old scale could not expect to make itself visible in an edifice that offered accommodations to an army.

[3] Elsewhere I have suggested, as the origin of this term, the French word cartayer, to manoeuvre so as to evade the ruts.

[4] It appears, however, from the Life of Hume, by my distinguished friend Mr. Hill Burton, that already, in the middle of the last century, the historian accomplished without difficulty six miles an hour with only a pair of horses. But this, it should be observed, was on the great North Road.

[5] "Some mistake."-The mistake was possibly this: what little water for ablution, and what little rags called towels, a foreigner ever sees at home will at least be always within reach, from the continental practice of using the bed room for the sitting room. But in England our plentiful means of ablution are kept in the background. Scaliger should have asked for a bed room: the surprise was, possibly, not at his wanting water, but at his wanting it in a dining room.

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