Lady Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake, 1809-1893
in Quarterly Review, Vol. 76 (June), pp. 98-137, 1845.
THE QUARTERLY REVIEW
JUNE & SEPTEMBER, 1845.
JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET.
. . .
ART. V. – 1. Notes and Sketches of New South Wales. By Mrs. Meredith. (Colonial Library.) London. 1844.
2. The Englishwoman in Egypt. By Mrs. Poole. (Knight's Weekly Volume.) 1845.
3. Letters from Madras. By a Lady. 1843.
4. Life in Mexico. By Madame Calderon de la Barca. 8vo. London. 1843.
5. The Rhone, the Darro, and the Guadalquivir. By Mrs. Romer. 2 vols. London. 1843.
6. Journal of a Tour in the Holy Land. By Lady F. Egerton. London. 8vo.
7. Narrative of a Yacht Voyage. By the Countess Grosvenor. 2 vols. London. 1842.
8. Journal of a Yacht Voyage to the Texas. By Mrs. Houston. 2 vols. London. 1844.
9. Diary of a Tour in Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and the Holy Land. By the Hon. Mrs. Dawson Damer. 2 vols. London. 1841.
10. Visit to the Courts of Vienna, Constantinople, &c. By the Marchioness of Londonderry. London. 1844.
11. Orientalische Briefe. Von Ida, Gräfin Hahn-Hahn.
12. Theresen's Briefe aus dem Süden.
THAT there are peculiar powers inherent in ladies' eyes, this number of the Quarterly Review was not required to establish; but one in particular, of which we reap all the benefit without paying the penalty, we must in common gratitude be allowed to point out. We mean that power of observation which, so long as it remains at home counting canvass stitches by the fireside, we are apt to consider no shrewder than our own, but which once removed from the familiar scene, and returned to us in the shape of letters or books, seldom fails to prove its superiority. Who, for instance, has not turned from the slap-dash scrawl of your male correspondent – with excuses at the beginning and and haste at the end, and too often nothing between but sweeping generalities – to the well-filled sheet of your female friend, with plenty of time bestowed and no paper wasted, and overflowing with those close and lively details which show not only that observing eyes have been at work, but one pair of bright eyes in particular? Or who does not know the difference between their books – especially their books of travels – the gentleman's either dull and matter-of-fact, or off-hand and superficial, with a heavy disquisition where we look for a light touch, or a foolish pun where we expect a reverential sentiment, either requiring too much trouble of the reader, or showing too much carelessness in the writer – and the lady's – all ease, animation, vivacity, with the tact to dwell upon what you most want to know, and the sense to pass over what she does not know herself; neither suggesting authorly effort, nor requiring any conscious attention, yet leaving many a clear picture traced on the memory, and many a solid truth impressed on the mind? It is true the case is occasionally reversed. Ladies have been known to write the dullest and emptiest books – a fact for which there is no accounting – and gentlemen the most delightful; but here probably, if the truth were told, their wives or daughters helped them.
But, in truth, every country with any pretensions to civilization has a twofold aspect, addressed to two different modes of perception, and seldom visible simultaneously to both. Every country has a home life as well as a public life, and the first quite necessary to interpret the last. Every country therefore, to be fairly understood, requires reporters from both sexes. Not that it is precisely recommended that all travellers should hunt the world in couples, and give forth their impressions in the double columns of holy wedlock; but that that kind of partnership should be tacitly formed between books of travel which, properly understood, we should have imagined to have been the chief aim of matrimony – namely, to supply each other's deficiencies, and correct each other's errors, purely for the good of the public.
It may be objected that the inferiority of a woman's education is, or ought to be, a formidable barrier; but without stopping to question whether the education of a really well-educated Englishwoman be on the whole inferior to her brother's, we decidedly think that in the instance of travelling the difference between them is greatly in her favour. If the gentleman knows more of ancient history and ancient languages, the lady knows more of human nature and modern languages; while one of her greatest charms, as a describer of foreign scenes and manners, more even than the closeness or liveliness of her mode of observation, is that very purposelesness resulting from the more desultory nature nature of her education. A man either starts on his travels with a particular object in view, or, failing that, drives a hobby of his own the whole way before him; whereas a woman, accustomed by habit, if not created by nature, to diffuse her mind more equally on all that is presented, and less troubled with preconceived ideas as to what is most important to observe, goes picking up materials much more indiscriminately, and where, as in travelling, little things are of great significance, frequently much more to the purpose. The tourist may be sure that in nine cases out of ten it is not that on which he has bestowed most care and pains which proves most interesting to the reader.
Again, there is an advantage in the very nature of a book of travels peculiarly favourable to a woman's feelings – the almost total absence of responsibility. It is merely the editorship of her own journal, undertaken for the amusement of her children, or the improvement of a younger sister, or the building of a school; for it is a remarkable fact that ladies never publish their tours to please themselves. In short, she can hardly be said to stand committed as an authoress. If she send forth a lively and graceful work, the world will soon tell her it is a pity she is not one; otherwise, the blame falls on her materials.
But though the lady tourist has her modesty thus far screened and sheltered, it is equally certain that there is no department of writing through which her own individual character is more visible. We form a clearer idea of the writer of the most unpretending book of travels than we do of her who gives us the most striking work of imagination. The under current of personality, however little obtruded to sight, is sure to be genuine. The opinions she expresses on the simplest occasions are those which guide her on the greatest; the habits she displays, however interrupted by her irregular movements, are those contracted in her regular life: hence the most interesting result, in our mind, to be gathered from an examination of this class of literature. We see our countrywoman, in these books, unconsciously in the main, but fully portrayed. We see her with her national courage and her national reserve, with her sound head and her tender heart, with the independent freedom of her actions and the decorous restraint of her manners, with her high intellectual acquirements and her simplicity of tastes, with the early attained maturity of her good sense and the long-continued freshness of her youth. We see her nice, scrupulous, delicate, beyond all others of her sex, yet simple, practical, useful, as none but herself understands to be; versed in the humblest in-door duty, excelling in the hardiest out-door exercise; equally fitted for ease or exertion; enthusiastic for nature; keen for adventure; devoted to her children, her flowers, her poor; petting a great Newfoundland dog, loving a horse, and delighting in the sea. In short, we see her the finest production of the finest country upon earth – man's best companion, whether in the travels over this world or the voyage through this life; but only to be understood or deserved by the Englishman, and rather too good even for him.
It is true, and perhaps as well for our pride, that many a reverse to this picture occurs; but even in the worst cases it is rather an affectation, exaggeration, or caricature of the national female character, than any direct departure from it. There are some lady tourists who are over delicate or over adventurous – over enthusiastic or over humdrum – over simple or over wise; but where is she, whatever may be the difference of talent or taste, who ventures to bring forward an infidel opinion or a questionable moral?
There is one set of female writers who, having under the general name of tourists given the public an immense deal of extraneous information, might be expected to occupy a prominent place in this article: the very nature of their services, however, compels us to pass them over in silence; for when one lady travels to Vaucluse to give us her views of Mesmerism, another visits the German baths to describe the advantages of society in Russia; when one goes north to expatiate on the infant schools in England, another south to send home chapters of advice to the Queen; and a fifth wanders generally at large, in order to bewail the waste lands within a few miles of London, and to reprobate the iniquity of a government who can suffer such resources to remain unapplied, 'with a starving population under their very eyes, all ready to pay them five pounds an acre;'1 when, in short, ladies take all the trouble of travelling abroad merely to express those private opinions upon affairs in general which they could as well have given utterance to at home, we feel truly that it would be a grateful and very amusing task to bring their services before the public, but that it is not ours on this occasion to comprise them among so unpretending a class as that of the lady tourists.
The same reason must also deter us from including that more systematic set of travellers who regularly make a tour in order to make a book, and have thus pretty well divided the tourable world between them – Mrs. Trollope having taken Germany and Italy, Miss Costello France, Miss Pardoe Hungary, and so forth. These able and accomplished ladies do travel with an object, and it is apparent in every line they write. Instead of seeing the woman, we only discover the authoress; and, admirable as she may be, it is not her that we are in quest of upon this occasion.
To revert, therefore, to the object of our search – while regarding these unstudied and unpretending works as some of the truest channels for the study of the Englishwoman, they cannot be strictly taken as a test of comparison between her and the lady of other countries. Whether as traveller, or writer of travels, the foreign lady can in no way be measured against her. The only just point of comparison is why the one does travel, and the other does not. And, upon the first view of the matter, the impediments would seem to be all on the side of our own countrywoman. Her home is proverbially the most domestic – her manners the most reserved – her comforts the most indispensable. Nevertheless, it is precisely because home, manners, and comforts are what they are, that the Englishwoman excels all others in the art of travelling. It is those very habits of order and regularity which make her domestic, – it is that very exclusiveness of family life which makes her reserved, – it is the very nature of the comforts, to her so indispensable, – it is all that best fits her to live in her own country, that also best fits her to visit others. Where is the foreign lady who combines the four cardinal virtues of travelling – activity, punctuality, courage, and independence – like the Englishwoman? – where is she whose habits fit her for that most exclusive of all companionships, the travelling tête-à-tête with a husband for months together? Where is she whose comforts are nine-tenths of them comprised under the head of fresh air and plenty of water, like the Englishwoman's? A foreigner will tell us that the chief argument lies in the English purse;– but the Russians are rich enough – and the Russian lady moves abundantly about from place to place – but she does not travel in the same sense as the Englishwoman. The Russians have means enough to sail a whole fleet of private yachts, but which of them would think of cruising in the Mediterranean, or of launching across the Atlantic for pure pleasure? There are certain modes of life for which English nature and education alone seem adapted;– travelling is one – living in the country another.
The truth is that no foreign nation possesses that same class of women from which the great body of our female tourists are drafted. They have not the same well-read, solid thinking, – early rising – sketch-loving – light-footed – trim-waisted – straw-hatted specimen of women; educated with the refinement of the highest classes, and with the usefulness of the lowest; all-sufficient companion to her husband, and all-sufficient lady's maid to herself – they have her not. Of course in the numbers that flit annually from our coasts, from one motive or other, .every shade and grade is to be found, from the highest blasée fashionable, with every faculty of intelligent interest fast closed, to the lowest Biddy Fudge, with every pore of vulgar wonder wide open ; the absurdities committed by our countrymen and women under the name of travel are highly significant of the national folly, extravagance, and eccentricity; but the taste for travel from which these abuses spring – the art of it in which the English so excel – we are inclined to attribute to a something still more conspicuous and honourable in the national life – to nothing less than the domesticity of the English character. Who can witness the innumerable family parties which annually take their excursions abroad – the husbands and wives – brothers and sisters – parents and children, – all enjoying the novel scenes, but chiefly because they are enjoying them together? Who can see the joint delight with which these expeditions are planned, the kindly feelings and habits they develop, the joint pleasure with which they are remembered – without recognising a proof of exclusive domestic cohesion which no other people display? What, too, is the secret of that facility with which the Englishman adapts himself to a residence in any remote corner of the world? – why do we so often find him settled happily among scenes and people utterly uncongenial in climate and habit? Simply because he takes his home with him; and has more within it and wants less beyond it than any other man in the world.
