Travels, chiefly on Foot, through several parts of England in 1782, described in Letters to a Friend/Chapter XII
When I took my leave of the honest shoemaker in Castleton, who would have rejoiced to have accompanied me, I resolved to return, not by Tideswell, but by Wardlow, which is nearer.
I there found but one single inn, and in it only a landlady, who told me that her husband was at work in the lead mines, and that the cavern at Castleton, and all that I had yet seen, was nothing to be compared to these lead mines. Her husband, she said, would be happy to show them to me.
When I came to offer to pay her for my dinner she made some difficulty about it, because, as I had neither drank ale or brandy, by the selling of which she chiefly made her livelihood, she said she could not well make out my bill. On this I called for a mug of ale (which I did not drink) in order to enable me the better to settle her reckoning.
At this same time I saw my innkeeper of Tideswell, who, however, had not, like me, come on foot, but prancing proudly on horseback.
As I proceeded, and saw the hills rise before me, which were still fresh in my memory, having so recently become acquainted with them in my journey thither, I was just reading the passage in Milton relative to the creation, in which the Angel describes to Adam how the water subsided, and
"Immediately the mountains huge appear
Emergent, and their broad bare backs upheave
Into the clouds, their tops ascend the sky."
Book VII., 1. 285.
It seemed to me, while reading this passage, as if everything around me were in the act of creating, and the mountains themselves appeared to emerge or rise, so animated was the scene.
I had felt something not very unlike this on my journey hither, as I was sitting opposite to a hill, whose top was covered with trees, and was reading in Milton the sublime description of the combat of the angels, where the fallen angels are made, with but little regard to chronology, to attack their antagonists with artillery and cannon, as if it had been a battle on earth of the present age. The better angels, however, defend themselves against their antagonists by each seizing on some hill by the tufts on its summit, tearing them up by the root, and thus bearing them in their hands to fling them at their enemy:
"--they ran, they flew,
From their foundation loos'ning to and fro,
They pluck'd the seated hills with all their load,
Rocks, waters, woods, and by the shaggy tops
Uplifting bore them in their hands--."
Book VI., 1. 642.
I seemed to fancy to myself that I actually saw an angel there standing and plucking up a hill before me and shaking it in the air.
When I came to the last village before I got to Matlock, as it was now evening and dark, I determined to spend the night there, and inquired for an inn, which, I was told, was at the end of the village; and so on I walked, and kept walking till near midnight before I found this same inn. The place seemed to have no end. On my journey to Castleton I must either not have passed through this village or not have noticed its length. Much tired, and not a little indisposed, I at length arrived at the inn, where I sat myself down by the fire in the kitchen, and asked for something to eat. As they told me I could not have a bed here, I replied I absolutely would not be driven away, for that if nothing better could be had I would sit all night by the fire. This I actually prepared to do, and laid my head on the table in order to sleep.
When the people in the kitchen thought that I was asleep, I heard them taking about me, and guessing who or what I might be. One woman alone seemed to take my part, and said, "I daresay he is a well-bred gentleman;" another scouted that notion, merely because, as she said, "I had come on foot;" and "depend on it," said she, "he is some poor travelling creature!" My ears yet ring with the contemptuous tone with which she uttered, "poor travelling creature!" It seems to express all the wretchedness of one who neither has house nor home--a vagabond and outcast of society.
At last, when these unfeeling people saw that I was determined, at all events, to stay there all night, they gave me a bed, but not till I had long given up all hopes of getting one. And in the morning, when they asked me a shilling for it, I gave them half-a- crown, adding, with something of an air, that I would have no change. This I did, though perhaps foolishly, to show them that I was not quite "A POOR CREATURE." And now they took leave of me with great civility and many excuses; and I now continued my journey much at my ease.
When I had passed Matlock I did not go again towards Derby, but took the road to the left towards Nottingham. Here the hills gradually disappeared; and my journey now lay through meadow grounds and cultivated fields.
I must here inform you that the word Peake, or Pike, in old English signifies a point or summit. The Peak of Derbyshire, therefore, means that part of the country which is hilly, or where the mountains are highest.
