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THE TRAVELLING PROPENSITIES AND OPINIONS of
JOHN BULL. The English are allowed to be more given to occasional migration than any other people; strength of purse, and a national morbidness of temper that requires the dissipation of foreign scenes and society, have been assigned as causes : to whatever extent they may be so, they are certainly not the only ones. Islanders as we are, the ideal limits that confine us to our home are more strongly marked--it is the ocean that rolls between us and other countries, and that unaccountable impulse to self-liberation, which we feel locally as well as morally, swells in proportion to the magnitude of the barrier that obstructs it. The Alps are a noble boundary in imagination, but geographers, that unromantic sect, destroy it: there is a line of demarcation on Mount St. Bernard, astride of which one may have his right foot in Italy and his left in France—a feat of no small sublimity to modern tourists. This facility of communication lessens the dignity of both countries; the very essence of grandeur is in the idea of isolation, and we feel it in the boast of the poet
I stood and stand alone, remember'd or forgot.” There is no association connected with our country, so endearing and ennobling as our ocean-wall.” We are conscious of being surrounded, like the earth itself, with an unfathomable element ; and we pass it with feelings akin to those which we might experience in voyaging to another planet. It is otherwise with the Continental nations of Europe: their journeys from metropolis to metropolis resemble our trips from London to York, or to Manchester—they see strange faces and strange people, but it is the plain road-way all along. Besides, their vicinity and intermixture with each other completely check those romantic anticipations, with which we look beyond sea. Europe is common life to them, while to us it is a drama, and a dream a paradise to be explored and enjoyed.
With such current sentiments amongst us, it is no wonder that we should have been over-run with tours and visits, barren journals, and dissertative quartos on leagues and posting. The proper period or fitting disposition for ravel is difficult to fix on or attain;
we should be young to possess in its freshness the spring of sympathy and association; and without the knowledge which it demands years to acquire, the objects most pregnant with interest will be but a dead letter. Such things must be left to chance : :-a good stock of animal spirits is, after all, the best compagnon de voyage; it enables one to quaff the delicious draught of novelty, unmixed with that feeling of desolation that comes upon us, amid foreign scenes and unaccustomed sounds. It is doubly necessary to the ignorant linguist, for vivacity is a language current every where; it is always understood, and is by far a better interpreter than Blagdon, or any other Manuel de Voyageur. Testy and Sensitive have put nothing on record half so miserable as one of our Smellfungus's stuck in the corner of a Diligence, abandoned to his own spleen and sullenness. These woeful personages must exceedingly perplex the curious inhabitants of the country where they journey, to discover what the deuce can bring such living corpses among them. But there are some of these we should not insult--the diseased and the
broken, many perhaps in spirit and in heart, that seek in more genial climes to recruit their health and life. The numerous tombs with English inscriptions, that are to be seen in Pere La Chaise*, and in the burying-grounds throughout the South of France, attest the final repose of many a valetudinarian. There are, however, more substantial and less sentimental monuments of our love of travel left throughout Europe. Chateaubriand, the epic itinerarian, found very comfortable traces of them in Peloponnesus.
“ There is at Misitra,” says he, Greek house of entertainment called the Auberge Anglaise, where they eat roast-beef and drink Port-wine. Travellers are, in this respect, under great obligations to the English; it is they who have established good inns throughout all Europe-in Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Spain--at Constantinople, and at Athens, and here, even to the very gates of Sparta, in despite of Lycurgus". How would the Pythian prophetess have astonished the old worthies of Greece, if she had foretold them the establishment of English chop-houses amidst the ruins of Athens and Lacedæmon!
It is easier to create a demand for roast-beef than to write booksour success has consequently been more complete in the former attempt. We have no such traveller as Humboldt; yet some people compare him with Dr. Clarke, who, as a brother correspondent observes somewhere, travelled to Russia for the purpose of proving Richard the Third not so great a villain, after all, as Shakspeare and the pit would have him. As an individual, I must record myself to have learned from that gentleman's first volume an abundance of information extremely difficult to reconcile. I found the Russians to be the most amiable people in the world, and the greatest rogues; and throughout the course of the volume, as of Dr. Clarke's journey, they rise and fall in the scale of human excellence so abruptly, that one is inclined to attribute the unfavourable character of the Russians to the ruggedness of their roads, that jolted the traveller out of good humour, while the Cossacks seem indebted for the praise of honesty and civilization to the smooth plains over which his carriage glided. I am no traveller, nor beholder of sights; yet, like all the world, took a trip to the Continent some years since, and must say, that what most astonished me were the volumes of our tourists. The descriptions of columns, arcs, façades, and colonnades, are all very correct; the pictures of private society abroad, such as Lady Morgan's “ France," may be very correct for aught I know—they are, at any rate, very entertaining ; but the accounts we have been favoured with concerning the strange manners of the people -the profound analyses of national character gathered from the alleys of Paris—the levity of the women—the politeness of the men—the cheapness of amusements—the profusion of the English, &c. &c. nine assertions in ten, appear to me the exact converse of the truth.
To commence with what I have last enumerated--profusion, whatever it may have been, has ceased to be the characteristic of English
There are some lamentable traits of national envy displayed in the beautiful cemetery of Mont Louis. Some inscriptions over the bodies of English have been partially injured and defaced : that over Major Randolph, if we recollect aright, is one.
