Traveling in France in 1822: A Report by an Englishman

Traveling in France was common practice by Englishmen throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For instance, Kitty Pakenham wife to Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington visited Paris joining her husband there when he was appointed Ambassador after Napoleon Bonaparte’s exile to Elba. In 1843, Queen Victoria also visited France. Another well-known English person who visited France was James Austen, brother to the famous novelist Jane Austen.

Traveling in France - James Austen

James Austen. Public domain.

James went to France to visit his cousin, Eliza de Feuillide and her mother Philadelphia, who had settled there after Eliza met and married a count. Yet, Eliza and Philadelph were not alone as there were also other well-known English travelers who made France there home. This included Marguerite Power, Countess of Blessington and the famous dandy of White’s, George “Beau” Brummell. Another English visitor who turned France into their home was Grace Dalyrmple Elliott. She had an affair with the Duke d’Orléans, and she was also there during the tumultuous French Revolution.

Eliza de Feuillide. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Although there were may have been many English visitors traveling in France and some even settling there, one nineteenth-century traveler decided to keep detailed notes about his trip and experiences. He visited in 1822 going from Calais to Paris and noted that the reason for his trip was “to give a true picture of France and Frenchmen: if my countrymen and fair countrywomen will believe the report of a plain but close observer, they may derive a useful warning against the follies and vices of a nation which they have, perhaps, been taught to envy, and learn to appreciate the honest bluntness of an Englishman, the liberty of the subject, and striking comforts of John Bull’s society.”

Here is one section about him traveling in France and what he reported as “the humanity and economy of the French character.” (It is almost verbatim but with sections rearranged for easier and clearer reading):

I landed at Calais in the month of October, and after being hunted and tormented by touters from the different inns — a set of beings who lay hold of the sea-sick traveller as soon as he puts his feet upon the pier,—I was dragged to the hotel de Bourbon, not, however, without having first been forced in to the bureau of the custom-house, to undergo a rigorous search. My pockets were turned out, and even my hat underwent a close examination. Whether the douaniers expected to find a piece of calico in my pockets, or a sixty-three yard piece of dimity in my hat, I know not. At the Hotel de Bourbon we had a very good dinner; for which, without wine, we paid 3s. 4d. each; and on the following morning, when I called for my bill, I found that charge equal to that of the first houses in England; besides a gross imposition in the shape of commissionaires, passports and porters.

At Boulgone, where I stopped two or three days, the charges were a little more moderate. The comforts at the inns were numerous, and the people of the place, generally speaking, less rapacious; yet, although provisions are very cheap in Boulogne, I proceeded to Abbeville, which is about 80 miles from Calais. Here I had a beefsteak, or as the French call it biftek, for breakfast; for which, and a cup of coffee, I was charged 2s. 6d.

traveling in France

Locations traveled through France. Author’s collection.

We overtook on the road from Calais to Abbeville a French postillion with five horses, returning to the post-house. He stopped at a cabaret to take la goutte; one of his horses exhausted with fatigue laid down before the door in the mud. The brute with two legs forced up the animal; and, enraged at seeing the dirty state that it was in, beat it most severely. He went into the house for a moment, and then returned to beat it again; he went away again and returned in less than five minutes to renew the beating; the poor animal stood patiently and trembling before the brute, who called himself a Christian. The humility of the beast would have disarmed the rage of a cannibal, not so of one Frenchman; when he had beaten the horse until his whip was broken, he kicked its forelegs with all the force in his power; whilst the villain kicked in his tremendous boots, another scoundrel who came by got off his horse, and taking his whip began to beat the poor horse more severely even than the other tormentor, I remonstrated, but was answered by insult; at that moment I wished myself a tyrant, above the law, that I might have blown the scoundrel’s brains out.

Disliking the miserable road from Abbeville to Paris direct, I took a place in the diligence from Abbeville to Diepee, a distance of 40 miles, for which I only paid 7s. The same distance for the direct road, where the English travel, would have been about 10s. At Dieppe I dined at the table d’hote of the inn where I stopped. There were nine of us at the table; we had soup, bouilli, a roasted leg of mutton, and a few apples and walnuts for dessert. The charge was 3 francs, or 2s. 6d. each. The charged for a bad bed in a dirty bed-room here, as at the other inns on the roads frequented by the English, is 3 francs. Dieppe is a dirty town, famous for good fish and ugly women. It is now a fashionable watering place, and there are several handsome baths, which have been recently erected by subscription. Their Royal Highnesses the Duchess of Angoulême and the Duchess of Berri, being the principal subscribers.

