A View of England
Towards the Close of the 18th Century
by Gebhard Wendeborn

A little farther on we arrive at Billingsgate, the seat of politeness, the forum of eloquence, and the best market for fish.

Gebhard Friedrich August Wendeborn (1742–1811) was born and educated in Germany, winding up at the University of Halle. One German biography says picturesquely that he felt obliged to study theology, because he was certain his father would turn in his grave (sein Vater würde sich im Grabe umdrehen) if he followed his personal inclination and studied medicine instead. Medicine’s loss was England’s gain.

Wendeborn moved to England in 1767, initially to take charge of a German congregation in London. From 1779, he wrote a regular column about London for a Hamburg newspaper; this in turn led to a series of books. In 1793 he returned to Hamburg, where he spent the remainder of his life.

The present work, Der Zustand des Staats, der Religion, der Gelehrsamkeit und der Kunst in Großbritannien gegen Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts, was published in four parts in German over the years 1784–1788. His own English translation, succinctly titled A View of England Towards the Close of the Eighteenth Century, followed in 1791.

Preface (this page)

Laws and Commerce

London and the English

Literature and Arts


The Translation

The German original was published in four volumes ( Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 4), loosely corresponding to the four major divisions of the two-volume translation. Noteworthy changes:

Finally: The English introduction notes that “sundry passages, relative to matters which are sufficiently known in this country, are omitted in the trans­lation”. In the first volume, I count at least ten footnotes referring to material that was present in the German edition but omitted in the translation, with several more in the second volume. It must never have occurred to the author that his translation might end up in English-speaking countries other than England—the United States, say, whose existence he definitely acknowledges—where these matters are not sufficiently known.


In the London edition, footnotes were numbered from 1 to 10 and then starting over again, on an endless loop, without regard to pages or chapters. (In the Dublin edition, as in the German original, asterisks * were used instead.) Sometimes he repeated a number, or lost his place and skipped a few. For this ebook I have renumbered all footnotes, starting from 1 at each chapter.

For readability’s sake I have italicized l. (pounds) whenever it occurs. The printed book used non-lining numbers, so there was no risk of confusing one (1) and ell (l).

The spelling “goal” (for expected “gaol”) is used repeatedly. German cities are called by their English names, like “Leipsic” and “Francfort”. The word “merch­andises” is almost always plural. It may be 1791 usage, or it may be a calque of something like Waren. Or both.

Reminder: In Wendeborn’s time, the word “pretend” did not necessarily mean that the assertion in question—whatever it might be—was false. In today’s English, “claim” or “maintain” are pretty good equivalents.


This ebook is based primarily on the two-volume 1791 London edition (Volume 1, Volume 2). A few illegible pages were filled in from the same year’s Dublin edition (Volume 1, Volume 2). The latter must have used much smaller type: each volume’s page count is significantly lower, even though the London edition is in octavo while Dublin is duodecimo.

Typographical errors are marked with mouse-hover popups and are listed again at the end of each chapter.









Translated from the Original German,
by the Author himself.


SPEAK OF ME AS I AM.   Shakes. Othello.

Printed for G. G. J. and J. Robinson, Pater-noster-Row.




THE original of this work made its appearance in Germany about five years ago; it was much read upon the continent, and has been translated into other languages; but the author had not the most distant idea of its ever being translated into English. He wrote merely for the instruction of his own countrymen; and his intention, as he then expressed himself in his German Preface, was, that of making them better acquainted with one of the principal, if not at present, the first nation on the globe. The Monthly vi Review, however, so deservedly esteemed for communicating literary intelligence, and for exhibiting the modern state of literature, not only in Great Britain but also that of foreign countries, took notice of this German publication1; and the author soon afterwards received information, that more than one English translation, by different persons, was about to be undertaken. He had reason to apprehend, that these translators might not do that justice to the original, which he would naturally wish for; and, therefore, in his own defence, and contrary to his inclination, he undertook the translation himself, and announced vii it to the public. It now makes its appearance before the English reader, who, whilst he peruses these volumes, is earnestly intreated to keep always in mind, that the author is a foreigner, who wrote it with no other view than that of instructing his own countrymen. Many things, therefore, in the original, must appear uninteresting to a well-informed Englishman; and for this reason, sundry passages, relative to matters which are sufficiently known in this country, are omitted in the translation. Indeed, some whole chapters have been left out, as entirely useless to an English reader; such, for instance, as that which contains Instructions to Foreigners, who, for the first time, arrive in England. In truth, abridging the viii original, here and there, was absolutely necessary to prevent a work, which might be instructive and entertaining to Germans, from becoming tedious to the better informed of this country.

