Littell's Living Age/Volume 157/Issue 2026/Scenes During the Winter of 1794-5
In the summer of 1794, when all Europe was in a state of commotion and agitation, two young Englishmen were quietly amusing themselves by visiting all the private and public collections of ornithology in Holland, for the purpose of obtaining water-color drawings of such birds as had not hitherto been named or described.
After a highly successful and interesting tour, they had reached the Hague, and were studying the pictures in the Stadtholder's galleries, when a sudden stop was put to their peaceful occupations, by the appointment of the elder of the two, Captain Woodford of the Guards, to be commissary-general and inspector-in-chief of the so-called "Emigrant Corps," which, though containing but few actual soldiers, had been taken into the English service out of charity and as the best means of providing for some of the unfortunate French emigrant nobility. Captain Woodford, on accepting this appointment, asked his friend Ramsay Richard Reinagle, afterwards a well-known artist, to remain with him as his private secretary; and it is from the papers of the latter, who was then a very young man, that the following account of the terrible winter of 1794-5 has been compiled.
It will be remembered that the National Convention of France had declared war against both George III. and the Stadtholder, and that a body of English and Hanoverian troops under command of the king's son, the Duke of York, had been despatched to Holland for the protection of the country. The French, under General Pichegru, far outnumbered them, however, and the duke had been obliged to retire first behind the Meuse and then along the Waal to Nimeguen, closely followed by the enemy, who encamped in great force in the environs of the town.
Just at this time, early in October, Captain Woodford and his secretary, who were on their way to Dusseldorf, halted for nine day's at Nimeguen, and we have the following description of the scene the place presented: —
- Before reaching the bridge of boats thrown across the Rhine by order of the Duke of York, we saw, stationed on the banks of the river, all the heavy baggage of the army, likewise a mass of Hanoverians encamped. This portion of the army and baggage-wagons extended more than a mile.
- The bustle of troops, foot and horse, Hulans, Hussars, pioneers, camp-followers, baggage-wagons, munitions of war, wagons with forage of all kinds, cannon, artillery-wagons, strangers, and the agonized townspeople — would baffle the pen of any one to fully describe. Drum-beating, bugle-blowing, trumpet-calls, hallooing, roaring, screaming, disputing, fighting, knocking down every overturnable thing day and night, did really fill us with ample notions of war and its more serious and approaching consequences.
- All the ornamental trees on both sides of each road leading to and from the city were cut down and laid across the said roads, as barricades to the advance of the French. The enemy were so near us that if any one went on the ramparts he was sure to be fired at. I was mortified at being forbidden by Captain Woodford to attempt such a thing. I feared nothing.
- I observed that, go into whatever house I would, the people were drinking tea day and night; their teapots being always close to their turf fires. Bread and butter sliced was in constant readiness; so too were batter-roams, a sandwich made of buttered bread, a thin slice of dark rye-bread, and a thin slice of the best cheese.
- All was honesty; no bargaining required. The prince, the duke, and the poor man, all paid alike.
- The passing through the town day and night of wagons filled with various stores, on their way to the military bridge, occasioned prodigious noises of all descriptions. Many heavy pieces of artillery, each drawn by ten horses, passed through with caissons and ammunition-wagons, leaving about five or six regiments in the entrenched camp.
- Day and night, this scene of the passing and repassing of every military requisite continued, impressing the mind of the uninitiated with the desperate character of war. Troops, horses and men filled all the streets. The latter were converted into roofless stables. We observed multitudes of horses haltered, and left six and eight hours unattended to. The neighing of these hundreds of animals, apparently calling for food, added new noises to those described; and, with the dexterous cracking of long-thonged whips and the occasional firing of muskets for sport, made such a combination as can never be adequately described in words.
- The French were within two musket-shots of the place and kept up a perpetual fire.
- A gale of wind and drizzling rain prevented my sketching the mingled groups of wagoners and soldiers. The wagons, groups of horses of all colors. etc., reminded us of Wouverman's beautiful military pictures. On the dyke or road above, there were light horse, foot-soldiers, horses, horses of all sorts roped to the wagons, some of which were in motion, others stationary; and all these various objects seen beneath a stormy sky, made the finest sight an artist could behold!
But the weather and the fear of being taken for a spy compelled the artist, much against his will, to refrain from making any use of these picturesque materials. Captain Woodford left Nimeguen about the middle of October, and in less than three weeks after it was in the hands of the French. Meanwhile the latter had entered Cologne on the 6th; Juliers had already surrendered and was followed by Venlo, Nuys, Bonn, Coblentz, Worms, etc., so that it was no longer possible for reinforcements to arrive from Germany. In ignorance of this, however, the commissary proceeded on his way; and, writes Mr. Reinagle: —
- As we slowly progressed, our feelings were harrowed to witness on both sides, and in the middle of the road, multitudes of French emigrants, literally up to their knees in bitter cold mud, carrying their knapsacks and large bundles on their backs — people of all grades, high and low, among whom was the Duc de Mortemart with his officers and a few men retreating or flying from Dusseldorf!
