Графични страници
PDF файл

mane, and fling yourself upon him, and make for the Empyrean by that course rather ? 'Be immediate about it, then ; the time is now, or else never!—No fair judge can blame the young man that he laid hold of the flaming Opportunity in this manner, and obeyed the new omen. To seize such an Opportunity, and perilously mount upon it, was the part of a young magnanimous King, less sensible to the perils, and more to the other considerations, than one older would have been.

There was a period, early in the vicissitudes of the French Revolution, when Dumouriez, on M. de Lamartine's showing, held at his will, within his grasp, a republic or a monarchy, for the revolted nation. “ It was for him the realisation of that dictatorship of which La Fayette had only dreamed. Dumouriez had but to allow himself to be borne up by the wave. He did not do so. He himself impeded the onward flow which bore his fortunes.” Instead of being, for some campaigns, the conqueror of the republic, he dreamt too soon, we are told, of making himself its moderator. “ Danton comprehended better than Dumouriez himself his military career, and the bold, sudden, unexpected impulse which he might at this moment give to his success.”+ Opportunity gave time--and only just time—for him to seize her forelock. Seized it was not. And anon her head was turned, and there was only a bald place for the general to manipulate: nothing to lay hold of, now.

Sir Archibald is fond of pointing a moral by historical instances of our present text. Thus, in describing the perilous position of the British forces under Wellington, at Fuente Guinaldo, in 1811,--and Marmont's ignorance of the “inestimable prize which was almost within his grasp," —the historian speaks of everything being made ready in the French camp for an attack the next morning on our outnumbered troops, and then adds: “But Shakspeare's remark, “There is a tide in the affairs of men,' was never more strikingly exemplified than on this occasion. While Marmont, in the vain confidence of irresistible strength, was thus making a useless display of his forces; and Wellington, with two divisions only, lay before him, the precious hours, never to be recalled, passed away."# Reinforcements came rapidly in to the English line, -and Wellington effected a secure retreat to a stronger position.

Almost every kind of biography, but especially that of an adventurous or a sensational character, is rife with examples to the purpose. Once and again in his celebrated monograph on the Marr and Williamson murders in 1811, does Mr. de Quinceyş dilate on the critical points in Williams, the murderer's, evasion of justice. For instance, at the moment when the murderer is loitering, unaware that a certain ropemaker overhead is not,—the narrative involves this reflection : “All depends on the next ninety seconds. Within that time there is a sharp turn to be taken ; there is a wrong turn, a right turn. Should his better angel guide him to the right one, all may yet go well as regards this world's prosperity;"* that is to say, Williams may elude all suspicion of impertinent policemen, may sail for the United States, may enjoy fifty years for leisurely repentance, or indeed may rise to the President's chair, and have a statue

* Carlyle, History of Friedrich II., vol. iii. p. 141. † Histoire des Girondins, l. xxxvii. $ 2

History of Europe, ch. lxvi. sect. 75. Ś Who, as the reader for the press remarks, gives by mistake the year 1812.

at his death, and afterwards a life in three volumes quarto, with no hint glancing towards No. 29, Ratcliff-highway.

• But behold! in two minutes from this point we shall see him take the wrong one: and then Nemesis will be at his heels with ruin perfect and sudden.” Never, through the course of a whole century, Mr. de Quincey asserts, could there be a night expected more propitious to an escaping criminal : but favours are thrown away upon the reckless and the thankless.

“ That night, when the turning-point offered itself for his whole future career, Williams took the wrong turn ; for, out of mere indolence, he took the turn to his old lodgings—that place which, in all England, he had just now the most reason to shun."*

Already in the course of these heterogeneous annotations has one metrical loan been effected from the “Lucile" of Owen Meredith; and the subject is manifestly one that has fixed the attention of that poetfor he exemplifies it anew in various parts of his work. With two specimens we may wind up this ravelled skein. One is descriptive of an episode in the earlier life of Lucile de Nevers :

-Her youth
One occasion had known, when, if fused in another,
That tumult of soul, which she now sought to smother,
Finding scope within man's larger life, and controllid
By man's clearer judgment, perchance might have rollid
Into channels enriching the troubled existence
Which it now only vex'd with an inward resistance.
But that chance fell too soon

And that moment, once lost, had been never recall’d.t
The other instance is a precisely parallel passage, in the experience of
Alfred Vargrave:

In that life one occasion, one moment, there was
When all that was earnest in him might have been
Unclosed into manhood's imperial, serene
Dominion of permanent power. But it found him
Too soon; ere the weight of the light life around him
Had been weigh’d at its worth; when his nature was still
The delicate toy of too pliant a will
The boisterous play of the world to resist,
Or the frost of the world's wintry wisdom.