As for the tribes who throng capitals and watering-places for purposes of mere idleness and dissipation, and because they can indulge both upon a cheaper and laxer footing than at home, they certainly do not contribute to give foreigners a very exalted idea of the national domesticity; but whether human nature or English nature be here to blame, we suppose may be a question; we suspect the fact is that this description of travellers quit their native land precisely because they are no longer suited to her, nor she to them.
But to return to the ladies:– if now and then some foreigners venture on their travels, here the analogy ends; they do not venture to publish them. The German ladies, with all their virtues, are not supposed to excel in rapid observation, or lively delineation. Inward experiences and not outward impressions are their forte; – the eyes of their souls are brighter than those of their bodies; – they are fonder of looking into the one than out of the other. They will give you, therefore, most admirable maps of the winding paths of their own hearts, but they are not of much assistance on the common dusty high roads of other countries. Bettina, it is true, might have made a brilliant Münchhausen, but otherwise, with the exception of the Countess Hahn-Hahn, of whom we have more to say, the public is not supposed to have gained much by their peregrinations, nor perhaps lost much by their staying at home.
The Frenchwoman has not the same grounds for silence. Her eyes and her tongue we know are both of the most lively description – she would make a shrewd observer and a brilliant describer – but alas! there is one little impediment which stands in her way – a trifle, we feel almost provoked to have to mention, which stops her pen – she cannot spell!
It is true that two great French authoresses of these times – Madame de Staël and Madame Dudevant – have given their foreign impressions to the world; but the one visited foreign countries with the feeling of an exile, and the other has described them exactly as she might have done without stirring from her chamber. The 'De l'Allemagne' is the type of classical sentiment, the 'Lettres d'un Voyageur' the flower of picturesque romance – neither of them come under the denomination of travels. What Madame de Staël sententiously says in Corinne, remains to this day the true French motto:– 'Voyager est, quoi qu'on en puisse dire, un des plus tristes plaisirs de la vie. Lorsque vous vous trouvez bien dans quelque ville étrangère, c'est que vous commencez à vous y faire une patrie; mais traverser des pays inconnus, entendre parler un langage que vous comprenez à peine, voir des visages humains sans relation avec votre passé ni avec votre avenir, c'est de la solitude, et de l'isolement, sans repos et sans dignité.' In short, what the French depend upon for their daily happiness, even the spelling few of their womankind cannot transport with them.
It is time, however, that we should advert more particularly to the fair writers named at the head of our paper. Since the peace of 1815, most of the central European countries have been too completely examined and described for a passing tourist to offer any novelty, while the excellent Handbooks of the day leave no room for contributions of mere roadside information. Our modern writers of this class may be therefore divided into three heads:– Such as have made their own personal movements the mere thread on which to hang the general history of the countries they are traversing, or the groundwork on which to introduce a narrative of fictitious interest;– such as have remained long enough in one province or place, however obscure in itself, or however often described before, to obtain that living acquaintance with it which always commands interest;– and lastly, those who, having launched out beyond the beaten track, are privileged to offer any description, however unpretending, on the score of novelty. As specimens of the first class we may mention Miss Taylor's 'Letters from Italy:' a volume which will retain a standard value for correct research and simple beauty of writing;– Mrs. Dalkeith Holmes's 'Ride on horseback through France and Switzerland to Florence' – in which we have not a little sterling information and sterling humour too, with very much of feminine grace;– Mrs. Ashton Yates's Letters from Switzerland to her children. We instance these as all showing what we have defined as the national type of female character – minds of the highest intellectual culture, and manners of the most domestic simplicity. As a more particular illustration of what is the highest pride of modern English civilisation – the union of genuine learning and genuine refinement – we may once more name Mrs. Hamilton Gray's 'Sepulchres of Etruria.' Nor could we give a better instance of real description and opinions interwoven with a romance – though in no way needing this fictitious interest – than another established favourite, Mrs. Jameson's 'Diary of an Ennuyée.'
The list of those who have resided a longer period in one place requires more particular attention; the Englishwoman's services being here most important, and her own character most conspicuous. In this capacity it is almost exclusively affection and duty that send her abroad; and it is a proud and a pleasant feeling to trace these qualities as the chief basis of the energy and animation that appear in these books. With so much of the old Ruth at her heart, it is not in Latin or Greek, or in Physical Sciences, or even, we hope, in Mesmerism to unsex her. Wherever she goes, a little fertile patch of household comfort grows beneath her feet; wherever there is room for rational tastes, orderly habits, and gentle charities – and where is there not? – there we find the Englishwoman creating an atmosphere of virtuous happiness around her. Like the gipsy she may sing –
'We pitch our tent where'er we please,There is no part of the world, however remote, from which she does not send forth a voice of cheerful intelligence. We pass over a number of older works of great value and attraction, from Lady Calcott's 'Residence in the Brazils' down to the 'Letters from the Shores of the Baltic,' to call the reader's attention to four more recent books – dated from as opposite parts of the world as could well have been chosen – viz., 'Notes and Sketches of New South Wales;' 'The Englishwoman in Egypt;' 'Letters from Madras;' and 'Life in Mexico.'
And there we make our home.'
No work can better illustrate the distinctive traits of a woman's writing than the first of these;– the easy style – the brilliant thought – the delicate touch – the close detail – the sound sense – and then that pretty under current of natural affection which gives the true healthy English tone to the whole. It is a real pleasure to accompany such a lady over sea and land – though the former stretched monotonously around her during a four-months' merchant-vessel passage – and was exchanged for the scorched 'ever-brown' surface of a country devoid of any past or present interest, whether of an historical, poetical, pictorial, or social kind – New South Wales. But liveliness, sense, and knowledge, and a spring of youthful intelligence are hers; and a long-continued honeymoon of fresh-wedded happiness (may it never wane!) beams through every sprightly and humane thought. Independent, however, of these general recommendations, Mrs. Meredith's volume has a separate attraction of its own in the valuable store of natural history it communicates. Under a name which she has since changed – we think for the better – this lady is well known to the flower-loving world as the most graceful expositor of English botany;2 and this volume proves that her taste and knowledge extend to many other departments of natural phenomena. Birds and beasts, fishes and insects, and creeping things innumerable equally engage her intelligent attention, and are described with a simplicity and precision which wdl give much valuable information to the professed naturalist, no additional jargon to the dabbling amateur, and involuntary interest to the most uninitiated. Not a trace of pedantry appears, nor of what is quite as bad, and too frequent when women treat such matters – not the slightest affectation of a popular tone. Not a microscope nor a herbarium is seen; but keen eyes and taper fingers, and a most active mind, it is evident have been at work. We need no apology for giving a few specimens of her graceful and humorous descriptions – it matters not whether of spider, parrot, opossum, or 'pretty trailing flower.' This is the very poetry of frogs:–
'In the Macquarie, near Bathurst, I first saw the superb green frogs of Australia. The river, at the period of our visit, was for the most part a dry bed, with small pools in the deeper holes; and in these, among the few shining water-plants and confervæ, dwelt these gorgeous reptiles. In form and size they resemble a very large English frog, but their colour is more beautiful than words can describe. I never saw plant or gem of such bright tints. A vivid yellow-green seems the groundwork of the creature's array, and this is daintily pencilled over with other shades – emerald, olive, and blue greens, with a few delicate markings of yellow, like an embroidery of gold thread upon shaded velvet. And the creatures sit looking at you from their moist floating bowers, with their large eyes expressive of the most perfect enjoyment, which, if you doubt while they remain still, you can't refuse to believe in when you see them flop into the delicious cool water, and go slowly stretching their long green legs as they pass through the wavy grove of sedgy feathery plants in the river's bed; till you lose them under a dense mass of gently waving leaves. And to see this while a burning, broiling sun is scorching up your very life, and not a breeze is stirring, and the glare of the herbless earth dazzles your agonised eyes into blindness, is enough to make one willing to forego all the glories of humanity, and be changed into a frog!' – p. 107.
The transformation of a locust is another excellent specimen of her vein:–
'In the summer evenings it is common to see upon the trunks of the trees, reeds, or any upright object, a heavy-looking, humpbacked brown beetle, an inch and a half long, with a scaly coat, clawed lobster-like legs, and a somewhat dirty aspect, which latter is easily accounted for by the little hole visible in the turf at the foot of the tree, whence he has lately crept. I have sometimes carried them home and watched with great interest the poor locust "shuffle off his mortal," or rather earthly "coil" and emerge into a new world. The first symptom is the opening of a small slit which appears in the back of his coat, between the shoulders, through which, as it slowly gapes wider, a pale, soft, silky-looking texture is seen, throbbing and heaving backwards and forwards. Presently a fine square head, with two light-red eyes, has disengaged itself, and in process of time (for the transformation goes on almost imperceptibly) this is followed by the liberation of a portly body and a conclusion; after which the brown leggings are pulled off like boots, and a pale, cream-coloured, weak, soft creature very tenderly walks away from his former self, which remains standing entire, like the coat of mail of a warrior of old – the shelly plates of the eyes that are gone looking after their lost contents with a sad lack of "speculation" in them. On the back of the new-born creature lie two small bits of membrane, doubled and crumpled up in a thousand puckers, like a Limerick glove in a walnut-shell; these now begin to unfold themselves – and gradually spread smoothly out into two large, beautiful, opal-coloured wings, which by the following morning have become clearly transparent, while the body has acquired its proper hard consistency and dark colour; and when placed on a tree the happy thing soon begins its whirring, creaking, chirruping song, which continues with little intermission as long as its harmless, happy life.' – p. 117.
Our limits forbid further quotation, and we can only sum up her tarantulas, her scorpions, her ants, spiders, crabs, and grubs, and all kinds of other nasty things, with the unqualified assertion that nobody ever made them so nice before. Certainly, judging from the remaining and no less valuable portions of Mrs. Meredith's book, it seems not only that in such a country her tastes for natural history were the greatest possible blessing she could have possessed, but also a perfect mystery how the other ladies in New South Wales get on without them. If anything were wanting to convince us how little real simplicity is to be found where no real refinement exists – how indispensable are the distinctions of rank for the union of society – and how far more egregiously those follies and absurdities which we usually attribute to the great world, abound in a little one, we shall find it in her remarks on the petty vanities and jealousies, the illiterate dullness, and the tawdry extravagance of the beau monde of Sydney. Nor were the lower orders a more agreeable picture – the plenty and prosperity which at that time reigned in the colony being chiefly evidenced in the all-prevailing luxury of intoxication. Of course we do not here allude to the convicts, or to the vitiated poor in the towns, but to the habits of the settlers in the country – a farmhouse, far from all other dwellings, and every soul in it, male and female, drunk at ten o'clock in the morning!
