Some foreigners came to England purely on business and a few for pleasure; but many of these showed a passing interest in intellectual things and there were a few scholars who came to study. These latter were usually well received. The Royal Society made Benjamin Franklin a member and the Society of Antiquaries elected Baretti. There was still a comradeship among men of letters which had persisted down the ages.
It is true that von Uffenbach declared that the great politeness which John Flamsteed, the Astronomer Royal, showed him was rare in England; but von Uffenbach thoroughly disliked everything English, and was no doubt disliked in return. He had difficulty too with the language or rather the pronunciation of it.
"Owing to the difficulty of English pronunciation" he says "a stranger, however well he may understand the written language, is no better off here than if he were deaf and dumb."
English and its Dialects
Baretti tells us that for the first two months he could not understand a syllable of the language; but when he had fixed a few hundred words in his head, he made everyone he came across read out
"these words, not once only but ten times and more and tried all the while to pronounce the most difficult; and thus by gradually accustoming my ears to the sound. I made what was considered extraordinary progress in that strange and most irregular tongue. . . . I have always tried to speak the dialect of every place where I have made a short stay."
This was indeed an amazing feat, for dialects in those days were so distinct that the Devonian could not have understood the Yorkshireman or the Cumbrian the man from Dorset. Mrs. Thrale, however, tells a story about Baretti which bears out his assertion.
"I will give" she says "an instance of his skill in our low street language. Walking in a field near Chelsea, he met a fellow, who, suspecting him from dress and manner to be a foreigner, said sneeringly 'Come sir, will you show me the way to France?' 'No sir' says Baretti instantly, 'but I will show you the way to Tyburn.'"
Von Uffenbach was pleasantly surprised when Sir Hans Sloane talked French to him and he comments acidly on the Englishman's disinclination to speak foreign languages, even when he knows them very well. "Ignorance and pedantry rule here" he observes with his usual sweeping bitterness.
Voltaire speaks of the unpleasant whistle of the English tongue. Moritz, though he admits that the country had many dialects and that there was even one in London, was constantly talking with people of all classes. He is often amazed at the erudition of the ordinary man. The tailor's widow who read Milton struck him with surprise; but she was nothing to the saddler, who walked with him on the road to Matlock and talked of Homer, Horace and Virgil, quoting them at length, and the poorest people, some of whom could not read, told each other stories from the Bible. They had heard the Scriptures read in Church and with the fine memory of the illiterate they could repeat them, often word for word. When men were brought up on such a Book it is no wonder that they could express themselves in "proper phrases".
The Charity schools, established early in the century, had done a great work in teaching children at least to read and write and later the Sunday Schools, founded to impart religious knowledge, were obliged to teach their children to read the Bible. There was of course great ignorance and much illiteracy. Moritz declares that he had
"conversed with several people of the lower class who all knew their national authors, and who all have read many if not all of them";
but he also tells us how he travelled by coach with three farmers, none of whom could read or write.
Sophie de la Roche describes how she went to a Debating Society in London where sixpence a person was charged for admission and where they discussed "all topics of interest to an Englishman". They debated as to "whether it is useful or harmful to create a number of peers of the realm as has recently happened", and then went on to ask "whether it is better for a man to beat his wife or for a woman to control men?" It is interesting to notice that there were women present at these debates; what their reactions to the last question were, we are not told. Probably they took no active part in the proceedings, for it would have been thought most unseemly for a woman to speak in public.
Zetzner declared that the English were
"a polite people with a developed political intelligence. They have a remarkable penetrating mind, learning and understanding everything."
He adds, however, that these superior people were proud and haughty and considered themselves much above all foreigners.
Grosley, when he was in Westminster Abbey, came upon some herb women reading a little book on the monuments, and a porter passing through and looking round exclaimed, "How many lies do these stones contain!"
On the other hand Grosley was much shocked when at Lord Byron's trial in Westminster Hall he saw boys pelting each other with apples, and even putting bits of the fruit into the Lord High Steward's enormous periwig.
