Memoirs of Josef Boruwlaski - CHAP. VI.

Departure for England by Frankfort, Mayence, Manheim, and Strasburgh -- Introduction to the Princess Christian, aunt to Louis XVIII.-- Arrival at Ostend -- Storm at sea -- Landing at Margate, and visit of Custom House Officers -- Tale of a Tub -- Waiter's blunders -- Opinion of a stage coach -- Departure from Margate, and arrival in London.

            I HAVE already observed, that his Excellency Sir Robert Murray Keith had prevailed upon me to visit England, by having assured me a thousand times, that I could not fail of making a brilliant fortune in a country where generosity and greatness of soul are reckoned among the characteristic virtues of the nation. Therefore, after having passed rapidly through Frankfort, Mayence, and Manheim, I went to Strasburgh, where I had the honour to give a concert, under the patronage of the Princess Christian, aunt of Louis XVIII. the present King of France, to whom I had also the honour to present a letter of recommendation from the Electress of Bavaria, her sister. She politely engaged me to spend every evening at her court. This kind engagement I considered as an extreme favour, since I was convinced that she was actuated by far more noble views, than those of mere curiosity, in taking so great an interest in my concerns. She not only procured me a good benefit, but kindly advised me to pay my visits to those persons who had favoured me with their attendance at my concert, furnishing me at the same time with their names and residence. I acted agreeably to her wishes; from which I derived a great advantage, being received by the public with great attention and politeness, and honoured with an abundance of invitations, so that I found myself truly happy itís the midst of so much kindness, and of so agreeable a society. The Princess had a large party one evening, to which she did me the honour of sending me an invitation, and very graciously introduced me to the brilliant company I found there assembled. She was in high spirits; and, in the course of conversation, brought to my recollection many pleasing circumstances which had occurred during my stay at the court of Munich, and her visit to her sister the Electress of Bavaria. She particularly mentioned my giving a preference to her sister the Princess Elizabeth, above all the beauties of the court. To this observation, I took the liberty of asking the Princess's permission to reply, which she most readily granted, saying, "Speak, Joujou." "If you will allow me, Princess," I answered, "with due respect to your illustrious sister, to confess the truth, I must say, she was so highly favoured by nature, that the charms of her noble and dignified mind, and her numerous accomplishments, gave her an irresistible power of attraction. Pardon my speaking so freely, but answer me yourself, Princess: How many claims to favour did she not possess?" The Princess was delighted with my reply, and all the company were so well satisfied, that next day I received numerous invitations for dinners, suppers, and, assemblies.

            This amiable Princess wished to send me to Paris, or to Dresden, assuring me that all my wants should be supplied. But I was obliged to tell her, that I had pledged my promise to Prince Kaunitz, who had so far honoured me with his friendship, as to give me a pressing invitation to go to England, which if I neglected to fulfil, I should be guilty of ingratitude. I added, that I had so much reason to be well pleased with the letters of recommendation which he had procured me to that kingdom, that, with their aid, it was impossible I should fail of success, amongst so generous a people as the English. The night before my departure, I received from her a handsome gold box, of three different colours, which she had directed to be made on purpose for me, but which cruel necessity afterwards compelled me to dispose of, during my residence in London.

            I afterwards directed my course to the opulent city of Brussels, where I remained two months; during which time I fortunately became acquainted with a Mr. Mills, a native of Ireland, who, very prudently considering that the circumstances of my being an entire stranger in Lowden, and my ignorance of the English language, might subject me to difficulties which I had not at all taken into my calculation, most politely gave me a letter of introduction to his friend Mr. McMahon, in London, with a request that I would deliver it immediately upon my arrival there. And so scrupulously did I adhere to the directions of my friend, that on reaching that metropolis, I drove directly to the door of the worthy Mr. McMahon, by whom I was immediately received in the politest manner imaginable; and thus, much trouble and inconvenience were saved to me. And if ever this should fall into the hands of my excellent friend, Mr. Mills, I hope it will convince him, that I retain a grateful sense of all his kind attentions to me.