Under these circumstances it is no wonder that we find Mrs. Meredith quitting New South Wales 'with joy' to seek a new home in Tasmania, where we hope she may find as much to interest her in her own particular line, and more in every other. Meanwhile we should be happy to think that this expression of our thanks for so interesting an addition to the Home and Colonial Library may reach her. Only if the reader of Sir Francis Drake's exploits, which follow in the same volume, should at all flag in attention, we know on whose head the sin will be.
'The Englishwoman in Egypt' is made of very different stuff, though a truer woman never wrote. Mrs. Poole's visit to Egypt was mainly prompted by her affection for her brother, Mr. Lane, and her book is what she intended it to be, an humble helpmate to his well-known 'Modern Egyptians.'
There is something so awful in the tremendous weight of the past which falls on the spirit in this Ancient of lands that we feel that it is only the highest knowledge, the deepest reverence, or the most artless simplicity, that can qualify a modern traveller to lift his eyes to the imperishable regalia of its fallen majesty. Mrs. Poole has this last qualification in every respect. She has no learning, and not much sentiment, but she has what is quite as important, the sense to know that nothing of her own is wanted in a land where the mere changes of the seasons present sacred associations to the mind. Her descriptions of the phenomena of the Nile – of the varieties of climate – of the murrain on cattle – the pestilence on man, and other plagues in Egypt – are given with a plainness which perhaps leaves no new impression on the reader, but has a sober charm of its own: you are convinced the witness is true. Nor are her remarks on the government or the people more characterised by novelty of information or freshness of idea; at the same time, without attempting to vindicate the rigour of the one, or the ignorance of the other, she contrives, by the mere force of her own kindly and humane feelings, to bring forward points of good, which in the midst of so much evil it is some comfort to dwell upon; to show us that though there be nothing of what we call freedom, there is happiness and content in the homes of Egypt down to the lowest purchased slave; and that in the midst of ignorance and superstition, the poorest peasants meet and part with blessings – age and infirmity are respected – parents venerated – and the presence and providence of the Deity ever held in remembrance. She says, 'The number of persons nearly or entirely blind, and especially the aged blind, affected us exceedingly; but we rejoiced in the evident consideration they received from all who had occasion to make room for them to pass. I should imagine that all who have visited this country must remark the decided respect which is shown to those who are superior in years; and that this respect is naturally rendered to the beggar as well as the prince. In fact, the people are educated in the belief that there is honour in the hoary head; and this glorious sentiment strengthens with their strength, and beautifully influences their conduct.'
It is in the description of the domestic customs of Egyptian families that this lady offers most novelty. Of these she presents the most agreeable picture – not a little heightened perhaps, in our minds, by the knowledge that one so gentle as herself had conformed with facility to them. Mrs. Poole entered the country with the wise and amiable conviction that if you have any wish to be pleased among a new people, you should begin by endeavouring to please them. She, as far as possible, adopted their most cherished customs, out of consideration for the feelings of the natives – but not for this reason only – she shrewdly supposed also that the same circumstances of soil and climate which recommended them to the Egyptians would equally apply to her family. The respect and cordiality, therefore, with which she is received into the chief harems of Cairo only reflect credit on her sense and manners, which present a pleasing contrast to that spirit of curiosity and intrusion which has taken many a modern fine lady behind the curtain of an Eastern harem – not to describe the manners or costumes of those who had given her hospitable entertainment, for in that there would be no harm, but to criticise or ridicule them by ignorant and absurd comparisons between modes of life which bear as little parallel as the skies they are under. Mrs. Poole is not at all surprised that Egyptian fine ladies should make their own own sherbet – cook their own dishes, and wash their own floors, for all that English fine ladies do nothing of the kind.
'The employments of the hareem chiefly consist in embroidery in an oblong frame, but they extend to superintending the kitchen, and indeed the female slaves and servants generally; and often ladies of the highest distinction cook those dishes which are particularly preferred. The sherbets are generally made by the ladies; and this is the case in one hareem I visit, where the ladies, in point of rank, are the highest of eastern haut ton. The violet sherbet is prepared by them in the following manner. The flowers are brought to them in large silver trays, and slaves commence picking off the large outer leaves. The ladies then put the centres of the violets into small mortars, and pound them until they have thoroughly expressed all the juice, with which, and fine sugar, they form round cakes of conserve, resembling, when hardened, loaf-sugar dyed green. This produces a bright green sherbet prettier than the blue or pink, and exceedingly delicate. I do not know what the blue is composed of, but am told it is a preparation of violets. The pink is of roses, the yellow of oranges, apricots, &c.' – vol. ii. p. 27.
We admire the sorceress-like effect of this:–
'You will be surprised to hear that the daughter of the Pacha, in whose presence the ladies who attend her never raise their eyes, herself superintends the washing and polishing of the marble pavements in her palaces. She stands on such occasions barefooted on a small square carpet, holding in her hand a silver rod. About twenty slaves surround her – ten throw the water, while the others follow them, wiping the marble and polishing it with smooth stones.' – ib. p. 28.
It would be absurd to quarrel with a sister of Mr. Lane's for that newfangled orthography in which he has had so many imitators. Nevertheless, it is rather a drawback in this pretty book to find all our old friends disguised under new names. Caliphs and dervishes are creatures we have known and loved since we could read at all, but 'khaleefehs' and 'darweeshes' are merely hard words, which bring nothing to our minds. The mere name of Saladin conveys associations, chivalrous, heroic, and picturesque – but Salah-ed-Deen might be the Man in the Moon, or the Phonic Spelling-book, for aught our sympathies will stir. Of course we bow to Mr. Lane's superior knowledge, but if every foreign word which has been naturalized into the English language is to be restored to its original articulation, where should we stop? The Nile itself would be the Neel; and why not that as well as the Kur'an with Mrs. Poole, or the Chooran with Mr. Lane – for they frequently disagree? We venture to say that had the spelling of the old 'Arabian Nights' been retained, the 'Englishwoman in Egypt' would have produced a far livelier effect on the imagination.
The 'Letters from Madras' are a perfect case in point of the peculiar peculiar value of a woman's book. This is the very lightest work that has ever appeared from India, yet it tells us more of what everybody cares to know than any other. Considering the ship-loads of young and intelligent women perpetually wafted over to the shores of India, and the number of years the relays of this home commodity have been going on, it might be thought that nothing relating to our Eastern colonies could have been by this time left unsaid. And perhaps no more striking proof can be given of the enervating effects of idleness and luxury, than the comparative absence of all lively feminine works upon a country where for nearly a century well-educated Englishwomen have had the amplest means of observation. We do not overlook Miss Roberts's capital sketches of Hindostan – nor Mrs. Elwood's traits of Indian life in her Overland Journey – a work for which we take this opportunity of expressing our sincere admiration; but neither of these gives the humours of this antipodes state of society like our nameless lady. Not that her position differed in any way from that of which every day brings a repetition. She married, and went out to India – halted a short time at Madras – and then proceeded up the country. Nor are her letters anything beyond what a lively, happy, well-educated young woman would write to her family upon her first domiciliation in a foreign country – full of sense and nonsense – describing everything as it came in her way – just as it suited her fancy or her fun. The only advantage she possessed, and one it is to be hoped not very uncommon, was that of being united to a worthy, sensible man, who encouraged her vivacity, but directed her judgment, and allied her with himself in whatever was useful and benevolent. There is no question, therefore, of the sound domesticity that pervades this book – indeed no happier family group has come under our notice – even the dash of flippancy which occasionally jars upon us proceeds evidently from too light a heart for us to quarrel with it.
What first struck our fair incognita seems to have been the great difference between the listless ladies of Madras and her lively self. They could tell her nothing – knew nothing – cared for nothing. Their minds seemed to have evaporated beneath an Indian sun, never to condense again. The seven years' sleep of the Beauty in the fairy tale was nothing to the seven years' lethargy of a beauty in Madras, for the enchanted lady awoke to her former energies, and the merely enervated lady, she thinks, never can. Our young bride is therefore anxious to make the most of her stock of English energy before it should go the way of all her neighbours'.
She begins at once with the things immediately under her notice – the great gallery-like rooms – the dull dinner parties – the languid conversations everlastingly about the changes in the service, till she wishes all appointments were permanent – the mode of passing your time, 'which seems to be spent alternately in tiring and resting oneself;' and above all, 'those great babies,' the native servants, who throughout furnish her with occasion for fun, and never for complaint. In this respect their domiciliation at first in a friend's house at Madras made little difference,
'For in an Indian house every visitor keeps his own establishment of servants, so as to give no trouble to those of the household. The servants find for themselves in the most curious way. They seem to me to sleep nowhere, and to eat nothing – that is to say, not in our houses, nor of our goods. They have mats on the steps, and live upon rice. But they do very little, and every one has his separate work. I have an ayah (or lady's maid) and a tailor, for the ayahs can't work; and A. has a boy, also two muddles (how charmingly expressive!), one to sweep our room, and another to bring water. There is one man to lay the cloth, another to bring in dinner, another to light the candles, and others to wait at table. Every horse has a man and a maid to himself; the maid cuts grass for him: and every dog has a boy. I inquired whether the cat had any servants, but I found she was allowed to wait upon herself; and as she seemed the only person in the establishment capable of so doing, I respected her accordingly. Besides all these acknowledged attendants, each servant has a kind of muddle or double of his own, who does all the work that can be put upon him, without being found out by the master and mistress.' – p. 38.
'Every creature seems eaten up with laziness – even my horse pretends he is too fine to switch off his own flies with his own long tail, but turns his head round to the horsekeeper to order him to do it for him.' – p. 50.
'They are indeed a lazy race – they lie on their mats strewing the floor like cats and dogs, and begin to puff and whine whenever one gives them the least employment. The truest account of their occupations was given me in her blundering English by my muddle. I said, "Ellen, what are you doing; why don't you come when I call you?" "No, ma'am." "What are you doing, I say?" "Ma'am, I never do" – meaning, I am doing nothing' – p. 54.
– or rather 'I never do anything.' Then comes the awful heat – the regular land-wind, and plenty of it – like a blast from a furnace; when, with all the lofty rooms, and punkahs always going, and perpetually wetted tatties, the temperature can be with difficulty kept down to 90°. And our lady sits under the wet mats, with her hands in a basin of water. 'And the leaves of the trees are all curled up, and the grass crackles under one's feet like snow, and the sea is a dead yellow colour, and the air and the light a sort of buff, as if the elements had the jaundice: and we are all so cross – creeping about and whining, and then lying down and growling – I hope it won't last long.' – p. 78. Nor does it, above ten days. She says most truly that a small income is real wretchedness in India; for what would be luxuries in England, such as large airy houses, carriages, plenty of servants, &c., are there necessaries, indispensable for health, to say nothing of comfort. 'The real luxury, and for which one would give any price, would be the power of going without such matters.'
