This etext was prepared by Donald Lainson, charlie@idirect.
LITTLE TRAVELS AND ROADSIDE SKETCHES by TITMARSH
I.-FROM RICHMOND IN SURREY TO BRUSSELS IN BELGIUM
. . . I quitted the "Rose Cottage Hotel" at Richmond, one of the comfortablest, quietest, cheapest, neatest little inns in England, and a thousand times preferable, in my opinion, to the "Star and Garter," whither, if you go alone, a sneering waiter, with his hair curled, frightens you off the premises; and where, if you are bold enough to brave the sneering waiter, you have to pay ten shillings for a bottle of claret; and whence, if you look out of the window, you gaze on a view which is so rich that it seems to knock you down with its splendor-a view that has its hair curled like the swaggering waiter: I say, I quitted the "Rose Cottage Hotel" with deep regret, believing that I should see nothing so pleasant as its gardens, and its veal cutlets, and its dear little bowling-green, elsewhere. But the time comes when people must go out of town, and so I got on the top of the omnibus, and the carpet-bag was put inside.
If I were a great prince and rode outside of coaches (as I should if I were a great prince), I would, whether I smoked or not, have a case of the best Havanas in my pocket-not for my own smoking, but to give them to the snobs on the coach, who smoke the vilest cheroots. They poison the air with the odor of their filthy weeds. A man at all easy in his circumstances would spare himself much annoyance by taking the above simple precaution.
A gentleman sitting behind me tapped me on the back and asked for a light. He was a footman, or rather valet. He had no livery, but the three friends who accompanied him were tall men in pepper-and- salt undress jackets with a duke's coronet on their buttons.
After tapping me on the back, and when he had finished his cheroot, the gentleman produced another wind-instrument, which he called a "kinopium," a sort of trumpet, on which he showed a great inclination to play. He began puffing out of the "kinopium" a most abominable air, which he said was the "Duke's March." It was played by particular request of one of the pepper-and-salt gentry.
The noise was so abominable that even the coachman objected (although my friend's brother footmen were ravished with it), and said that it was not allowed to play toons on HIS 'bus. "Very well," said the valet, "WE'RE ONLY OF THE DUKE OF B--'S ESTABLISHMENT, THAT'S ALL." The coachman could not resist that appeal to his fashionable feelings. The valet was allowed to play his infernal kinopium, and the poor fellow (the coachman), who had lived in some private families, was quite anxious to conciliate the footmen "of the Duke of B.'s establishment, that's all," and told several stories of his having been groom in Captain Hoskins's family, NEPHEW OF GOVERNOR HOSKINS; which stories the footmen received with great contempt.
The footmen were like the rest of the fashionable world in this respect. I felt for my part that I respected them. They were in daily communication with a duke! They were not the rose, but they had lived beside it. There is an odor in the English aristocracy which intoxicates plebeians. I am sure that any commoner in England, though he would die rather than confess it, would have a respect for those great big hulking Duke's footmen.
The day before, her Grace the Duchess had passed us alone in a chariot-and-four with two outriders. What better mark of innate superiority could man want? Here was a slim lady who required four-six horses to herself, and four servants (kinopium was, no doubt, one of the number) to guard her.
We were sixteen inside and out, and had consequently an eighth of a horse apiece.
A duchess = 6, a commoner = 1/8; that is to say,
1 duchess = 48 commoners.
If I were a duchess of the present day, I would say to the duke my noble husband, "My dearest grace, I think, when I travel alone in my chariot from Hammersmith to London, I will not care for the outriders. In these days, when there is so much poverty and so much disaffection in the country, we should not eclabousser the canaille with the sight of our preposterous prosperity.
But this is very likely only plebeian envy, and I dare say, if I were a lovely duchess of the realm, I would ride in a coach-and- six, with a coronet on the top of my bonnet and a robe of velvet and ermine even in the dog-days.
Alas! these are the dog-days. Many dogs are abroad-snarling dogs, biting dogs, envious dogs, mad dogs; beware of exciting the fury of such with your flaming red velvet and dazzling ermine. It makes ragged Lazarus doubly hungry to see Dives feasting in cloth-of- gold; and so if I were a beauteous duchess . . . Silence, vain man! Can the Queen herself make you a duchess? Be content, then, nor gibe at thy betters of "the Duke of B--'s establishment- that's all."
