290. Robert Bloomfield to Hannah Bloomfield, 14 June 1814


290. Robert Bloomfield to Hannah Bloomfield, 14 June 1814* 

Continuation of the trip to Dover. June 14. 1814

My dear Hannah

My last had brought you to Mrs Podevin's, where we slept as sound as we could amidst a noisy mix'd company of all Nations and the next morning (Friday) Weston was up first as you might expect, and went down to the pier to take a first view of Old Ocean. Foggs still obscured the Cliffs and rolld from the Sea in clouds, encircling the tops of the heights and Castle. After a good breakfast we assended the Castle hill, and found that we could gain admission without any pass but a three Shilling piece. This is a noble eminence, and compleatly fortified. A number of 32 pounders are placed on the lower extremities of the rocks over the sea, The weight of one of these Guns is 55 hundred pounds and a Quarter, and some odd pounds, about the weight of 50 such men as myself. The famous long brass Gun ridiculously calld 'Queen Ann's pocket-piece,' was given to Elizabeth by the States of Scotland, it is 24 feet, 2 inches in length, and carries only a twelve pound ball. It has not been fired for many years, being much decayd by age and the weather. The highest ground within the walls of the castle is ocupied by a very old building originally erected or strengthend at least by the Romans. We took pains to knock out of the wall a portion of Roman Brick, which is no other way curious than being at least 17 Centuries old. The principal building is a large square Tower, or Keep, which is used as an immence pergola of powder and ball. By far the most remarkable sight in the fortress is the late works performed by that little enterprizing adventurous animal calld Man. A brick Archway calld a 'Casemate,' decends in a sloping direction into the body of the chalk hill, about wide enough to enable 4 men to walk a breast, after penitrating a long way almost in the dark you find opens up on either hand being immence Arched Rooms each capable of lodging and accomodating from 2 to 3 hundred men. The light admitted comes from perpendicular air holes, or wells' decending from the top of the cliffs, and still more from a Gallery opening immediately over the beach, where you look down upon the white waves, and up to the face of the chalk which hangs overhead. Most of the Soldier here were of that cowardly class of legal murderers calld sharpshooters, whose trade I cannot like in spite of their use and importance.

In the Afternoon we again climb'd to the same situation, when a Frigate came into the Harbour and fired several guns to announce the arrival of Lord Castlereah. [1]  These guns were answerd by the 24 pounders place'd on what they term the 'Drop fort,' which covers the round top of a chalk hill where once stood 'the Devel's drop,' as Unkle Nat can tell you. We had here a fine opportunity of remarking what I had often before noticed, the progress of sound. When the Frigate fired we saw the flash, and a column of smoke sent rapidly forward over the waves, and after about seven pulsations came the report, which thunderd along amidst the the cliffs till echo seemd tired of mocking. The 24 pounder from the Battery gave a still more powerful repercussion,—

Here I percieve I have something to fetch up in my narative. Near Gad's Hill, so famous for the exploits of Sir John Fallstaff we met a party of Cossacks, about ten or eleven, they made a most strange appearance. Their Horses were good, but they appear'd small, the whole group of men had the appearance of deep Melancholly, or at least of solid unalterable patience stampd upon their countenances, till the passengers on our Coach, and others, chiefly French prisoners, gave them a hearty cheer, at which time they answerd with a bow and a smile,—They wore long or bushy beards, with cloaks of bearskin reaching half way over the horse, And my companion remarkd that 'their eyes lookd like two bullets dropd into a bunch of Moss' This you well know is in his usual stile, for never surely was a man better calculated to fight his own way through a brickdust world, or to make more pertinent remarks.