It may, perhaps, be presumed, from the long residence of the author in England, and from the acquaintance and connexions which he has been able to form, that he was not altogether unqualified to write upon what he has chosen as the subject of this work. He came over from his own country to this at the age of hardly five and twenty, and for nearly two and twenty years, he has been, in this great metropolis, the minister of a German congregation, who erected a chapel for him on purpose. At ix the beginning of the present year, he executed a resolution, which he had formed some years ago, of resigning his place as minister, that he might conclude the remainder of his days in a philosophical indepen­dence, and a literary retirement, in any country that should be most agreeable to him. Thus situated, and having obtained the utmost of his wishes, that of being at his own disposal, he has the satisfaction to say, that he is not, nor ever has been, under an obligation to any body, for any pension whatever, or any place of emolument, in which he had either a predecessor or a successor. He is far from mentioning this from any motives of vanity, but merely to declare, that he has no ties which could prevent him from speaking x his mind freely, like an honest man, and that he had no inducements, by which he could be biassed to sacrifice what he thought to be truths from any particular expectations, or from any motives of hope or of fear.

Many of the accounts that are published relative to this celebrated island, and its inhabitants, particularly those written by foreigners, who hardly understood the English language, are very vague, and too frequently the result of hasty and superficial observation. Much of what they advance is sometimes carelesly transcribed from others, and more calculated to mislead, than to give such information as is founded upon fact.


The author of these volumes has kept, as much as was in his power, the motto, which he has prefixed to his title-page, constantly in his mind; and has endeavoured to confine himself, as far as human imperfection will permit, strictly within the boundaries of truth and impartiality; and to advance nothing but what he derived either from his own observation and experience, or from the testimony of persons of credit and veracity. He is, indeed, confident, that the work itself contains internal evidence of his having conscientiously adhered to the just precept, Speak of me as I am. After having spent the best part of his life among this nation, he is convinced that the number of intelligent xii and candid persons which it contains, is so great, that he chearfully submits what he has written to their impartial judgment, and is not apprehensive that they will pronounce against him an unfavourable verdict. He is, however, neither so unacquainted with the differences of opinion among mankind, or with the impossibility of pleasing all parties, as not to be aware, that his impartiality, in some instances, may be liable to suspicion; nor is he so weak as to suppose, that his work can be wholly free from errors: but he has learned, in the course of his life, to submit with resignation to the former; and he can produce more than one instance, wherein he has, most readily, xiii acknowledged and retracted the latter, on being convinced of them by reason, and with candour.

Should it be said, that several things which he has related, and some observations which he has advanced, are not altogether flattering, he conceives that no apology for them can be necessary, if they are well founded. It was the intention of the author to present a view of England to his own countrymen, for whose information he wrote, which was drawn on the spot from Nature; and though there appear, here and there, some shades in the picture, which none can be without, yet he is sure that the whole, compared with views of other countries, is pleasing and brilliant. Those on the continent, whose notions of xiv this justly respected island, and its inhabitants, have been elevated too highly by unfaithful and romantic descriptions, may, on perusing this work, reduce their ideas more nearly to the standard of truth; but they will find, notwithstanding, sufficient reason to excite their admiration, without calling in the aid either of romance or of exaggeration.

London, Nov. 16, 1790.

1 Vol. LXXVII. p. 229, &c. and vol. LXXVIII. p. 568, &c.

Notes and Corrections: PREFACE

Much of what they advance is sometimes carelesly transcribed from others
spelling unchanged

The author . . . has endeavoured to confine himself . . . within the boundaries of truth and impartiality
[This laudable goal does fall apart a bit when he reaches the section on religion.]

the number of intelligent and candid persons
text has intel-/telligent at page break
[Interestingly, the catchword gets it right, with only “ligent”.]


On the English Constitution, Page 1
On the English Laws, Courts of Judicature, and the Manner of administering Justice, 54
On the Army and Navy, 85
On the National Debt and Taxes, 96
On the Provision for the Poor, 113
On the State of Population in England, 124
Commerce, 136
Manufactures, 222
London, 252
On the Character of the English, 356
PART I. On Literature and Arts.
On the State of Learning in general, Page 3
The Royal Society of London, 103
The Society of Antiquaries of London, 116
The Royal Society of Edinburgh, 120
Schools, 126
Universities, 139
On the State of Arts in England, 178
Painting, 195
Engraving, 211
Sculpture, 218
Architecture, 223
Gardening, 229
Music, 233
The Stage, 242
PART II. On the State of Religion.
On the State of Religion in general, 265
On the Episcopal Church, 278
Methodists, 311
Toleration, 330
On the Dissenters in general, 349
Presbyterians, 356
The Church of Scotland, 375
Sandemanians, 385
Independents, 392
Baptists and Sabbatarians, 400
Antinomians, 405
Unitarians, Arians, Socinians, Arminians, 407
Quakers, 417
Roman Catholics, 432
Moravians, 461
Jews, 467
Atheists, Sceptics, Indifferentists, Deists, 473
Fanaticism and Superstition, 483


Vol. I. page 100, l. 2, from bottom, for depenses, r. dépens.
l. 3, for a, r. à.
l. 4, for qui, r. que.
353, l. 3, from bottom, for chose, r. choose.
426, l. 16, for quam, r. quem.

The Errata page was printed at the end of Volume One. All listed corrections have been made in the text; the page is included here for completeness.