Friday, December 30, 2005

Cannibalism in Sumatra

March, 1825.—From Sir Stamford Raffles, I have heard histories of the manners and customs of the Island of Sumatra, so very strange that from any person but one who, having been many years governor of the island, was an eye-witness of some of the scenes he described, and in all had opportunity to ascertain the truth, I could not have believed one word. The first undoubted fact which he told me is, that at this time there is in a part (the north-western part, I think) of that island a population of about a million who are cannibals, and cannibals of a more horrible description than any I ever heard or read of, for they literally eat their victims alive.

This, it seems, is the punishment for three or four great offences; one of which is adultery. An execution for this crime was witnessed by one of the white resident merchants, a person. Sir Stamford says, ‘in whom he had perfect confidence,' and was thus described to him:
The criminal being tied to a stake, the executioner, armed with a very large sharp knife, asked the injured husband, who on this occasion had precedence over every person, what piece he chose: he selected the right ear; which was immediately cut off. An assistant of the executioner placed it on a large silver salver, on which were previously arranged in heaps, salt, pepper of various degrees of heat, lemons, &c. The salver was presented to the husband, who, after having seasoned the disgusting morsel to his taste, proceeded to eat it.
The next in rank happened to select the nose: the ceremony was repeated; and the executioner (being a merciful man), after two or three more slices, ran his sword through the body of the wretched victim, and then divided the body among the surrounding multitude, who crowded with savage ferocity to the feast.

Sir Stamford told me that, finding that some few among the principal persons expressed disgust at this horrible custom, he exerted his influence to abolish it, but he was answered as if he intended to subvert the public morals. They made use of the same arguments to defend their practice, as were used in this country to defend one less barbarous, the interment of suicides in the highway.*

They said death might happen to any man, and was not a sufficient punishment to deter from crime: circumstances to excite horror must be added; and some of those who fed on human flesh seemed to consider themselves as performing a painful duty.

I asked about how many executions might occur in the course of the twelvemonth, and was answered forty or fifty. Among the different villages, besides this, they are in the habit of eating their parents when they become old and useless. These are willing victims. The ceremony begins with music, dancing, and complete intoxication; and the poor old wretches are killed and roasted before they are eaten by their dutiful children.

Latterly, however, some progress was made in civilisation : they began to feel some repugnance at eating their own parents; and neighbouring villages agreed to exchange their old for food. I naturally asked Sir Stamford whether he did not feel the utmost dread and abhorrence of this savage people. He said,' Decidedly not: in the other transactions of life, they are a mild, strictly honourable people.' He gave me a proof of his opinion of them, telling me he had travelled through their district accompanied by Lady Raffles, and with out any guards or means of defence.

They had lodged in their huts, which are very large, and on account of the great moisture of the climate raised on large wooden piles. On one occasion, in one of these huts, above one hundred of these people slept in the same room with the Raffles' party; but this seems to have been an extraordinary occurrence,
occasioned be a very stormy night which prevented many from seeking more distant habitations.

After all this, nothing is to me so wonderful as the plain historical fact, that Sumatra was discovered by the Portuguese in the year 1510, and since that period seems to have been continually the resort of eastward-bound European ships. I conclude that in this large island a remote part has been little visited by Europeans ; still, that little, one should think, must in the course of above 300 years have produced some progress towards civilisation. It seems strange, too, that a district large enough to contain a population of a million should be so cut off from all intercourse with the capital and that part of the island which has been so long inhabited by European merchants of different countries.

I was astonished to hear that so near the equator a climate so temperate should be found. Sir Stamford said there was hardly a day in the year in which the thermometer did not rise above 80°, and very few in which it was higher than 84°; then, in the night and early morning, it frequently falls to 70°, and this, partly from the extreme moisture and partly from the relaxation of frame which the previous heat has produced, is felt as severe cold.

Sir Stamford says the mermaid is frequently seen on the coasts of Sumatra; but his report of her appearance is far different from, and much less poetic than, the fabulous histories I have been in the habit of hearing.

He describes her appearance as very like that of a cow, and says he cannot conceive how any resemblance to a woman can have been fancied, excepting in the position of the breasts and in the manner of nursing her young. They have very strong affection for their young, and when these are removed, call them with a
loud continual moan, very discordant, and this is the far-famed mermaid's song. This moan is sometimes accompanied by tears, and a strange property is ascribed to those tears by a kind of poetic superstition. It is supposed that the tears which the mother sheds to recall her absent offspring, have the power of attracting towards the person possessing them the one most dear to that
person. The precious drops are, therefore, eagerly purchased by lovers, as a kind of talisman to preserve and retain the affections of the beloved object.

After writing the above, I looked over Marsden's 'Sumatra;' I there find the account given by Sir Stamford of the race of cannibals exactly confirmed**. The part of the island in which they are found is on the N.E. coast, and is called Batta, and cannot be more than 200 miles from Achin—the northern point where an English factory was established early in the reign of James I. Marsden calls the fish which he says has given rise to the idea of there being mermaids in the tropical seas, the Dayong. He describes the head as covered with shaggy hair, and says the tusks are applied to the same purposes as those of the elephant, and, being whiter, are more highly prized.

