Spá, July 6th.

FROM Utrecht to Bois le Duc nothing but sand and heath; no inspiration, no whispering foliage, not even a grass-hopper, to put one in mind of Eclogues and Theocritus. – "But, why did you not fall into one of your beloved slumbers, and dream of poetic mountains? This was the very country to shut one's eyes upon, without disparagement." – Why so I did, but the postillions and boatmen obliged me to open them, as soon as they were closed. Four times was I shoved, out of my visions, into leaky boats, and towed across as many idle rivers. I thought there was no end of these tiresome transits; and, when I reached my journey's end, was so compleatly jaded, that I almost believed Charon would be the next aquatic I should have to deal with. – The fair light of the morning (Tuesday July 4th) was scarcely sufficient to raise my spirits, and I had left Bois le Duc a good way in arrears, before I was thoroughly convinced of my existence; when I looked through the blinds of the carriage, and saw nothing but barren plains and mournful willows, banks clad with rushes, and heifers so black and dismal, that Proserpine herself would have given them up to Hecate. I was near believing myself in the neighbourhood of a certain evil place, where I should be punished for all my croakings. We travelled at this rate, I dare say, fifteen miles, without seeing a single shed: at last, one or two miserable cottages appeared, darkened by heath, and stuck in a sand-pit; from whence issued a half-starved generation, that pursued us a long while with their piteous wailings. The heavy roads and ugly prospects, together with the petulant clamours of my petitioners, made me quite uncharitable. I was in a dark, remorseless mood, which lasted me till we reached Brée, a shabby decayed town, encompassed by walls and ruined turrets. Having nothing to do, I straggled about them, till night shaded the dreary prospects, and gave me an opportunity of imagining them, if I pleased, noble and majestic. Several of these waining edifices were invested with thick ivy: the evening was chill, and I crept under their covert. Two or three brother owls were before me, but politely gave up their pretensions to the spot, and, as soon as I appeared, with a rueful whoop, flitted away to some deeper retirement. I had scarcely began to mope in tranquillity, before a rapid shower trickled amongst the clusters above me, and forced me to abandon my haunt. Returning in the midst of it to my inn, I hurried to bed; and was soon lulled asleep by the storm. A dream bore me off to Persepolis; and led me, thro' vast subterraneous treasures, to a hall, where Solomon, methought, was holding forth upon their vanity. I was upon the very point of securing a part of this immense wealth, and fancied myself writing down the sage prophet's advice, how to make use of it, when a loud vociferation in the street, and the bell of a neighbouring chapel, dispersed the vision. Starting up, I threw open the windows, and found it was eight o'clock, (Wednesday July 5,) and had hardly rubbed my eyes, before beggars came limping from every quarter. I knew their plaguy voices but too well; and, that the same hubbub had broken my slumbers, and driven me from wisdom and riches to the regions of ignorance and poverty. The halt, the lame, and the blind, being restored, by the miracle of a few stivers, to their functions, we breakfasted in peace, and, gaining the carriage, waded through sandy deserts to Maestricht: our view however was considerably improved, for a league round the town, and presented some hills and pleasant valleys, smiling with crops of grain: here and there, green meadows, spread over with hay, varied the prospect, which the chirping of birds (the first I had heard for many a tedious day) amongst the barley, rendered me so chearful, that I began, like them, my exultations, and was equally thoughtless and serene. I need scarcely tell you, that, leaving the coach, I pursued a deep furrow between two extensive corn-fields, and reposed upon a bank of flowers, the golden ears waving above my head, and entirely bounding my prospect. Here I lay, in peace and sunshine, a few happy moments; contemplating the blue sky, and fancying myself restored to the valley at F ----, where I have part so many happy hours, shut out from the world, and concealed in the bosom of harvests. It was then I first grew so fond of dreaming; and no wonder, since I have frequently imagined, that Ceres did not disdain to inspire my slumbers; but, half concealed, half visible, would tell me amusing stories of her reapers; and, sometimes more seriously inclined, recite the affecting tale of her misfortunes. At midday, when all was still, and a warm haze seemed to repose on the face of the landscape, I have often fancied this celestial voice bewailing Proserpine, in the most pathetic accents. From these sacred moments, I resolved to offer sacrifice in the fields of Enna; to explore their fragrant recesses, and experience whether the Divinity would not manifest herself to me in her favorite domain. It was this vow, which tempted me from my native valleys. Its execution, therefore, being my principal aim, I deserted my solitary bank, and proceeded on my journey.
