Harper's Hand-Book for Travellers in Europe and the East
AN eminent dental surgeon one day left his forceps and gold-foil and chloroform, and, turning away from the agonized faces of his patients, — they all insanely rejoiced for an instant that the teeth which ought to be drawn would not be drawn,—went to Europe. Arrived in Paris, he unfolded from the American flag, which many of our citizens carry abroad for the complication of the police authorities and customs officers on the Continent, a copy of Mr. Fetridge’s guide-book. “ Now, my dear,”said this dentist to his Ladv, who sat by, with a filigree spread-eagle of gold extending a protecting wing over the sparse parting of her hair, and a pin at her throat neatly imitated in enamel from a 7-30 $500 bond, “ now, my dear, we want to go to Munich; and our best plan will be to take one of the routes Mr. Fetridge has laid down, and follow it out faithfully, doing everything in it. We will take Route Go.”
After a month’s travel, the tourists found themselves at Frankfort and their wit’s end. They had discovered, in doing everything in Route 60, that Munich was not there. Where could it be ? It was a mystery about which the head-waiter — polite, but a little impervious — could not be consulted with success, and they hardly liked to ask the Consul-General. It appeared to them that they should die in Frankfort ; and the doctor fell into a very low state, in which he was sustained only by enthusiasm for his art. He spent days in polishing his instruments, which he always took with him, and he plugged or pulled nearly all the teeth in the head of the portier.
One day just after these consolations had failed him, and as he sat mournfully gazing at Route 60 in the book, where it lay open on his case of instruments, there came a knock at the door, and who should enter but Parleyou, — that half-French American, who was educated in Paris, and who spends two thirds of his time abroad, who knows Europe better than Broadway, and speaks all foreign languages like an angel, — Parleyou, bound to the doctor by a sincere regard, and by gratitude for a double-tooth saved from the forceps after every other dentist had given it up.
The doctor all but caught him round the neck. He did not allow him a word of greeting. “ Good heavens, Parleyou,” he said, huskily, “ where is Munich ? Here is Harper’s Hand-Book, which I bought in New York ; and here is Route 60, which we took at Paris,— and Munich is n’t in it ! ”
The reader, versed in polite fiction, foresees the dénouement: in twenty-four hours, Parleyou has persuaded the doctor to wrap up his Hand-Book in the national symbol again, has instructed him in the use of Bradshaw’s Railway Guide, and has started him by the Schncllzug to Munich, and the doctor has the nightmare between the featherbeds of the Black Hen Hotel in the Bavarian capital.
But the doctor is too fair a man to give up a friend for a single fault, which he more than half suspects, after all, to be his own. Indeed, Mr. Fetridge’s work has afforded him a vast deal of satisfaction in his journey through Great Britain, and he has found frequent occasion to agree with the author’s sentiments and opinions. When, standing before Milton’s bust in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey, he read, “ With what admiration we look upon the author of Paradise Lost, and find ourselves lost [spirited and appropriate play upon words ?] in the beauties of his work,”— he felt that this was what he would himself have said ; and he envied the author his use of language, where he remarks, in view of Shakespeare’s statue, “ How much sadness it awakens in the mind to think of such talent having passed forever to ‘ that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns.’ ” He agreed with Mr. Fetridge, also, that Paris is “ the city of the world,” and he did it almost to the letter of his directions.
Finishing Munich with like fidelity, he carries his Hand-Book with him over the Tyrolese Alps into Italy, and pauses at Verona, where his Lady wishes to see Juliet’s tomb, and finds it, as Mr. Fetridge describes, doing “ but little justice to her memory.” They are both moved, at reading further : “ Poor Romeo realized an unhappy termination to his anticipated union with his lovely Juliet. His admiration for her beauty is expressed in the following lines : —
' But soft ! what light,’" etc.