I was conversing on the subject of Sumatra with Mr Stanley, the Vicar of Alderley, who tells me that it is still more strange that, in this age of discovery, most of the islands in the Indian seas possess unexplored regions in the interior. He instanced Borneo, Ceylon, Madagascar (where there seems much reason to believe that there exists a diminutive race, a nation of dwarfs) and the Philippine Islands. As to the latter, he told me that he had the authority of a captain and of a lieutenant of a merchant vessel, who said that two young men with tails had come to the coast from the interior of the country; that they came on board their vessel, remained some time, and had even consented to come to England with them, but afterwards either repented and returned home or died (I forget which). Mr. Stanley told me he had taken a great deal of pains in examining these men, and never could find any wavering in their testimony, or discover any circumstance which led him to doubt their veracity.***
Editor's Notes
* In 1813 the bill for omitting the embowelling and quartering in the punishment of high treason was thrown out in the House of Commons by 75 against 60; 'so that (wrote Romilly) the ministers have the glory of having preserved the British law, by which it is ordained, that the bowels of a man convicted of treason shall be torn out of his body whilst yet alive.' The judgment against Captain Walcot (concerned in the Rye House plot) was reversed, because it did not direct that the bowels of the prisoner should be taken out and burned, in conspectu cjus et ipso vivente. Lord Russell was one of those who disputed the King's prerogative to remit the hanging and quartering in Lord Stafford's case; and when his own turn camp, the King (Charles II.) said: ' My Lord Russell shall find that I am possessed of that prerogative which., in the case of Lord Stafford, he thought fit to deny me.'

** These (offenders) are tried by the people of the tribe where the offence was committed, but cannot be executed until their own particular raja has been made acquainted with the sentence, who, when he acknowledges the justice of the intended punishment, sends a cloth to cover the head of the delinquent, along with a large dish of salt and lemons.' Amongst the many proofs addressed by Mr. Marsden to the incredulous, is the following :—'When Mr. Giles Holloway was leaving Tappanuli, and settling his accounts with the natives, he expostulated with a Batta man who had been. dilatory in his payments. "I would," said the man, " have been here sooner, but my pangula (superior officer) was detected in familiarity with my wife. He was condemned, and I stayed to eat my share of him : the ceremony took us three days, and it was only last night that we finished him." Mr. Miller was present at this conversation, and the man spoke with perfect seriousness.'—History of Sumatra, p. 394.

*** The Rev. Dr. "Wolff states positively, in the last of his publications, that a noble English family was distinguished by the same appendage as these two young men: and that one of them had the seat of his carriage adapted for the reception of his tail. His nether garments were probably made like Satan's—
His coat it was red, and his breeches were blue,
And there was a hole for his tail to come through.'

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Dream of the Duchess de Berry

A few months after the death of the Duke, the Duchess had a dream, or vision as they called it, which made a great noise at the time. Lithographic engravings were made of the scene: verses were published before we arrived at Paris in the month of July. It was about this period that the Nuncio gave to Mme (La Comtesse) Macnamara the paper, of which the following is a copy:—

'Voici le Reve de Mad. la Duchesse de Berry, tel qu'il a ete conte par cette Princesse a Mons1' 1'Eveque d'Amiens, de qui je le tiens:
'Vous connoissez le salon vert de l'Elysee Bourbon. J'y entrais. Je vis centre la cheminee qui est en face de la porte une grande figure blanche qui me fit peur, quoiqu'elle n'eut rien de terrible. Elle etoit enveloppee d'un manteau parseme de fleurs de lys, et je connus que c'etoit St. Louis. Mad. de Gontault etoit aupres de moi, tenant deux enfans qui etoient les miens: l'un etait ma fille agee de cinq ans, et 1'autre etoit un fils un peu plus jeune que sa soeur. Mad. de Gontault les poussoit vers la figure blanche, et moi je faisais au contraire tout ce que je pouvois pour les retenir. Cependant elle l'emporta sur moi, et mes enfans se trouverent tout aupres de St. Louis; qui posa une couronne sur la tete de ma fille. Je pris cette couronne et la mis sur la tete de mon fils, disant que c'etoit lui qui devait etre couronne. St. Louis reprit cette couronne, et la mit sur la tete de ma fille, mats il en mit une seconde sur la tete de mon fils et je m'eveillai.'

This dream produced so strong an effect upon the mind of the Duchess, that the royal family, who at first rejoiced in her deriving consolation from any circumstance, began to grow uneasy at the confidence with which she spoke of all that she would do with her son, just as if he had been actually there.* Monsieur thought it his duty to speak to her most seriously on the subject, and to prepare her for the too probable disappointment of her high-raised expectations.
The only reply he obtained from her was, 'Ah! Papa, St. Louis en salt plus que vous.'
Editor’s note
* The Duc de Berry was born in the September following.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Execution of the Rebel Lords in 1746

Letter describing the execution of the Rebel Lords in 1746, copied from the original.

'August 20th (1746).—Dear Sir,—As you and Mrs. Grimstone attended the Lords' tryal, I thought it would not be disagreeable to you to have an account of their exit or the last act of their tragedy, especially as I saw part of it, and heard the rest from one who was on the scaffold.

The sheriffs came there between 9 and 10 to see if everything was prepared. The scaffold was nine feet above the ground, -with a rail and black bays hanging from it. On the floor (which was covered with sawdust) was fixed the block, 2ft. 2in. high and 3 inches broad: near it lay red bags to receive the heads, and two white sheets to wrap the bodies in, and on each side were the coffins with coronets and inscriptions, and on the ground two hearses. The executioner was in blew with gold buttons and a red waistcoat (the cloaths of Fletcher executed by him): the ax that of a carpenter.

' At 11 the Lords came; Kilmarnock attended by Foster and a young clergyman. Balmerino was dressed in blew turned up with red (his uniform). Going into the house prepared for them, a spectator asked which was Balmerino; to which he replied, " I am he at your service." Then turning to Kilmarnock, he told him he was sorry he was not the only sacrifice, and asked the sheriffs if they were ready, for he longed to be at home, and said he was asham'd for some of his friends, who shed tears when Lord Kilmarnock came on the scaffold.

The bays was turned up that all might see, and the executioner put on a white waiscoat. My Lord had a long discourse with Foster, who pressed him to own there what he had told him privately,—a detestation of the fact for which he suffered; which he did and which Foster has advertised.