Now, however, comes a refreshing change of scene. A. is appointed district judge at Rajahmundry, 'in a really Indian part of India' – and they move thither with a ship-load of goods and an army of servants, and a little lady baby in addition, who greatly enlivens the scene. There they live like 'most uncommonly great grandees,' or rather, to our view, like a thoroughly sensible, right-thinking English family – visiting with their Rajah neighbours, instituting schools and reading-rooms for the natives – performing divine service in their own house – making roads, digging wells, and doing all the good in their power. Whoever, indeed, wishes to know more upon that painful, disappointing, and mysterious subject – the absence of all real and effectual progress in the conversion of the Hindoos – will here find much practical good sense, none the worse for being sprightlily given. That the exertions of many admirable and devoted men in this field have done some good, as the example of all good men must, there can be no question; but also that there are many who have retarded more than promoted the cause of Christianity, by insisting on teaching the natives nothing else till they had taught them that, is equally beyond doubt. Experience has proved that there is no more certain way of preventing the entrance of Christianity among the Hindoos than the open attempt to introduce it; and that at best the easier admission of it among the Pariahs only bespeaks that previous indifference to matters of religion which makes the conversion worthless. 'I of Mistress' caste. I eat anything' – this is the key too generally to Pariah Christianity – or even granting it is sincere, this only increases the barrier to its progress beyond these outcasts who have nothing to lose by any change.
Speaking of a worthy missionary settled near them, whose native hearers, having gratified their curiosity, had entirely abandoned him, and who honestly confessed that he had not met with a single instance of a real desire for truth, she very sensibly observes, 'That is the great difficulty with these poor natives. They have not the slightest idea of the value and advantage of truth. No one in England knows the difficulty of making any impression upon them. The best means seems to be education, because false notions of science form one great part of their religion. Every belief of theirs is interwoven with some matter of religion, and if once some of their scientific absurdities were overthrown, a large portion of their religion would go with them.' (p. 198.) The readiness, or rather positive ambition of the caste natives to acquire the rudiments of knowledge, so long as they are not directly mixed up with the doctrines of Christianity, is, indeed, sufficient proof that in their case the lesser good must be made the pioneer to the greater.
The newly-appointed Judge and his active lady were no sooner settled 'up country' than they busied themselves at considerable trouble and expense in establishing a school for caste boys. A Brahmin was engaged to teach Gentoo, and a half-caste to teach English – the Bible was freely read and translated – the attendance rapidly increased to above eighty scholars, and almost every day a pretty little boy was found 'salaaming' at the gate for admittance. All, in short, was going on as well as sense and benevolence could desire. At this time a dissenting missionary happened to pass – was received at their house with customary Anglo-Indian hospitality, and having, in return, favoured his hosts with his opinions regarding the enormity of bishops, and the bigotry of ordination, he adjourned to the school, and without the knowledge or permission of the Judge, held forth to the boys. This soon created a disturbance, which he proceeded to augment, by seizing hold of a native's lingum, or badge of caste, and taking it away. At this, the grossest insult you can offer a Hindoo, the whole population rose in a ferment – the boys brought back their books, and although the dissenter was obliged to restore the badge, the feeling excited was so strong, that the school was abandoned for a while, and then recommenced with not half the number of scholars.
There is plenty of temptation for quotation in this merry volume – the visit to the Rajah – the dog Don's scene with the family of monkeys – the petitioners to baby – the Moonshee's idea of the planetary system, and his astonishment that 'Europe lady or gentleman' should go to hell! &c. But we must pass on to a very different degree of longitude, though our latitude does not much vary.
Madame Calderon de la Barca is very distinct from the ladies that precede her. She has as much liveliness as our Madras friend – as much intelligence as Mrs. Meredith, and more spirit than Mrs. Poole; but with all this, though her book engages the attention in a high degree, and exhibits great and various ability, it fails to interest us in the writer. Something of this, however, may be owing to a reason, which is perhaps meritorious, and certainly fortunate in her as the wife of a foreigner; viz. to the very un-English nature of her writing. Madame Calderon was a Scotchwoman – and a Presbyterian – we have reason to suppose; she is now a Spaniard – and a Roman Catholic, as we have more than reason to suppose. And, accordingly, we have a Spanish indifference to bloodshed, a Spanish enthusiasm for bull-fights, a Murillo glow of colour, a Cervantes touch of humour, a gentle defence of the cigarito, and a hard hit at John Knox, which can leave no doubt of our quondam countrywoman being perfectly at home in her adopted land. The reel and the bolero may be nearer allied than we imagined. Madame Calderon, we are told, was distinguished in early days for her accomplishments and personal attractions among the circles of her native capital, Edinburgh; instead, however, of taking a Scotch advocate or W.S., and settling there, she removed with her family to New York, where again she steered clear of all Yankee importunities, and finally accomplished her destiny by bestowing her hand upon a Spanish diplomatist, a collateral descendant (we believe) of the great dramatist Calderon, who was shortly after appointed minister for the Court of Madrid at Mexico.
The work commences with the departure of the envoy from New York; and the easy humour and brilliant description of the first shipboard chapter show at once the power with which the story is sustained throughout. At Havannah, the first Spanish territory the lady had touched, they are received with distinguished honours; and balls, dinners, and operas, female Crœsuses and men millionnaires pass before us in a perfect blaze. Thence another tedious voyage, made most amusing to the reader, to Vera Cruz, with a renewal of festivities. There they take mules for Mexico, breakfasting en route with General Santa Anna, and then launch into a wilderness of all the glowing productions of Terra Caliente – pine-apples, oranges, lemons, bananas, and granaditas, above their heads – roses and myrtles, carnations and jasmine at their feet – 'delicious eggs, butter, and custard off new and wonderful trees,' within arm's length – splendid woods, fertile plains, stupendous mountains, glimpses of distant sea, and expanses of sapphire sky, 'and not a human being or passing object to be seen which is not in itself a picture.' And all this in the month of December! What an earthly Paradise! It is quite a comfort to know that the road was enough to break their bones, and that there were daily robberies and murders committed upon it.
At length, distant volcanoes and spires innumerable announced the city of Mexico; and our authoress's thoughts had wandered back to the time 'when the great panorama first burst upon the eyes of the King-fearing, God-loving conqueror; and the mild bronze-coloured Emperor advanced himself in the midst of his Indian nobility, with rich dress and unshod feet, to welcome his unbidden and unwelcome guest;' but speedily her ruminations were put to flight by a very different crowd, consisting of half the population of modern Mexico, who had turned out to welcome the bearer of the olive-branch from old Spain, and who now constrained them to enter a splendid state-carriage, all crimson and gold, and drawn by four white horses. 'In the midst of this immense procession of troops, carriages, and horsemen, we entered the ancient city of Montezuma.'
This is succeeded by fêtes, serenades, masked balls, and bull-fights-extraordinary, in honour of the Ambassador; with the introduction to all the Mexican world of fashion, and a most animated description of dress, jewellery, visiting, etiquette, and bad servants.
But it is impossible to follow a lady who seems never to have known one moment of fear, lassitude, or repose. All is excitement from morning till night. Nuns taking the veil – full-dress processions to the Virgin – political émeutes which batter down houses, and kill some of her friends – thunderstorms with raging torrents and uproarious mules – cock-fights as well as bull-fights – balls al fresco, as well as balls in palaces, with every other imaginable kind of excitement which southern temperaments require, and southern climates furnish; and such suns, such diamonds, and such eyes presiding over all, till we are kept in one perpetual firework. We feel that it is not only tropical life we are leading, but, with the exception of an occasional trait of Scotch shrewdness, and, we must say it, of Yankee vulgarity, a tropical mind which is addressing us. None other could have entered into the spirit of the people with such mingled ardour and sang froid. It is a most brilliant book, and doubtless very like life in Spanish Mexico; but we may save ourselves the trouble of looking for anything domestic in it.
This scene is characteristic both of the lady and the country – namely, the Herraderos, or branding of the bulls.
'The next morning we set off early to the Plaza de Toros. The day was fresh and exhilarating. All the country people from several miles around were assembled, and the trees to their topmost branches presented a collection of bronze faces and black eyes, belonging to the Indians, who had taken their places there as comfortably as spectators in a one shilling gallery. A platform opposite ours was filled with wives and daughters of agents and small farmers – little rancheras with short white gowns and rebosós. There was a very tolerable band of music perched upon a natural orchestra. Bernardo and his men were walking or riding about, and preparing for action. Nothing could be more picturesque than the whole scene.
'Seven hundred bulls were driven in from the plains, bellowing loudly, so that the whole air was filled with their fierce music. The universal love which the Mexicans have for these sports amounts to a passion. All their money is reserved to buy new dresses for these occasions – silver rolls, or gold linings for their hats, or new deer-skin pantaloons, or embroidered jackets. The accidents that happen are innumerable, but nothing damps their ardour: it beats fox-hunting. The most extraordinary part of the scene is the facility with which these men throw the laso. The bulls being all driven into an enclosure, one after another, or sometimes two or three at a time were chosen from amongst them and driven into the plaza, where they were received with shouts of applause if they appeared fierce and likely to afford good sport, and of irony if they turned to fly, which happened more than once. Three or four bulls are driven in. They stand for a moment proudly reconnoitring their opponents. The horsemen gallop up, armed only with the laso, and with loud insulting cries of "Ah Toro!" challenge them to the combat. The bulls paw the ground, and then plunge furiously at the horses, frequently wounding them at the first onset. Round they go in fierce gallop, bulls and horsemen, among the shouts and cries of the spectators. The horseman throws the laso – the bull shakes his head free of the cord, tosses his horns proudly, and gallops on: but his fate is inevitable. Down comes the whirling rope, and encircles his thick neck. He is thrown down, struggling furiously, and repeatedly dashes his head against the ground in rage and despair. Then, his legs being also tied, the man with the hissing, red-hot iron, in the form of a letter, brands him on the side, with the token of his dependence upon the lord of the soil. Some of the bulls stand this martyrdom with Spartan heroism, and do not utter a cry; but others, when the iron enters their flesh, burst out into long bellowing roars that seem to echo through the whole country. They are then loosened, get upon their legs again, and, like so many branded Cains, are driven out into the country, to make room for others. Such roaring, such shouting, such an odour of singed hair and biftek au naturel, such playing of music, and such wanton risks as were run by the men!' – p. 229.
This is very striking and picturesque writing, and would do admirably under Basil Hall's, or any other man's name; but, to our feeling, there is neither a woman's hand nor heart in it. Modern philosophers may think and write what they please about the mental equality of the sexes, but ladies may depend upon this, that some of the most vigorous and forcible writing in the English language would lose all its charm with a woman's name prefixed to it. Women may become orators and heroes in sudden emergencies – they may do feats of mental or physical manliness to defend a parent, a husband, or a child, which command our most enthusiastic admiration; but take away the sacred object – remove the high occasion which nerved her nature, or suspended it, and however wonderful or beautiful in itself the power exhibited, she may be sure that the feeling she wounds is far closer to our heart than the feeling she gratifies.
