Reisen eines Deutschen in England

[This page by Catherine J. Minter]

Reisen eines Deutschen in England im Jahre 1782; Travels of a German in England in the Year 1782 (1783)

The only work by Moritz to make a name for him outside of Germany in his own lifetime, the Reisen eines Deutschen in England take the form of a series of letters to a friend, representing a diary of Moritz’s trip to England in June and July of 1782. His itinerary took him from London by way of Richmond, Windsor, Henley, Oxford, Stratford, Birmingham, Buxton and Derby to Castleton, and back by way of Nottingham, Leicester and Northampton. Choosing to travel on foot for most of the way, Moritz experienced many difficulties, but nevertheless gave a very favourable account of England in his travelogue.

This work is important as a ‘sentimental’ travel narrative, in which the experiences and impressions of the individual traveller, rather than objective description, are the primary focus. Take for example Moritz’s account of Richmond on Thames: as he describes the beauty of the landscape, his own reflections and emotions gradually take over. Moritz’s commitment to recording his individual, personal impressions in his Reisen eines Deutschen in England means that the text includes many charmingly idiosyncratic and unique observations, for example concerning the large number of people who wear glasses in England, or the English method of making toast.

Taking the post coach for only a part of his journey, Moritz preferred the first-hand and immediate experience offered by travelling on foot. Unfortunately, this was an unorthodox way of travelling in England at the time; and Moritz soon finds out that the foot traveller is regarded with a mixture of astonishment and suspicion, being seen as a beggar or even a criminal. Although he encounters occasional good samaritans (notably the Oxford clergyman who provides him with introductions in this city), his dominant experience is of being treated with rudeness and, at best, condescension, especially in rural parts. In spite of this, he consistently compares England and the English favourably with Germany and his own countrymen, for example praising the high levels of education and literacy among the general population in England, and the generally respectable outward appearance of English people. In London, he is favourably impressed by the inclusive, democratic style of English political decision-making, and by the national pride and independence of spirit of the populace.

The climax of Moritz’s trip to England is his account of his visit to the ‘romantic’ Peak District, in particular of his awe-inspiring tour through the Stygian, subterranean kingdom of Castleton Caves. Hair-raising even for the modern reader, this masterpiece of Romantic nature description would inspire many later writers, and did much to popularize the Reisen eines Deutschen in England in Moritz’s own lifetime. A second edition of the text appeared in 1785, and an English translation ten years later.

Da man nun glaubte ich schliefe, hörte ich in der Küche über mich deliberieren, was ich wohl für ein Mensch sein möge. Eine Frau nahm meine Partei, und sagte: I dare say, he is a well bred Gentleman […]; eine andre widerlegte sie damit, daß ich zu Fuße ginge, und sagte: he is a poor travelling Creature! […]. Von diesem poor travelling Creature gellen mir noch die Ohren, wenn ich daran denke, denn es scheint mir alles Elend eines Menschen, der nirgends eine Heimat hat, und die Verachtung der er ausgesetzt ist, in kurzen Worten auszudrücken.

When they thought I had fallen asleep, I heard them deliberating in the kitchen as to what quality of a person I may be. One woman spoke up for me and said: I dare say, he is a well-bred gentleman […]; another contradicted her by pointing out that I was on foot, and said: he is a poor travelling creature! […]. My ears still ring with that “poor travelling creature” whenever I think of it, for it seems to me to sum up in a few words all of the misery experienced by someone who has no home anywhere, and the contempt to which such a person is exposed.

Dieser unterirdische Tempel, woran keine Menschenhand gelegt war, schien mir in dem Augenblick an Regelmäßigkeit, Pracht und Schönheit, die herrlichsten Gebäude zu übertreffen.

Voll Ehrfurcht und Erstaunen sah ich hier in den innern Tiefen der Natur die Majestät des Schöpfers enthüllt, die ich in dieser feierlichen Stille, und in diesem heiligen Dunkel anbetete […].

That subterranean temple, wholly the work of nature, in that moment seemed to me to surpass the most magnificent buildings in terms of symmetry, splendour, and beauty.

Awe-struck and astonished, I here saw the majesty of the Creator revealed in the innermost depths of nature, and I worshipped it here in this grave silence and sacred darkness […].

Further Reading

Dell’Orto, Vincent J. Dell’Orto, ‘Karl Philipp Moritz in England: A Psychological Study of the Traveller’, Modern Language Notes 91 (1976), 453-66

Alison E. Martin, ‘German Travel Writing and the Rhetoric of Sensibility: Karl Philipp Moritz’s Reisen eines Deutschen in England im Jahr 1782’, in Cross-Cultural Travel: Papers from the Royal Irish Academy Symposium on Literature and Travel, ed. by Jane Conroy (New York: Peter Lang, 2003), pp. 81-88

W. D. Robson Scott, German Travellers in England 1400-1800 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1953), pp. 170-75

Web Link

Seán Williams, ‘Rambling Reflections: On Summers in Switzerland and Sheffield’, The Public Domain Review, 2018