Crabb Robinson travelled far and wide in Germany, using Frankfurt as a base before heading to Weimar and Saxony, and meeting much of the German literary and cultural establishment as he went. In this extract, we accompany him into Germany by way of Hamburg. Just as many British people today recognise in their adopted country elements of 1970s and 1980s Britain, Crabb-Robinson sees Germany as Britain in arrested development.
Frankfort sur MeinThe remark I before made on the houses of Altona applies to Hambro’ and the Adjacent Country. They perpetually suggest the Idea that you are looking at England as it was a Century ago – The original model of a farm house (& farm houses were the primitive houses) as I have seen it in the wild parts of Hanover, is that of one immense room, with Chimney or division, the various parts are divided as a farmer lays his different seeds or fruits – At one corner the fire; here beds, there the piggery; here some furniture and a good carriage way all thro’ – Now the progress of refinement is this; after a time the sides are separated (like the King’s Bench & Common Please in Wester Hall) glazed & adorned for the Women & children – but still the centre is unpaved – I have seen several respectable houses of this kind in the country near Hambro’ – Refinement increases but still the old Hall remains as in ancient English mansions. Perhaps we have gone beyond the exact mark of propriety & though our proud love of retirement by converting our Halls into narrow passages & large parlours; have injured our houses as summer retreats & promoted the natural shyness of our tempers – In the Houses near Hambro’ the genteelest families dine or drink coffee in their Halls & with the Doors open to observation & curiosity – In the Town too, most of the Houses have the narrow or gable end in front, which necessarily precludes the elegant uniformity of a Bath Street but at the same time allows of an infinite variety of ornament which gives an idea of distinctness to the mind & is I think an advantage – As the Stories rise, the curtain, if it may be so called, is narrowed till it terminates in a Pyramid – There is, it must be confessed, a great waste of room in the lofty halls & shops which you see in the front of the Hambro’ houses. But perhaps it is more pleasing to witness resources & means of future improvements, as necessities may arise, than as in London to behold every inch occupied and Management & Economy put to their last shifts – The Dress of the Lower Classes confirms the suggestion that Germany is now what England was – Many a poor woman bears about her a tight black velvet bonnet like that in which Mary Q. of Scotts is painted – The Lutheran clergy appear to wear the cast-off ruffs of Queen Elizabeth, & the heads of the maid servants & country women are adorned with stiff perpendicular lappets, giving fierceness & rotundity to their square faces and on the crown of their heads they bear a profusion of gold and silver, that is yellow and white lace – So much for the outside of the Men and Women of the lower ranks – The higher orders dress differently. All the Gentlemen imitate the English, all the Ladies, the French.
11th May 1800
11th May 1800