            Having anticipated my subject, to discharge this debt of gratitude, I proceed to state, that I embarked at Ostend; and here I must confess my inability to describe the grandeur and solemnity of the scene, with which my mind was at that moment impressed, on beholding again so tremendous a spectacle as the sea -- such a depth and extent of boisterous and tempestuous water, whereon I was so soon to expose my life! I had a sort of foreboding, that it was to be my grave; which was in truth nearly realized. For, during a difficult passage of six days, we were continually tossed about by storms and tempests; the masts were broken, the sails rent and carried away, and in short, there was every appearance of approaching destruction. And, notwithstanding my serious alarms for my own personal safety, I may, I hope, be permitted to add, that my feelings were greatly increased by my apprehensions for the companions of the voyage; many of whom probably had large families, whose comforts wholly depended on their lives and health. The storm, however, at length happily abated, and then our attention was turned to the miserable state of the passengers on board; all of whom were either affected by a violent spitting of blood, or the most dreadful sea sickness, the general consequence of a storm; so that the satisfaction which was felt by all upon making the harbour, may more easily be conceived than described.

            It was night-fall ere we came in sight of Margate, and being also low water, the Captain felt great difficulty in approaching with his vessel; but, on my earnest entreaty to be set on shore, he most politely directed his master to accompany me in the boat with my luggage; giving him, at the same time, the strictest injunctions to pay every possible attention to my safety and accommodation. The master, therefore, together with myself and servant, bag and baggage, now steered in the packet boat for the shore; on our reaching which a difficulty arose, that almost led me to repent having left the vessel, for we soon discovered, that we had not any person to take care of the boat, whilst my luggage was conveyed to the inn, which provoked me more than if I had remained on board; but, at length a man passing by, we asked him, if he would procure a large stone, to supply the want of an anchor, to moor the boat, offering at the same time to make him a recompense for his trouble. This he readily undertook, and accordingly, dispatched my man along with him; and they having soon returned with a stone large enough for the purpose, and a long rope for a temporary cable, we contrived to secure the boat, and prepared to move our trunks, in a state of perfect security, as we vainly imagined. For, what was my surprise, on beholding six men, carrying lanthorns in their hands, and approaching us from the harbour! At first I supposed them to be my old neighbours the Tartars, near the Borysthenes, or a savage banditti from Zehdho, who had landed in England, to which they bore an exact resemblance; so that I, who had so lately congratulated myself upon a most providential escape from the dangers of the sea, now again gave myself up for lost, not doubting that my life must eventually be sacrificed; an idea which was considerably strengthened by the cruel and wanton manner in which I beheld these savages, forcing open the locks of the packages, rummaging and searching the trunks for hidden treasure, as I imagined; and, on their disappointment in not finding any, I did not at all doubt that their vengeance would fall upon me, so wild and infuriate were they in their manners, more resembling wild beasts than men, and ready to knock out our brains on the least show of resistance.

            But my fears were speedily dissipated, and my mind relieved, on being told, that these worthy gentlemen were Custom House Officers; and I afterwards found, that their proceedings were fully sanctioned by the laws of this land of boasted liberty. But, as I could not at that time imagine, that any laws could countenance such wanton and unnecessary proceedings; and as I thought that the utmost extent of their duty was to prevent smuggling, and not to exercise their prerogative to the dread of strangers, I began to remonstrate with them on their conduct. I found, however, that I gained nothing for my labour but a torrent of abuse, which was not little increased by their mortification, at not having made any discoveries. Casting, however, their eyes around, they soon perceived the rope plunged into the water; at which I could observe a glance of satisfaction for a moment enlighten the gloomy countenances of these worthy beings, upon the prospect which they supposed presented itself, of promoting the interests of government; for I cannot for a moment imagine, that they had any views to their own personal advantage; and I could not refrain from smiling at the alacrity with which they set about dragging the rope to the surface; but the stone having sunk deeply in the sand, increased their difficulties, and I desired my servant to give them his assistance, by which means the mighty treasure was brought to light. Upon which, with great gravity, I requested that they would accept of so very valuable a pebble, as some reward for their services; hoping, at the same time, that it might be considered as an earnest of what their zeal and activity might expect from government, to whom I could not fail to communicate every particular of the transaction. On such an occasion, the privilege of a reply is generally exercised, and accordingly, one of these gentry smartly enough observed, "No, no! Sir, keep it to yourself, if you are going to London, it may be the means of making your fortune-" To which I replied, "that I was by no means disposed to rob him of the fair perquisites of his office, but begged him to put it into the box, which he had ready upon his back."

