Olla Podrida, by Captain Marryat.
Captain Frederick Marryat was born July 10 1792, and died August 8 1848. He retired from the British navy in 1828 in order to devote himself to writing. In the following 20 years he wrote 26 books, many of which are among the very best of English literature, and some of which are still in print.
Marryat had an extraordinary gift for the invention of episodes in his stories. He says somewhere that when he sat down for the day's work, he never knew what he was going to write. He certainly was a literary genius.
"Olla Podrida" was published in 1840, the fifteenth book to flow from Marryat's pen. It consists of short stories, articles, his Diary on the Continent, (as opposed to his Diary in America), short plays. Except for "The Modern Town House" there is very little of great importance in the book.
OLLA PODRIDA, BY CAPTAIN MARRYAT.
April 3, 1835.
Reader, did you ever feel in that peculiarly distressing state of mind in which one oppressing idea displaces or colours every other, absorbing, intermingling with, empoisoning, and, like the filth of the harpy, turning every thing into disgust—when a certain incubus rides upon the brain, as the Old Man of the Mountain did upon the shoulders of Sinbad, burdening, irritating, and rendering existence a misery—when, looking around, you see but one object perched everywhere and grinning at you—when even what you put into your mouth tastes of but that one something, and the fancied taste is so unpleasant as almost to prevent deglutition—when every sound which vibrates in your ear appears to strike the same discordant note, and all and every thing will remind you of the one only thing which you would fain forget;—have you ever felt any thing like this, reader? If you have not, then thank God, by way of grace, before you out with your knife and fork and begin to cut up the contents of these pages.
I have been and am now suffering under one of these varieties of "Phobias," and my disease is a Politicophobia, I will describe the symptoms.
I am now in the metropolis of England, and when I walk out every common house appears to me to be the House of Commons—every lordly mansion the House of Lords—every man I meet, instead of being a member of society, is transferred by imagination into a member of the senate—every chimney-sweep into a bishop, and a Bavarian girl, with her "Py a proom," into an ex-chancellor. If I return home, the ring at the bell reminds me of a Peel—as I mount the stairs I think of the "Lobby"—I throw myself on the sofa, and the cushion is transformed into a woolsack—if a solitary visitor calls in, I imagine a public meeting, and call out chair! chair!—and I as often address my wife as Mr Speaker, as I do with the usual appellative of "my dear."
This incubus, like the Catholic anathema, pursues me everywhere—at breakfast, the dry toast reminds me of the toasts at public dinners— tea, of the East India charter—sugar, of the West India question—the loaf, of agricultural distress—and, as every one knows that London eggs are a lottery, according as they prove bad or good, so am I reminded of a Whig or Tory measure. When the newspaper is brought in, I walk round and round it as a dog will do round the spot he is about to lie down upon. I would fain not touch it; but at last, like a fascinated bird who falls per force into the reptile's mouth, so do I plunge into its columns, read it with desperation, and when the poison has circulated, throw it away in despair. If I am reminded to say grace at dinner, I commence "My Lords, and gentlemen;" and when I seek my bed, as I light my taper, I move "that the House do now adjourn." The tradesmen's bills are swelled by my disease into the budget, and the checks upon my banker into supplies. Even my children laugh and wonder at the answers which they receive. Yesterday one brought me her book of animals, and pointing to a boa constrictor, asked its name, and I told her it was an O'Connell. I am told that I mentioned the names of half the members of the Upper and Lower House, and at the time really believed that I was calling the beasts by their right names. Such are the effects of my unfortunate disease.
Abroad I feel it even worse than at home. Society is unhinged, and every one is afraid to offer an opinion. If I dine out, I find that no one will speak first—he knows not whether he accosts a friend or foe, or whether he may not be pledging his bitter enemy. Every man looks at his neighbour's countenance to discover if he is Whig or Tory: they appear to be examining one another like the dogs who meet in the street, and it is impossible to conjecture whether the mutual scenting will be followed up by a growl or a wag of the tail; however, one remark will soon discover the political sentiments of the whole party. Should they all agree, they are so busy in abuse that they rail at their adversaries with their mouths full—should they disagree, they dispute so vehemently that they forget that they were invited to dinner, and the dishes are removed untasted, and the duties of the Amphytryon become a sinecure. Go to an evening party or a ball and it is even worse, for young ladies talk politics, prefer discussion to flirtation, and will rather win a partner over to their political opinions than by their personal charms. If you, as a Tory, happen to stand up in a cotillion with a pretty Whig, she taps you with her fan that she may tap your politics; if you agree, it is "En avant deux," if not, a "chassez croisee." Every thing goes wrong—she may set to you indeed, but hers is the set of defiance, and she shakes her wig against your Tory. To turn your partner is impossible, and the only part of the figure which is executed con amore is dos a dos. The dance is over, and the lady's looks at once tell you that you may save your "oaths," while she "takes her seat."
I have tried change of scene—posted to watering places; but the deep, deep sea will not drown politics. Even the ocean in its roaring and commotion reminded me of a political union.
I have buried myself in the country, but it has been all in vain. I cannot look at the cattle peacefully grazing without thinking of O'Connell's tail, Stanley's tail, and a short-docked pony reminded me of the boasted little tail of Colonel Peel. The farm-yard, with its noisy occupants, what was it but the reality so well imitated by the members of the Lower House, who would drown argument in discord? I thought I was in the lobby at the close of a long debate. Every tenth field, every tenth furrow, (and I could not help counting,) every tenth animal, and every tenth step, reminded me of the Irish tithes; and when I saw a hawk swoop over a chicken, I thought of the Appropriation Bill—so I left the country.
I have tried every thing—I have been every where, but in vain. In the country there was no relaxation—in society no pleasure—at home no relief. England was disjointed, never to be united until it was dismembered—and there was no repose. I had my choice, either to go abroad, or to go mad; and, upon mature deliberation, I decided upon the former, as the lesser evil of the two. So I gave—I sold—I discharged—I paid—I packed up, and I planned. The last was the only portion of my multifarious duties not satisfactorily arranged. I looked at the maps, plied my compasses that I might compass my wishes, measured distances that I might decide upon my measures—planned, looked over the maps—and planned again.
Well, as I said in my last chapter, I planned—and planned—but I might as well conjugate it, as many others assisted—it was I planned, thou plannedst, he planned, we planned, ye planned, and they planned—and what annoyed me was, that I could not help considering that "the whole house was in a committee," and without being able "to report progress." At first it was decided upon that we should proceed up the Rhine, and not leave off paddling until we had arrived at Manheim, at which town I fancied that I should at least be out of political distance. We read all about Manheim, found out that it was a regular-built town, with a certain number of inhabitants—with promenades, gardens, and a fine view of the Rhine. "So you're going abroad—where?" Manheim, was the reply, and all the world knew that we were bound to Manheim; and every one had something to say, or something that they had heard said, about Manheim. "Very nice place—Duchess Dowager Stephanie—very cheap—gay in winter— masters excellent"—were the variety of changes rung, and all was settled; but at last one unlucky observation raised a doubt—another increased—a third confirmed it. "A very dull place—German cookery bad for children—steam-boats from Rotterdam very bad, and often obliged to pass two nights on deck." A very influential member of the committee took alarm about the children being two nights on deck, and it was at last decided that to go up to Manheim by steam-boat at 4 pounds, 9 shillings a-head, and children at half-price was not to be thought of.
"I wonder you don't go to Bruges," observed a committee man; "nice quiet place—excellent masters—every thing so cheap—I once bought eighty large peaches there for two francs."
And all the children clapped their little hands, and cried out for Bruges and cheap peaches.
It was further submitted that it was convenient—you might go the whole of the way by water—and Bruges was immediately under consideration.
"If you go to Bruges, you will find it very dull," observed another; "but you'll meet Mrs Trollope there—now Brussels is very little farther, and is a delightful place;" and Brussels was also referred to the committee.
"You won't like Brussels—there is such a mixture, and house-rent is dear. Now I should recommend Spa for the summer—it is a most beautiful spot—and excellent company." And Spa was added to the list.
Then after a day or two came an Anti-Teutonic, who railed against Germany—and Germans—German towns, German travelling, and German French, which was detestable—German cookery, which was nothing but grease. "You may imagine," said he, "and so have many more, that Germany is more pleasant and less expensive than France; but they have been disappointed, and so will you be. Now, for a quiet place, I should recommend Saint Omer—only thirty miles from Calais—so convenient—and very pretty."
Saint Omer—humph—very quiet and retired—and no politics—and Saint Omer was occasionally canvassed.
"Saint Omer!" said another who called the next day, "you'll die of ennui. Go to Boulogne—it is delightful—you may be there as retired or as gay as you please."
Boulogne to be taken into consideration many inquiries made and all very satisfactory—good sands and excellent jackasses for the children.
"My dear friend, Boulogne is something like the King's Bench—at least most of the people only go there in preference. Every body will suppose that you've levanted. Pray don't go to Boulogne."
"Why don't you go by Southampton to Havre—there you'll have quiet and amusement—beautiful country about Honfleur—scenery up the Seine splendid; and then you can go up to Rouen by water, if you intend to go on to Paris."