ON BOARD THE "ANTWERPEN," OFF EVERYWHERE.
We have bidden adieu to Billingsgate, we have passed the Thames Tunnel; it is one o'clock, and of course people are thinking of being hungry. What a merry place a steamer is on a calm sunny summer forenoon, and what an appetite every one seems to have! We are, I assure you, no less than 170 noblemen and gentlemen together, pacing up and down under the awning, or lolling on the sofas in the cabin, and hardly have we passed Greenwich when the feeding begins. The company was at the brandy and soda-water in an instant (there is a sort of legend that the beverage is a preservative against sea-sickness), and I admired the penetration of gentlemen who partook of the drink. In the first place, the steward WILL put so much brandy into the tumbler that it is fit to choke you; and, secondly, the soda-water, being kept as near as possible to the boiler of the engine, is of a fine wholesome heat when presented to the hot and thirsty traveller. Thus he is prevented from catching any sudden cold which might be dangerous to him.
The forepart of the vessel is crowded to the full as much as the genteeler quarter. There are four carriages, each with piles of imperials and aristocratic gimcracks of travel, under the wheels of which those personages have to clamber who have a mind to look at the bowsprit, and perhaps to smoke a cigar at ease. The carriages overcome, you find yourself confronted by a huge penful of Durham oxen, lying on hay and surrounded by a barricade of oars. Fifteen of these horned monsters maintain an incessant mooing and bellowing. Beyond the cows come a heap of cotton-bags, beyond the cotton-bags more carriages, more pyramids of travelling trunks, and valets and couriers bustling and swearing round about them. And already, and in various corners and niches, lying on coils of rope, black tar-cloths, ragged cloaks, or hay, you see a score of those dubious fore-cabin passengers, who are never shaved, who always look unhappy, and appear getting ready to be sick.
At one, dinner begins in the after-cabin-boiled salmon, boiled beef, boiled mutton, boiled cabbage, boiled potatoes, and parboiled wine for any gentlemen who like it, and two roast-ducks between seventy. After this, knobs of cheese are handed round on a plate, and there is a talk of a tart somewhere at some end of the table. All this I saw peeping through a sort of meat-safe which ventilates the top of the cabin, and very happy and hot did the people seem below.
"How the deuce CAN people dine at such an hour?" say several genteel fellows who are watching the manoeuvres. "I can't touch a morsel before seven."
But somehow at half-past three o'clock we had dropped a long way down the river. The air was delightfully fresh, the sky of a faultless cobalt, the river shining and flashing like quicksilver, and at this period steward runs against me bearing two great smoking dishes covered by two great glistening hemispheres of tin. "Fellow," says I, "what's that?"
He lifted up the cover: it was ducks and green pease, by jingo!
"What! haven't they done YET, the greedy creatures?" I asked. "Have the people been feeding for three hours?"
"Law bless you, sir, it's the second dinner. Make haste, or you won't get a place." At which words a genteel party, with whom I had been conversing, instantly tumbled down the hatchway, and I find myself one of the second relay of seventy who are attacking the boiled salmon, boiled beef, boiled cabbage, As for the ducks, I certainly had some pease, very fine yellow stiff pease, that ought to have been split before they were boiled; but, with regard to the ducks, I saw the animals gobbled up before my eyes by an old widow lady and her party just as I was shrieking to the steward to bring a knife and fork to carve them. The fellow! (I mean the widow lady's whiskered companion)-I saw him eat pease with the very knife with which he had dissected the duck!