Towards noon I again came to an eminence, where I found but one single solitary inn, which had a singular inscription on its sign. It was in rhyme, and I remember only that it ended with these words, "Refresh, and then go on." "Entertainment for man and horse." This I have seen on several signs, but the most common, at all the lesser ale-houses, is, "A. B. C. or D. dealer in foreign spirituous liquors."
I dined here on cold meat and salad. This, or else eggs and salad, was my usual supper, and my dinner too, at the inns at which I stopped. It was but seldom that I had the good fortune to get anything hot. The salad, for which they brought me all the ingredients, I was always obliged to dress myself. This, I believe, is always done in England.
The road was now tolerably pleasant, but the country seemed here to be uniform and unvaried, even to dulness. However, it was a very fine evening, and as I passed through a village just before sunset several people who met me accosted me with a phrase which, at first, I thought odd, but which I now think civil, if not polite. As if I could possibly want information on such a point as they passed me, they all very courteously told me, "'Twas a fine evening," or "A pleasant night."
I have also often met people who as they passed me obligingly and kindly asked: "How do you do?" To which unexpected question from total strangers I have now learned to answer, "Pretty well, I thank you; how do you do?" This manner of address must needs appear very singular to a foreigner, who is all at once asked by a person whom he has never seen before how he does.
After I had passed through this village I came to a green field, at the side of which I met with an ale-house. The mistress was sitting at the window. I asked her if I could stay the night there. She said No!" and shut the window in my face.
This unmannerliness recalled to my recollection the many receptions of this kind to which I have now so often been exposed, and I could not forbear uttering aloud my indignation at the inhospitality of the English. This harsh sentiment I soon corrected, however, as I walked on, by recollecting, and placing in the opposite scale, the unbounded and unequalled generosity of this nation, and also the many acts of real and substantial kindness which I had myself experienced in it.
I at last came to another inn, where there was written on the sign: "The Navigation Inn," because it is the depot, or storehouse, of the colliers of the Trent.
A rougher or ruder kind of people I never saw than these colliers, whom I here met assembled in the kitchen, and in whose company I was obliged to spend the evening.
Their language, their dress, their manners were, all of them, singularly vulgar and disagreeable, and their expressions still more so, for they hardly spoke a word, without adding "a G-d d-- me" to it, and thus cursing, quarrelling, drinking, singing, and fighting, they seemed to be pleased, and to enjoy the evening. I must do them the justice to add, that none of them, however, at all molested me or did me any harm. On the contrary, every one again and again drank my health, and I took care not to forget to drink theirs in return. The treatment of my host at Matlock was still fresh in my memory, and so, as often as I drank, I never omitted saying, "Your healths, gentlemen all!"
When two Englishmen quarrel, the fray is carried on, and decided, rather by actions than by words; though loud and boisterous, they do not say much, and frequently repeat the same thing over and over again, always clinching it with an additional "G-- d-- you!" Their anger seems to overpower their utterance, and can vent only by coming to blows.
The landlady, who sat in the kitchen along with all this goodly company, was nevertheless well dressed, and a remarkably well- looking woman. As soon as I had supped I hastened to bed, but could not sleep; my quondam companions, the colliers, made such a noise the whole night through. In the morning, when I got up, there was not cue to be seen nor heard.
I was now only a few miles from Nottingham, where I arrived towards noon.
This, of all the towns I have yet seen, except London, seemed to me to be one of the best, and is undoubtedly the cleanest. Everything here wore a modern appearance, and a large place in the centre, scarcely yielded to a London square in point of beauty.
From the town a charming footpath leads you across the meadows to the high-road, where there is a bridge over the Trent. Not far from this bridge was an inn, where I dined, though I could get nothing but bread-and-butter, of which I desired to have a toast made.
Nottingham lies high, and made a beautiful appearance at a distance, with its neat high houses, red roofs, and its lofty steeples. I have not seen so fine a prospect in any other town in England.
I now came through several villages, as Ruddington, Bradmore, and Buny, to Castol, where I stayed all night.
This whole afternoon I heard the ringing of bells in many of the villages. Probably it is some holiday which they thus celebrate. It was cloudy weather, and I felt myself not at all well, and in these circumstances this ringing discomposed me still more, and made me at length quite low-spirited and melancholy.
