Historical Miscellany #11 – The beautiful women of England (1790)

white cliffs of dover

Russian man of letters Nikolay Karamzin sets foot in England for the first time in the summer of 1790. The first thing he notices are the beautiful ladies.

Yes, my friends! England can be called a land of beauty, and the traveller who is not captivated by the youthful-looking Englishwoman, especially after coming from France where there are very few beauties, the traveller who can view their charms with indifference must have a heart of stone. I wandered about the streets here for two hours just to feast my eyes on the women of Dover, and I say to every painter, ‘If you have not been in England, then you brush has never portrayed perfect beauty.

Englishwomen cannot be compared to roses. No. Most of them are pale. But this pallor bespokes deep sensibility, and endows their faces with a pleasing freshness. A poet might call them lilies touched with the scarlet tints of heaven’s rose-coloured clouds. With each languid glance they seem to say, ‘I know how to love tenderly.’

Dear, dear Englishwoman! But you are dangerous for a weak heart, more dangerous than Calypso’s nymphs, and you island is an island of enchantment, of fascination. Woe to the poor traveller! From the shore he will view indifferently his burning ships and once more direct his fiery gaze towards some Eucharis. Oh! What Mentor will throw him to the sea.

Do not think, however, that upon arriving in dangerous England, where Cupid shoots his thousands of darts in all directions, your friend lost all strength, weakened, and languished. No. my friends! I still had enough strength to ascend a very high hill to see an ancient castle with a three-hundred foot well, and a copper cannon, three sagenes long, called ‘Queen Elizabeth’s pocket pistol.’

(N. M. Karamzin – Letters of a Russian Traveller 1789-1790)

More Historical Miscellany here.

Image credit: Maki

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