Georgian surprises

Hi, here's Jo reporting that the Georgian English were a clean, orderly people of notably robust good health, who never walked any distance if of the decent sort.

That's the account of Karl Philipp Moritz, a 26-year-old German pastor and teacher, as given in the short book, Travels in England in 1782. It's available on line from Gutenberg, and also free on the Kindleand probably other e-readers, and I recommend it. Unlike many similar journals he doesn't go on at length about the wonders of God's works, though he certainly mentions them; his lively mind is focussed on England and the English, whom he's generally inclined to admire. Iwas sorry to find that he died young at 37.


The book presented many surprises to me. Inn signs, for example. In my mind they hung outside the inn, but according to Moritz, they hung in the middle, from beams.

"The amazing large signs which at the entrance of villages hang in the middle of the street, being fastened to large beams, which are extended across the street from one house to another opposite to it, particularly struck me;" No wonder they were considered dangerous.

Everyone of the time agrees that London was constantly in a smog, though Moritz doesn't have that word to use. "We first descried it enveloped in a thick smoke or fog."

One thing surprised him as much as it surprises me. "One thing, in particular, struck and surprised me not a little.  This was the number of people we met riding and walking with spectacles on, among whom were many who appeared stout, healthy, and young." 

Later he puts this down to the brightness of coal fires, which tempt one to look into them, but then must damage the eyes. I certainly don't people my Georgian world with spectacle wearers!

He notes how busy the main London streets are, and then records, "There are everywhere leading from the Strand to the Thames, some well-built, lesser, or subordinate streets… There reigns in those smaller streets towards the Thames so pleasing a calm, compared to the tumult and bustle of people, and carriages,and horses, that are constantly going up and down the Strand, that in going into one of them you can hardly help fancying yourself removed at a distance from the noise of the city, even whilst the noisiest part of it is still so near at hand."

I experienced the same when I recently traced the route Georgia and Dracy take in A Scandalous Countess. She arrives by river at the York Stairs, seen in the painting here, and then travels by sedan chair to her father's house.


The York Stairs are notable for a noble arch, the York Gate, as seen in the picture, but it's now some distance from the river because the banks were built up — now called the Embankment. They go up Buckingham Street, shown on the left, one of those quiet streets.

K5813w view up Buckingham St

Here's a snippet from the book. Lord Dracy's previous encounter with Georgia Maybury had been when she'd been in mourning, and when her father had offered her as payment of a debt.

"Dracy stood beneath the stone arch of the York Gate, watching Lady Maybury approach, aware of a heart that beat too fast for the situation. A few weeks in the sanity of the countryside hadn't restored his mind at all. She'd haunted his dreams, and even in the day he'd fallen into trying to imagine her as his wife, in his home. Ridiculous, but he'd repaired the roof with her in mind, and even had the window repaired in the drawing room. That could have waited, but a drawing room was the lady's domain.

And here she came, a different woman to the one in his memories, and even less fitting for his dreams. Scandsm

Her broad straw hat was trimmed with pink ribbons and flowers and her hoop-spread gown was made of a pink-striped material. A bold choice with her loose copper hair. Moreover, she and her mother were not arriving in a common Thames wherry, but in a gilded barge rowed by six liveried men, two powdered footmen in attendance, and the Earl of Hernescroft's escutcheon on the side.

She inhabited a different world to his, and he'd best remember it.

He descended the stairs to meet the boat, but slowly, so that Lady Hernescroft had already takes a footman's hand to step out of the barge and he could offer his hand to Circe.

That open, sparkling smile hadn't been imagined. "Neatly done, Dracy. I see hope for you yet."

"Hope, Lady Maybury?"

"Of your social agility." She paused so her maid could fluff her skirts back into place. "I was surprised to find you were in Town."

"Suffering in the cause. Let's haste away from the stinking river to the slightly less stinking streets." He bowed to her mother. "Your chairs await, Lady Hernescroft."

Lady Hernescroft did not demand his escort, but swept ahead on the arm of the footman. Delightful to have a lady's mother as ally, but now it was even more puzzling.

The waiting sedan chairs were plain, but they too were not common ones, available for hire. They were Hernescroft ones, and the armed chairmen were in the earl's employ. Perhaps the family also had gilded, escutcheoned ones, but in the present climate with the people restless in hard times, the aristocracy did not draw attention to themselves on the London streets."

Moritz's visit took place 20 years later than the events in my book, but not much would have changed.

Here's another small surprise. I'm still puzzling over the exact meaning of his description of coffee. "I would always advise those who wish to drink coffee in England, to mention beforehand how many cups are to be made with half an ounce; or else the people will probably bring them a prodigious quantity of brown water."

Was the half ounce in a little packet, or weighed out at the time? From the above, I assume most English people liked their coffee weak. I have to admit that many English people still don't like strong coffee. In fact, many still prefer instant, which I find very odd.

And what about toast? I thought I knew what toast was then, but perhaps not. "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."

So I'm assuming they buttered thin slices of bread, piled them all onto a toasting fork, and then heated the lot until it was all butter soaked?

And here's a bit I'm definitely not including in any of my books.  "In the morning it is usual to walk out in a sort of negligee or morning dress, your hair not dressed, but merely rolled up in rollers, and in a frock and boots. "

The "frock" is a frock coat, but even so, I don't see this for the hero of a Georgian romance. 

Eventually, Moritz sets out to explore England — on foot. He's heading for the Peak District in Derbyshire, in the midlands.  He soon encounters a problem. Walkers are treated with deep suspicion. He's stared at, pointed at, and often refused lodging at inns. Even the kindest people only recommend that he travel by coach.

This attitude to walkers is worst near to London, but continues throughout his journey. He occasionally takes a coach, but dislikes being confined in a box, unable to appreciate the passing countryside as it goes by too fast. On one journey he rides outside — ie on the top — and finds it terrifying. He's previously described it from an objective point of view. "Persons to whom it is not convenient to pay a full price, instead of the inside, sit on the top of the coach, without any seats or even a rail.  By what means passengers thus fasten themselves securely on the roof of these vehicles, I know not; but you constantly see numbers seated there, apparently at their ease, and in perfect safety." He finds that he has a handle to hold onto, and that it isn't enough to make him feel safe.

As I said, a little book well worth reading. His description of his guided tour of the Derbyshire caves is both fascinating and hair-raising.

Does any of the above surprise you?

Do you have any other travel accounts from the 18th century to recommend?

Any other comments arising? Alsfrontsm

Because traveling is the theme, I'll give a copy of A Lady's Secret to a random selection from any substantial comments here.

A Scandalous Countess is getting great reviews, and will be out on February 7th. I'll be back to tell you more about it around then.