Havre and Honfleur submitted to the committee.
But then came Dieppe, and Brest, and the environs of Paris, Versailles, Saint Germain, Passy, and other recommendations, in which every one particular place was proved incontestably to be more particularly suited to us than any other, and the committee sat for three weeks, at the end of which, upon examining the matured opinions of the last seven days, I found them to have fluctuated as follows:—
Monday morning, Manheim. Evening, Spa.
Tuesday morning, Bruges. Evening Brussels.
Wednesday morning, Saint Omer. Evening, Boulogne.
Thursday morning, Havre. Evening Honfleur.
Friday morning, Dieppe. Evening, Passy.
Saturday morning, Versailles. Evening, Saint Germain.
Sunday morning, Spa. Evening, Brussels.
The fact was, that there was a trifling difference of opinion in the committee—the great object appeared to be, and the great difficulty at the same time, to find a place which would suit all parties, that is to say, a place where there were no politics, plenty of gaiety, and cheap peaches.
Paddle, paddle—splash, splash—bump, thump, bump. What a leveller is sea-sickness—almost as great a radical as death. All grades, all respect, all consideration are lost. The master may summon John to his assistance, but John will see his master hanged before he'll go to him; he has taken possession of his master's great coat, and he intends to keep it—he don't care for warning.
The nurses no longer look after the infant or the children, they may tumble overboard—even the fond yearnings of the mother at last yield to the overwhelming sensation, and it it were not for the mercenary or kind-hearted assistance of those who have become habituated to the motion of a vessel, there is no saying how tragical might be the commencement of many a party of pleasure to the Continent.
"O lauk, Mary, do just hold this child," says the upper nurse to her assistant; "I do feel such a sinking in my stomach."
"Carn't indeed, nurse, I've such a rising."
Away hurried both the women at once to the side of the vessel, leaning over and groaning heavily. As for the children, they would soon have been past caring for, had it not been for my protecting arms.
Decorum and modesty, next to maternal tenderness, the strongest feelings in woman, fall before the dire prostratiou of this malady. A young lady will recline unwittingly in the arms of a perfect stranger, and the bride of three months, deserted by her husband, will offer no resistance to the uncouth seaman, who, in his kindness, would loosen the laces that confine her heaving bosom.
As for politeness, even the ancien regime of the noblesse of France put it in their pockets as if there were a general chaos—self is the only feeling; not but that I have seen occasional traits of good-will towards others. I once witnessed a young lady smelling to a bottle of Eau de Cologne, as if her existence depended upon it, who handed it over to another, whose state was even more pitiable, and I was reminded of Sir Philip Sidney and the cup of water, as he lay wounded on the field of battle, "Thy necessity is greater than mine." And if I might have judged from her trembling lips and pallid countenance, it was almost an equal act of heroism. Paddle, paddle, splash, splash, bump, thump, bump—one would really imagine that the passengers were so many pumps, all worked at once with the vessel by the same hundred horse power, for there were an hundred of them about me, each as sick as a horse. "Sic omnes," thought I.
I have long passed the ordeal, and even steam, and smoke, and washing basins, and all the various discordant and revolting noises from those who suffer, have no effect upon my nervous system—still was I doomed to torment, and was very sick indeed. For some time I had been watched by the evil eyes of one, whom the Yankees would designate, as almighty ugly. He was a thin, spare man, whose accost I could well have spared, for he had the look of a demon, and, as I soon found, was possessed with the demon of politics. Imagine what I must have suffered when I found out that he was a button-holder to boot. Observing that I was the only one who was in a state to listen, he seized upon me as his victim. I, who had fled from politics with as much horror as others have done from the cholera—I, who had encountered all the miseries of steam navigation, and all the steam and effluvia of close cabins, to find myself condemned with others "alike to groan—" what with King Leopold, and William of Nassau, and the Belgian share of the debt, and the French and Antwerp, and his pertinacious holding of my button. "Shall I knock him down," thought I; "he insists upon laying his hands upon me, why should I not lay my hands upon him?" But on second consideration, that would not have been polite; so I made other attempts to get rid of him, but in vain; I turned the subject to far countries—the rascal had been everywhere; at one moment he would be at Vienna, and discuss the German confederation—at another in South America, canvassing the merits of Bolivar and Saint Martin. There was no stopping him; his tongue was like the paddle of a steam-boat, and almost threw as much spray in my face. At last I threw off my coat, which he continued to hold in his hand by the third button, and threw myself into one of the cribs appropriated to passengers, wishing him a good night. He put my coat down in the crib beneath, and as he could no longer hold the button, he laid hold of the side of the crib, and continued his incessant clack. At last I turned my back to him, and made no answer, upon which he made a retreat, and when I awoke the next morning, I found that he was too ill to spout politics, although as he progressed, he spouted what was quite as bad.
Par parenthese, he was a great liar, and as he drew a long bow when he was able to talk, so did he prove a long shot when he was sea-sick. Confound the fellow, I think I see him now—there he stood, a tall, gaunt misery, about the height of a workhouse pump, and the basin was on the floor of the cabin, nearly three feet from his two feet; without condescending to stoop, or to sit down, or to lift up the basin, so as to lessen the distance, he poured forth a parabola, "quod nunc describere" had just as well be omitted. I shall therefore dismiss this persecuting demon, by stating, that he called himself a baron, the truth of which I doubted much; that he was employed by crowned heads, which I doubted still more. On one point, however, I had little doubt, although he did not enter upon the subject, (and his tongue to a great degree confirmed it) that he was a chevalier d'industrie.
"I am rid of him, thank God," exclaimed I, as I went on deck to breathe a little fresh air, having lighted my cigar in the steward's berth as I ascended. The first objects which attracted my attention, were a young gentleman and lady, the former standing by the latter, who was sitting in a pensive position, with her elbow leaning on the gunnel. She was in deep mourning, and closely veiled.
"And how does the beautiful Maria find herself this morning?" said the young gentleman, leaning over her with his hand on the rail to support himself.
The beautiful Maria! How was it possible not to be attracted by such a distinguishing appellation? The beautiful Maria! I thought of Sterne's Maria, and the little dog with a string, and I trimmed my ear like a windsail in the tropics to catch the soft responding, and most assuredly, to my expectant imagination, melodious vibration of the air which would succeed.
At last there was a reply. "Oh! tol, lol!" And that in anything but a melodious voice. "Oh! tol, lol!" What a bathos! The beautiful Maria, whom in my imagination I had clothed with all the attributes of sentiment and delicacy, whom I had conjured up as a beau ideal of perfection, replies in a hoarse voice with, "Oh! tol, lol!" Down she went, like the English funds in a panic—down she went to the zero of a Doll Tearsheet, and down I went again into the cabin. Surely this is a world of disappointment.
Perhaps I was wrong—she might have been very beautiful, with the voice of a peacock; she might also have the plumage—but no, that is impossible—she must, from her sex, have been a peahen. At all events, if not very beautiful, she was very sick. I left the beautiful Maria screeching over the gunnel. If the young gentleman were to repeat the same question now, thought I, the beautiful Maria will hardly answer, "Oh! tol, lol!"
It was very cold on deck, blowing fresh from the East. I never heard any one give a satisfactory reason why a west wind should be warm, and an east wind cold in latitude 50 degrees N. It is not so in the tropics when the east wind follows the rarefaction occasioned by the sun. Yet, does not Byron say:—
"'Tis the land of the east, 'tis the clime of the sun."
Certainly our east winds are not at all poetical.
"Very cold, sir," said I, addressing a round-faced gentleman in a white great coat, who rested his chin and his two hands upon a thick cane. "You are fortunate in not being sea-sick."
"I beg your pardon, I am not fortunate. I am worse than sea-sick, for I want to be sea-sick and I can't. I do believe that everything is changed now-a-days, since that confounded Reform Bill!"
Politics again, thought I; what the devil has sea-sickness to do with the Reform Bill? Mercy on me, when shall I be at peace? "There certainly has been some change," observed I.
"Change, sir! yes, everything changed. England of 1835 is no more like merry England of olden time, than I am like Louis the Fourteenth— ruined, sir—every class suffering, sir—badly ruled, sir."
"Things are much cheaper."
"Much cheaper! Yes, sir; but what's the good of things being cheap when nobody has any money to purchase with? They might just as well be dear. It's a melancholy discovery, sir, this steam."
"Melancholy just now to those who are on board, and suffering, I grant."
"Pooh, nonsense! melancholy to those on shore, sir; the engines work while man looks on and starves. Country ruined, sir—people miserable— thrown out of employment, while foreigners reap the benefit; we sell them our manufactures at a cheaper rate; we clothe them well, sir, at the expense of our own suffering population. But is this all, sir? Oh, no!"
And here the gentleman dropped his chin again upon his hands, and looked very woeful indeed. After a few seconds, he resumed.
"We are dismembered, sir—ruined by faction. Society is disintegrated by political animosities; thousands have retreated from the scene of violence and excitement, to find peace and repose in a foreign land."
I nodded an assent.
"Ay, sir, and thousands will follow, withdrawing from the country its resources, circulating millions which enrich other nations, and avoiding their own share of the national burdens, which fall still heavier upon those who remain. But is that all, sir? Oh, no!"
