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From London to Land's End and Two Letters from the "Journey through England by a Gentleman"   By: (1661?-1731)

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Two Letters from the " Journey through England by a Gentleman ."



At the end of this book there are a couple of letters from a volume of the "Travels in England" which were not by Defoe, although resembling Defoe's work so much in form and title, and so near to it in date of publication, that a volume of one book is often found taking the place of a volume of the other. A purchaser of Defoe's "Travels in England" has therefore to take care that he is not buying one of the mixed sets. Each of the two works describes England at the end of the first quarter of the eighteenth century. Our added descriptions of Bath, and of the journey by Chester to Holyhead, were published in 1722; Defoe's "Journey from London to the Land's End" was published in 1724, and both writers help us to compare the past with the present by their accounts of England as it was in the days of George the First, more than a hundred and sixty years ago. The days certainly are gone when, after a good haul of pilchards, seventeen can be bought for a halfpenny, and two gentlemen and their servant can have them broiled at a tavern and dine on them for three farthings, dressing and all. In another of his journeys Defoe gives a seaside tavern bill, in which the charges were ridiculously small for everything except for bread. It was war time, and the bread was the most costly item in the bill.

In the earlier part of this account of the "Journey from London to the Land's End," there is interest in the fresh memories of the rebuilding and planting at Hampton Court by William III. and Queen Mary. The passing away, and in opinion of that day the surpassing, of Wolsey's palace there were none then to regret.

A more characteristic feature in this letter will be found in the details of a project which Defoe says he had himself advocated before the Lord Treasurer Godolphin, for the settlement of poor refugees from the Palatinate upon land in the New Forest. Our friendly relations with the Palatinate had begun with the marriage of James the First's eldest daughter to the Elector Palatine, who brought on himself much trouble by accepting the crown of Bohemia from the subjects of the Emperor Ferdinand the Second. As a Protestant Prince allied by marriage to England, he drew from England sympathies and ineffectual assistance. Many years afterwards, during the war with France in Queen Anne's time, the allies were unprosperous in 1707, and Marshal Villars was victorious upon the Rhine. The pressure of public feeling on behalf of refugees from the Palatinate did not last long enough for any action to be taken. But if it had seemed well to the Government to accept the project advocated by Defoe, we should have had a clearance of what is now the most beautiful part of the New Forest, near Lyndhurst; and in place of the little area that still preserves all the best features of forest land, we should have had a town of Englishmen descended from the latest of the German settlements upon our soil. Upon the political economy of Defoe's project, and the accuracy of his calculations, and the more or less resemblance of his scheme to the system of free grants of land in unsettled regions beyond the sea, each reader will speculate in his own way.

There are interesting notes on the extent of the sheep farming upon the Downs crossed in this journey. There is high praise of the ladies of Dorsetshire. There are some pleasant notes upon dialect, including the story, often quoted, of the schoolboy whom Defoe saw and heard reading his Bible in class, and while following every word and line with his eye, translating it as he went into his own way of speech. Thus he turned the third verse of the fifth chapter of Solomon's Song, "I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?" into "Chav a doffed my cooat; how shall I don't? Chav a washed my veet; how shall I moil 'em?" This is a good example of intelligent reading; for the boy took in the sense of the printed lines, and then made it his own by giving homely utterance to what he understood... Continue reading book >>

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