Though the majority of Englishmen might be cold and distant or even antagonistic to foreigners, men of the higher classes were generally glad to welcome them if they came with properly accredited introductions. They had themselves very often made the Grand Tour and been received and entertained by foreign nobility. Even when war was raging with France men of this class kept up a correspondence with the Continent. Often they had some debt to repay, some hospitality to return. De Saussure tells us of an Englishman who had been stranded in Switzerland without any money. A native of the country lent him sufficient for his needs. Years afterwards this Swiss gentleman visited England and, walking in the Mall, met the man whom he had benefited. He was immediately taken back to the Englishman's house to dinner. Afterwards he was presented by his host with what the latter called "a small present". This turned out to be a deed of gift making the Swiss traveller the owner of a pretty cottage and a small domain near London, which was worth about thirty pounds a year. De Saussure also tells another, and a horrid, story of base ingratitude shown by an English nobleman to a Swiss who had befriended him abroad.
"The English" he says "push their virtues and vices further than other people."
The Foreigner at Court
De Saussure went to court in 1725 and saw three ladies presented to the King,
"who kissed them all affectionately on the lips, and I remarked that he seemed to take most pleasure in kissing the prettiest of the three. Let not this mode of greeting scandalize you, it is the custom of the country and many ladies would be displeased should you fail to salute them thus."
It was a custom which was dying out in the higher classes, the King excepted, though among the middle classes and in the country it lingered. De Saussure says that
"the King looked amiable, but those who do not like him say he is not generous in money matters".
De Saussure was also present on the King's birthday when the City of London presented him with a nosegay according to their usual custom. This was given to the King by
"the oldest male inhabitant who could be found, provided he had his faculties and was able to walk ".
The King inquired who this strong, soldierly old man was, and what was his age.
"Sure, sir," the old man said, "I do not know my age; but I began to carry arms in the Civil Wars under Charles I"
The King gave the old man thirty guineas and told him that he should be admitted to Chelsea Hospital with the rank of sergeant.
"was alone with the King and Queen in an exquisite little room, the Queen being covered with jewels, and the King majestic beyond description in an embroidered costume with his order over his coat ".
Lichtenberg, it would seem, was dazzled by the splendour of the royal attire for none of his subjects ever called George III majestic. They called him Farmer George and often sneered at the plainness of his dress and the homely domesticity of his life.
On another occasion Lichtenberg visited Queen Charlotte and found her, as he says, "en famille".
" This morning after nine o'clock" he tells us "I again had to wait on the Queen, who was in cap and black gown."
He comments on the beauty of the royal children. Prince Adolphus asked for a stick "but pranced about so terribly among the cups " that he had to be restrained. He observes that he had had more opportunities of seeing the King and Queen "as scarce any other German could boast of ".
Germans generally did not receive that warm welcome from George III which his predecessors had bestowed upon them. George told his people that he gloried in the name of Briton, and he regarded foreigners in the mass with much the same distrust and suspicion as did his subjects. In spite of this Count Kielmansegg tells us that many foreigners were attracted to England by the King's coronation. He and his brother were present, as his aunt had married Lord Howe; but we gather from his account that many others came who had no connection with the English court.
Zetzner was lost and nearly suffocated in the crowd when he watched the funeral procession of William III going from Kensington to Westminster and he saw Queen Anne's coronation.
King George Unpopular
Towards the close of the century George III became unpopular. Prices were rising, wages for the most part were stationary, the war with America was condemned by most of the business men in the country. According to Grosley, when he came to London some years earlier, the mob was already asking awkward questions.
"Why should we bow to George?" say the insolent rabble. "He should bow to us, he lives at our expense."
"They" (the mob) Casanova tells us "hoot the King and the Royal Family when they appear in public and the consequence is that they are never seen save on great occasions when order is kept by hundreds of constables."
So little indeed was the King in evidence that de la Rochefoucauld said that the little tower where the Crown jewels were kept in the Tower of London was "the only thing in London which shows that a King exists." Meister, on the other hand, heard "God save the King" continually called for at Sadler's Wells after George III's recovery, and said that he
"saw nothing in ancient or modern history comparable to the British Constitution".