- These miserable emigrants informed us that so successful were the sans-culottes that they fired the fortress in five places at once, burnt part of the palace, and drove out all who could walk or procure horses; from which perpetual wearing of the roads, they ceased to have any appearance of such, but were vast mud-pools. These fugitives fled from Cleves, Bonn, Cologne, and other towns.
- When we arrived at our next station, there was a woman who was very kind to us, an event quite remarkable and deserving of note, for we found no feelings of humanity anywhere. Men and women were alike brutalized.
- Troops were scattered all along the roads we travelled on, creeping at a slow foot-pace. The weather and the mud roads were alike unequalled. Our horses were so bespattered that they and the roads were of the same color, postilions the same. The emigrants were in swarms, numbers filling every hole, eating everything digestible. We arrived in Wesel, a Prussian fortress, and a detestable, dirty and miserable rat-hole we found it. Here we got, however, a supper and pretty fair wine, also beds, which we enjoyed prodigiously, having lived in our carriages, sleeping in them when the inns were crammed. Finding it inadvisable to continue our journey, on the next day we turned our horses' heads; for indeed we could go no farther on account of the bombardment of Dusseldorf. The emigration from so many places at once, and the dispersion of the officers whom we were going to meet, absolutely occasioned the most precipitate retreat; as these unfortunate French people were refused at every door every kind of shelter or covering from the weather, nor could money tempt these brutish wretches of the country to give them lodging.
Mr. Reinagle goes on to say that it was impossible fully to describe the harrowing scenes he witnessed, or the indignation he felt at seeing ladies of quality plunging knee-deep through filthy slush, with bundles under their arms; for the carts, wagons, coaches at their disposal were nothing like enough to hold them all; while worse still, no one could insure them the smallest protection; they were refused shelter everywhere, and were hated and despised by their imagined friends, the Prussian princes, nobles and others. And yet, amid all this incredible misery and sorrow, these unhappy creatures were apparently cheerful and defied all manner of hardships and privations, aggravated as these were by the altogether unprecedented weather. The month of November was very variable, there being now heavy falls of snow and intervals of intense cold and then sudden thaws, but the frost did not regularly set in until December.
Captain Woodford returned to Utrecht, and while there Mr. Reinagle thought he would take a sketch of the "old, decayed, insignificant towers of the so-called fortifications of the city."
Snow had fallen to a depth of five inches, and while the artist was intent on sharpening his black chalk, a Dutch soldier, armed, came noiselessly up behind him and, suddenly tapping him on the shoulder, ordered him to follow him to the guard-house, which was about a mile off. Arrived there, the sentinel announced that a spy had been taken in the very act of making drawings of the fortifications.
- I was shoved into the presence of the officer on duty, three or four others sitting listlessly by, and seeming quite indifferent to what was going on.
- The officer took the initiative, and began by bestowing praise on the soldier for the laudable act of duty he had performed. He then inquired, (all in Dutch, which I understood) where I had been detected in the rascally act.
- These words made me smile and bow. I stood, of course.
- The dignity of Mynheer the Lieutenant seemed to rise as he proceeded, and having heard the long rigmarole story of the soldier, which was most amusing to me, he began by asking in Dutch, what country I belonged to, my business or profession.
- I replied in French, telling him that I had not the honor of being able to speak Dutch, but that I understood every word.
- "You ought to speak it," said he; "don't you hear me speak?"
- "Yes," I replied, "but, captain, that does not enable me to follow the example."
- "Why," he said, "spies can speak ever so many languages. Where did I live?"
- "In the mansion of Count Bentinck."
- "Impossible. Do you, fellow, speak my language, and don't bother me with, your French, for I can't well understand all you say."
- So we went on for an hour, he thundering his Dutch, I parrying in French. Then he appealed to the idle officers and consulted them; but they said they could not interfere, he must act on his own responsibility and according to his instructions.
- "Oh! ah! yes! I know that." Then addressing the soldier, he went on: —
- "I tell you what, Soldaten, take good care not to bring me fellows who can't speak Dutch. Take care you learn that first, and don't bother me to examine people whom I can't understand. Here, Mr. Artist, as you can't speak Dutch and I can't French, you may go about your business."
- "Well then," I said, "I shall return and try to do what your soldier prevented me from doing."
- I was not forbidden, and left the officer with a bow, he calling after me, "Mind, I shall make inquiries about you and your statement about Count Bentinck, and woe betide you if it is false."
- "We are so close to his house," I said, "I wonder you did not despatch a military messenger thither; it would have spared much loss of time and all this questioning and answering of one another in two languages, one of which you could barely understand."
- "Well, that's true; so you may go," and away I went through the snow.
Captain Woodford had intended to remain a month in Utrecht, but the approach of the French advanced guard soon put him to flight, and he had to depart in haste, having but one day in which to pack and be off.