Madame Calderon's description of a bull-fight in the country is equally spirited and unwomanlike. Even the little pity vouchsafed has the air of being thrown in for decency's sake.
'In the afternoon we all rode to the Plaza de Toros. The evening was cool, and our horses good, the road pretty and shady, and the plaza itself a most picturesque enclosure surrounded by high trees. Chairs were placed for us on a raised platform, and the bright green of the trees, the flashing dresses of the toreadors, the roaring of the fierce bulls, the spirited horses, the music and the cries, the Indians shouting from the trees up which they had climbed, formed a scene of savage grandeur which, for a short time at least, is very interesting. Bernardo was dressed in blue satin and gold – the picadors in black and silver – the others in maroon-coloured satin and gold. All those on foot wear knee breeches and white silk stockings, a little black cap with ribbons, and a plait of hair streaming down behind. The horses were generally good, and, as each new adversary appeared, seemed to participate in the enthusiasm of their riders. One bull after another was driven in roaring, and as here they are generally fierce, and their horns not blunted, as at Mexico, it is a much more dangerous affair. The bulls were not killed, but sufficiently tormented. One, stuck full of arrows and fireworks, all adorned with ribbons and coloured paper, made a sudden spring over an immensely high wall, and dashed into the woods. I thought afterwards of this unfortunate animal – how it must have been wandering about all night, bellowing with pain, the concealed arrows piercing his flesh, and looking like gay ornaments. If the arrows had stuck too deep, and that the bull could not rub them against the trees, he must have bled to death. Had he remained, his fate would have been better, for when the animal is entirely exhausted they throw him down with a laso, and, pulling out the arrows, put ointment into the wounds.
'The skill of the men is surprising; but the most curious part of the exhibition was when a coachman of —'s, a strong, handsome Mexican, mounted on the back of a fierce bull, which plunged and flung himself about as if possessed by a legion of demons, and forced the animal to gallop round and round the arena. The bull is first caught by the laso, and thrown on his side, struggling furiously; the man mounts while he is still on the ground. At the same moment the laso is withdrawn, and the bull starts up, maddened by feeling the weight of his unusual burden. The rider must dismount in the same way, the bull being first thrown down, otherwise he would be gored in a moment. It is terribly dangerous, for if the man were to lose his seat his death is nearly certain; but these Mexicans are superb riders..... The amusement was suddenly interrupted by sudden darkness and a tremendous storm of rain and thunder, in the midst of which we mounted our horses and galloped home.
'Another bull-fight last evening! It is like Pulque; one makes wry faces faces at it at first, and then begins to like it. One thing was soon discovered, which was that the bulls, if so inclined, could leap upon our platform, as they occasionally sprang over a wall twice as high. There was a part of the spectacle rather too horrible. The horse of one of the picadors was gored, his side torn up by the bull's horn, and in this state, streaming with blood, he was forced to gallop round the circle.' – p. 130.
We give Madame Calderon credit for capital nerves; doubtless she would stand a public execution as well. But we have another lady's account of a bull-fight, quite as characteristic, in Mrs. Romer's book, 'The Rhone, the Darro, and the Guadalquivir.' It is true that before the Spanish ladies were well warmed to the scene she was pressing her hands before her eyes in terror and pity, and by the time one noble horse was gored had fled the arena in horror and shame that she had ever sought it. But what Mrs. Romer dared not see has left a far more vivid impression on our minds than all that the Scotch-Spaniard composedly examined.
Mrs. Romer's well written book introduces us to our third and last class, – books recording wanderings of great length, undertaken solely for pleasure and curiosity, consuming much time and money, and as such indulged in especially by those who have both at their command. This class extends to ladies of the highest nobility in the land, who, by the publication of their own journals, have undesignedly introduced many a reader to the manners and phraseology of a state of society quite as foreign as any they can undertake to describe. We are naturally anxious to know how those who go clothed in purple and fine linen, and fare sumptuously every day, get on in the rude ups and downs of travelling life; for though yachts may be furnished with every luxury – though medical men and air-cushions, and ladies' maids and canteens, and portable tents and Douro chairs, and daguerreotypes, and every modern invention that money can procure, may be included in their outfit – yet the winds will blow, and the waves toss, and the sun beat down, and the dust rise up, and the rain soak through, and hunger, and thirst, and fatigue, and things their delicacy knew not of before, assail them as if they were mere flesh and blood like other people. Upon the whole, however, these tell-tale books are very creditable reporters, and show us that spirit of good sense, good feeling, and good principle which we have ever fondly attributed to the highest ranks of our English women. Modern Europe, it is true, has been tolerably tutored into the anticipation of every English want; and the daintiest woman may now traverse the greater part of it without a rough road, a sour dish, or a doubtful bed. But what is modern Europe to a modern traveller? France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, no longer count in a fine lady's journal. Trieste is their starting-post, not Dover; and Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Cairo, the cities they desire to see, 'and then die,' or return home and publish, as the case may be. Rides on horseback have now given way to rides on camel-back, dromedary-back, pick-a-back, or any back that can be had; gondolas have yielded to caiques, chars-à-bancs to arabás, laquais de place to kavashes, couriers to dragomen; convents have merged in harems; the Pyramids have extinguished Vesuvius, and St. Sophia has cut out St. Peter's. Honourable and Right Honourable beauties now listen to howling dervishes instead of Tyrolese minstrels; know more of Arabic than their grandmothers did of French; and flirt with beys and pachas instead of counts and barons, and doubtless find them answer the purpose quite as well. As Mrs. Dawson Damer, speaking of Lord Waterford's residence at Cairo a few years back, naively observes, 'A European nobleman's visit to Cairo was then a much more rare occurrence than it has lately become. One is a little désillusionné now about the East, when at an hotel you are shown the rooms occupied by Lord and Lady S—n, Lord C— H—n, the Hon. Mr. L—, the Baronet and his lady, &c.'
There is perhaps more in this clever lady's remark than even her philosophy dreamt of. Do what we will, a painful thought has haunted us throughout this article. The present generation may take their pleasure with plenty of territory before them, but it is the fate of the future tourist that troubles us. Geologists, they say, have insured a supply of coal for several centuries to come; but who is to supply new countries when the old ones are done? It is all very well to say that the world is wide: what does that help if ladies' minds be wider still? We cannot expect them to put up with cast-off cataracts or second-hand deserts. However, the Niger is still to explore, and two large deserts somewhere in Tartary, and a great many islands in the Pacific not yet done; and visits to return from the North American Indians; and no handbook on Central America yet ready; and, in short, a great deal of lady's work still on hand; and meanwhile we have only to be thankful that it was reserved for our times to reap the opinions of ladies of the first quality upon subjects of the highest classical, biblical, and historical importance – a privilege which, to borrow a phrase from their own dictionary, comprehending apparently all that can be desired, is 'highly satisfactory.'
One lady, for example, is inclined to believe that Mount Thabor was not the scene of the Transfiguration, and that the illustration of 'a city on a hill' was not suggested by Saphet. One expresses herself as having been seriously disappointed in the Jordan, which was unmannerly of the river after she had come so far to see it; but, on the other hand, is 'quite satisfied' about the site of Jericho. Another declares the Temple of Theseus at Athens to be 'a positive bijou,' though that of Jupiter Olympius is 'less satisfactory.' This, however, is redeemed by her finding the accidental profile of the Duke of Wellington on the rock of the Acropolis, 'something in itself particularly sublime and satisfactory'! Then the fair commentators do not always agree, which is, in one sense, also 'satisfactory.' Lady Francis Egerton doubts whether the church of the Holy Sepulchre, within the walls of Jerusalem, be really the site of Mount Calvary; and indeed proceeds to question whether Mount Calvary were ever a mount at all – while Mrs. Dawson Damer thinks the evidences of its being the actual site 'highly satisfactory,' and throws no light whatsoever on the question of the Mount. Again, Lady F. Egerton implies that she wishes the good Empress Helena further, only decidedly not at Jericho, for having built up and over all the most remarkable Scripture localities; while Mrs. Damer thinks that her memory should be revered on that very account, as having preserved what otherwise would have been inevitably lost. Then the Areopagus did not strike her ladyship as at all an appropriate place for St. Paul's addressing the Athenians; while her indefatigable opponent declares it just the very spot, of all others, best fitted for such an occasion. On the whole, we fancy it might be as well that such controversies should be left for the solid erudition and masculine diligence of Dr. Robinson and Lord Nugent. Each lady, however, with her husband and child, was in turn taken for the King and Queen of England – the one travelling with a Prince of Wales, the other with a Princess Royal – which must have been, in every respect, particularly 'satisfactory.'
Another advantage we must by no manner of means pass over. What is the use of plain Mrs. Anybody's getting into courts and harems, and scraping acquaintance with all sorts of illustrious strangers? They cannot tell us who they are like! or, if they do, it is somebody that nobody knows anything about; whereas ladies of rank and fashion, by comparing people of quality abroad with people of quality at home, have it in their power to give us the most luminous ideas of both. Thanks to Mrs. Dawson Damer, we now know that one of Osman Bey's wives is like Lady F—y S—t, and another like Lady F— E— and that a sister of Halib Effendi's is the very image both of Lady A— F—x and of Lady C—y; and we are much the wiser for the information. Also that King Otho of Greece is an unfavourable likeness of the late Lord Durham, which is the best, it appears, that any of these ladies can say for his majesty.
But in spite of these and some other little fineries which lie on the surface of these works, there is much more of good feeling and right principle they cannot hide. Lady F. Egerton's little volume, taken all in all, well justifies the respect with which we have always heard her name mentioned. Although she travelled with all the comfort and protection which station and wealth could secure to her, and the smooth ways of pilgrimage now permit, yet that one indispensable qualification which the Christian reader demands in all who presume to approach the altar-place of our faith, the absence of which no array of learning and no brilliancy of talent can supply – namely, the genuine pilgrim's heart – that we find in Lady F. Egerton's unpretending journal, more than in any other modern expedition to the Holy Land we know. It is not to be expected that casual and passing travellers should be able to furnish us with any new associations of importance, but this lady has done what is as good, if not better: she has responded to our old ones. In every expression of her sentiments – in her deep emotion at first beholding Jerusalem – in her gratitude at being permitted to enter its gates – in her modest hope that the expedition thither had been the source of religious improvement to herself and all her party – we find those feelings which the heart naturally associates with the sacred territory, and which, she needs us not to remind her, are of far more importance in one of her high estate than any stores of erudition or powers of research she might have desired to possess. – But Lady Francis Egerton has received praise after which all other tributes must indeed appear worthless. The companion of her wanderings concludes his own very beautiful record of the Pilgrimage with some lines which we must transfer to our page:–
| 'If I too much|
And far have ventured; if the cherub's wing,
Which shades the ark, I have presumed to touch;
With voice profane if I have dared to sing
Of themes too high; and swept the sacred string
To none but masters of the lyre allowed;–
Then may this world's neglect or censure fling
Its shadow o'er the faults it blames, and shroud
The rhymer and the rhyme in one oblivious cloud.