This second "oh, no!" was pronounced in a more lugubrious note: he shook his head, and after a pause, he recommenced. "England is no longer priest-ridden, sir; but she is worse, she is law-ridden. Litigation and law expenses have, like locusts, devoured up the produce of industry. No man is safe without a lawyer at his elbow, making over to him a part of his annual income to secure the remainder. And then there's Brougham. But, sir, is that all? Oh, no!"
Another pause, and he continued. "I never grumble—I hate grumblers; I never talk of politics—I hate politics; but, sir, is it not the case, that madmen and fools have united to ruin the country? Is it not true, sir, that unable to rise by their talents, and urged by a wicked ambition, they have summoned main force, and the power of numbers to their assistance, and have raised a spirit which they cannot put down again? Is it not true, sir, that treason walks barefaced through the land, pointing to general destruction—to a violation of all rights, to anarchy, confusion, and the shedding of blood? is not reason borne down by faction, sir? but, sir, is that all? Oh, no!"
This last "oh, no!" was more melancholy than the preceding, but I considered that my companion must have nearly exhausted his budget of miseries, and was curious to ascertain what would come next.
"What, is there more, sir?" inquired I, innocently.
"More, sir. Yes, sir, plenty more. I ask you whether even the seasons have not changed in our unhappy country; have we not summer with unusual, unexampled heat, and winters without cold; when shall we ever see the mercury down below sixty degrees again? never, sir. What is summer but a season of alarm and dread? Does not the cholera come in as regularly as green peas—terrifying us to death, whether we die of it or not? Of what advantage are the fruits of the earth so bountifully bestowed—have they not all been converted into poisons? Who dares to drink a light summer wine now? Are not all vegetables abjured, peaches thrown to the pigs, and strawberries ventured upon only by little boys who sweep the streets, with the broom in one hand and the pottle in the other? Are not melons rank poison, and cucumbers sudden death? And in the winter, sir, are we better off? Instead of the wholesome frosts of olden days, purifying the air and the soil, and bracing up our nerves, what have we but the influenza, which lasts us for four months, and the spasmodic cough which fills up the remainder of the year? I am no grumbler, sir, I hate and abhor anything like complaining, but this I will say, that the world has been turned upside down—that everything has gone wrong—that peace has come to us unattended by plenty—that every body is miserable; and that vaccination and steam, which have been lauded as blessings, have proved the greatest of all possible curses, and that there is no chance of a return to our former prosperity, unless we can set fire to our coal mines, and re-introduce the small-pox. But, sir, the will of Heaven be done, I shall say no more; I don't wish to make other people unhappy; but pray don't think, sir, I've told you all. Oh, no!"
At this last "oh, no!" my companion laid his face down upon his knuckles, and was silent. I once more sought the deck, and preferred to encounter the east wind. "Blow, blow, thou wintry wind, thou art not so unkind," soliloquised I, as I looked over the bows, and perceived that we were close to the pile entrance of the harbour of Ostend. Ten minutes afterwards there was a cessation of paddle, paddle, thump, thump, the stern-fast was thrown on the quay, there was a rush on board of commissionnaires, with their reiterated cries accompanied with cards thrust into your hands, "Hotel des Bains, Monsieur." "Hotel Waterloo, Monsieur." "Hotel Bellevue." "Hotel Bedford, Monsieur." "Hotel d'Angleterre," ad infinitum—and then there was the pouring out of the Noah's Ark, with their countenances wearing a most paradoxical appearance, for they evidently showed that they had had, quite enough of water, and, at the same time, that they required a great deal more. I looked at my children, as they were hoisted up from the ladies' cabin, one after another; and upon examination I decided that, with their smudged faces, the Hotel des Bains would be the most appropriate to their condition; so there we went.
Ostend, April 18, 1835.
I was confoundedly taken in by a rascal of a commissionnaire, and aware how the feelings of travellers are affected by the weather or the treatment they receive at any place they may pass through, I shall display the heroism of saying nothing about the place, except that I believe Ostend to be the most rascally hole in the world, and the sooner the traveller is out of it so much the better will it be for his purse and for his temper.
It has been assumed as an axiom that every one in this world is fond of power. During our passage in the track-schuyt I had an evidence to the contrary, for as we glided noiselessly and almost imperceptibly along, a lady told me that she infinitely preferred the three-horse power of the schuyt to the hundred-horse power of the steam-packet. We arrived at Bruges, escaping all the horrors and difficulties of steam navigation.
House rent at Bruges is cheap, because one half of the houses are empty—at least that was the cause assigned to me, although I will not vouch for its being the true one. The reader may remember that this was the site of cheap peaches, but none met our sight, the trees not being yet in blossom. I ought to observe, for the satisfaction of the Foreign Bible Society, that at the hotel at Bruges I saw a book of their exportation lying on the chimney-piece in excellent preservation.
As to what passed on our canal voyage to Ghent, I can only say that every thing passed us—for the roads were very heavy, the horses very lazy, and the boys still lazier—they rode their horses listlessly, sitting on them sideways, as I have seen lads in the country swinging on a gate—whereby the gait of the track-schuyt could not be styled a swinging pace. We did arrive at last, and thus ended our water carriage. At Ghent we went to the Hotel Royal, from out of the windows of which I had a fine view of the belfry, surmounted by the Brazen Dragon brought from Constantinople; and as I conjured up times past, and I thought how the belfry was built and how the dragon got there, I found myself at last wandering in the Apocrypha of "Bel and the Dragon."
We went to see the picture by Van Eck, in the cathedral of Saint Bovin. The reader will probably wish to know who was Saint Bovin—so did I—and I asked the question of the sacristan: the reader shall have the benefit of the answer, "Saint Bovin, monsieur, il etait un saint."
That picture of Van Eck's is worth a van full of most of the pictures we see: it was Van Eck who invented, and was indeed the father of painting in oil. It is a wonderful production.
Mrs Trollope says that people run through Belgium as if it were a mere railroad to other countries. That is very true—we did the same—for who would stop at Ostend to be swindled, or at Bruges to look at empty houses, or at Ghent, which is nothing but a Flanders Birmingham, when Brussels and King Leopold, and the anticipation of something more agreeable, were only thirty miles off. Not one day was our departure postponed; with post-horses and postilions we posted post haste to Brussels.
The Queen of Belgium "a fait un enfant." On the Continent it is always the wife who is considered as the faiseuse; the husband is supposed, and very often with justice to have had nothing to do in the matter—it certainly does appear to be optional on the part of the ladies, for they limit their family to their exact wishes or means of support. How different is it in England, where children will be born whether it is convenient or not! O Miss Martineau! you may talk about the "preventive check," but where is it? In England it would be as valuable as the philosopher's stone.
I think that the good people of Paris would do well, as they appear just now to have left religion in abeyance, to take up the manners and customs of the empire of the Nahirs, a Mahratta nation, which I once read about. In that country, as in heaven, there is no marrying, nor giving in marriage. All are free, and all inheritance is through the children of the sister; for although it is impossible to know who may be the father of any of the children, they are very certain that the sister's children must have the blood on the maternal side. What a good arrangement this would be for the Parisians—how many peches a mortels would they get rid of—such as adultery, fornication, etcetera,—by passing one simple law of the land. By-the-by, what an admirable idea for reforming a nation—they say that laws, now-a-days, are made to prevent crime: but if laws were enacted by which crime should no longer be considered as crime, what a deal of trouble might be saved.
The theatre is closed owing to the want of funds; the want of funds is owing to the want of honesty on the part of the manager having run away with the strong box, which was decidedly the very best box in the theatre.
I went to see a species of Franconi, or Astley's: there is little variety in these performances, as there are only a certain quantity of feats, which can be performed either by the horses or the riders, nevertheless we had some novelty. We had the very best feminine rider I ever saw; she was a perfect female Centaur, looking part and parcel of the animal upon which she stood; and then we had a regularly Dutch-built lady, who amused us with a tumble off her horse, coming down on the loose saw-dust, in a sitting posture, and making a hole in it as large as if a covey of partridges had been husking in it for the whole day. An American black (there always is a black fellow in these companies, for, as Cooper says, they learn to ride well in America by stealing their masters' horses) rode furiously well and sprained his ankle—the attempt of a man in extreme pain to smile is very horrible—yet he did grin as he bowed and limped away. After that we had a performer, who had little chance of spraining her ankle: it was a Miss Betsey, a female of good proportions, who was, however, not a little sulky that evening, and very often refused to perform her task, and as for forcing the combined will of a female and an elephant to boot, there was no man rash enough to attempt it, so she did as little as she pleased, and it pleased her to do very little; one feat, however, was novel, she took a musket in her mouth, and fired it off with her trunk.
