July-December 1858

The Collected Letters, Volume 34


TC TO LORD ASHBURTON ; 14 September 1858; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18580914-TC-LOA-01; CL 34: 186-187


Prag (Gasthof zum Englischen Hof) 14 Septr / 1858

Dear Lord Ashburton,

I write you a word from this strange old Bohemian City to indicate what terrible revolutionary hurlyburly has taken place in my affairs since that peaceable drive we had thro' the precincts of Dumfries on the day you went northward.1 About a week after (Saturday 21 Augt, a dismal enough day to my lazy mind and body) I fairly took shipping in a Leith Steamer for Hamburg; arrived there after three of the most sordid days conceivable by human nature in bad weather at sea;—and am roaming about ever since, in quest of “Friedrich's Battlefields,” my main wish and hope the humble one of getting done with “seeing” them. Travelling in this country belongs to younger and healthier men; this is the last excursion of that kind I calculate on making while I live. Thank God, we have now done 10 or so of those phenomena; and were 3 more done, I am a free man, bound for Antwerp and the Steamer to London again.

Hamburg is really a grand old merchant Town, cobbled together by Teutonic effort during the last 1,000 years: could I have got any sleep, in the trough-beds and distracting noises of the place, I should have enjoyed it much, and found abundant significance in the old physiognomy of it. From Hamburg thro' Mecklenburg, by Schwerin2 and Rostock, is mostly cheerful flat but wood-fringed country, far better tilled than I expected; population much given to tobacco in railways; food and lodging unacceptable to the dyspeptic mind. At Rostock, whh is a fine old thriving seaport (as good as Greenock3 or the like), the hospitable Frau von Usedom, whom I think you know, sublimely lay in wait for me; and right willing was I to go with her,—for in truth I was nearly over with it, and longed for a human sleeping place as for the summum bonum [highest good]. They retained me in their blessed Island of Rügen (place sacred to Hertha4 formerly, in whh they kept the white-horsed chariot spoken of by Tacitus): Herr von Usedom, who is an excellent solid and yet free-flowing brother mortal, made me faithfully do the picturesque in Rügen, and talked de omni scibili [of all that is knowable], accompanied me next to Berlin; where I rallied my staff (Neuberg equal to six Couriers for useful help, & Foxton a Welsh Englishman good for neutralising Neuberg); and since Monday morning gone a week we are diligently upon the march; incessantly, thro' multifarious obstacles, getting forward with the poor problem, whh is now brot near perfection, thank Heaven. Yesterday's work was the hardest job of all; Kolin and environment,—undertaken after a second sleepless night; with no help but spavined horses, wicker chariots, lying thieving mendacious sluttish Czechs, not one in the hundred of whom spoke or understood the least word of German: an ugly unprofitable people. Not soon again shall I forget the Battles of Chotusitz and Kolin! Today, still under Czechish influence, but far more resistible today, we did the Battlefield here; a beautiful drive, were there nothing more in it; and the thing fairly ascertainable, and manageable in spite of Czechs. Sunday morning last we drove many hours with the Schneekoppe5 (source of the Elbe) always in sight;—crossed the Elbe at nightfall, not much bigger than the Itchin6 there; and alas, came to a horrible inn, amid Czech gents, nastier creatures than even the London are!— The fact is, I have seen a good few interesting things and persons, were the soot-torrents once washed away from them in one's mind;—and some day, in a ride, I hope to tell you this and that. By the end of about another week, I hope to be nearing Antwerp, and have the London Steamer full in prospect: that is the best.—— If Miss Baring, whh I will not hope, ever play the Battle of Prague, here is an authentic wild pink plucked for her on the actual Battlefield today.— Yours ever, T. Carlyle