In his search to find a suitable bridge design for the Danube during his 1832 journey, Count Széchenyi travelled in horse-drawn carriages around the country, familiarising himself with industry and engineering. He covered some 1800 miles when a good speed was eight miles per hour. In 1834, he travelled less, instead concentrating on making political connections, furthering the chain bridge enterprise, seeking funds for the steam ship company and for making the Danube navigable. Through these major endeavours, Széchenyi adds to our view of Britain through foreign eyes. Beside the seriousness of his purpose, there was always horse racing, gambling, dining out and going to the theatre. If there were romantic involvements, they have been effectively hidden under Tasner’s brush. Széchenyi maintained his contacts from earlier visits.
A count from the Habsburg Empire, an ally in the Napoleonic wars, was received favourably. He moved comfortably in aristocratic circles, his natural environment, although at times he felt slighted. A quick check through the 1832 diary tells us that he met fourteen lords, four earls and two dukes and, of course, the King. In 1834 he met fewer aristocrats but three Prime Ministers. It is difficult to tell in each case whether they spoke French or English, but a conversation he quotes with William IV was in French. When he met engineers, though, they would all have only spoken their native language; so, Széchenyi’s English had to be proficient in the technical as well as the colloquial. Health was an ever-present concern, cholera 27 was the commonly feared illness, and Széchenyi’s fears are instructive, if fairly typical. Travelling through Belgium, he noted that in Brussels, ‘Cholera is widespread’ and in the same entry ‘In England the cholera is even more serious’. On his way to Ostend, he becomes desperate, ‘My stomach is cramped together –, it could become Cholera. “Destroyed forever”’. He also worries about Clark on the way to Shoreham, ‘He was ill – I fear, he caught the cholera’ . Americans were not immune, either: ‘Ogden had an attack of cholera – and me too’.
Anyone of his status had to have his own carriage. Buying horses and a coach were among the first items in his budget, with £600 allocated to buying the animals. Several entries record buying horses with harness ; and, in Oxford, two horses and Curricle 28 for £140 . There are various references to travelling between town by Tally-ho, 29 mail-coaches, chaise and four, rapids, private coach with four horses, and phaeton. He travelled with his valet, who had to be fed, put up in an inn, and have a seat on a stagecoach, usually on the outside. Going to Newmarket from Cambridge, he noted that a seat inside cost £1 5s, the guard 2s, and the coachman 3s. When he travelled using his own coach, the horses needed feeding and stabling, plus there were the costs of the coachman. In addition, there were the turnpike tolls to pay. On stagecoach travels he had to share the cramped cabin and eat at stops with other passengers, even if there was ‘amongst them a woman who looked like the devil herself. I was afraid ofher’. Travelling to Doncaster with Tattersall and a Mr Stewart, he complained, ‘What a dog’s company… Stewart “This is my room etc.” virtually pushes me out of my bedroom. A damn pillion 30 Quite ill when I left’.
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