Castleton, June 30th.
Before I tell you anything of the place where I now am, I will proceed regularly in my narrative, and so begin now where I left off in my last letter. On Tuesday afternoon Mr. Maud took me to the different walks about Oxford, and often remarked, that they were not only the finest in England, but he believed in Europe. I own I do not think he over-rated their merit. There is one in particular near the river, and close to some charming meadows, behind Corpus Christi College, which may fairly challenge the world.
We here seated ourselves on a bench, and Mr. Maud drew a review from his pocket, where, among other things, a German book of Professor Beckman's was reviewed and applauded. Mr. Maud seemed, on this occasion, to show some respect for German literature. At length we parted. He went to fill up the vacancy of the clerk's place at Dorchester, and I to the Mitre, to prepare for my departure from Oxford, which took place on Wednesday morning at three o'clock, in the post-coach. Considering the pleasing, if not kind attention shown me here, I own I thought my bill not unreasonable; though to be sure, it made a great hole in my little purse.
Within this coach there was another young man, who, though dressed in black, yet to judge from the cockade in his hat might be an officer. The outside was quite full with soldiers and their wives. The women of the lower class here wear a kind of short cloak made of red cloth: but women in general, from the highest to the lowest, wear hats, which differ from each other less in fashion than they do in fineness.
Fashion is so generally attended to among the English women, that the poorest maid-servant is careful to be in the fashion. They seem to be particularly so in their hats or bonnets, which they all wear: and they are in my opinion far more becoming than the very unsightly hoods and caps which our German women, of the rank of citizens, wear. There is, through all ranks here, not near so great a distinction between high and low as there is in Germany.
I had, during this day, a little headache; which rendered me more silent and reserved to my company than is either usual in England or natural to me. The English are taxed, perhaps too hastily, with being shy and distant to strangers. I do not think this was, even formerly, their true character; or that any such sentiment is conveyed in Virgil's "Hospitibus feros." Be this as it may, the case was here reversed. The Englishman here spoke to me several times in a very friendly manner, while I testified not the least inclination to enter into conversation with him.
He however owned afterwards that it was this very apparent reserve of mine that first gained me his good opinion.
He said he had studied physic, but with no immediate view of practising it. His intention, he said, was to go to the East Indies, and there, first, to try his fortune as an officer. And he was now going to Birmingham, merely to take leave of his three sisters, whom he much loved, and who were at school there.
I endeavoured to merit his confidence by telling him in my turn of my journey on foot through England; and by relating to him a few of the most remarkable of my adventures. He frankly told me he thought it was venturing a great deal, yet he applauded the design of my journey, and did not severely censure my plan. On my asking him why Englishmen, who were so remarkable for acting up to their own notions and ideas, did not, now and then, merely to see life in every point of view, travel on foot. "Oh," said he, "we are too rich, too lazy, and too proud."
And most true it is, that the poorest Englishman one sees, is prouder and better pleased to expose himself to the danger of having his neck broken on the outside of a stage, than to walk any considerable distance, though he might walk ever so much at his ease. I own I was frightened and distressed when I saw the women, where we occasionally stopped, get down from the top of the coach. One of them was actually once in much danger of a terrible fall from the roof, because, just as she was going to alight, the horses all at once unexpectedly went on. From Oxford to Birmingham is sixty-two miles; but all that was to be seen between the two places was entirely lost to me, for I was again mewed up in a post-coach, and driven along with such velocity from one place to another, that I seemed to myself as doing nothing less than travelling.
My companion, however, made me amends in some measure for this loss. He seemed to be an exceedingly good-tempered and intelligent man; and I felt in this short time a prepossession in his favour one does not easily form for an ordinary person. This, I flattered myself, was also the case with him, and it would mortify me not a little to think he had quite forgotten me, as I am sure I shall never forget him.
Just as we had been sometime eagerly conversing about Shakespeare, we arrived, without either of us having thought of it, at Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace, where our coach stopped, that being the end of one stage. We were still two-and-twenty miles from Birmingham, and ninety-four from London. I need not tell you what our feelings were, on thus setting our feet on classic ground.