To begin with a mild egotism,— I do not like De Sautys.
You remember De Sauty ? Perched on his steadfast stool, in a deserted telegraph-house, hard by that bay of the broken promise, De Sauty, like Poe’s raven, “ still was sitting, still was sitting,” watching, in forlorn, but hopeful loneliness, the paralyzed tongue of the Atlantic Cable, to catch the utterances that never came for all his patient coaxing; and ever and anon he iterated, feebly and more feebly, as if all his sinking soul he did outpour into the words, that melancholy monotone which was his only stock and store, — “ All right! De Sauty.”
I never did like ravens, and I do not, like De Sautys ; for if, indeed, it were all right with the De Sautys, it would be all wrong with certain things that are most dear to the romantic part of me; since De Sauty is to my imagination the living type of that indiscriminate sacrilege of trade which would penetrate the beautiful illusions of remoteness, as through an opera-glass, — which would tie the ends of the earth together and toss it over shoulder like a peddler’s bundle, to “swop” quaint curiosities, inspiring relics, and solemn symbols, for British prints or American pig-iron. Puck us no Pucks, De Sauty, nor constrict our planet’s rotundity with any forty-minute girdle; for in these days of inflating crinoline and ever-increasing circumference of hooped skirts, it becomes us to leave our Mother Earth at least in the fashion, nor strive to reduce her to such unmodish dimensions that one may circumnavigate her in as little time, comparatively, as he may make the circuit of Miss Flora MacFlimsey.
I beseech you, do not call that nonsense; it is but a good-natured way of stating the case in the aspect it presents from the De Sauty point of view ; for tightly laced as poor Mother Earth already is, with railroad corsets and steamship stays, growing small by degrees and beautifully less, she needs but the fortyminute girdle of Puck De Sauty to so contract her waist at the equator that any impudent traveller may span it with a carpet-bag and an umbrella.
On that memorable night of the Cable Celebration, when so many paper lanterns and so many enlightened New Yorkers were sold in the name of De Sauty, — when all the streets and all the people were alive with gas,—when we fired off rockets and Roman candles and spread-eagle speeches in illustrious exuberance,—when the city children lit their little dips, and the City Fathers lit their City Hall, — when we hung out our banners, and clanged our bells, and banged our guns, — when there was Glory to God in the highest steeple, and Peace on Earth in the lowest cellar, — I drifted down the Broadway current of a mighty flood of folk, a morose and miserable sentimentalist.
I had seen locomotives, those Yankee Juggernauts, drive, roaring and ruthless, over the beautiful bodies of fine old travellers’ fictions; and once, in Burmah, I had beheld a herd of stately elephants plunge and scoot, scampering and squealing, like pigs on a railroad, away from the steam scream of a new-fangled manof-war. I had witnessed those monstrous sacrileges, and survived, — had even, when locomotive and steamer were passed, picked up my beautiful fictions again, and called back my panic-stricken elephants with the gong of imagination; but here were Gulliver and Aladdin and Sinbad the Sailor torn from their golden thrones, and this insolent De Sauty, crowned with zinc and copper and sceptred with gutta-percha, set up in their places to the tune of “ All Right.”
“ I will build you a house of gold, and you shall be my Padshah Begum, some day,” said the whimsically cruel King of Oude to Nun a, his favorite Cashmere dancing-girl.
For a while Nona’s dreams were golden. But the time came when the King was not in the vein. He followed vacantly her most enchanting undulations and yawned listlessly.
“ Boppery bopp ! ” he exclaimed, presently, “ but this bores us. Is there no better fun ? Let us have a quail-fight, Khan.”
The Khan rose to order in the quails. Tbe King gazed on Nun a with languid satiety.
“ I wonder how she would look, Europe-fashion.”
“ Nothing is easier, Sire, than to sec how she would look,” said the Khan, as he returned with the quails.
So a gown, and other articles of European female attire, wore sent for to the Khan’s house ; for he was a married man ; and when they were brought, Nuna was told to retire and put them on. The quail-fight proceeded on the table.
Then Nuna reappeared in her new costume. A more miserable transformation it is hardly possible to imagine. The clothes hung loosely about her, in forlorn dowdyness. She felt that she was ridiculous. All grace was gone, all beauty. It was distressing to witness her mortified plight
The King and the Khan laughed heartily, while scalding tears coursed down poor Nima’s cheeks. The other nautehgirls, jealous, had no pity for her; they chuckled at her disgrace, turning up tlieir pretty noses, as they whispered,—“ Serve her right, — the brazen minx !”