After dinner (as I need not tell the keen observer of human nature who peruses this) the human mind, if the body be in a decent state, expands into gayety and benevolence, and the intellect longs to measure itself in friendly converse with the divers intelligences around it. We ascend upon deck, and after eying each other for a brief space and with a friendly modest hesitation, we begin anon to converse about the weather and other profound and delightful themes of English discourse. We confide to each other our respective opinions of the ladies round about us. Look at that charming creature in a pink bonnet and a dress of the pattern of a Kilmarnock snuff-box: a stalwart Irish gentleman in a green coat and bushy red whiskers is whispering something very agreeable into her ear, as is the wont of gentlemen of his nation; for her dark eyes kindle, her red lips open and give an opportunity to a dozen beautiful pearly teeth to display themselves, and glance brightly in the sun; while round the teeth and the lips a number of lovely dimples make their appearance, and her whole countenance assumes a look of perfect health and happiness. See her companion in shot silk and a dove-colored parasol; in what a graceful Watteau-like attitude she reclines. The tall courier who has been bouncing about the deck in attendance upon these ladies (it is his first day of service, and he is eager to make a favorable impression on them and the lady's-maids too) has just brought them from the carriage a small paper of sweet cakes (nothing is prettier than to see a pretty woman eating sweet biscuits) and a bottle that evidently contains Malmsey madeira. How daintily they sip it; how happy they seem; how that lucky rogue of an Irishman prattles away! Yonder is a noble group indeed: an English gentleman and his family. Children, mother, grandmother, grown-up daughters, father, and domestics, twenty-two in all. They have a table to themselves on the deck, and the consumption of eatables among them is really endless. The nurses have been bustling to and fro, and bringing, first, slices of cake; then dinner; then tea with huge family jugs of milk; and the little people have been playing hide-and-seek round the deck, coquetting with the other children, and making friends of every soul on board. I love to see the kind eyes of women fondly watching them as they gambol about; a female face, be it ever so plain, when occupied in regarding children, becomes celestial almost, and a man can hardly fail to be good and happy while he is looking on at such sights. "Ah, sir!" says a great big man, whom you would not accuse of sentiment, "I have a couple of those little things at home;" and he stops and heaves a great big sigh and swallows down a half-tumbler of cold something and water. We know what the honest fellow means well enough. He is saying to himself, "God bless my girls and their mother!" but, being a Briton, is too manly to speak out in a more intelligible way. Perhaps it is as well for him to be quiet, and not chatter and gesticulate like those Frenchmen a few yards from him, who are chirping over a bottle of champagne.
There is, as you may fancy, a number of such groups on the deck, and a pleasant occupation it is for a lonely man to watch them and build theories upon them, and examine those two personages seated cheek by jowl. One is an English youth, travelling for the first time, who has been hard at his Guidebook during the whole journey. He has a "Manuel du Voyageur" in his pocket: a very pretty, amusing little oblong work it is too, and might be very useful, if the foreign people in three languages, among whom you travel, would but give the answers set down in the book, or understand the questions you put to them out of it. The other honest gentleman in the fur cap, what can his occupation be? We know him at once for what he is. "Sir," says he, in a fine German accent, "I am a brofessor of languages, and will gif you lessons in Danish, Swedish, English, Bortuguese, Spanish and Bersian." Thus occupied in meditations, the rapid hours and the rapid steamer pass quickly on. The sun is sinking, and, as he drops, the ingenious luminary sets the Thames on fire: several worthy gentlemen, watch in hand, are eagerly examining the phenomena attending his disappearance,-rich clouds of purple and gold, that form the curtains of his bed,-little barks that pass black across his disc, his disc every instant dropping nearer and nearer into the water. "There he goes!" says one sagacious observer. "No, he doesn't," cries another. Now he is gone, and the steward is already threading the deck, asking the passengers, right and left, if they will take a little supper. What a grand object is a sunset, and what a wonder is an appetite at sea! Lo! the horned moon shines pale over Margate, and the red beacon is gleaming from distant Ramsgate pier.
. . . . . .
A great rush is speedily made for the mattresses that lie in the boat at the ship's side; and as the night is delightfully calm, many fair ladies and worthy men determine to couch on deck for the night. The proceedings of the former, especially if they be young and pretty, the philosopher watches with indescribable emotion and interest. What a number of pretty coquetries do the ladies perform, and into what pretty attitudes do they take care to fall! All the little children have been gathered up by the nursery-maids, and are taken down to roost below. Balmy sleep seals the eyes of many tired wayfarers, as you see in the case of the Russian nobleman asleep among the portmanteaus; and Titmarsh, who has been walking the deck for some time with a great mattress on his shoulders, knowing full well that were he to relinquish it for an instant, some other person would seize on it, now stretches his bed upon the deck, wraps his cloak about his knees, draws his white cotton nightcap tight over his head and ears; and, as the smoke of his cigar rises calmly upwards to the deep sky and the cheerful twinkling stars, he feels himself exquisitely happy, and thinks of thee, my Juliana!
. . . . . .