At Castol there were three inns close to each other, in which, to judge only from the outside of the houses, little but poverty was to be expected. In the one at which I at length stopped there was only a landlady, a sick butcher, and a sick carter, both of whom had come to stay the night. This assemblage of sick persons gave me the idea of an hospital, and depressed me still more. I felt some degree of fever, was very restless all night, and so I kept my bed very late the next morning, until the woman of the house came and aroused me by saying she had been uneasy on my account. And now I formed the resolution to go to Leicester in the post-coach.
I was now only four miles from Loughborough, a small, and I think, not a very handsome town, where I arrived late at noon, and dined at the last inn on the road that leads to Leicester. Here again, far beyond expectation, the people treated me like a gentleman, and let me dine in the parlour.
From Loughborough to Leicester was only ten miles, but the road was sandy and very unpleasant walking.
I came through a village called Mountsorrel, which perhaps takes its name from a little hill at the end of it. As for the rest, it was all one large plain, all the way to Leicester.
Towards evening I came to a pleasant meadow just before I got to Leicester, through which a footpath led me to the town, which made a good appearance as I viewed it lengthways, and indeed much larger than it really is.
I went up a long street before I got to the house from which the post-coaches set out, and which is also an inn. I here learnt that the stage was to set out that evening for London, but that the inside was already full; some places were, however, still left on the outside.
Being obliged to bestir myself to get back to London, as the time drew near when the Hamburg captain, with whom I intend to return, had fixed his departure, I determined to take a place as far as Northampton on the outside.
But this ride from Leicester to Northampton I shall remember as long as I live.
The coach drove from the yard through a part of the house. The inside passengers got in in the yard, but we on the outside were obliged to clamber up in the public street, because we should have had no room for our heads to pass under the gateway.
My companions on the top of the coach were a farmer, a young man very decently dressed, and a blackamoor.
The getting up alone was at the risk of one's life, and when I was up I was obliged to sit just at the corner of the coach, with nothing to hold by but a sort of little handle fastened on the side. I sat nearest the wheel, and the moment that we set off I fancied that I saw certain death await me. All I could do was to take still safer hold of the handle, and to be more and more careful to preserve my balance.
The machine now rolled along with prodigious rapidity, over the stones through the town, and every moment we seemed to fly into the air, so that it was almost a miracle that we still stuck to the coach and did not fall. We seemed to be thus on the wing, and to fly, as often as we passed through a village, or went down a hill.
At last the being continually in fear of my life became insupportable, and as we were going up a hill, and consequently proceeding rather slower than usual, I crept from the top of the coach and got snug into the basket.
"O, sir, sir, you will be shaken to death!" said the black, but I flattered myself he exaggerated the unpleasantness of my post.
As long as we went up hill it was easy and pleasant. And, having had little or no sleep the night before, I was almost asleep among the trunks and the packages; but how was the case altered when we came to go down hill! then all the trunks and parcels began, as it were, to dance around me, and everything in the basket seemed to be alive, and I every moment received from them such violent blows that I thought my last hour was come. I now found that what the black had told me was no exaggeration, but all my complaints were useless. I was obliged to suffer this torture nearly an hour, till we came to another hill again, when quite shaken to pieces and sadly bruised, I again crept to the top of the coach, and took possession of my former seat. "Ah, did not I tell you that you would be shaken to death?" said the black, as I was getting up, but I made him no reply. Indeed, I was ashamed; and I now write this as a warning to all strangers to stage-coaches who may happen to take it into their heads, without being used to it, to take a place on the outside of an English post-coach, and still more, a place in the basket.
About midnight we arrived at Harborough, where I could only rest myself a moment, before we were again called to set off, full drive, through a number of villages, so that a few hours before daybreak we had reached Northampton, which is, however, thirty-three miles from Leicester.
From Harborough to Leicester I had a most dreadful journey, it rained incessantly; and as before we had been covered with dust, we now were soaked with rain. My neighbour, the young man who sat next me in the middle, that my inconveniences might be complete, every now and then fell asleep; and as, when asleep, he perpetually bolted and rolled against me, with the whole weight of his body, more than once he was very near pushing me entirely off my seat.
We at last reached Northampton, where I immediately went to bed, and have slept almost till noon. To-morrow morning I intend to continue my journey to London in some other stage-coach.