May 15 – 1843
My Dear Mother
I wrote to you from Calais, and as soon as my letter was in the post I set off. You know that the stage from Calais to Haut Buisson is not exciting, but the weather was so fine that I viewed it with complacency – About Pont de Brique some very pretty shrubberies, and fertile verdant scenery, The château seemed altered, the entrance gates closed, as if no one went in and out. Samer as usual produced a crowd of beggars, this town is so triste that I wonder it has any inhabitants. I slept at Montreuil.
Next day, Saturday, the wind was very high & it was very cold travelling – I dined at Abbeville, and then turned off the beaten Paris road, in quest of novel scenery, I passed thro’ Blangy, where the churchyard is an orchard, full of appletrees. – At the next stage, the postillion was very unwilling to drive us, because he was going to an evening party: but the maître de poste <1> insisted; so after abusing the English, and enquiring why they could not stay in their own country? and despatching an old man with a message – that he would be back in an hour & a half he mounted and drove like mad – On arriving at his destination he said to me – C’est le chemin de fer, çà! Yes! says I, vite comme le chemin de fer – à peu près. Comment à peu près, says he, in a tone much disappointed – mais c’est tout à fait! <2> –
Being not quite satisfied with his pay, he said the maître de poste ought to charge us a third horse, and Nicole <3> replied Avec une calèche legère et deux voyageurs, le maître de poste ne peut pas <4> – Our postillon [sic] was extremely piqué <5> at this, and exclaimed, Ne dites pas que le maître de poste ne peut pas; dites – qu’il peut, mais qu’il ne veut pas! <6>The Hostess then invited him to come in & take a drop of something comfortable, to which he replied, Non Madame, ma femme m’attend! – Rien de plus juste, Monsieur! <7> said she.
I slept at Neufchâtel, a very bad inn, where many postroads meet, & I therefore expected a good one. Next morning, Sunday, “great excitement prevailed” in the Town, to use a newspaper phrase, on account of a criminal trial going on against some Country folks for locking a parson into his church. Nicole overheard a conversation between some of the accusées <8> and their friends. Notre avocat dit, qu’il faut que nous paraissions toutes imbécilles … puis il dit, qu’il faut que chacune de nous dise, qu’elle n’a fait que suivre les autres! <9>
We set off in the morning, & had not gone far ere we met another carriage, tenanted by a grumpy Frenchman – The postillions of course wanted to change horses, which he stoutly refused, simply assigning as his reason, Je ne veux pas! <10> So we proceeded, but this rencontre so mortified our postboy that he muttered to himself Je ne veux pas! in various tones, all the rest of his journey. The first view of Rouen is very fine, from the top of a hill rather higher than Bowden Hill <11> and not more than a mile from the city – I drove to the Hotel l’Angleterre on the quai. A new suspension bridge crosses the river before my windows. Great bustle and commercial activity manifest everywhere. From early dawn to dewy eve incessant rumbling of carts & wagons- Ships constantly loading, unloading, and moving away - at one moment the quai strewed with large barrels – an hour afterwards not one of them left. Weather grown extremely stormy and rainy – nothing to be done in Calotype until it clears up – I think of stopping 2 or 3 days here. This Hotel is pretty comfortable, but he charges are such as only princes can pay.
1. Post master.
2. It’s the railway! Yes! says I, somewhat like the railway. What do you mean, somewhat … it’s exactly the same!
3. Nicolaas Henneman (1813–1898), Dutch, active in England; WHFT’s valet, then assistant; photographer.
4. With a light barouche and two passengers, the postmaster can’t do that.
6. Don’t say that the post master can’t do that; say that he can, but he doesn’t want to.
7. No, Madam, my wife’s waiting for me! Couldn’t be fairer, Sir!
8. Accused women.
9. Our lawyer says that we’ve got to appear complete imbeciles … then he says that each of us should say that all she did was to follow the others!
10. I don’t want to.
11. Bowden Hill, Wiltshire, 1 mi SE of Lacock.