Harry Peckham was educated at Winchester College and New College, Oxford, before being called to the Bar and becoming, in time, a King's Counsel, a Commissioner for Bankrupts, and Recorder of Chichester. He was also a witty rake, a keen sportsman—he was a member of the committee that drew up the laws of cricket—and a relentless tourist. This is a fascinating collection of letters he wrote in 1769 while traveling through the Netherlands, Belgium, and France that contains insights into the society and culture of the places that he visited, including Rotterdam, The Hague, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent, Paris, Rouen, and Calais. Perceptive and funny, it is written in a very engaging style and is a delight to read.
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Harry Peckham's Tour
By Martin Brayne
The History PressCopyright © 2013 Martin Brayne
All rights reserved.
You have sacrificed your judgment to your friendship, or you would not have asked my permission to publish these letters I sent you from abroad, nor endeavoured by compliments to win my consent.
Consider the hasty manner in which they were written; frequently at table, and in the company of my friends; both language and grammar therefore, I am afraid, have often been violated and I have neither time to polish the one, nor inclination to correct the other. The observations are too thinly scattered, and are either crude or common; even the purpureus pannus is wanting to recommend them.
You tell me they prove of infinite service to you: because the names and values of the different coins were ascertained and compared with the English: that the distance from place to place with the mode and expense of travelling, was accurately calculated, and none of the places within the tour worthy of a stranger's attention were omitted. I confess that these are advantages to the few who travel, but to other readers will prove only a dry detail.
I have not the vanity to suppose that such letters can benefit either the publisher or the public. I am convinced that they cannot do their author credit, must therefore insist upon my name being concealed, and that you will erase every sentence that might lead to the detection of
Your ever affectionate friend..............
Helveotsluice, July 30.
Nothing could have added to the pleasure I promised myself in this little excursion, but the addition of your company; as the pursuits you are engaged in render it impossible, I must submit, and console myself with endeavouring to make my letters a faithful guide, though not an agreeable companion. As I write with this view, I must often be very tedious in mentioning a thousand little nothings which in your intended tour will not be wholly immaterial, as I know not of any treatise to guide you through Holland, and instruct you in these articles, which every traveller must otherwise be at a loss to know.
After having hunted all the booksellers shops and stalls in London, I at length picked up a voluminous octavo in English, whose title promised me a Description of Holland, with the whole et caetera of manners and customs; — but this pompous Title afforded me only a tedious detail of the Hague; we must therefore blunder through the country as well as we can, without other assistance than a little French and some money.
I left London at four in the morning with my two friends, and an English servant who knows no language but his own. The road is well calculated for expedition, being free from hills, and there is but little sand to retard a carriage. We breakfasted at Witham, where there was nothing to attract our attention, but the very great civility of our host at the Blue Posts. We made some little stay at Colchester, to take a cursory view of the town, which is considerable in the number, as well as the goodness of the houses. The grand street is very spacious, on the left of which is an old quadrangular brick castle, converted now into a prison, the only use it can be adapted to. The road does not abound in views, but between Manningtree and Harwich, there are some scenes tolerably picturesque, which are heightened by the tide river which divides Essex and Suffolk.
Harwich is, I think, the worst of all possible places, but the accommodation at the White Hart perhaps made me peevish; add to this, the shoal of scoundrels who pick your pocket with impunity. As it is a borough town, the voters must be provided for, and are rewarded with salaries arising from the fees of such emigrants as myself.
We were first attacked by a clerk for thirteen shillings and sixpence each, for which he generously gave us a piece of paper, which he called a permit, and which was of no other use but for a Dutchman to light his pipe with. He told me, in answer to my inquiry into the nature of his demand, that he was rather thick of hearing; I thought his reason conclusive, and we paid him his fees immediately.
The officers of the customs then insisted on their fees for tumbling our clothes, and deranging our trunks, and for what they called Sufferance, which is, "to permit a man to take out of the kingdom what the laws have not prohibited". Having thus run the gauntlet of imposition, we set sail in the Prince of Orange, Captain Story, at half past six in the evening. This vessel carries twelve men, and her burthen is one hundred and six tons. We found excellent accommodations, the cabin being a spacious room and rather elegantly fitted up. The passage must be difficult and extremely dangerous to men not perfectly conversant with these seas, on account of the innumerable shoals and rocks. We were very fortunate in the fineness of the evening, and fairness of the wind. I know not a more glorious sight than the sun setting in the waters; and as the night came on, was much pleased with observing the different lighthouses for the direction of pilots, and the waves striking against the prow of the ship. Philosophers have entertained various opinions concerning this luminous appearance; Boyle attributed it to some cosmic law of the terrestrial globe, or at least of the planetary vortex: but Mr Canton, F.R.S. has proved by experiments, as simple as ingenious, that it arises from the putrefaction of the animal substances in the sea. The Captain entertained us with throwing the log line: this is done by a little square piece of wood let down from the stern of the ship, which is tied to a cord wound on a reel, and at equal distances has knots made in it; from the number of knots which run out in a minute (for which purpose there is a minute glass), the sailors compute how many miles the vessel makes in an hour.