A wave of sympathy for the poor King had spread over the country and people were also asking themselves whether they might not be worse off under 'Prinny' than under Farmer George. The fable of King Log and King Stork was sometimes quoted. When Meister visited England again in 1791, he found a different state of things. The war with France and the consequent increase of taxation was causing much poverty and unemployment.
"The words Church and King, which they had rendered sacred" Meister says "are now connected with the word taxes. Those horrid words 'No King, no Parliament' have been found written in large characters on the walls."
Meister was not much impressed by Windsor Castle. He said that the furniture was "for the most part old-fashioned, worn out and in bad taste" though he admired the pictures and Raphael's cartoons. Moritz described St. James's Palace as "the meanest public building in London." The Queen's Palace or Buckingham House, as it was sometimes called, was then a beautiful building of mellowed red brick. George IV was responsible for the greater part of the present erection. Perhaps he would have agreed with Moritz that "the old palace very much resembled a private house", which is what it had been before George III bought it for the Queen.
The English Nobleman
Baretti expressed surprise that English noblemen should be well mannered and cultivated and compared them favourably in these respects with the Italian nobility. Though he was a man of letters he mixed, as all distinguished literary men could, in what would have been called good society. He thus describes a day as he spent it in England.
"I generally get up at eight, when I am shaved and powdered. After drinking tea with a friend, I sit down at my desk and write as I will till three or four in the afternoon. Then I either dine alone with a friend, often with other people, who come in about that time, or else I dine out. About six o'clock I drink tea again, always at somebody else's house and in the company of clever, beautiful women and girls. Then I play at quadrille the whole evening every day, supping where I have been spending the evening, after which we drink tea and chatter till past eleven. The houses I frequent are numerous and would be more numerous did I wish it. My familiarity with English ways and my Italian gaiety which is usually, I might almost say always, greater here than in Italy makes people readily open their doors to me. Blessed England! Rascals are as plentiful here as they are in any other country; but good people abound here in a proportion about thirty times as great as in other countries."
Baretti is almost the only traveller in England who contrived to be gay. Most of them seem to have been oppressed by our climate, our fogs and what they considered to be the coldness and melancholy of the nation.
Mme de Bocage went to a breakfast party at the house of Lady Montagu, as she calls her. She is probably referring to Mrs. Montagu, the celebrated "Blue stocking". A breakfast party may sound odd in these days; but it was then a very general entertainment, especially among literary people, and the custom lingered on until the introduction of hot lunches in the following century.
"We breakfasted today at Lady Montagu's" she says "in a closet lined with a painted paper of Pekin and furnished with the choicest movables of China. A long table covered with the finest linen presented to the view a hundred glittering cups which contained coffee, chocolate, biscuits, buttered toast and exquisite tea. You must understand that there is no good tea to be had anywhere but in London. The mistress, who deserved to be served at the table of the gods, poured it out herself (this is the custom) and in order to conform to it, the dress of English ladies which suits exactly to their stature, the white apron and the pretty straw hat become them with the greatest propriety."
Count Kielmansegg went to a party at Syon House.
"It would not be easy" he says "to imagine a more splendid sight than this gallery presents when filled with people, all vying with one another in the beauty of their dress."
He also dined with the foreign minister on whose table there was, he declares, a piece of beef weighing 227 lb. De la Rochefoucauld does not much care for the English mode of entertaining.
"It is customary" he says, "when one gives a party, to invite the whole town, with the result that the crush is oppressive, and most tiring and wearisome to the hostess: in such assemblies, you may well imagine that there is no great pleasure in conversation."
Social gatherings in France were occasions for conversation. This was not so in England except at the houses of a few "blue stockings". If men wanted conversation they went to a club or coffee-house, where the talk could be very good indeed. It would not have occurred to them that the ordinary party was a place where they could converse on sensible subjects or that their wives and daughters could be capable of joining in such talk. In many cases, indeed, they would have been quite incapable of anything of the kind.
Travellers in this country noted with surprise and sometimes annoyance that Englishmen talked of nothing but politics.
"You may often see an Englishman" de Saussure says "taking a treaty of peace more to heart than he does his own affairs. These two parties" he continues, speaking of the Whigs and Tories, "are so opposed to one another that nothing but a real miracle could cause them to become united."
