In the mid-19th century, one Mrs Favell Mortimer set forth to write a definitive travel guide to the world. There was just one problem: she had never set foot outside her native Shropshire. This was the result..
What is the character of the English? What sort of people are they? They are not very pleasant in company, because they do not like strangers, nor taking much trouble. They like best being at home, and this is right. They are very much afraid of being cheated; therefore they are careful and prudent, and slow to trust people till they know them. They are cold in their manners, yet they will often do kind actions. They are too fond of money, as well as of good eating and drinking. They are often in low spirits, and are apt to grumble, and to wish they were richer than they are, and to speak against the rulers of the land. Yet they might be the happiest people in the world, for there is no country in which there are so many Bibles.
Is London a pleasant city? No; because there is so much fog and so much smoke. This makes it dark and black. Yet the streets where rich people live are kept clean, and the maid in each house washes the steps of her master's house every morning.
Is London a pretty city? No; because it is not built by the sea-side or on high hills. Yet it has two beautiful churches - called St Paul's and Westminster Abbey - and it has some beautiful parks where ladies and gentlemen drive and walk, and where even poor children play under the shady trees.
Though the Welsh are not very clean, they make their cottages look clean by white-washing them every year, and sometimes they white-wash the pig-sties too.
Is Scotland like England?
No - it is more beautiful. It has not as many trees as England has, but then it has very high hills, higher than any hills in England, and larger lakes, and more streams and water-falls.
One day a traveller said to a Scotchman, "Does it always rain, as it does now?" "No," replied the man, "it snaws sometimes." He said "snaws" instead of "snows", for the poor Scotch speak their words very broad.
One of the chief faults of the Scotch is the love of whisky. Another fault is the love of money. They often ask more than they ought, and are very slow to give. They are industrious, but disobliging. They will not take much trouble to please strangers. They are not as clean as English people, and they let their books be covered with dust, and even black with soot.
They are very grave, and not fond of jokes; however, they like music, and can sing some very pretty songs; but you would not like the sound of their bag-pipes. The noise is almost as ugly as the creaking of a door, or the squalling of cats.
The chief town of Scotland is Edinburgh. This is the most beautiful city in the world. What makes it so beautiful? Its green hill with the castle at the top. As you walk in the fine broad streets of Edinburgh, whenever you look up, you see this hill and its castle, and you admire them, and say, "How grand, how beautiful!"
There are not many rich people in Ireland. Those who are rich like best going over to England and living there, and this is one reason why the poor people are so very poor. But there are some ladies and gentlemen who try to make poor people happy, and who have schools for the children.
The Irish say they are Christians, yet most of them will not read the Bible. Is not that strange? Why do they not read it, if they are Christians? Because their ministers tell them not to read it. Why? Because these ministers or priests tell them a great many wrong things, which are not written in the Bible, and they do not want the people to find out the truth. The religion they teach is called the Roman Catholic religion. It is a kind of Christian religion, but it is a very bad kind.
If you were to go to a Roman Catholic church, you would see a basin of water near the door. What is it for? It is called "holy water", because the priest has blessed it. Everybody dips his hand in this water, and sprinkles himself with it, and thinks that doing this will keep him from Satan. O how foolish!
The parents like to make their children little men and women. They take them where they go, keep them up late, and let them eat unwholesome food, and even allow them to talk away before grown-up people, and show how clever they are. Children of five or six years old often dine with company, when they ought to be alone with their papa and mamma, or else in the nursery.
Is there a King of France? The last King left his palace in great haste. There were crowds under his windows, and he was afraid they would burst in. So he left his dinner unfinished on the table; he did not stop to pack up his clothes, but, with his queen on his arm, he hurried through the streets, and got into a carriage and drove off. Where did he go? To England. That is a safe place for French kings.
The Spaniards are rather short and thin. Their hair and eyes are black, their skin is dark, and their cheeks pale, and their countenance is grave and sad. They walk very slowly, and hold up their heads. The women are very graceful.
They are not like the French, lively and talkative: they are grave and silent. They are not active like the Scotch, but cold and distant; nor fond of home like the English, but fond of company. Yet they are cruel, and sullen, and revengeful. They are very proud. The poor are as proud as the rich. They think no nation, and no language is like their own. It is true their language is the best in Europe, but there are very few wise books written in it.