He miss'd That occasion, too rathe in its advent. I Since which “miss,” his voyage of life had, true to the Shakspearean moral, been, for the most part, if not altogether, bound in shallows and in miseries.




* Miscellanies by Thomas de Quincey, vol. ii. pp. 97, 102.

Lucile, part i. canto iii.
Ibid., part i. canto ii.



It has been often said, “ Let me make the people's ballads, and I care not who makes their laws."

It may be true now that most of the powerful nations of our days are quite beyond the moving influence of ballads, but perhaps we shall always find that by closely observing the popular amusements of any country, we may acquire a very accurate insight into the character of its inhabitants. It seems to me that in nothing do the idiosyncrasies of a people show themselves so strongly marked as in its pleasures.

Men of business are much alike in all countries. The qualities which make a merchant of slaves and ivory successful on the banks of the Victoria Nyanza probably do not differ in kind from those which make some English lads, who come to London with eighteenpence in their pockets, worth a million sterling before they die; though it is likely enough that a much higher degree of acumen and perseverance may be necessary to bring a self-relying Englishman out of the ruck of London tradesmen than to provide an Abyssinian merchant with the most desirable number of the fattest wives.

On the other hand, no one would say that the London merchant's idea of spending his leisure hours accords even in kind with the Abyssinian's notion of enjoyment. It is in the amusements most affected by each that the man's nature crops out. To take a little liberty with an old proverb, I would say, “ In ludendo veritas.” We English are said to take our pleasures sadly, and this may be partly true, if we are compared with some of the nations of continental Europe; but our saddest pastimes are perfectly jovial compared with the amusements of the people of India.

A party of half a dozen Scotchmen solemnly imbibing whisky in a Glasgow back parlour, on a Sabbath afternoon, cannot be supposed to offer a heart-enlivening and cheering spectacle, but it must be jollity itself compared with what I have seen of the dulness of a Hindustani nautch.

As far as I can ascertain, a nautch has never been properly described in England, and so very erroneous ideas on the subject unfortunately obtain at home. One notion is that it is an improper affair. So far from that, it is the most drearily decorous exhibition that is to be found in the world. A boarding-school dancing-class is a ballet compared with a Hindustani nautch.

A severely plain woman, with her face disfigured by a red streak down her forehead, a tinsel star stuck in each cheek, and a gold ring in her nose, slowly twirls round and round, after the manner of a humming-top. She shows far less animation, and no more signs of life, than a hummingtop, except that she occasionally lifts her hands above her head; and the poise emanating from her is less pleasant than the noise made by a humming-top:

She is so swathed and convoluted in clothes, that not the slightest idea can be formed of her figure. She may be the Venus de Medici, or she may be humpbacked.

Such is a concise but true account of a nautch; half an hour of which is enough, as Artemus Ward hath it, to make one drown oneself in a well, without bidding good-bye to one's relations.

Being lately compelled, as magistrate, to go and look after a large native fair held within my jurisdiction, I was so struck by the serious way in which the people took their pleasuring, that I thought it might be worth while to try and describe a scene which but few persons in England can have much idea of.

The approach to the fair lay through a low jungly scrub, interspersed with patches of cultivation, and the vicinity of the crowd made itself easily evident to one's nose for the last quarter of a mile. It is but right to say though, that the bad odours disappeared when one reached the fair itself, for the natives of India are much cleaner than the lower classes of Europeans, and one fails to catch in India the peculiar fragrance of corduroys that have not been changed for the last six months.

