Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Gray begins his Grand Tour

Thomas Gray to Mrs. Dorothy Gray.

Amiens, April I, N. S., 1739.

As we made a very short journey to-day, and came to our inn early, I sit down to give you some account of our expedition. On the 29th (according to the style here) we left Dover at twelve at noon, and with a pretty brisk gale, which pleased everybody mighty well, except myself, who was extremely sick the whole time , we reached Calais by five. The weather changed, and it began to snow hard the minute we got into the harbour, where we took the boat and soon landed. Calais is an exceeding old, but very pretty town, and we hardly saw anything there that was not so new and so different from England, that it sur­prised us agreeably. We went the next morning to the great Church, and were at high Mass (it being Easter Monday). We saw also the Convents of the Capuchius, and the Nuns of St. Dominic; with these last we held much conversation, especially with an English Nun, a Mrs. Davis, of whose work I sent you by the return of the Pacquet, a letter-case to remem­ber her by. In the afternoon we took a post-chaise (it still snowing very hard) for Boulogne, which was only eighteen miles farther. This chaise is a strange sort of conveyance, of much greater use than beauty, resembling an ill-shaped chariot, only with the door opening before instead of the side; three horses draw it, one between the shafts, and the other two on each side, on one of which the postillion rides, and drives too.

This vehicle will, upon occasion, go fourscore miles a-day, but Mr. Walpole, being in no hurry,chooses to make easy journeys of it, and they are easy ones indeed; for the motion is much like that of a sedan, we go about six miles an hour, and com­monly change horses at the end of it. It is true theyare no very graceful steeds, but they go well, and through roads which they say are bad for France, but to me they seem gravel walks and bowling-greens; in short, it would be the finest travelling in the world were it not for the inns, which are mostly terrible places indeed. But to describe our progress somewhat more regularly, we came into Boulogne when it was almost dark, and went out pretty early on Tuesday morning; so that all I can say about it is, that it is a large, old, fortified town, with more English in it than French. On Tuesday we were to go to AbbĂ©ville, seventeen leagues, or fifty-one short English miles; but by the way we dined at Montreuil, much to our hearts' con­tent, on stinking mutton cutlets, addled eggs, and ditch water. Madame the hostess made her appear­ance in long lappets of bone lace and a sack of linsey‐woolsey. We supped and lodged pretty well at Abbeville, and had time to see a little of it before we came out this morning. There are seventeen con­vents in it, out of which we saw the chapels of Minimsand the Carmelite Nuns. We are now come farther thirty miles to Amiens, the chief city of the province of Picardy. We have seen the cathedral, which is just what that of Canterbury must have been before the Reformation. It is about the same size, a huge Gothic building, beset on the outside with thousands of small statues, and within adorned with beautiful painted windows, and a vast number of chapels dressed out in all their finery of altar-pieces, embroidery, gilding, and marble. Over the high altar are pre­served, in a very large wrought shrine of massy gold, the relicks of St. Firmin, their patron saint. We went also to the chapels of the Jesuits and Ursuline Nuns, the latter of which is very richly adorned.

To‐morrow we shall lie at Clermont, and next day reach Paris. The country we have passed through hitherto has been flat, open, but agreeably diversified withvillages, fields well-cultivated, and little rivers. On every hillock is a windmill, a crucifix, or a Virgin Mary dressed in flowers, and a sarcenet robe; one sees not many people or carriages on the road; now and then indeed you meet a strolling friar, a countryman with his great muff, or a woman riding astride on a little ass, with short petticoats, and a great head‐dress of blue wool. . . .

-from The Works of Thomas Gray in Prose and Verse edited by Edmund Gosse (London: 1890), vol. 2.

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