What? Though the Portuguese are indolent, like the Spaniards, they are not so grave, and sad, and silent. They are proud like the Spaniards, but they are more deceitful. They have black eyes, and hair, and dark complexions like the Spaniards, but they have whiter teeth, for they never smoke, and it is smoking paper cigars which spoils the teeth in Spain.
But though the Portuguese do not smoke, they have another bad habit, they take snuff continually, - the poor as well as the rich - the young as well as the old.
The Portuguese language is not as beautiful as the Spanish, it has more hissing sounds, and is spoken in harsh and squeaking tones.
No people in Europe are as clumsy and awkward with their hands as the Portuguese. It is curious to see how badly the carpenters make boxes, and the smiths make keys. The carts are very ill-made; they are drawn by two oxen, and as they move slowly along, the wheels make a loud creaking noise, which almost stuns people of other countries; but the Portuguese do not mind the sound, and say it is of use, for then there will be no danger of two carts meeting in the narrow roads.
Portugal, like Spain, is filled with robbers; the laws are not obeyed, and the wicked men often escape without being punished.
The rich people are very fond of company; nothing pleases them more than to see some sledges gallopping up to their house. Then they make fine feasts, talk and laugh, sing and dance, from morning till night. The children are allowed to play so much, that they grow up very ignorant. The boys are not t aught Latin or Greek, for they are so foolish as to think it too much trouble to learn languages which nobody speaks now. The Russians are very fond of music and dancing, and the children are very quick in learning to dance and sing; but dancing and singing will not make them wise.
The poor Russians are not black, but fair, with light hair. Why are they called "black?" Because they are very dirty. The Russians are very uneasy if they cannot bathe.
The rich people are unjust, and often do not pay their debts; they are fond of feasts and company, but they care little for their servants and poor neighbours. The poor people are civil, but sly, and dishonest, idle, and fond of drinking.
Rome is the capital of Italy, and once it was the capital of the world. It was a wicked city then, full of idols and cruelty - and it is a wicked city now. Here the Pope lives. He is the chief of all the priests of the Roman Catholic religion. Naples is much more beautiful than Rome. It is built by the sea-side, where the land is in the shape of a half-moon. This is called a bay. Naples is a gay city. The people are always moving and talking fast. The streets are full of carts and carriages laden with people - some before, and some behind, and some underneath; for even poor people like to have a ride. In Rome the people are grave and silent, but in Naples they are merry and noisy. Which city should you like best?
The Germans are very kind, and pleasant in their families. They are affectionate. They are careful, and cautious. It would be well if they were more neat and clean, especially the poor people.
The Hungarians are a much wilder people than the Germans; they are not industrious; they do not know how to make things; most of them cannot read or write.
Prussia is not a pretty country. It is full of sandy plains, and ugly bogs, and low fir-trees. Neither is it a healthy country. The east wind blows very sharp, and the ground is very damp. Yet in one respect it is a good country, for the religion is Protestant. There are also many good laws, and the poor people are taught to read. It is a pity there are so many soldiers.
All children who have read the Bible, know that the Jews were once called Israelites, and that they once lived in the land of Canaan. Where do they live now? In all lands; but more Jews live in Poland than in any other country. They have eyes like the hawk and noses like its beak. They are fine-looking men - such as you might imagine David and Solomon were.
The rich Jewesses wear bright turbans, adorned with diamonds and rubies. But all the Jews are not rich. Some are miserably poor.
The Jews are very troublesome in Poland. They follow travellers about, offering to help them, and will not go away when they are told. The Poles speak very rudely to the Jews, and think themselves much better; but the Jews bear rudeness with great patience, because they are accustomed to be ill-treated. The Poles love talking, and they speak so loud they almost scream; and they are proud of this, and say that the Germans are dumb.
There is no people in Europe as clean as the Dutch. If they did not rub and scrub a good deal, the damp would cover all their brass pans with rust. The poor children at school are much cleaner than English children.
The Dutch are very industrious. The king will not allow big boys to stand idle in the streets. The policemen take up idle ragged boys, and send them into the country to drain the marshy grounds; so there are very few thieves, and hardly any beggars. The Dutch children do not make as much noise at school as our children do. You hear no noise outside the school-house, and when playtime comes the scholars go out quietly. They cannot help making some noise with their feet, as they wear wooden shoes - and wooden shoes, I think, they must need to keep them out of the wet.
