BOULOGNE, May 23, 1765.
DEAR DOCTOR, - I found three English families at Aix, with whom I could have passed my time very agreeably but the society is now dissolved. Mr. S - re and his lady left the place in a few days after we arrived. Mr. A - r and lady Betty are gone to Geneva; and Mr. G - r with his family remains at Aix. This gentleman, who laboured under a most dreadful nervous asthma, has obtained such relief from this climate, that he intends to stay another year in the place: and Mr. A - r found surprizing benefit from drinking the waters, for a scorbutical complaint. As I was incommoded by both these disorders, I could not but in justice to myself, try the united efforts of the air and the waters; especially as this consideration was re-inforced by the kind and pressing exhortations of Mr. A - r and lady Betty, which I could not in gratitude resist.
Aix, the capital of Provence, is a large city, watered by the small river Are. It was a Roman colony, said to be founded by Caius Sextus Calvinus, above a century before the birth of Christ. From the source of mineral water here found, added to the consul's name, it was called Aquae Sextiae. It was here that Marius, the conqueror of the Teutones, fixed his headquarters, and embellished the place with temples, aqueducts, and thermae, of which, however, nothing now remains. The city, as it now stands, is well built, though the streets in general are narrow, and kept in a very dirty condition. But it has a noble cours planted with double rows of tall trees, and adorned with three or four fine fountains, the middlemost of which discharges hot water supplied from the source of the baths. On each side there is a row of elegant houses, inhabited chiefly by the noblesse, of which there is here a considerable number. The parliament, which is held at Aix, brings hither a great resort of people; and as many of the inhabitants are persons of fashion, they are well bred, gay, and sociable. The duc de Villars, who is governor of the province, resides on the spot, and keeps an open assembly, where strangers are admitted without reserve, and made very welcome, if they will engage in play, which is the sole occupation of the whole company. Some of our English people complain, that when they were presented to him, they met with a very cold reception. The French, as well as other foreigners, have no idea of a man of family and fashion, without the title of duke, count, marquis, or lord, and where an English gentleman is introduced by the simple expression of monsieur tel, Mr. Suchathing, they think he is some plebeian, unworthy of any particular attention.
Aix is situated in a bottom, almost surrounded by hills, which, however, do not screen it from the Bize, or north wind, that blows extremely sharp in the winter and spring, rendering the air almost insupportably cold, and very dangerous to those who have some kinds of pulmonary complaints, such as tubercules, abscesses, or spitting of blood. Lord H - , who passed part of last winter in this place, afflicted with some of these symptoms, grew worse every day while he continued at Aix: but, he no sooner removed to Marseilles, than all his complaints abated; such a difference there is in the air of these two places, though the distance between them does not exceed ten or twelve miles. But the air of Marseilles, though much more mild than that of Aix in the winter is not near so warm as the climate of Nice, where we find in plenty such flowers, fruit, and vegetables, even in the severest season, as will not grow and ripen, either at Marseilles or Toulon.
If the air of Aix is disagreeably cold in the winter, it is rendered quite insufferable in the summer, from excessive heat, occasioned by the reflexion from the rocks and mountains, which at the same time obstruct the circulation of air: for it must be observed, that the same mountains which serve as funnels and canals, to collect and discharge the keen blasts of winter, will provide screens to intercept intirely the faint breezes of summer. Aix, though pretty well provided with butcher's meat, is very ill supplied with potherbs; and they have no poultry but what comes at a vast distance from the Lionnois. They say their want of roots, cabbage, cauliflower, etc. is owing to a scarcity of water: but the truth is, they are very bad gardeners. Their oil is good and cheap: their wine is indifferent: but their chief care seems employed on the culture of silk, the staple of Provence, which is every where shaded with plantations of mulberry trees, for the nourishment of the worms. Notwithstanding the boasted cheapness of every article of housekeeping, in the south of France, I am persuaded a family may live for less money at York, Durham, Hereford, and in many other cities of England than at Aix in Provence; keep a more plentiful table; and be much more comfortably situated in all respects. I found lodging and provision at Aix fifty per cent dearer than at Montpellier, which is counted the dearest place in Languedoc.