"I never saw" he says "youths behave in a less decent manner and appear less sensible of the dignity of a magistrate."
"I am in a new order of things!" de Mirabeau exclaimed when he found that the Englishman had "the development and free exercise of his faculties". It was no doubt astonishing to an aristocrat brought up in eighteenth century France, though most foreigners were surprised at the amount of learning and general cultivation displayed by the average man. They had come to England expecting to meet boors and fools and they were astonished. Their criticisms of schools and particularly of the Universities are, however, by no means so favourable.
To begin with they thoroughly disliked the architecture both at Oxford and Cambridge. It was Gothic, which they thought barbarous and was "much overloaded with ornament". It is true that there was a young Swiss who told Sophie de la Roche that he preferred the scenery round Oxford to that of his native land; but he said nothing about the colleges.
The foreign scholar had one great and legitimate grievance. The books and parchments which he wished to consult — which indeed in some cases were the object of his visit to England — had been allowed to fall into such a shameful state of dirt and decay, that it was difficult to decipher them. All with one accord complain of this, and it illustrated, perhaps more than anything else, the low ebb to which learning had declined.
Von Uffenbach found the manuscripts at Caius lying in a garret so thick with dust that, though he had a catalogue, he could make nothing of them. He had climbed to this library up steps that were deep in pigeon's dung. The Peterhouse manuscripts were in the same disgraceful condition; but here the librarian thoughtfully provided him with a towel, which he used as an apron. The books at Magdalene were
"with hardly one single exception entirely overgrown with mould".
In the Bodleian von Uffenbach found
"ancient and modern coins lying all covered with dust without any order in a deep poor drawer, unlocked and left open."
For all this dirt and mould he had paid eight shillings in fees. He thought it was an imposition, and was still more annoyed, for he was a poor man, at having to bribe the custodian of the Bodleian to be allowed to examine the codexes without his tiresome supervision. At Cambridge, on the other hand, he saw everything in the University Library and the attendant obligingly permitted him to take away a leaf from a damaged codex of Josephus.
"In England" Count Kielmansegg tells us "the people who show you over such places are porters and caretakers who seldom know much about them, merely show visitors round and are glad when they leave. They earn their money so easily that they show you nothing at all or only such objects as they consider worth seeing, which are usually well known things, so that the rarest objects often escape the eye and remain unobserved."
This may account for the fact that von Uffenbach, when the curator of the Ashmolean had finished "toping and guzzling" and condescended to show him round, was confronted with such things as "Queen Elizabeth's shoe, King Augustus of Poland's boots, Joseph's coat, a piece of bread preserved from the siege of Oxford and a book containing the Devil's handwriting", which he identified as Chinese. Von Uffenbach thought the dining-hall at Trinity very ugly and also described it as
"so smoky and smelling so strong of bread and meat that it would be impossible for me to eat a meal there".
The Finest Building in the World
Magdalen (Oxford) he considers "one of the meanest here", and the Bodleian was, in his eyes, "an old mean library". He found the great Bentley "arrogant and disdainful". He was not the only person who did so, many fellows of his college found the Master very arrogant. He also described the greatest classical scholar of his age as "speaking good and fairly intelligible Latin". No doubt the English pronunciation was a stumbling block. Elie de Beaumont, the French lawyer, found the same difficulty when he went up to Oxford for his D.C.L. and tried to converse with Blackstone.
Von Uffenbach describes Cambridge as "a poor mean village", though he admits that there were people who thought that King's College was "the finest building in the world", and Moritz went so far as to declare that the Bodleian was not unworthy to be compared to the Vatican in Rome.
Moritz, who had been so rudely treated by landlords and pushed out of their inns, met with nothing but kindness and civility from the company assembled at the Mitre. An Oxford clergyman, whom he had met while travelling, introduced him
"as a German clergyman whom he could not sufficiently praise for my correct pronunciation of the Latin, my orthodoxy and my good walking".