This is the capital. There is not so regular and handsome a town in all Europe; but as the ground is at, it cannot be as beautiful as Edinburgh.
If you like a quiet city, you would like Copenhagen. It is so still and so silent, that you might almost think there was nobody in it.
The men are tall and strong; the women are handsome. They are a simple people - kind and good-natured, and particularly honest. In summer nights, which are quite light and very hot, the people leave their doors open, and no thief comes in, not even in the towns. Bars and bolts are of no use in Norway.
The greatest fault of the Norwegians is drunkenness. They are too fond of a spirit called finkel - something like gin, only it is made from potatoes. On every little farm there is a machine, called a still, for making it. O who can say how much mischief is done by that still!
The poor are ignorant, and not fond of reading, though they can read. They are not like the Icelanders, who drink little and read much.
The king of Turkey is called the Sultan, or the Grand Seignor. He has a palace by the water-side where his wives live. They are all slaves brought from distant parts, and chosen for their beauty.
The Grand Seignor does what he pleases. He orders any one who offends him to be killed.
It is one of the wicked customs of this dark land to murder the boy-babies of the king's brothers. The reason is lest they are grown up any of them should try to make himself Grand Seignor.
The Greeks do not know how to bring up their children. I will relate an anecdote of one spoiled child. An English lady was in a ship not far from Athens. When it grew dark she went down into the cabin. There she saw a Greek lady lying on the floor, twisting her hands in her long hair, weeping and lamenting aloud, and crying out, "If the ship do not return to Athens immediately, I do not know what I shall do!" "What is the matter?" asked the English lady. "Oh," said she, "I have a little daughter of seven years old, and she wishes to go home; and when we told her she could not, she began to scream violently, and is still screaming so loud that I fear she will go into fits."
The English lady tried to quiet the naughty child by giving her cakes and sugar-plums. This plan succeeded. If the child had not been spoiled ever since she was a baby, she would not have been so wilful and passionate at seven years old.
The three Evils of Arabia.
The first evil is want of water. There is no river in Arabia: and the small streams are often dried up by the heat.
The second evil is many locusts, which come in countless swarms and devour every green thing.
The third evil is the burning wind. When a traveller feels it coming, he throws himself on the ground, covering his face with his cloak lest the hot sand should be blown up his nostrils. Sometimes the men and horses are choked by the sand.
These are the three evils: but there is a still greater - the religion of Mahomed: for this injures the soul; the other evils only hurt the body.
The fiercest of all the people in Asia are the Kurds. They are the terror of all who live near them. Their dwellings are in the mountains; there some live in villages, and some in black tents, and some in strong castles. At night they rush down from the mountains upon the people in the valleys, uttering a wild yell, and brandishing their swords. They enter the houses, and begin to pack up the things they find, and to place them on the backs of their mules and asses, while they drive away the cattle of the poor people; and if any one attempts to resist them, they kill him.
The reason why the Armenians live in holes in the ground is because they hope the Kurds may not find out where they are. The Kurds have thin, dark faces, hooked noses, and black eyes, with a fierce and malicious look.
Very often you may see a large company of pilgrims, some on foot and some mounted on camels, horses, and asses. They are returning from Mecca, the birth-place of Mahomed. What good have they got by their pilgrimage? None at all. They think they are grown very holy, but they make such an uproar at the inns by quarrelling and fighting when they are travelling home, that no one can bear to be near them.
If you were to sit by a clock, and if all the Chinese were to pass before you one at a time, and if you were to count one at each tick of the clock, and if you were never to leave off counting day or night - how long do you think it would be before you had counted all the Chinese?
Twelve years. O what a vast number of people there must be in China! In all, there are about three hundred and sixty millions!
If all the people in the world were collected together, out of every three - one would be Chinese. How sad it is to think that this immense nation (except a few) knows not God, nor His glorious Son!
All the religions of China are bad, but of the three, the religion of Confucius is the least foolish.
The religion of Taou teaches men to act like madmen.
The religion of Buddha teaches them to act like idiots.
