Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/To and at Baden in '62
TO AND AT BADEN IN ’62.
“Cœlum non animum mutant, qui trans mare currunt.” This is one of those popular fallacies which provoke discussion. Discussion as to whether the writer was really in earnest, or whether so shrewd an observer of men and minds as Horace could have perchance made a mistake. Or is it possible that the poet’s own state of feeling is here represented, and that he retired to the Isles of Greece, like the stricken deer, to nurse an ill-requited attachment? We know his vigorous grasp of the sentimental, even at the end of eight lustra, and can only account for the declaration of so exceptional a case in the form of a general proposition, by supposing him to have been an unwilling slave of the tender passion. When does a man leave these shores, which are redolent of professional duties, without shaking off old habits of thought, and clothing himself in a new suit fitted for the occasion? It is because I change not only the atmosphere, but all sympathy with it; because I become brighter and fresher every league I progress; because I forget letters, books, printers’-devils, and proof-sheets,—that I trust myself once a year to the horrors of sea-sickness, and the associations of a cabin, a basin, and a steward. The simile may be a little strained, but it is for this reason that I appreciate the feelings of Conrad as he neared his vessel and saw “his blood-red flag aloft”—that I understand how—
Fire in his glance, and wildness in his breast,
He feels of all his former self possest,
this is certainly the reason why I feel and comprehend so keenly—
The exulting sense—the pulse’s maddening play
That thrills the wanderer of the trackless way,
as soon as ever I set foot on the planks of the Steam Navigation Company’s good ship the Baron Osy, or something of that kind. The smell of the Thames itself, prefatory of something better, invigorates me. The Isle of Sheppey reconciles me to the substitution of Galignani for the Times. In the contemplation of the Goodwin Sands I forget the existence of the penny post. And by the time the cheerful coast of Flushing presents itself, or rather ought to present itself to view, or the bar at Rotterdam has been safely crossed, I have become either a Belgian or a Dutchman. This will account for my visit to Baden-Baden, and my introduction to that well-known locality under a new phase.
The fact is, I am as pure a cosmopolite as ever was born. I have, with some difficulty I admit, shaken off those prejudices which hamper the true Briton, and cloud the judgment, for which the Anglo-Saxon race is remarkable above all others. I can scarcely believe in the existence of intellect or sympathy which fails to meet with some sort of adventure in a passage of four-and-twenty hours. I say four-and-twenty, for although about sixteen or eighteen is the professionally recognised period, I have never yet seen any steamer whose machinery did not come to grief, nor any river whose tide was not discovered to be most provokingly running out when it ought to have been running in, or the reverse. This time, therefore, I devote to the fabrication of incident, and on the present occasion was as fortunate as usual.
I had not been long on board before I was accosted by a good-humoured, stout, little German. He had taken his passage as far as Antwerp on his return to his wife and children, after a lengthened sojourn in London. He described them as an angel and cherubim, living in the neighbourhood of Berlin. He was manifestly not a man of great consistency of purpose, and I presume he admired in me a supposed quality, the absence of which in himself he affected to deplore.
He had left London with a misgiving that he ought to have seen more of England. Two things he particularly regretted not having visited: the Crystal Palace and Sheffield. I explained to him the peculiar situation of both; the nature, intention, and attractions of the one, and the productions of the other. Could he get back? Certainly, by the sacrifice of his fare. Should he do so? What of his wife and children? That was a question for himself to decide; he knew the mildness of madame’s temper, and the sharpness of her talons better than I. He had really a great mind. I thought a very little one. Could I direct him? Nothing easier; go on shore at Gravesend; take the train to London Bridge—go down to Sydenham—return to-night, and go to Sheffield to-morrow. But what would madame say? He really—well; he wished he could make up his mind. Half-an-hour to Gravesend—would I decide for him? With pleasure, if he was serious. Perfectly; and he would esteem it a favour. “Go back,” said I, “by all means;” for I was getting very tired of him, and I had the satisfaction of handing him over to the steward, who ordered up his portmanteau, and dropped them both into a boat off Gravesend Pier.