Moritz gave some account of the universities in his own country, admitting that riots and disturbances frequently occurred among the students. "Oh, we are very unruly here too" one of the dons remarked, taking a long drink out of his pot of beer. Moritz, however, during his two days' stay at Oxford, thought that the conduct and behaviour of the undergraduates did them much credit. He had a less favourable impression of the dons. Their drunkenness and neglect of their duties shocked him, and that one of the company, a clergyman, should treat the Scriptures with levity disgusted him.
"I have the good fortune" he says "to be able to convict him of his ignorance of its language and meaning".
State of the Universities
As for the learning of the Universities there are different accounts. Mme de Bocage, who took a cursory and favourable view of most things English, tells us that
"whatever might interrupt the studies of the scholars, as gaming, plays and complaisant beauties, are banished from this place (Oxford). The very air of the country breathes the purest precepts of morality."
She produced this eulogy in spite of the fact that she had seen, at the Anatomical Theatre, the skeleton of a widow who had had ten husbands and was hanged for poisoning four of them.
Macky, who visited the Universities early in the century before the rot had really set in, says that
"young gentlemen are obliged to all imaginable attention here (Cambridge) nay are mulcted and punished if they do not attend, whereas abroad they are left to their liberty.
Another traveller compares our universities favourably with those of Germany. There even Greek Mythology and the names of Plato and Aristotle were, he declares, unknown to the average undergraduate. Learning was not quite at this low ebb in the English universities as the names of Bentley and Porson may testify, though there was a Regius Professor of Greek, who when he was appointed did not know a word of the language. He set about learning it, however, when he came up. De la Rochefoucauld has a story of a clergyman who came up to Cambridge for his degree of Doctor of Divinity.
"He was asked, we are told, whether the sun turned round the earth, or the earth round the sun. Not knowing what to say and wanting to make some reply, he assumed an emphatic air and boldly exclaimed: 'Sometimes the one, sometimes the other. ' This reply produced so much amusement that" de la Rochefoucauld declares "he was made a doctor on the strength of this fatuous stupidity."
Possibly this story was untrue, but the university must have been in a very bad state before such an anecdote could be circulated. Von Uffenbach considered the state of Oxford to be very bad.
"We are amazed" he says "that no courses of lectures are at all delivered and only in winter three or four lectures are given by the professors to bare walls, for no one comes in. On the other hand the scholars and students have, some of them, a professor or old socium collegis whom they call tutorem who instructs them . . . in summer however scarcely anything is done both students and professors being either in the country or in London."
Von Uffenbach asked a Cambridge professor to explain their method of teaching. He promised civilly to find out, which he never did. No doubt he cursed this inquisitive foreigner who came inquiring about method. No one worried about method at an English university, except, of course, that prating fellow Wesley, who used it in a different sense and was an Oxford man anyhow and so need not be considered.
"It is a general complaint" Meister says "that the professors are indolent and without emulation and that the students in particular are negligent and under no restraint. The greater part of them are lodged in the town and lead the most dissolute lives."
His democratic soul is shocked to find that the sons of noblemen have tables to themselves in the college dining halls and that these tables
"are more or less elevated above the others. Kings, Cardinals and other pious founders" he says "had none of these sublime notions, which the wisdom of later ages has inculcated, and ancient customs and practices are never altered here without the greatest circumspection."
Most travellers speak of the drunkenness and debauchery which were rampant at the Universities; but Holberg the Dane, while condemning such evils, speaks of the generosity of English scholars. He tells us that when he was leaving Oxford, a fellow of Magdalen came to him and offered, on behalf of the college, any funds he might need for the continuation of his studies.
Psalmanazer had "a convenient apartment" assigned to him in one of the Oxford colleges, he does not tell us which, and was given every facility to study in the library and attend lectures. His tutor went so far as to allow him to choose the subjects of study "whether the Newtonian philosophy, logic, poetry or divinity". Mathematics were suggested to him, but he could not be prevailed upon "to go over the threshold", as he considered that many of Euclid's propositions were self-evident, an idea which has also occurred to several of schoolboys.
