César de Saussure (1705-1783) made his first voyage to England in 1725, travelling by water from
Yverdon in Switzerland, up the Rhine through the German States and Holland, then across the North Sea from Rotterdam to London. He has left an amusing and detailed incidental description of this
journey through an area of Europe frequently torn by wars before
and since, but it is his sojourn of five years in London, from 1725 until
1730 that is the main subject of the sixteen letters which comprise this book.
In these letters, the coronation procession of George II and Queen Caroline, and the subsequent banquet at Westminster Hall are covered in great detail, and there are interesting and informative descriptions of the Court at St James under George I and George II, of the Tower of London, the City, St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, the Thames, Bedlam Hospital and many other London landmarks. But Saussure also demonstrated a lively interest in the ordinary and the everyday, which is reflected in his sometimes minute observations of life, and his wonderful digressions from the main subject to describe, for example, the way the population of London made off with the planks and covering material of the specially constructed walkway as soon as the coronation procession had passed, or the confusion following the mass hanging of 13 felons (including Jonathan Wild the Great) when the relatives of the hanged men joined battle with the agents of the surgeons over the disposal of the bodies.
Among other subjects covered are : football, cricket, the opera, pantomimes, Thames etiquette, debtors, false witnesses, the judicial process, horse races, gladiatorial contests, prize fights, cock fighting, highwaymen, footpads, pickpockets, the Gazettes, Quakers, Jews, Non-Conformists, Presbyterians, coffee-houses, hackney carriages, boatmen, porters, roads, sedan chairs, Customs officials, insurance, gin shops, eating houses and the water supply system.
There is also an account of Peter the Wild Boy, who was found by huntsmen in the forests of Hanover and was brought to London at the command of George I, and a detailed description of the sequence of events following the death of George I in 1727, when Sir Robert Walpole maintained his effective position as First Minister to the new King George, contrary to all the expectations at the time.
The notes, accessible from
the links at the top of this page, give information about some of
the people, places and events mentioned in the letters.