« PreviousContinue »
As I allot this section entirely to that part of Mr. Gray's life, which he spent in travelling through France and Italy, my province will be chiefly that of an Editor; and my only care to select, from a large collection of letters written to his parents and to his friend Mr. West, those parts which, I imagine, will be most likely either to inform or amuse the reader. The multiplicity of accounts, published both before and after the time when these letters were written, of those very places which Mr. Gray describes, will necessarily take from them much of their novelty; yet the elegant ease of his epistolary style has a charm in it for all readers of true taste, that will make every apology of this sort needless. They will perceive, that as these letters were written without even the most distant view of publication, they are essentially different in their manner of description from any other that have either preceded or followed them; add to this, that they are interspersed occasionally with some exquisitely finished pieces of Latin poetry, which he composed on the spot for the entertainment of his friend. But, not to anticipate any part of the reader's pleasure, I shall only further say, to forewarn him of a disappointment, that this correspondence is defective towards the end, and includes no description either of Venice or its territory; the last places which Mr. Gray visited. This defect was occasioned by an unfortunate disagreement between him and Mr. Walpole, arising from the difference of their tempers. The former being, from his earliest years, curious, pensive, and philosophical ; the latter gay, lively, and consequently inconsiderate: *this therefore occasioned their separation at Reggio. Mr. Gray went before him to Venice; and staying there only till he could find means of returning to England, he made the best of his way home, repassing the Alps, and following almost the same route through France by which he had before gone to Italy.
MR. GRAY TO HIS MOTHER.
Amiens, April 1, N. S. 1739. As we made but a very short journey today, and came to our inn early, I sit down to give you some account of our expedition. On the 29th, (according to the style here) we left Dover at twelve at noon, and with a pretty brisk gale, which pleased every body mighty well, except myself, who was extremely sick the whole time: we reached Calais by five: The weather changed, and it began to snow hard the minute we came into the harbour, where we took the boat, and soon landed. Calais is an exceeding old, but very pretty town, and we hardly saw any thing there that was not so new and so different from England, that it surprised us agreeably. We went the next morning to the great church, and were at high mass (it being Easter Monday). We saw also the Convent of the Capuchins, and the nuns of St. Dominic; with these last we held much conversation, especially with an English nun, a Mrs. Davis, of whose work I sent you, by the return of the packet, a letter-case to rememher her by. In the afternoon we took a postchaise (it still snowing very hard) for Boulogne, which was only eighteen miles further. This chaise is a strange sort of conveyance, of much greater use than beauty, resembling an ill-shaped chariot, only with the door opening before instead of the side; three horses draw it, one between the shafts, and the other two on each side, on one of which the postillion rides, and drives too:* This vehicle will, upon occasion, go fourscore miles a-day; but Mr. Walpole, being in no hurry, chooses to make easy journeys of it, and they are easy ones indeed; for the motion is much like that of a sedan; we go about six miles an hour, and commonly change horses at the end of it: It is true they are no very graceful steeds, but they go well, and through roads which they say are bad for France, but to me they seem gravel walks and bowling-greens; in short, it would be the finest travelling in the world, were it not for the inns,
* In justice to the memory of so respectable a friend, Mr. Walpole enjoins me to charge himself with the chief blame in their quarrel; confessing that more attention and complaisance, more deference to a warm friendship, superior judgment and prudence, might have prevented a rupture that gave much uneasiness to them both, and a lasting concern to the survivor ; though, in the year 1744, a reconciliation was effected between them, by a lady who wished well to both parties.
This was before the introduction of post-chaises here, else it would not have appeared a circumstance worthy notice.
which are mostly terrible places indeed. But to describe our progress, somewhat more regularly, we came into Boulogne when it was almost dark, and went out pretty early on Tuesday morning, so that all I can say about it is, that it is a large, old, fortified town, with more English in it than French. , On Tuesday we were to go to Abbéville, seventeen leagues, or fifty-one short English miles; but by the way we dined at Montreuil, much to our hearts' content, on stinking mutton cutlets, addled eggs, and ditch water. Madame, the hostess, made her appearance in long lappets of bone lace and a sack of linsey-woolsey. We supped and lodged pretty well at Abbéville, and had time to see a little of it before we came out this morning. There are seventeen convents in it, out of which we saw the chapels of the Minims and the Carmel
We are now come further thirty miles to Amiens, the chief city of the province of Picardy. We have seen the cathedral, which is just what that of Canterbury must have been before the Reformation. It is about the same size, a huge Gothic building, beset on the outside with thousands of small statues, and within adorned with beautiful painted windows, and a vast number of chapels dressed out in all their finery of altarpieces, embroidery, gilding, and marble. Over the high altar are preserved, in a very large wrought shrine of massy gold, the reliques of St. Firmin, their patron saint. We went also to the chapels of the Jesuits and Ursuline nuns, the latter of which is very richly adorned. To-morrow we shall lie at Clermont, and next day reach Paris. The country we have passed through hitherto has
been flat, open, but agreeably diversified with villages, fields well-cultivated, and little rivers. On every hillock is a wind-mill, a crucifix, or a Virgin Mary dressed in flowers, and a sarcenet robe; one sees not many people or carriages on the road ; now and then indeed you meet a strolling friar, a countryman with his great muff, or a woman riding astride on a little ass, with short petticoats, and a great head-dress of blue wool. * * *
MR. GRAY TO MR, WEST.
Paris, April 12, 1739. Enfin, donc, me voici à Paris. Mr. Walpole is gone out to supper at Lord Conway's, and here I remain alone, though invited too. Do not think I make a merit of writing to you preferably to a good supper; for these three days we have been here have actually given me an aversion to eating in general. If hunger be the best sauce to meat, the French are certainly the worst cooks in the world; for what tables we have seen have been so delicately served, and so profusely, that, after rising from one of them, one imagines it impossible ever to eat again. And now, if I tell you all I have in my head, you will believe me mad, mais n'importe, courage, allons ! for if I wait till my head grow clear and settle a little, you may stay long enough for a letter. Six days have we been coming hither, which other people do in two; they have not been disagreeable ones; through