For days, nay, for weeks, did poor Nuna thus appear, a laughing-stock. She implored permission to leave the court, and return to her wretched home in Cashmere ; but that was refused. In the midst of the Mokurrim, she suddenly disappeared. There were none to inquire for her.1
Oh, they may say what they please about the irresistible march of civilization, and clearing the way for Webster’s Spelling-Book,— about pumps for A Trie’s sunny fountains, and Fulton ferry-boats for India's coral strand ; but there’s nothing in what the Atlantic Cable gives, like that it takes away from the heart of the man who has looked the Sphinx in the face and dreamed with the Brahmin under his own banian. Spare the shrinking Nu~ nas of our poetry your Europe-fasluons !
Because the De Sautys are scientifically virtuous, shall there be no more barbaric cakes and ale for us ? Because they are joined to their improved Shanghaes, must we let our phoenixes alone ? Must we deny our crocodiles when they preach to us codfish ? And shall we abstain from crying, “In the name of the Prophet, figs!” in order that they may bawl, “ In the name of Brother Jonathan, doughnuts ” ?
Yes, the world is visibly shrinking in the hard grip of commerce, and the magic and the marvels that filled our childish souls with adventurous longing are fading away in the change. Let us make haste, then, before it is too late,— before the very Sphinx is guessed, and the Boodh himself baptized in Croton water; and, like the Dutchmen in Hans Christian Andersen’s story, who put on the galoches of happiness and stepped out into the Middle Ages, let us slip our feet into the sandals of imagination and step out into the desert or the jungle.
One who expressed his Oriental experiences in an epic of fresh and thrilling sensations has written,— “If a man be not born of his mother with a natural Chithey bit in his mouth, there comes to him a time for loathing the wearisome ways of society, — a time for not liking tamed people, — a time for not dancing quadrilles,—-a time for pretending that Milton, and Shelley, and all sorts of mere dead people are greater in death than the first living lord of the treasury,— a time, in short, for Scoffing and railing, for speaking lightly of the opera, and all our most cherished institutions. A little while you are free and unlabelled, like the ground you compass ; but civilization is coming, and coming; you and your much-loved waste-lands will be surely inclosed, and sooner or later you will be brought down to a state of utter usefulness,— the ground will be Curiously sliced into acres and roods and perches, and you, for all you sit so smartly on your saddle, you will be caught, you will be taken up from travel, as a colt from grass, to be trained, and matched, and run.
“ All this in time: but first come Continental tours, and the moody longing for Eastern travel; your native downs -and moors can bold you no longer; with larger stride you burst away from these slips and patches of frce-land,—you thread your way through the crowds of Europe, and at last, on the banks of the Jordan, you joyfully know that you are upon the very frontier of all accustomed respectabilities.
“ There, on the other side of the river, (you can swim it with one arm,) there reigns the people that will be like to put you to death tor not being a vagrant, for not being a robber, for not being armed and houseless. There is comfort in that,— health, comfort, and strength, to one who is dying from very weariness of that poor, dear, middle-aged, deserving, accomplished, pedantic, pains-taking governess, Europe.”
Better the abodes of the anthropophagi, the “ men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders,” than no place to get away to at all; for to every vigorous soul there one day comes a longing, by the light of which magnificent distances appear beautiful, and the possibilities of infinite far-olfness delicious; to the Christian traveller, who exults in the faith that “ each remotest nation shall learn Messiah's name,” how dear is that remoteness which renders the promise sublime ! It is these considerations which make us, oldfashioned Bucks, whose performances go no farther than putting a girdle round about the earth in fifty months, object to telegraphs, and protest against De Sauty.
Among your books and your lectures, you must have observed that there are several well-defined and widely distinct kinds of traveller. One is the professional tourist, who formally and statedly “ sets out,” in his own deliberate way, packed, marked, and paid through; he is shipped like preserved meats, hermetically sealed to foreign impressions, and warranted to keep in any climate,—the same snug, well-arranged “ commercial traveller ” who went abroad for materials, for which you are to pay; and when he has laid in the necessary stock,— the identical stock as per original advices,—he comes back again, and that is all,—the very same as to himself and his baggage, except that the latter is heavier by the addition of a corpulent carpet-bag bloated with facts and figures, the aspect of the country, the dimensions of monuments, the customs of the people, their productions and manufactures ; he might as well have done his tour around his own library, with a copy of Bayard Taylor’s Cyclopaedia of Travel, and an assortment of stereoscopic views, for all the freshness of impression or originality of narrative you’ll get from him,-— from whom preserve us ! Give us, rather, that truer traveller who goes by the accommodation-train of Whim, and whom, in the language of conductors, you may take up or put down anywhere, because lie is no “dead-liead,” nor “ ticketed through.” This is he of whom I have spoken elsewhere,— in the magic mirror of whose memory (as to the last he saw of this wonder or of that) “ a stony statuesqueness prevails, to produce an effect the weirdest of all; for there every living thing stands arrested in the attitude or gesture it presented at the fine instant to which his thought returns to find it,— seized in the midst, it may be, of the gayest, most spirited, or most passionate action,—laughter, dance, rage, conflict; and so fixed as unchangeable as the stone faces of the gods, forever and forever.”
