De Engelse griezelschrijfster Ann Ward Radcliffe (1764-1823) maakte in de zomer van 1794 een reis door de Republiek en de meest westelijk gelegen Duitse staten. Ze deed onder meer Nijmegen aan.
Nijmegen was eind 18e eeuw een stad in verval, constateerde ze, nadat ze aanvankelijk, vanuit de verte, de majestueuze contouren van het Valkhof had aanschouwd. Later in de tekst merkte ze op dat Nijmegen wel wat viezer was dan de meeste Hollandse steden.
In hoeverre ze haar observaties heeft gebruikt in haar romans, weet ik niet. Ann Radcliffe is vooral beroemd geworden om haar Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) en The Italian (1796). Ze excelleerde in het gebruik van het landschap om stemmingen op te roepen en de spanning van het verhaal op te voeren. Romantiek op en top, met veel gothic & suspense-elementen. Wat dat betreft kon ze in en om Nijmegen haar genot niet op.
Het is bijna idyllisch, zoals ze Nijmegen beschrijft. Haar waarnemingen zijn gedetailleerd. Het gezelschap dineert in Rhenen, waar de paarden van de lange tocht tot rust komen. Daarna zet de reistocht zich voort.
De reizigers komen bij Lent. Radcliffe beschrijft hoezeer haar eerste indrukken veranderen naar mate ze dichter bij de Waal komen. Ze moeten haast maken om met de gierbrug nog voor donker de Waal te kunnen oversteken.
Maar, eenmaal in Nijmegen gearriveerd, ziet Radcliffe dan werkelijk alles? Heeft ze werkelijk niet door dat het revolutionaire vuur ook in Nijmegen de zomer abnormaal heet maakte? Er was duidelijk iets op komst, zomer 1794, maar Ann Radcliffe voelde vooralsnog niets van de spanningen om haar heen. Later wel. Een citaat in drie afleveringen.
Ann Radcliffe, Journey made in the summer of 1794 through Holland and the western frontier of Germany, with a return down the Rhine: To which are added, observations during a tour to the Lakes of Lancashire, Westmoreland, and Cumberland, Dublin 1795, p. 79-81.
Having dined in a room, where a table, large enough for twenty persons, was placed, on one side, and a line of four, or five beds, covered by one long curtain, was formed against the wainscot, on the other, the voiturier clamoured, that the gates of Nimeguen would be shut before we could get to them, and we soon began to cross the country between the Leck and the Waal, another branch of the Rhine, which, in Guelderland, divides itself into so many channels, that none can be allowed the pre-eminence of retaining its name. Soon after reaching the right bank of the Waal, the road affords a view of the distant towers of Nimeguen, which appear there to be very important, standing upon a brow, that seems to front the whole stream of the river. In the way we passed several noble estates, with mansions, built in the castellated form, which James the First introduced into England, instead of the more fortified residences; and there was a sufficient grandeur of woods and avenues, to shew, that there might be parks, if the owners had the taste to form them. Between the avenues, the gilded ornaments of the roof, and the chimneys, glittered to the light, and shewed the fantastic style of architecture, so exactly copied in Flemish landscapes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
As the sun declines and we drew near Nimeguen, the various colouring of a scene more rich than extensive rendered its effect highly interesting. The wide Waal on our eft, reflecting the evening blush, and a vessel whose full sails caught a yellow gleam from the west; the ramparts and pointed roofs of Nimeguen rising over each other, just tinted by the vapour that ascended from the bay below; the faint and fainter blue of two ridges of hills in Germany retiring in the distance, with the mellow green of nearer woods and meadows, formed a combination of hues surprisingly gay and beautiful. But Nimeguen lost much of its dignity on a nearer approach; for many of the Towers, which the treachery of fancy had painted at distance, changed into forms less picturesque; and its situation, which a bold sweep of the Waal had represented to be on a rising peninsula crowning the flood, was found to be only on a steep beside it. The ramparts, however, the high old tower of the citadel, the Belvidere, with the southern gate of the town beneath, composed part of an interesting picture on the opposite margin of the river. But there was very little time to observe it: the driver saw the slying bridge, making its last voyage, for the night, towards our shore, and likely to return in about twenty minutes; he, therefore, drove furiously along the high bank of the river, and, turning the angle of the two roads with a velocity, which would have done honour to a Brentford postillon, entered that adjoining the first half of the bridge, and shewed the directors of the other half, that we were to be part of their cargo.
This bridge, which is partly laid over boats and partly over two barges, that float from the boats to the shore, is so divided, because the stream is occasionally too rapid to permit an entire range of boats between the two banks. It is thus, for one half, a bidge of boats, and, for the other, a flying bridge; which last part is capable of containing several carriages, and joins to the other so exactly as not to occasion the least interruption. It is also railed for the safety of foot passengers, of whom there are commonly twenty, or thirty. The price for a carriage is something about twenty-pence, which the toll-men carefully collect as soon as the demi-bridge has begun its voyage.