            During my conversation with this man he wore an upper coat, which concealed what I took for a box actually fastened to his back, but which, in fact, turned out to be a natural hump; otherwise, nothing could be more distant from my ideas, than to deride any human being, on account of the infirmities of nature. My good friend, however, appeared to be cruelly offended at my observation, and asked, if I meant to insult him, by comparing him to ∆sop: to which I very readily answered, that such a comparison would not hold in any other way than this, namely, I had always considered ∆sop as a very eminent and renowned character; in high esteem with his king, on account of the beauties of his mind; and, although there was some trifling difference between the two, yet I thought my friend, to whom I was addressing myself, equally entitled to the confidence of his sovereign, by reason of his personal exertions for the benefit of the revenue. With this apology the gentleman acquiesced, and expressed himself satisfied; but I could perceive, it was that sort of satisfaction which we feel on taking wormwood drops: we taste a little of the bitter along with the sweet. A mutual amnesty, however, succeeded, and my friend took his leave with that degree of silent humility which became his situation.

            After the departure of these national protectors, I availed myself of the opportunity to proceed to the inn, where I arrived late at night, and, being very much fatigued and exhausted, from the roughness of the voyage and the length of time that I had been detained in the boat, I preferred bed to supper, and gave my directions accordingly.

            During the first moments that I was in bed, before I experienced the visitation of the drowsy god, I felt (as I have since understood is generally the case after a sea voyage) motions similar to those of an earthquake, which continued, without interruption, for some time, but which I at first disregarded, and turned my head, which I had lifted up, again to the pillow, seeking that repose so necessary for my agitated mind and weary limbs; but, on a sudden, I was awakened from my drowsiness, by a repetition of the same sensations more violent than before: the bed shook under me, and I was seriously alarmed, being in that state which may properly be called half asleep, and recollecting that, in my former travels through Italy, I had visited Aquila, the capital of Abruzzo, where I was informed that the earth had opened, and discharged immense quantities of stones, which covered the surface of the country for several miles round; and that, afterwards, from the same volcanoes had issued water spouts, which deluged the whole surrounding neighbourhood, as I myself beheld,-- all the horrors of that dreadful situation immediately crowded on my mind; and, upon a third yet more violent agitation of the bed, in my exertion to avoid the imagined danger, by a sudden attempt to leap to the other side of the bed, found myself -- I give you leave to guess where, but it will never occur to you. Judge, then, my astonishment, to find myself up to the neck in a tub of salt water; a situation not greatly improved by the total darkness of the room, and my utter inability to form any correct judgment of my real situation.

            Whilst immersed in this delightful pickle, my ears were saluted by a noise, which I could not so aptly compare to any thing, as to a volcanic eruption of the earth; and I gave myself up now as totally lost:-- conceive, then, how I felt relieved from my anxiety, on hearing the voices of the passengers from the packet, who had just arrived at the inn, the flood tide having brought them into the harbour. Amongst others, I had the satisfaction to distinguish a French officer, M. Larmina, who was on his way to take a command in the service of the Emperor of Morocco, and with whom I had formed an acquaintance during the passage. He spoke the Turkish language very fluently, and might have passed very well for a renegado.

            No sooner was my friend Larmina arrived at the inn, than, having expressed his apprehensions for my safety, and making anxious inquiries after me, he was introduced into my room, where he found me in the situation I have already described. I immediately stated to him all the circumstances, and I soon discovered, that I owed great part of my fright and alarm to a mastiff dog, which happened to be above, in the place to which he usually made his retreat at night; the house being slightly built, the noise he made shook my room, as much as if it had been an earthquake. must, however, frankly confess, that all the tragic powers of a Siddons and a Kemble combined, would not have inspired my mind with more dreadful ideas than this mastiff dog produced.