In the midst of a Burmese jungle I have tried that sad experiment by its reverse, and, gazing into my magic mirror, have beheld my own dear home, and the old, familiar faces,— all stony, pale, and dim. At such times, how painfully the exile’s heart is tried by the apparition of any object, however insignificant, to which his happy childhood was accustomed! I think my heart was never more sharply wrung than once at Promo, in the porch of a grim old temple of Guadma ;—a kitten was playing with a feather there.
In his enumeration of the chief points of attraction in the more striking books of voyages, and travels, Leigh Hunt, with his happy appreciation of whatever is most quaint in description, most sympathetic in impression, has helped us to an arrangement, which, with a convenient modification of our own, we shall follow congenially. We shall seek for remoteness and obscurity of place,—marvellousness of hearsay,—surprising, but conceivable truth,—barbaric magnificence,—the grotesque and the fantastic,'—strangeness of custom,—personal danger, courage, and suffering, — and their barbaric consolations. In the pursuit of these, our path should wind, had we time to take the longest, among deserts and lands of darkness,
— phoenixes and griffins and sphinxes, — human monsters, and more monstrous gods,—the courts of Akbliar and Aurengzebe,— palaces of the Mogul and the Kathayan Khan, — pigmies, monkey-gods, mummies, Fakeers, dancing-girls, tattooed warriors, Thugs, cannibals, Fetishes, human sacrifices, and the Evil Eye,— Chinese politeness, Bedouin honor, Bechuana simplicity, — the plague, the amok, the bearding of lions, the graves of herotravellers, flowers in the desert, and the universal tenderness of women.
And as our wild way leads us onward, it shall open up visions, new and wondrous, or beautiful as new, to those who try it for the first time. See now, at the outset, stepping into the footprints of old Sir John Mandeville, what do we behold ?—“ In that kingdom of Abeay is a great marvel; for a province of the country, that hath in circuit three days’ journeys, that men call Hanyson, is all covered with darkness, without any brightness or light,—so that no man may see nor hear, nor no man dare enter into it. And nevertheless, they of that country say that sometimes men hear voices of folks, and horses neighing, and cocks crowing; and they know well that men live there, but they know not what men. And they say that the darkness befell by miracle of God; for an accursed emperor of Persia, that was named Saures, pursued all Christian men for to destroy them, and to compel them to make sacrifice to his idols ; and rode with a great host, all that ever he could, for to confound the Christian men. And then in that country dwelled many good Christian men, the which left their goods, and would have fled into Greece; and when they were in a plain called Megon, anon this cursed emperor met with them, with his host, for to have slain them and hewn them in pieces. And anon the Christian men did kneel to the ground, and make their prayers to God to succor them. Then a great thick cloud came and covered the emperor and all his host; and so they remain in that manner, that no more may they get out on any side ; and so shall they evermore abide in darkness, till the day of doom, by the miracle of God. And then the Christian men went whither they liked best, at their own pleasure, without hindrance of any creature, and their enemies were inclosed and confounded in darkness without a blow. And that was a great miracle that Cod made for them; wherefore methinks that Christian men should be more devout to serve our Lord God than any other men of any other belief.”
Thus doth the simple, willing faith of the childlike traveller of 1350 draw from his strange old story a moral which may serve to light the way for you and me when we wend through the soul’s land of darkness.
“ Through the shadow of the globe we sweep into the younger day;
Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.”—
So sings Tennyson ; and what’s a cycle of Cathay ? Let us ask Mandeville.
“ Cathay is a great country, and a fair, noble, and rich, and full of merchants. Thither go merchants, every year, for to seek spices, and all manner of merchandises, more commonly than in any other part.
