Madame la Fayette left Altona the day I arrived, to endeavour, at Vienna, to obtain the enlargement of her husband, or permission to share his prison. She lived in a lodging up two pairs of stairs, without a servant, her two daughters cheerfully assisting; choosing, as well as herself, to descend to anything before unnecessary obligations. During her prosperity, and consequent idleness, she did not, I am told, enjoy a good state of health, having a train of nervous complaints, which, though they have not a name, unless the significant word ennui be borrowed, had an existence in the higher French circles; but adversity and virtuous exertions put these ills to flight, and dispossessed her of a devil who deserves the appellation of legion.
Madame Genus also resided at Altona some time, under an assumed name, with many other sufferers of less note though higher rank. It is, in fact, scarcely possible to stir out without meeting interesting countenances, every lineament of which tells you that they have seen better days.
At Hamburg, I was informed, a duke had entered into partnership with his cook, who becoming a traiteur, they were both comfortably supported by the profit arising from his industry. Many noble instances of the attachment of servants to their unfortunate masters have come to my knowledge, both here and in France, and touched my heart, the greatest delight of which is to discover human virtue.
At Altona, a president of one of the ci-devant parliaments keeps an ordinary, in the French style; and his wife with cheerful dignity submits to her fate, though she is arrived at an age when people seldom relinquish their prejudices. A girl who waits there brought a dozen double louis d'or concealed in her clothes, at the risk of her life, from France, which she preserves lest sickness or any other distress should overtake her mistress, "who," she observed, "was not accustomed to hardships." This house was particularly recommended to me by an acquaintance of yours, the author of the "American Farmer's Letters." I generally dine in company with him: and the gentleman whom I have already mentioned is often diverted by our declamations against commerce, when we compare notes respecting the characteristics of the Hamburgers. "Why, madam," said he to me one day, "you will not meet with a man who has any calf to his leg; body and soul, muscles and heart, are equally shrivelled up by a thirst of gain. There is nothing generous even in their youthful passions; profit is their only stimulus, and calculations the sole employment of their faculties, unless we except some gross animal gratifications which, snatched at spare moments, tend still more to debase the character, because, though touched by his tricking wand, they have all the arts, without the wit, of the wing-footed god."
Perhaps you may also think us too severe; but I must add that the more I saw of the manners of Hamburg, the more was I confirmed in my opinion relative to the baleful effect of extensive speculations on the moral character. Men are strange machines; and their whole system of morality is in general held together by one grand principle which loses its force the moment they allow themselves to break with impunity over the bounds which secured their self- respect. A man ceases to love humanity, and then individuals, as he advances in the chase after wealth; as one clashes with his interest, the other with his pleasures: to business, as it is termed, everything must give way; nay, is sacrificed, and all the endearing charities of citizen, husband, father, brother, become empty names. But--but what? Why, to snap the chain of thought, I must say farewell. Cassandra was not the only prophetess whose warning voice has been disregarded. How much easier it is to meet with love in the world than affection!
My lodgings at Altona are tolerably comfortable, though not in any proportion to the price I pay; but, owing to the present circumstances, all the necessaries of life are here extravagantly dear. Considering it as a temporary residence, the chief inconvenience of which I am inclined to complain is the rough streets that must be passed before Marguerite and the child can reach a level road.
The views of the Elbe in the vicinity of the town are pleasant, particularly as the prospects here afford so little variety. I attempted to descend, and walk close to the water's edge; but there was no path; and the smell of glue, hanging to dry, an extensive manufactory of which is carried on close to the beach, I found extremely disagreeable. But to commerce everything must give way; profit and profit are the only speculations--"double--double, toil and trouble." I have seldom entered a shady walk without being soon obliged to turn aside to make room for the rope-makers; and the only tree I have seen, that appeared to be planted by the hand of taste, is in the churchyard, to shade the tomb of the poet Klopstock's wife.
Most of the merchants have country houses to retire to during the summer; and many of them are situated on the banks of the Elbe, where they have the pleasure of seeing the packet-boats arrive--the periods of most consequence to divide their week.