'The executioner was a great while fitting him for the block, my Lord rising several times ; and when down on his knees, it was six minutes before he gave the sign, when his head was nearly severed from his body by one blow: a slight cut finished the execution, and the body fell on its back. . . .

'The scaffold being cleared, and the executioner having put on a clean shirt, Lord Balmerino mounted the stage, and immediately walked to his coffin, and read the inscription, and then called up a warder, and gave him his tye wig, and put on a Scotch plaid cap, and then read a paper denying the Pretender's orders for no quarter, commending him very much: but, being interrupted, he desired (briskly) to go on, and said he should lay down his head with pleasure on that block, pointing to it, and desiring those between him and it to remove. He reflected very much upon General Williamson, but said he had received the Sacrament that morning, and was told it was not proper for a person in his condition to say more of him, but referred for his character to Psalm 109, from verse 5th to 15th.

He said the Pretender gave 'him leave to enter our service, but, as soon as he could be of service to him, he left us. He talked to the executioner, took the ax in his hand, and tried the block, and told and showed him where to strike (near his head), and gave him three guineas (all he had); kneeled down, and presently gave the sign. The first blow did not strike his head off, so that the assistants were forced to lift up his body to receive a second, but the third finished him.

'I own I was a great deal more moved when I called on my friend Mr. Grill in the afternoon, and found him in great pain and given over by his Doctor, than I was with what I saw in the morning.

'The Guards attending were 1,000, and I am sure the spectators were 100 to 1 of the Guards.

' I am yours and Mr. and Mrs. Grimstons
' Most obliged servant,

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Napoleon at St Helena

Hastings, January 1822.—By a singular chance I have met at two consecutive public balls, first, an officer just returned from St. Helena, who was there at the moment of Buonaparte's death ; and secondly, one who was on board the 'Northumberland' when he went to St. Helena. From the first I anticipated much amusement, and expected that the second could only have bored one by repeating a tale which one has so often heard, that one feels possessed of almost all that can be told. In both instances the event proved exactly the reverse of my expectations. The first had never seen Buonapartre, and either could not or would not say anything about him. He told me that when he arrived at St Helena, three or four months before the death of Napoleon, the inhabitants seemed to have entirely forgotten him; and that the man who so few years ago was the one subject of interest, of curiosity, of conversation through the globe, was never mentioned even within the narrow precincts of his insular prison.

As to the other officer, Captain Sweeny of the Marines, he had for ten weeks passed some part of every day with Napoleon, and was quite as ready to tell as I was to hear all that he knew about him. I first asked whether he had ever seen any instance of that violence of temper of which we have heard so much; he said ‘Never’ adding, that appearing there only as a guest and for a few hours in company, there could not occur anything to provoke his passions. Still, as the narrator went on, I thought that, if the ill-temper had been so very near at hand as we have been taught to believe, there must have been occasions more than sufficient to call it forth. From his own people Napoleon continued to exact all the outward tokens of respect which they had shown to the Emperor. One day he was sitting on deck in rain such as I am told can scarcely be conceived by those who have not felt tropical rains: Bertrand, Montholon, and Lascasas were all standing round him bareheaded.

My informant spoke to them, and especially to Lascasas, who has very delicate health, telling them they would make themselves ill if they did not put on their hats: they did not answer, and Buonaparte gave him a very angry look, but said nothing. He then said, ' General, you had better send for a cloak; you'll be wetted to the skin:' he very sternly replied, ' I am not made of sugar or salt.'

Napoleon always spoke in the handsomest manner of his great rival the Duke of Wellington, and did not, like almost all of the officers who fought under his banner, attribute their defeat at Waterloo to chance, to a mistake, &c. He expressed the greatest admiration for the British navy.

It was one of the singular chances belonging to his extraordinary reverse of fortune that on board the ' President' * he found a nephew of Sir Sidney Smith. Napoleon one day in conversation with Captain Usher, after high commendation of his officers and of the treatment which he had met with from them, complained that there was one from whom he never could get anything but the shortest monosyllables in reply to all he could say to him. He added, ' I am the more provoked, as I hear Smith is a young man of great talents, who speaks French as easily as his own language, and yet I cannot draw him into any conversation.'

Captain Usher remonstrated with young Smith; spoke of the respect due to fallen greatness, of the rank which Napoleon had so recently held. Smith replied that he hoped he should never be found deficient in proper respect, but he could not conceive it to be a part of his duty to enter into conversation with Napoleon; adding, that if he had enquired who he was, he thought he could not wonder at his declining any conversation with the person who had so much persecuted his uncle. When Napoleon left the ' President,' he gave a handsome snuff-box to Captain Usher, and rings to every one of his officers but young Smith, who would not accept any present, however trifling, from his hand.

Both the officers with whom I have conversed agree in speaking of Bertrand in the highest terms. They say that the only thing they could say against him is that his devotion to his master was sometimes carried so far as to border on servility; but that conduct which would have been contemptible in the servant of the Emperor became respectable in the follower of the exile.

His fidelity was the more meritorious when one recollects how many feelings of affection as well as interest militated against it. The scene which Madame Bertrand made, and her attempt at throwing herself into the sea, are well known; but I always doubted whether her repugnance might not have been acted, or rather exaggerated, to increase the merit of the sacrifice which Bertrand was making.

By Captain Sweeny's account it was very genuine, and she left no efforts or blandishments untried, by which she could hope to work on his feelings as a father or a husband, to induce Bertrand to relinquish his intention of following his master. That he persisted, we all know; but I did not give him credit for being a very fond husband and father. His son Napoleon is, I hear, now as fine a boy as it is possible to behold.

Soon after they landed at St. Helena, Madame Bertrand incurred the displeasure of the fallen despot: it seems that one of the ships of the convoy was commanded by a Captain Hamilton, who discovered a distant relationship to Madame Bertrand, a Dillon by birth. Of course he showed her more attention on this account, and she received this attention like a Frenchwoman, but with perfect innocence.