By this time the winter had set in with bitter severity, and heavy falls of snow impeded their flight. Several splendid horses, worth £80 a piece, were purchased for sums varying from £15 to £20; four fine black ones for Captain Woodford's carriage — two for the curricle driven by his secretary, and four for the Hussar and three servants who attended them — so the train was a conspicuous one. Their route lay east in the direction of Deventer, and their usual pace was one mile an hour over sandy roads, rendered still more heavy by the deep snow. The flatness and dreariness were intolerable; all was heath and sand, and neither man nor beast, tree, house, or even bush appeared to break the intense monotony of the scene. Perhaps it was to relieve this monotony that before reaching the village of Loo, they turned out of their way to visit the palace of William III., an ancient edifice, which had been maintained in every particular as he left it. From the palace they went to the menagerie, where Mr. Reinagle seems to have been extremely impressed by the sight of two elephants, animals which were apparently quite new to him, for he describes with great admiration the wonderful strength and dexterity of their trunks, and naively remarks: "The keeper told the male to roar. He did so, and it was so terribly loud, that I felt frightened, I was then twenty years of age."
The frost had now been for some weeks so awfully severe that when the sun shone the air glittered like minute diamonds. There were fifty degrees of frost, and the ice was three or four feet thick. Some little time previously, the Dutch government had ordered the dykes to be cut; but the flood of water was speedily converted into a sheet of ice, which offered little or no hindrance to the advance of the enemy. The latter had contrived an ingenious device by which to cross the river Leek. Bundles of straw were tied close together with strong ropes, until they formed a straw platform thirty or forty yards wide, which was firmly attached to either bank, the river being at that time passable by boat. In one night the water froze over the straw, and in a few days a bridge of ice was formed, strong enough to allow the safe passage of troops, wagons and horses. In a week the first artillery were able to cross, and in two or three more days the river ice was a foot thick and growing every night thicker and thicker.
While the party remained at Loo, Mr. Reinagle visited the menagerie daily, and skated on the ornamental water, where the ice was three feet thick and of a very dark black green. He had great difficulty in keeping himself warm enough even to put on his skates, and noticed that all the birds, Indian pigeons, silver pheasants, etc., had their legs "frozen, swollen, and burst," and must have been suffering intensely.
Captain Woodford was at this time making every endeavor to find some safe asylum for the unhappy "Emigrant Corps," and had applied to all the petty principalities in the north of Germany — Darmstadt, Detmold, Philipstadt, Paderborn, etc. — but in vain, not one would listen to his entreaties. At last he had the good fortune to meet with a M. Devaux, a Fleming, and after some time spent in negotiations as to terms, etc., this gentleman undertook to persuade the Prince of Waldeck to allow the worn-out wanderers to take refuge in Pyrmont, and promised to discount bills, and provide lodgings, horses, baggage-wagons, forage and all other necessaries. This good news brought relief and joy to multitudes, for fear and hatred had closed every heart and door against them; the Dutch hated the English with all their hearts, and not, it is to be feared, without serious cause. It happened that while a body of our troops were at Arnheim, a Dutch soldier fired at a young drummer who had wandered to the edge of the river, and killed him on the spot.
"Our men were so fired with rage that no opportunity was lost for a row. Farmhouses, ricks of grain, hay, clover, etc., were to be seen blazing night after night, and many a secret murder was committed on both sides."
Moreover the Dutch, though greatly divided, were for the most part favorable to the French, who announced that they waged war not against peoples, but governments; and Friesland had agreed to terms of peace and unity with the Stadtholder's enemies as early as the middle of October. Such adherents as he had were yet further discouraged by the return of the Duke of York to England at the beginning of December, and he himself was obliged to fly from the Hague soon after, escaping to Harwich in an open boat on the 19th of January.
Meanwhile the French had crossed the river Waal in the middle of December, but had been gallantly driven back by General Dundas and his eight thousand men a fortnight later. General Pichegru, however, speedily assembled a force of two hundred thousand men, who crossed the Waal again in such numbers on January 4, that the English had no alternative but to beat a hasty retreat.
Prince Ernest, Duke of Cumberland, afterwards king of Hanover, then three-and-twenty years of age commanded the rear-guard.
The sufferings of the troops were something appalling; for though thousands of their countrywomen at home had been busy making up loose cloaks, coats, trousers and waistcoats of flannel, the prince assured Captain Woodford with great concern that not a single article had ever reached the army. Moreover, the English had a concealed enemy in every town and village; no one was willing to do them any service and, "Nothing for the Englishman" was the general cry.
It must have been after the fearful night of the 16th of January, when such numbers perished, that Prince Ernest reached the captain's cottage at Loo.