Maestricht abounds in Gothic churches, but contains no temple to Ceres. I was not sorry to quit it, after spending an hour unavoidably within its walls. Our road was conducted up a considerable eminence, from the summit of which we discovered a range of woody steeps, extending for leagues; beneath lay a winding valley, richly variegated, and lighted up by the Maese. The evening sun, scarcely gleaming through hazy clouds, cast a pale, tender hue upon the landscape, and the copses, still dewy with a shower that had lately fallen, diffused the most grateful fragrance. Flocks of sheep hung browsing on the acclivities, whilst a numerous herd were dispersed along the river's side. I staid so long, enjoying this pastoral scene, that we did not arrive at Liege, till the night was advanced, and the moon risen. Her interesting gleams were thrown away upon this ill-built, crowded city; and I grieved, that gates and fortifications prevented my breathing the fresh air of the surrounding mountains.
Next morning (July 6th) a zigzag road brought us, after many descents and rises, to Spá. The approach, through a rocky vale, is not totally devoid of picturesque merit; and, as I met no cabriolets or tituppings on the chaussée, I concluded, that the waters were not as yet much visited; and, that I should have their romantic environs pretty much to myself. But, alas, how widely was I deceived! The moment we entered, up flew a dozen sashes. Chevaliers de St. Louis, meagre Marquises, and ladies of the scarlet order of Babylon, all poked their heads out. In a few minutes, half the town was in motion; taylors, confectioners, and barbers, thrusting bills into our hands, with manifold grimaces and contortions. Then succeeded a grand entré of valets de place, who were hardly dismissed before the lodging-letters arrived, followed by somebody with a list of les seigneurs and dames, as long as a Welsh pedigree. Half an hour was wasted in speeches and recommendations; another passed, before we could snatch a morsel of refreshment; they then finding I was neither inclined to go to the ball, nor enter the land where Pharaoh reigneth, peace was restored, a few feeble bows were scraped, and I found myself in perfect solitude. Taking advantage of this quiet moment, I stole out of town, and followed a path cut in the rocks, which brought me to a young wood of oaks on their summits. Luckily, I met no saunterer: the gay vagabonds, it seems, were all at the assembly, as happy as billiards and chit-chat could make them. It was not an evening to tempt such folks abroad. The air was cool, and the sky lowering, a melancholy cloud shaded the wild hills and irregular woods at a distance. There was something so importunate in their appearance, that I could not help asking their name, and was told they were skirts of the forest of Ardenne, amongst whose enchanted labyrinths the heroes of Bayardo and Ariosto roved formerly in quest of adventures. I felt myself singularly affected whilst gazing upon a wood so celebrated in romance for feats of the highest chivalry; and, Don Quixote like, would have explored its recesses in search of that memorable Fountain of Hatred, which (if you recollect the story) was raised by Merlin to free illustrious knights and damsels from the torments of rejected love. So far was I advanced in these romantic fancies, that, forgetting the lateness of the hour, I wandered on, expeding to reach the fountain at every step; but at length it grew so dusky, that, unable to trace back my way amongst the thickets, in vain I strayed through intricate copses, till the clouds began to disperse, and the moon appeared. Being so placed as to receive the full play of silver radiance, to my no small surprize, I beheld a precipice immediately beneath my feet. The chasm was deep and awful; something like the entrance of a grot discovered itself below; and, if I had not been already disappointed on the score of the fount, I won't answer but that I should have flung myself adventurously down, and tried, whether I might not have seen such wonders as appeared to Bradamante, when cast by Pinnabel, rather unpolitely, into Merlin's cave. But, no propitious light beaming from the cavity, I concluded times were changed; and, searching about me, found at last a shelving steep, which it was just possible to descend without goats heels, and that's all. In my way home I passed the redoute; and, seeing a vast glare of lustres in its apartments, I ran up stairs, and found the gamblers, all eager at storming the Pharaoh Bank: a young Englishman of distinction, seemed the most likely to raise the siege, which increased every instant in turbulence; but, not feeling the least inclination to protract, or to shorten its fate, I left the knights to their adventures, and returned, ingloriously, to my inn.