+ Itineraire, tom, i.
living in France. The contrary, indeed, is the prevailing disposition. France is crowded from one end to the other with English economists; and the custom they have now learned, of bargaining for every thing before-hand, even with the guides and porters that reply with a “ Ce que vous voulez, Monsieur,"—“ What you please"--gives an appearance of parsimony and suspicion rather than that of carelessness and prodigality. The French tradesmen find it no longer easy to put the English under contribution ; and even when they did, they had a very good excuse. There is twice as much extortion on the English side of the channel, without an atom of the civility that might render it palatable. Let our countrymen then not lay in a double stock of suspicion, when they purpose visiting the Continent--they will no where find more rogues than they have left at home. There is not, in any country in Europe, one sixteenth part of the petty larceny that is committed in London alone. I never heard of an Englishman who lost even a pockethandkerchief in the streets of Paris.
Another of the generally received and erroneous opinions entertained here, is the cheapness of amusements in Paris ; of which but one word. The price of admittance to theatres is of no consideration but to thorough play-goers, that is, to the occupiers of the pit. Now in Paris, although the parterre or pit be cheaper, yet it is farther removed from the stage than ours—it is the cheapest and least respected part of the house, answering to our upper galleries—in short, it is not where our critics would choose to sit.
Next of all, the French do not seem to me a jot more polite than other people, and this is a quality on all hands allowed them. The guides and others that one will have to pay, are undeniably extremely civil; but not in our barbarous metropolis do we ever meet with the intentional rudeness and brusquerie experienced at every turn in the French capital. The only difference between the nations in this point is, that where we bow, they take off their hats, and where we anxiously seek tidings and news of the health, happiness of friends, &c. they find time to pay a compliment. The politeness of society is another thing-at present, I only busy myself with the erroneous prejudices, both in our favour and the contrary, with which we regard the nations of the Continent; and of the actual state of their society among themselves, the generality of us neither know nor care any thing.
The levity of French women is a necessary part of John Bull's creed, and the part in which he is most completely mistaken. That the prejudice originated in truth is likely; but if the French had a Duc de Richelieu, we have had Lord Rochester. Their own writers allow that the Revolution has destroyed the French gallantry, and gallantry may be here taken in its most comprehensive sense. There are no women more modest and well-behaved than the Parisians - the eyes of females in London are fully as busy and impudent. And the female peasants of the country parts of France are much more reserved than any of the pretty villagers of Great Britain.
Another of our horrors is a French Sunday; nevertheless, I understand that, at present, we have full as much shop-keeping and sale here upon that day. The theatres being open on the sabbath is the custom that most shocks us, and no wonder -a London theatre is, indeed, a place of profane amusement. But the aspect of the Parisian houses is totally different--there is no dress, no show, no indecorum in the boxes. The men are silent, and the women muffled—all attentive, sober, and at home, as if they listened to a tea-table conversation in our holy city. John Knox himself could never persuade me that a French theatre was the habitation of Satan ; and, if we may judge by those sentiments and passages which they mark with applause, there never was a people in whom the feelings of patriotism and moral principle were stronger.
If their enemies deny the assertion, it only proves them to be honester people at the theatre than any where else, which surely is not a proof of its being a bad school.
ON THE STATE AND IMPROVEMENT OF THE FINE ARTS
If we admit that a successful cultivation of the Fine Arts not only demonstrates, but promotes, the refinement of a nation, it cannot but awaken considerable regret, that, remote as we are from perfection, we should not have even made any evident progress towards it in those latter years, which have afforded such facilities for the study of Art.
It is neither to be wondered at, nor objected, that the nation at large is not much interested in the success or reputation of artists; for notwithstanding the occasional aids from Parliament, and the distinguished encouragement by individuals, but little has been produced in the higher walks of Art of which we can be justly proud. Yet many of our artists have travelled, have visited the reliques of Greece and Italy, and been the welcomed and privileged visitors of the richest galleries. The consequence of this is, that the most favourable moments ever possessed by England for the attainment of excellence in matters of taste are elapsing without being profited by; and that, when the present race of Continental travellers (who see what painting has been, what architecture and sculpture are in the actual hour,) shall have passed away, we shall sink into a Gothic oblivion of the nobler models, and shall be thrown upon and dependent on the untalented efforts of the English school. In no country has Nature given the mind more of the creative faculty; and manual aptitude is every where, and in every occupation, evinced; but either the course of instruction is faulty, or true genius is repressed, or the nationally-charged arrogance of self-opinion directs the labours of the architect and the sculptor, and even too often of the painter; and so communicative are their ill-judged decisions, that I heard an Englishman, while looking at the Thesean Temple at Athens, say, " that he much wondered that some of those buildings had not spires :" similarly tasteless ideas are the general ones of the country. I had been at this period absent for many years from England, and on my way to it, was delayed for some time at Rome. I met there several English young men of great promise, actively employed in copying from the Italian school, and exacting, by the excellence of their specimens, the praises of the most qualified judges. As the Continent had been accessible for nearly seven years, I expected to see, in some of the fine arts in England, an evident and decided purity of design, and ability in execution. I have not yet discovered the one or the other; and taking the three last performances in the sister arts as examples, I believe that I shall have no difficulty in proving my assertion.
The most public performance, and cheapest to sec, (for they still demand entrance-money at St. Paul's) and first in dignity, is the line of new buildings intended to ornament the City, and calculated, as the Laureat thinks, to throw Athens into the shade. To the architectural student the entire range may form an admirable study and spot of reference, for it contains every style, from the Athenian to the London -a tissue of incongruity, non-descript and nonsensical; and the only
VOL. IV. NO. XIII.