In this manner we land-men amused ourselves, till drowsiness warned us to our cabins: these are little boxes within the sides of the ship of sufficient size to hold one person. As there were no sheets, I turned in with my clothes on and slept very soundly till the Captain waked me in the morning, with the pleasing news of our being within sight of Helveot, where we landed about ten o'clock; and as soon as we had refreshed ourselves with a dish of tea, spent the remainder of the day in examining this little sea-port.
Helveotsluice is situated on the island of Voorn, in the province of Holland; is surrounded with a wet fosse and a strong rampart faced with brick; which is intended, as much, I believe, to guard against the irruption of the waves, as of an enemy. The harbour, which seems wonderfully safe, runs through the middle of the town, and projects by the help of piers, about fifty yards into the main ocean. There is grandeur in this attempt, which I should not have thought the Dutch capable of, though I am well aware that their industry would surmount the difficulty. The water at the pier-head is ninety feet deep, the piles are one hundred and forty feet long, and are driven thirty-five feet into the shore, the interstices are filled with Bavins, which are kept down with large stones brought from Norway. The dexterity of our naval charioteer pleased me much, for he turned round the corner of the pier as sharp an angle as I have ever seen made by a carriage.
This harbour is full of ships; on each side is a spacious quay laid with Dutch clinkers beyond which is a façade of houses most whimsically pretty; the window shutters are all painted with yellow or green, and there is a painted bench at every door, where the people sit in stupid inactivity, and I believe without any conversation, for I have scarce seen a mouth open unless to yawn. The houses are built in a wretched style, with narrow fronts, running up to a point, by which means the gable end destroys the attic story.
The harbour runs through the town to a large bason, which contains at present twelve men of war lying in perfect security. It is divided from the harbour by a pair of flood-gates, over which is thrown a bridge of curious mechanism. It divides in the middle, and under the centre of each half are sixteen brass wheels fixed on an axle which stands on a large buttress; it is so nicely hung that a child may turn it, when both parts of the bridge point up and down the harbour, which effectually stops the passage.
In the dock there seems to be but a very inconsiderable quantity of naval stores, and in the barracks, which are extremely neat, only two companies of soldiers. The walks upon the ramparts are very pleasing, being turfed and perfectly clean, as indeed is almost everything here — so nice are they, that at our hostess's, Mrs Wykham's, there is a little scale hangs upon the nose of the boiler to catch the drops lest they should fall upon the hearth, which is of polished stone and I narrowly escaped a beating from the chambermaid for having my hair powdered in my bed chamber. We strolled into a church, which had nothing but cleanliness to recommend it. The men sit with their hats on, and both men and women are seated in the body of the church in chairs numbered on the backs. The priest spoke extempore with fluency but as I know not the language am ignorant of his merit.
The Captain promised to put this letter in the post at Harwich; you shall hear from me again, as soon as I have matter to communicate, and time to write. We purpose leaving this place tomorrow morning.
Rotterdam Thursday Aug. 3
We left Helveot on Monday morning in a stage waggon, which was the best conveyance the place afforded; and even to get that requires no little form. I went to the Commissary, who upon receiving six stivers rang a bell, which in a few moments summoned all the waggoners in the town, when thus assembled, to prevent partiality in the Commissary, and disputes among the drivers, the dice determine who shall have the fare, for which purpose there is fixed over the Commissary's door a kind of manger with a large box and dice. The price is fixed, imposition therefore is impossible. This miserable vehicle differs only from an English cart in being somewhat slighter, and by having the cover painted with different colours; it is drawn by a pair of horses, and guided by the boor who sits in the head of it. To this machine there are no shafts, but a piece of wood, like a bugle horn, comes from the axle, with an iron hook, into which the driver puts one foot, and with it guides the carriage to a hair's breadth, the other he claps on the posteriors of one of the horses, in this manner we travelled through very indifferent roads, and at a very modest pace to the Brill; I believe their pace is fixed as their price; and you might as easily persuade one of these savages to accelerate the one as to diminish the other.