However, "Napoleon was angry, and said to Bertrand: ' Your wife must no longer appear at my table; she has chosen to receive all the English officers, and from Captain Hamilton these attentions have been most pointed.' To this Bertrand made no answer, and submitted to the being almost entirely separated from his wife, whom he could only see for a very short period. This continued sixteen days, at the end of which time Napoleon, without another word on the subject, said, ‘Tell you wife to come to dinner next Sunday.’

With all this he treated this devoted servant in a most ungracious manner, and said to him one day before all the English officers: 'As to your fidelity, I value it not; I know that it is not for my sake that you follow me, but for the sake of the credit you will gain from posterity.'

Latterly it is said that Montholon had supplanted Bertrand in bis master's favour, and yet he is thought in every respect his inferior. Captain Sweeny said that when, after a tedious voyage of ten weeks, the shores of St. Helena were discovered, Napoleon seemed at first to feel the joy which animated every other person on board at the idea of leaving the ship; but when on a nearer approach he discovered the barren rocks and desolate shore of his insular prison, the expression of despair, mingled with other feelings, on his countenance was most striking. Napoleon left the deck, went into his cabin, and for many hours would not land. Hopes of escape were not probably at any time entirely extinct, and enabled him to endure his wretched existence longer than could have been expected.

While on board the ' Bellerophon' he said, ' I suppose you, in England, expected me to prove a second Cato, and destroy myself after the battle of Waterloo; but I was determined to show the world I would be a great man in adversity as well as prosperity.'

* The ship in which he was conveyed to Ella.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Literary Gains

Dropmore: July 29th, 1823 - I heard to-day, from Mr. Rogers, that Constable, the bookseller, told him last May that he had paid to the author of '"Waverley' the sum of 110,000l. To that may now be added the produce of ' Redgauntlet' and ' St. Ronan's Well,' for I fancy ' Quentin Durward ' was at least printed, if not published. I asked whether the 'Tales of my Landlord,' which do not bear the same name, were taken into calculation, and was told they were; but of course the poems were not.

All this has been done in twenty years: in 1803, an. unknown Mr. Scott's name was found as the author of three very good ballads in Lewis's' Tales of Wonder;' this was his first publication. Pope, who had till now been considered as the poet who had made the most by his works, died worth about 800l. a year. Johnson, for his last and best work, his ' Lives of the Poets,' published after the ' Rambler' and the Dictionary had established his fame, got two hundred guineas, to which was afterwards added one hundred more.

Editor’s notes
'Waverley' having been published in 1814, the sum mentioned by Constable was earned in nine years, by eleven novels in three volumes each, and three series of ' Tales of My Landlord ' making nine volumes more; eight novels (twenty-four volumes) being yet to come. Scott's first publication (Translations from the German) was in 1796. During the whole of his literary life, he was profitably engaged in miscellaneous writing and editing ; and whatever the expectations raised by his continuing popularity and great profits, they were surpassed by the sale of the corrected and illustrated edition of the novels commenced under his own revision in 1829.

Altogether, the aggregate amount gained by Scott in his lifetime very far exceeds any sum hitherto named as accruing to any other man by authorship. Pope inherited a fortune, saved, and speculated; and we must come at once to modern times to find plausible subjects of comparison. T. Moore's profits, spread over his life, yield but a moderate income. He got 3,000;. for ' Lalla Rookh.' Byron's did not exceed 25,0002. Talfourd once showed me a calculation by which he made out that Dickens (soon after the commencement of ' Nicholas Nickleby ') ought to have been, during two or three years, in the receipt of 10,000l. a year.

Thackeray (exclusive of Lectures) never got enough to live handsomely and lay by. Sir E. B. Lytton is said to have made at least from 80,000l. to 100,000l. by his writings, and the demand for them has been constantly on the increase.

I have heard that Mr. Routledge gave him 20,000l. for a cheap edition of his novels for ten years, and that ' Rienzi' sells best. We hear of sums of 500,000 fr. (20,000l.) having been given in France for histories—to Thiers and Lamartine, for example—but the largest single payment ever made to an author for a book was the cheque for 20,000l. on account, paid by Messrs. Longman to Lord Macaulay soon after the appearance of the third and fourth volumes of his History; the terms being that he should receive three-fourths of the net profits.

Gibbon and Kobertson were (I believe) the first authors who received large profits. Gibbon got 10,000l for his ' History of the Decline and Fall,' and Robertson was paid at a similar rate after his reputation was established. Since their time, readers have immeasurably increased, and neither the number of copies sold, nor profits, can be taken as comparative tests of popularity, much less of merit. As regards profits, we know merely what has accrued to the author, who may have made a bad bargain ; and circulation is greatly influenced by price.

Byron's poems came out at 3s. or Is. 6d, Scott's at 2l 2s. in quarto. Again, if an author publishes little and rarely, the demand will be proportionally large for the individual work. An admixture of the moral or religious element is a great attraction. Pollok's ' Course of Time ' sells prodigiously; and the circulation of Mr. Martin Tupper's ' Proverbial Philosophy ' counts by tens of thousands. Bundle's 'Cookery ' and Buchan's ' Domestic Medicine ' stand high.

Forty thousand copies of Murray's Handbook for Northern Germany, Belgium and the Rhine, written and published by himself, were sold within the year.
Occasionally a hit is made by a pamphlet, as by Lord Erskine's ' Armata,' which went rapidly through more than twenty editions ; or Sir E. B. Lytton's ' Present Crisis,' (1834) which sold 30,000 copies in a dear form in six weeks and 60,000 more in a cheap form. Very large sums are now gained by novels, which are often paid for twice over, first as magazine articles, and then as completed works. More than 8,000l is said to have accrued to George Elliot from ' Romola.' But the announcement of large prices is a prevalent mode of puffery, both in France and England. Kinglake's History has been more talked of and more read than any book since the day of its publication: it is, moreover, a book which no good library can be without. It arrived rapidly at the fourth edition ; yet it is my full belief (although I have no precise information on the point) that the author's profits have hitherto fallen short of 5,000l.