When I was in India I was very partial to these animals; there was a most splendid elephant, which had been captured by the expedition sent to Martaban; he stood four or five feet higher than elephants usually do, and was a great favourite of his master, the rajah. When this animal was captured there was great difficulty in getting him on board of the transport. A raft was made, and he was very unwillingly persuaded to trust his huge carcass upon it; he was then towed off with about thirty of the natives on the raft, attending him; the largest purchases and blocks were procured to hoist him in, the mainyards doubly secured, and the fall brought to the capstern. The elephant had been properly slung, the capstern was manned, and his huge bulk was lifted in the air, but he had not risen a foot before the ropes gave way, and down he came again on the raft with a heavy surge, a novelty which he did not appear to approve of. A new fall was rove, and they again manned the capstern; this time the tackle held, and up went the gentleman in the air; but he had not forgotten the previous accident, and upon what ground it is impossible to say, he ascribed his treatment to the natives, who were assisting him on the raft. As he slowly mounted in the air, he looked about him very wroth, his eyes and his trunk being the only portions of his frame at liberty. These he turned about in every direction as he ascended—at last, as he passed by the main channels, he perceived the half of a maintop-sail yard, which had been carried away in the slings, lying on the goose-necks; it was a weapon that suited him admirably; he seized hold of it, and whirling it once round with his trunk, directed the piece of wood with such good aim, that he swept about twenty of the natives off the raft, to take their chance with a strong tide and plenty of alligators. It was the self-possession of the animal which I admired so much, swinging in the air in so unusual a position for an elephant, he was as collected as if he had been roaming in his own wild forests. He arrived and was disembarked at Rangoon, and it was an amusement to me, whenever I could find time to watch this animal, and two others much smaller in size who were with him; but he was my particular pet. Perhaps the reader will like to have the diary of an elephant when not on active service. At what time animals get up who never lie down without being ordered, it is not very easy to say. The elephants are stalled at the foot of some large tree, which shelters them during the day from the extreme heat of the sun; they stand under this tree, to which they are chained by their hind legs. Early in the morning the keeper makes his appearance from his hovel, and throws the respective keys down to the elephants, who immediately unlock the padlocks of the chains, cast themselves loose, and in the politest manner return the keys to the keeper; they then march off with him to the nearest forest, and on their arrival commence breaking down the branches of the trees, selecting those which are most agreeable to their palates, and arranging them in two enormous faggots. When they have collected as much as they think they require, they make withies and bind up their two faggots, and then twist another to connect the two, so as to hang them over their backs down on each side, and having thus made their provision, they return home; the keeper may or may not be present during this performance. All depends upon whether the elephants are well trained, and have been long in servitude. Upon their return, the elephants pass the chains again round their legs, lock the padlock, and present the key as before; they then amuse themselves with their repast, eating all the leaves and tender shoots, and rejecting the others. Now when an elephant has had enough to eat, he generally selects a long bough, and pulling off all the lateral branches, leaves a bush at the end forming a sort of whisk to keep off the flies and mosquitoes; for although the hide of the elephant is very thick, still it is broken into crannies and cracks, into which the vermin insert themselves. Sometimes they have the following ingenious method of defending themselves against these tormentors—they put the end of their trunk down in the dust, draw up as large a quantity as they can, and turning their trunks over their heads, pour it out over their skin, powdering and filling up the interstices, after which they take the long branch I have before mentioned, and amuse themselves by flapping it right and left, and in all directions about their bodies, wherever the insects may settle.
And now for an instance of self-denial, which I have often witnessed on the part of my friend the large elephant. I have observed him very busy, flapping right and flapping left, evidently much annoyed by the persecution of the mosquitoes; by-the-by, no one can have an idea how hard the tiger-mosquito can bite. I will, however, give an instance of it, for the truth of which I cannot positively vouch; but I remember that once, when it rained torrents, and we were on a boating expedition, a marine who, to keep his charge dry, had his fore-finger inserted in the barrel of his musket, pulled it out in a great hurry, exclaiming to his comrade, "May I be shot, Bill, if one of them beggars ha'n't bit me right through the barrel of my musket." This par parenthese, and now to proceed. As I said before, the elephant showed, by constant flagellation of his person, that he was much annoyed by his persecutors, and just at that time, the keeper brought a little naked black thing, as round as a ball, which in India I believe they call a child, laid it down before the animal with two words in Hindostanee—"Watch it!" and then walked away into the town. The elephant immediately broke off the larger part of the bough, so as to make a smaller and more convenient whisk, and directed his whole attention to the child, gently fanning the little lump of Indian ink, and driving away every mosquito which came near it; this he continued for upwards of two hours regardless of himself, until the keeper returned. It was really a beautiful sight, and causing much reflection. Here was a monster, whose bulk exceeded that of the infant by at least two thousand times, acknowledging that the image of his Maker, even in its lowest degree of perfection, was divine; silently proving the truth of the sacred announcement, that God had "given to man dominion over the beasts of the field." And here, too, was a brute animal setting an example of devotion and self-denial, which but few Christians, none indeed but a mother, could have practised. Would Fowell Buxton, surrounded by a host of mosquitoes, have done as much for a fellow-creature, white or black? not he; he would have flapped his own thighs, his own ears, his own face, and his own every thing, and have left his neighbours to take care of themselves; nor would I blame him.
As I am on the subject, I may as well inform my readers how and in which way this elephant and I parted company, for it was equally characteristic of the animal. The army was ordered to march, and the elephants were called into requisition to carry the tents. The quarter-master general, the man with four eyes, as the natives called him, because he wore spectacles, superintended the loading of the animals—tent upon tent was heaped upon my friend, who said nothing, till at last he found that they were overdoing the thing, and then he roared out his complaints, which the keeper explained; but there was still one more tent to be carried, and, therefore, as one more or less could make no difference, it was ordered to be put upon his back. The elephant said no more, but he turned sulky. Enough was as good as a feast with him, and he considered this treatment as no joke. Now it so happened that at the time the main street, and the only street of the town, which was at least half a mile long, was crowded to suffocation with tattoos, or little ponies, and small oxen, every one of them loaded with a couple of cases of claret, or brandy, or something else, slung on each side of them, attended by coolies, who, with their hooting, and pushing, and beating, and screaming, created a very bustling and lively scene. When the last tent was put on the elephant he was like a mountain with canvass on each side of him, bulging out to a width equal to his own; there was just room for him to pass through the two rows of houses on each side of the street, and not ten inches to spare; he was ordered by the keeper to go on—he obeyed the order certainly, but in what way—he threw his trunk up in the air, screamed a loud shriek of indignation, and set off at a trot, which was about equal in speed to a horse's gallop, right down the street, mowing down before him every pony, bullock, and coolie that barred his passage; the confusion was indescribable, all the little animals were with their legs in the air, claret and brandy poured in rivulets down the streets, coolies screamed as they threw themselves into the doors and windows; and at one fell swoop the angry gentle man demolished the major part of the comforts of the officers, who were little aware how much they were to sacrifice for the sake of an extra tent. With my eyes I followed my friend in his reckless career, until he was enveloped and hid from my view in a cloud of dust, and that was my farewell of him. I turned round, and observed close to me the quarter-master general, looking with all his four eyes at the effects of his inhumanity. But I have wandered some twenty thousand miles from Brussels, and must return.
Brussels, May 5. His Belgian Majesty, the Belgian ministers, Belgian ambassadors, Belgian authorities, and all the Belgian nobility and gentry, all the English who reside in Brussels for economy and quiet, and all the exiles and propaganda who reside here to kick up a row, have all left Brussels by the Porte d'Anvers. And all the Belgians who live at Brussels have shut up their shops, and gone out by the Porte d'Anvers. And the whole populace, men, women, and children, have gone out of the Porte d'Anvers. And all the infants have also gone, because the mothers could not leave them at home. And the generals, and their staffs, and the officers, and all the troops, and all the artillery, have also left Brussels, and gone out at the Porte d'Anvers, to keep the said populace quiet and in good order. So that there is no one left at Brussels, and Brussels must for one day take care of itself.
And now you of course wish to know why they have all left Brussels, and further, why they have gone through the Porte d'Anvers.
Because there is this day the commemoration of the inauguration of the Chemin de Fer, which has just been completed from Brussels to Malines, and which is on this day to be opened, that is to say, that three steam tugs, whose names are the Stephenson, the Arrow, and the Elephant, are to drag to Malines and back again in the presence of his majesty, all his majesty's ministers, all the ambassadors who choose to go, all the heads of the departments, and every body else who can produce a satisfactory yellow ticket, which will warrant their getting into one of the thirty-three omnibuses, diligences, or cars, which are attached to the said three steam-tugs, the Arrow, the Stephenson, and the Elephant. I shall go and see it—I will not remain at Brussels by myself, the "last man."
May 6. It was a brilliant affair, and went off well, because the trains went on well. We were tugged through twelve miles of the most fertile pasture in the universe, the whole line of road so crowded with spectators, as to make evident the extreme populousness of the country. For the first mile it was one mass of people—and a Belgian crowd has a very agreeable effect, from the prevailing colours being blue and white, which are very refreshing, and contrast pleasantly with the green background. Every man had his blouse, and every woman her cap and straw bonnet; but if the Belgians look well en masse, I cannot say that they do so in detail: the men we do not expect much from, but the women are certainly the plainest race in the whole world—I will not except the Africans. In some of our men-of-war it was formerly the custom to have an old knife, which was passed from one to the other, as the men joined the ship, being handed to the ugliest man they could find; he held the knife until another came, more unfortunate in physiognomy than himself, when it was immediately made over to the last, who was obliged in his turn to retain it until he could discover some one even more unprepossessing. Following up this principle with the women of Belgium, and comparing them with other European states, they are most unequivocally entitled to hold the knife, and unless they improve by crossing the breed, I am afraid they will have it in their possession for centuries.