Having finished off my first affair satisfactorily, I was shortly afterwards addressed by a Frenchman. He was free from the effervescent insouciance of la jeune France, and equally removed from the gentlemanly empressement of the middle aged Gaul. In fact, I have seen nothing so like him as our friend Leech’s sketches of the modern “Mossoo.” He was very stout, very pursy, asthmatically disposed in fact, and ignorant of the uses of soap. His hair and the beaver of his hat were not dissimilar: and he exhibited much “severity of foliage” on either side of his mouth. He squinted more vilely than those original and ill-omened Strabos of Bombastes Furioso. He spoke his own language—shall I say volubly?—one half of each sentence being incomprehensible, and the other remaining bodily upon his lips in the form of saliva. But he could speak nothing else, and was now in distress. Could I, and would I, assist him to a berth? He was a man and a brother, and was I the one to say “No.” I pushed my way through a crowd of strong smells down the cabin-stairs. I invaded the steward in his den. I explained matters to both parties; and took care that my new friend’s berth should be as far as possible from my own. In return for my kindness, he informed me of his visit to my detestable country. London was triste, dirty, expensive, with nothing to see, nothing to eat, and nothing but portière bière to drink. At night there was nowhere to go. On Sunday there was nothing to do; not even in Feenesbewrie Squarrre. My suggestion that Finsbury Square was not the only aristocratic faubourg in London, and that an abonnement of half a guinea a day was not calculated to beget the luxuries of the Hôtel des Princes, or the ménage of the Trois Frères, was treated with contempt. After hearing that he had only had three meals a day for his ten-and-sixpence, with bed and attendance, and after ascertaining that a bath was an extra in that favoured locality, strange to say, I tired of my new acquaintance. I was charmed to see him later in the evening, after a dinner at which he narrowly escaped suicide from the knife, led despondingly down-stairs between a waiter and a cabin-boy.
The following morning I woke happily; for I was really on my way to the long-anticipated pleasures of Baden-Baden. I was in Antwerp. London was behind me, and Cologne and Heidelberg in front. Courage, mon ami, “le diable est mort.”
Everybody has been at Cologne: most persons many times. No less than two-and-twenty churches open their portals for the gratification of your curiosity. Of course you have done the cathedral; the Dom-Kirche; but did you ever hear high mass in it? If not, manage to hit Cologne on a Saturday night, the next visit you pay it; and be early enough to get a seat in the cathedral the next day. The magnificence of the building, in itself no mean pleasure, is enhanced by the solemn grandeur of one of Mozart’s masses; and the effect produced by the finest sacred music, as it floats through the lengthened aisles, through pillars, arches, and chapels, can be more easily conceived than described. The “St. Peter’s of Gothic architecture” needs nothing to increase the natural astonishment at its beauties, but it is consistent with one of the grandest religious services in Europe.
This by the way. Take the right bank of the Rhine: get a comfortable first-class carriage for yourself and your friends, if you can. Carry with you some fruit: a few peaches, grapes, or any luxury of the kind that you please. It will save trouble, as between Cologne and Heidelberg I literally should have had nothing to eat, but for the goodnature of one of our conducteurs, who procured me a bottle of wine and a sandwich at Darmstadt. If you prefer the river—and certainly, though longer, the views are finer and the air purer, to say nothing of the dust—embark at Bonn: up to that point and beyond Bingen, you will find the wine of the country better than its water. Be particular not to get into a wrong carriage: speak German by all means, if you can; and never mind about your luggage. It always turns up right at last. Do as many good natured things as you can on the road; especially for your compatriots. You will thus stand a chance of being yourself mistaken for a foreigner; but be careful not to associate yourself permanently with what is called a “regular Briton.” He will ask you to make impertinent inquiries for him along the line; to count his money; to take a place for him in the railway; to contend with porters and douaniers, and to secure him a bed at the same hotel as yourself, which you, from a natural but childish feeling of courtesy, will take care shall be the better of the two.
The glory of Heidelberg was its castle and its independence. The glory of Heidelberg is its Philistines and its Fuchs. To the lovers of the picturesque it presents attractions from the castle terraces too well known to require description here; to the curious in pipes, jewellery, caps, and student-life, it offers features, the study of which will scarcely be found to repay the trouble. As a peculiarity of the social life of Germany, student life has interest for some writers. Like other excrescences, it has its uses, and may serve to occupy the leisure moments of the ethical inquirer; but with an intimate acquaintance with its provisions and disorders, it will be better known only to be less trusted.
