Journeys of a German in England
Carl Philip Moritz
Journeys of a German in England
Carl Philip Moritz
In 1782 an enthusiastic young German landed in England. Through the fresh eyes of a foreigner we get a wonderful insight into what has or hasn’t changed within the last two hundred years. In a series of letters home he describes his amazement at the number of English people who wore spectacles, the amount they drank, the dreadful food they ate, the expense of a simple salad, the drunkenness of the dons, the riotous behaviour in Parliament, and the high level of edu- cation among ordinary people.
‘The writing is so fresh that you are startled when a stage-coach appears.’- Byron Rogers, Standard
‘This account of his travels has a clarity and freshness quite unsurpassed by any contemporary descriptions.’ - Iain Hamilton, Illustrated London News
Journeys of a German in England: A Walking Tour of England in 1782
Format: 208pp demi pb
Carl Philip Moritz was born in Hameln, Germany in 1757, the son of a regimental oboist of strictly Pietist views. He spent a short time as an apprentice to a hatter in Brunswick before going to Hanover where his parents had since moved. Here he was granted a free place in the Gymnasium or High School by favour of Prince Carl of Mecklenburg. Again he did not settle but left to join the Ekhoff theatrical company in Gotha. This was the turning point of Moritz’s life. He was now living in the midst of the new style of art which we recognize as the period of Sturm und Drang - a stormy upsurge of creative effort under strong emotional pressure from within.
Moritz learnt something of the art of declamation in the theatre and imbibed the true German patriotism then being established there. While still with the theatrical company, he decided to study theology and entered his name at the University of Erfurt in 1776. He took his degree at the University of Wittenberg in 1777 and became a teacher of philosophy in Dessau. A year later he was in Potsdam teaching in the military orphanage, and he also found a post as a teacher of language in the High School of the Grey Cloister.
In Berlin he became friendly with the Prussian educationist Gedike, a humanist like himself. Both men liked to walk and together went to Hamburg which, as a port, was a meeting-place for ideas coming from abroad, particularly England. So when in 1782 he left his post in Berlin, he took the opportunity to visit England. He left for England and promised to send Gedike an account of his travels.
He wrote a travel book about Italy as well as England. He also wrote a little book on aesthetics. He is best remembered in his own country, however, for his psychological novels Andreas Hartknopf (1786) and Anton Reiser (1785-90). He died in 1793.
Extract from Chapter One
IN THE TOWN famous for the story of the Pied Piper there was born in 1757 a boy named Carl Philip Moritz. His father was a regimental oboist of strictly Pietist views, who treated his son harshly. After a short time as apprentice to a hatter in Brunswick the boy returned to his parents, who had meanwhile removed to Hanover. Here Carl was granted a free place in the Gymnasium or High School by favour of Prince Carl of Mecklenburg. Again he did not settle but left to join the Ekhoff theatrical company in Gotha. Ekhoff’s part in the history of German romanticism was his transformation of stage speech from a stiff formal style to one more natural. This was the turning-point of Moritz’s life. He was now living in the midst of the new style of art which we recognize as the period of Sturm und Drang – a stormy upsurge of creative effort under strong emotional pressure from within. Lessing had started the German appreciation of Shakespeare of which Moritz had heard something in Hanover, but the battle for truth to nature was still being fought in the German theatre, where Schiller was at this time still impoverished and subjected to a harsh tyranny.
Moritz learnt something of the art of declamation in the theatre and imbibed the true German patriotism then being established there – based not on political expediency but on the common feelings of men. There was a moral aspect of this: a concentration on truth to nature, which was a manifestation of the will of God. While still with the theatrical company Moritz determined to study theology and entered his name at the University of Erfurt in 1776. He took his degree at the University of Wittenberg in 1777 and became a teacher of philosophy in Dessau. A year later he was in Potsdam teaching in the military orphanage, and he found also a post as a teacher of language in the High School of the Grey Cloister.
In Berlin he became friendly with Gedike,* a humanist like himself and an authority on the theory of education. These two men were both fond of walking and made at least one excursion together as far as Hamburg, walking all the way. Hamburg, being a port, was a meeting-place for ideas coming from abroad. There you could buy English newspapers and read the gossip of the London coffee-houses, learn of developments in scientific thought, philosophy, criticism and above all the new movement in English literature shown in the novels of Swift, Defoe, Fielding and Richardson. Moritz was particularly fond of Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield and almost worshipped Milton as a champion of liberty.
So when in 1782 he left his post in Berlin, what more natural than that he should take advantage of his freedom to visit England? He set out full of enthusiasm, accompanied by his friend Gedike as far as Hamburg, and when they parted on the quay Moritz promised to send his friend an account of his travels in England.
That series of letters has proved to be one of the most remarkable collections of evidence of the state of England in 1782 that we possess. Moritz arrived expecting all English geese to be swans and of course he found they were not, but he was a careful observer and a truthful recorder of manners and customs, political and religious life, the arts and the delightful country, which he never ceased to admire. As he went about the capital and the provinces he gained in understanding of the English and he was a man with a sensitive mind which responded in its style of expression. His prose takes on various hues according to the scene he has in his thoughts, and through it all we find him adding to the interest of his subject – building to a climax as his travels lead him on from one delight to the next.
This climax could not have been planned, for the letters were written on different days and sent off from different places. The literary merit of Moritz’s book is that it demonstrates the value of his belief in truth as an aspect of nature. It translates into beautiful English, for it came from the mind of a man who, writing in German, was trying to capture the English way of thought. Moritz was a remarkably sympathetic writer.
He left Gedike on the quay in Hamburg and set sail for England. For fourteen days he tossed on the ocean; three of them he was seasick; then, out of the mist, loomed the land for sight of which all his perils had been undertaken.