- He came in to us half frozen, clothed all over in thick flannel, praying for a cup of hot tea. He was so buttoned up, we were not aware of the dignity of our frozen, half-starved visitor. As the tea was preparing, he told us he had lost his way on Deventer Common, that prodigious waste, and had been seventeen hours on horseback, neither he nor his horse having had any sort of refreshment. He told us that when daylight appeared he beheld a most heart-breaking sight, 800 men, women, and children frozen to death, and covering the snow two or three feet deep. The following night, 900 lives were lost in the same way. No route had been given to the retreating army. Few officers were with them; the men were led by sergeants only; all they knew was that they were to fly eastward. No man of the army or commissariat knew of Deventer Common.
- The prince gradually unfastened his coats, when we discovered a British star on his breast, and our soldiers hinted who our guest was. Soon after his arrival, the troops came crowding up to our cottage. So exhausted were the women and children, so famished, so cold, that, what with them and the men of all sorts calling to each other, women weeping and imploring for food and tea, few, if any, scenes could surpass it. Orders had been given to our Hussar and valet to scour the scattered village and buy all the tobacco-pipes to be had, and all the tobacco, which cost the captain £20.
- Others of our men hauled by ropes several loose trunks of trees and made a vast pile, with heaps of faggots, straw, etc., and shortly a blazing fire was made and soon surrounded. A distribution was made of the pipes and tobacco, which to numbers was equal to food. Hussars and Hulans marched past us, their horses' noses all frozen, and long icicles hanging from their chins. Every trooper had his whiskers and moustachios frozen thick from their breath.
- Suddenly a violent scream of joy was uttered by a soldier's wife, who had an infant in her arms. A son of hers, one of our drummers, supposed to have been shot three weeks before, had wandered with the flying soldiers, and stood at our door.
- What with the sound of lamentations, the greetings of friends who had supposed each other shot or frozen to death, the shouts of inquiry for this or that troop, etc., etc., the scene was altogether simply indescribable.
- None of our men, not one, I truthfully declare, had a great-coat. Many had a worn-out blanket skewered across their shoulders. I saw not one man with whole shoes all had scarcely a shoe left; numbers had their toes frozen off, numbers their noses; exhaustion was universal. The march continued all day and all night, for three days, every creature asking in what direction stood the town of Deventer.
- Our valet and the Hussar-courier were sent the next day to Deventer for provisions, and on their arrival found all the bakers' shops closed, as well as most others, from the dread of pillage. The soldiers roared out to the bakers that if they refused any longer to furnish them bread, they would set fire to their houses. From the windows the alarmed bakers promised to have a large batch ready by midday. The hurly-burly in the streets was terrific. Twelve o'clock came; the doors were opened, when a furious rush was made to seize the hot bread and devour it. Those who were in could not get out for the rush and pressure outside. Confusion indescribable followed. Those who got the bread devoured it voraciously, and many, very many, soon died in consequence.
- To clear the way and open a passage, bread was thrown out, which caused a riotous scramble. In a few minutes all the bread was carried off, and the bakers, to save pillage, engaged to make more as fast as it was possible.
It was about this time, or perhaps rather earlier, that the young artist was despatched alone to Amsterdam, probably on some business connected with the "Emigrant Corps."
He travelled by the canal, the ice of which, though broken by the frequent passage of barges, had been frozen together again, and was now tossed and piled up in the most fantastic manner possible.
The noise made by the barge in which he travelled was most terrific, as it crashed through the ice, and resembled "ten thousand roaring claps of thunder all at once, with now and then a roar of cannon."
This noise continued all the way, and as it grew dark the barge came more frequently in collision with huge masses of ice, which seemed to threaten instant destruction.
Reaching Amsterdam after nine hours' travelling, he set out in search of the hotel or tavern to which he was instructed to go, and after running about all over the city for two hours, found it. Though situated in one of the principal streets, it seemed that "no one had ever heard of it."
The sun shone brightly the next morning, and Mr. Reinagle was out early and went down to the canal, where his attention was arrested by a very shocking spectacle. A poor old woman had missed her way in the darkness, and had fallen over the edge of the street into the canal.
At that time it was the law in Amsterdam that when any case of drowning was discovered, the person who first found the body should tie a rope round one of the wrists and raise it half out of the water, as close to the parapet as possible. Having tied the rope to the nearest tree or pile, he was immediately to go to the hospital and give information; then the authorities would send for the unfortunate person, who would be taken to the infirmary, and the informer would receive a rix-dollar (about 4s. 4d.). If the body should be claimed by relations or friends, it would be given up to them on payment of twelve guilders (about a guinea).
No one dared take the drowned person out of the canal until the hospital authorities had been communicated with, unless it was evident that life was not extinct.
In that case any one might act, and the owners of the nearest hotel were obliged instantly to warm a bed, in a room with a fire, and keep the body warm until the arrival of the nearest surgeon, who was bound to come with all possible speed and do his utmost to restore animation. Such were the police regulations ninety years ago; and accordingly when Mr. Reinagle saw the poor woman mentioned above, she was tied by the arm to a tree, the person who had found her being gone to give information.