“ In Cathay is the great city of Xanadu ; and in this city is the seat of the great Khan, in a full great palace, and the most passing fair in all the world, of the which the walls be in circuit more than two miles; and within the walls it is all full of other palaces. And in the garden of the great palace there is a great hill, upon the which there is another palace ; and it is the most fair and the most rich that any man may devise. And there is the great garden, full of wild beasts; so that when the great Khan would have any sport, to take any of the wild beasts, or of the fowls, he will cause them to be chased, and take them at his windows, without going out of his chamber. The palace where the seat is is both great and passing fair; and within the palace, in the hall, there be twentyfour pillars of fine gold; and all the walls are covered within with red skins of beasts, that men call panthers, that be fair beasts, and well smelling ; so that for the sweet odor of the skins no evil air may enter into the palace. And in the midst of this palace is the mountour (high seat) for the great Khan, that is all wrought of gold and of precious stones and great pearls ; and at the four corners of the mountour be four serpents of gold, and all about there is made large nets of silk and gold and great pearls hanging all about the mountour. And the hall of the palace is full nobly arrayed, and full marvellously attired oil all parts, in all things that men apparel any hall with. And at the chief end of the hall is the emperor's throne, full high, where lie sitteth at his meat; and that is of fine precious stones, bound all about with purified gold and precious stones and great pearls; and the steps that he goeth up to the table be of precious stones mixed with gold. Under the firmament is not so great a lord, nor so mighty, nor so rich, as the great Khan. Neither Prester John, that is emperor of the high India, nor the Sultan of Babylonia, nor the Emperor of Persia. All these be not in comparison to the great Khan, neither of might, nor of nobleness, nor of royalty, nor of riches ; for in all these he passeth all earthly princes. Wherefore it is great harm that he believeth not faithfully in God.”
And here we naturally recall that wondrous vision which Coleridge conjured up, when, opium-rapt, he dreamed in his study-chair of Kubla’s enchanted ground.
“ In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree,
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran,
Through caverns measureless to man,
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girded round;
And here were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
“ Five miles, meandering with a mazy motion,
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then readied the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ‗mid tills tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
“ A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw;
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ‘twould win me,
That with music loud and long
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! beware
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your lips with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise! ”
The account which Herodotus gives of the gifts that Croesus sent to the Oracle at Delphi is a splendid example of barbaric magnificence. First, the King offered up three thousand of every kind of sacrificial beast, and burned upon a huge pile couches coated with silver and gold, and golden goblets, and robes and vests of purple. Next he issued a command to all the people of the land to offer up a sacrifice according to their means. And when this sacrifice was consumed, he melted down a vast quantity of gold, and ran it into one hundred and seventeen ingots, each six palms long, three palms broad, and one palm in thickness. He also caused the statue of a lion to be made of refined gold, in weight ten talents. When these great works were completed, Crœsus sent them away to Delphi, and with them two bowls of enormous size, one of gold, the other of silver. These two bowls, Herodotus affirms, were removed when the temple of Delphi was burned to the ground; and now the golden one is in the Clazomenian treasury, and weighs eight talents and forty-two mince; the silver one stands in a corner of the ante-chapel and holds six hundred amphorœ (over five thousand gallons) ; — this is known, because the Delphians fill it at the time of the Theopliania. Crœsus sent also four silver casks, winch are in the Corinthian treasury; and two lustral vases, a golden and a silver one. Beside these various offerings, he sent to Delphi many others of less account, among the rest, a number of round silver basins. He also dedicated a female figure in gold, three cubits high, which the Delphians declared was the statue of his baking woman ; and lastly, lie presented the necklace and the girdles of his wife.
When Crœsus sent his Lydian messengers to the Oracle, one Alcmæon, who seems to have been a shrewd fellow, with a sharp eye to the main chance, entertained them with generous hospitality; which so pleased Crœsus, when he was told of it, that he immediately invited Alcmæon to visit him at Sardis. When lie arrived, the King told him that he was at liberty to enter his treasury and help himself to as much gold as he could carry off on his person at once. No sooner said than done. Alcmæon, without bashfulness, arrayed himself in a tunic that bagged abominably at the waist, drew on the biggest buskins in Sardis, dressed his hair loose, and, marching into the treasure-house, (imagine what the treasury of Crœsus must have been,) waded into a desert of gold dust. He crammed the bosom of his tunic, crammed his bombastian buskins, filled his hair full, and finally stuffed his mouth, so that, as he passed out, he could only wink his fat red eyes and bob to Crœsus, who, when lie had laughed till his sides ached, repaid his funny, but voracious guest for the amusement he bad afforded him by not only confirming the gift of gold, but conferring an equal amount in jewels and rich raiment.
But we must not remain to marvel among the overwhelming displays of barbaric profusion. Akbhar, the imperial Mogul, who on his birthday caused himself to be weighed in golden scales three times, — first against gold pieces, then against silver, and lastly against fine perfumes,— who scattered among his courtiers showers of gold and silver nuts, for which even his gravest ministers were not too dignified to scramble,—even Akbhar must not detain us. Nor Aurengzebe, who made his marches, seated on a throne flashing with gold and rich brocades, and borne on the shoulders of men; while his princesses and favorite begums followed in all the pomp and glory of the seraglio, nestled in delicious pavilions curtained with massy silk, and mounted on the backs of stately elephants of Pegu and Martaban.