The establishment of large circulating libraries, like Mudie's, has exercised a marked, although imperfectly understood, influence on literature. On the one hand, a remunerative demand is insured to any book that attracts attention : on the other, the secondhand copies flung upon the market after the first flush have a deteriorating and discouraging tendency.

The foregoing comment is out of all proportion to the text, but the facts and hints may prove useful to future historians of literature.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Improvisatori. Bosetti. Spinetto.

June, 1824.—I have heard another improvisatore, a man of the name of Rosetti, who, I am told, has published poems of great merit. His improvisazione I consider as decidedly inferior to almost all I have heard of Pistrucci's.

I am inclined to believe that his lines were more harmonious ; but am not quite sure that I may not have been deceived and blinded, or rather deafened, to any harshness of rhythm by the beauty and musicalness of his tones. From what I heard this evening, I am more than ever convinced that with its surprising novelty the talent of improvisazione* has lost its principal charm for me. The numberless expletive expressions which occur so frequently, and seem to fill up each pause as regularly as the accompanying music, become very fatiguing ; and Rosetti very rarely relieved their sameness by any passage of spirit.

The subjects chosen I thought indifferent. The first was the treachery of Csesar Borgia, who invited five friends to sup with him and murdered them. Very little indeed was said or sung to reprobate the treachery, but much on the tame, commonplace, threadbare subject of the lamentations of the wives, children, &c. &c. of the deceased.

The second subject I think much better, and was, therefore, more disappointed in the performance. It ought, however, in fairness, to be remembered that in this Rosetti was, by his own desire, fettered not only by a given measure, the ottava rima, but also by given rhymes for each stanza. The subject was Lorenzo de Medici going in person and alone, with an embassy from the Republic of Florence, to the treacherous Ferdinand King of Naples; no other Florentine daring to trust himself in the power of this cruel traitor, who is represented as quite overcome by this instance of generous confidence.

A short time ago I heard the Marchese Spinetto, in the course of his lectures on modern literature, treat the subject of improvisatores, and was amused at seeing how very much higher he rates the talent than Foscolo, whom I heard lecture upon it last year. I must say that when he enumerated the infinite variety of knowledge, of talent, of feelings, requisite to make a good improvisatore, I thought he required even more than Imlac, in his well-known definition of a poet, and longed to exclaim, like Rasselas,' Enough! thou hast convinced me that no human being can ever be an improvisatore !'

This Spinetto would have denied ; and if the wonders which he related of the celebrated improvisatrice, Corilla,** are well authenticated, her knowledge must have been fully equal to that of the Admirable Crichton. At one sitting she treated twelve different subjects; these were repeated to us, and certainly —properly filled—would have comprised a vast fund of knowledge; yet I fancied when I thought them over, I could in most discover the loophole by which the improvisatore so often contrives to slip out of the given subject, and glide into the beaten track of commonplace. Spinetto told us he understands that Rosa Taddei, now living at Florence, is supposed to be nearly equal to Corilla.

Talking on the subject of improvisazione with Prati, to whom Italian is nearly as familiar as his own language (German), I said 'After all, it is a talent peculiar to the Italians, and depending, in great measure, upon the facility of versification which their language affords.'

He assured me, not only that he had frequently heard the thing done in German, but that want of voice for singing alone would prevent him from doing it himself. Spinetto, in his lecture, spoke of a French improvisatore, who, in his own language, versified impromptu, with all the fetters of a given subject, measure, &c.
Editor’s notes
The Italians have been the most assiduous and successful professors of this art, but they have by no means enjoyed a monopoly of it. Spain and Portugal have produced many much-admired improvisatori; Germany, a few ; France and Holland, one or two each ; and England one, Theodore Hook, of surprising and surpassing merit in his way. Sheridan listened with wondering admiration ; Coleridge, under the combined influence of wit and punch, placed him on a par with Dante; and Byron spoke of him as the only Englishman ever equal to the feat. His favourite mode of exhibition was a comic song or mock opera, to which he played the accompaniment on the piano. It is worthy of remark that only one of the Italians (Gianni) has submitted his extemporised effusions to the test of print with even moderate success, and that only one (Metastasio) has acquired an independent and permanent celebrity.

* Note by Miss Wynn.—This is a cumbrous, awkward word in English, but I cannot, like a lady (I forget who, but I heard her) say, 'He played an improvisatore on the piano.'
* Crowned in the Capitol in 1776.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

God Save the King, and Hyder Ally

June,1824.—I heard the other day, from Miss Stables, a singular instance of the power of music, which I am anxious to remember because it is so well authenticated.

When her father was a very young man, he followed his regiment to the East Indies. Upon some occasion (I forget what) this regiment gave a dinner to that savage tyrant, Hyder Ally, who a short time after returned the compliment by sending the greater part of those present to the far-famed Black Hole.*

During dinner the regimental band played, and ended by playing God save the King. Hyder Ally appeared much struck, and fainted at last from emotion. Mr. Stables was one of those who assisted in removing him from the dining-room, and who, standing by when he recovered, heard him exclaim, 'Is your King a God, that you adore him with such music as that?'