If the Tories had their way, he thought, the government would be a despotism and if the Whigs remained in power for long there would be anarchy. Meister was present at an election when a vote of thanks was being returned to the successful candidate who was Beckford's nominee.
"If the squire" the speaker said "had sent his great dog to us, we should have chosen him as we have done you."
This illustrates the great power in politics of the landed gentry, which was only exceeded by that of the aristocracy. In the country the tenants generally voted for their landlord or his nominee. If they did not, they knew that, in many cases, they might be turned out of their houses or lose their employment. In the towns there were constituencies, Pot Walloper boroughs they were called, where everyone who owned his own front door and a fireplace for cooking had a vote. There were also Scot and Lot boroughs in which every man who had lived there for six months and paid Scot and Lot, that is to say poor rates and church rates, was a voter. These boroughs were usually more independent and only voted for the candidate who bribed them most highly. The strife and argument of political life was often extremely boring to foreigners. Lord Tyrconnel who was educated in France came to London when he was thirty years old. Wherever he went in society he met men and women who talked of nothing but politics. He found this so tedious that he resolved to escape from it for one evening at least, and took some ladies of pleasure to dine at a bagnio. To his disgust he discovered that they would do nothing but talk about a bill which was then before parliament. No doubt they had found such conversation agreeable to many of their clients. Lord Tyrconnel, however, left them in a passion and sailed for France almost immediately.
English politics were too noisy, too intricate and obscure to attract the foreigner who knew little of the country. Baretti, however, after his long residence here protests that he is by no means indifferent to politics whether European or English. In a letter to Lord Charlemont he says,
"I must for once and very gravely expostulate with your lordship as to that oblique, but degrading accusation, of my being less than apathetically indifferent about politics. Jesus! Jesus! how wrong and unjust these lords are apt to be! Is such an accusation to be brought against a man, who has, for these four months past, been impairing his eyesight, wearing out his thumbs and exhausting his patience in diligently collating half a dozen editions of Machiavel's works, in order to strike out a new one in three enormous quartos? Come forth of thy back shop, Tom Davies, bookseller de mios pecados, thou who hast paid me so very few guineas for so great a labour.Come forth to bear witness against this lord, as to how I have been and am still, sunk in the very deepest abyss of politics Machiavellian. Was not Machiavel the identical bell-whether of all and everyone of the political flock, the first, the best, the damnedest of them all? and how can I be taxed with indifference about politics, who am now invested, by booksellers' authority, with the power of supervising, ushering and kicking the chief code of that science into a new edition, and am actually doing it? However, though a thorough politician, I will be so far honest as to own that there was a time, when I was somewhat tainted with doctrines unsound. For instance, there was a time when my notions of liberty (and liberty is the axis round which all manners of politics turn) when my notion of liberty was, that any native of any land was a freeman, provided he had wherewithal to fill his guts after his own taste together with a tolerable share of prudence.... There was a time, my lord, when I thought that a bastard kind of liberty, that did permit a multitude of Catos, Senecas, and Socrateses to call Johnson an hireling, Warburton an atheist, Burke a Jesuit, Mansfield an ass, Wilkes a saint and Junius the saviour of his country . . . a multitude of such erroneous notions I own to have once fostered in a foolish pate. But my long meditations upon Machiavel, together with a careful perusal of Algernon Sidney's works and Molesworth's account of Denmark have turned me into so genuine a liberty-man, that I now think it very pretty to curse a King's mother when dead, after having poured upon her all kinds of abuse when alive. I push even so far the liberality of my new notions, that though I know nothing of my queen, I am vastly pleased when I listen to a ballad, when I go along in which a fair queen is called a damned — without the least ceremony. Huzza, my boys! Wilkes and Liberty for ever! and a plague upon my former apathy about politics! "
Most foreigners praised the women of England. Baretti speaks of
"the charming and modest bearing of endless ladies and girls, and among them hundreds of thousands of perfect beauty".
