In 1821 Charles Nodier, poet, novelist and librarian, was 41 years old and happily married. He set off to travel from his home in Paris to make the long journey to Scotland.
The journey from Dieppe to Brighton was so rough that the sailboat ferry was blown off course. Nodier and his fellow passengers endured a crossing of thirty-two hours. It should have taken a mere ten.
Nodier missed his wife, as he says in the preface to his account of his travels. He therefore adopts the charming conceit of writing as if he is chatting to her.
Note: the Chain Pier was not open for use as a landing stage until late 1823.
Chapter III – Brighton Roadstead
“AT four in the morning we had cast anchor in the road, for Brighton has no harbour. The custom-house sends off a boat to the vessels, which receives the passengers and their luggage; but it cannot reach the shore, on account of the shallowness of the water. The passengers are obliged to be carried on the robust shoulders of the sailors, who, for this act of complaisance ask only the trifle of three shillings a-head. We are in England, where the representative sign of the existence of a French family for two or three days represents nothing.
“THESE first details will no doubt appear trifling, and particularly so, unless the reader will have the kindness to recollect that I am writing my journal, which contains all the history of my impressions. One of the most lively of them all is the aspect of a new country; and after having been absolutely forced to travel from adventure to adventure, through the rest of Europe, I am now for the first time on the soil of England.
“THE shore of Brighton is celebrated for its sea-bathing, which attracts every year the first company in the kingdom. It deserves this celebrity by the picturesque elegance of its charming views, to which no expression can do justice; especially, when the ray of the rising sun, glittering by degrees on the face of the waters which are slowly illuminated, strike here and there with their light, long zones of the sea, which detach themselves from its obscure extent like silver isles; or else play among the sails of a little bark, which floats inundated with brightness on a brilliant plane, among innumerable vessels which the light has not yet touched…
Chapter IV – Brighton
“THE extreme cleanliness of town in England is so well known, that, on arrival at Brighton I was astonished to find myself still forced to be astonished. Imagine to yourself an assemblage of decorations full of grace and lightness, such as the imagination would wish in a magical theatre, and you would have some idea of our first station. Brighton, however, presents no edifice worthy of remark, with the exception of the King’s palace, which is constructed in the Oriental style, and probably on the plan of some building in India. There is not much harmony between this eastern style and the surrounding houses, built like pretty Italian pavilions under a northern sky; but it is the mark of a power which stretches its sceptre over a part of the east, and draws from it the principal elements of its prosperity. This incoherence, notwithstanding, has no bad effect in a picture of illusions. Fairy Land is not subject to the rule of the unities…”
At which point Nodier starts his description of the rest of England and Scotland.
Charles Nodier is famous above all for his poetry. A lengthy purple passage has been omitted from the above translation. Nodier’s text was published in English in 1822. The translation was published by William Blackwood in Edinburgh and T. Cadell in London. The translator was not credited. Some things do not change.
The full English and French of texts are available on Google Books.