Charles P. Moritz [Karl Philipp Moritz], “A literary gentleman of Berlin,” Travels, chiefly on foot, through several parts of England in 1782. Described in letters to a friend, translated from the German by a Lady, 2nd ed. (London 1797), 213–25 (illustration by Letitia Byrne, in Daniel Lysons and Samuel Lysons, Magna Britannia; being a concise topographical account of the several counties of Great Britain, vol. 5, Derbyshire [London 1817], colorized version of the two-page plate following clxxii):
|213| I was now a hundred and seventy miles from London, when I ascended one of the highest hills, and all at once perceived a beautiful vale below me, which was traversed by rivers and brooks and enclosed on all sides by hills. In this vale lay Castleton, a small town with low houses, which takes its name from an old castle, whose ruins are still to be seen here.
|214| A narrow path, which wound itself down the side of the rock, led me through the vale into the street of Castleton, where I soon found an inn, and also soon dined. After dinner I made the best of my way to the cavern.
A little rivulet, which runs through the middle of the town, led me to its entrance.
[Etching by George Cooke after H. Rhodes (ca. 1820), in Chantrey’s Peak Scenery (1886):]
I stood here a few moments, full of wonder and astonishment at the amazing height of the steep rock before me, covered on each side with ivy and other shrubs. At its summit are the decayed walls and towers of an ancient castle which formerly stood on this rock, and at its foot the monstrous aperture or mouth to the entrance of the Cavern, where it is pitch dark when one looks down even at mid-day.
As I was standing here full of admiration, I perceived, at the entrance of the cavern, a man of a rude and rough appearance, who asked me if I wished to see the Peak, and the echo strongly reverberated his coarse voice.
Answering as I did in the affirmative, he next further asked me if I should want to be carried to the other side of the stream, telling |215| me, at the same time, what the sum would be which I must pay for it.
This man had, along with his black stringy hair, and his dirty and tattered cloaths, such a singularly wild and infernal look, that he actually struck me as a real Charon; his voice, and the questions he asked me, were not of a kind to remove this notion, so that, far from its requiring any effort of imagination, I found it not easy to avoid believing that, at length, I had actually reached Avernus, was about to cross Acheron, and to be ferried by Charon.
I had no sooner agreed to his demand, than he told me all I had to do was boldly to follow him; and thus we entered the cavern.
To the left, in the entrance of the Cavern, lay the trunk of a tree that had been cut down, on which several of the boys of the town were playing.
Our way seemed to be altogether on a descent, tho’ not steep, so that the light, which came in at the mouth of the Cavern near the entrance, gradually forsook us, and when we had gone forward a few steps farther, I was astonished by a sight which, of all others, I |216| here the least expected. I perceived to the right, in the hollow of the cavern, a whole subterranean village, where the inhabitants, on account of its being Sunday, were resting from their work, and with happy and chearful looks were sitting at the doors of their huts along with their children.
We had scarcely passed these small subterranean houses when I perceived a number of large wheels, on which, on week days, these human moles, the inhabitants of the Cavern, make ropes.
I fancied I here saw the wheel of Ixion, and the incessant labour of the Danaides.
The opening through which the light came seemed, as we descended, every moment to become less and less, and the darkness at every step to encrease, till at length only a few rays appeared, as if darting through a crevice, and just tinging the small clouds of smoke, which, at dusk, raised themselves to the mouth of the Cavern.
This gradual growth, or increase of darkness, awakens in a contemplative mind a soft melancholy. As you go down the gentle descent of the Cavern, you can hardly help fancying, the moment is come when, |217| without pain or grief, the thread of life is about to be snapped; and that you are now going thus quietly to that land of peace where trouble is no more.
At length the great Cavern in the rock closed itself, in the same manner as heaven and earth seem to join each other, when we came to a little door, where an old woman came out of one of the huts, and brought two candles, of which we each took one.
My guide now opened the door, which completely shut out the faint glimmering of light, which, till then, it was still possible to perceive, and led us to the inmost centre of this dreary temple of old Chaos and Night, as if, till now, we had only been traversing the outer Courts. The rock was here so low that we were obliged to stoop very much for some few steps in order to get through; but how great was my astonishment, when we had passed this narrow passage and again stood upright, at once to perceive, as well as the feeble light of our candles would permit, the amazing length, breadth, and height of the Cavern; compared to which the monstrous opening through which we had already passed was nothing!
|218| After we had wandered here more than an hour, as beneath a dark and dusky sky, on a level, sandy soil, the rock gradually lowered itself, and we suddenly found ourselves on the edge of a broad river, which, from the glimmering of our candles amid the total darkness, suggested sundry interesting reflections. To the side of this river a small boat was moored, with some straw in its bottom. Into this boat my guide desired me to step, and lay myself down in it quite flat; because, as he said, towards the middle of the river the rock would almost touch the water.
When I had laid myself down as directed, he himself jumped into the water, and drew the boat after him.
All around us was one still, solemn, and deadly silence; and as the boat advanced, the rock seemed to stoop, and come nearer and nearer to us, till at length it nearly touched my face; and as I lay I could hardly hold the candle upright. I seemed to myself to be in a coffin rather than in a boat, as I had no room to stir hand or foot till we had passed this frightful strait, and the rock rose again on the other side, where my guide once more handed me ashore.
|219| The Cavern was now become, all at once, broad and high; and then suddenly, it was again low and narrow.
I observed on both sides, as we passed along, a prodigious number of great and small petrified plants and animals, which, however, we could not examine, unless we had been disposed to spend some days in the Cavern.
