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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Personal Notes and Observations

By Samuel Curwen (1715–1802)

[From Journal and Letters of the late Samuel Curwen, American Refugee in England, from 1775 to 1784. Edited by G. A. Ward. 1842.]

IN the afternoon I attended once more John Wesley, having the heavens for his canopy; he began with an extempore prayer, followed by a hymn of his own composing, and adapted to the subject of his discourse. He wears his own gray hair, or a wig so very like that my eye could not distinguish. He is not a graceful speaker, his voice being weak and harsh; he is attended by great numbers of the middling and lower classes; is said to have humanized the almost savage colliers of Kingswood, who, before his time, were almost as fierce and unmanageable as the wild beasts of the wilderness. He wears an Oxford master’s gown; his attention seemingly not directed to manner and behavior,—not rude, but negligent, dress cleanly, not neat. He is always visiting the numerous societies of his own forming in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland; though near eighty years old, he reads without spectacles the smallest print. He rises at four, preaches every day at five, and once besides; an uncommon instance of physical ability.

In the House of Commons, on the 12th inst., after Lord Barrington’s report of army estimates, Col. Barré rose and called on Lord George Germaine to inform the House whether the report of the surrender of General Burgoyne with his army and artillery was true or false; which Lord George did in a short narrative, and said intelligence had been received of the capture by the way of Quebec, which struck the House with astonishment; and after a short pause Col. Barré rose, and with an averted look, said: “Great God! who can refrain from rage and indignation when the planner of so much misery relates with the utmost composure the horrid tale of a British army destroyed? We all know the General’s bravery and skill; he did not surrender whilst there was a possibility of defence; but while justice demands a just eulogium, what must we say of the man who reduced so gallant an officer to so sad an alternative without the smallest advantage to his country?”

Of the penchant of noble and wealthy ladies to vie with their partners of the other sex in the laudable pursuit of gaming, etc., take the following instance: At the time of my first arrival in London, a house opposite Governor Hutchinson’s, in St. James’s-street, was then finishing, called “Sçavoir vivre,” being a gaming-house of the highest modern taste, perhaps much more magnificent in architecture and furniture than English America can boast, and designed for gentlemen exclusively. The ladies’ pride being piqued, they bought up that which the Governor lived in, and the two on either side of it, and, though in excellent repair, demolished them, erecting in their room one in the same taste as its opposite neighbor; and to this day these two temples are devoted to the worship of the blind deity, Fortune, on whose altars are nightly sacrificed thousands, besides the peace and support of many of her foolish and equally blind devotees. These, among a multitude of other instances, are proofs and memorials of the expensive taste and diversions of this age and country.

Samuel H. Sparhawk called; accompanied him to Ladies’ Disputing Club, at King’s Arms, Cornhill. A lady presided and acquitted herself very commendably. Question: “Was Adam or Eve most culpable in paradise?” Mrs. President addressed the assembly with great propriety, just accent, and pleasing voice; explaining the nature of the meeting; justifying ladies appearing to speak in a public promiscuous assembly. She was frequently applauded; on ascending the chair, she turned round and gracefully saluted the company, discovering perfect self-possession, void of all embarrassment. The other speakers also acquitted themselves laudably, and were frequently clapped. Some spoke, I won’t say argued, on one side, some on the other; very little serious argument, unless declamation, quotations from Hudibras, etc., can be so denominated. The subject afforded matter for mirth, but the most serious speeches turned against the mother of us all.

The concluding speech was foreign to the question; the subject was the term “congress.” The speakers were lively, and their wit and humor produced shouts of laughter. The principal speaker introduced her speech by observing that the word being understood here as implying rebellion, she at first apprehended American ladies were coming over in shoals to seduce the young gentlemen from our island ladies; but after considering the subject, and being informed by a clergyman, to whom she applied for its meaning, had found that the word has a harmless signification, and had been used on this side the water in treaties of peace, as the Congress of Ambassadors of belligerent powers at Nimeguen, Aix-la-Chapelle, etc.; that it is derived from a Latin word signifying a meeting together to compose or reunite discordant parties. She was pleased to hear it was not likely to give disgust to our State physicians, who were laudably employing their skill and labor in administering harsh medicines to the disordered members of our consumptive empire. After a series of lively observations, she closed by wishing success to the institution, and that it may do honor to female eloquence. Question being put, whether Adam was most in fault, vote by three hands only, negatived by one. Thus Eve stands acquitted in this female school of oratory of being the most guilty, though I fancy the major part considered as females are not so clear in the affirmative.