Editor’s note
* This is an obvious mistake. Miss Wynn was probably thinking of the treatment experienced by the British officers and soldiers after the battle with Hyder Ally of Sept. 10, 1780.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Queen of Wurtemberg, 'Nee Princess Royal of England - Napoleon at Wurtemberg - George the Third's Insanity

Stuttgard: Oct. 1823.—In the midst of the incessant gossip of the Queen Dowager, the subject of which is almost always herself and her family, some curious grains may be collected from a quantity of useless chaff. There is no topic on which she seems to me to show such good sense as in speaking of Napoleon. I heard her say, ' It was of course very painful to me to receive him with civility, but I had no choice; the least failure on my part might have been a sufficient pretence for depriving my husband and children of this kingdom. It was one of the occasions on which it was absolutely necessary to faire bonne mine a mauvais jeu. To me, he was always perfectly civil.'

I have since heard that he gave her facilities for correspondence with her own family at the time that the state of Europe would otherwise have made it nearly impossible.

The Queen, who is always trying to puff off the conjugal tenderness of her husband, told my mother that he left it to her option whether she would receive Napoleon. She said, ' I could not hesitate ; it was my duty.'

I do not give her any credit for a determination so perfectly natural; few women would, I think, have hesitated under the same circumstances, even if the option given her was not an order given in a more polite form. I do give her much credit for the honest candour with which she now speaks of the fallen conqueror, though perfectly aware that it is very disagreeable to most of the members of her own family, and especially to the King.

The Queen of Bavaria was not as wise, and upon some occasion
when Napoleon was incensed at some slight from her, he said she should remember what she was but for him, la fille d'un miserable petit Margrave (Baden), and imitate the conduct of the Queen of Wurtemberg, la fille du plus grand Roi de la terre.

The Queen said that the great preparations made in the palaces at Stuttgard Louisbourg for the reception of Napoleon, were not with her approbation, and that she said to the king, ' Mon ami, vous devriez faire le pauvre au lieu d'etaler vos richesses, si vous ne voulez pas avoir des fortes contributions a payer.'

It was ridiculous enough to hear her say how, when Napoleon
admired the Lyons embroidery and said, ' I cannot have such at the Tuileries,' she told him it was her work, adding, ' God forgive me, that was a lie.' When he made the same observation on some other instance of magnificence, she told him it was all done by the ' Duc, mon beaupere,' and in relating this, added the same corrective.

She said the manners of Napoleon were extremely brusque, even when he was making the civil. She had seen both Josephine and Marie Louise with him, and seemed to have been less pleased with the manners of the former than most persons who saw her.

Napoleon used to play at whist in the evening, but not for money, playing ill and inattentively. One evening when the Queen Dowager was playing with him against her husband and his daughter (the Queen of Westphalia, the wife of Jerome) the King stopped Napoleon, who was taking up a trick that belonged to them, saying, ' Sire, on ne joue pas ici en conquerant.’

The Queen spoke much of her father, of his recovery from his first illness: mentioned the story one has often heard of his wish to read 'King Lear,' which the doctors refused him, and which he got in spite of them, by asking for Colman's works, in which he knew he should find the play as altered by Colman for the stage. This I had often heard, but the affecting sequel was quite new to me; and fatiguing as the visits to Louisbourg are, I wished I had been there to have heard it from the Queen's own mouth.

When the three elder princesses went in to the King, he told them what he had been reading. He said, ' It is very beautiful, very affecting,. and very awful;' adding,' I am like poor Lear, but thank: God I have no Regan, no Goneril, but three Cordelias.'

The Queen wept in relating this; and my mother says, she felt as if she could have done the same.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Rev Edward Irving, Part 2

July 6th.—I have once more heard Irving, and I know not whether it is because the novelty is over that the impression is weakened, but I feel much less displeased, and at the same time much less pleased, than I was last Sunday. I am quite sure the arrogance, the self-sufficiency, the dictatorial spirit, though still but too evident, were much less striking than in the oration of last Sunday.

The coarseness and vulgarity were also in great measure avoided, but the metaphors were still very superabundant, and also were generally pushed much too far. It appeared to me that this oration was deficient in clearness, but perhaps my understanding, as well as my hearing, was dulled by the various inconveniences of the situation in which I found myself; close to the door, far removed from the preacher, and separated only by the thin partition of the pew from a crowd who squeezed and made incessant noise.

Even when one did not hear some voices crying for mercy and others for silence, the crowd pressed against the pew till they made every board creak, and kept one in continual apprehension that at last they would give way. During the last hour of the oration the people were more quiet; some servants, who I believe came for the fun of pushing about, were turned out, and we heard better.

The general outline of the subject was still to show how inefficacious was mere morality to constitute the happiness of man in this life. He said he had purposely omitted drawing any argument from the future state, as he was anxious to prove his facts from those truths which are admitted even by unbelievers, but he must address one observation to those who, believing in a future state, lived as if they thought of this world only. He said their conduct was like that of a mother who, in bringing up an infant, could fancy that it was always to remain in the same state, was always to be fed as a nursling, to be swathed, to be led like an infant.

This simile, though a happy one, was spun out to a length which destroyed its effect. Soon after followed a beautiful burst of eloquence on that power of Christianity which could bend the rebellious stubbornness of the heart, strengthen the tender heart, prop the weak, and enable it to tear itself from those affections which are dearer far than a right eye. Nature would teach a far different doctrine, an eye for an eye; nature and the world we live in are setting their adverse currents against the proper course of the human heart. Where, but in Christianity, is to be found the electric spark which is to repel them? Where, but in her, is to be found the mighty trident to stem these storms and currents ?

One assertion of Irving's was not a little startling: he told us he considered Hume as one of the most powerful advocates of revealed religion who has ever appeared. That able metaphysician has, he said, proved the inefficacy of mere human reason, &c. &c. I own I could not help thinking while he made this strange assertion that it was not unlikely that some one of my neighbours in the aisle would, upon the recommendation of their pastor, take the first opportunity of edifying themselves by a perusal of the works of this powerful advocate of Christianity. I am sure that from his oration they could never have discovered that this was not a plain matter of fact.