We arrived safe at Malines, and I was infinitely amused at the variety of astonishment in the five hundred thousand faces which we passed. In one rich meadow I beheld a crowd of Roman Catholic priests, who looked at the trains in such a manner as if they thought that they were "heretical and damnable," and that the Chemin de Fer was nothing but the Chemin d'Enfer. At Malines we all got out, walked to a stone pillar, where a speech was made to the sound of martial music, and we all got in again. And then to show the power of his engines, Mr Stephenson attached all the cars, omnibuses, and diligences together, and directed the Elephant to take us back without assistance from the other two engines. So the Elephant took us all in tow, and away we went at a very fair pace. It must have been a very beautiful sight to those who were looking on the whole train in one line, covered with red cloth and garlands of roses with white canopies over head, and decorated with about three hundred Belgian flags, of yellow, red, and black. However, the huge animal who dragged this weight of eighty tons became thirsty at Ville Vorde, and cast us off—it took him half an hour to drink—that is to say, to take in water, and then he set off again, and we arrived safely at Brussels, much to the delight of those who were in the cars and also of his majesty, and all his ministers, and all his authorities, and all the mercantile classes, who consider that the millennium is come, but very much to the disappointment of the lower classes, who have formed the idea that the Chemin de Fer will take away their bread, and who therefore longed for a blow-up. And Mr Stephenson having succeeded in bringing back in safety his decorated cars, has been decore himself, and is now a Chevalier de l'Ordre Leopold. Would not the Iron order of the Belgian patriots have been more appropriate as a Chemin de Fer decoration?
It is impossible to contemplate any steam-engine, without feeling wonder and admiration at the ingenuity of man; but this feeling is raised to a degree of awe when you look at a locomotive engine—there is such enormous power compressed into so small a space—I never can divest myself of the idea that it is possessed of vitality—that it is a living as well as a moving being—and that idea, joined with its immense power, conjures up in my mind that it is some spitting, fizzing, terrific demon, who, if he could escape control, would be ready and happy to drag us by thousands to destruction.
And will this powerful invention prove to mankind a blessing or a curse?—like the fire which Prometheus stole from heaven to vivify his statue, may it not be followed by the evils of Pandora's fatal casket?
The lower classes of Belgium have formed an idea that the introduction of steam is to take away their bread. Let us examine whether there is not in this idea a degree of instinctive and prophetic truth.
The axiom of our political economists is, that the grand object to be sought and obtained is to produce the greatest possible results by the smallest possible means. The axiom, as an axiom by itself, is good; but the axiom to be opposed to it is, that the well-being and happiness of any state depends upon obtaining full employment for the whole industry of the people.
The population of Belgium is enormous. In England we calculate about eighteen hundred souls to the square league. In Belgium it amounts to three thousand eight hundred souls to the square league. Now it would be impossible for Belgium to support this population, were it not, in the first place, for her extensive manufactories, (for upon the cotton manufactories alone, in which steam is as yet but partially introduced, two hundred and fifty thousand souls depend for their existence,) and in the second place, from the subdivision of the land in small portions, arising from the laws of inheritance, which bar the right of primogeniture; the consequence of which is, that the major part of Belgium is cultivated by spade husbandry, and is in the very highest state of fertility. Nevertheless, the proportion of those who receive relief in Belgium from public institutions and private charities of all descriptions amounts even at present to one in eight persons. Now, allowing that the steam-engine should be generally introduced into this country, the consequence must be, that machinery will supply the place, and do the work of man. And what may be the result? that thousands will be thrown out of employment, and must be supported by the nation. When the population is so dense that there is not room for the labour of its present inhabitants, it is clear that the introduction of machinery can have but one effect—that of increasing pauperism. Are not, then, the Belgians right in thinking that it will deprive them of their bread?
That machinery has already had that effect to a certain degree in England cannot be denied; and not only our manufacturing, but our agricultural population, have been distressed from an adherence to the same principle, of obtaining the greatest possible results from the smallest possible means. The subdivision of land will do more to relieve the agricultural distress than anything else. At present large farms are preferred both by landlord and tenant, because a large farm can be cultivated with a fewer number of men and horses; but how does this act? It throws a certain quantity of labourers out of employ, who are supported in idleness. Is the sum gained by farmers by employing fewer men on large farms more than their proportion of the poor's rates paid for unproductive industry? That it may be more to the farmers is possible, as they shift a great part of the onus upon others; but to the nation it certainly is not—for the man who does not work must still be fed. May we not then consider the following propositions as correct?
That, producing the greatest possible results from the least possible means, is an axiom which can only hold good when it does not interfere with the industry of the people. That, as long as the whole population are employed, such powers become a benefit, and a source of extra wealth. But that, in proportion as it throws the population out of employment, so much the more does it prove an injury, and must finally lead to a state of things which must end in riot, anarchy, and confusion. Quod est demonstrandum—I hope it will not be in our time.
Antwerp. Every one has heard of the cathedral at Antwerp and the fine pictures by Rubens—every one has heard of the siege of Antwerp and General Chasse, and how the French marched an army of non-intervention down to the citadel, and took it from the Dutch—and every one has heard how Lord Palmerston protocol-ed while Marshal Gerard bombard-ed—and how it was all bombard and bombast. The name of Lord Palmerston reminds me that conversing after dinner with some Belgians, the topic introduced was the great dearth of diplomatic talent in a country like England, where talent was in every other department so extremely prominent. It was not the first time that this subject had been canvassed in my presence by foreigners. Naturally envious of our general superiority, it is with them a favourite point of attack; and they are right, as it certainly is our weakest point. They cannot disparage our army, or our navy, or our constitution; but they can our climate, which is not our fault, but our misfortune; and our diplomacy, which is our fault, and has too often proved our misfortune also.
It certainly is the fact, that our diplomatic corps are very inferior, and this can arise but from one cause; the emoluments which have been attached to it having rendered admission into it an advantage eagerly sought by the higher classes as a provision for the junior branches of their families. Of course, this provision has been granted to those to whom government have felt most indebted for support, without the least regard to the important point as to whether those who were admitted were qualified or not; so that the mere providing for a younger son of an adherent to the government may have proved in the end to have cost the country millions from the incompetence of the party when placed in a situation requiring tact and discrimination. This evil is increased by the system of filling up the vacant appointments according to seniority—the exploded and absurd custom of "each second being heir unto the first." Should any man have proved, upon an emergency, that he was possessed of the highest talent for diplomacy, it will avail him nothing—he never, under the present system, will be employed—he cannot be admitted into the corps without having entered as a private secretary or attache. It would be monstrous, unheard of; and the very idea would throw Lord Aberdeen on the one side, or Lord Palmerston on the other, into convulsions. Is it therefore to be wondered at our being so deficient in our diplomatic corps? Surely if any point more than another requires revision and reform, it is this; and the nation has a right to insist upon it.
It may be asked, what are the most peculiar qualities necessary in a diplomatist, taking it for granted that he has talents, education, and a thorough knowledge of the routine of business? The only term which we can give to this 'desideratum is' presence of mind—not the presence of mind required in danger, but that presence of mind which enables him, when a proposition is made, at once to seize all its bearings, the direction to which it tends, and the ultimate object (for that will always be concealed at first) which the proposer may have in view. Diplomatists, when they enter the field, are much in the situation of two parties, one defending and the other attacking a stronghold. Admissions are highly dangerous, as they enable the adversary to throw up his first parallels; and too often, when you imagine that the enemy is not one jot advanced, you find that he has worked through a covered way, and, you are summoned to surrender. It is strange that, at the very time that they assert that it would be impossible to employ those as diplomatists who have not been regularly trained to the service, officers in the army, and captains in the navy are continually so employed, and often under circumstances of vital importance. Now it would be supposed that the latter of all people they must be the most unfit; as, generally speaking, they are sent to sea, as unfit for anything else. But it appears that once commanding a frigate, they are supposed to be fit for everything. A vessel is ordered for "particular service," why so called I know not, except that there may be an elision, and it means "particularly disagreeable service." The captain is directed by the Admiralty to consider himself under the orders of the Foreign Office, and he receives a huge pile of documents, numbered, scheduled, and red-taped (as Bulwer says in his pamphlet), the contents of which he is informed are to serve as a guide for his proceedings. He reads them over with all their verbiage and technicalities, sighs for Cobbett's pure Saxon, and when he has finished, feels not a little puzzled. Document Number 4 contradicting document Number 12, and document Number 1 opposed to Number 66; that is, as he reads and understands English. Determined to understand them if possible, he takes a dose of protocol every morning, until he has nearly learnt them by heart, and then acts to the best of his knowledge and belief. And it is undeniable that, with very few exceptions, the navy have invariably given satisfaction to the Foreign Office when they have been so employed, and often under circumstances of peculiar difficulty. I have heard, from the best authority, that military men have also been equally successful, although they have not so often been called into "particular service." By the bye, particular service is all done at the same price as general service in his Majesty's navy, which is rather unfair, as we are obliged to find our own red tape, pens, ink, and stationery.