And thus we arrived at the opposite side, at the second river or stream, which, however, was not so broad as the first, as one may see across it to the other side: across this stream my guide carried me on his shoulders, because there was here no boat to carry us over.
From thence we only went a few steps farther, when we came to a very small piece of water, which extended itself length-ways, and led us to the end of the Cavern.
The path along the edge of this water was wet and slippery, and sometimes so very narrow, that one can hardly set one foot before the other.
Notwithstanding, I wandered with pleasure on this subterranean shore, and was regaling myself with the interesting contemplation of all these various wonderful objects, in this land of darkness and shadow of Death, when, |220| all at once, something like music at a distance sounded in mine ears.
I instantly stopped, full of astonishment, and eagerly asked my guide what this might mean? He answered only, have patience, and you shall soon see.
But as we advanced, the sounds of harmony seemed to die away; the noise became weaker and weaker; and at length it seemed to sink into a gentle hissing or hum, like distant drops of falling rain.
And how great was my amazement when, ere long, I actually saw and felt a violent shower of rain falling from the rock, as from a thick cloud, whose drops, which now fell on our candles, had caused that same melancholy sound which I had heard at a distance.
This was what is here called a mizzling rain, which fell from the ceiling or roof of the Cavern, through the veins of the rock.
[Here what is known as “Roger Rains House” in Peak Cavern; copper engraved print from The Beauties of England and Wales (1804):]
We did not dare to approach too near with our candles, as they might easily have been extinguished by the falling drops; and so we perhaps have been forced to seek our way back in vain.
We continued our march therefore along the side of the water, and often saw on the |221| sides large apertures in the rock, which seemed to be new or subordinate Caverns, all which we passed without looking into. At length my guide prepared me for one of the finest sights we had yet seen, which we should now soon behold.
And we had hardly gone on a few paces, when we entered what might easily be taken for a Majestic Temple, with lofty arches, supported by beautiful pillars, formed by the plastic hand of some ingenious artist.
[Here the “Great Tom of Lincoln” in Peak Cavern, copper engraving from The Beauties of England and Wales (1805):]
This subterranean Temple, in the structure of which no human hand had borne a part, appeared to me at that moment to surpass all the most stupendous buildings in the world, in point of regularity, magnificence, and beauty.
Full of admiration and reverence, here, even in the inmost recesses of Nature, I saw the Majesty of the Creator displayed; and before I quitted this Temple, here, in this solemn silence and holy gloom, I thought it would be a becoming act of true religion to adore, as I cordially did, the God of Nature.
We now drew near the end of our journey. Our faithful companion, the water, guided us |222| through the remainder of the Cavern, where the rock is arched for the last time, and then sinks till it touches the water, which here forms a semi-circle, and thus the Cavern closes, so that no mortal can go one step farther.
My guide here again jumped into the water, swam a little way under the rock, and then came back, quite wet, to shew me that it was impossible to go any further, unless this rock could be blown up with powder, and a second Cavern opened. I now thought all we had to do was to return the nearest way; but there were new difficulties still to encounter, and new scenes to behold, still more beautiful than any I had yet seen.
My guide now turned and went back towards the left, where I followed him through a large opening in the rock.
And here he first asked me if I could determine to creep a considerable distance through the rock, where it nearly touched the ground? Having consented to do so, he told me I had only to follow him, warning me at the same time to take great care of my candle.
Thus we crept on our hands and feet, on the wet and muddy ground, through the opening in the rock, which was often scarcely |223| large enough for us to get through with our bodies.
When at length we had got through this troublesome passage, I saw in the Cavern a steep hill, which was so high that it seemed to lose itself as in a cloud, in the summit of the rock.
This hill was so wet and slippery that as soon as I attempted to ascend, I fell down. My guide, however, took hold of my hand and told me I had only resolutely to follow him.
We now ascended such an amazing height, and there were such precipices on each side, that it makes me giddy even now when I think of it.
When we at length had gained the summit, where the hill seemed to lose itself in the rock, my guide placed me where I could stand firm, and told me to stay there quietly. In the mean time he himself went down the hill with his candle, and left me alone.
I lost sight of him for some moments, but at length I perceived not him, indeed, but his candle, quite in the bottom, from whence it seemed to shine like a bright and twinkling star.
After I had enjoyed this indescribably beautiful |224| sight for sometime, my guide came back, and carried me safely down the hill again, on his shoulders. And as I now stood below, he went up and let his candle shine again through an opening of the rock, while I covered mine with my hand; and it was now as if on a dark night a bright Star shone down upon me, a sight which, in point of beauty, far surpassed all that I had ever seen.
Our journey was now ended, and we returned, not without trouble and difficulty, through the narrow passage. We again entered the Temple we had a short time before left; again heard the pattering of the rain, which sounded as rain when we were near it, but which at a distance seemed a sonorous, dull, and melancholy hum; and now again we returned across the quiet streams through the capacious entrance of the Cavern to the little door, where we had before taken our leave of daylight, which, after so long a darkness, we now again hailed with joy.
Before my guide opened the door, he told me I should now have a view of a sight that would surpass all the foregoing. I found that he was in the right, for when he had only half |225| opened the door, it really seemed as if I was looking into Elysium.
The day seemed to be gradually breaking, and night and darkness to have vanished. At a distance, you again just saw the smoke of the cottages, and then the cottages themselves; and as we ascended we saw the boys still playing around the hewn trunk, till at length the reddish purple stripes in the sky faintly appeared through the mouth of the hole; yet, just as we came out, the sun was setting in the West.
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