We must get away from these; for the realm of the Supernatural and the Marvellous lies open before us, and on the very threshold, over which Sir John Mandeville conducts us, broods in his fiery nest that wondrous fowl, the Phœnix.
“ In Egypt is the city of Eliopolis, that is to say, the City of the Sun. In that city there is a temple made round, after the shape of the temple of Jerusalem. The priests of that temple have all their writing dated by the fowl that is called Phœnix ; and there is none but one in all the world. And he cometh to burn himself upon the altar of the temple at the end of five hundred years; for so long he liveth. And at the end of the five hundred years, they array their altar carefully, and put thereon spices and live sulphur, and other things that will burn lightly. And then the bird Phoenix cometh and burneth himself to ashes. And the first day next after, men find in the ashes a worm; and the second day next after, men find a bird, quick and perfect; and the third day next after, he flieth away. And so there is no more birds of that kind in all the world but that alone. And, truly, that is a great miracle of God. And men may well liken that bird unto God, because there is no God but one, and also that our Lord arose from death the third day. This bird men see often flying in those countries; and he is not much more than an eagle. And he hath a crest of feathers upon his head greater than the peacock hath. And his neck is yellow, after the color of an orial, that is a stone well shining. And his beak is colored blue, and his wings are of purple color, and his tail is yellow and red. And he is a full fair bird to look upon against the sun; for he shinetk full gloriously and nobly.”
Let us pray that our Phoenix may not fall into the clutches of the De Sautys, to be made goose-meat of; rather may they themselves be utterly cast out, — into the land of giants that are hideous to look upon, and have but one eye, and that in the middle of the forehead,—-into the land of folk of foul stature and of cursed kind, that have no heads, and whose eyes be in their shoulders, — into the isle of those that go upon their hands and feet, like beasts, and that are all furred and feathered, — or into the country of the people who have but one leg, the foot of which is so large that it shades all the rest ot the body from the sun, when they lie down on their backs to rest at noonday.
But not into the Land of Women, where all are wise, noble, and worthy. For once there was a king in that country, and men married; but presently befell a war
with the Scythians, and the king was slain in battle, and with him all of the best blood of his realm. So when the queen, and the other noble ladies, saw that they were all widows, and all the royal blood was spilled, they armed themselves, and, like mad creatures, slew all the men that were left in the country; for they wished that all the women might be widows, as the queen and they were. And thenceforward they never would suffer men to dwell among them, especially men of the De Sauty sort, who, as Hans Christian Andersen says, ask questions and never dream.
The town of Lop, says Marco Polo, is situated near the commencement of the great desert called the Desert of Lop. It is asserted as a well-known fact, that this desert is the abode of many evil spirits, which entice travellers to destruction with extraordinary delusions. If, during the daytime, any persons remain behind on the road until the caravan has passed a hill and is no longer in sight, they unexpectedly hear themselves called by their names, in a tone of voice to which they are accustomed. Supposing the call to proceed from their companions, they are led away by it from the direct road, and, not knowing in what direction to advance, are left to perish. In the night-time they are persuaded they hear the march of a great cavalcade, and concluding the noise to be the tramp of their own party, they make the best of their way in the direction of the quarter whence it seems to come; but when the day breaks, they find they have been misled and drawn into a situation of danger. Sometimes, during the day, these spirits assume the appearance of their travelling-companions, who address them by name, and endeavor to draw them out of the proper road. It is said, also, that some travellers, in their way across the desert, have seen what appeared to them to be a body of armed men advancing toward them, and, fearful of being attacked and plundered, have taken to flight. Thus, losing the right path, and ignorant of the direction they should take to regain it, they have miserablyperished of hunger.
Marvellous, indeed, and almost passing belief; are the stories related of these spirits of the desert, which are said to fill the air at times with the sounds of all kinds of musical instruments, of drums, and the clash of arms. When the journey across this dreadful waste is completed, the trembling traveller arrives at the city of the Great Khan.2
In this rich chapter of horrors how finished an allegory for old John Bunyan! With what religious unction he would have led his Christian traveller from that unknown city on the edge of the sands, across the Soul’s Desert of'Lop, with its
“Voices calling in the dead of night,
And airy tongues that syllable men’s names,”
safe into the City of the Great Khan !
Leigh Hunt declares that he has read, in some other account, of a dreadful, unendurable face that used to stare at people as they went by.