Went early in order to be at Mr. Benjamin Thompson’s in time, and being a little before, heard he was not returned home from Lord George Germaine’s, where he always breakfasts, dines and sups, so great a favorite is he. To kill half an hour, I loitered to the Park through the Palace, and on second return found him at his lodgings; he received me in a friendly manner, taking me by the hand, talked with great freedom, and promised to remember and serve me in the way I proposed to him. Promises are easily made, and genteel delusive encouragement the staple article of trade belonging to the courtier’s profession. I put no hopes on the fair appearances of outward behavior, though it is uncandid to suppose all mean to deceive. Some wish to do a service who have it not in their power; all wish to be thought of importance and significancy, and this often leads to deceit. This young man, when a shop-lad to my next neighbor, ever appeared active, good-natured and sensible; by a strange concurrence of events, he is now Under-Secretary to the American Secretary of State, Lord George Germaine, a Secretary to Georgia, inspector of all the clothing sent to America, and Lieut.-Col. Commandant of horse dragoons at New York; his income arising from these sources is, I have been told, near seven thousand a year,—a sum infinitely beyond his most sanguine expectations. He is besides a member of the Royal Society. It is said he is of an ingenious turn, an inventive imagination, and by being on one cruise in Channel service with Sir Charles Hardy, has formed a more regular and better digested system for signals than that heretofore used. He seems to be of a happy, even temper in general deportment, and reported of an excellent heart; peculiarly respectful to Americans that fall in his way.

At St. George’s Chapel, prayers at eight; present, the King, Queen, Princesses Elizabeth and Sophia,—about a hundred hearers; we joined the train to Queen’s house, or rather to the gates. The King was dressed in blue fly, cuffs small, open, and turned up with red velvet, cape of same, buttons white, breeches and waistcoat of white cotton, an ordinary white wig with a tail ribbon, a round black chip hat, small, as used in riding. He is tall, square over the shoulders, large ugly mouth, talks a great deal, and shows his teeth too much; his countenance heavy and lifeless, with white eyebrows. Queen of the middle size and bulk, height five feet and a half,—though far removed from beautiful, she has an open placid aspect, mouth large, foot splay: at prayers their voices often heard, and they appeared devout. They take no state upon them, walk freely about the town with only a lord in waiting. At seven, every evening after tea, the King, Queen, Prince of Wales, Princess-Royal, Princesses Sophia and Elizabeth, walk for an hour on terrace half a mile long, amidst two or three thousand people of all ranks. The Prince of Wales appears a likely, agreeable person, far more graceful than his father, who is ungainly. The Prince affects much the “Jemmy” dress and air; age will doubtless soften down the juvenile taste and affectation. The Queen’s dress, a riding-habit, same color and facings as the King’s—a small bonnet with a blue feather. Conducted to picture gallery and state-rooms; in one stands the Queen’s bed, of a cream-color, worked in flowers with silk floss beautifully shaded, about seven feet long and six wide; posts fluted, and gilt tester, having in the centre an oval compartment, thought to be the richest in England except Lady Clifford’s at Wybrook, which was wrought and presented to her by the late Duchess of Norfolk,—twelve chairs and a screen, wrought by her present Majesty’s own diligent hand. In the evening, on the terrace, the King was in full dress,—blue uniform, sword, and cockade; the Prince of Wales the same. The Queen in a faint greenish silk full dress, except her head, on which she had a bonnet with a feather of the same color as her dress.

Being disappointed in Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret’s Church (at the former by the lowness of the reader’s voice, at the latter by the service not having begun), proceeding cityward, just as I came to the gate leading from Parliament-street to Scotland-yard, or Whitehall, who should cross me but a large clumsy gentleman with a blue ribbon across his breast, who, on inquiry, I found was Lord North. Following him into Whitehall Chapel, I remained during the service. He is rather above the common height, and bulk greatly exceeding; large legs, walks heavily, manner clumsy; very large featured, thick lips, wide mouth, high forehead, large nose, eyes not lively; head well covered with hair, which he wears high before.

Dined and passed the day at Capt. Hay’s. Mrs. Chapman, with whom these my friends board at Kennington Common, near Vauxhall Gardens, says that the famous Sterne, author of “Tristram Shandy,” “Sentimental Journey,” etc., was totally void of the fine feelings of humanity which he so beautifully paints and are characteristic of his writings, which in respect thereto show him to be an original genius; and but ill discharged the various relative duties of life, one instance only excepted, which was an immoderate fondness of an only daughter. As a proof among others, he suffered an aged mother—which but for the proof of it is hardly to be credited—to die in a jail for want of money to discharge a debt of twenty pounds. The public ought to know the character of a writer who so ill in practice exemplified what his pen so justly and beautifully describes. This was told her by a very intimate acquaintance of Sterne, who was personally informed of his whole history.