On his return journey, Mr. Reinagle travelled by land in a post-chariot, so called, which was "nothing so good as a light wagon — one of the most infernal machines ever made by man, and the very best to overturn his senses." He had hired "what was called the roof or best seat," which exposed the passenger to all the inclemency of the weather except downright rain, against which the tarpaulin covering offered some protection. "The day was cloudless, the air all glittering;" and they travelled against the wind, which seemed to extract every particle of heat from their bodies. The carriage was open at both ends, and the wind whistled round them fiercely. "All was loose and rattling, as if no one part" of the vehicle were firmly joined to another. Under the wooden axle were fastened two hollow brass pans of large size, like cymbals, the noise of which, added to all the rest, seems to have driven the unfortunate artist well-nigh distracted, and completely baffled all his powers of description.
He was told that these brass pans were only allowed to "posting-wagons," and were intended to warn other travellers of their approach, and he writes: —
- I feel sure that we inside could not have heard a cannon had it been fired close to us and so this maddening mass of noises continued all night.
- I who was in vigorous health and naturally strong, was so weakened and made so feeble that I literally could not walk such were the effects of jolting, twisting, turning, together with the intensely cold wind whirling round my head. My inside was so shaken, that I was in severe pain, had violent headache, and was so feeble that when seated in a chair I was quite unable to rise again.
Matters being now arranged with the Prince of Waldeck, the travellers once more set out on their terrible journey.
"Here," says Mr. Reinagle, "was an English army sent to protect Holland which never waited to be fired on. No wonder we were despised, scoffed at, and scouted."
These unfortunate, ragged troops, not a man of whom had a great-coat, had to march in the teeth of a furious north-easterly gale, which made the cold more intense, and whirled the dry, powdery snow and sand aloft in dense clouds, sweeping the ground almost bare in some places, and piling up drifts from ten to twenty feet deep in others. Snow fell for several days together, or rather hardly seemed to fall at all, owing to the fierceness of the wind, though the air was filled with it. Women and children were screaming from the intense cold and want of food, and the miserable troops, after halting for a few hours, were obliged to move on without their rations, to make room for those who followed.
Some officers, who were acquainted with Captain Woodford and came to his quarters one morning, half starved and nearly frozen to death, to ask for some breakfast, reported that they had passed hundreds of men on the way, who had lain down on the snow from sheer inability to proceed any farther, and had there perished. It was, they said, like a bloody field of battle — dead men lying on all sides and also women and children.
M. Devaux's "genius overcame all obstacles," we are told; but notwithstanding his energy and ability, dire perplexity prevailed at times; orders and counter orders were received, and no one knew what to do.
M. Moreau de Beauregard, one of Captain Woodford's secretaries, "a capital, cheerful-spirited French man," chose to walk, in order to avoid the confusion which attended the departure from Deventer, owing to some misunderstanding which obliged the rest of the party to retrace their steps once or twice.
Six miles beyond Deventer, it was agreed that the commissary's party should halt at two small cottages, where, however, they soon found that the people were unwilling to admit them, or help them in any way. The cook produced his provisions, but both bread and meat were frozen solid, and had to be chopped with an axe, so that nothing could be done with either until they were thawed, which was not for an hour or two. Fortunately for themselves, they carried provisions with them, as well as all sorts of cooking utensils, tea-kettles, mugs, jugs, butter and cheese, for they did not expect to find anything, it seems, in "miserable Westphalia." There being no beds, they slept on the floor in their clothes; but the peasants, who had admitted them quite against their will, had in the mean time climbed up to the chimney outside and stuffed it up with hay or straw, and had also quietly fastened the door of the room occupied by Captain Woodford's party, all of whom but Mr. Reinagle were sound asleep, and, but for his vigilance, must have been suffocated. It was impossible to get out of their prison; but by dint of great effort, they succeeded in wrenching open a window, and the smoke slowly escaped, but the cold wind came in, and they dared not extinguish the fire; so in this plight they had to remain till morning, when a party of soldiers arrived, set them at liberty, and removed the straw. Not one of the peasants was to be seen; but in the chimney were found nearly twenty hams and plenty of beef, which the starving troops did not suffer to remain there long.
The sun shone in full splendor as the train once more started, but the air was thick with drifting snow, fine and dry as dust. The troops followed in crowds, and what with men, horses, baggage-wagon forage-wagons, etc., it was difficult to find a passage; where the wind had swept away the snow, the road was all ice. Artillery now choked the way; and the cook's heavy wagon, which was like a little shop, from the number and variety of the things it contained, was overturned, but was got on its wheels again with great labor and trouble.
At Ghoor Mr. Reinagle discovered that he was the only sufferer by a theft which had been committed at some previous halting-place on the road. The luggage had all been piled in the vestibule of the inn; and the door being left temptingly open, while every one flew to the fires to try and get a little warmth into him, some thief availed himself of the opportunity and carried off the seat of the curricle, which chanced to be uppermost, and contained all the worldly goods Mr. Reinagle had brought with him.