'Yet, if the world reject the Pilgrim's muse,
Wilt thou, the Erminia of his brief crusade,
The tribute of the Wanderer's song refuse,
Too feebly uttered and too long delayed?
Whose voice could cheer him; and whose accents made,
Like sound of waters bubbling from the sand,
The desert smile; whose presence, undismayed
By toil or danger, o'er our fainting band
Spread, like the prophet's rock, shade in a weary land.
'O guide, companion, monitress, and friend! –
And dearer words than these remain behind, –
If, in the strain in which I fain would blend
Thy name, some charm to which the world were blind,
Some dream of past enjoyment thou canst find;
If, to thine ear addressed and only thine,
One note of music murmur on the wind;
If in this wreath one flower be found to twine
And thou pronounce it sweet, all that I ask is mine.'3
Lady Grosvenor (now Marchioness of Westminster) is in no respect to be included among the ranks of fine ladies, except on the score of elevated station. Her 'Narrative of a Yacht Voyage' requires no assistance from her title to give it interest. It is simply a sensible, healthy, and well-written work, utterly free from all affectations, and especially from that which apes humility, and betraying the woman of rank chiefly in the total absence of all attempt to display it. None indeed can open these volumes without feeling that they are conversing with a high-bred, independent-spirited woman – too proud to condescend to be vain – who, having read well, and thought well, and been surrounded from infancy with society of the highest intellect, and objects of the finest art, becomes instructive without any pretension to teach, and interesting, though giving only the simple narrative of her every-day life. Her ladyship is so truly the Englishwoman too in her tastes – such delight in a garden, such interest in a horse, such enjoyment of the sea:– her mind has evidently so much fresh air to it – through all her wanderings you see so evidently the healthy English home she has left. Bonâ fide, however, Lady Grosvenor never entirely quitted the atmosphere of home. Her voyages were chiefly performed in her lord's own yacht, and their land expeditions restricted to short visits to the Ionian Isles and the coast of Africa, with a few longer excursions into the interior of Spain and Greece. – We are thus spared all those discontented descriptions of hotel ill-treatment which give a sameness to many journals, while the rough accommodations on the rough road to Granada are described with a humour, as if she thought them, what she probably did, part of the enjoyment. Certainly to make the periplus of the Mediterranean in one's own yacht, and stop for a bit of inland as often as the fancy moves – would seem to be the perfection of pleasure – always barring sea-sickness.
Lady Grosvenor's book is evidently a close transcript of her private journal: there are some chapters in it that could not have been penned except for the use of her own girls, and if she had left these out it might perhaps have been better – certain abridgments of Plutarch for instance. But with these exceptions, we advise no skipping. Throughout she enjoys Nature enthusiastically, tells a story admirably, and here and there gives little touches of truth, which at once light up the scene. For example, speaking of the pestiferous marsh in which ancient Ephesus stands, she says:– 'The whole place swarmed with reptiles and insects, the noisy humming of which latter was quite repulsive. Locusts sprang at every step, huge dragon flies, black beetles, and spiders, and enormous ants, and all either creeping, jumping, or gliding about, as in a bad dream.' – vol. ii. p. 101.
Also describing the Temple of Seleucus on the Island of Rhodes:– 'Fragments of columns now repose in confusion, one over the other; the separate blocks disunited, but lying prostrate in layers from east to west, like a string of beads unthreaded.' – vol. ii. p. 304.
From the long habit of a sea life, her ladyship had evidently familiarised herself with the anatomy of a vessel and technicalities of nautical phraseology. Instead, therefore, of mincing the matter with feminine paraphrases, she simply makes use of the terms employed around her. Such passages as these look like an experienced sailor:– 'But a breeze sprang up from the northwest at ten A M., which increased rapidly with a succession of tremendous white squalls; we double-reefed the mainsail, furled the top-gallant sail, close reefed the topsail, brailed up the foresail, single reefed the fore staysail, and furled the jib; and even then the ship heeled a good deal, and everything was topsyturvy in the cabin.' – vol. ii. p. 217. At the same time we confess that we are taking the correctness of the sea dialect for granted. We do not forget how a certain page in Gulliver took in the landsmen, and maddened Swift's friend the old admiral. At all events the Countess was a fearless sailor – for the Dolphin suffered its full share of sea vicissitudes, and there is a description of a three-days storm off the coast of Portugal, which no reader will find it easy to forget.
The little Dolphin schooner is a great favourite, it would seem, with the fair sex, and has since crossed the Atlantic in the service of another English lady, Mrs. Houston, who spends many an epithet of admiration upon her, and announces with characteristic pride that, from the day of their departure to the day of their return to the Channel, she had not 'shipped a single sea!' We have not room for that notice of the 'Voyage to the Texas' which its lively pages warrant, but it is a work which well accords with our estimate of the travelling Englishwoman. The lady is a daughter of Mr. Jesse, so well known for his charming contributions to the popular literature of Natural History: and she inherits the easy spirit of the paternal pen. Her adventures are often most diverting, and the buoyancy of her temperament seems almost unique – yet all is amiable, gentle, and good.
With the Hon. Mrs. Dawson Damer we return at once to the innermost boudoir of modern fashion. But though the light is stifled with draperies, and the air heavy with perfumes, and every step impeded with prettinesses, and uselessnesses, and nonsenses without end, yet a stream of pure feeling plays through, and genuine mirth is heard, and genuine kindness felt; and something tells us that the inmate must be both healthy, happy, and worthy. There is no objection in the world to a little finery if it be but well done: those only are ridiculous who are one thing and fancy themselves another. Now Mrs. Dawson Damer is real; she knows her own foibles as well as anybody else, and is too ready to laugh at them herself for her readers to do so long. Her affectation, too, is of that nice, simple, frank kind which flourishes under any circumstances, makes itself happy with any materials, and can ever and anon slip into positive nature without any very palpable change of manner. This lady can write her own tongue very admirably when she pleases, though she prefers a pepper and salt of French and English, in which she equally excels. In the midst of her gayest scenes, one perceives every now and then – even when she whispers it to a Pacha acquaintance – that she is thinking of the 'four deserted children' at home. She travels with every imaginable luxury – lackies and abigails, cook, courier, doctor, and artist – but sets to work to make the beds at Ramla, and picks up sticks herself in the desert with the greatest glee. The French cook is in agonies because he cannot get a turkey for his second course in the tent below Mount Horeb: but Mrs. Damer is quite contented with the five chickens he is forced to substitute. Her tent is evidently, wherever she goes, like a fragment of Mayfair: but she is always ready to bear a hand in tricking it out. She has all sorts of pretty longings and wishes – thinks that groups of slaves, each holding a candle, as she sees them in Shami Bey's harem, are the prettiest way imaginable of lighting a room, and fears that 'these animated candlesticks' will quite spoil her for crystal and ormolu – longs to buy a little estate in the island of Rhodes, 'if only to furnish sweet oranges and lemons for one's desserts,' but at the same time puts up with all the tracasseries, désagrémens, and malentendres, and other disagreeables – for which of course there are no equivalents in the English language – with perfect equanimity of temper, and has even a kind word to say of the worst accommodation. Some people make you dislike their very virtues – this charming magician manages to put you in good humour even with her foibles.
Among all these
'Young ladies with pink parasolswe pick up sundry notices and traits of Mehemet Ali – quite as correct as those the newspapers supply, and rather more interesting. In spite of his buying up his subjects' cotton cheap, and selling it out dear, and other Pacha-like discrepancies, we feel that an Eastern Peter the Great is governing Egypt – that the massacre of the Mamelukes is but a counterpart to that of the Strelitzes – nay, that the cruelties of the Mahometan despot are less obnoxious on the whole than those of the Christian czar. Mrs. Dawson Damer gives a most spirited account of him – having, on occasion of his inspecting the arsenal, stationed herself close by, and been presented 'as far as ladies could be.'
That glide about the Pyramids,'
'I never saw so striking and intelligent a countenance, nor one with half the variety of expression. The eye had at one moment that of positive benevolence, and an instant afterwards, when some of the machinery went wrong, it gained the most savage expression; and again when an awkward-looking boy fell down in turning a wheel, it assumed an appearance of fun and mischief, accompanied by a chuckle, for it could not be called a laugh. His costume was very simple – a greenish brown suit, trimmed with ugly light fur, and a red fez (cap) – and he wore pea-green silk gloves. His cloak was held up by one attendant, more as if for the purpose of keeping it out of the dirt than for ceremony. The Captain Pacha was on his left, and Burghos Bey, his prime minister, and five or six others, stood near him, but there was no appearance of the etiquette of a court. The only smart thing belonging to him was his large cherry-coloured parasol, trimmed with gold fringe, of which an ill-dressed Arab had charge, but which the heat of the day did not oblige him to unfurl.
'We were told that except Mrs. Light, who went in male costume to his levée, no European ladies had ever been in such direct communication with him before. He seemed to be much amused and flattered by our anxiety to see him, and remarked that Minny [Miss Damer] must be the youngest European traveller of her time. All this was communicated through the medium of his interpreter, in Turkish. He professes to know no other language, but I thought as our answers in French were translated, that he frequently appeared to have forestalled the interpreter.' – vol. ii. p. 228.
Thanks, too, to Mrs. Damer's artist, M. Chacaton, we are furnished with a portrait of the Pacha in every way to match this description – representing a handsome intelligent countenance, with an ample brow and a white beard, and a pair of eyes it must be very difficult to throw dust into.
But the best is still to come. It may not be known to all our readers that Mrs. Damer has struck out quite a new line of collecting – and that, instead of filling a show book with the autographs or portraits of distinguished individuals, she is satisfied with nothing less than a lock of their own hair! Having, not long since, succeeded in abstracting the six last black hairs from the noblest and wisest head in Europe, it is not surprising that she plucked up courage on the present occasion; bethought herself that she might not be passing through Alexandria again in a hurry, and that Pachas only live for ever in figures of speech, and, in short, applied for the same token, black or white, from under the turban – no, alas! the chimney-pot fez – that governs Modern Egypt. Mehemet Ali was startled;– if she had asked for his head it would have surprised him less! however, he remembered the bright pair of Frank eyes which had pierced him through and through at the arsenal – his heart softened, and though he eluded her immediate request under some excuse about the law of the Prophet – (of course, he had not a hair to give) – he made ample amends by promising much more.
'He said that in a collection, containing Nelson's, Napoleon's, and Wellington's, his was as yet unworthy to be included; but, if posterity judged otherwise, he would leave in his will a request to Ibrahim Pacha to present me with his beard; and if I did not outlive him, it was to descend to the son or daughters who inherited my collection. The ages and names of my children were asked for, and these testamentary arrangements were very gravely made, and written down by the secretary sent for for that purpose. In the evening, at a little party at Captain L.'s, we heard that all Alexandria was ringing with this little episode.' – vol. ii. p. 234.