On the 1st of September, Baden-Baden was as full as the most thirsty water-drinker could desire. It seems to be a rule with the ladies and gentlemen of delicate constitution, that, unlike the pool of Bethesda, there cannot be too many of the maimed or infirm, sharing the benefit of the waters at once. The whole pleasure of a remedy, in the case of a spa, be it foreign or English, appears to consist in participation: a wholesale philanthropy, which we may place to a diminution of our own distresses by sharing them with others, or to a true benevolence in the imparting of our alleviations. To be candid, in Baden, the latter must be the case: nor can I conceive any appearance to be so far removed from the grim faces of a society of physic-drinkers, as the cheerful, not to say, boisterous happiness, and the piquant costumes of these Black Forest bathers. If that young Frenchman be really dyspeptic; if the young lady from the Vaudevilles or the Palais Royal, drinking champagne out of tumblers, and singing snatches of her last songs between the crowning of her cups, be in a state of chronic disease demanding the waters of Baden; if the roses on the cheek of her companion, Mademoiselle Adèle, be nothing more than the reflection of those in her chapeau; if the florid gentleman in the broad-rimmed, well-brushed hat, and polished boots, with one hand on a rouleau, within easy reach of the colour, has the corresponding foot in the grave; if the young dukes, marquises, counts, and barons, Russian, Prussian, French, or English, who throng the Kursaal, applaud Tartuffe, back the run on red, and dine al fresco at the Stephanie Bad,—be subjects for the virtues of the Trinkhalle at Baden, all I can pray for, in the way of earthly comfort, is a normal state of diseased liver, and a sufficiency of time and money thoroughly to enjoy its cure. There is rheumatism in Weisbaden, I know; and dyspeptic peers, and gouty members of the Lower House in Homburg; but there is nothing but youth, and health, and freshness, and gaiety in Baden,—or I am much mistaken.
Having perfectly satisfied the reader as to the great water-question, it is worth while to inquire the particular end for which men leave their homes for the comforts and economy of hotel life in Germany. We have an answer at once. Fearful of letting down the system by too rapid a fall, the pleasures of Baden serve to arrest the traveller on his downward course; and to fill up a vacancy between a London season and a winter at Melton. Nothing can be more charming than its situation. Surrounded by the hills and mountains of the Black Forest, itself on a rising ground, and sloping into the valley of the Oos, it looks, at the first glance, peculiarly adapted for pleasure or repose. Permit me to suggest that if the pleasures be great, the repose is nil. From morning to night there is something to do. Everybody promenades, or rides, or drives. Breakfasts at Lichtenthal, or lunches at Rothenthal. There is the old castle; a walk which certainly gives an appreciation of the bottle of Liebfraumilch awaiting you on your arrival. There is the new castle; to which the Margraves descended, as soon as the old domicile became too hot to hold them; or increased civilisation brought them nearer the subjects, whom they plundered with increased facility; the founder of which obtained from one of the Archdukes of Austria the well-merited order of the Golden Fleece. There is a lovely country all round you, in parts approaching the sublime: a pulpit, on the road to Stauffenberg, from which Satan is said to have held forth, at first to a scattered auditory, until the seductive nature of his doctrines and his eloquence, extended his reputation. Whether any of his efforts made more than a passing impression in Baden is at least open to discussion. There are the extensive beauties of Eberstein; the fantastic architectural adornments of La Favorite; its rare porcelain and Chinese treasures, worthy of a place in the South Kensington Museum; and the Valley of the Mourg, not far behind the valleys of many parts of Switzerland in loveliness. These are within reach of the active pedestrian, and are the almost daily promenades of handsome equipages of every description. Concerts, balls, and a French company in one of the most beautiful theatres in the world, present increased attractions for other hours of the day or night: and the tables, a fruitful source of revenue, have votaries, whose constancy and perseverance appear to chide the indifference of every respectable passion under the sun. Of course our readers know all this. They have had a surfeit of Russian countesses, who have broken the bank; of German princes, whom the bank has broken: and of gentlemen, who only proved that they have been possessed of brains by blowing them out. I have no idea of stopping on my way “to point a moral or adorn a tale,” unless I can find something a little less hackneyed than the reverses of Garcia, or the successes of a Viennese banker. There is this to be said for the mildest of visitors: that if all these pleasures are thrown away upon him, he can still find a few trifles, on which to spend his loose florins, in the shops and bazaars which adorn each side of the Park. He will find at all hours a few loiterers like himself, too idle or too virtuous to partake of the “cakes and ale” so plenteously provided: and may be supplied, at very little expense, with piquant anecdotes, and delicate satire, upon all his friends, and very nearly all his acquaintance, male or female.