At Venice they are struck with the excellence of the criticism on the palaces, which are, “ with the exception of those built by Palladio, Sansovino, Scamozzi, and a few other eminent architects, devoid of good taste, and are more remarkable for their gorgeous style and great display.” While at Florence, they admire the just and bold applause of the galleries in the Villa Demidoff, “ where the pictures are nearly all modern, but splendid productions, and how refreshing, after weeks’ straining of the eyes, to see old masters’ productions in dim and dingy churches ! The gallery of sculpture contains nothing but gems, but how dazzling and white ! ”
It would be hard to say when or how the Hand-Book, so much prized, falls into disfavor ; but it is certain that in Central Italy there is a dawn of dissatisfaction in the mind of the doctor’s Lady, at least. She finds that friends who have been a year longer abroad are using Murray or some French guide, or the English Bædeker, and that they look askance at the handsome morocco covers of the work which the doctor is always reading and quoting. By this time the filigree spread-eagle has taken flight from the sparse parting, and the miniature bond in enamel has yielded to a Florentine mosaic pin. It is not, however, till after purchase of a complete set of jewelry at Castellani’s in Rome, that the doctor’s Lady expresses all her disrespect for the Hand-Book, and overwhelms the doctor with surprise at a revulsion of the progress of which he was wholly ignorant. But he is told that he might have seen it long ago. Everybody laughs at the book, and at him for reading it. For the doctor’s Lady’s part, she never could endure it.
“ Why, my dear,” says the doctor, “ I am sure that at the Specola in Florence, you praised Mr. Fetridge’s forethought and delicacy in the warning he gave you : ‘ To ladies we would say, woman cannot sacrifice her womanliness for science at all times, and we must say it requires a considerable degree of resolution to overcome the feelings of repugnance and shame that any modest woman must feel at entering this room with a promiscuous party, although a sight more interesting or instructive is difficult to meet.' I got the passage by heart, for I never was able to make out whether the interesting and instructive sight meant the feelings of repugnance and shame, or the modest woman, or the physiological specimens, or the promiscuous party, — and I always intended to ask somebody.”
For answer to this, the doctor’s Lady merely says “ Stuff ! ” and that she will have Murray for Rome, and the doctor shall not carry Harper unless he covers it, so that it shall not be known. And in a few weeks the doctor gives up the contest, and uses the Hand-Book of our hereditary enemies, while our own native guide lies wrapt in the flag at the bottom of his trunk, together with the enamelled bond, and the filigree spread-eagle.
There is a certain injustice in this fate of Mr. Fetridge’s work ; but it must be confessed that most of us are obliged, after a brief sojourn in Europe, to relinquish its companionship for one reason or other, It is a good enough guide, we believe, and if the hero of our little romance had taken another than “ Route 60 from Paris,” he could probably have got to Munich by it. But such a book is better adapted to the closet than to the gallery, the palace, or the ruin ; it is written with a personal flavor and feeling so unusually strong, that a sort of sympathy is implied in its use, and the tourist is inevitably identified with it. The truth is, we do get a little ashamed of it. Yet in what volume can you find more delightful reading than in this product of the native American Muse ? It is not so much a guide-book as a New York Odyssey describing with Homeric freshness and simplicity the travels of a metropolitan Ulysses. It brightens throughout with timely jest, or apt philosophy, or pertinent indignation, or fine sentiment. The author is not a man to write apathetically of the historic and beautiful in the Old World, but is everywhere chatty and sociable, not only pointing out famous objects of interest, but suggesting those sprightly comments which many travellers love to make upon them. For example, in the Museo Borbonico, at Naples: “ This hall,” says he, “ is exclusively devoted to the Venuses, — poor creatures! why not have a few Adonises?” — which is precisely what a lively observer would wish to ask. Nearly all the nude female figures in the museum have been collected in this hall. “ We do not think, however, it would injure the morality of our friends much, especially as they have been greatly patched by restoration,” says our author, with the sarcastic pleasantry of Charles Yellowplush, and the constructive felicity of Mrs. Malaprop, united to a vigilance for the delicacy of his reader which is peculiarly Mr. Fetridge’s. He constantly warns ladies of what they are not to see ; and if he lugs in an equivocal story in order to fix a place in the tourist’s memory, he docs not fail to turn it to the advantage of his soul by some such remark as, “ Morals at that time were not at a high premium.”
