A person must now travel pretty far on the English railroads, and even cross over to Ireland, to see such old-world stage-coaches and stage-coach establishments as were in former days found in all parts of the land, and which have been so humorously described by English travellers. Such an establishment I saw for the first time, in Dublin, on the 26th of September, on which day I prepared to commence my journey into the interior of the country. The spectacle, at a first glance, was not calculated to give much pleasure. The numerous long printed bills which hang on the walls contain plain protests from the proprietors against the appeals of the passengers, and give notice that they will not be answerable for the loss or injury of property, nor even guarantee a seat once taken, should the passenger himself not look after it. Thus, in observing where and how his luggage is stowed, the traveller is kept in a state of perpetual terror, either for himself or his effects. It is in vain that he seeks where to sit most comfortably on the coach. In the inside, which is as narrow as a herring-barrel, he thinks himself in danger of suffocation; and on the outside, where nothing but a single slight iron rail, four inches high, separates him from an abyss of fifteen
p.17feet, he grows dizzy. In fact, the seats, whether inside or out, of the English stage and mail-coaches, are the most uncomfortable to be found on earth; and it was at first very difficult for me to discover how those seats are consistent with the great love of comfort which characterizes the English nation. But I think I have found the solution of this problem. The English are a people who, in every undertaking, keep the principal object only in view. In their dwellings, in their chambers, domestic comfort is their greatest wish: these consequently are so full of it, that out of England one cannot find perfection in this point. So also, in travelling, the chief object is accomplished in a style of excellence not to be surpassed. The coaches, even the largest, are as light as feathers, yet as strong as steel or iron can make them; the horses as fleet as birds, yet strong withal and lasting; and the coachman, in fine, such a master of his art, that any one of the 3000 public drivers to be found in the United Kingdom might win a prize in our country. But you must not look for a comfortable seat: for that purpose you have your domestic conveniences at home. Much luggage, or articles easily injured, you should not venture to carry with you. Whoever wishes to travel with speed, should leave the vanity of his fine clothes at home. This much only will we promise you: dry, or drenched to the skin clean, or splashed with mud from top to toewith or without your effectswith fractured or sound limbswe will bring you, at the appointed hour, to the right place. Every thing else is a matter of mere secondary importance, especially for men of business; and ninety out of every hundred of the travellers in public conveyances in England are of this class.
I naturally chose an outside place, for there one can sit as if in an observatory, and at his ease survey the entire country, far and wide, right and left, before and behind; provided that he does not lose his head at setting out, and thus fortunately avoid the fate which threatens every British outside passenger, at the first step the horses take. The gateways of most posting establishments in the United Kingdom (and this again is a problem) are built so low, that the outside passengers would to a certainty leave their heads hanging on the architrave, if they did not attend to the warning of the guard, who in a loud voice directs them to stoop their heads. I think I have discovered the true explanation of this problem, namely, that the existence of outside passengers is of later date than the erection of most posting houses. Those were built at a time when the throng of travellers was not so great, and when the coachman only had to risk his neck; and since then, the owners of posting houses have not had
p.18time or inclination to alter their gateways for the convenience of outside passengers. Should not this be the true cause, nothing remains but to accuse the English police of unpardonable negligence.
All right! at length cried the guard, as the clock struck six, or rather pointed to it; for in English towns the clocks which simply point the hour, and even those which, by means of illuminated dials, show the time by night, are much more numerous than those which, as in our cities, announce the hours in far-sounding tones from lofty towers. All right! cried the guard. Stoop your heads, gentlemen! We ducked, all sixteen of us, like a company of soldiers when a cannon-ball flies over their heads; and when we had again set ourselves to rights, and were in some degree at ease, we rolled from the city of Dublin into the county of the same name.
Our road led through the middle of Ireland, and its best-inhabited and most populous provinces, including the rich and level counties of Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Westmeath, and Longford; and the end of my journey was Edgeworthtown, a place to which I had been warmly invited by one whose name is so highly honoured and valued in Germany. I intended to remain there a short time, in order, if possible, to collect my thoughts, and prepare myself beforehand for the object I had in view. Every one, on arriving in a new country, finds himself, in relation to most matters, in the situation of one who suddenly enters a dark chamber. Many things he entirely overlooks, whilst others he views through a false medium, at least until his eyes have become somewhat accustomed to the new light, and to many peculiarities which in the first instance distract the attention. I do not, however, mean to say, that no one should venture to inform others with respect to a strange country, until he has altogether familiarized and naturalized himself, and learned to look on things precisely as a native inhabitant. On the contrary, the process of his familiarizing may be very characteristic of the land, for even his errors and mistakes may be induced by some national peculiarity.