But as if the ordinary attractions of this charming place had been found insufficient, the energetic management of M. Benazet, and above all of his coadjutor and secretary, M. Whei, determined upon making their favourite watering-place the Newmarket of the Continent. They have succeeded with this difference, that while an English race-course invariably bears about it the marks of business in its pleasures, whatever they may be, the Continental idea of a day’s racing is pre-eminently an absence of anything connected with mental labour.
In this country there may be present the prevailing characteristic of the district, be it dirt, or drink, or intemperance of any kind, be it vulgarity, obscenity, or the most unmeaning of exhibitions; and that will be the part of the pageant which is called the pleasure of the day; but the racing will unquestionably be so mixed up with business, as to assume a different appearance from its original intention. You may have your notion of a jour de fête gratified; but it will be by a man with a red coat and cocked hat, or a performing pony, or a performing donkey, or a minstrel, or a band of minstrels, or a gentleman who breaks stones with his knuckles, or Aunt Sally, or a wooden doll in your hat and a black eye from a hard-boiled egg. The race in this country (or any pleasure derivable from it, I should say) is always “to the strong.” There’s a dust, and a noise, and a crowd, and a conglomeration of evils round about the turf, which veils its natural aspect, and will always prevent any but the highest or the lowest from deriving much pleasure from its pursuit.
Not so at Baden-Baden. There’s no Tattersall’s, unless half-a-dozen English gentlemen (legs are not yet introduced, it being an institution of late growth), three Frenchmen, a German baron who rides, and a gentleman jockey of questionable antecedents, in front of the Conversazions Haus, or elsewhere, can be considered “a ring.” “Where there’s lying, there’s laying,” as the partridge said to her mate; and the converse of the proposition is nearly true. It’s a comfort to see a race where there’s neither the one nor the other. Naturally, in this country, four days’ racing is a question of four days’ business, and no more. Not so at Baden-Baden. Four days’ racing includes fourteen days’ pleasure. It has many advantages. It allows the visitor to satisfy his curiosity by a day at the course, and two in the town, if he pleases; after which he may make way for others, whose longings may be gratified in a similar manner. Or, if the traveller be so enamoured of his first day’s racing, which is not impossible, it will compel him, in return, to participate in the other excitements of Baden, until the course is complete.
The road to the village of Iffezheim was full of every description of vehicle. Smiling faces peeped from beneath every variety of hat that the most fertile imagination can conceive. This is saying much, but not too much. I hope the women do not intend to rest their claims for admiration upon the external decoration of their heads, now that crinoline is gone at Vienna. About six or seven miles of dust, post-horns, and cracking of whips, brought us near to our journey’s end. As we said, there was plenty of variety, but we missed the neat English mail phaeton, the open britska, and the compact brougham, with its mysterious occupants, and its neatly-stepping, well-bred horses. A dogcart, of curious invention, here and there, overtook us, and two young women and one young man not apparently of great value, had ventured their necks upon their skill in equitation. The heavy travelling carriage, or landau style, with its yellow jackets, big boots, and glazed hats, was much in the ascendent. One admirably appointed drag we saw. But it was clear that neither Mr. Villebois, nor Captain Bastard, nor the Duke was the workman. As we neared the course the plot thickened.
Royalty was at hand. The King and Queen of Prussia, the Grand-Duke of Baden, and all the members of the Court, and aristocracy of the neighbourhood had come to see and to be seen. It was clear that everything had been done to render their visit a source of pleasure to themselves and their people.