Lichtenberg declared that he had seen many beautiful women in his travels, but that during the ten days he had been in England he had seen as many as in all the rest of his life put together. According to the description of foreigners all Englishwomen had fair hair, blue eyes and fine natural complexions. This was of course exaggeration as may be seen from a glance at eighteenth-century portraits; but it may be there has been a change of type and that fair hair and blue eyes predominated in those days. Another traveller attributed the whiteness of the Englishwoman's skin to "the inconvenience of a cloudy atmosphere". Mme de Bocage admired Englishwomen. They might dress like the portraits of her great-grandmother; but she found them "extremely affable and obliging in their behaviour". Possibly they might not be so polite as the ladies of Paris; but they carried, she thought, politeness to excess. She noticed that old women still went into society "without being afraid of showing their wrinkles", and that young girls went to balls and parties with their mothers and lived "in much less constraint than young ladies amongst us". She praised the Duchess of Richmond for having shut herself up for six weeks with her children when they were inoculated against small-pox. Few Frenchwomen of fashion, she thought;
"would have had so much maternal tenderness as to deprive themselves of pleasure during six weeks for the good of their families".
De la Rochefoucauld thought that English manners, judged by French standards, were bad. The women in particular seemed
"lacking in polite behaviour. They never" he says "receive any instruction in the subject and all the young people whom I have met in society in Bury give the impression of being what we should call badly brought up: they hum under their breath, they whistle, they sit down in a large armchair and put their feet on another, they sit on any table in the room and do a thousand other things which would be ridiculous in France, but are done quite naturally in England."
He adds that possibly young people would not be quite "so free and easy in London".
Baretti was delighted with two girls, Ann and Helen Scott, who in the care of their aunt travelled with him as far as Exeter. To his surprise and pleasure they kissed him farewell. He mentioned this to a correspondent but takes care to explain, as de Saussure had done, that it was
"according to the custom in England, where kisses are not looked upon as anything shameful as they are in Italy, when they are given and received publickly and in moderation. The ladies" he continues "are, as a rule, angels incarnate, behaving with more reserve and circumspection than those of Italy." He even goes so far as to "stake the best tooth he has in his head that a woman is, as a rule, superior in courtesy, in good sense and in general information to ten men out of twelve".
"Gentle, frank and artless" is another traveller's description of Englishwomen. Some do not comment so favourably. De Saussure complained that women spent their time eating, walking and going to the theatre and to assemblies, that they did very little needlework and inquired about any suitor whether he were rich. One traveller tells us that "women exercise a power equally despotic over both husbands and lovers", another says that
"Englishmen do not spoil their wives by flattery and attention, generally preferring drinking and gambling to female com pany".
De la Rochefoucauld, after describing how Englishmen amused themselves, says,
"The women lead a more sequestered life: nearly always they are at home with their children and sometimes with a female friend. Thus they spend a great part of the day, while their husbands are sometimes — nay frequently — ruining themselves."
He admits, however, that husbands and wives were together at all social functions.
"They always give" he says "the appearance of perfect harmony, and the wife, in particular, has an air of contentment which always gives me pleasure."
He puts this down to the fact that Englishmen had opportunities of knowing their brides as young girls went into society in England. Most marriages he considers were marriages of affection, the young people did not live with their parents, and for these reasons it would he says
"be much more to his taste to have an English wife rather than a French one."
On the other hand he thinks that English husbands have a great advantage in being able to divorce their wives for misconduct; though he admits that the process was very costly and difficult.
The Attraction of Foreigners
Sometimes the foreigner made a great impression on the susceptible heart of an Englishwoman. Mrs. Thrale, as we know, consoled herself in indecent haste with the Italian Piozzi, a foreigner, a Papist and public singer as her horrified friends pointed out. Fanny Burney married M. d'Arblay. An unknown lady inserted the following advertisement in the Public Advertiser of January 1, 1761.
"Whereas a tall young gentleman above the common size, dressed in a yellow, grounded velvet (supposed to be a foreigner) with a solitaire round his neck and a glass in his hand was narrowly observed and much approved of by a certain young lady at the last ridotto. This is to acquaint the said young gentleman, if his heart is entirely disengaged, that if he will apply to A. B. at Garraway's Coffee House in Exchange Alley, he may be directed to have an interview with the said young lady, which may prove greatly to his advantage. Strict secrecy on the gentleman's side will be depended on."