The religion of Confucius teaches them to act like wise men, but without souls.
We must allow that the Chinese are very clever. They found out how to print, and they found out how to make gunpowder, and they found out the use of the loadstone. What is that? A piece of steel rubbed against the loadstone will always point to the north. The Chinese found out these three things, printing, gunpowder, and the use of the loadstone, before we in Europe found them out. But they did not teach them to us; we found them out ourselves.
It is a common thing to stumble over the bodies of dead babies in the streets. In England it is counted murder to kill a babe, but it is thought no harm at all in China.
There is no nation that has so many gods as the Hindoos. What do you think of three hundred and thirty millions? There are not so many people in Hindostan as that. No one person can know the names of all these gods; and who would wish to know them? Some of them are snakes, and some are monkeys!
If their taste in dress is laughable, their taste in food is horrible, as you will see. A traveller went with a Samoyede family for a little while.
One day the traveller saw a Samoyede feast. A rein-deer was brought and killed before the tent door; and its bleeding body was taken into the tent, and devoured, all raw as it was, with the heartiest appetite. It was dreadful to see the Samoyedes gnawing the flesh off the bones; their faces all stained with blood, and even the child had his share of the raw meat. Truly they looked more like wolves than men.
They are a very polite people, - much politer than the Chinese - but very proud. They are a learned nation, for they can read and write, and they understand geography, arithmetic, and astronomy.
But Japan is exposed to many dangers, from wind, from water, and from fire - three terrible enemies! The waves dash with violence upon the rocky shores; the wind often blows in fearful hurricanes; while earthquakes and hot streams from the burning mountains, fill the people with terror.
But more terrible than any of these is wickedness; and very wicked customs are observed in Japan. It is very wicked for a man to kill himself, yet in Japan it is the custom for all courtiers who have offended the emperor, to cut open their own bodies with a sword. The little boys of five years old, begin to learn the dreadful art. They do not really cut themselves, but they are shown how to do it, that when they are men, they may be able to kill themselves in an elegant manner. How dreadful!
This is the largest island in the world. It is as large as Europe (which is not an island, but a continent). But how different is Australia from Europe! Instead of containing, as Europe does, a number of grand kingdoms, it has not one single king. Instead of being dilled with people, the greater part of Australia is a desert, or a forest, where a few half-naked savages are wandering.
Australia is not so fine a land as Europe, because it has not so many fine rivers; and it is fine rivers that make a fine land. Most of the rivers in Australia do not deserve the name of rivers; they are more like a number of watering holes, and are often dried up in the summer, but there is one very fine, broad, long, deep river, called the Murray. It flows for twelve hundred miles. Were there several such rivers as the Murray, then Australia would be a fine land indeed.
The women are the most ill-treated creatures in the world. The men beat them on their heads whenever they please, and cover them with bruises.
The miserable "gins" (for that is the name for a wife or woman) are not beaten only; they are half starved; for their husbands will give them no food, and they - poor things - cannot fish, or hunt, or shoot; they have nothing but the roots they dig up, and the grubs, and lizards, and snakes they find on the ground.
I have already told you that the natives have no God; yet they have a devil, whom they call Yakoo, or debbil-debbil. Of him they are always afraid, for they fancy he goes about devouring children.
These savages show themselves to be children of debbil-debbil by their actions. They kill many of their babes, that they may not have the trouble of nursing them. Old people also they kill, and laugh at the idea of making them "tumble down". One of the most horrible things they do is making the skulls of their friends into drinking-cups, and they think that, by doing so, they show their affection!! They allow the nearest relation to have the skull of the dead person. They will even eat a little piece of the dead body, just as a mark of love. But, generally speaking, it is only their enemies they eat, and they do eat them whenever they can kill them.
The Pyramids are great piles of stones. There is one much larger than the rest. It is possible to climb to the top, for the stones of the sides are uneven, like steps; yet the steps are so high that Englishmen find it very hard to clamber up such stairs; but some Egyptians can jump from stone to stone like goats, and they help travellers to get up and to get down.
But do you not inquire what is the use of these Pyramids? For a long while people were perplexed about it. At length an opening was found in the side of one of the pyramids. Then narrow, slanting passages were discovered.