Why people, because they are in a steamboat, should get up so deucedly early I cannot understand. Gentlemen have been walking over my legs ever since three o'clock this morning, and, no doubt, have been indulging in personalities (which I hate) regarding my appearance and manner of sleeping, lying, snoring. Let the wags laugh on; but a far pleasanter occupation is to sleep until breakfast-time, or near it.
The tea, and ham and eggs, which, with a beefsteak or two, and three or four rounds of toast, form the component parts of the above-named elegant meal, are taken in the River Scheldt. Little neat, plump-looking churches and villages are rising here and there among tufts of trees and pastures that are wonderfully green. To the right, as the "Guide-book" says, is Walcheren; and on the left Cadsand, memorable for the English expedition of 1809, when Lord Chatham, Sir Walter Manny, and Henry Earl of Derby, at the head of the English, gained a great victory over the Flemish mercenaries in the pay of Philippe of Valois. The cloth-yard shafts of the English archers did great execution. Flushing was taken, and Lord Chatham returned to England, where he distinguished himself greatly in the debates on the American war, which he called the brightest jewel of the British crown. You see, my love, that, though an artist by profession, my education has by no means been neglected; and what, indeed, would be the pleasure of travel, unless these charming historical recollections were brought to bear upon it?
As many hundreds of thousands of English visit this city (I have met at least a hundred of them in this half-hour walking the streets, "Guide-book" in hand), and as the ubiquitous Murray has already depicted the place, there is no need to enter into a long description of it, its neatness, its beauty, and its stiff antique splendor. The tall pale houses have many of them crimped gables, that look like Queen Elizabeth's ruffs. There are as many people in the streets as in London at three o'clock in the morning; the market-women wear bonnets of a flower-pot shape, and have shining brazen milk-pots, which are delightful to the eyes of a painter. Along the quays of the lazy Scheldt are innumerable good-natured groups of beer-drinkers (small-beer is the most good-natured drink in the world); along the barriers outside of the town, and by the glistening canals, are more beer-shops and more beer-drinkers. The city is defended by the queerest fat military. The chief traffic is between the hotels and the railroad. The hotels give wonderful good dinners, and especially at the "Grand Laboureur" may be mentioned a peculiar tart, which is the best of all tarts that ever a man ate since he was ten years old. A moonlight walk is delightful. At ten o'clock the whole city is quiet; and so little changed does it seem to be, that you may walk back three hundred years into time, and fancy yourself a majestical Spaniard, or an oppressed and patriotic Dutchman at your leisure. You enter the inn, and the old Quentin Durward court-yard, on which the old towers look down. There is a sound of singing-singing at midnight. Is it Don Sombrero, who is singing an Andalusian seguidilla under the window of the Flemish burgomaster's daughter? Ah, no! it is a fat Englishman in a zephyr coat: he is drinking cold gin-and-water in the moonlight, and warbling softly-
"Nix my dolly, pals, fake away,
N-ix my dolly, pals, fake a-a-way."*
* In 1844.
I wish the good people would knock off the top part of Antwerp Cathedral spire. Nothing can be more gracious and elegant than the lines of the first two compartments; but near the top there bulges out a little round, ugly, vulgar Dutch monstrosity (for which the architects have, no doubt, a name) which offends the eye cruelly. Take the Apollo, and set upon him a bob-wig and a little cocked hat; imagine "God Save the King" ending with a jig; fancy a polonaise, or procession of slim, stately, elegant court beauties, headed by a buffoon dancing a hornpipe. Marshal Gerard should have discharged a bombshell at that abomination, and have given the noble steeple a chance to be finished in the grand style of the early fifteenth century, in which it was begun.
This style of criticism is base and mean, and quite contrary to the orders of the immortal Goethe, who was only for allowing the eye to recognize the beauties of a great work, but would have its defects passed over. It is an unhappy, luckless organization which will be perpetually fault-finding, and in the midst of a grand concert of music will persist only in hearing that unfortunate fiddle out of tune.