- Everything I had [he writes] was packed in the curricle-seat — clothes, boots, shoes, shaving tackle, letters, memoranda, and, to my grief, my journal, containing descriptions and drawings of fine pictures, costumes of various provinces, peculiarities of divers kinds too numerous to catalogue. I could bear with patience the loss of all my effects, as I could procure others; but my elaborate journal nothing could compensate for; and though it is now sixty years since the loss, I have not ceased grieving whenever it crosses my mind.
Frederick the valet, a valuable servant who acted as interpreter with the country people, had unfortunately been left behind on the road, looking for his horse, or he no doubt would have succeeded in tracking the thief and recovering the property, for it was quite certain that no one could have carried the heavy curricle-seat far.
At Ghoor, to their joy and great surprise, the fugitives found the people "most obliging, infinitely more so than any they had hitherto met on the whole route." But it was here also that they had so many proofs of the extreme severity of the weather.
On arriving, Mr. Reinagle found that his legs were frozen, and mustered enough Dutch to explain that he wanted two pails of snow and two men to rub him. It was bitterly cold work, and the pain was intense, but after half an hour's hard rubbing circulation was restored.
The coachman, who with the grooms, Hussar, and a host of travellers, got close to the fire, imprudently took off his boots to warm his feet, and in a few days lost all his toes in consequence. Even the very brandy was frozen, and when the captain attempted to write a despatch to the War Office, not only had he first to boil the ink, but though he and his secretary sat so close into the fire that they feared their legs and clothes would be doubt scorched, the ink froze before their pens reached the paper, and it was impossible to proceed. Cups washed in warm water froze before they could be wiped; the milk taken from a cow in a barn a hundred yards or so distant, froze solid as it was being brought to the house. Breath froze on the windows to the thickness of a crown piece, making it quite impossible to see out of them. Hot tea froze the instant it was spilt, so that cups and saucers were firmly cemented together, and the table, upon which was no cloth, was covered instead with a sheet of ice. The bread, which in its frozen state was as hard as a stone, took half an hour to thaw close to the fire, and it was three-quarters of an hour before it could be made fit to eat. Beards, moustachios, and even eye lashes were decorated with lumps of ice; and horses which arrived steaming, had no sooner halted than they were clothed in a coat of mail. Numbers of men and women who travelled on foot lost noses, ears, fingers, and toes from frost-bite.
After leaving Ghoor, the cavalcade halted next at a wretched, poverty-stricken little place, where the houses were built with conical roofs in place of chimneys, and had absolutely no windows. The upper half of each hovel was of wood, and the appearance of the village altogether was such that the travellers felt as if they had left Europe for some barbarous, unknown land, and wondered dismally what experiences might be in store for them as they advanced farther. After travelling all day at a foot's pace they reached Enchide, but it was impossible to stop there, for the troops had come up with them again, and all available lodgings were as signed to them by the chief magistrate, who assured Captain Woodford that he would find accommodation provided for his party a league farther on.
By this time it was quite dark, and travelling was a very serious matter: for a rapid thaw had set in, and the road was under water and in such a dangerous state that the drivers of carriage, curricle ,and wagon every moment expected some disastrous accident. They had indeed a very narrow escape of driving, over a bank, which if they had done, it would have been impossible to rescue them till the morning; but at length they reached the village safe and sound, though it was fully double the distance they had been told, and was moreover beyond the boundaries of Holland. The magistrate had only wanted to get rid of them, and no congratulated himself on his success; for the hatred to us English was universal. Every man, woman, and child was our bitter enemy, thanks to the pillaging, burning, and destroying of all that came in their way, practised by our troops. "Not a cottage within any distance" of their route was spared; for wherever the inhabitants dared to resist the plunderers, their houses were fired.
"As to our officers being present to save the harmless country-people, none came within the range of our observation," says Mr. Reinagle.
Meanwhile, the quarters promised by the magistrate of Enchide of course proved a myth, and the people of the post-house wanted to send the unfortunate travellers still farther on, declaring that they had no accommodation at all either for them or their horses. There was nothing for it but to remain in the street, and though famishing with hunger and perishing with the intense cold, they were refused permission even to prepare a meal of their own food. It was eight o'clock when they first arrived, and Captain Woodford, who had remained at Enchide with the Duc de Castries, on rejoining them some two hours later, found them still without shelter. He too was refused admission, and the people made as much disturbance as if they expected every soul to be murdered and every house pillaged which, poor things, perhaps they did.
However it was impossible to remain in the streets all night, and at last, losing patience, the captain seized a pair of pistols, his secretary a sabre, and Frederick the valet, dismounting from his horse, drew his sword and uttered a volley of "Dutch thunder" in so vehement a manner, that presently room was found for all the horses in a church, which had lately been used as a place of confinement for some French prisoners. Also a single room was allotted to them at the burgomaster's, and being made warm and comfortable, it was an exquisite delight to the wayworn party, after travelling a whole day, exposed to such cold as the English in general can form no idea of.
The cook did his best with the provisions, cleaving both bread and meat with a hatchet, and they found, as they had often done before, that rough as the cookery necessarily was, anything made eatable was a perfect feast, for they felt as cold inside as out.