The Brill is larger than Helveot, and is tolerably fortified; the buildings are old but regular, the streets are spacious, and some of them lined with trees. This town is situated on the mouth of the Maes, which is a mile and a half wide. All the vessels that go to Rotterdam pass by this place; and there is a boat for passengers which sails every tide for Rotterdam. A tolerable trade is still carried on here, but it has dwindled much from its former importance.
This was the first town taken by the malecontents [sic], under the Count of Marche, from the Spaniards in 1572, which was afterwards delivered up to Queen Elizabeth, with Flushing and Ramekins, as a mortgage, for the money she had expended in supporting the states against Philip the second of Spain.
These cautionary towns were given up by James the first, in 1616, for one third of the money they were originally pledged for, owing to the poverty and folly of the king and to the subtilty of the pensionary Barneveldt, who managed the negotiation.
There are twelve companies of soldiers quartered in the town; the Dutch uniform is blue, faced with red, which is not so brilliant in appearance as the English and French uniforms. We attended the parade and were treated with much civility by an officer of the corps who could speak English. The parade being finished, a grenadier was flogged for drunkenness; he received twenty two strokes with the flat of a broadsword over his clothes; a punishment as trifling as with us the offence is common. From the Brill we passed the Maes in a ferry boat to Boors Island, a place of inconsiderable extent, but large enough to sustain six hundred head of cattle, four hundred of which have died within these three months of the distemper, which rages through the whole province with the most fatal violence.
We were shaken over this island in a common cart, the only convenience of the place and crossed another branch of the Maes which brought us to Maesland-sluice, esteemed one of the finest villages in the south part of Holland. It is an extensive place, well-built with canals running through almost every street; those which have not the benefit of the water are ornamented with rows of walnut-trees; and though chiefly inhabited by fishermen, the town is as neat as cleanliness can make it. We stayed here only for the setting out of the Treckschuyte, which goes to Delft six times a day. It resembles a livery barge on the Thames, but is smaller and less ornamented; it is drawn by one horse, and goes with the greatest ease four miles in an hour, which is the Dutch method of computing distance; so many hours to such a place; not leagues like the French, nor miles, as the English. In fine weather this method of travelling is absolutely delightful; for a mere trifle you may hire the roof, which is a small cabin at the end of the boat with two sash windows on each side, a table in the middle, velvet cushions to sit on, and good room for six or eight people. The motion of the boat is imperceptible, and you may read, write, eat or sleep, with as much ease as in your own chamber. If this is not agreeable, you may get on top of the boat, which has a flat roof, on which you may walk without danger, and as there is not a hillock in the country, you have nothing to intercept your view. I was almost sorry to leave the treckschuyte which landed us at Delft about five o'clock in the evening. We dined at the Doele, a most admirable inn, and after dinner took a little walk around the city, which is in circumference between two and three miles, of an oblong figure, surrounded by an old wall and ditch, and defended by three dams against inundations. It is situated between Rotterdam and the Hague. The streets are wide, adorned with trees and canals and a multitude of stone bridges: the inhabitants are rich, but being chiefly people who have retired from business, the trade of the place is but inconsiderable; even the Delft manufactory (which is little inferior to China except in transparency; which has been in vain attempted) greatly decays; the Dutch East India Company having imported such quantities of China that it is become within the purchase of the lower class of people.
The principal magazine and armoury of Holland is in the town; which does not make a very formidable appearance. We saw the old palace, which is now inferior to a common burgher's house. They shew you the mark of the balls in the wall which went through the head of the first Prince of Orange, the founder of the state, who was assassinated by Balthazar Ghirard, an emissary of Philip the Second. His tomb is shewn in the New Church, in marble, of very indifferent execution; the epitaph concludes in these words — "Herois veré pii, prudentia, invicti, quem Philippus Secundus Hisp. Rex, Europae timor, timuit, non domuit, non terruit, sed empt percussore, fraude nefandâ sustulit". This church has the finest steeple in the low countries; and the chimes, which play every quarter of an hour, are most unusually harmonious.
In the old church are two monuments erected to the memory of Van Trump and Peter Heine, remarkable only for the heroes they are to perpetuate.
The Market-place is a spacious square; on one side stands the New Church; on the other the Town-house, which in an old Gothic building, but tricked out with paint and ornament, so as to cut no contemptible figure.
The Spin-house, or Bridewell, is as neat as any private house in England. Fornication is not so commendable, I find, in Holland as with us; at least in the eye of the magistracy, for there are many more poor girls confined for their philanthropy, for five, ten and some for twenty years.
The two chief streets lie parallel with each other and are near a mile in length — canals run through them edged with stately trees. Before most of the doors is a pavement of black and white marble; but as there is a bench at every house, it effectively prevents any person from walking on such excellent pavement.
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