All languages are chattering at the Table d'Hôte, and all sorts of business transacted under my very windows. The racket and perfume of this place make me resolve to get out of it to-morrow; as that is the case, you won't hear from me till I reach Munich. Adieu! May we meet in our dreams by the fountain of Merlin, and from thence take our flight with Astolpho to the moon; for I shrewdly suspect the best part of our senses are bottled up there; and then, you know, it will be a delightful novelty to wake with a clear understanding.
"Indeed, Sir, no Monsieur comme il faut ever left Spá in such dudgeon before, unless jilted by a Polish princess, or stripped by an itinerant Count. You have neither breakfasted at the Vauxhall, nor attended the Spectacle, nor tasted the waters. Had you but taken one sip, your ill-humour would have all trickled away, and you would have felt both your heels and your elbows quite alive, in the evening." – Granted; but, pray tell your postillions to drive off as far as their horses will carry them. Away we went to Aix-la-Chapelle, about ten at night, and saw the mouldering turrets of that once illustrious capital, by the help of a candle and lantern. An old woman at the gate asked our names (for not a single soldier appeared) and after traversing a number of superannuated streets without perceiving the least trace of Charlemain or his Paladins, we procured comfortable though not magnificent apartments, and slept most unheroically sound, till it was time to set forward for Dusseldorp.
(July 8th.) As we were driven out of the town, I caught a glimpse of a grove, hemmed in by dingy buildings, where a few water-drinkers were sauntering along to the sound of some rueful french-horns; the wan greenish light admitted through the foliage made them look like unhappy souls condemned to an eternal lounge for having trifled away their existence. It was not with much regret that I left such a party behind; and, after experiencing the vicissitudes of good roads and rumbling pavements, found myself towards the close of the evening, upon the banks of the Rhine. Many wild ideas thronged into my mind, the moment I beheld this celebrated river. I thought of the vast regions through which it flows, and suffered my imagination to expatiate as far as its source. A red variegated sky reflected from the stream, the woods trembling on its banks, and the spires of Nuys rising beyond them, helped to amuse my fancy. Not being able to brook the confinement of the carriage, I left it to come over at its leisure; and, stepping into a boat, rowed along, at first by the quivering oziers; then, launching out into the midst of the waters, I glided a few moments with the current, and, resting on my oars, listened to the hum of voices afar off, while several little skiffs, like canoes, glanced before my sight; concerning which, distance and the twilight allowed me to make a thousand fantastic conjectures. When I had sufficiently indulged these extravagant reveries, I began to cross over the river in good earnest; and, being landed on its opposite margin, travelled forwards to the town.