The Barbaric has also its features of solemnity and grandeur, filling the mind with exalted contemplations, and the imagination with inspiring and ennobling apparitions. Surroundings that contribute a quality of awfulness embrace in such scenes the soul of the traveller, and hold him in their tremendous thrall. Mean or flippant ideas may not enter here; but the man puts off the smaller part of him, as the Asiatic puts off his sandals on entering the porches of his god. Of such is the Eternal Sphinx, as Eothen Kinglake beheld her. We cannot feel her aspect more grandly than by the aid of his inspiration.
“ And near the Pyramids, more wondrous and more awful than all else in the land of Egypt, there sits the lonely Sphinx. Comely the creature is; but the comeliness is not of this world; the once worshipped beast is a deformity and a monster to this generation; and yet you can see that those lips, so thick and heavy, were fashioned according to some ancient mould of beauty, now forgotten,— forgotten because that Greece drew forth Cytherea from the flashing foam of the Ægean, and in her image created new forms of beauty, and made it a law among men that the short and proudly wreathed lip should stand for the sign and main condition of loveliness through all generations to come. Yet still lives on the race of those who were beautiful in the fashion of the elder world ; and Christian girls of Coptic blood will look on you with the sad, serious gaze, and kiss you your charitable hand with the big, pouting lips of the very Sphinx.
“Laugh and mock, if you will, at the worship of stone idols ; hut mark ye this, ye breakers of images, that in one regard the stone idol bears awful semblance of Deity, — unchangefulness in the midst of change.—the same seeming will and intent, forever and forever inexorable. Upon ancient dynasties of Ethiopian and Egyptian kings, — upon Greek and Roman, upon Arab and Ottoman conquerors,—upon Napoleon dreaming of an Eastern empire,— upon battle and pestilence,—upon the ceaseless misery of the Egyptian race, — upon lteeneyed travellers, — Herodotus yesterday, Warharton to-dav,— upon all, and more, this unworldly Sphinx has watched and watched like a Providence, with the same earnest eyes, and the same sad, tranquil mien. And we, we shall die; and Islam will wither away; and the Englishman, leaning far over to hold his loved India, will plant a firm foot on the banks of the Nile, and sit in the seats of the Faithful; and still that sleepless rock will lie watching and watching the works of the new, busy race, with those same sad, earnest eyes, and that same tranquil mien, everlasting. You dare not mock at the Sphinx! ”
Not less stupendously placid than the Sphinx, and even grimmer in his remoteness from the places that have heard Messiah’s name, is the Boodh, throned in trance, and multitudmously worshipped. Shall I tell you how ! first beheld him in his glory ?
We were approaching some sacred caves in Burmah. Lighting our torches, and each man taking one, we mounted the steep, tortuous, and slippery footpath of damp, green stones, through the thorny shrubs that beset it, to the low entrance to the outer cavern. Stooping uncomfortably, we passed into a small, vacant antechamber, having a low, dripping roof, perpendicular walls, clammy and green, and a rocky floor, sloping inward through a narrow arch to a long, double, transverse gallery, divided in the direction of its length, partly by a face of rock, partly by a row of pillars. Here were innumerable images of Guadma, the counterfeit presentment of the Fourth Boodh, whose successor is to see the end of all things,—innumerable, and of every stature, from Hop-o’-my-thumbs to Hurlothrombos, but all of the identical orthodox pattern,—with pendulous ears, one hand planted squarely on the knee, the other sleeping in the lap, an eternity of front face, and a smooth stagnancy of expression, typical of an unfathomable calm, — the Guadma of a span as grim as he of ten cubits, and he of ten cubits as vacant as the Guadma of a span, — of stone, of lead, of wood, of clay, of earthenware and alabaster,-—-on their bottoms, on their heads, on their backs, on their sides, on their faces,— black, white, red, yellow,— an eye gone, a nose gone, an ear gone, a head gone,— an arm off at the shoulder, a leg at the knee,— a back split, a bosom burst,— Guadma, imperturbable, eternal, calm,—-in the midst of time, timeless! It is not annihilation which the Boodh has promised, as the blessed crown of a myriad of progressive transmigrations; it is not Death ; it is not Sleep,— it is this.
Our entrance awoke a pandemonium. Myriads of hats and owls, and all manner ot fowls of darkness and bad omen, crazed by the glare of twenty torches, startled the echoes with infernal clangor. Screaming and huddling together, some fled under the wide skirts of sable, which Darkness, climbing to the roof in fear, drew up after her; some hid with lesser shadows between columns of great girth, or in the remotest murky niches, or down in the black profound of resounding chasms; some, bewildered or quite blinded by the flashes of the co-eternal beam, dashed themselves against the stony walls, and fell crippled, gasping, staring, at our feet And when, at last, our guides and servants, mounting to pinnacles and jutting points, and many a frieze and coigne of vantage, placed blue lights on them all, and at the word illuminated all together, there was redoubled bedlam in that abode of Hecatc, and the eternal calm of the Boodh became awful. For what deeds of outer darkness, done long ago in that black hole of superstition, so many damned souls shrieked from their night-fowl transmigrations, ‘twere vain to question there were no disclosures in that trance of stone.