There were two beds for the three, and "amazingly uncomfortable" they found them; for instead of warm blankets, they had no covering but a feather-bed. It was their first experience of this variety of bedclothes; and as there was no contrivance to keep this "balloon" in its place, every "hasty turn whisked it off." Mr. Reinagle seems also to have been further disconcerted by a malicious suggestion of the captain's that the travellers they had seen below were presently coming up to take their places on the top of the said feather-beds.
All through Westphalia, until they reached Pyrmont, the beds, whenever they had any, were of this kind. Counterpanes there were none, and blankets were a rarity.
The next morning the procession started again and steered for Steinfurt, along a wretched, winding road, filled with ruts two feet deep, and large hidden holes full of snow, slush, and broken ice. The Westphalian roads were, too, often so narrow, besides being bounded on either side by banks of earth, that it was impossible for two vehicles to pass one another. Moreover, the axles of the English carriages were wider than those of the country and gave infinite trouble; one side of each carriage was always up and the other down, and as they changed places every two or three minutes, the occupants were rocked to and fro and bounced about to such a degree that they were in momentary expectation of being upset or at least of having axles and traces broken.
They passed no village on the way, but the country was dotted with farmhouses, barns, and cottages, a pleasant sight after the barren, sandy waste through which they had lately passed, where the only "view" was a dark streak on the horizon, indicating that there were a few trees or bushes some six or eight miles off.
At Steinfurt they fell in with the Marquis d'Auticham, who was under immediate orders to march his emigrant regiment to Pyrmont, and, as the Hessian baggage-train with the sick had now come up, Captain Woodford hastened to leave the place, in order that he might keep ahead of them all.
Before they could muster their train, however, the soldiery were in advance of them, and they took another road, which, though less direct, gave them the advantage of being able to proceed at something more than a foot-pace, their usual rate of progress when preceded by the troops.
The frost was still most severe, the air glittering with frozen particles. Münster was reached at 2 P.M.
- The Westphahians [remarks Mr. Reinagle] are very very ugly, and the clumsiest people we had seen in our wandering travels; to us they appeared like ugly cows dressed out in all sorts of colored ribbons, on a May-day of times long passed by.
On the day following their arrival in Münster, a sudden and rapid thaw set in, making rivers of water, and mud more than ankle-deep in all directions; and the wind from having been bitter in the extreme, now veered to the south and was as warm as if it had been blowing from the mouth of an oven. The change was so seemingly instantaneous as to cause general illness, and nearly everyone caught a severe cold as if by magic. At nightfall, however, there was another change; snow began to fall, and the frost returned.
After a couple of days' rest, the train started again, and travelled along worn-out, deeply-rutted roads, beset with holes and half-frozen pools, where they were in constant peril from the masses of ice through which horses and vehicles had to break their way. The baggage-waggon succumbed at last, the axle-tree being broken in two by a sudden descent into an unsuspected hole full of water and ice. This happened at dusk, when they were just a league from their last halting-place, Warendorf, and had still a league to travel before they should reach Nieukerk. Under these circumstances there was no alternative for them but to retrace their steps, leaving the wagon to be repaired by a blacksmith and carpenter, who were fortunately within reach, and by dint of working all night, succeeded in making the vehicle fit for use the next day.
On their way back to Warendorf they fell in with other travellers, baffled like themselves, who told them that a little farther on there was a dangerous piece of water which they had been unable to pass, for it was covered with ice just so thick that the horses could not break it through, yet not thick enough to support the weight of coaches and waggons, and the current beneath was so rapid as to afford little chance of escape to those who once fell in. Indeed, one large coach, drawn by four horses, had become jammed in the ice, while attempting to pass, and was so deeply and firmly embedded, that the horses, the driver, and all the occupants, men, women, and children, were drowned.
When our party set out again, therefore, they thought it well to hire a guide and take a circuitous route to avoid this dangerous spot. The road recommended to them was said to be good all the way to Custerlot, but when they had passed Rheda, it was found to be completely inundated, frozen over, and impassable. The road was narrow, the banks steep, and the horses were sunk above the girths in water and ice, as with great difficulty and no little danger they struggled up the bank and into the meadows which bordered the road, dragging their respective vehicles after them. The cook's wagon had the narrowest possible escape from being overturned into the water; but all at last were safely landed. The cold, meantime, continued so severe as almost to disable those who were exposed to it. "The captain always travelled with a large French poodle, which did duty as a muff, and enabled him to keep his delicate white hands tolerably warm."
On they went again, now over frozen fallow ground, now breaking their way through fields of ice, now wading through water, now jolting along over ploughed fields, which racked both carriages and occupants almost to pieces, and now crossing an extemporized bridge of planks, which had been laid across some deep water running with a strong current, and was but just wide enough for the vehicles.