From nearly every page of this unique work you may cull some flower of fancy or of rhetoric. “ In many respects the Bretons of the present day are what they were in Cæsar’s time. Primitive, too, and worldold is now, as was then, the appearance of the country ” ; and in this unimproved district, on fair-days, the people are seen “ bringing all imaginary articles to exchange for money!” Of Correggio we read that “ he was remarkable for the coloring of his pictures, and the females which adorned them have always been considered models of perfection ” ; and of the apartments of the Queen of Holland, that they “ are teeming with exquisite little gems of painting, statuettes, bronzes, etc.” After describing the tomb of the Cid at Burgos, Mr. Fetridge adds: “ His bones have made numerous changes since they first were seated on a throne, when he knocked a Jew down with his brand who had dared to pluck the dead lion by the beard, up to their late removal to the Hôtel de Ville.” And with like nobility of language and ingeniously blended shades of meaning, he says of Da Vinci’s “ Last Supper ” : “Many a tear has been shed by travellers while viewing this lovely, yet sad composition ; lost in admiration of its magnificence, we sit before it and gaze upon the attractive features of John and Peter, expressing so much love and impulse, and turning from them to the miserable, wretched traitor, until we are moved by every touch of skill bestowed by so truthful and glorious a master.”
It is in such passages as this last, in which Mr. Fetridge portrays the workings of a quick and impressible nature in the presence of the grand and the beautiful, that we are taught to regulate our own emotions, and, as it were, to set our sentiments to the proper tune. Whenever he makes us a personal confidence—for it is little less — of this kind, our author is unfailingly delicious ; and when we say that his book abounds in like passages, we give some notion, we hope, of its amusing character. “ Disgusting egotism !” he exclaims over an ultra-Anglican opinion in Mr. Ford’s Guide-Book to Spain. At Seville, “ the air is much like Cairo, of such a voluptuous softness that it reanimates one with youthful feelings. Morals, however, are at a very low ebb.” The guide, Bensaken, at Granada, he thinks to have stolen his guidebook : “ We would have given fifty dollars sooner than have been compelled to suspect him.” Alluding to himself as “ the author,” he says that on entering the Holy Land, which he had long desired to see, “ although his feelings were those of unbounded joy, they were soon changed to holy sorrow, as on every side the evidence was conclusive that he [Christ] indeed ‘ had risen,' when throughout the country there is hardly a symptom of either commerce, comfort, or happiness.” “ Be careful,” at Killarney, he says, “you are not torn to pieces by beggars, guides, and other nuisances which infest tins spot, The author, at the time of his last visit here, had his leg nearly broken by a kicking horse, which his owner stood in the pathway, because he could not hire him to us for two shillings, when we were already mounted upon one for which we had paid five. Unfortunately our slick broke at the first blow over the scoundrel’s head.” From this complicated fact of plebeian selfishness and brutality, it is gratifying to turn to an instance of royal courtesy: “ Although the Queen [of Holland] was occupying her apartments at the time the author’s party called, she very kindly went out to walk, that we might have an opportunity to examine them.”Only, it is a little shocking to find the person qualified to impart an all but state secret of this kind referring us to the “social circles of the Hague” for scandal about the same amiable sovereign !
As we said, the very virtues of Mr. Fetridge’s book, as the receptacle of so much eloquent remark and personal reminiscence, go far to disqualify it for the ignoble office of valet de place with those who would have a guide chary of comment, reticent of everything but information, and rather grammatical than otherwise. Yet we should be sorry to be without it in literature ; and we think the eminent dental surgeon referred to in the early part of this review has at last made a brave and proper use of it. In the awful parlor adjoining his operating-room, it lies upon the cold marble table, under the mirror that reflects the visages of his patients waiting their turn in chairs which no one has the courage to draw from the walls. It is full of the doctor’s marginal notes, and its companions are the Directory, a copy of “ The Course of Time,” and a large volume of Dick’s Works.