Of schools we do not hear a great deal, with the exception of Christ's Hospital, which foreign visitors were taken to see. Londoners were proud of this school, though the accounts of it which have come down to us from Lamb and Coleridge do not show much reason for such pride.
Sophie de la Roche comments on the excellence of the education at Christ's Hospital and this was generally admitted to be good.
"A shoe-maker for instance" she exclaims "or a brewer or baker reads Virgil and Homer."
As in all the great schools classics were the main subject; but Christ's Hospital had also a mathematical school for boys who were going to sea.
"There" says von Uffenbach "stood a couple of fairly large ships of most elegant and curious workmanship; they can be taken to pieces, so that the children who make a special study of ship building may be shown all the parts of a ship."
Moritz visited Eton, but the only thing which seems to have impressed him there was the dress of the scholars. He describes how they all wore black cloaks or gowns over coloured clothes
"through which there was an aperture for their arms. They also wore a square hat or cap that seemed to be covered with velvet such as our clergymen in many places wear."
He was surprised that there were few great schools in England and at that date there were only the four public schools, Eton, Westminster, Winchester and Harrow. On the other hand there were a prodigious number of academies.
"They are" he tells us, "notwithstanding their pompous names, in reality nothing more than small schools set up by private people."
A master at one of these complained to Moritz that he only got £30 a year, and had nothing but water to drink. At a time when the poorest people drank beer, to be given nothing but water would have been considered the height of misery and meanness.
Many of these private schools were very bad, and the education given in them was wretched. Some, however, were well run by eighteenth-century standards, and careful parents preferred to send their children to these, rather than to the public schools, which they rightly considered to be hotbeds of vice and brutality. In any case there would not have been room in the four public schools for all the boys of upper-class parents, and there was then no idea that a gentleman's son must of necessity go to a public school.
Psalmanazer got the post of tutor to a boy of fifteen whose father, an officer in the army,
"had kept him for several years at some considerable schools to little purpose, for when I came to him he could hardly translate one line out of the plainest Latin authors, which he attributed rather to the remissness of his former masters than to his want of genius".
Usually some knowledge of Latin had been flogged into a boy who went to any "considerable school", but the English themselves were very critical of their own educational system. Adam Smith went so far as to declare that no boy at any public school ever learnt anything which would be of service to him in the world.
Of girls' education we do not hear much. Few of them went to school. The daughters of the well-to-do were generally educated at home by their mother or a governess. Some people engaged foreign teachers for their children. Grosley declares that these unfortunate ladies
"who have generally refined sentiments complain very much of the indocile disposition of their scholars".
There was one large girls' school which Sophie de la Roche visited. It was in Queen's Square in London and was kept by the Misses Stevenson.
"Its founders" she says "were four sisters of wealth and beauty, who said that they had no desire to marry, yet wished to become mothers according to nature's laws."
What they meant by this curious statement is not explained. They had more than two hundred pupils and their fees were at least £100 a year, which was very high in those days.
"The girls" Sophie tells us "are particularly fond of music and singing, adore dancing, love dress and ornament; but are so reserved in all their other affections that it takes one a little while to get to know a girl of six or seven years of age."
One of the Misses Stevenson told Sophie that the girls had only one holiday in the year and that she would like to abolish this, as some of them were sure to come back
"with morally harmful or misguided notions. They tried" she added philosophically "to turn these to account as material for insight into human nature."
It was not often, unless he were residing in the country for some time, that a foreigner put his child to school in England. Casanova, however, settled his daughter at a school in Harwich. He was delighted to find that the pupils could converse with him in French and Italian; but less pleased at having to pay a hundred a year and provide the child with a bed and linen.
Moritz was delighted to find that books could be bought at cheap prices.
"The quick sale of the classical authors" he says "is here promoted by cheap and convenient editions. . . .I myself bought a Milton in duo-decimo for two shillings."
