PARIS, October 12, 1763.
DEAR SIR, - Of our journey from Boulogne I have little to say. The weather was favourable, and the roads were in tolerable order. We found good accommodation at Montreuil and Amiens; but in every other place where we stopped, we met with abundance of dirt, and the most flagrant imposition. I shall not pretend to describe the cities of Abbeville and Amiens, which we saw only en passant; nor take up your time with an account of the stables and palace of Chantilly, belonging to the prince of Conde, which we visited the last day of our journey; nor shall I detain you with a detail of the Trefors de St. Denis, which, together with the tombs in the abbey church, afforded us some amusement while our dinner was getting ready. All these particulars are mentioned in twenty different books of tours, travels, and directions, which you have often perused. I shall only observe, that the abbey church is the lightest piece of Gothic architecture I have seen, and the air within seems perfectly free from that damp and moisture, so perceivable in all our old cathedrals. This must be owing to the nature of its situation. There are some fine marble statues that adorn the tombs of certain individuals here interred; but they are mostly in the French taste, which is quite contrary to the simplicity of the antients. Their attitudes are affected, unnatural, and desultory; and their draperies fantastic; or, as one of our English artists expressed himself, they are all of a flutter. As for the treasures, which are shewn on certain days to the populace gratis, they are contained in a number of presses, or armoires, and, if the stones are genuine, they must be inestimable: but this I cannot believe. Indeed I have been told, that what they shew as diamonds are no more than composition: nevertheless, exclusive of these, there are some rough stones of great value, and many curiosities worth seeing. The monk that shewed them was the very image of our friend Hamilton, both in his looks and manner.
I have one thing very extraordinary to observe of the French auberges, which seems to be a remarkable deviation from the general character of the nation. The landlords, hostesses, and servants of the inns upon the road, have not the least dash of complaisance in their behaviour to strangers. Instead of coming to the door, to receive you as in England, they take no manner of notice of you; but leave you to find or enquire your way into the kitchen, and there you must ask several times for a chamber, before they seem willing to conduct you up stairs. In general, you are served with the appearance of the most mortifying indifference, at the very time they are laying schemes for fleecing you of your money. It is a very odd contrast between France and England; in the former all the people are complaisant but the publicans; in the latter there is hardly any complaisance but among the publicans. When I said all the people in France, I ought also to except those vermin who examine the baggage of travellers in different parts of the kingdom. Although our portmanteaus were sealed with lead, and we were provided with a passe-avant from the douane, our coach was searched at the gate of Paris by which we entered; and the women were obliged to get out, and stand in the open street, till this operation was performed.
I had desired a friend to provide lodgings for me at Paris, in the Fauxbourg St. Germain; and accordingly we found ourselves accommodated at the Hotel de Montmorency, with a first floor, which costs me ten livres a day. I should have put up with it had it been less polite; but as I have only a few days to stay in this place, and some visits to receive, I am not sorry that my friend has exceeded his commission. I have been guilty of another piece of extravagance in hiring a carosse de remise, for which I pay twelve livres a day. Besides the article of visiting, I could not leave Paris, without carrying my wife and the girls to see the most remarkable places in and about this capital, such as the Luxemburg, the Palais-Royal, the Thuilleries, the Louvre, the Invalids, the Gobelins, together with Versailles, Trianon, Marli, Meudon, and Choissi; and therefore, I thought the difference in point of expence would not be great, between a carosse de remise and a hackney coach. The first are extremely elegant, if not too much ornamented, the last are very shabby and disagreeable. Nothing gives me such chagrin, as the necessity I am under to hire a valet de place, as my own servant does not speak the language. You cannot conceive with what eagerness and dexterity those rascally valets exert themselves in pillaging strangers. There is always one ready in waiting on your arrival, who begins by assisting your own servant to unload your baggage, and interests himself in your affairs with such artful officiousness, that you will find it difficult to shake him off, even though you are determined beforehand against hiring any such domestic. He produces recommendations from his former masters, and the people of the house vouch for his honesty.