Nothing but the famous gallery of paintings could invite strangers to stay a moment within its walls; more crooked streets, more indifferent houses, one seldom meets with; except soldiers, not a living creature moving about them; and at night a complete regiment of bugs "marked me for their own." Thus I lay, at once the seat of war and the conquest of these detestable animals, till early in the morning (Sunday, July 9), when Morpheus, compassionating my sufferings, opened the ivory gates of his empire, and freed his votary from the most unconscionable vermin ever engendered. In humble prose, I fell fast asleep; and remained quiet, in defiance of my adversaries, till it was time to survey the cabinet. This collection is displayed in five large galleries, and contains some valuable productions of the Italian school; but the room most boasted of is that which Rubens has filled with no less than three enormous representations of the last day, where an innumerable host of sinners are exhibited as striving in vain to avoid the tangles of the devil's tail. The woes of several fat luxurious souls are rendered in the highest gusto. Satan's dispute with some brawny concubines, whom he is lugging off in spite of all their resistance, cannot be too much admired by those who approve this class of subjects, and think such strange embroglios in the least calculated to raise a sublime or a religious idea. For my own part, I turned from them with disgust, and hastened to contemplate a holy family by Camillo Procaccini, in another apartment. The brightest imagination can never conceive any figure more graceful than that of the young Jesus; and if ever I beheld an inspired countenance or celectial features, it was here: but to attempt conveying in words what the pencil alone can express, would be only reversing the absurdity of many a master in the gallery who aims to represent those ideas by the pencil which language alone is able to describe. Should you admit this opinion, you will not be surprised at my passing such a multitude of renowned pictures unnoticed; not at my bringing you out of the cabinet without deluging ten pages with criticisms in the style of the ingenious Lady M. As I had spent so much time in the gallery, the day was too far advanced to think of travelling to Cologne; I was therefore obliged to put myself once more under the dominion of the most inveterate bugs in the universe. This government, like many others, made but an indifferent use of its power, and the subject suffering accordingly was extremely rejoiced at flying from his persecutors to Cologne.
(July 10th.) Clouds of dust hindered my making any remarks on the exterior of this celebrated city; but if its appearance be not more beautiful from without than within, I defy Mr. Salmon himself to launch forth very warmly in its praise. – But of what avail are stately palaces, broad streets, or airy markets, to a town which can boast of such a treasure as the bodies of those three wise sovereigns who were star-led to Bethlehem? Is not this circumstance enough to procure it every respect? I really believe so, from the pious and dignified contentment of its inhabitants. They care not a hair of an ass's ear whether their houses be gloomy and ill-contrived, their pavements overgrown with weeds, and their shops with filthiness, provided the carcasses of Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar might be preserved with proper decorum. Nothing, to be sure, can be richer than the shrine which contains these precious relics. I paid my devotions before it the moment I arrived; this step was inevitable: had I omitted it, not a soul in Cologne but would have cursed me for a Pagan. Do you not wonder at hearing of these venerable bodies so far from their native country? I thought them snug under some Arabian pyramid ten feet deep in spice; but, you see, one can never tell what is to become of one a few ages hence? Who knows but the Emperor of Morocco may be canonized some future day in Lapland? I asked, of course, how in the name of miracles they came hither? but found no story of a supernatural conveyance. It seems that great collectress of relics, the holy Empress Helena, as great a collectress of relics as the D – s of P. is of prophane curiosities, first routed them out: then they were packed off to Rome. King Alaric, having no grace, bundled them down to Milan; where they remained till it pleased Heaven to inspire an ancient archbishop with the fervent wish of depositing them at Cologne; there these skeletons were taken into the most especial consideration, crowned with jewels and filigreed with gold. Never were skulls more elegantly mounted; and I doubt whether Odin's buffet could exhibit so fine an assortment. The chapel containing these beatified bones is placed in a dark extremity of the cathedral. Several golden lamps gleam along the polished marbles with which it is adorned, and afford just light enough to read the following monkish inscription: -