For an experience of the oppressive awfulness of solitude, and all the weary monotony of waste, come now, with Kinglake, into mid-desert.
“ As long as you are journeying in the interior of the desert, you have no particular point to make for as your restingplace. The endless sands yield nothing but small stunted shrubs; even these fail after the first two or three days; and from that time you pass over broad plains, you pass over newly reared hills, you pass through valleys that the storm of the last week has dug; and the hills and the valleys are sand, sand, sand, still sand and only sand, and sand and sand again. The earth is so samely, that your eyes turn toward heaven,— toward heaven, I mean, In the sense of sky. You look to the sun, for he is your task-master, and by him you know the measure of the work that you have done, the measure of the work that remains for you to do. He comes when you strike your tent in the early morning, and then, for the first hour of the day, as you move forward on your camel, he stands at your near side, and makes you know that the whole day’s toil is before you. Then, for a while, and a long while, you see him no more ; for you are veiled and shrouded, and dare not look upon the greatness of his glory; but you know where he strides over your head by the touch of his flaming sword. No words are spoken ; but your Arabs moan, your camels sigh, your skin glows, your shoulders ache ; and, for sights, you see the pattern and the web of the silk that veils your eyes, and the glare of the outer light.
“ Time labors on,— your skin glows, and your shoulders ache, your Arabs moan, your camels sigh, and you see the same pattern on the silk, and the same glare beyond ; but conquering Time marches on, and by-and-by the descending sun has compassed the heaven, and now softly touches your right arm, and throws your lank shadow over the sand, right along on the way to Persia. Then again you look upon his face, for his power is all veiled in his beauty, and the redness of flames has become the redness of roses; the fair, wavy cloud that fled in the morning now conies to his sight once more,— comes blushing, but still comes on, — comes burning with blushes, yet hastens, and clings to bis side.”
When one has been sufficiently disEuropized by remote travel, to become, as to his imagination, a child again, and receive a child’s impressions from the strangeness that surrounds him, the grotesque and fantastic aspects of his situation afford him the same emotions, of unquestioning wonder and romantic sympathy, that he derived in the old time from the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor, the exploits of Jack the Giant-Killer, what Gulliver saw, or Munchausen did. Behold Belzoni in the necropolis of Thebes, crawling on his very face among the dusty rubbish of unnumbered mummies, to steal papyri from their bosoms. Fatigued with the exertion of squirming through a mummy-choked passage of five hundred yards, he sought a resting-place; but when he would have sat down, his weight bore, on the body of an Egyptian, and crushed it like a bandbox. He naturally had recourse to his hands to sustain his weight: but they found no better support, and be sunk altogether in a crash of broken bones, rags, and wooden cases, that raised such a dust as kept him motionless for a quarter of an hour, waiting for it to subside. He could not move from the place, however, without increasing it, and every step he took smashed a mummy. Once, in forcing bis way through a steeply inclined passage, about twenty feet in length, and no wider than his body could be squeezed through, he was overwhelmed with an avalanche of bones, legs, arms, and hands, rolling from above ; and every forward move brought his face in contact with the abhorred features of some decayed Egyptian.3
Behold Denham in the Desert of Dead Bones, where his sick comrades were constantly disheartened by the sight of the skulls and skeletons of men who had perished on those sands. During several days, they passed from sixty to ninety skeletons a day ; but the numbers that lay about the wells at El Hammar were countless. Those of two women, whose perfect and regular teeth bespoke them young, perhaps beautiful, were particularly shocking. Their arms were still clasped around each other’s neck, in the attitude in which they had expired, although the flesh had long since been consumed in the rays of the sun, and the blackened bones alone were left.
Parkyns, among the little greenishgray monkeys of Tigre, enjoyed a treat to make the mouth of our young imagination water. He saw them conversing, quarrelling, making love; mothers were taking care of their children, combing their hair, nursing or “trotting” them; and the passions of all—jealousy, rage, love—were as strongly marked as in men. They had a language as distinct to them as ours to us; and their women were as noisy and as fond of disputation as any fish-fag in Billingsgate.
“ On their marches, a few of the heedless youth occasionally lagged behind to snatch a handful of berries; sometimes a matron halted for a while to nurse her baby, and, not to lose time, dressed its hair while it took its meal. Now and then a young lady, excited by jealousy or some sneering look or word, made an ugly mouth at one of her companions, and then, uttering a shrill squeal, highly expressive of rage, vindictively snatched at the offender’s tail or leg, and administered a hearty bite. This provoked a retort, and a most unladylike quarrel ensued, till a loud remonstrance from mothers or aunts called them to order.”