He gave us a beautiful illustration of Jacob's ladder, calling it emblematical of the Christian dispensation which had opened the communication between heaven and earth: the angels ascending he called the human affections drawn up to heaven, and those descending the divine Spirit shedding its consoling influence in return.

An exhortation (which appeared to me very commonplace) to those who were leaving the crowded city for the beautiful scenery of nature, concluded the oration.

The concluding prayer was the best I have heard from Irving, but it is in this part that the want of simplicity is most apparent, and totally destroys all the earnestness which he vainly tries to supply by vehement gesticulation. . Some expressions (and those not the best) were repeated from the prayer of last Sunday; we had again ' ennoble the nobles,' ' dignify the dignitaries,' to which he added, ' with the dignity of religion and virtue.' In the first prayer we had this strange expression, ' Clear our souls from the obscuration of sin.'

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Rev. Edward Irving

Editor’s note
The familiar instance of the Rev. Mr. Spurgeon may help to convey a notion of the more extended popularity and more durable influence of the Rev. Edward Irving, the founder of a sect which is still in full vigour. His successful career as a London preacher commenced in 1822, and lasted till 1832, when he was displaced by the Presbytery for preaching doctrines which they reasonably enough deemed heterodox.

In July 1823, Lord Eldon writes to Lady M. Bankes: ' All the world here is running on Sundays to the Caledonian Chapel in Hatton Garden, where they hear a Presbyterian orator from Scotland, preaching, as some ladies term it, charming matter, though downright nonsense. To the shame of the King's ministers be it said, many of them have gone to this schism-shop with itching ears. Lauderdale told me that when Lady ——— is there the preacher never speaks of a heavenly mansion, but a heavenly Pavilion. For other ears, mansion is sufficient. This is a sample.' *

The reviewer of an excellent ' Life of Irving,' by Mrs. Oliphant, states that the little church of Hatton Garden was not only crowded, but filled, with the very audience after which he had longed, ' with imaginative men, and political men, and legal men, and scientific men, who bear the world in hand. The Duke of York (continues the reviewer) had been already interested in him at his first outset; "Wilkes soon found out and appreciated his powers; Brougham is reported as one of his early auditors, and to have taken Mackintosh, who repeated to Canning an expression which he had heard Irving use in prayers, of a bereaved family being thrown on the fatherhood of God—an expression that so struck the statesman that he, too, was drawn to hear him, and to allude to his marvellous eloquence in the House of Commons.' **

It was about this time that Miss "Wynn heard him, and her description of his oratory gives a much better impression of it than could be collected from his printed Orations, in which the imagery is chastened and the extravagance toned down. He was a very tall man, with impressive features, and he wore his hair long and parted in the middle, in obvious imitation of the pictures of Christ. Like Balfour of Burley, he ' skellied fearfully with one eye,' if not with both, but lost no favour on that account. When Wilkes's obliquity of vision was objected to him, an enthusiastic partisan vowed that he did not squint more than a gentleman ought to squint; and the' angels' of the Irvingite creed seemed to think that a certain obliquity of vision was becoming in a saint. He died in 1834, in his thirty-ninth year.

The contradictory opinions of the press gave rise to an amusing squib, entitled, ' The Trial of the Rev. Edward Irving;' in which the different editors and critics appeared as witnesses.

June 29th, 1823.—I am just returned from hearing, for the first time, the celebrated Scotch preacher Irving, and highly as my expectations were raised, they are more than satisfied. At first, I own I was very much disappointed: his first extempore prayer, I did not at all like ; his reading of the 19th chapter of John (for he never gave to any of the Apostles the title of Saint) would have been very fine if its effect had not been frequently spoilt by extraordinary Scotch accents. He spoke of the high-sup, of being crucified, scorged, &c. &c.

For twenty minutes, he went on talking of the enemies of our faith as if we had been living in the ages of persecution and of martyrdom, of himself as if he were our only teacher and guide, and of the good fight as though it were real instead of being metaphorical. Indeed, his action might always have led one to suspect that he considered it a pugilistic contest. I thought all this part vulgarly enthusiastic, self-sufficient, dogmatical. Disappointment is not a word strong enough to describe my feelings, which nearly amounted to disgust.

Then he told us that the intention of the following discourse would be to show from the page of history what man had been through all ages, in all countries, without the light of revealed religion. My brother whispered me, 'We have been twenty-three minutes at it, and now the sermon is to begin.' I felt exactly with him, and yet after this expression, I can" fairly and truly say that the hour which followed appeared to me very short, though my attention was on the full stretch during the whole time.

Irving began with comparing the infancy of nations to the infancy of individuals; told us that was generally supposed to be the season of their greatest innocence: took as examples the early ages of Persia, Greece and Rome. He reprobated the false arguments of those who, in speaking of heathens', adduce such men as Solon, Socrates, &c., as general examples; as well might we, said he, take the heaven-inspired Milton as the test of the republicans of his day ; the noble-minded Falkland as a specimen of the cavalier soldiers ; Fenelon as one of the Court of Louis XIV.; D'Alembert as one of the wicked pernicious cotry (as he called it) whose aim was the subversion of all order civil and religious , or Carnot as the model of that hellish crew of republicans -who destroyed all religion and deluged their country with blood.

Then came a splendid burst of eloquence on the vices of the ancients. He appealed to their vases, especially to those intended for the sacred purpose of containing the ashes of the dead; to the sculpture, still adorning the doors of their temples, as records of such vice as is not known the most depraved of modern times. He asserted that if it were possible that social virtue, that self-government, could be attained without the aid of Christianity, Greece, which had discovered perfection in almost every branch of art, and had gone so far in science, would not
have remained without these attainments.