The before-mentioned counties to the west of Dublin are the most fertile in Ireland, and the most famed for their fine crops; and the poor people in Clare, Kerry, and the other western pads of the island, look on those tracts as on a holy land. Meath! Westmeath! At a later period I learned to set a high value on these names: they sound almost as sweet as meat; and this rhyme seems to suggest to one's mind a land flowing with true milk and honey. With the exception perhaps of Wexford, in the south, there are no parts in which so little land is untilled, or lies waste in morasses, rocks, and forests as in these counties. Here
p.19the finest cattle, and the best and most abundant harvests, are produced; and here all the improvements in cultivation which have penetrated from England into Ireland have made the greatest advances. These level midland districts, lying exactly opposite England, are always open to the greatest influx of English population, English language, habits, &c.; consequently the Irish language, with the ancient customs and superstitions, are here almost exploded, and English life and manners have taken root in their place. These are facts proved by statistics, and are undeniable matters of history. Yet they appear almost incredible to the traveller who passes through those districts for the first time. At first he probably supposes himself already arrived at the worst part of Ireland; for until he has seen the West, he can have no conception that human beings can live more miserably and poorly than those in this most fruitful district in the neighbourhood of Dublin, or that an inhabited and cultivated land can present a still wilder aspect than the rich corn plains of Meath, Kildare, and Westmeath. In the west of Ireland there are tracts where one might often suppose himself in a wilderness, deserted by God and manwhere all around is but rock, morass, and ruggedness; and every object appears clothed in a sad melancholy-brown colour. He thinks himself in a land given up by men to wild beasts. But when he looks more narrowly between the rocks and bogs, he perceives, to his astonishment, something green, like potato plants. His curiosity induces him to approach the spot: he steps unexpectedly on a soft, yielding sod, and plungesinto an abyss? a cavern? a slough? No! into a hut, a man's dwelling, whose existence he had not remarked, because the roof was at one side as low as the ground, and appeared to the eye just as black, turfy, and heathy as the ground around it. Perhaps he cautiously draws back his foot at the right time; and looking about him, perceives that the surrounding country is thickly strewed (krümeln und wimmeln) [tr.] with huts, potatoes, and men.
But although it is thus in the West, it is not quite so bad here in the blessed East. Yet even these districts exhibit nothing which appears like, (I will not say well cultivated, but) cultivated lands. I form to myself the following idea of a well-cultivated country: the farms are all divided into handsome, regular, four-cornered fields, which are enclosed with hedges, ditches, and regularly planted trees, or marked by other boundaries and fences. Between those fields, which show neatness and order, lie the simple cottages of the peasantry, and the villages. The houses are not neglected, and the roofs are in good order; or at least
p.20they do not lie in ruins, and some care is taken to prevent rain, dung, and streams of wateryard, stall, and house floor, from mixing together in one chaos. The house stands high and dry, and near it lies a little garden, neat, if not beautiful, in which the peasant has a small portion reserved for his orchard, where, in his leisure hours, he indulges his taste for grafting and rearing pear, apple, and peach trees. The clean vessels in his dairy, and the bright utensils in his kitchen, gratify the visitor, whether of his every-day apartment, or his parlour furnished for extraordinary occasions. Yet why should I call to mind things which exist, it is true, in other lands, but of which all trace is almost entirely left behind by the traveller who goes farther than Dublin?
Of enclosures, walls, hedges, or of regular divisions of the fields, I could discover nothing worthy of the name, and of pretty gardens and fruit trees, or even flower beds for the girls, I found none. It was at first even difficult to distinguish the uncultivated from the cultivated grounds. Instead of cheerful farm-houses, I saw fallen huts and ruined cottages between the fields. As often as possible, wherever we stopped, I surveyed the interior of the houses, which excited my astonishment. I was now in the most highly praised provinces of Ireland, and on a well-frequented road, yet I found every where dwellings which bore traces of the most shocking ruin and neglect. How must it have appeared in more remote districts, and still farther from the road! Sometimes I had no occasion to get off the coach; for from my elevated seat I could perceive, through holes in the roofs, the interior of the dwellings we passed. The broken plates in the kitchen, the potato pot on the hearth, the damp straw bed in one corner, the pigsty in anotherall this I could well distinguish through the open roof.