No wonder! What European lady had ever got so far before? Henceforth all generations of Dawson Damer will swear by the beard of the Pacha!
We feel that we owe our readers some apology for having thus late deferred the mention of a lady whose rank takes precedence of all the foregoing, and whose literary merit is no less distinct. We mean Harriet Vane, Marchioness of Londonderry. To Lord Londonderry the public were indebted only a few years back for that picture of the Northern Courts which no other pen but his could have supplied. To Lady Londonderry it now owes the completion of the set, by the addition of those of the South, including Constantinople – and two other Courts, never we believe described before, namely, Tetuan and Tangiers. Not, we are happy to say, that information of this value has been in any way purchased by the separation of two personages whose harmony of tastes is so conspicuously exemplary. On the contrary, it is pleasing to observe that Lady Londonderry followed Lord Londonderry north, and Lord Londonderry accompanied Lady Londonderry south. In addition therefore to other excellent merits, this work tends in every way to corroborate that doctrine of English domesticity on which we have dwelt, and cannot fail to impress the lower ranks of readers with the most salutary veneration for the connubial relations of exalted life.
In every other respect, indeed, vast sacrifice was incurred; but this, perhaps, considering the chief aim of their travels, was not to be avoided; for it is obvious that this noble pair were far too much impressed with the responsibility of their high station to think of travelling for their own pleasure. Their objects seem to have been multitudinous – but we are satisfied that their motive was always identical, and that of the most single-hearted description. Sometimes one is tempted to fancy that they had quitted home and all its comforts for the express purpose of binding the British Court in relations of closer amity with those of the rest of Europe, and, as we have said, of some parts of Africa, than the mere official modes of intercourse had been able to effect. At other times it looks as if their exclusive end and aim was the establishment of civilization in backward and careless countries, and the encouragement of it in those that were taking more pains. Perhaps, a few pages further on, you are induced to surmise that they had no other earthly object than to erect themselves as living sign-posts in the most unfrequented regions of Europe, Asia, and Africa – for the warning or instruction of all those who might follow in their steps. But before we conclude the book, there is not a doubt upon our minds that the illustrious travellers were solely and entirely sustained by the desire of impressing upon mankind the great moral lesson of the insufficiency of the highest rank, consequence, and excellence, to screen its owners from the various evils of this world. In short, from whatever aspect we view it, the same broad principle of philanthropy pervades this work, though its actual application is not always so clear.
This must also account for the very decided tone we observe in her Ladyship's style of writing – even as to matters that usually pass for trifles. But Lady Londonderry feels and shows that to those who have a great public object at heart, there are no such things as trifles. Strict uncompromising partiality is her motto throughout. Drachenfels disappointed her, and she does not hesitate to tell it so; whereas Wiesbaden was larger than she expected, and she is equally open in her approbation. Scenery, however beautiful, if it lasted too long, she naturally pronounces troublesome; at the same time the humblest effort of an echo to give her pleasure is met by encouragement. Leaky steamers, mismanaged hotels, and obstinate Germans, she thinks it false humanity to spare; while, on the other hand, the worst behaved weather is admonished rather in astonishment than anger, and in the darkest night she blames nobody but herself for not having bespoken a moon. The same undeviating frankness accompanies her into the social departments of their private life. Her Ladyship dwells with amiable minuteness upon the eagerness of various illustrious individuals to do them honour, but is equally anxious we should be informed of all occasions when personages of similar dignity manifested inferior discernment. In this respect, indeed, the Marquis and Marchioness seem to have been particularly tried; and 'Royal forgetfulness' heads more than one chapter. Lord Londonderry some years ago was treated with what he took for studious rudeness by the Court of the Hague – who can have forgotten that horror, or the consequent kick at the ignoble Dutch nation? – This time the King of Bavaria, who, as Crown Prince, had been very intimate with him, returns 'a flat refusal' to Lord Londonderry's request for an audience; nay, Princess Doria, although often invited to Lady Londonderry's parties in London, peremptorily denies admittance to her palace. 'This is too bad.' Most people would have kept such matters to themselves; but Lady Londonderry knows the moral that must be drawn, and speaks out.
Again, on the occasion of that remarkable epoch in the Turkish history – Lady Londonderry's presentation at the Ottoman court – she enters into particulars which, had she not told them herself, we should probably never have heard of, and certainly never have believed. To us the bright daylight picture (in the Book of Beauty) of the Marchioness of Londonderry in full court-dress presents only pleasing ideas of aristocratic splendour and feminine grace; but to the Turks the revelation was too sudden. They had but heard afar off of the goddess of civilisation, and did not know that she went unveiled, far less décolletée. At first, therefore, they opened the eyes of astonishment, and then turned the back of confusion; in occidental phrase, the poor Moslems all ran away the moment they beheld the radiant peeress, then peeped behind curtains, and otherwise very much misbehaved themselves. Even when they did recover from their panic, they evidently had not a notion what to do, for they trotted her ladyship up and down, through courts and over terraces, as if she had been – in short, anything but a 'High and Mighty Princess.' Also, to crown the business, when Abdul Medjid finally did make his appearance, he took so little notice of his visitor, and retreated again so quickly, that to those not acquainted with the secret springs of policy which sustained the noble Marchioness, the whole affair might appear absurd and even derogatory.
The presentation to the Bey of Tangiers is, however, a grateful set-off. The costume of the Marchioness, upon this occasion, was not certainly calculated to give the most correct ideas of English court-dress, being merely her 'travelling-gown and old straw poke bonnet,' with her jewels over them. But the great Hash-Hash was too busy counting his toes to remark any discrepancies of toilette; and, excepting 'four or five rude girls who laughed immoderately,' the ceremony passed off with commendable decorum.
Whatever else may be thought of this our grandest insular specimen, it will at least be allowed that the book is rich in amusement. It deserves to be printed on satin, and inlaid with as many crests and coronets as Debrett.
Foreign ladies, as we have already said, neither travel nor write sufficiently to supply any strict analogy. The few, therefore, that do are the more remarkable, and may furnish some comparison as women, if they do not as tourists.
The Countess Ida Hahn-Hahn's name is well known as the authoress of light and amusing novels – a description of works comparatively unknown before in Germany, and which, in this instance, owe their popularity equally to the perfectly German tone of manners and morals they express, as to the brilliant talents they exhibit. These novels, which appeared with a rapidity bespeaking productive powers of no common kind, were occasionally interspersed with accounts of trips to neighbouring countries, undertaken for health or pleasure, and intermingled with episodes, either of story or verse. Of late, however, Countess Hahn-Hahn has appeared almost exclusively in the character of a tourist.
It is difficult to approach such a performer as this with any satisfaction to ourselves. The merits and demerits of her writing are so interwoven that it is hard to pronounce upon them, without being unjust to the one or far too lenient to the other. She is a sort of Pückler Muskau, with this difference, that the same class of cleverness is more becoming in the person of a woman, and the same class of errors infinitely more disgusting; and that she has both in a greater degree. Whether also Countess Hahn-Hahn the novelist has been a profitable predecessor to Countess Hahn-Hahn the tourist – is a question – which we are inclined to answer in the negative. The tourist has the same smartness of idea, lightness of step, and play of language, but she has also less scope for her fancy, and less disguise for her egotism. What therefore is the chief attraction of the one, viz., the personal nature of her writing, becomes the greatest drawback in the other. Now the whole field of emotions and feelings, the whole train of internal experiences as German ladies call them, are Countess Hahn-Hahn's particular vein. And with young, pretty, clever, rich, independent heroines to express them, and every imaginable romantic position to excite them, they are perfectly in their place, though seldom what we may approve. But the case is widely different the moment the feigned name is dropped. For when a lady invites you to accompany her, in her own person, through countries suggestive of outer impressions of the utmost interest and novelty, yet pauses every moment to tell you not only her own particular thoughts and feelings, but also those habits, peculiarities, preferences and antipathies, which one would have thought even she herself on such an occasion would have forgotten, we feel tied to one who at home would be rather tiresome, but abroad becomes insufferable – to one who never leaves self behind. It is no matter, therefore, whether the novelist be identical with the Countess Faustine, or the Countess Schönholm, or any other of her heroines, as has often been discussed; it is plain that there is but one person ever present to the imagination of the tourist, and that is the Countess Ida Hahn-Hahn. The Germans think to bestow the highest praise on this lady by saying that she writes as if she were talking to you, which we admit, and therefore she becomes egotistical, as all great talkers invariably are, and wearisome from the same reason. Like almost all her countrywomen whom we have the honour of knowing in print, this lady commits the mistake of saying all she thinks – forgetful that few may, and those few don't – and not only what she thinks, but why she thinks, and how she thinks, till any process of that kind on the part of the reader becomes somewhat difficult. It is true that these works are chiefly in the form of letters addressed to relations at home – not fictitious relations, as convenient mediators between a bashful lady and a formidable public, but real brothers and sisters, and 'mammas' – who receive them regularly by post, and afterwards all join in intreating her to publish them, just as they are. But this by no means accounts for that predominance of the first person singular of which we complain. We all know that there is a species of egotism, generally closest to our hearts, for which our nearest and dearest have less deference than the newest stranger; and Madame Hahn-Hahn's is of this sort.
To turn, however, to a more grateful subject – those brilliant powers which so irksome a defect and others of a far graver nature have not been able to obscure – we have no hesitation in saying that the Countess possesses some of the requisites for a traveller in a most uncommon degree. In liveliness of observation, readiness of idea, and spirited ease of expression, she is unsurpassed by any lady writer we know – far less by any of her own countrywomen. Wherever, therefore, her pen engages on a subject where the mawkish egotism of the German woman is not excited, or the decorous principle of the English reader not offended, we follow her with the admiration due to rare talents.
Having pretty well exhausted the usual beat of European travelling – having revelled in Spain, reasoned in France, and grumbled in Sweden – the Countess came to a determination rather more extraordinary among the fine ladies of Germany than among those we have just left, namely, that of visiting the East. We pick, therefore, among her 'Oriental Letters' for average specimens of her style.
Speaking of the plague of dogs in Constantinople – the hordes of living ones – the remains of dead ones – the perpetual offence to every sense – she says, –
'Enough! If none but dogs were the inhabitants of Constantinople you would find it sufficiently difficult to make your way through a city where heaps of dirt, rubbish, and refuse of every credible and incredible composition obstruct you at every step, and especially barricade the corners of the streets. But dogs are not the only dwellers. Take care of yourself – here comes a train of horses, laden on each side with skins of oil – all oil without as well as within. And, oh! take care again, for behind are a whole troop of asses, carrying tiles and planks, and all kinds of building materials. Now give way to the right for those men with baskets of coals upon their heads, and give way, too, to the left for those other men – four, six, eight at a time, staggering along with such a load of merchandise, that the pole, thick as your arm, to which it is suspended, bends beneath the weight. Meanwhile don't lose your head with the braying of the asses, the yelling of the dogs, the cries of the porters, or the calls of the sweetmeat and chesnut vendors, but follow your dragoman, who, accustomed to all this turmoil, flies before you with winged steps, and either disappears in the crowd or vanishes round a corner. At length you reach a cemetery. We all know how deeply the Turks respect the graves of the dead – how they visit them and never permit them to be disturbed, as we do in Europe, after any number of years. In the abstract this is very grand, and when we imagine to ourselves a beautiful cypress grove with tall white monumental stones, and green grass beneath, it presents a stately and solemn picture. Now contemplate it in the reality. The monuments are overthrown, dilapidated, or awry – several roughly paved streets intersect the space – here sheep are feeding – there donkeys are waiting – here geese are cackling – there cocks are crowing – in one part of the ground linen is drying – in another carpenters are planing – from one corner a troop of camels defile – from another a funeral procession approaches – children are playing – dogs rolling – every kind of the most unconcerned business going on. And what can be a greater profanation of the dead? But, true enough, where they were buried four hundred years ago, there they lie still. – vol. i. p. 133.
