FROM the days of the Ancient Britons there have been foreign travellers in England. The Phoenicians came here to trade in tin, during the Roman occupation there were visitors from the Continent, and there were other invaders, Jutes, Saxons, Danes and Northmen. Doubtless there were travellers who came in the wake of the conquerors, traders and others. There were the early Christian missionaries and later the itinerant friars. The Jewish money-lenders arrived and the Lombards from Italy, Flemish merchants who had heard of the excellence of English wool. There were even a few traders from the east. While communications were very difficult and travel dangerous few risked the journey to an island which was generally regarded as the land of barbarians, shrouded in impenetrable fogs and inhabited by a fierce, brutish people of uncivilized habits, who, it was said, ate raw meat and had no wine fit for a discerning palate. By the seventeenth century travel had become easier and less perilous. Englishmen had been seen on the Continent, who appeared to be quite tame and even moderately civilized. The Huguenots had found in Britain a happy asylum where they could worship unmolested, trade was increasing and, for one reason or another, the foreign traveller came in increasing numbers. In the early days of the eighteenth century there was quite an influx, as Englishmen noticed with disgust. Those Dutchmen whom William III brought over, or who followed him here, were not looked upon with favour. There was a blessed interval under Queen Anne when few foreigners came and then George I arrived, bringing with him a horde of Hanoverians, mistresses, place-hunters and servants. They were all rapacious, the Englishman declared; they all wanted to batten on the country; the King's mistresses were old and ugly and the monarch only spoke German and had unbecoming ideas about economy. On the heels of this horde of courtiers and hangers-on came a crowd of hungry Germans, some of whom settled in and upon the country. Others arrived to stay with their relatives or to travel about England. By the end of the century it was computed that 30,000 Germans were living in London.
England was, in fact, a sort of El Dorado, "That land whose very name is music in our German ears" as one enthusiastic traveller termed it. Here they had more liberty than in their own countries — indeed most travellers, whether they were Germans, French, Swiss or Portuguese, harped upon the blessings of English liberty; the standard of living was, on the whole, higher than on the Continent and the mass of the people were better off. The French republican traveller Meister thought, indeed, that they were too well off. "Why" he demands "is the soil of England so well cultivated? It is because England is rich."
"Why is England the seat of liberty? It is because England is rich."
"Why does England, at present, pay so little regard to the attainments of art and literature? It is because England is too rich."
"Why is not England more peaceable and happy? It is because England is too rich. Gold is the sun of the nation."
Whether men were attracted by this sun and came to bask in it and trade, or whether they came to visit relations, or as mere tourists, there is no doubt that a steady flow of foreigners came into this country during the century. They saw England from many angles, they were biased by their education and their preconceived ideas. Some of them, like Sophie de la Roche, gushed over its merits and beauties and excused the coarseness of manners on the plea that it was essentially English, others like von Uffenbach could see very little that was good in the people or the country and were glad to leave it.
In this book it is proposed to give some account of what the foreigner saw in England, how he travelled and was entertained, whether he liked his hosts, and what they thought of him, and his various reactions to what he saw and experienced.