The hospitality of Hamburg is confined to Sunday invitations to the country houses I have mentioned, when dish after dish smokes upon the board, and the conversation ever flowing in the muddy channel of business, it is not easy to obtain any appropriate information. Had I intended to remain here some time, or had my mind been more alive to general inquiries, I should have endeavoured to have been introduced to some characters not so entirely immersed in commercial affairs, though in this whirlpool of gain it is not very easy to find any but the wretched or supercilious emigrants, who are not engaged in pursuits which, in my eyes, appear as dishonourable as gambling. The interests of nations are bartered by speculating merchants. My God! with what sang froid artful trains of corruption bring lucrative commissions into particular hands, disregarding the relative situation of different countries, and can much common honesty be expected in the discharge of trusts obtained by fraud? But this entre nous.
During my present journey, and whilst residing in France, I have had an opportunity of peeping behind the scenes of what are vulgarly termed great affairs, only to discover the mean machinery which has directed many transactions of moment. The sword has been merciful, compared with the depredations made on human life by contractors and by the swarm of locusts who have battened on the pestilence they spread abroad. These men, like the owners of negro ships, never smell on their money the blood by which it has been gained, but sleep quietly in their beds, terming such occupations lawful callings; yet the lightning marks not their roofs to thunder conviction on them "and to justify the ways of God to man."
Why should I weep for myself? "Take, O world! thy much indebted tear!" Adieu!
There is a pretty little French theatre at Altona, and the actors are much superior to those I saw at Copenhagen. The theatres at Hamburg are not open yet, but will very shortly, when the shutting of the gates at seven o'clock forces the citizens to quit their country houses. But, respecting Hamburg, I shall not be able to obtain much more information, as I have determined to sail with the first fair wind for England.
The presence of the French army would have rendered my intended tour through Germany, in my way to Switzerland, almost impracticable, had not the advancing season obliged me to alter my plan. Besides, though Switzerland is the country which for several years I have been particularly desirous to visit, I do not feel inclined to ramble any farther this year; nay, I am weary of changing the scene, and quitting people and places the moment they begin to interest me. This also is vanity!
I left this letter unfinished, as I was hurried on board, and now I have only to tell you that, at the sight of Dover cliffs, I wondered how anybody could term them grand; they appear so insignificant to me, after those I had seen in Sweden and Norway.
Adieu! My spirit of observation seems to be fled, and I have been wandering round this dirty place, literally speaking, to kill time, though the thoughts I would fain fly from lie too close to my heart to be easily shook off, or even beguiled, by any employment, except that of preparing for my journey to London.
Private business and cares have frequently so absorbed me as to prevent my obtaining all the information during this journey which the novelty of the scenes would have afforded, had my attention been continually awake to inquiry. This insensibility to present objects I have often had occasion to lament since I have been preparing these letters for the press; but, as a person of any thought naturally considers the history of a strange country to contrast the former with the present state of its manners, a conviction of the increasing knowledge and happiness of the kingdoms I passed through was perpetually the result of my comparative reflections.