After I had satisfied my curiosity with respect to the peregrinations of the consecrated skeletons, I examined their shrine; and was rather surprised to find it not only enriched with barbaric gold and pearl, but covered with cameos and intaglios of the best antique sculpture. Many an impious emperor and gross Silenus, many a wanton nymph and frantic bacchanal, figure in the same range with the statues of saints and evangelists. How St. Helena could tolerate such a mixed assembly (for the shrine, they say, was formed under her auspices) surpasses my comprehension. Perhaps you will say, it is no great matter; and give me a hint to move out of the chapel, lest the three kings and their star should lead me quite out of my way. Very well; I think I had better stop in time, to tell you, without further excursion, that we set off after dinner for Bonn. Our road-side was lined with beggarly children, high convent walls, and scarecrow crucifixes, lubberly monks, dejected peasants, and all the delights of Catholicism. Such scenery not engaging a share of my attention, I kept gazing at the azure irregular mountains which bounded our view, and in thought was already transported to their summits. Vast and wild were the prospects I surveyed from this imaginary exaltation, and innumerable the chimeras which trotted in my brain. Mounted on these fantastic quadrupeds, I shot swiftly from rock to rock, and built castles in the style of Piranesi, upon most of their pinnacles. The magnificence and variety of my actial towers hindered my thinking the way long. I was walking with a crowd of phantoms upon their terraces, when the carriage made a halt. Immediately descending the innumerable flights of steps which divide such lofty edifices from the lower world, I entered the inn at Bonn, and was shown into an apartment which commands the chief front of the Elector's residence. You may guess how contemptible it appeared to one just returned from the courts of fancy. In other respects I saw it at a very favourable moment, for the twilight, shading the whole façade, concealed its plaistered walls and painted pillars; their pediments and capitals being tolerably well proportioned, and the range of windows beneath considerable, I gave the architect more credit than he deserved, and paced to and fro beneath the arcade, as pompously as if arrived at the Vatican; but the circumstance which rendered my walk in reality agreeable, was the prevalence of a delicious perfume. It was so dusky, that I was a minute or two seeking in vain the entrance of an orangery, from whence this reviving scent proceeded. At length I discovered it; and, passing under an arch, found myself in the midst of lemon and orange trees, now in the fullest blow, which form a continued grove before the palace, and extend, on each side of its grand portal, out of sight. A few steps separate this extensive terrace from a lawn, bordered by stately rows of beeches. Beyond, in the centre of this striking theatre, rises a romantic assemblage of distant mountains, crowned with the ruins of castles, whose turrets, but faintly seen, were just such as you have created to complete a prospect. I was the only human being in the misty extent of the gardens, and was happier in my solitude than I can describe. No noise disturbed its silence, except the flutter of moths and trickling of fountains. These undecided sounds, corresponding with the dimness and haze of the scenery, threw me into a pensive state of mind, neither gay nor dismal. I recapitulated the wayward adventures of my childhood, and traced back each moment of a period, which had seen me happy. Then, turning my thoughts towards future days, my heart beat at the idea of that awful veil which covers the time to come. One moment, 'twas the brightest hope that glittered behind it; the next, a series of melancholy images clouded the perspective. Thus, alternately swayed by fears and exultation, I passed an interesting hour in the twilight, ranging amongst the orange-trees, or reclined by the fountain. I could not boast of being perfectly satisfied, since those were absent without whom not even the fields of Enna could be charming. However, I was far from displeased with the clear streams that bubbled around, and could willingly have dropt asleep by their margin. Had I reposed in so romantic a situation, the murmurs of trees and waters, would doubtless have invited "some strange mysterious dream" to hover over me; and, perhaps, futurity might have been unveiled.

Letter I ::: Letter II ::: Letter III ::: Letter IV ::: Letter V ::: Letter VI ::: Letter VII ::: Letter VIII ::: Letter IX ::: Letter X ::: Letter XI ::: Letter XII ::: Letter XIII ::: Letter XIV ::: Letter XV ::: Letter XVI ::: Letter XVII ::: Letter XVIII ::: Letter XIX ::: Letter XX ::: Letter XXI ::: Letter XXII ::: Letter XXIII ::: Letter XXIV ::: Letter XXV ::: Letter XXVI ::: Letter XXVII
Additional letters, I-VII
An Excursion to the Grande Chartreuse in the year 1778