Saturday morning At Dover. The sea breeze made me hungry, and toil made me sleep. This morning we pland out for an expidition to Shakespears Cliff, and accordingly steerd in that direction, but unfortunately went by the Sea beach, and after having spent some thousands of unnessisary steps enquired of a Soldier whither we could get up the cliffs in any way before we reach'd our intended spot. The Soldier answer'd yes, we might get up the cliff about a Quarter of a mile further on. This information was correct as far as it went, but the path upwards was extreemly steep, but did not appear dangerous at first setting out. Having climbd about 3 parts up, we found the difficulty encrease, and finding a firm foothold and handhold by means of strong tuffts of coarse grass, I was force'd to rest, when Mr Weston was about 20 yards above me declaring that we could get no further. He laughd at my terror, placed as I was beneath him, and dreading much more the task of decending again than hazarding my neck by climbing higher, for to decend seem'd impossible without extreem hazard of sliping, and perhaps rolling down to the beach. After taking breath, and blaming our selves for the unthinking attempt, Weston again asscended but for the life of me I dare not look at him in his attempt. He gain'd a flat ledge of chalk where he lay down in perfect safety, and encouraged me to persevere. My Umbrella was sorely in my way as it prevented my laying firm hold of the grass, but as it would not do to stand there all day gazing at the Sea below, and my companion above, I set off again, and got near enough to give him my Umbrella, leaving my hands at liberty. In this situation he grasp'd my wrist with both hands as he lay, and I felt as if all was finishd, and very naturally exclaim'd 'Now I shall do, now I'm safe,' but at that moment out tumbled the nubly chalk from under my toes and left me hanging by one hand. I tried again, and reachd the brink. We find still other difficulties before we reachd the top, but landed safe at last, laughing at past danger. I do not mean to exagerate this story by telling you that we were 'about seven leagues above the Moon,' as Miss Weston was informd on another occasion, but meerly to record the circumstance. It was of course the lowest part of the cliff and difficult as it is to judge of elevation of this kind I suppose we climbd about twice, perhaps 3 times the height of our steeple at Shefford. The path from hence was pleasant and easy to the summit of Shakespear, and along the coast to Foulkston. The white cliffs on the coast of France were very conspicuous, though the weather was by no means propitious. Shakespear says that 'the Surge which oer the idle pebbles chafes cannot be heard so high' [2]  but this is one of Old Willy's long stretches, for the murmer of the waves is distinctly heard, though the depth is dreadfuly and sublimly terrible. We amused ourselves in throwing down the largest flints we could find, and seeing them bound and rebound against the rugged face of the prisipise. This being the King's birth-day, a royal salute was fired from the Castle and Batteries and ships in the Bay, and answerd by a line of troops on the Beach consisting of a Regiment of Cavalry, (the Scotch Greys,) and several regiments of Regulars, Sharpshooters and Militia firing a Fieu de joy, which running fire had a fine effect, echoing along the steep shores. The whole was concluded by a general Huzza from the whole line. Spent the evening at a sale of prints and engravings from London in an elegant Room which is both Theatre and Assembly Room.

Sunday morning, Rain, cold, and, wind. Rambled three miles down the beach beneath the Castle Cliff towards the south Foreland, till stopd by a mass of Rock which appeard to have recently fallen from above and coverd the narrow road between the steep and the sea; filld our pockets with Seaweeds and shells. Afternoon saw a Brig come in from Bologn firing guns in the distance. This drew a croud to the beach and we walkd a long way under Shakespear's Cliff, but on the arrival of a boat instead of Old Blucher, [3]  she landed Count Meternich the Austrian Ambasador, whom the croud took on their shoulders and caried against his will to the Ship Inn. We now learnt for a certainty that the fleet under the command of the Duke of Clarence would leave Bologn Harbor the next day.—At 6 next morning landed amidst a roar of Cannon the Old veteran Blucher, and Barclay de Tolly, [4]  Count Platoff [5]  &c, but I had been too much fateagued to start so soon, and therefore did not see them at this time. All was expectation and suspence for half the day, the croud increased on the piers, the Batterie, the shore, and the Rigging of the vessels. At noon the fleet was plainly seen steering out of the Harbour of Bologn, consisting of the Impregnable, of 98 guns bearing the Russian Eagle, the prusian colours, &c, surmounted by the English flag at the Mainmasthead, 2, or 3 74s, Several Frigates, Sloops, and the two Royal Yatchs—The whole bore up and anchord about a mile and half from shore. All was silence for a considerable time, till we percievd that they had 'man'd the Yards,' which is placing the men in a standing position along the yards and Rigging till every vessel presented the appearance of a Comb teeth-upwards, (there's a sublime simily for you) [includes a sketch of this]

At this time a boat decorated with Colours was seen to put off from the Impregnable, when the crews of nearly thirty ships gave a tumultuos and wild shout which they continued and repeated. It is impossible to convey to you an idea of the singularity of such a sound over the face of the Sea! Old Neptune seem'd to have open'd his caverns and given us a salute from the depths of his dominion, To me it had more of horror than exultation, and I shall never forget it. Immediately after the Impregnable fired her guns on both sides, and was followd by the 74s and every ship in sight, untill the face of the Ocean was one hurrying mingling mass of smoke. As the boats approachd the shore almost every gun from the Castle and Battery took up the same tumultuous roar, that we stood amidst a scene which cannot! be described. This infernal uproar continued untill the Emperor and King and their crews landed on the beach between lines of the Scotch Greys and all the troops in the garison who were not employ'd at the Batteries. They walkd through the croud, the former to Mr Fectors, a Banker, and the King to the York Hotel. They walkd through the town several times with the D of Clarence, Sir Charles Stewart, [6]  Blucher, Platoff, and 20 other great names. A vast number of Russian and foriegn officers paraded the town. Some of the finest men I ever saw. The town was in a ferment during the night. Double ranks of Soldiers from end to end of the streets, and a universal hubbub of voices, and the strongest mixture of dresses, beards, and carriages ever seen. We did not go to our Inn untill eleven, compleatly tired, when we heard what we deem'd a repeated Fieu de joy fired by the troops, but found next morning that the rushing sound had proceeded from the firing a number of Congreves Rockets on the pier. We regreted much the loss of this sight. Slepd sound.