The inside fare by the coach to Rouen, nearly 40 miles, is 8 francs, and one franc to the conductor. The journey is performed in about six hours, through a most delightful country. At Rouen I put up at an Hotel, where there was a good table d’hote; the landlord, however, has a knack of sporting good fish with bad French sauce, and then attempting to persuade his guests that the English are fools to eat boiled fish with plain melted butter. At this inn I was charged about 15 or 20 cents higher than I should have been in the principal inn of a good country town in England, where I should have had some comforts. Here, though the weather was very cold, there was no fire in the public room; and for a few pieces of wood, which in one day burnt in my bed-room, I was charged 2s. 6d.

From Rouen I went to Evreux, a place but little known by the English. Being dressed in the French style, and speaking French well, for I was partly brought up in France, I was either taken for a Frenchman, or the people of the inn had the honesty not to cheat me, however, I was an Englishman. I here found the difference between the charges to English and French travellers. At Rouen my daily expenses was as follows:

  Francs Sous
Breakfast 2 0
Dinner without Wine 3 0
Bed 1 10
Tea 2 0
TOTAL 8 10


At Evreux, at a much better inn, my bill was

  Francs Cents
Breakfast 0 75
Dinner without Wine 2 15
Bed 1 0
Tea 0 59
TOTAL 4 50

 

4 francs and a half; far better accommodation than at Rouen, Calais, Dieppe, &c. where I paid more than double. Last year I was travelling with some friend in the south of France, where wine was at 2d. a bottle, and meat at 2½ d. per lb. The honest innkeepers, however, charged 4, 5, and 6 francs a head for a bad dinner; at one place we were charged 7 francs a head for soup and boiled pigeons. Afterwards I made it a rule, on entering an inn, to desire the landlord to provide us a good dinner, for which we would pay 3 francs a head, and I found much better treatment when I had once shewn them that I was not to be imposed upon. It is very repugnant to an Englishman, however, to bargain for what he is to eat and drink. He generally submits to the grossest impositions in France, in preference to being made uncomfortable by disputes about the charges.

I paid 6 francs by the diligence, as it is miscalled, from Rouen to Evreux and 3 francs and 12 sous from Evreux to Rolleboise; the travelling was at the rate of three miles an hour…At Evreux, in Normandy, some French who were going to Paris were talking about the expenses of living in that capital. One of them said, that 10 francs a day were necessary; another denied this, observing, that so much was not to be spent in necessaries. I speak only for the “stricte necessaire,” replied the first, and then enumerated as follows: 2 francs for breakfast, 3 francs for dinner, 2 francs for the play, 2 francs for lodgings, and 1 franc for servants.

“Englishman in Paris” by Printmaker James Caldwell. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library.

At Rolleboise I took the passage-boat to Poissy, the cabin fare is 25 sous, the distance about 26 miles. I was in part of the vessel call the traveure, which being 30 sous, there were seldom many persons in it. The French would deny themselves many comforts to save 5 sous. We were three in the traveure, the state cabinet, filled with clean straw, with a candle burning in a piece of a wood nailed to the partition: the place was clean, and I slept well. At Poissy, where we arrived at five in the morning, I took a place in one of the short stages to Paris, at the regular fare, 30 sous. The French passengers, who bargained for their place, came for 25, 20, and some for 15 sous each. I reached Paris at ten o’clock in the morning. The journey would have been very pleasant in an English carriage, but in a French diligence, shut up with people who were rather frowsy, it is not over delightful.

[The men who had talked about “stricte necessaire”]…came in the same conveyance with me to Paris. He, who had spoken of the 2 francs for the play as “stricte necessaire,” had a good deal of luggage; a half-starved porter,—here were at least a dozen such,—ran up to the coach; the French gentleman shewed him his luggage, and asked him how much he would expect for carrying it to a distant part of Paris. The poor fellow, anxious for a job, said 10d.; the gentleman said it was enormous, and offered half; the porter appealed to his humanity: “I have eaten nothing, Sir, since yesterday; I have a wife and three children starving at home, give me at least 15 sous (7½ d.)” The appeal was useless; bread for a poor fellow, and a wife, and three children, was not “strictly necessary:” a Parisian cannot afford to go to the play, and at the same time…be just and charitable.

References:

  • The European Magazine, and London Review, Vol. 83, 1823.

1 Comment

  1. Stephen Barker on June 3, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    And I thought Tobias Smollett was a grumpy traveller in France. I sometimes wonder how France gained a reputation with the English for fine food.

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