The scene is picturesque enough. In front is a large tank of tolerably good water, overshadowed by far-branching feathery tamarind-trees, and massive peepuls. On the right is a Hindu temple, the great centre of attraction; behind are the awnings and shemianah of the military police guard: and booths are everywhere. It is with difficulty I can force my way through the people, for the noise is so great, and the crowd so dense, that, despite the exertions of half a dozen policemen and chuprassies, who spare neither hard words nor strong shoves, the people won't move till they see my snorting little Arab's head over their own shoulders, and feel the pressure of his chest against their backs. It is amusing to see the face of utter horror with which a handsome native woman, only allowed to be outside her house on such an occasion as this, suddenly looks round, and finds herself absolutely rubbing shoulders with a horse, and in close proximity to a laughing sahib, very likely the first she has ever seen in her life. She was so busily engaged cheapening a new dress, that she had no eyes save for the texture and colour of the stuff, nor ears save for the persuasive enticements of the wily shopkeeper. The chief attractions for the women seem to be the cloth merchants' shops, the tinsel and looking-glass shops, and the sweetmeat shops—for ladies appear to have a sweet tooth all over the world, and Hindu mothers are quite as much inclined to spoil babies' teeth and digestions with Indian sweetmeats as English mammas are with toffy and barley-sugar. At the cloth merchants' they buy lengths of what they call “lāng clāt” (long cloth) and “markin” (American stuff), and also ready-made bodices. A Hindu woman never wears any stitched garment except a bodice, but she has an art of taking a long kind of sheet, some twelve feet long and a yard wide, and wrapping it round her so as to make it fall in most graceful folds, and serve the purpose of all the multifarious parts of an English lady's dress, including the bonnet.

The women are not bad looking on the whole. They are a deepchested, full-bosomed, almond-eyed race, whose worst feature is generally the mouth. They indulge to a large extent in tinsel, and buy any amount of those identical little stars, and spangles, and points, which small English schoolboys are so fond of sticking on to little engravings of favourite dramatic characters, generally terrific warriors in sky-blue pants. These spangles and tinsel stars the Indian women stick on to

their own foreheads, noses, ears, and chins with a very odd effect; as the tawdry imitation glitter, combined with the general impassiveness of their features, makes them look more like wax images out of Madame Tussaud's than real living women. The only colours that one sees here are red, yellow, and white-none of the delicate shades of brown, green, and mauve, that make the ladies' dresses at a flower-show or horticultural fête perhaps the prettiest bit of colour in the whole scene.

The men's shops are brassmen's, where people buy all their domestic utensils ; cutlers’; cheap but bad cloth merchants'; shoemakers'; an immense number of spice-dealers' shops, potters' shops, pipe-shops, and stalls for general wares.

The fair is supposed to be held in honour of the goddess of destruction, Kâli or Bhowâni; but the object for which it is really or mainly frequented is the sale of spices of all sorts, great quantities of which are brought here from considerable distances. One quarter of the ground is set apart for spice stalls, and the air is so full of the pungent dust, that five minutes spent there is enough to make one sneeze for the whole day after.

Let us go into the temple and see the worship of Kali. Here comes an old woman with a fine goat in her arms. She gives a few eoppers to the attendant priest, and then she and her son carry the wretched goat to one corner of the walled enclosure, where stands the exeeutioner, a man bespattered with blood from top to toe. In his hand is a formidablelooking weapon. This is a garás, a strong stick of male bamboo, about five feet long, on one end of which is firmly bound by hoops of iron a sharp steel crescent, about a foot long, with its convex edge outwards. Savage-looking weapon as this is, yet it is universally carried by the village watchmen of these parts, and used, too, against thieves. How any man hit on the head with it can ever recover I don't know, but I have seen several instances. Perhaps the Indian sun bakes the natives' bones into “harder consistency” than ours. Well, the goat is brought to the fatal corner.

One rope is passed over its horns and neck, and another is tied to one of its hind-legs, and two men pull at these in opposite directions, so as to stretch the unlucky animal in the air, like Mahommed's coffin. Heedless of the goat's piteous cries, the executioner balances his garás nicely upou its neck, then gives a sweeping blow, and off dies the goat's head one way, and its body and legs another. The whole thing is very neatly done, and takes a very short time. I suppose several thousand goats were sacrificed thus during the five or six days the fair lasted. The body is taken away by the original proprietor and eaten in solemn conclave; the head is the perquisite of the priest, and is brought into the inner shrine, where a hideous image sits in darkness, smoke, and blood. It is first offered to the Deity; but as it is not usually consumed by that supernatural object, the priests afterwards either make haggis of it or sell it.

What struck me forcibly, after a few turns through the fair, was the lack of amusement, as compared with the fairs of other countries that I

The people bought and sold, and offered goats to Kali, and, when they had done, went and smoked the hubble-bubble of peace under a tree. There were no Cheap Jacks, no Merry Andrews, no mountebanks, no rough theatre, no swings, no games. The sole entertainments provided were one roundabout, which seemed to have no customers, and

had seen.

« ПредишнаНапред »