            Order having been in some degree restored, and my friend Lamina having communicated to our fellow passengers the particulars of my disaster, which he did not fail to embellish with all the humour, of which he possessed an abundant share, they immediately thronged into my room, pouring upon me their most hearty congratulations, on my deliverance from so critical and gloomy a situation, and wishing me joy upon my independence, and restoration to liberty from the tub. They told me, they would not fail to celebrate the anniversary of so memorable a day, with as much solemnity as the Gunpowder Plot, adding, that they would instantly proceed to offer a Te Deum. But to this I answered, that as we were at a considerable distance from the church, and as my imaginary travel last night to Abruzzo had procured me an appetite, I should prefer a good breakfast, (which was accordingly ordered) to all the thanksgivings in the world. "You perhaps think, my friends," added I, "that this is a most unlucky accident; but, I assure you, it does not disconcert me. I rather take it as an omen, that though I may hereafter be a little tossed about on the ocean of life, I shall be able to keep my head above water, and find friends at last to bring me safe to the shore of peace and happiness. "You put a good face upon the matter," said they. To which I replied, "I have always thought that the best way, since I read what happened to the illustrious Julius Cśsar, on his landing in Britain. He was the first who set foot upon the Island; and, in his eagerness to land, he fell, and his hands stuck in the mud. On his rising, he hold them out with a look of despair, considering this as a most unfortunate omen; when immediately the presence of mind of his soldiers gave that happy turn to the occurrence, which led to the conquest of the Country. You ought, said they, to look on this as a most fortunate event; for by it you have taken immediate possession .of the Island.' You see here, my friends, the fruits of looking on the best side of things; and I think you must allow, that the fall of Julius was at first quite as unlucky, as this ducking of mine in the tub." My friends applauded my philosophy, and we sat down very cheerfully to breakfast.

            Although money can in general procure most of the comforts of life, yet I have never been able to discover, that it could subdue the invincible obstinacy and stupidity of waiters at taverns; who, for the most part, cannot be made to move out of their ordinary place,-- a circumstance which I have always found a considerable tax upon my patience. During my stay at this inn, I was highly amused by the careless blunders of the waiter who attended us; one of which I shall just now mention. I took particular notice of the regular motion of his feet, for it appeared to me, as if he had adopted the cotillion step, or time of 6/8; and if ever he was stimulated to the exertion of a quicker motion, it was ten to one but he made some gross mistake in the orders given, as if he had really been deaf from his infancy, which was fully exemplified in the following instance:-- Two gentlemen came to the inn, whose names were, as it should seem, somewhat uncommon, Mr. Mogg and Mr. Porter; and who, it appeared, were members of the Poets' Club, some of whom were at that time at our table. Upon these two gentlemen being introduced into the room, Mr. Bottomlow, the landlord, very cordially addressed them thus: "Come, Mogg and Porter, sit down and warm yourselves between us, near the fire." The waiter, as usual, wholly inattentive to the business requiring his care, and listening only to the conversation passing between the two gentlemen and his master, according to the usual system of this sort of people, answered directly three times, "Yes, Sir!" (as I have since found it is the universal custom to answer), and having caught only half the sound, instantly quitted the room with unusual activity, and soon returned with a mug of warm porter, which he presented to the company! At this gross mistake, poor Bottomlow, the landlord, expressed great uneasiness; but Mr. Mogg and Mr. Porter enjoyed the joke with abundance of good humour, and entertained the company with several anecdotes of similar mistakes with respect to names, enlivened with so much humour, that it was impossible not to feel a more than ordinary degree of friendship for them both; and, for my own part, I must candidly confess, that I passed so very pleasant an evening in their society, that it was with no small regret I found myself under the necessity of making preparations the following day for my journey to London. I cannot sufficiently express the astonishment which I felt, on first beholding a stage coach; a machine which, according to my conceptions, was adapted to any purpose rather than that for which it was intended; having a short and narrow carriage, upon which was suspended a most enormous body out of all proportion, and besides so loaded on the top with passengers and luggage, as to give the whole the resemblance of the Tower of Babel. It was not without very uneasy sensations that I ventured into a carriage of this kind, in the construction of which it appeared very clearly to me, that the safety of the lives of his Majesty's liege subjects had been only a secondary consideration; for, there being nothing to counter-balance so unwieldy a body, the coach must be liable to be overturned by slight accidents, to the very great risk of the passengers. Fortunately, however, we arrived in London, without any material accident; and, pursuing the directions given to me by Mr. Mills, I drove immediately to the house of his friend, Mr. McMahon, adjoining to the Opera House, in the Hay-Market; where I was received by him in such a manner, as fully convinced .me, that I was not mistaken in the account I had heard, and the notions I had myself formed, of Irish hospitality.


Prev Next