From a series of letters in which the author sought to “vindicate” the French “from the misrepresentations of some late writers.” He was best known in his day for the two-volume A Year’s Journey Through France and Part of Spain. His writings were once described by a critic as “dull, ponderous, stupid, egotistical diatribes… unredeemed by a single generous thought or a well-expressed sentence.”
Before I leave this kingdom and enter into that of Spain, let me trouble you with a letter on a subject which, though no ways interesting to yourself, may be very much so to a young Gentleman of your acquaintance at Oxford, for whose happiness I, as well as you, am a little anxious. It is to apprize you, and to warn him, when he travels, to avoid the gins and mantraps fixed all over this country: traps, which a thorough knowledge of Latin and Greek—combined even with father and mother’s wit—will not be sufficient to preserve him from, unless he is first shewn the manner in which they are set. These traps are not made to catch the legs, but to ruin the fortunes and break the hearts of those who unfortunately step into them. Their baits are artful, designing, wicked men and profligate, abandoned, and prostitute women. Paris abounds with them—as well as Lyons and all the great towns between London and Rome—and are principally set to catch the young Englishman of fortune from the age of eighteen to five and twenty. And what is worse, an honest, sensible, generous young man is always in most danger of setting his foot into them. You suspect already that these traps are made only of paper and ivory, and that cards and dice are the destructive engines I mean. Do you know that there are a set of men and women in Paris and Lyons who live elegantly by lying in wait and by catching every bird of passage—but particularly the English goldfinch? I have seen and heard of such wicked artifices of these people and the fatal consequences to the unfortunate young men they have ensnared, that I really think I could never enjoy a single hour of contentment while a son of mine was making what is called the tour of Europe. The minute one of these young men arrive, either at Paris or Lyons, some laquais de place, who is paid for it, gives the earliest notice to one of the confederacy, and he is instantly waylaid by a French Marquis, or an English Chevalier d’Industrie, who, with a most insinuating address, makes him believe he is no sooner arrived at Paris than he has found a sincere friend. The Chevalier shews him what is most worthy of notice in Paris, attends him to Versailles and Marly, cautions him against being acquainted with the honest part of the French nation, and introduces him to the knaves only of his own and this country; carries him to see French Ladies of the first distinction, (and such who certainly live in that style) and makes the young man giddy with joy. But alas! It is but a short-lived one! He is invited to sup with the Countess and is entertained not only voluptuously, but they play after supper, and he wins too. What can be more delightful to a young man in a strange country than to be flattered by the French, courted by the English, entertained by the Countess, and cheered with success? Nay, he flatters himself, from the particular attention the Countess shews him, above all other men admitted to her toilet, that she has even some tendre for his person. Just at this critical moment, a Toyman arrives, to shew Madame la Comtesse a new-fashioned trinket; she likes it, but has not money enough in her pocket to pay for it: here is a fine opportunity to make Madame la Comtesse a present—and why should not he? The price is not above four or five guineas more than his last night’s winnings. He offers it, and with great difficulty and much persuasion, she accepts it, but is quite ashamed to think of the trouble he has given himself. But, says she, you Englishmen are so charming—so generous, and so, so… and looks so sweet upon him, that while her tongue faulters, egad he ventures to cover her confusion by a kiss—when, instead of giving him the two broad sides of her cheek, she is so off her guard, and so overcome, as to present him unawares, with a pretty handsome dash of red pomatum from her lovely pouting lips and insists upon it that he sups with her, tete a tete, that very evening when all this happiness is completed. In a few nights after, he is invited to meet the Countess, and to sup with Monsieur le Marquis, or Monsieur le Chevalier Anglais; he is feasted with high meat, and inflamed with delicious wines. They play after supper, and he is stript of all his money, and gives drafts upon his Banker for all his credit. He visits the Countess the next day; she receives him with a civil coolness—is very sorry, she says—and wished much last night for a favourable opportunity to give him a hint not to play after he had lost the first thousand, as she perceived luck ran hard against him. She is extremely mortified, but as a friend advises him to go to Lyons, or some provincial town, where he may study the language with more success than in the hurry and noise of so great a city as Paris—and apply for further credit. His new friends visit him no more, and he determines to take the Countess’s advice, and go on to Lyons, as he heard the South of France is much cheaper, and there he may see what he can do. But at Lyons too, some artful knave of one nation or the other accosts him, who has had notice of his Paris misfortunes—he pities him, and rather than see a countryman, or a gentleman of fashion and character in distress, he would lend him fifty or a hundred pounds. When this is done, every art is used to debauch his principles; he is initiated into a gang of genteel sharpers and bullied, by the fear of a gaol, to connive at, or to become a party in, their iniquitous society. His good name gives a sanction for a while to their suspected reputations, and by means of an hundred pounds so lent to this honest young man, some thousands are won from the birds of passage, who are continually passing thro’ that city to the more southern parts of France, or to Italy, Geneva, or Turin.
This is not an imaginary picture; it is a picture I have seen, nay, I have seen the traps set, and the game caught. Nor were those who set the snares quite sure that they might not put a stop to my peregrination, for they risqued a supper at me and let me win a few guineas at the little play which began before they sat down to table. Indeed, my dear Sir, were I to give you the particulars of some of those unhappy young men, who have been ruined in fortune and constitution too, at Paris and Lyons, you would be struck with pity on one side, and horror and detestation on the other. Tell my Oxonian friend, from me, when he travels, never to let either Lords or Ladies, even of his own country, nor Marquises, Counts, or Chevaliers, of this, ever draw him into play—but to remember that shrewd hint of Lord Chesterfield’s to his son: “When you play with men, know with whom you play; when with women, for what you play.” But let me add, that the only sure way, is never to play at all.