Within-except where the rococo architects have introduced their ornaments (here is the fiddle out of tune again)-the cathedral is noble. A rich, tender sunshine is streaming in through the windows, and gilding the stately edifice with the purest light. The admirable stained-glass windows are not too brilliant in their colors. The organ is playing a rich, solemn music; some two hundred of people are listening to the service; and there is scarce one of the women kneeling on her chair, enveloped in her full majestic black drapery, that is not a fine study for a painter. These large black mantles of heavy silk brought over the heads of the women, and covering their persons, fall into such fine folds of drapery, that they cannot help being picturesque and noble. See, kneeling by the side of two of those fine devout-looking figures, is a lady in a little twiddling Parisian hat and feather, in a little lace mantelet, in a tight gown and a bustle. She is almost as monstrous as yonder figure of the Virgin, in a hoop, and with a huge crown and a ball and a sceptre; and a bambino dressed in a little hoop, and in a little crown, round which are clustered flowers and pots of orange-trees, and before which many of the faithful are at prayer. Gentle clouds of incense come wafting through the vast edifice; and in the lulls of the music you hear the faint chant of the priest, and the silver tinkle of the bell.
Six Englishmen, with the commissionaires, and the "Murray's Guide- books" in their hands, are looking at the "Descent from the Cross." Of this picture the "Guide-book" gives you orders how to judge. If it is the end of religious painting to express the religious sentiment, a hundred of inferior pictures must rank before Rubens. Who was ever piously affected by any picture of the master? He can depict a livid thief writhing upon the cross, sometimes a blond Magdalen weeping below it; but it is a Magdalen a very short time indeed after her repentance: her yellow brocades and flaring satins are still those which she wore when she was of the world; her body has not yet lost the marks of the feasting and voluptuousness in which she used to indulge, according to the legend. Not one of the Rubens's pictures among all the scores that decorate chapels and churches here, has the least tendency to purify, to touch the affections, or to awaken the feelings of religious respect and wonder. The "Descent from the Cross" is vast, gloomy, and awful; but the awe inspired by it is, as I take it, altogether material. He might have painted a picture of any criminal broken on the wheel, and the sensation inspired by it would have been precisely similar. Nor in a religious picture do you want the savoir-faire of the master to be always protruding itself; it detracts from the feeling of reverence, just as the thumping of cushion and the spouting of tawdry oratory does from a sermon: meek religion disappears, shouldered out of the desk by the pompous, stalwart, big-chested, fresh-colored, bushy-whiskered pulpiteer. Rubens's piety has always struck us as of this sort. If he takes a pious subject, it is to show you in what a fine way he, Peter Paul Rubens, can treat it. He never seems to doubt but that he is doing it a great honor. His "Descent from the Cross," and its accompanying wings and cover, are a set of puns upon the word Christopher, of which the taste is more odious than that of the hooped-petticoated Virgin yonder, with her artificial flowers, and her rings and brooches. The people who made an offering of that hooped petticoat did their best, at any rate; they knew no better. There is humility in that simple, quaint present; trustfulness and kind intention. Looking about at other altars, you see (much to the horror of pious Protestants) all sorts of queer little emblems hanging up under little pyramids of penny candles that are sputtering and flaring there. Here you have a silver arm, or a little gold toe, or a wax leg, or a gilt eye, signifying and commemorating cures that have been performed by the supposed intercession of the saint over whose chapel they hang. Well, although they are abominable superstitions, yet these queer little offerings seem to me to be a great deal more pious than Rubens's big pictures; just as is the widow with her poor little mite compared to the swelling Pharisee who flings his purse of gold into the plate.
A couple of days of Rubens and his church pictures makes one thoroughly and entirely sick of him. His very genius and splendor pails upon one, even taking the pictures as worldly pictures. One grows weary of being perpetually feasted with this rich, coarse, steaming food. Considering them as church pictures, I don't want to go to church to hear, however splendid, an organ play the "British Grenadiers."
The Antwerpians have set up a clumsy bronze statue of their divinity in a square of the town; and those who have not enough of Rubens in the churches may study him, and indeed to much greater advantage, in a good, well-lighted museum. Here, there is one picture, a dying saint taking the communion, a large piece ten or eleven feet high, and painted in an incredibly short space of time, which is extremely curious indeed for the painter's study. The picture is scarcely more than an immense magnificent sketch; but it tells the secret of the artist's manner, which, in the midst of its dash and splendor, is curiously methodical. Where the shadows are warm the lights are cold, and vice versa; and the picture has been so rapidly painted, that the tints lie raw by the side of one another, the artist not having taken the trouble to blend them.