Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Karl Moritz

Frederick II of Prussia

Karl Moritz was a young Prussian clergyman who in 1782, during the reign of Frederick II, spent seven weeks travelling in England, much of the time on foot because of limited finances. He wrote an account of his travels in letters which were translated into English and first published in 1795. An online version can be found here and a free Kindle version here.

The account is a short but fascinating insight into eighteenth century life as it appeared to his admittedly anglophile viewpoint. Here are a few extracts.

It gives me real pleasure when I walk from Charing Cross up the Strand, past St Paul's to the Royal Exchange, to meet in the thickest crowd persons from the highest to the lowest ranks, almost all well-looking people, and cleanly and neatly dressed. I rarely see even a fellow with a wheel-barrow who has not a shirt on, and that, too, such a one as shows it has been washed; nor even a beggar without both shirt and shoes and stockings. The English are certainly distinguished for cleanliness.

The next morning I put on clean linen, which I had along with me, and dressed myself as well as I could. And now, when I made my appearance, they did not, as they had the evening before, show me into the kitchen, but into the parlour, a room that seemed to be allotted for strangers on the ground-floor. I was also now addressed by the most respectful term, "sir;" whereas the evening before I had been called only "master": by this latter appellation, I believe, it is usual to address only farmers and quite common people.

Bread and butter.
The slices of bread and butter, which they give you with your tea, are as thin as poppy leaves. But there is another kind of bread and butter usually eaten with tea, which is toasted by the fire, and is incomparably good. You take one slice after the other and hold it to the fire on a fork till the butter is melted, so that it penetrates a number of slices at once: this is called toast.

It is something uncommon here to meet a young man, and more especially a boy, with a pale or sallow face, with deformed features, or disproportioned limbs. With us, alas! it is very much otherwise; if it were not, handsome people would hardly strike us so very much as they do in this country.

It strikes a foreigner as something particular and unusual when, on passing through these fine English towns, he observed one of those circumstances by which towns in Germany are distinguished from the villages - no walls, no gates, no sentries, nor garrisons. No stern examiner comes here to search and inspect us or our baggage; no imperious guard here demands a sight of our passports; perfectly free and unmolested, we walk through villages and towns as unconcerned as we should through a house of our own.


James Higham said...

The English are certainly distinguished for cleanliness.

Cf the dog poop on the pavement in London today.

Demetrius said...

The Laki volcano went up the following year and it all began to change.

A K Haart said...

JH - maybe Karl was so used to human poop, he wouldn't notice.

D - and the linen shirts may have come in from the washing-line in a dirtier state than they went out.