As I was walking on the glacis with a friend, he pointed out to me at a window an enormous fat man smoking his pipe, and told me that he had been in the Dutch service under William of Orange; but not being a very good hand at a forced march, he had been reduced with others to half-pay. He had not been many months in retirement when he went to the palace, and requested an audience of his Majesty, and, when admitted, stated that he had come to request that his Majesty would be pleased to put him again upon full pay. His Majesty raised many objections, and stated his inability to comply with his request; upon which the corpulent officer exclaimed, embracing with his arms as far as he could, his enormous paunch, "My God! your Majesty, how can you imagine that I can fill this big belly of mine with only my half-pay?" This argumentum ad ventrem so tickled King William, that he was put on full pay unattached, and has continued so ever since. The first instance I ever heard of a man successfully pleading as ladies do at the Old Bailey.
It is hard for a wanderer from childhood like me, to find out anything new or interesting. I have travelled too much and have seen too much—I seldom now admire. I draw comparisons, and the comparison drawn between the object before my eyes, and that in my mind's eye, is unfortunately usually in favour of the latter. He who hath visited so many climes, mingled with so many nations, attempted so many languages, and who has hardly anything left but the North Pole or the crater of Vesuvius to choose between; if he still longs for something new, may well cavil at the pleasures of memory as a mere song. In proportion as the memory is retentive, so is decreased one of the greatest charms of existence— novelty. To him who hath seen much, there is little left but comparison, and are not comparisons universally odious? Not that I complain, for I have a resource—I can fly to imagination—quit this every-day world, and in the region of fiction create new scenes and changes, and people these with new beings.
Moreover, there is still endless variety, endless amusement, and food for study and contemplation, in our own species. In all countries still the same, yet ever varying:—
"The proper study of mankind is man."
From which, I presume, we are to infer that it is time thrown away to study woman.
At the same party in which the conversation was raised relative to diplomacy, a person with whom I was, until that day, wholly unacquainted, was sitting by me, and as it happened, the name of one with whom I had long been on terms of intimacy was mentioned. "Do you know him?" said my neighbour, with a very peculiar expression. I replied that I had occasionally met him, for I thought there was something coming forward.
"Well, all I can say is, that he is rather a strange person."
"Indeed!" replied I; "how do you mean?"
"Why, they say, that he is of a very uncertain temper."
"Indeed!" continued I, with the same look of inquiry, as if demanding more information.
"Yes, yes, rather a dangerous man."
"Do you know him?" inquired I, in return.
"Yes; that is to say—not very intimately—the fact is, that I have avoided it. I grant that he is a very clever man—but I hear that he quarrels with everybody."
"Who told you so?" replied I.
Oh! he was not authorised to give the name of the person.
"Then," replied I, "allow me to say that you have been misinformed. I have been on intimate terms with that person for nearly twenty years, during which he never quarrelled with me or any one that I know of; although, I grant, he is not over civil to those whom he may despise. The only part of your communication which is correct is, that he is a very clever man, and our government are of the same opinion."
My neighbour was discomfited, and said no more, and I joined the general conversation. What may have been his cause of dislike I know not—but I have frequently remarked, that if a man has made himself enemies either from neglect of that sophistry and humbug, so necessary to enable him to roll down the stream of time with his fellows without attrition, if they can find no point in his character to assail, their last resort is, to assert that he is an uncertain tempered man, and not to be trusted.
This is the last, and although not the most empoisoned, still the surest shaft in the whole quiver of calumny. It does not exactly injure the character, but it induces others to avoid the acquaintance of the party so misrepresented.
It is rather singular, and perhaps I may have been fortunate, but in more than half-a-dozen instances I have found the very parties to whom this character has been given, although high-minded and high-spirited, the very antithesis to the character which has been assigned them. That some do deserve the character is undoubted—but there is no species of calumny to be received with such peculiar caution. It may be right to be on your guard, but it never should be the ground for a positive avoidance of the party accused. Indeed, in some degree, it argues in his favour, for it is clear that the whole charge they can bring against his character is an infirmity to which we are all more or less subjected; and he who looks for perfection in his acquaintance or his friends, will inevitably meet with disappointment.
Brussels. I have lost all my memoranda! I cannot find them any where. Well— children are a great blessing when they are kept in the nursery—but they certainly do interfere a little with a papa who has the misfortune to be an author. I little thought, when my youngest girl brought me up a whole string of paper dolls, hanging together by the arms, that they had been cut off my memoranda. But so it was; and when I had satisfactorily established the fact, and insisted upon an inquisition to recover my invaluables, I found that they had had an auto-da-fe, and that the whole string of dolls, which contained on their petticoats my whole string of bewitching ideas, had been burnt like so many witches. But as the man said in the packet—"Is that all?" Oh, no!—they come rushing in like a torrent, bounding, skipping, laughing, and screaming, till I fancied myself like another Orpheus, about to be torn to pieces by Bacchanals (they are all girls), and I laid down my pen, for they drive all my ideas out of my head. May your shadows never grow less, mes enfans, but I wish you would not make such a cursed row.
The author and the author of existence do not amalgamate. That's a fact.
Their joyous countenances are answered by a look of despair—their boiling-water heat drives my thermometer down to zero—their confounded merriment gives me a confounded headache—their animal spirits drive me to vegetable spirits—their cup of bliss running over makes me also require a bumper—brandy restores the equilibrium, and I contrive to get rid of them and my headache about one and the same time.
Talking about brandy—one morning at two o'clock, about the witching time that ghosts do glide about in churchyards, as I was thinking whether it would not be better to go to bed instead of writing nonsense, in which opinion most of my readers may coincide with me, in stalked three young men who were considerably the worse for potation. There is a great deal of character in inebriety—at the same time that no estimate of character can be made from its effects; for we often find the most quiet men when sober to be the most choleric in their cups—but still there is character, and much that is curious in witnessing its variety of effects. Now these young men were each drunk in a very different war—the first, in a way quite novel; for although he could preserve his equilibrium, and stare immensely, he had lost the power of speech; you saw his lips move, but no articulation or sound succeeded— the second was laughing drunk; everything that was said, either by himself or by any one else, was magnified into a pun or a bon mot—the third, with whom I had no previous acquaintance, was politely drunk. I presume the idea of intruding himself upon a stranger, at such an unseasonable hour, had produced that effect—but let me describe the scene.
"Ha, ha, ha! we come to you—ha, ha! capital. We want some brandy and water; and, ha, ha! we know you always keep a stock," said the second, seating himself in an armchair.
The first also took a chair, moved his lips for a few seconds, and then sat bolt upright, staring at the two candles; how many he counted I cannot pretend to say.
"Really," said Number Three, "we are—I'm afraid—taking a great liberty—a very great liberty; but—an apology is certainly due—if you will allow me to offer an apology for my two friends—will you allow me to introduce them?"
"Many thanks, but I have the pleasure of knowing them already."
"I really beg your pardon—it was quite unintentional on my part. I trust you are not offended? Will you allow me to introduce myself? I am Captain C—, of the —. Will you permit me to present my card, and to say how happy I shall be to make your acquaintance?" So saying, the third gentleman presented me with his card, and returned the card-case into his pocket.
"Capital!" cried Number Two. "Ha, ha, ha! what an excellent joke, ha, ha, ha! Now for the brandy-and-water."
This was soon produced, and although Number One had lost all articulation, he had still the power of deglutition; he filled his glass, sat up more erect, stared at the candles, and drank his grog; the other did the same, when Number Three again spoke.
"My dear Sir, I hope you will excuse the liberty, but my name is Captain C—, of the —. Will you allow me the honour of presenting my card, and of saying how proud I shall be to make your acquaintance?" So saying, he presented me another card, which I put aside with the first.
"Ha, ha, ha! what a good joke, to find you up. I said we should get brandy-and-water here; wasn't that capital?—ha, ha, ha, ha!"
I could not exactly see the joke of being kept up for perhaps two more hours, but I begged they would refill their glasses, as the sitting would be sooner ended one way or the other—either by the bottle being empty, or their falling under the table—I did not care which—when I was again addressed by Number Three.
"I really beg your pardon, but—I'm afraid I have been very remiss—will you allow me to introduce myself? I am Captain C—, of the —. Here is my card, and I cannot say how happy I shall be if I may have the honour of your acquaintance."
I bowed a third time, and received a third card.
"By heavens, I've finished my tumbler! Ain't that capital? Ha, ha, ha! famous fun;—and so has Alfred."
"Famous fun, indeed," thought I, as the contents of the bottle disappeared.
"And Alfred is going to help himself again; well, that is capital, ha, ha, ha!—ha, ha, ha!—ha, ha, ha, ha!"
Alfred, who was Number One, moved his lips, but like the frozen horn of Munchausen, sounds would not come out; he did, however, follow up the joke, by refilling his tumbler for the third time.
"Upon my honour, I've been very rude, I ought to apologise," said Number Three, again drawing out his card-case; "but will you allow me to offer my card? I am Captain C—, of the —, and I shall be most happy to make your acquaintance."
