Item of the Day: From London to Constantinople (1794)

Full Title:  An Itinerary from London to Constantinople, in Sixty Days (Taken in the Suite of his Excellency, the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Porte,) In the Year 1794. By Francois Andre Michaux.  London: Printed for Richard Phillips, 1805.

The expedition with which this journey was accomplished, necessarily precludes a minute description of the places through which we passed.  The general face of countries, the peculiarities of ecclesiastical buildings, and the dress of the inhabitants, as they presented themselves to the eye, are materials of which this work  is principally composed.  Between London and Vienna, all the great towns have been accurately described, in various Tours and Gazetteers; and in the subsequent sketches, nothing is collected from them.  The few leisure hours which occurred in this long journey, were amused, by noting down subjects immediately as they offered themselves, and as the opportunity suggested.  They are limited in every respect; yet may serve to enliven, in a certain degree, the topographical precision which is attempted, as the more valuable information   Beyond Vienna, no accurate account of the stages has been hitherto published.

To those who are about to visit the Levant, it may be interesting to learn from a preceding traveller the route they may take; the pleasure they may anticipate, and the fatigue and danger which they must encounter.

March 20, 1794.  We left London at ten o’clock at night, and slept at Dartford.  The companions of our journey were Dr. S. Professor of Botany at Oxford, and Mr. G.M. a very ingenious artist; both of whom are since dead.

March 21.22.23.  Sailed in a pacquet at two o’clock in the morning, under convoy of a frigate, Captain Lee.

24. Becalmed.

25. Opposite the coat of Flanders, with the town of Nieuport distinctly in our view.  Landed at Ostend at five o’clock in the afternoon.

Flanders, Circle of Burgundy.

The novelty of appearance of the people standing on the beach was very amusing.  They looked grotesque, compared with those on our side of the water, with their sabots or wooden-shoes, and the head-dresses of the women large and angular, like those in Holbein’s portraits.  Even those of the meaner sort wore golden crosses, which seemed to be with them a chief material of happiness.   http://www.wga.hu/art/h/holbein/hans_y/1528/6lady.jpg 

The town is meanly built.  In the church, which is large and modern, there is some good sculpture in wood.

March 26.  At two p.m. left Ostend.

The country near the sea is flat, and mounded by high sandbanks, with the fore-ground naked, and the horizon closed by continued villages, low spires, and wind-mills.  Near Gastel, at seven miles distance, the landscape becomes more interesting; and it is remarkable, what very minute copyists the painter of the Flemish school have been.  The cultivation is excellent, but totally unpicturesque.   The paved roads, of many miles extent, with plantations on either side, produce a tiresome effect, which might have been easily avoided, if , instead of abruptly branching off at right angles, they had been gradually incurvated.  But that would not have been consonant to the genins of this land of rules and measures.  Yebeck lies on the left hand, and exhibits all the characteristics of a Flemish village.

At Burges 5 p.m.

Our stay in this city was limited to two hours.  An air of stately sombreness pervades this spacious and well-built town.  In the great market-place is the stadt-house, the tower of which is a very lofty and curious structure; it is square, for a very considerable height, and where a spire is usual, another octangular tower is placed upon it, almost as high; but the effect is rather surprising than beautiful.  The cathedral is massive in all its parts, and apparently ancient.  In so slight a survey, I did not perceive any ornament or style earlier than the time of our Henry VI.; and those is scarcely less fanciful and void of beauty, than that invented by English carpenters.  The carillons or chimes played by hand are very musical, and frequent.  Eight times in every hour, during the day, their agreeable melody is heard.

As we passed the grates of Bruges, at seven, the evening was closing; and as the darkness increased, we lost sight of the country, and did not reach Ghent before one in the morning.

March 17.  FLANDERS

Attended the early prayers in the Cathedral, the internal decoration of which is splendid in the extreme, with incorrect Gothic, lined with panels and pilasters of variegated marble, in the Italian style.  Reubens’s large picture of St. Bavon, one of his more celebrated works, eclipses the others which decorate the several altar pieces. The sculpture, which abounds, has as much excellence of finishing, as inferiority of design. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/18900/18900-h/images/image_208_1.jpg

 In the town of Ghent, the houses appear to be large and singularly placed, with one end turned to the street, and gardens between each; a circumstance which favours comfort and seclusion, rather than magnificence.

Left Ghent at 10, A.M.

The surrounding flat country is as luxuriant and fertile, as nature and cultivation can make it; the roads wide and level, but invariably straight.  An hour at Aloost allowed us to see Reubens’s picture of St. Roch interceding with Christ for the diseased of the plague, from which there is a print by P. Pontius.  It is much less brilliant in point of colouring, than is usual with that great master. http://www.allthingsbeautiful.com/all_things_beautiful/images/politicizinganinconvenien_1.jpg

The views become interesting by being broken into small vallies.  At half-a-miles to the left stands the Benedictine convent of Affingham, the first we observed on the Continent.  A large, modern church and whitened buildings surrounding it, communicated an idea very different from the ruined abbey and its ivy-mantled walls — the picturesque and romantic were foreign to this scene.  By the clumsy and grotesque shape of all the carriages which we met, we were greatly amused; a stage-coach in Flanders is an indescribable monster.  Until the eye is in a certain degree familiarized, the different forms of common utensils, and the dress of the inhabitants, awaken perpetual curiosity; and where more material objects, from want of opportunity, cannot be inspected, they agreeably supply the deficiency.

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1 Comment

Filed under 1790's, Europe, Posted by Rebecca Dresser, Travel Literature

One response to “Item of the Day: From London to Constantinople (1794)

  1. Pluchet

    This item is interessant. But Michaux can’t be the author. It’s probably an error.

    Régis Pluchet, great-great-grand-nephew of François-André Michaux.

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