It would be interesting to know whether the tall young gentleman in yellow grounded velvet responded to this invitation and what was the outcome of the interview, but this is one of the tantalizing things we are not told.
Alfieri had an affair with a woman, probably Lady Ligonier, whom he speaks of as Lady L. He used to visit her at her house near Cobham in Surrey, and spent the intervals when he was not in her society in
"weeping and raving in his chamber, or in galloping furiously from place to place and leaping over hedges and ditches to the imminent hazard of his neck".
-Lord L., who had been apprised by one of his servants of what had taken place, sought for Alfieri and found him in a box at a London theatre. He immediately challenged him to a duel, though seeing that his arm was in a sling, offered to defer the encounter. To this Alfieri would not agree and he and Lord L. went out to the Green Park together. Probably Lord L. had scruples about fighting a disabled man, for he let Alfieri off very lightly with a slight wound. Alfieri took his lady love for a tour through England and would have married her after her divorce if he had not discovered that she had had a previous intrigue with her husband's groom.
Clothes and Fashions
In a chapter on social life some mention must be made of clothes and fashions.
Frenchmen did not approve of the way in which Englishwomen dressed. They said that they wore old-fashioned, ill-fitting garments and that they had large feet. They explained that the enormous size of female feet was due to the Englishwoman's passion for taking exercise. Even those of them who were well-to-do and whose husbands kept coaches liked to walk in their gardens and on their estates. This was an extraordinary habit and, of course, quite fatal to feet.
Clothes were dear in England. Baretti, writing to his brother Filippo who was contemplating a journey to England with a friend, advises him to bring what clothes he needs with him.
"Don't trouble" he says "to bring more than one trunk between you with a dozen shirts each, a travelling coat and two good coats of smooth cloth without much lace except on the wastecoats, for on these it does not matter if the lace is even rich. If the coats were much laced, you would be obliged to have a carriage, unless you wanted to appear ridiculous. Bring a good supply of silk stockings and scarves, so as not to have to buy them here, where everything costs the eyes of the head, and remember to leave the long tails to your wigs behind you, and the wooden heels to your shoes, if you do not want the English boys to run after you in the street."
The wig with tails may have been what Johnson in his dictionary describes as "the bagwig-an ornamental purse of silk tied to men's hair". It was not then the fashion in England, though much worn on the Continent.
Baretti also advises his brother not to bring muffs as he would "only be laughed and jeered at for them". Silk and camlet coats he considers unnecessary even in July and August.
"Coats" he says "must either be of cloth or velvet."
Apparently foreigners dressed even more extravagantly than the English. Henry Angelo tells us that
"foreigners of every learned or scientific profession practising here, were remarkable for their rich display of costume. Many of my father's friends and acquaintances, whose finances made it expedient for two or three to club expenses for a furnished second floor in the back streets of Soho, yet contrived to pay £30 or £40 for a dress suit, laced ruffles a bag and sword."
They had to be careful, however, what they wore or carried.
"It is the rule of the people of London" Grosley says "not to use or suffer foreigners to use our umbrellas of taffeta or waxed silk."
Thomas Hanway, when he returned to London from the Continent in 1750 had met with the same opposition to his umbrella. The hackney coach men strongly protested; they would lose fares, they declared, if this foreign fashion were established and people could protect themselves against the rain. They would no longer hire hackney coaches; it was not to be tolerated. In spite of being hustled and jeered at, Hanway insisted upon carrying his umbrella in the streets of London, and after a time other people followed his example.
Sophie de la Roche complained that
"in this land of freedom of thought women may not go out without hats." She tells us "how four ladies entered a box at the Haymarket" where she was "with such wonderfully fantastic caps and hats perched on their heads that they were received by the entire audience with loud derision. Their neckerchiefs were puffed up so high that their noses were scarce visible and their nosegays were like huge shrubs, large enough to conceal a person."
A quarter of an hour afterwards four women appeared on the stage, dressed exactly like the ladies in the box and greeted them as their friends. The gentleman who was escorting them was so overwhelmed with embarrassment, that he fled from the place, leaving the ladies to their ordeal. One of them tried to hide her face with her fan, but an actress called to her by name and at last the ladies fled. They were followed by a number of persons from the pit and gallery calling after them in ridicule. This episode illustrates the unthinking cruelty of many of the English when they met with anything which they considered peculiar or outlandish. Sophie says that Englishwomen exaggerated and spoilt French fashions. She also tells us that many of them "neglect their petticoats to a degree which grieved me not a little".