The heavy baggage-wagon was the only one to be damaged, and that was left behind at a farmhouse to be repaired, the driver being directed to follow his master by the marks left by the wheels on the frozen ground. On they went, zig-zagging in and out of plantations, through fields and drifted beds of snow, so deep that it was impossible to foresee what would happen for two minutes together. They fell in with no other travellers, nor even a single human being of any sort, so no wonder they looked upon the country as "an untrodden, unknown wild."
The jolting and twisting were intolerable and exhausting, from the constant muscular exertion required to enable them to keep their seats.
Frequently they were obliged to take to the road, or any such apology for a road as presented itself; now they passed over ice which bore their weight for a certain distance and then gave way, when all fell in together, with a general shout of "danger ahead," and every effort was needed before they could extricate themselves; then they would get on the ice again, and in a few minutes the same scene was repeated, much to the alarm of the fine-spirited horses. In one place they encountered a deep hollow, filled with water and frozen hard, except in some parts where it had been broken; the carriages dropped in with alarming force, and the poor struggling horses, up to the girths in water, could hardly be made to continue their fearful work. Some of these pitfalls were scarcely more than three or four feet long, and when the carriages got jammed in them, which they did every few minutes, for they only emerged from one deep, ice-filled hole to fall into another still deeper, the kicking and plunging of the horses was something fearful. To add to the difficulty of the journey, every here and there was a "gate," that is, a long piece of wood, very large and bossy at one end, and very taper at the other, being supported on a swivel. These gates or barriers not being set sufficiently wide open, required the utmost dexterity on the part of the drivers, to avoid either dashing against the side-posts, or having the taper end of the log of wood driven through the body of the vehicles. Even where the road was what might be called good, in comparison, it was still so bad that no farmer s wagon would have attempted it, and the only wonder was that the carriages did not sustain more serious damage.
- Travellers we found as rare as birds of paradise [writes Mr. Reinagle]. Not one did we ever meet either on foot, on horseback, or in a wagon. The fact was that no human being could find a safe footing anywhere in these straits and ravines of ice, water and mud, years old. No repairs ever take place in all the north of Germany.
It would indeed have been a matter of danger to meet even a man on horseback, for in certain parts of the road it would have been impossible for him to pass.
After leaving Bielfeld the travellers proceeded as before, advancing barely one mile an hour, and still beset as they had been for days and days by hard frost, ice, and snow. As the day advanced, rain fell in torrents and was succeeded by a heavy fall of snow.
The travellers now began to think and hope that they must be drawing near Pyrmont, though no signs of it appeared, and the road became rather worse than better. The chariot fell into a large hole, where it was in great danger of being entirely swamped; then all the carriages got jammed in as fast as if they had taken root, and it took two hours' hard work to extricate them.
They had entered the principality of Waldeck a day or two previously, but had travelled so constantly through forests, to avoid the so-called roads, where it was possible, that for hours together they saw no human habitation, and they could not accurately tell whereabouts they might be. Not a road in Waldeck ever got mended, according to our writer, and great lumps of rock constantly threatened to overturn the vehicles. The cook's wagon did get upset at last, but this was the final catastrophe of the kind, for shortly after smoke was seen rising above the trees in the distance, and in another half-hour the weary travellers drove up to the Bath Hotel, Pyrmont, where they were met and joyously greeted by the friends who had arrived before them, and were filled with as much surprise at the sight of the large rooms, good-looking furniture, tables and chairs, as if they had never seen the like before.
Though it was now the month of March, the cold was still so severe that M. Devaux was wearing a "huge fine sable-skin muff." The frost did not finally break up until the middle of April, having then lasted four months, during which time the numbers of lives lost and the misery endured are probably almost without a parallel.
The papers from which the above particulars and extracts are taken were compiled by Mr. Reinagle from his diaries in the year 1853, and he thus winds up the narration: —
- Were I or any of us to live a thousand years, we could not forget the thousands of miraculous escapes for our lives we had encountered. I, the author of these memoranda, have reached my eightieth year minus one month.
- Baron von Reinagle, r.a. 1853
- ^ This is hardly a correct statement. As mentioned above, General Dundas drove the French back across the Waal on December 30th. Pichegro with seventy thousand men attacked the English forces between Nimeguen and Arnheim early in January, and as the latter were greatly outnumbered, they had no alternative but to retreat, which they did on the 14th. They reached Deventer on the 27th, having, with the utmost courage and perseverance, succeeded in conveying thither all the ammunition, artillery, and military stores, which, as it was impossible to carry them farther, were then destroyed to save them from falling into the hands of the enemy. The retreating army was pursued at all speed by fifty thousand of the French, who hoped to compel it to surrender. After a two months' march, during which the men were frequently up to the middle in ice, snow, mud, and water, Bremen was reached at the end of March, and the unfortunate troops were received and entertained with the utmost kindness by the inhabitants, whose conduct formed a marked contrast with that of the Dutch.
- ^ Their anticipations were so far realized that Mr. Reinagle searched one town all over for a tooth-brush, but in vain; such an article was unknown.