From them he proceeded to the Eastern nations, of whose vices he gave a still more disgusting picture, and especially those of the mild Hindoo, as false sentiment and philosophy have termed them: their language does not even possess words to express many of the virtues most revered among us, chastity, temperance, and honesty.***

Having stigmatised most of the heathen nations of ancient and modern times with the vices uniformly found to degrade all savages, he proceeded 10 speak of those who have been considered as the brightest examples; and first of the Stoics. In the difficult task of self-government, they seem to have made much progress but in steeling the heart against some temptations of passion, &c., they also steeled it against every kindly affection, made its very feeling centre in self. If, he said, stoicism may be said to have enjoyed what he termed the manhood of the soul, it had none of the woman-hood, none of the feelings that adorn, comfort, or endear human nature. He proceeded to draw a beautiful parallel between the state of the Stoic, and that of Adam before it had pleased the Almighty to bestow on him a helpmate. He asserted that, in argument, in reasoning, the modern philosophers were very superior to the ancient, and added, that many very commonplace writers were in this respect, very far superior to the most celebrated ancients, even to Cicero himself.****

This superiority, which by-the bye I am a little inclined to doubt, he ascribed entirely to the influence of Christianity, and spoke of its effect, even on those who deny its truths and exert their talents to write against it. How, he said, can a man who has sucked with his mother's milk the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments, whose mind has been nurtured with the sublime poem of Milton, with the Pilgrim's Progress, nay, even with the Plays of Shakespeare— how can this man. be said to be free from the effects which Christianity produces on the mind ?

He told us he conceived the spirit of religion to be even yet quite in its infancy; he trusted that we might see it make the greatest progress. If the rulers of the state would be governed by the plain rule of Christian duty, instead of the rules of worldly policy and expediency— if the more graceful part of the creation who govern the manners of this great city, would add the Christian graces to their other graces, would consider themselves as the spouses of Christ—if the critics who govern its literature would attend as much to the rules of Christianity as to those of human learning — what might not be the effects ?

It was quite impossible to look at Lord Liverpool and Lord Jersey, placed immediately opposite to the preacher, and not fancy that the first and second of these appeals were addressed to them. As to the third, if Mr. Brougham and Sir James Mackintosh were not in the church, the preacher was likely to have prepared for them, as they have been there very frequently of late.

After having written so much about this oration (sermon***** I cannot call it), it is quite unnecessary to say that I admired it extremely, at least in parts. I am conscious that there were great faults, even in the latter part, in which were also transcendent beauties. Want of simplicity is the greatest; even all Irving's energy could not give earnestness to such invariably figurative language. With this was occasionally mixed vulgarity bordering on coarseness in the images, excess of action, and occasional repetitions. Still there is extraordinary power, power which makes roe feel I never knew what eloquence was till I had heard Irving, and at the same time leaves me with the most eager desire to hear him again on Sunday, in spite of all the impediments of crowd, heat, distance, and hour.

His reading the lesson was very fine, but what delighted me most was the solemn, simple, energetic manner in which he gave the blessing. The prayers did not please me: he prayed for our own ancient simple painstaking Church; then for the Established ****** Church, that her dignitaries may be dignified, and may be enabled to take due care of the widely-extended districts committed to their charge. The plain psalm-singing, in which the whole congregation joined, particularly delighted me; parts of the version seem to me very fine; but what I like most is the custom of reading the whole psalm first from the pulpit; it gives real devotion to a part of the service which, in our Liturgy, is generally the unintelligible squalling of a parcel of charity children, screaming that which nine-tenths of the congregation cannot follow, and of the other tenth a considerable part are disgusted by the absurdity of the version.

Editor’s notes
* ' Twiss's .Life of Eldon, vol. ii. p. 483.
** Edinb. Rev. for Oct. 1862, p. 441.
**** This is a mistake. There are Hindoo words for each of these
virtues, and chastity has been deified. The Hindoo name for the
Goddess of Chastity is Arundadi.
***** The moderns, in this respect, have been compared by an ad- mirer of the ancients to a dwarf standing on a giant's shoulders, and thus seeing farther than the giant.
******* Note by Miss Wynn.—It is singular that I should chance to use the very word by -which Irving himself called these compositions, -when they -were published soon after (in 1823).

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Pistrucci, The Improvisatore

Last night I heard Pistrucci, the improvisatore, for the third time, and my account of him will be far less favourable than if I had written it after the first or second time of hearing him. Even now I cannot believe that it is solely because the charm of novelty is past, and the edge of curiosity blunted, that my feelings are so changed. That this is partly the case I am aware, and feel also, that the more one hears him, the more one becomes aware of the very large proportion of absolute commonplace which pervades his verses. Still, with all this allowance, I cannot but believe that his performance last night was really inferior to what I had heard before.

Last night I liked him best in the return of Coriolanus to Borne: two attempts were downright failures; the one was Sancho, in his government of Barataria, the other the destruction of Pompeii. The first proved to me that he does not possess one particle of humour; but perhaps I may be wrong, if the total ignorance of the story which he professed be genuine, and if he really took his cue only from the little related to him at the moment.

No such excuse can be made for his failure in Pompeii ; the subject was necessarily well known to him, and had he succeeded I should not have given him much credit concerning it—one which must have been so frequently given before. As it was, I own I can even now hardly believe anyone could have been so very tame on a topic so inspiring. There was nothing in this! evening's performance to convince one of the reality of his impromptu talent; at his public performance, he seized so many of the circumstances arising at the moment, that the most incredulous could no longer doubt his power of versifying quite instantaneously; but I should not say that he rises with his subject.

Till I heard him fail in Pompeii, I was inclined to ascribe much of his failure to ignorance of the subject. On one occasion he gave a new view of a threadbare theme, Waterloo: he took the rising of the third sun on a field of blood, described finely the cannon obscuring his brightness, &c. &c.