Travels, chiefly on Foot, through several parts of England in 1782, described in Letters to a Friend/Chapter XIV
London, 18th July.
I write to you now for the last time from London; and, what is still more, from St. Catherine's, one of the most execrable holes in all this great city, where I am obliged to stay, because the great ships arrive in the Thames here, and go from hence, and we shall sail as soon as the wind changes. This it has just now done, yet still it seems we shall not sail till to-morrow. To-day therefore I can still relate to you all the little that I have farther noticed.
On Monday morning I moved from the Freemasons' Tavern to a public- house here, of which the master is a German; and where all the Hambro' captains lodge. At the Freemasons' Tavern, the bill for eight days' lodging, breakfast, and dinner came to one guinea and nine shillings and nine pence. Breakfast, dinner, and coffee were always, with distinction, reckoned a shilling each. For my lodging I paid only twelve shillings a week, which was certainly cheap enough.
At the German's house in St. Catherine's, on the contrary, everything is more reasonable, and you here eat, drink, and lodge for half-a-guinea a week. Notwithstanding, however, I would not advise anybody who wishes to see London, to lodge here long; for St. Catherine's is one of the most out-of-the-way and inconvenient places in the whole town.
He who lands here first sees this miserable, narrow, dirty street, and this mass of ill-built, old, ruinous houses; and of course forms, at first sight, no very favourable idea of this beautiful and renowned city.
From Bullstrode Street, or Cavendish Square, to St. Catherine's, is little less than half a day's journey. Nevertheless, Mr. Schonborn has daily visited me since I have lived here; and I have always walked back half-way with him. This evening we took leave of each other near St. Paul's, and this separation cost me not a few tears.
I have had a very agreeable visit this afternoon from Mr. Hansen, one of the assistants to the "Zollner book for all ranks of men" who brought me a letter from the Rev. Mr. Zollner at Berlin, and just arrived at London when I was going away. He is going on business to Liverpool. I have these few days past, for want of better employment, walked through several parts of London that I had not before seen. Yesterday I endeavoured to reach the west end of the town; and I walked several miles, when finding it was grown quite dark, I turned back quite tired, without having accomplished my end.
Nothing in London makes so disgusting an appearance to a foreigner, as the butchers' shops, especially in the environs of the Tower. Guts and all the nastiness are thrown into the middle of the street, and cause an insupportable stench.
I have forgot to describe the 'Change to you; this beautiful building is a long square in the centre of which is an open area, where the merchants assemble. All round, there are covered walks supported by pillars on which the name of the different commercial nations you may wish to find are written up, that among the crowd of people you may be able to find each other. There are also stone benches made under the covered walks, which after a ramble from St. Catherine's, for example, hither, are very convenient to rest yourself.
On the walls all kinds of handbills are stuck up. Among others I read one of singular contents. A clergyman exhorted the people not to assent to the shameful Act of Parliament for the toleration of Catholics, by suffering their children to their eternal ruin to be instructed and educated by them; but rather to give him, an orthodox clergyman of the Church of England, this employ and this emolument.
In the middle of the area is a stone statue of Charles the Second. As I sat here on a bench, and gazed on the immense crowds that people London, I thought that, as to mere dress and outward appearance, these here did not seem to be materially different from our people at Berlin.
Near the 'Change is a shop where, for a penny or even a halfpenny only, you may read as many newspapers as you will. There are always a number of people about these shops, who run over the paper as they stand, pay their halfpenny, and then go on.
Near the 'Change there is a little steeple with a set of bells which have a charming tone, but they only chime one or two lively tunes, though in this part of the City you constantly hear bells ringing in your ears.
It has struck me that in London there is no occasion for any elementary works or prints, for the instruction of children. One need only lead them into the City, and show them the things themselves as they really are. For here it is contrived, as much as possible, to place in view for the public inspection every production of art, and every effort of industry. Paintings, mechanisms, curiosities of all kinds, are here exhibited in the large and light shop windows, in the most advantageous manner; nor are spectators wanting, who here and there, in the middle of the street, stand still to observe any curious performance. Such a street seemed to me to resemble a well regulated cabinet of curiosities.
But the squares, where the finest houses are, disdain and reject all such shows and ornaments, which are adapted only to shopkeepers' houses. The squares, moreover, are not nearly so crowded or so populous as the streets and the other parts of the city. There is nearly as much difference between these squares and the Strand in London, in point of population and bustle, as there is between Millbank and Fredericksstadt in Berlin.
I do not at present recollect anything further, my dear friend, worth your attention, which I can now write to you, except that everything is ready for our departure to-morrow. I paid Captain Hilkes, with whom I came over from Hambro', four guineas for my passage and my board in the cabin. But Captain Braunschweig, with whom I am to return, charges me five guineas; because provisions, he says, are dearer in London than at Hambro'. I now have related to you all my adventures and all my history from the time that I took leave of you in the street, my voyage hither with Captain Hilkes excepted. Of this, all that I think it necessary to mention is, that, to my great dissatisfaction, it lasted a fortnight, and three days I was sea-sick. Of my voyage back I will give you a personal account. And now remember me to Biester, and farewell till I see you again.