Item of the Day: A View of Society and Manners in France, Switzerland, and Germany (1780)

Full Title: A view of society and manners in France, Switzerland, and Germany: with anecdotes relating to some eminent characters. By John Moore, M.D. Vol. I. & Vol. II. Third edition, corrected. London: Printed for W. Strahan, and T. Cadell, 1780.

[Dr. John Moore was a popular and favorably reviewed writer in the late 18th century. In addition to A View of Society and Manners in France, Switzerland, and Germany, Moore, a medical doctor, wrote A Journal during a Residence in France, from the Beginning of August, to the Middle of December, 1792 in which he recounts, as an eyewitness, the events in Paris leading up to the death of the king. Moore’s novel, Zeluco, published in 1786, was both popular and controversial. Byron cited Zeluco as one of the figures that inspired Childe Harold. Lord Gardenstone, in Travelling Memorandums, critiqued Moore’s travel writing: “Dr. Moore writes with propriety, some spirit, and with better information; but, to my taste, he expatiates too much.” Gardenstone preferred his “old and excellent friend Dr. Smollet. –Testy and discontented as he is, he writes with perspicuity. –His observations are generally sensible, and even his oddities are entertaining.” The 18th-Century Reading Room houses editions of A View of Society and Manners in France, Switzerland, and Germany (1780), A Journal during a Residence in France (1794), and Zeluco (1789). The following is the text of Letter II. in A View of Society and Manners in France, Switzerland, and Germany which was written as a series of letters.]

LETTER II.

Paris.Your setting out for London immediately on the receipt of my letter, is what might have been expected. –Nothing renders a man so active as an eager desire of doing good; and I might have foreseen, that you would catch at the opportunity with which I furnished you to indulge a ruling passion.

It gives me great satisfaction to know, that our young friend and you are upon such a confidential footing; and I heartily hope that nothing will interrupt a connection which must be a source of pleasing reflection to you, and in every way advantageous to him. –I had no doubt that he would readily agree to accompany you to the country; but I was not so certain that he might not have found it necessary to accept of your other friendly proposal. –His refusal is a proof, that he has reconciled his mind to his circumstances; and, with those sentiments, I am convinced that he will be able to live within his remaining yearly income with more satisfaction than he enjoyed when he spent five times that sum. –

You insist so much on my writing to you regularly, from the different places where I may reside during my absence from England, that I begin to believe you are in earnest, and shall certainly obey your commands.

I know that you do not expect from me a minute account of churches and palaces. However agreeable these may be to the spectator, they generally afford but a slender entertainment when served up in description.

There are countries, some of which I may again visit before my return to England, whose appearance always strikes the eye with delight; but it is difficult to convey a precise idea of their beauties in words. The pencil is a more powerful vehicle than the pen for that purpose; for the landscape is apt to vanish from the mind before the description can be read.

The manners, customs, and characters of the people may probably furnish the chief materials, in the correspondence you exact, with such reflections as may arise from the subject. In these, I apprise you before-hand, I shall take what latitude I please: and though the complexion of my letters may most probably receive some tint or shade of colouring from the country where they may be wrote; yet I take it into my head to insist on the little tricks of an attorney, when you expect to hear of the politics of a prime minister; or, if I tell you a tale about an old woman, when you are impatient for the anecdotes of a great general, you must not fret or fall into a passion; for if you do not permit me to write on what subjects I please, and treat them in my own way, the correspondence you require would become a sad slavery to me, and of consequence no amusement to you. Whereas, if you leave me free and unrestrained, it will at least form some occupation to myself, may wean me from the habit of lounging, and will afford an excuse, in my own mind, for leaving those parties of pleasure where people are apt to continue, forcing smiles, and yawning spontaneously, for two or three hours after all relish is fled.

Yet in this dismal condition many remain night after night, because the hour of sleep is not yet arrived; –and what else can they do?

Have you never found yourself in this listless situation? Without any pleasure where you are, without any motive to be gone, you remain in a kind of passive, gaping oyster-state, till the tide of the company moves you to your carriage. And when you recover your reflection in your bed-chamber, you find you have passed the two last hours in a kind of humming buzzing stupor, without satisfaction, or ideas of any kind.

I thank you for your offer of Dupont. Knowing your regard for him, and his dexterity and intelligence in the science of valet-de-chambreship, I see the full force of the sacrifice you are willing to make. If I could be so selfish on another occasion as to accept your offer, the good-will I bear to your old friend John would prevent me at present. Dupont, to be sure, is worth twenty of John for that employment; but I can never forget his long attachment, and I am now so habituated to him, that one generally esteemed a more perfect servant would not suit me so well. I think myself benefited even by his deficiencies, which have obliged me to do many things for myself that other people perform by the hands of their servants. Many of our acquaintances seem absolutely incapable of motion, till they have been wound up by their valets. They have no more use of their hands for any office about their own persons, than if they were paralytic. At night they must wait for their servants, before they can undress themselves, and go to bed: In the morning, if the valet happen to be out of the way, the master must remain helpless and sprawling in bed, like a turtle on its back upon the kitchen-table of an alderman.

I remain, &c.

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Filed under 1780's, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Travel

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