He also purchased two volumes of The Vicar of Wakefield for sixpence, and saw odd volumes of Shakespeare lying about on stalls and priced at a penny or even a halfpenny.
Von Uffenbach, however, is always complaining of the dearness of books, and of how he got his shirt ruffles filthy turning over their pages. Sophie de la Roche bought a Handbook, for Ladies which gave directions on "How to become prosperous with Honour". One would like to know what it recommended — probably matrimonial ventures, as these were almost the only methods by which an eighteenth-century woman could become prosperous and remain honourable.
Scholars undoubtedly came to England to study books and manuscripts. Lichtenberg went to Birmingham to see Baskerville. That great printer and binder was dead; but Lichtenberg was entertained by his widow with toast and Madeira in a finely furnished room. Dressed in a handsome black silk gown, she took him over the works and into the dirtiest corners, explaining everything except the secret which he particularly wanted to know, how the paper and ink were made. He looked, however, very carefully at the work of a woman and a little girl, who were glazing papers, and by that and a few skilful inquiries, he thought he had gathered some information. Lichtenberg would have bought the whole of the stock and machinery and transported it to Germany, if he could have afforded the £4,000 which Mrs. Baskerville was asking for it.
When Benjamin Franklin came to London early in 1724 he found that there were no circulating libraries, though these afterwards became a great feature in English life. Among the first to be founded was one in the Strand which was started in 1740 by a bookseller called Batho. Franklin, like many an Englishman who had a love of literature and little money, hung round the street bookstalls, picking up a book and reading for as long as he decently could. In the previous century Milton had described these men as "stall readers". Many of them would wander round London from stall to stall, reading a little here, a little there, and even going so far as to turn down the page of a book or to mark it in some way so that they might return to it and read more.
The comments of foreigners on English literature are sometimes very curious. Voltaire expressed immense admiration for Wycherley's plays and compares them favourably with those of Molière, though he admits that "the rules of decorum are not so well observed". Of Vanbrugh he says that he was "as sprightly in his writings as he was heavy in his buildings ". The language of Congreve's characters was, according to him,
"that of men of honour, but their actions are those of knaves, a proof that he was perfectly acquainted with human nature and frequented what we call good society ".
He praises Pope and Swift, though he confesses that the latter can be understood by the foreigner only after a visit to England. Shakespeare was not thought much of on the Continent and the translations, including Voltaire's, of Hamlet's great speech would not have added much to the poet's fame. Voltaire really preferred Addison to Shakespeare.
"Mr. Addison's Cato" he says "appears to me to be the greatest character that ever was brought upon any stage."
At the same time he admits that
"the shining monsters of Shakespeare give infinitely more delight than the judicious images of the moderns".
Voltaire considered that learning was more honoured in England than in France.
"The English" he says "have so great a veneration for exalted talents that a man of merit in their country is always sure of making his fortune."
This may have been true to a certain extent; but there were many examples of Englishmen of letters and merit who eked out a miserable existence in a garret, and Mme de Bocage takes a view completely opposite to that of Voltaire.
"Honours" she says "inspire people with emulation more than pensions. The English, though they are not so generous to the learned as we are, know better how to flatter their vanity. Marks of distinction encourage men of genius more than sustenance. Too much food makes them heavy; praise is a light aerial substance which strengthens and animates them. The hopes of being buried in Westminster Abbey is a powerful incentive to persons endowed with abilities to endeavour to distinguish themselves in their life time."
Probably most Englishmen, whether they were geniuses or not, would have preferred a little sustenance to any tomb however distinguished.
Writing of these tombs in the Abbey, Voltaire points out that the English honoured poets and philosophers as well as Kings and conquerors.
Johnson, though he declared in his usual uncompromising manner that foreigners were fools, showed in many cases great friendship towards them. He wrote a preface to Baretti's dictionary and stood by him when he was tried for murder. He had a great respect for General Paoli, the Corsican patriot, often dining with him and going so far as to buy bigger and better shoe buckles to wear at one of his parties. The General was for many years an exile here, and was treated with much deference by the literary men of London. Eventually the government granted him a pension.