Grosley declares that English ladies were "so sensible of their beauty that they neglect their dress". Apparently Englishwomen came to adapt themselves more nearly to French fashions. Meister tells us that
"The dress of their hair and the fashion of their clothes are much improved since 1789. . . . London has the happiness at the present time of being in possession of the united talents of M. Leonard and M. Bertin, not to mention a number of French femmes de chambres . . . as the English ladies are daily improving in taste they should altogether lay aside the use of stays. I mean such as are stiffened and rise high in the neck . . . some ladies, instead of these stays have taken to wearing girdles, very broad and fixed pretty high."
The simpler French fashions which came in after the revolution may have been more easily copied than very elaborate styles. These still lingered, however, in the country and among old-fashioned people. Meister tells us how much he disliked "padded ladies". Lichtenberg mentions the four or five or six ostrich feathers, white, blue, red and black together, which it was then the custom for women to wear on their heads, and which cost the large sum of a guinea each.
"They quiver" he tells us "at the slightest movement of the heart — that is to say if the head can be moved by the heart, and are able to express love or hate and quod sic and quod non and heaven knows what. It makes the pretty girls very pretty and the plain ones very plain."
De la Rochefoucauld notices with surprise that Englishwomen did not use rouge. There had been a time when it was certainly the fashion, but when he came to England in 1784, it was "a practice which had completely disappeared".
Mme de Bocage thought that
"the white apron and pretty straw-hat which the ladies' wore in the morning became them with the greatest propriety" though they made "a less brilliant appearance in the evening . . . when dressed according to the French fashion. I cannot conceive" she continues "why all Europe should be so complaisant as to adopt our modes, the changes of which the inhabitants of our own provinces cannot possibly conform to, which foreign nations receive very late, and never in the same manner in which they were introduced at Paris. Every country has its peculiar language, manners and ideas, and ought, in consequence, to have its peculiar mode of dressing, which must always suit better to the shape and make of the inhabitants than any borrowed habit."
Von Uffenbach was surprised to find ladies at Epsom Races wearing what he thought were men's clothes with feathered hats. These riding habits consisted of coats cut like a man's with waistcoats and sometimes stocks. They were, of course, worn with skirts but even so were looked upon, when they first came in, as very mannish and improper. They were, however, more practical and convenient than hooped skirts and elaborately trimmed bodices and were often worn when walking or travelling.
Classes Dressed The Same
Foreigners were surprised to find all classes wearing much the same kind of clothes, some might be ragged and dirty, but they still bore resemblance to what had once been the fashion. De Saussure found very few women wearing woollen gowns. Even maidservants wore silk gowns on Sundays and holidays and were almost as well dressed as their mistresses. At one time poor women wore red cloaks, but Moritz, who notes this, assures us that
"women in general from the highest to the lowest, wear clothes which differ from each other less in fashion than they do in fineness. Fashion is so generally attended to among the Englishwomen that the poorest of maidservants is careful to be in the fashion. . . .There is through all ranks here not near so great a distinction between high and low as there is in Germany."
De Saussure found a citizen's wife, who in his country would not have dreamed of such ostentation, buying gold brocade cloth which the Princess of Wales had said was too dear for her. She even went to court in a dress made of this sumptuous material.
"No Frenchwoman" de Saussure assures us "would have dared venture to pay court in such a fashion."
Moritz notices that farmers, instead of wearing coarse frocks as they did in Germany, "were dressed with some taste in fine cloth no different from townspeople".
The only people whose dress differed were the Welsh. Macky says that he was
"particularly pleased to see the Welsh ladies come to market at Shrewsbury, in their laced hats, their own hair hanging round their shoulders and blue and scarlet cloaks like our Amazons".
De la Rochefoucauld describes men's dress as being
"very simple — black breeches and silk stockings. Such is the correct dress for occasions like these (for balls in the country). In order to be something quite out of the common a man may go on wearing his cravat and his hair in a pigtail with his ordinary clothes. The well dressed men wear a new coat every time, but a plain coat with nothing sumptuous about it."