According to Marco Polo, there have been among the monkeys, from time to time, certain Asiatic Yankees, who did a lively business in the manufacture of an article which would, no doubt, have found a ready purchaser at Barnum’s Museum.
“ It should be known,” says the veracious old Venetian, “that what is reported respecting the dead bodies of diminutive human creatures or pigmies, brought from India, is an idle tale; such pretended men being manufactured in the islaud of Basman in the following manner. The country produces a species of monkey of a tolerable size, and having a countenance resembling that of a man. Those persons who make it their business to catch them shave off the hair, leaving it only about the chin. They then dry and preserve them with camphor and other drugs; and having prepared them in such a mode that they have exactly the appearance of little men, they put them into wooden boxes, and sell them to trading people, who carry them to all parts of the world.”
Not the least familiar of the aspects of the Barbaric are its actions and situations of horror. I could tell tales from the later, not less than from the older travellers, that would send my readers shuddering to sleepless beds: the ferocities of Tippoo reenacted in the name of Nena Sahib; the noiseless murders of Thuggee’s nimble cord; the drunken diablerie of the Doorga Pooja; the monstrous human sacrifices of the Khonds and Bheels; the dreadful rites of the Janni before the gory altar of the Earth goddess; the indiscriminate slashing and stabbing of the Amok; the shuddering dodges of the plague-chased Cavrite; the grim and lonely duels of the French lion-killer under the melancholy stars ; the carrionlike exposures of the Parsee dead; the nightmarish legends of the Evil Eye. But my hope is to part with them on pleasant terms; so rather would I strew their pillows with the consolations of this many-mooded Barbaric,— moss from ruins, and pretty flowers from the desert,— that beneficent botany which niaketh the wilderness to blossom like the rose.
When Mungo Park, deserted by his guides, and stripped by thieves, utterly paralyzed by misfortune and misery, would have laid him down to die in a desert place,— at that moment, of all others, the extraordinary beauty of a small moss in fructification caught his eye. “ I mention this,” he says, “ to show you from what trifling circumstances the mind will sometimes derive consolation ; lor, though the whole plant was not larger than the top of one of my fingers, I could not contemplate the delicate conformation of its root, leaves, and capsule without admiration. Can that Being, thought I, who planted, watered, and brought to perfection, in this obscure part of the world, a thing which appears of so small importance, look with unconcern upon the situation and sufferings of creatures formed after his own image? I started up, and, disregarding both danger and fatigue, travelled forward, assured that relief was at hand ; and I was not disappointed.”
Richardson, in the midst of Sahara, beheld with brimming eyes two small trees, the common desert acacia, and by-and-by two or three pretty blue flowers. As be snatched them, to fold them in his bosom, he could not help exclaiming, Elhamdullah ! “ Praise be to God ! ”—for Arabic was growing second-born to his tongue, and he began to think in it and to pray in it. An Arab said to him, “ Yakob, if we bad a reed, and were to make a melodious sound, those flowers, the color of heaven, would open and shut their mouths.”
Once, Mungo Park (the once too often of telling this story can never come) sat all day, without food, under a tree. The night threatened to be very pitiless; for the wind arose, and there was every sign of a heavy rain ; and wild beasts prowled around. But about sunset, as he was preparing to pass the night in the branches of the tree, a woman, returning from the labors of the field, perceived bow weary and dejected he was, and, taking up his saddle and bridle, invited him to follow her. She conducted him to her hut, where she lighted a lamp, spread a mat on the floor, and bade him welcome. Then she went out, and presently returning with a fine fish, broiled it on the embers, and set his supper before him. The rites of hospitality thus performed toward a stranger in distress, that savage angel, pointing to the mat, and assuring him that he might sleep there without fear, commanded the females of her family, who all the while had stood gazing on him in fixed astonishment, to resume their spinning. Then they' sang, to a sweet and plaintive air, these words : “ The winds roared, and the rains fell. The poor white man, faint and weary, came and sat under our tree. Let us pity the white man; no mother hath he to bring him milk, no wife to grind his corn.” Flowers in the desert ! 4
Flowers in the desert! And De Sauty shall spare them, though he botanize on his mother’s grave. Borro-boolah-gah may know us by our India-rubber shirts and pictorial pocket-handkerchiefs; and King Mumbo Jumbo may reduce his rebellious locks to subjection with a Yankee currycomb; but these, our desert flowers, are All Right, De Sauty!