Tuesday Morning—I having recieved a letter from Sir Egerton Bridges, we resolve'd to make the best use of it, and imediately went as directed to Mr Fector, with a reasonable hope of being introduced to Alexander, who speaks good English, or at least to be permitted to see him to more advantage. [7]  Here we found ourselves dissappointed. They had departed for London at 5 in the morning! Not to loose all the benifit of the letter, we procured from Mr Fector a pass to the Heights and Citadel. My Brother knows that the Cliffs at the Back of Margate Street are extreemly high and abrupt, so that no communication could be had without much labour. To accomplish this they have litteraly bored a hole into the base of the chalk, a large brick arch slanting upward for perhaps 2 or 3 hundred yards, and then asscending perpendicularly by means of 3 distinct flights of stairs circling round a large shaft or well which admits light from the face of the Cliff above. This ascent I judge to be about the height of the Monument, but much larger. [8]  Above this is a range of Barracks not in sight from the street and still above this building the Drop fort, with 13 24 pounders. The crown of this fort or Hill is cut round into a deep ditch which is passd by a drawbridge. The Citadel comprehends the still higher large round eminence between this And Old Shakespear. Here they have excavated bomb-proof Barracks, and can lodge an army almost impregnably, scouring all the ditches with Cannon, and defying every thing but starvation.—Returned soundly tired and stiff.—Took places for Canterbury, where we arived at 7 on Tuesday night.—

During our stay at Dover we had secur'd beds, which was no slight consideration, for on Monday night we had in the house the Duke of Saxe Wiemar and his wife, two Generals, a Colonel, and 2 Aid de Camps, most of whom had to sat up all night and smoke, and in the morning we found the dukes attendants devouring a cold fowl on the Landing place for want of better accommodation.—I calld on my friends here, but Mrs Pierce has retired from business and is succeeded by her son. We visited the tomb of Churchill the Poet, [9] —saw Mr Kingsford, and in short filld our time up compleatly.

At Canterbury I calld on my old friend Mr Cullen, who breakfasted with us next morning, and accompanied us to the Old Cathedrial. Triumphal Arches of flowers were raised over the principal street, composed of whole limbs of Laburnum and Lilack suspended on scaffold poles from house to house, but every boddy were dissappointed and vex'd, as the Emperor had slid through the town in private at seven in the morning.

Wednesday at 9 set off for London accompanied by foreigners, particularly in one Coach, which containd 6 Russian Officers, who smoked their strange pipes all the way, sending a cloud out at each window. Like old Taylor they had 'a little Hell of their own.' On our Coach Box rode a mery old prusian General Trasco, who smoked immoderatly.—Rochester was likewise decorated with flags and flowers and the whole road was a scene of high holiday.—Landed safe at the Bricklayers Arms, where an officer of the Customs examined Mr Weston's box for smuggled Lace!!! I have since had a delightful ride home, and cannot repent of having taken this charming holiday, for constitutionaly it has done me ten pounds worth of good, and such a scene cannot occur again without another French revolution and another combination of Emperors and Armies.

'Thus Time knits or spins the worsted from Life's Ball,' [10] 

Yours Dear Girl, most Affectionately

Robt Bloomfield.

NB. Very large Mackerel at Dover 20 for a Shilling

* BL Add. MS 28268, ff. 340–43 BACK

[1] Lord Castlereagh: Foreign Secretary, returning from Paris after attending talks with other leaders of the victorious Grand Coalition which had forced Napoleon's abdication and exile in May. BACK

[2] 'The murmuring surge / That on th'unnumb'red idle pebble chafes / Cannot be heard so high. I'll look no more, / Lest my brain turn, and the deficient sight / Topple down headlong'. Edgar to Gloucester in King Lear, act 4, scene 6. BACK

[3] Marshall Gebhard von Blucher, leader of the Prussian forces against Napoleon. BACK

[4] Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly, Field Marshall and Commander in Chief of the Russian forces in the invasion of France. BACK

[5] Count Matvei Ivanovich Platoff, hetman of Cossacks, and Russian commander in the Napoleonic wars. BACK

[6] Sir Charles Stewart, half-brother of Castlereagh, ambassador to the Hapsburg Emperor at Vienna. BACK

[7] John Minet Fector, a wealthy Dover banker, later the town's MP, was organising the reception of the dignitaries, including the Tsar Alexander. BACK

[8] The Monument is a 202 foot tall Doric fluted column, located at the junction of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill, London, near the north end of London Bridge. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and erected to commemorate the Great Fire of London. Its height represents the distance between the monument and the starting point of the fire. BACK

[9] Charles Churchill (1731–64), the verse satirist and author of The Rosciad (London, 1761). BACK

[10] Bloomfield quotes verse 49, lines 193–194 of 'The Horkey' from Wild Flowers (p. 49). BACK