To what do the passages lead? To dark chambers. In the largest a stone chest was found; it had no lid, and it contained nothing but rubbish. What a disappointment to those who expected to find treasures, or at least, the bones of ancient kings!
Perhaps there is no Christian country in the world as ignorant as Abyssinia. How should the people know anything, when even the priests know nothing! Their chief employment is dancing and singing.
In general the Abyssinians avoid everything that the Mahomedans approve, for they hate and despise them, and wish to be as unlike them as possible. On this account they never smoke, nor drink coffee, nor wash frequently.
The United States
New York is the chief city. It contains about a quarter as many people as London. It is much more beautiful, for it has neither smoke nor fog, but enjoys a clear and brilliant sunshine. In warmth it is like Spain or Italy.
There is in New York a very broad street, called Broadway, planted with trees; it is two miles long. It is thronged with splendid carriages, and people elegantly dressed.
This is the gayest city in America, and also the most ungodly. There are very few churches, but there are amusements of all kinds. It may be called a city of strangers, for people come from all parts of America to pass the winter here.
There is no place in the whole world where so many ships are all collected in one spot as in the harbour of New Orleans. But the river is the bane of the city. The banks are so low that the damps from the water render the city unwholesome. Yellow fever frequently comes and carries away thousands. New Orleans is a dangerous place to live in, both for the body and the soul.
Washington is one of the most desolate cities in the world: not because she is in ruins, but for the opposite reason - because she is unfinished. There are places marked out where houses ought to be, but where none seem ever likely to be.
The children are brought up in a very unwholesome manner. At the dinner table of the boarding-house they see all kinds of dainties, and they are allowed to eat hot cakes and rich preserves at breakfast, and ices and oysters at supper, when they ought to be satised with their basin of porridge, or their milk and water and bread and butter. The consequence is that many children die, and others are pale and sickly.
There are so many slaves in the south, that the white people indulge in the habits of idleness and luxury. The children, from their earliest age, have black people ready to do everything for them; so they learn to do nothing for themselves. As they grow up, they leave all the work to the slaves, while they themselves lounge upon sofas, reading novels - or divert themselves with company.
The people in the northern states are very industrious. As there are not many servants to be had, they wait upon themselves. The children are useful to their parents. They can be trusted to go on messages, and to make purchases, and even to go to the dentist's by themselves.
The Americans are benevolent. They love to do good, and among other things they have asylums for the blind, and hospitals for the sick, and refuges for the destitute; and they make even their prisoners comfortable - perhaps too comfortable.
Mexico is indeed the land of robbers. They abound most in the country, because they succeed best there. It would be delightful to live in the country in Mexico, if it were not for the robbers. In Mexico it is not thought a disgrace to be a robber. Even gentlemen, if they lose much money by gambling, will go and turn robbers for a little while, and not be ashamed. Sometimes, however, a robber is caught and hanged, and his dead body suspended in chains by the road-side. But then he is much pitied.
The most honest set of people in Mexico are the letter-carriers. These men are employed in carrying packages as well as letters, and none but trusty men could obtain employment. What dangers must these carriers encounter from the robbers! Robbers do not often break into the churches, but in times of tumult and rebellion they have even robbed churches.
This country is remarkable for lying just opposite Great Britain. Could a tunnel be dug quite straight through the earth from our land, that tunnel would end in New Zealand. Such a tunnel, however, never can be dug. It would be eight thousand miles deep. Though we can never reach New Zealand by a tunnel, we know that it lies just opposite to us, so that the feet of the people there are opposite to our feet.
All the seasons there are contrary to ours here; when it is summer there, it is winter here: and when it is winter there, it is summer here. The seasons there are like ours here, though they occur at different times; and the days there are of the same length as the days here, though they also occur at different times.
This is an edited extract from The Clumsiest People in Europe or Mrs Mortimer's Bad-Tempered Guide to the World, edited by Todd Pruzan, published by Random House
'They are not as clean as the English'
'Spoil their children'
'Practice bad Christianity'
'Low in spirits and apt to grumble'
'Sly, dishonest and idle'
'Fierce and malicious'
'Too fond of finkel'
'Their capital is not so beautiful as Edinburgh'
'Noses like beaks'
'Polite, but very proud'
'Idle and ungodly'
'Delightful, if if were not for the robbers'