Johnson had met and drunk with George Psalmanazar, of whom we shall speak in another chapter. His opinion of Piozzi, who was a foreigner, a Roman Catholic and a singer, and who dared to marry his dear Mrs. Thrale, we know quite well. Piozzi's private thoughts on Dr. Johnson would also be interesting. When Boswell and Johnson were travelling in the post-coach with "two very agreeable ladies from America" Boswell particularly cautioned the elder not to reveal the fact that her husband had been a member of Congress "as she must know how very violent he (Johnson) was against the people of that country ". In spite of this the two ladies hung upon his words and declared that every sentence was an essay. It was only when they got to an inn and Johnson flew into a rage about the roast mutton, which was
"as bad as bad could be, ill fed, ill killed, ill kept, ill dressed "
that they began to wonder if he really could be a philosopher.
Of English music we do not hear much that is good. Von Uffenbach, after a visit to a music club at Cambridge, is surprised
"that they make such a to-do about music and even create professors and doctors of music . . . all their compositions" he declares "are harsh and cannot equal either the pretty manner of the French or the tender manner of the Italians and so too, this music both vocal and instrumental is very poor. The English are not much better at music than the Dutch and they are fairly bad."
After hearing the organ in Trinity College Chapel, he admits that
"the English excel especially herein" though he adds "whereas on all other instruments they are mean performers ".
Whether Miss Fours who was a pupil of Schumann came into that category we do not know. Count Kielmansegg makes no comment on that concert of hers which he attended.
"She played" he tells us "entire concerts with one finger on a row of tuned wine glasses."
Von Uffenbach admits that he heard very good music at a London tavern, and saw there
"two matchless clavearis worth £200 each, a hundred years old and made by Hans Rucker of Antwerp".
A London tavern may seem a strange place at which to find good music; but many of these houses had their own clubs for singing and instrumental music or they would hire really good performers.
It must be admitted that the English did not think much of their own music. That the great Handel should have been welcomed and acclaimed was only his just due; but many mediocre performers were run after simply because they were foreign. Addison expressed strong disapproval of the Italian singers at the opera; but all London flocked to hear them. Lichtenberg speaks of
"that tinsel nutshell of a world, the Italian opera ", where he saw Dido Gabrieli, the Roman prima donna, "in gold and white silk, who rushed along at the head of a silver clad Carthaginian guard amid the applause of all London".
Foreign singers and musicians could command large salaries. Vanneschi, the Italian manager of Covent Garden, received three hundred guineas for the book of one of the operas. True he had to give a portion to his countryman Rolli; but the usual price, Walpole tells us, was fifty guineas. He was also allowed another three hundred guineas to go to Italy to pick up a cast. He returned with dancers and singers and also with a tailor as he declared that there were none in London. In spite of this slur on our sartorial talents the tailor was actually received and given four hundred pounds. Another Italian named Buggiani with his daughter and a fellow countryman returned to Italy after being in this country for three or four years. We are told that they "had made enough money to load a mule ". Giannetta Bacchelli, the Italian dancer, had such a fascination for the Duke of Dorset that he brought her to England with him, installed her at Knole, and to the horror of his family, gave her his Garter to wear as a hair ribbon with "honi soit qui mal y pense" in diamonds.
One of the results of the popularity of the Italian opera was that the Italian language was more widely studied. Educated men had learnt Italian; but now women began to study it too and often took candles with them to the opera in order to be able to follow the book. It strikes us as a dangerous practice and many dresses must have been ruined by candle-grease.
On the other hand Mme de Bocage tells us that "English words were sung by Italian performers". She declared that the Italian opera gave her much less pleasure than oratorios and that
"the declamation of the recitative makes us buy dearly a few pleasing airs, with which it terminates ".