Her remarks, too, from the Pyramids are such as have not often reached us thence:–
'Dear Brother, – If any one had said to me up there, between the foundation of this pyramid and that of the railroad at Vienna there are as many thousand years as there are thousands of miles from the planet Earth to the planet Syrius, I should have answered at once, "Of course there are." I seemed to be standing on an island in the midst of the ether, without the slightest connection with all that hearts are throbbing with below. Time seemed to have rent a cleft around me deeper than the deepest ravine in the highest mountain of the Alps. Then one's very view below becomes so utterly – what shall I say? – so utterly lifeless. In the whole immense plain beneath you there is not one prominent feature. It is merely a geographical map with coloured spaces – blue-green, yellow-green, sap-green – just as the culture may be. Among them palm-woods and gardens like dark spots, canals like silver stripes, and banks like black bars. Far and faint the brownish, formless masses of the city, wrapt in its own exhalations. And last of all, but seemingly quite near, the Desert – here no longer horrible. If in time itself there be such enormous deserts, where hundreds of years lie bare and waste, and only here and there some intellectual building, together with the builder, appear in the midst, like an oasis for the mind, why should not a few hundred miles of sand lie barren here upon earth? But even if Fairyland itself lay smiling round, it would make no difference. The pyramid is everything. Like a great mind, it overpowers all in its vicinity. Even the Nile becomes insignificant. As the mountains attract the clouds, so does the pyramid attract the thoughts, and make them revolve perpetually round it. Dear Brother, it is a wonderful sight when man gets up his creations in a kind of rivalship with Eternity, as this old Cheops has done.' – vol. iii. p. 39.
One can hardly imagine this to be the same woman who shortly before had gone off into an ultra-German rhapsody about the bliss of a soft melancholy of the soul, 'serious yet not dejected,' and who longs 'to go to sleep in herself, rocked by the waves of her own heart!'
Now for a specimen of what is very beautiful, and the more surprising, considering it occurs not above a couple of pages off that ardently desired self-contained cradle! – namely, the lady's account of the rebuilding of the convent on Mount Carmel by the energies and exertions of one single individual. We are sorry to be obliged to curtail it, as it is more creditable to her pen and to her feelings than any other part of the work.
In 1819, Father Giovanni Baptista, an architect, received an order from the papal chair to proceed to Palestine, and ascertain the state of this convent. He found it as the Turks had left it upon Napoleon's retreat – plundered, ruined, and deserted, except by one monk, who loitered in a village at the foot. What there was to do was easily ascertained, for everything was to be done: but the times were unfavourable. Abdallah Pacha ruled in Syria – the Greek war had just commenced – whatever the Christians did was looked upon with suspicion; and the father returned to Rome. But the thought that the Holy Mountain no longer offered a home to the Christian and a resting place to the pilgrim, but that wild beasts and wilder Bedouins alone trod the sacred ground, never forsook him. In 1826 times had improved. He journeyed to Constantinople – obtained, through French influence, a firman to rebuild the convent, and with this repaired to Syria. The one monk had meanwhile died, and Father Baptista stood alone in the ruins. He now made a plan of the building, and an estimate of the costs – and then –
'From Damascus to Gibraltar, from Morocco to Dublin, did his unwearied energy carry him; and whenever he had collected a certain sum, back he came to Syria, stood once more on Mount Carmel, and exchanged the wayworn pilgrim for the active architect. Of course he accomplished his end. For several years the convent has now stood on Mount Carmel, an asylum of mercy for all who need it, ready to receive Jew and Turk, Protestant and Heathen, for God's sake. Three days is the time allotted to each traveller. The sick may stay longer; also whoever needs them receives provision or clothes for the way. The building and fitting up cost 500,000 francs, and Father Giovanni Baptista begged them all – from high and low – from prince and from artizan. The beautiful marble pavement was presented by the Duke of Modena – the bells by the King of Naples – the little organ by the Queen. He himself, the pious builder, lives here as one of the six monks of the convent But is not this beautiful? A poor monk comes with empty hands, but with a strong will and a full heart, and accomplishes all he desires – literally all – permission, plan, money – and within ten years completes his work – and this in our days too! Dear friend! you are a tolerably zealous Protestant, but this you must admit, that Protestantism has a dreadful narrowness of heart. In the hospital of the Protestant Sisters of Mercy at Berlin, no Roman Catholic is admitted! In what Roman Catholic hospital in the world is this the case? In none, I believe. Wherever Protestantism applies itself to good works, it contracts a narrow-minded pietistical taint, which deals uncharitably with every other denomination. And why? because its essence is not Love. In the assertion of rights it was born – in the struggle with abuses it has grown – and assertion and struggle, even in things divine, make mankind hard and egotistical; and thus has Protestantism remained..... Reflection is also a Protestant element – at once the spark that animates, and the fire that destroys it. Apparently Father Giovanni Baptista reflected but little before he applied to the work, otherwise the difficulties would have deterred him. He said to himself, "This work must thou do," and then he did it. Such men are my men.' – vol. ii. p. 132.
We beg to assure Madame Hahn-Hahn that the Protestantism of our country is as Catholic in its charities as that of her Berlin hospital seems to be exclusive. The passage we have quoted is, however, most beautiful, and as Catholic as the most Catholic hearts of the day could desire. But let them not rejoice too soon over their adherent. In German phrase she is many-sided – she can argue just as warmly, though not quite so intelligibly, with one of the infidel parties in Germany, that the whole plan of Christianity is only to be taken in a philosophical sense; e.g. that 'Christ had that view over this short life, and that insight into the souls of men, which only those possess who have come to the perfect comprehension of their own I – therefore might He say of himself, I have overcome the world.' (vol. ii. p. 144.) She can as heartily agree with another party in the interpretation of the miracles on physical principles, and announces herself as 'really delighted, that, in a journey undertaken for no positive use, she has been able, at all events, to prove one thing for the benefit of the rational interpreters of the Bible – viz., that the feeding of the five thousand, which Christ undertook with a few loaves and fishes, is, in this country, neither a miracle nor an impossibility, but really quite natural.' (vol. ii. p. 182.) We should like to know how? She can declare with all the infidel parties of Germany at once, that whatever each believes to be true, is, therefore, true; and that the great right of the mind is to free itself from the domination of every belief that rests upon authority; and finally, she has a little private creed peculiar to herself alone, but 'strong and impregnable, namely, my belief, that I am a child of God, for whom all churches are too narrow.'!!
This is certainly not much in the spirit of Father Giovanni Baptista. We doubt whether she be one of his women. Whoever wishes to know more about Madame Hahn-Hahn's religion, need only refer to the table of contents, 27th Letter, 'What I think of Christianity – What I believe;' but they must be very patient who get through the said letter, and very clever to understand it. At the same time we pass no condemnation on Madame Hahn-Hahn for those opinions which, with all her imaginary freedom, she evidently holds, as it is natural for many men and most women to do, just because they are held by all around her. But it must be owned, that if there be one place in the world where the empty gibberish of modern German infidelity is least to be borne, it is Jerusalem.
There is one point in these letters to which we advert unwillingly, though, considering how very free this lady is on all subjects connected with herself, our delicacy is perhaps misplaced. We mean the occasional and offhand allusion to a certain Baron Bystram, in a manner that shows he was the constant companion of her travels, and also her sole companion. It would be as uncharitable to attack the reputation of a lady who in this respect gives us no other cause for offence throughout the book, as it would be absurd to defend that of the German Divorcée who could write 'Faustine.' We only mention it as an illustration of the difference between the home and foreign standard of propriety. Madame Hahn-Hahn does not parade this equivocal matter, as if determined to outbrazen all opinion – on the contrary, she alludes to it so seldom, that had the semblance of decorum been of any value in her eyes, she might have concealed it from the public altogether. 'Bystram' is of no use to her that we can discover, and she repudiates the idea of help or protection.
We have met with but one other German lady traveller who commits her impressions to paper. This is a certain Frau v. Bacharacht, authoress of a novel called 'Lydia,' and of a volume entitled 'Theresa's Letters from the South.' We know nothing of the novel, but certainly the Letters are in no way deserving notice, except as a specimen of a class of which there are so few. Theresa deals so unceasingly in vague longings and mysterious sorrows – she has such pages of dialogue with her own soul, such sheets of description of her own mental scenery, that we lose all sight of the road she is travelling, and augur but ill for the home she has left. She is young, wealthy, and happily married (we are assured in the preface); nevertheless, these ietters are addressed to some male friend of her soul, who may be old enough to be her grandfather, or cold enough to be her Mentor, but whom she thinks of always, and longs for everywhere, and apostrophises with an ardour which the mere English reader will consider as throwing rather a new light upon the relations of friendship.
To come back to our English books – in times like these the luxury of travel, like every other that fashion recommends, or that money can purchase, will necessarily be shared in by many utterly unfitted to profit by it. Nevertheless, while we lament much desecration of beautiful scenes and hallowed sites, let us turn to the brighter side of the question, and rejoice that the long continuation of peace, the gradual removal of prejudices, the strength of the British character, and the faith in British honesty, have not only made way for the foot of our countryman through countries hardly accessible before, but also for that of the tender and delicate companion, whose participation in his foreign pleasures his home habits have made indispensable to him. We are aware that much more might have been said about the high endowments of mind and great proficiency of attainment which many of these lady tourists display; but we fear no reproach for having brought forward their domestic virtues as the truest foundation for their powers of travelling, and the reflex of their own personal characters as the highest attraction in their books of travel. It is not for any endowments of intellect, either natural or acquired, that we care to prove the Englishwoman's superiority over all her foreign sisters, but for that soundness of principle and healthiness of heart, without which the most brilliant of women's books, like the most brilliant woman herself, never fails to leave the sense of something wanted – a something better than all she has besides.
1 Vide 'My Last Tour and First Work,' by Lady Vavasour.
2 'Our Wild Flowers;' 'Romance of Nature.' By Louisa A. Twamley.
3 Mediterranean Sketches, by Lord F. Egerton (1843), p. 30.