The Landscape Guide

Life of John Claudius Loudon his wife

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Tour of Russia, Poland, Germany and Sweden

The continent, after having been long closed to English visitors, was thrown open in 1813 by the general rising against Napoleon Bonaparte, and it presented an ample field to an enquiring mind like that of Mr. Loudon. Accordingly, after having made the necessary preparations, he sailed from Harwich on the 16th of March. He first landed at Gothenburg, and was delighted with Sweden, its roads, its people, and its systems of education; but he was too impatient to visit the theatre of war to stay long in Sweden, and he proceeded by way of Memel to Konigsberg, where he arrived on the 14th of April. In this country he found every where traces of war: skeletons of horses lay bleaching in the fields, the roads were broken up, and the country houses in ruins. At Elbing he found the streets filled with the goods and cattle of the country people, who had poured into the town for protection from the French army, which was then passing within two miles of it; and near Marienburg he passed through a bivouac of 2000 Russian troops, who in their dress and general appearance looked more like convicts than soldiers. The whole of the valley between Marienburg and Danzig he found covered whim water, and looking like one vast lake; but on the hills near Danzig there was an encampment of Russians; the Cossacks belonging to which were digging holes for themselves and horses in the loose sand. These holes they afterwards covered with boughs of trees, stuck into the earth and meeting in the centre as in a gipsy tent; the whole looking, at a little distance, like a number of huts of the Eskimo Indians. He now passed through Swedish Pomerania; and, on approaching Berlin, found the long avenues of trees leading to that city filled with foot passengers, carriages full of ladies, and wagons full of luggage, all proceeding there for protection; and forming a very striking picture as he passed through them by moonlight.

He remained at Berlin from the 14th of May to the 1st of June, and then proceeded to Frankfurt on the Oder. Here, at the table d'hóte, he dined with several Prussian officers, who, supposing him to be a Frenchman, sat for some time in perfect silence: but, on hearing him speak German, one said to the other, "He must be English;" and, when he told them that he came from London, they all rose, one springing over the table in his haste, and crowded round him, shaking hands, kissing him, and overwhelming him with compliments, as he was the first Englishman they had ever seen. He then proceeded through Posen to Warsaw, where he arrived on the 6th of June.

Afterwards he traveled towards Russia, but was stopped at the little town of Tykoeyn, and detained there three months, from some informality in his passport. When this difficulty was overcome, he proceeded by Grodno to Wilna, through a country covered with the remains of the French army, horses and men lying dead by the roadside, and bands of wild-looking Cossacks scouring the country. On entering Kosnow three Cossacks attacked his carriage, and endeavored to carry off the horses, but they were beaten back by the whips of the driver and servants. At Mitton he was obliged to sleep in his britzska, as every house was full of the wounded; and he was awakened in the night by the cows and other animals, of which the inn yard was full, eating the hay which had been put over his feet to keep them warm. He reached Riga on the 30th of September, and found the town completely surrounded by a barricade of wagons, which had been taken from the French. Between this town and St. Petersburg, while making a drawing of a picturesque old fort, he was taken up as a spy; and, on his examination before the prefect, he was much amused at hearing the comments made on his note-book, which was full of unconnected memoranda, and which puzzled the magistrates and their officers excessively when they heard it translated into Russia.

Mr. London reached St. Petersburg on the 30th of October, just before the breaking up of the bridge, and he remained there three or four months; after which he proceeded to Moscow, where he arrived on the 4th of March, 1814, after having encountered various difficulties on the road. Once, in particular, the horses in his carriage being unable to drag it through a snow-drift, the postilions very coolly un-harnessed them and trotted off, telling him that they would bring fresh horses in the morning, and that he would be in no danger from the wolves, if he would keep the windows of his carriage close, and the leather curtains down. There was no remedy but to submit; and few men were better fitted by nature for bearing the horrors of such a night than Mr. Loudon, from his natural calmness and patient endurance of difficulties. He often, however, spoke of the situation he was in, particularly when he heard the, howling of the wolves, and once when a herd of them rushed across the road close to his carriage. He. had also some doubts whether the postilions would be able to recollect where they had left the carriage, as the wind had been very high during the night, and had blown the snow through the crevices in the curtains. The morning, however, brought the postilions with fresh horses, and the remainder of the journey was passed without any difficulty.


When he reached Moscow, he found the houses yet black from the recent fire, and the streets filled with the ruins of churches and noble mansions. Soon after his arrival news was received of the capture of Paris, and the entrance of the allied sovereigns into that city; but the Russians took this intelligence so coolly, that, though it reached Moscow on the 25th of April, the illuminations in honour of it did not take place till the 5th of May. He left Moscow on the 2nd of June, and reached Kiev on the 15th. Here he had an interview with General Rapp on account of some informality in his passport. He then proceeded to Kracow, and thence to Vienna; after which he visited Prague, Dresden, and Leipsig, passing through Magdeburg to Hamburg, where he embarked for England, and reached Yarmouth on the 27th of September, 1814.

During this long and interesting journey Mr. Loudon visited and took views of nearly all the palaces and large rural residences in the countries through which he passed; and he visited all the principal gardens, frequently going two or three days' journey out of his route, if he heard of any garden that he thought worth seeing. He also visited most of the eminent scientific men in the different cities he passed through; and was elected a member of the Imperial Society of Moscow, the Natural History Society at Berlin, the Royal Economical Society at Potsdam, and many others. I have often wondered that on his return home he did not publish his travels; as the Continent was then, comparatively, so little known, that a narrative of what he saw, illustrated by his sketches, would have been highly interesting. Business of a very unpleasant nature, however, awaited him, and probably so completely occupied his mind as to leave no room for any thing else.


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