The Duke and Duchess of Cumberland lodge here at our hotel; I saw them treated with distinguished respect to-night at the theatre, where a force de danser[Footnote: By dint of dancing alone], I actually was moved to shed many tears over the distresses of Sophie de Brabant. Surely these pantomimes will very soon supplant all poetry, when, as Gratiano says, “Our words will suddenly become superfluous, and discourse grow commendable in none but parrots.”
Some conversation here, however, struck me as curious; the more so as I had heard the subject slightly touched upon at Paris; but faintly there, as the last sounds of an echo, while here they are all loud, all in earnest, and all their heads seemed turned, I think, about something, or nothing, which they call animal magnetism. I cannot imagine how it has seized them so: a man who undertakes to cure disorders by the touch, is no new thing; our Philosophical Transactions make mention of Gretrex the stroaker, in Charles the Second’s reign. The present mountebank, it is true, seems more hardy in his experiments, and boasts of being able to cause disorders in the human frame, as well as to remove them. A gentleman at yesterday’s dinner-party mentioned, that he took pupils; and, before I had expressed the astonishment I felt, professed himself a disciple; and was happy to assure us, he said, that though he had not yet attained the desirable power of putting a person into a catalepsy at pleasure, he could throw a woman into a deep swoon, from which no arts but his own could recover her. How difficult is it to restrain one’s contempt and indignation from a buffoonery so mean, or a practice so diabolical!—This folly may possibly find its way into England—I should be very sorry.
To-morrow we leave Lyons. I should have liked to pass through Switzerland, the Derbyshire of Europe; but I am told the season is too far advanced, as we mean to spend Christmas at Milan.
October 17, 1784.
We have at length passed the Alps, and are safely arrived at this lovely little city, whence I look back on the majestic boundaries of Italy, with amazement at his courage who first profaned them: surely the immediate sensation conveyed to the mind by the sight of such tremendous appearances must be in every traveller the same, a sensation of fulness never experienced before, a satisfaction that there is something great to be seen on earth—some object capable of contenting even fancy. Who he was who first of all people pervaded these fortifications, raised by nature for the defence of her European Paradise, is not ascertained; but the great Duke of Savoy has wisely left his name engraved on a monument upon the first considerable ascent from Pont Bonvoisin, as being author of a beautiful road cut through the solid stone for a great length of way, and having by this means