I bowed again, and received the fourth card.
Thus were the changes rung by numbers, one, two, and three, until I was tired out, two bottles more drank out, and I had received fifteen cards from my very polite friend, whom I had never seen before.
At four o'clock they all rose to depart.
"Upon my soul, I do believe I'm drunk," said Number Two; "capital joke— ha, ha, ha!"
Number One continued dumb, brandy had not thawed him; but he stared very hard at me, as much as to say, I would speak if I could.
Number Three put into my hand the sixteenth card, and made a rash attempt at a bow.
Having seen them fairly outside my door, I bolted it, saying with Shakespeare—
"O! that a man Should put an enemy in his mouth To steal away his brains!"
I have been this morning to visit an establishment founded by two brothers, of the name of Van der Maelen. It comprehends natural history, botany, geography, and statistics, and they have, moreover, a lithographic press for maps and plates. It is a very curious, and very spirited undertaking. As yet, the whole has been effected by their own means, which are extensive, and without any assistance from government. How few people in this world employ their money so usefully! This establishment is but yet in its infancy, and the collections are not very valuable, although rapidly increasing, from the interest felt by every one in its welfare.
Of all collections of natural history, the fossil department is, to me, the most interesting; there is room for speculation and reflection, till the mind is lost in its own wanderings, which I consider one of the greatest delights of existence. We are indebted to the vast, comprehensive mind, and indefatigable labour of Cuvier, for the gleams of light which have lately burst upon us, and which have rendered what was before mere speculative supposition now a source of interesting and anxious investigation, attended with results that are as satisfactory as they are undeniable.
That there was a period when the surface of the earth was almost entirely covered with water—a state between chaos and order, when man was not yet created (for that then the world had not yet been rendered by the Almighty a fit receptacle for man), appears to be undoubted. Yet the principle of life had been thrown forth by the Almighty hand, and monsters had been endowed with vitality, and with attributes necessary for their existence upon an intermediate world.
These were the many varieties of the Ichthyosauri and the Plesiosauri, of whose remains we have now such abundant specimens—all animals of the lizard species; some supposed to have been supplied with wings, like the flying fish of the present day.
But imagine an animal of the lizard species, one hundred and twenty feet long—imagine such a monster—the existence of which is now proved beyond a cavil, by the remains, deeply imbedded in the hard blue lias rocks, and which remains are now in our possession. What a terrific monster it must have been! We look with horror at an alligator of twenty or thirty feet, but imagine an animal of that species extending his huge bulk to one hundred and twenty feet. Were they all destroyed when the waters were separated from the hand, or did they gradually become extinct when the earth was no longer a suitable habitation for them, and no longer congenial to those properties with which they had been endowed when ordered into existence by the Almighty power? The description of the Behemoth, by Job, has long been a puzzle to the learned; we have no animal of the present time winch will answer to it, but in many points, this description will answer to what may be supposed would be the appearance, the muscular power, and the habits of this huge denizen of a former world.
"His force is in the navel of his belly. He moveth his tail like a cedar. His bones are as strong pieces of brass. His bones are like bars of iron. He lieth under the shady trees in the covert of the reeds and fens. The shady trees cover him with their shadow. The willows of the brook compass him about."
It may be a matter of deep surmise, whether all animals were created as we now find them, that is, whether the first creation was final—or how far the unerring hand has permitted a change to take place in the forms and properties of animals, so as to adapt them to their peculiar situations. I would say, whether the Almighty may not have allowed the principle of vitality and life to assume, at various epochs, the form and attributes most congenial to the situation, either by new formation or by change.
May not the monster of former worlds have dwindled down to the alligator of this—the leviathan to the whale? Let us examine whether we have any proofs in existing creation to support this supposition. We all know that the hair of the goat and sheep in the torrid zones will be changed into wool when they are taken to the colder climes, and that the reverse will also take place—we know that the hare and weazel tribes, whose security is increased from their colour so nearly approaching to that of the earth in temperate latitudes, have the same protection afforded to them when they are found in the regions of snow, by their changing to white—and we know that the rete mucosum of the African enables him to bear the exposure to a tropical sun, which would destroy an European. But this is not sufficient, we must examine further. Sir Humphry Davy has given us a very interesting account of a small animal found in the pools of water in the caves in Carniola; this animal is called the Proteus Anguinus or Syren: it is a species of eel with two feet—a variety only to be found in these caves—it lives in darkness, and exposure to the light destroys it. Now, here is an animal which we must either suppose to have been created at the universal creation—and that is to suppose that these caves and pools of water have also existed from the time of the creation—or that the principle of vitality has been permitted, at a later date, to take that form and those attributes congenial to its situation: it is a curious problem. Again, it is well known that in the continent of New Holland there are animals who have a property peculiar to that continent alone—that of a pouch or false stomach, to contain their young after their birth; it has been surmised that at one time the major part of that continent was under water, and that this pouch was supplied to them for the safety of their young; nor is this conjecture without strong grounds; if only the kangaroo and opossum tribes, which are animals peculiarly indigenous to that continent, were supplied with this peculiar formation, the conjecture would fall to the ground, as it might fairly be said that this property was only another proof of the endless variety in creation; but the most remarkable fact is, that not only the kangaroo and opossum, animals indigenous and peculiar to that portion of the globe, but that very variety of squirrel, rat, and mouse, which in every other respect are of the same species as those found in the other continents, are all of them provided with this peculiar false pouch to contain their young. Why, therefore, should all these have been supplied with it, if not for a cause? And the question now arises, whether at the first creation they had that pouch, or were permitted so far to change their formation, when the pouch became necessary for the preservation and continuation of these species? That these changes are the changes of centuries, I grant, and therefore are not likely to be observed by man, whose records or whose knowledge are not permitted to be handed down beyond a certain extent. Knowledge is not happiness; and when the accumulation has arrived to that height so as to render it dangerous, it is swept away by the all-wise and benevolent Creator, and we are permitted to begin again de novo. After all, what we term posterity is but a drop of water in the ocean of Time.
Brussels. There are few people in Brussels, indeed in Belgium, who do not complain of the revolution; all that goes wrong is at once ascribed to this cause—indeed I was rather staggered by one gentleman, at Ghent, telling me very gravely that they had had no fat oxen since the revolution; but this he explained by stating that the oxen were fattened from the refuse of several manufactories, all of which had been broken up, the proprietors having quitted for Holland. The revolution has certainly been, up to the present time, injurious to both countries, but it is easy to foretell that eventually Belgium will flourish, and Holland, in all probability, be the sufferer. The expenses of the latter even now are greater than her revenue, and when the railroads of Belgium have been completed, as proposed, to Vienna, the revenue of Holland will be proportionably decreased from her loss of the carrying trade. It may be urged that Holland can also have her railroads—but she cannot: so large a proportion of her population find their support at present on the canals, that a railroad would be productive of the most injurious effects. It is true that she can lower her rates of carriage, but the merchant will save ten days of transport by the railroads, and this rapidity of communication will always obtain the preference.
But whatever may be the future prospects of Belgium, it is certain that, from the heavy expenses attending the support of so large an army, the retirement into Holland of most of the influential and wealthy commercial men, and the defection of almost all the nobility, at present she is suffering. Brussels, her capital, has perhaps been most injured, and is no longer the gay and lively town which it was under the dynasty of King William of Nassau. When the two countries were united, it was the custom of the Dutch court to divide the year between Brussels and the Hague; and as there was not only the establishment of the King, but also those of Princes William and Frederick (in fact three courts), as well as all the nobility of Holland and Belgium, there was an overflow of wealth, of company, and of amusement, which rendered Brussels one of the most delightful winter residences on the Continent: but this has now all passed away. The court of Leopold, in consequence of the radical party having the entire sway, is but a shadow, as nearly all the Belgian nobility have retired from it. The few who reside in town will not visit at the palace, and live in seclusion, receiving no company, and spending no money; the majority, however, have either removed from Brussels to their country seats, or have left the kingdom to spend their revenue amongst foreigners.
At present there are but few English here, it being no longer the scene of gaiety, and there are other reasons which gradually decrease the number. The fact is, that Brussels is not a very cheap residence. The duties on every thing are now enormous, and the shop-keepers prey upon the English as much as they can, having avowedly two prices, one for them and the other for the Belgians. There are very few amusements, and the people, since the revolution, are rude and bearish, imagining that by incivility they prove their liberty and independence. The other towns of Belgium are very dull and very cheap—Brussels is very dull and very dear. In another point, Brussels presents a contradiction to all the other capitals of Europe, in which you generally find the most polished manners, and the greatest beauty in the female sex, concentrated. At Brussels it is directly the reverse—the men are uncivil and the women plain: whereas in the Belgian provinces you will meet with civility and respect, and at Antwerp, Ostend, and most other provincial towns, fall in with many fine countenances, reminding you of the Spanish blood which has been for centuries mingled with that of the Low Provinces.
Nevertheless there are many advantages in Brussels: the communication with England is so rapid, and its situation so central, that it may be considered as the point from which travellers diverge on their various routes.
