Richmond, 21st June, 1782.
Yesterday afternoon I had the luxury for the first time of being driven in an English stage. These coaches are, at least in the eyes of a foreigner, quite elegant, lined in the inside; and with two seats large enough to accommodate six persons; but it must be owned, when the carriage is full, the company are rather crowded.
At the White Hart from whence the coach sets out, there was, at first only an elderly lady who got in; but as we drove along, it was soon filled, and mostly by ladies, there being only one more gentleman and myself. The conversation of the ladies among themselves, who appeared to be a little acquainted with each other, seemed to me to be but very insipid and tiresome. All I could do was, I drew out my book of the roads, and marked the way we were going.
Before you well know that you are out of London you are already in Kensington and Hammersmith; because there are all the way houses on both sides, after you are out of the city; just as you may remember the case is with us when you drive from Berlin to Schoneberg; although in point of prospect, houses and streets, the difference, no doubt, is prodigious.
It was a fine day, and there were various delightful prospects on both sides, on which the eye would willingly have dwelt longer, had not our coach rolled on past them, so provokingly quick. It appeared somewhat singular to me, when at a few miles from London, I saw at a distance a beautiful white house; and perceived on the high road, on which we were driving, a direction post, on which were written these words: "that great white house at a distance is a boarding-school!"
The man who was with us in the coach pointed out to us the country seats of the lords and great people by which we passed; and entertained us with all kind of stories of robberies which had been committed on travellers, hereabouts; so that the ladies at last began to be rather afraid; on which he began to stand up for the superior honour of the English robbers, when compared with the French: the former he said robbed only, the latter both robbed and murdered.
Notwithstanding this there are in England another species of villains, who also murder, and that oftentimes for the merest trifle, of which they rob the person murdered. These are called footpads, and are the lowest class of English rogues; amongst whom in general there reigns something like some regard to character.
The highest order of thieves are the pickpockets or cutpurses, whom you find everywhere; and sometimes even in the best companies. They are generally well and handsomely dressed, so that you take them to be persons of rank; as indeed may sometimes be the case: persons who by extravagance and excesses have reduced themselves to want, and find themselves obliged at last to have recourse to pilfering and thieving.
Next to them come the highwaymen, who rob on horseback; and often, they say, even with unloaded pistols, they terrify travellers, in order to put themselves in possession of their purses. Among these persons, however, there are instances of true greatness of soul, there are numberless instances of their returning a part of their booty, where the party robbed has appeared to be particularly distressed; and they are seldom guilty of murder.
Then comes the third and lowest, and worst of all thieves and rogues, the footpads before mentioned; who are on foot, and often murder in the most inhuman manner, for the sake of only a few shillings, any unfortunate people who happen to fall in their way. Of this several mournful instances may be read almost daily in the English papers. Probably they murder, because they cannot like highwaymen, aided by their horses, make a rapid flight: and therefore such pests are frequently pretty easily pursued and taken if the person robbed gives information of his robbery in time.
But to return to our stage, I must observe, that they have here a curious way of riding, not in, but upon a stage-coach. Persons to whom it is not convenient to pay a full price, instead of the inside, sit on the top of the coach, without any seats or even a rail. By what means passengers thus fasten themselves securely on the roof of these vehicles, I know not; but you constantly see numbers seated there, apparently at their ease, and in perfect safety.
This they call riding on the outside; for which they pay only half as much as those pay who are within: we had at present six of these passengers over our heads, who, when we alighted, frequently made such a noise and bustle, as sometimes almost frightened us. He who can properly balance himself, rides not incommodiously on the outside; and in summer time, in fine weather, on account of the prospects, it certainly is more pleasant than it is within: excepting that the company is generally low, and the dust is likewise more troublesome than in the inside, where, at any rate, you may draw up the windows according to your pleasure.
In Kensington, where we stopped, a Jew applied for a place along with us; but as there was no seat vacant in the inside, he would not ride on the outside, which seemed not quite to please my travelling companions. They could not help thinking it somewhat preposterous that a Jew should be ashamed to ride on the outside, or on any side, and in any way; since as they added, he was nothing more than a Jew. This antipathy and prejudice against the Jews, I have noticed to be far more common here, than it is even with us, who certainly are not partial to them.