Lichtenberg, who lived also in good society, complains that he was forced to dress twice a day, in different costumes, which was not the custom of his country. He tells us how the housemaid who lighted his fire and put a warming pan in his bed wore a black and white silk hat and "a kind of train. One would imagine that this was an extraordinarily inconvenient dress for doing house work; but Lichtenberg says that she carried her warming pan "with as much grace as many German ladies would a parasol". The fact that the English classes dressed so much alike and that there was in England no peasant costume and no wooden shoes greatly impressed the foreigner.
Mme de Bocage says that buildings which were called palaces in London "at Paris would pass only as large houses, which men of fortune amongst us would find many faults with". Our luxury, she thought, did not equal that of Paris; we had no armchairs and were quite satisfied with common chairs. Our rooms were seldom very large, even in noblemen's houses.
After receiving several presents including some fruit which she
"did not know what to make of, being only used to comfits" she says, "so many marks of affection please me the more as the English are thought to be sincere in their affections. They are falsely accused of receiving foreigners ill. I cannot believe that their favours are confined to us. It is true that we but little resemble the natives of our country, who dislike any opinion that is not familiar to them."
She goes on to praise the public spirit of the English and notes how Gresham had built the Royal Exchange at his own expense and Dr. Harvey, who had discovered or rediscovered the circulation of the blood, bequeathed his estate to the faculty of medicine. Sir Hugh Middleton had diverted the course of the New River to supply part of London with water, and Sir John Cotton had left his valuable library to the nation.
"There is nothing" she says "which should more excite our wonder."
It is pleasant to know that one foreigner who had spent many years in England and sampled its merits and its vices wrote the following farewell.
"Farewell beautiful England; farewell home of virtue, farewell sink of vice. . . . Willingly do I forget all the sufferings I have endured in thee for so many years; but I shall not forget the great kindness thou hast shown me, nor shall I ever cease to remember with gratitude all thy honoured sons who have helped and encouraged me in my hour of need."
This encomium was written by Baretti at a time when he was leaving the country and felt tender towards it. On another occasion he writes with less enthusiasm. The English he says "are by no means altogether bad", and goes on to praise their courage and generosity.
In a chapter on English social life something must be said about the servants who were the prop and stay of all upper and middle-class families. On the whole it was thought that the English did not make good servants. They were more independent than their brethren on the Continent. If a master struck his servant, the man would be very likely to knock him down. Maidservants could see no reason why they should not dress as well as their mistresses and have similar amusements. Voltaire was surprised to see servants at Greenwich Fair elegantly dressed and riding on horseback. He took them at first for "people of fashion".
Foreigners considered that servants' wages were very high. Grosley speaks of
"a fat Welsh girl who could scarce understand English, and could only wash and scrub and sweep".
He does not say how much more she might be expected to do; but he thinks that her wage of six guineas a year with a guinea tea money was enormous. Cooks, he tells us, got the huge sum of twenty guineas a year. These would, of course, have been very good cooks; but some travellers after eating our meals, declared that there were no good cooks in England. What worried foreigners more than the high wages, which they did not usually have to pay, were the tips or vails as they were called.
Tips or Vails
"If you take a meal with a person of rank " de Saussure tells us "you must give every one of the five or six footmen a coin on leaving. They will be ranged in a file in the hall, and the least you can give them is a shilling each, and should you fail to do this you will be treated insolently the next time."
It was said that footman's vails doubled their wages, and that Sir Robert Walpole's porter got eighty pounds in Christmas boxes. If porters were not remembered on this handsome scale their masters were never at home.
This imposition was hard on foreigners who were often poor men and who did not tip so highly in their own countries. "In truth, my lord, I am not rich enough to take soup with you often" was the reply one traveller gave to an invitation.
The English themselves deplored this system of vail giving, and recognized that it was hard on foreigners. There was a suggestion which came, it was said, from Scotland, that all vails should be abolished. A few hosts tried to adopt this, they raised their servants' wages and implored their guests not to give vails. Suggestions from Scotland, and the desires of English gentlemen, were, however, quite unavailing. The vail has remained with us under its present trivial name and will most probably always continue.