About the end of May the arrivals and departures from Brussels are constant; this stream continues to pour through the city for three months, after which, as the Belgians do not mix with the foreign residents, the latter are left entirely to their own resources for amusement. But the greatest objection to Brussels is, that the English have brought with them the English feeling. I hardly know how else to term it, but it certainly is a feeling peculiarly English, which has taken deep root within this last half century, and which has already produced much evil, and may eventually be productive of more serious results. I refer to the system of spending more money than you can afford, to enable you to hold a certain position in the scale of society.
For these last forty years, during which immense fortunes have been made in England, there has been a continued struggle of wealth against rank. Parvenus, as the aristocracy have been pleased to call them, have started up in every direction, vying with, and even eclipsing the nobility in lavish expenditure—in some instances, driving the aristocracy to spend more money than they could afford, and thereby impoverishing them; in others, forcing admittance into their circles. Wealth and public opinion have latterly gained the ascendency, and the aristocracy are now more looked up to on account of their large possessions than of their high birth. Now this has been nothing more than a demand for greater liberty and more extended rights on the part of the commoners of England, in proportion as they found themselves a more important body in the state. It has not been a case of Magna Charta, but it is still analogous; for they have demanded that the barrier raised between them and the aristocracy should be thrown down, as soon as they possessed all the advantages, with the exception of that nominal rank, the title too often conferred without discrimination on the one hand or claims on the other. As soon as a partial breach had been made in this barrier,—every one rushed for admittance, displaying wealth as their ticket of admission, and the consequence has been, that wealth has now become the passport into society; but another consequence has also ensued, which is, that to obtain entrance, almost everybody has been living and keeping up an appearance which has not been warranted by their means. Many have exceeded their incomes, and then sunk down into poverty; others have, perhaps, only lived up to their incomes; but in so doing, have disappointed those who, induced by the appearance of so much wealth, have married into the family and discovered that they have obtained wives with expensive ideas, and no money. But there have been other reasons which have induced some to live beyond their means—they have done it in the pure spirit of gambling. In England, credit, next to money, is of most value, and according to their supposed wealth, so did the parties obtain credit; an expenditure beyond their means was, therefore, with commercial men, nothing more than a speculation, which very often succeeded, and eventually procured to the parties the means of expenditure. It is well known that the income tax, in many cases, was paid double; commercial men preferring to give in their income at twice its real value, and pay the tax to that amount, that they might be supposed to possess more than they really had; indeed, as it was imagined that a man would evade so heavy an impost as much as possible, he was generally considered to be worth even more than what he himself had stated. It is from these causes that has arisen what I have called the English feeling, for display beyond the means, and which has made our countrymen look down upon those who cannot compete with them in expense. Let a married couple be ever so well connected—let them have talent, and every other advantage, it will avail them nothing, if they have not money, sufficient at least to keep a carriage, and not shock the mistress of a house by the sound of the rattling steps of a hackney-coach at her door; besides which, in our commercial country, the principle of barter, of quid pro quo, is extended even to dinner and evening parties—and the reason is obvious—when people live to the full extent, or even beyond their incomes, a little management is required. A dinner-party is so arranged, that the dinners received from others are returned to them, and they cannot afford to ask a couple who cannot give them a dinner in return, as they would fill up the places of others to whom a dinner is due, and who, if not asked then, must be at another time; and an extra dinner is an extra expense to be avoided. The English therefore, who have only moderate incomes, have the choice, either to live beyond their means, and leave their children unprovided for, or of being shut out from that society, to which every other is but the adventitious claim of wealth, they are entitled. The consequence has been that since the peace thousands and thousands have settled on the Continent, that they may make more display with a small income, and thousands more, with a much better feeling, to avoid expense, and lay by a provision for their children. Of course all these remarks are made with reservation, but with reservation, it may be said, that in England we have, or soon shall have, only two classes left, the extreme rich and the extreme poor, for the intermediate classes are gradually retiring to the continent, emigrating to Canada and America, or sinking down into the second class.
This is a most dangerous state of society, and, if carried to the extreme, has always proved ruinous to the state. Although the immense extent of the Roman empire may be asserted as the ultimate cause of its downfall, still that downfall was most certainly accelerated by the rottenness at the core, the system of patrons and clients having thrown all the wealth into the hands of a few. Are we not rapidly advancing to this state in England? The landholders are almost at the mercy of the fundholders, who, in fifty years' time, will probably have possession of the land as well as of the money. And should there be no check put to this disintegration of society, then must come what the radicals are now so anxious to obtain, the equitable adjustment—and in that case it is a problem how far that may not be really equitable; for society may, by degrees, arrive to a state so anomalous as to warrant that the few should be sacrificed for the benefit of the community at large.
Brussels, May 22. Among the lions of Brussels, a dog was pointed out to me, as he lay on the pavement in front of the House of Assembly. It was a miserable looking cur; but he had a tale extra attached to him, which had magnified him into a lion. It was said that he belonged to a Dutch soldier, who was killed in the revolution, at the spot where the dog then lay, and that ever since (a period of four years) the animal had taken up his quarters there, and invariably lain upon that spot. Whether my informant lied, and the dog did not, I cannot pretend to say; but if the story be true, it was a most remarkable specimen of fidelity and ugliness. And he was a sensible dog, moreover; instead of dying of grief and hunger, as some foolish dogs have done, he has always dedicated an hour every evening to cater for his support, and then returns to pass the night on the spot. I went up to him, and when within two yards he thought proper to show his teeth, and snarl most dog-matically; I may therefore, in addition to his other qualities, state that he is an ill-natured dog. How far the report was correct, I cannot vouch; but I watched him three or four days, and always found him at his post; and after such strict investigation, had I asserted ten years instead of four, I have a prescriptive right, as a traveller, to be believed.
It is singular that it is only in England that you can find dogs, properly so called; abroad they have nothing but curs. I do not know anything more puzzling than the genealogy of the animals you meet with under the denomination of dogs in most of the capitals of Europe. It would appear as if the vice of promiscuous and unrestricted intercourse had been copied from their masters; and I have been almost tempted to take up the opinion, that you may judge of the morality of a capital from the degeneracy of the dogs. I have often, at Paris, attempted to make out a descent; but found it impossible. Even the late Sir G Naylor, with all the herald's office, stimulated by double fees, could not manage to decipher escutcheons obliterated by so many crosses.
I am very partial to dogs; and one of my amusements, when travelling, is to watch their meetings with each other; they appear to me to do everything but speak. Indeed, a constant observer will distinguish in dogs many of the passions, virtues, and rices of men; and it is generally the case, that those of the purest race have the nobler qualifications. You will find in them devotion, courage, generosity, good temper, sagacity, and forbearance; but these virtues, with little alloy, are only to be found in the pure breeds. A cur is quite a lottery: he is a most heterogeneous compound of virtue and vice; and sometimes the amalgamation is truly ludicrous. Notwithstanding which, a little scrutiny of his countenance and his peculiar movements will soon enable you to form a very fair estimate of his general character and disposition.
One of the most remarkable qualities in dogs is the fidelity of their attachments; and the more so, as their attachments are very often without any warrantable cause. For no reason that can be assigned, they will take a partiality to people or animals, which becomes a feeling so dominant, that their existence appears to depend upon its not being interfered with. I had an instance of this kind, and the parties are all living. I put up, for an hour or two, at a livery stables in town, a pair of young ponies. On my taking them out again, the phaeton was followed by a large coach-dog, about two years old, a fine grown animal, but not well marked, and in very poor condition. He followed us into the country; but having my establishment of dogs (taxes taken into consideration), I ordered him to be shut out. He would not leave the iron gates; and when they were opened, in he bolted, and hastening to the stables, found out the ponies, and was not to be dislodged from under the manger without a determined resistance. This alternate bolting in and bolting out continued for many days; finding that I could not get rid of him, I sent him away forty miles in the country; but he returned the next day, expressing the most extravagant joy at the sight of the ponies, who, strange to say, were equally pleased, allowing him to put his paws upon them, and bark in their faces. But although the ponies were partial to the dog, I was not; and aware that a voyage is a great specific for curing improper attachments, I sent the dog down the river in a barge, requesting the men to land him where they were bound, on the other side of the Medway; but in three days the dog again made his appearance, the picture of famine and misery. Even the coachman's heart was melted, and the rights and privileges of his favourite snow-white terrier were forgotten. It was therefore agreed, in a cabinet council held in the harness room, that we must make the best of it; and, as the dog would not leave the ponies, the best thing we could do, was to put a little flesh on his bones, and make him look respectable. We therefore victualled him that day, and put him on our books with the purser's name of Pompey. Now this dog proved, that sudden as was his attachment to the ponies, it was of the strongest quality. He never would and never has since left these animals. If turned out in the fields, he remains out with them, night as well as day, taking up his station as near as possible half way between the two, and only coming home to get his dinner. No stranger can enter their stables with impunity; for he is very powerful, and on such occasions very savage. A year or two after his domiciliation, I sold the ponies, and the parties who purchased were equally anxious at first to get rid of the dog; but their attempts, like mine, were unavailing, and, like me, they at last became reconciled to him. On my return from abroad, I re-purchased them, and Pompey of course was included in the purchase.