The landlords in Ireland, says Spenser, who wrote a book on Ireland 300 years ago, take good care to make their poor tenants pay their rents; but they give them no help in building their houses, in tilling their fields, in improving their roads. Did they do this, they would themselves derive as much advantage from it as their tenants. But they leave every thing in the state in which chance has placed it, and let their tenants help themselves, and bear their miseries, as they best may. Spenser then draws a picture of the farm-houses of the Irish, which in his day bore a close resemblance to the huts of our times. In like manner, the landlords of the present day take almost all from the tenant, but will give him nothing in return. The Irish landlords are in this respect, it would seem, still worse than the great Polish and Russian proprietors; for they so far take an interest in the
p.21affairs of their dependents, as to assist the peasant in the repair of his cabin; and are also compelled to furnish him with sustenance in time of famine. But this is not done by the Irish landlord. Yet his tenant is a free man: he can go away whenever he chooses. He has almost all the inconveniences of slavery (he is entirely dependent on his master; the lash only is wantinga fact which must be thankfully acknowledged,) without enjoying the advantages resulting from the sympathy and kind foresight of his master. So, also, he has all the inconveniences of freedom, (want, care, hunger,) without being able to enjoy one of its advantages.
The country is here a dead flat, without picturesque rocks or vallies, without castles or ruins; and, therefore, one of the most uninteresting parts of Ireland for the traveller, who misses not only the sight of beautiful scenery, but also those works of man's care and industry with which unadorned plains usually recompense him. Even the waters have a melancholy colouring. The Liffey, which we twice crossed, has, like most of the Irish rivers, a decided brown colour, caused by the numerous tributaries which it receives from the great Bog of Allen, the most extensive turf-bog in Ireland. It is remarkable that this brown colour does not make the water dull and turbid; it appears to be rather a clear dye from the vegetable matter of the bogs, than the boggy filaments themselves; and a person may often see to the bottom of the deepest water. Brown is as much the colour of one half of Ireland as green is of the other, and therefore it may as truly be called the Smoke-Topaz3 Island, (its waters have sometimes precisely the colour of this stone,) as the Emerald Isle.
The famous Catholic College of Maynooth, the only one of the kind in Ireland, lay in our road, which became interesting and picturesque for the first time at Mullingar. This little town is known in Ireland in a proverb. People are wont to say, in reference to a matter of the occurrence of which there is little likelihood, That will take place when the king comes to Mullingar. I do not clearly understand why Mullingar has been chosen for this proverb, since there are without doubt many places in Ireland far more neglected, and which it is much more improbable that the king should ever visit. Indeed, this proverb may shortly be put to shame, and many events unhoped for in Ireland be turned into certainty: for should the queen visit Ireland, she will certainly not fail to behold, first, the beauties of the county of Wicklow; and, secondly, the largest and fairest stream of
p.22her entire European dominions, the Shannon. The road to Mullingar leads right to the central point of the latter. At Mullingar, also, the traveller from Dublin meets with the first Irish lake, Lough Owel; and from hence, towards the north and west, an extraordinary number of lakes are found. There are no lakes in a large circle round Dublin, and especially in the wide district between Dublin and Cork. A very great proportion of them lie in the north-west part of the island. All the lakes of Ireland cover a surface of 455,000 acres, which is about 1/48 of the entire surface of the island. Only 32,000 acres of lake, or 1/14 of the whole, lie in the east, or in the province of Leinster; 45,000 acres, or 1/10 in the south, or in Munster; 183,000 acres, or 2/5, in the north, or in Ulster; and 194,000 acres, or somewhat more than 2/5, in the west, or in Connaught. Since, then, 1/48 part of Ireland is under lakes of the whole surface there is
We left Lough Owel and Lough Iron on the left, Lough Deveragh on the right, and Lough Glyn again on the left, without much regret; for lakes in a plain, in which there are no rocks to be reflected in the waters, have in themselves as little beauty as a mirror which reflects no lovely face. Towards evening we arrived at Edgeworthtown, where we passed some agreeable days in a delightful circle.