On entering the course the beauty of the scene, and the utter absence of noise or crowd, cannot fail to impress the Englishman most favourably. The flat on which the stands have been built, and the course formed, is most beautifully situated between fine woods of great extent on the one side, and lovely hills crowned with foliage, and sloping away gradually into the distant mountains of the Black Forest. Here and there nestling between them lie, partially disclosed, towns or villages, overhung by the ruined châteaux of a now civilised aristocracy. The course itself is excellently kept; every new arrangement that can give beauty and effect to the whole has been adopted. No police seemed necessary to keep the people, who lined either side of the course, from the minutest transgression. As that admirable horseman, Mr. Mackensie Grieves (who had come from Paris to preside), cantered down the course on a well-bitted chestnut horse, it was evident that the sports would be marred by no unruly jockeys. Even the conventional dog did not put in an appearance. All was as it should be. Here and there rode a body of cavalry officers in uniform. On this side was a Prussian, on that an Austrian, wheeling a young impatient Arab through the manifold exercises of the manége. On the bank, facing the grand-stand, in silent expectation of the coming sport, sat a body of mounted cavalry. Within the enclosure the race-horses were being led about, and the jockeys themselves—English boys, with the well-known English names of Flatman, Pratt, Bottom and Kitchener—had the air of simple mortals, like you or me. The stands were filled moderately with well-dressed persons of both sexes; and on the lawn in front, and beneath the flowering shrubs, and luxuriant creepers of the balcony, in every variety of charming summer toilette, were seated crowds of pretty women. Between the races military bands played the exquisite music of Rossini and Mozart. The whole wore an air of enchantment. For the first time in my life I enjoyed a race without a single alloy. The Derby has its host of London pleasure-seekers, a motley crowd of confusion and intemperance. The St. Leger its Yorkshire Tyke, with his broad dialect and narrow prejudices. Baden has neither the one nor the other. It is a small Goodwood, without the necessary disadvantages of every English course. In one thing alone we beat them—in the surpassing loveliness of our English women. We cannot have their climate. The innocence of racing in its integrity is gone from us for ever; but the beauty, the charm, the unconscious loveliness of an English girl, I have never seen equalled; and any approach to its parallel is a problem hitherto unsolved. If I say that the arrangements for leaving the course were as orderly and convenient as any other part of the day’s programme, I have said sufficient to convince my reader that I was neither run over by a van nor into by a drunken post-boy. My horses were neither collared by a policeman nor thrown on their haunches by an oblivious turnpike-man. I was neither chaffed by a Hansom-cabman nor pelted with eggs or cocoa-nuts. The races were to be finished by 5 p.m., and by that hour I was once more on my road to Baden, where I arrived without let or hindrance, to assist at those enjoyments which invariably follow a day of such very innocent amusement. I have inflicted upon my reader neither the names, weights, nor colours of the riders; but I hope I have given him some idea of the primitive form in which racing was done by our ancestors, and made him feel some regret that it can be no longer done by ourselves.
It must be observed that, during these Saturnalia, which extend over about a fortnight, and in which time the four days’ racing is included with an interval of two or three days between each, the foreign element is predominant in Baden. The inhabitants of that favoured locality have vacated their seats. The hotels which constitute the whole of the lower part of the town along the banks of the little streamlet which is dignified with the name of the Oos, are crowded to suffocation. That curious mixture of impertinence and good-nature, the German waiter, is taxed to his utmost; and the whole world, with nothing to do, is always behind hand, and always in a hurry. Frenchmen, Englishmen, Russians and Americans have taken the place by storm. There is a Babel of tongues; and he who talks most, so that it be in a dialect only comprehensible, will probably get what he wants soonest. Weather permitting, the life cannot be too al fresco to be enjoyable. A wet day at Baden I have never seen. Contemplations of something terrible and undefined hung over me one morning; but the clouds broke, and, before committing suicide, I went out shooting myself. I was really too tired, on my return, to put my intention into execution. The following morning the sun shone brightly again, and I recommenced a day of the most active idleness.
The ordinary pleasures of Baden life I pass without further comment. It is a very old story. The racing is now three years old; a new feature in the programme of Black Forest attractions. It is so well done—so honestly and purely intended for a jour de fête, to the exclusion of the objectionable parts of our own turf, that I hope, year by year, to see it increasing in the value of its stakes, and by consequence in the character of its horses. At present the French turf is near enough to exhibit the efficiency of its stable, without any strong rivalry; but there is nothing of this kind that an Englishman will not attempt, if it be worth his while, and nothing of the kind in which he is not eminently successful.