She describes the entrance of Handel at one of his oratorios and how wax candles were carried before him and placed upon his organ.
"Amidst a loud clapping of hands" she says "he seats himself, and the whole band of music strikes up at exactly the same moment. At the interlude he plays concertos of his own composition, either alone or accompanied by the orchestra. These are equally admirable for the harmony and the execution."
Handel's rival, Buononcini, was thought by some to surpass the great master himself; but his popularity did not last. He left England under a cloud, having been accused of plagiarism.
Johann Christian Bach came to London in 1762 and gave a series of concerts and some of his own operas which were thought very fine. Many music lovers, who had scarcely heard of his father the great Bach, flocked to his concerts, talked about his exposition of the Manheim school, his fifteen operas and the oratorio he had written. He became music master to the Royal family and had many other pupils.
Baretti complains of the harshness of the English voice and the Englishman's ignorance of music.
"Their Beard, Campness, Miss Young and Mrs. Cibber" he says "would frighten you out of your senses if you heard them sing on the stage. Would you believe it that among all the thousands of beautiful women and young girls who gather here (London) from every part of the island in winter hardly a dozen have good voices, yet they have a passion for singing and hearing music, and pay highly for it and they fight against nature itself in making it the chief element in a woman's education. Most absurd of all, their faces remain as impassive as marble when they hear the best Italian singers."
An English audience would, no doubt, have appeared cold and undemonstrative to an Italian; but that the English cared for music there can be no doubt; the existence of the many music clubs and the large attendance at concerts is proof of this. Music, as Baretti says, was part of the education of all girls in the upper and middle classes. It enhanced their value as wives if they were able to play and sing to their husbands and their guests after dinner. No doubt a great many girls had music forced upon them when they had no taste or even ear for it; but that was the case in all other educational subjects. Boys were forced to learn the classics who had no aptitude for them, and they would have found it difficult to get even a smattering of science however much they might have desired it.
Pictures and Sculptures
If the foreign traveller tells us little about English music, he tells us even less about English art. Probably he considered it beneath his notice, for English painters were hardly known on the Continent. Baretti indeed admired Sir Joshua Reynolds. He speaks of Thrale's collection of portraits at Streatham as "all presented in the highest style of this great master".
In 1769 Baretti was appointed by the King (George III) Secretary for foreign correspondence to the Royal Academy, which had just been founded. This post carried no salary; but it was considered an honour and Baretti's appointment, which seems to have been popular, shows that, among artists at least, there was no prejudice against foreigners.
As in music so in art, native productions were held in low esteem even by Englishmen. Collectors preferred foreign paintings and when a man made a Grand Tour or visited the Continent later in life he generally brought back French or Italian works of art. He even preferred copies of Raphael or Andrea del Sarto to pictures by native artists. True, he might have his portrait or those of his family painted by Gainsborough or Romney, and Sir Joshua Reynolds was a fashionable painter, who would charge as much as two hundred guineas for a full length; but the wealthy Englishman looked upon English portraits as we regard photographs, and with the exception of Reynolds, did not think much of the men who painted them.
When the foreigner mentions art in England, he is generally admiring pictures which have been brought from the Continent.
"A great part" says Meister "of the most admired labours of Greece and Italy and of Rome, both ancient and modern, have for a century past been transported to this new Carthage, and are actually to be met with in the villas of this happy island."
The foreign decorative painters Ricci, Angelica Kauffman and Zucci set the fashion in England for frescoes and painted ceilings and the best of this work was executed by foreigners.
Many travellers criticized our architecture, as we have seen, and for the most part thought poorly of it. This is surprising when we consider how often the rich Englishman had provided copies of Italian architecture for their admiration.
"The heroes" Mme de Bocage says "in whose honour the city of London creates statues shine only by their reputation and not by the ability of the sculptors", and she considers "that correctness and elegance in writing and a just taste in architecture, painting and sculpture are still in their infant state".
|« NEXT »||« 18th Century Travellers »||« General Works »||« Library »||« Home »|