Sunday, May 28, 2006

Dr Playfair’s Patient

Dec 30th 1835 ---H C---* told me that Dr Playfair, the shrewd, plain, very straightforward Scotch physician who attended him at Florence, was talking to him of a consumptive patient (he was so diplomatic, he would not even tell the sex), who for some months had been as well aware as his physician that his state was quite desperate.

The patient, who was inclined to skepticism, had held many conversations and disputes with Dr Playfiair on the subject of a future state. The last hour was evidently come, but he did not seem aware that he was worse than usual.

Dr Playfair sate by him (for I can feel no doubt of the sex), watching the ebbing breath, the voice becoming from debility hardly audible, when in a tone strong as clear as that of health, the dying man said, ‘I know.’ Dr Playfair thought he alluded to some trifling thing respecting his medicines; ' Oh no, you don't: I know a great deal better than you.'

His patient said,' You are mistaken ; you do not understand me; you do not know; I did not know ; now I do know;' and so saying expired.**

C———— was so struck with these singular words, that he asked Dr. Playfair's leave to write them down in his presence.

Editor’s notes
*Hugh Cholmondeley, now Lord Delamere
** ‘Those who watch by him see not, but he sees—
Sees and exults. Were ever dreams like these?
Those who watch by him hear not, but her hears;
And earth recedes, and heaven itself appeals.’
Rogers – Human Life

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Jerome, King of Westphalia

Wynnstay, Sept. 1834.—We were talking of the characters of several members of the Buonaparte family. Mrs. Bowles told us a curious anecdote of Jerome. At the period when he was King of Westphalia, Hyde de Neuville — who, I think, was ostensibly French minister, and certainly French spy over him — represented to Napoleon that, in various instances, he was doing wrong; for instance, that his army was ill-disciplined and ill-managed in every respect. Napoleon promised the minister that his representation should be attended to; and that, by the next messenger, a strong remonstrance should be sent to Jerome.

It so happened that the despatches were delivered to him at the table where Hyde de Neuville was dining with him. Of course he, anticipating their contents, watched their effect on the king, he saw a frown gathering on his countenance but very speedily dispersed, and at the same time marked a tall grenadier, who had brought in the despatches, standing behind the chair of the king, and evidently reading over his shoulder.

Hyde de Neuville could bear silence no longer. He hoped his Majesty had received good news from the Emperor, of his health, &c. &c. ' Excellent!' was the reply, ' and towards me his expressions are peculiarly kind and flattering.'

He then read the letter. Compliments on the state of the army, expressions of high approbation, of every point of conduct upon which he anticipated blame, struck Hyde de Neuville dumb with astonishment. He soon after contrived to have a conversation with the tall grenadier on the subject of the Emperor's letter, cautiously expressing surprise at its gracious tenour. In reply, he owned to the having read the letter (this Neuvelle well knew); and said he never had been so astonished as at the readiness with which, in reading it aloud, the king turned all the strong censure which it contained into approbation.

This story was told some years after by Hyde de Neuville to Lord Palmerston, from whom Mrs. Bowles had it.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Eastern Magic

Heard from Mr. Wilkinson the other day a curious account of the juggler, fortune-teller, or more properly, seer (Qy. is this the origin of the name ?) who has long been established at Cairo. I heard the same report from Mr. Davidson of this trial; and that given by Mr. Yorke (now Lord Hardwicke) of another to Miss Walpole coincides in every material particular. A boy under ten years of age is taken out of the street, selected by the enquirers; he is placed in a circle, magic characters described, magic words repeated, a drop of ink is put into the palm of his hand; he is asked what he sees there, and after a short time he says that he sees a monarch on his throne, attendants, &c., and seven standard-bearers, with flags of different colours. He is then, by permission obtained from the monarch (supposed to be the Devil), empowered to see any person who may be required.

When this English party went, they got an English boy, speaking Arabic; he was kept many days in their house, to prevent communication; all the forms were gone through ; the boy was excessively frightened : Lord Prudhoe was called for by his English name, quite unknown by any person at Cairo; the boy, puzzled, said, ' I see a Frank, but he is in a Turkish dress,' describing that always worn by Lord Prudhoe — his sandy whiskers and beard, a dagger or sword, with a silver scabbard; known to all the party, &c. &c.

They tried experiments, too, with Cairo boys; all began with exactly the same rigmarole about the sultan, the standard-bearers (Mr. Davidson lamented that he had not observed whether the seven colours named were the primitive), and proceeded in the same way. One person evoked was Shakespeare, whose name, they say, could not have been known; the boy described the pointed beard and ruff: in six trials, four descriptions were exact, the others absurdly the reverse.

Mr. Wilkinson spoke very coolly ; said, ' Nobody could be more incredulous than I was; indeed, I regret that I expressed so much incredulity, because they were more cautious, and I had no opportunity of investigating the matter; but I could not discover any trick.' Lord Prudhoe has certainly received some disagreeable impression, and desires his friends not to question him on this subject: he said this to Miss "Walpole. Lord H—— told her he feared that the English boy had never been in his right mind since the scene.

Charlotte * writes (Dec. 1835): 'The only thing in which we have been disappointed is in the Cairo magician. After some trouble we got the right man (Lord Prudhoe's), and picked out our own boy, who was to see the figures in his hand. We had three, who all at first saw the same things in their hands on the ink; it enlarged; figures with different coloured flags appeared, and then a man with a crown; but to none of the boys did the figures we called for come up.

How the first part was contrived, we cannot make out; we had the man in our own room, and the boys certainly did not know anything about the matter; one of them, an Italian, was so frightened by the sight of the flag-bearers, that he burst into tears and would not go on. The magician really seemed astonished at his failure, and of course said that it was the first time,' &c. &c.

Scott, in his ' Egypt and Candia,' gives a more particular and more satisfactory account. He begins by providing his boy. The magician commenced his operations by writing some characters on a long slip of paper, &c. &c.; then, after wiping the boy's forehead (from -which fear already made the perspiration start), he stuck another piece of paper, covered like the former with hieroglyphics, under his skull-cap, so as to throw a shadow upon his eyes, and prevent his looking up.

Taking the boy's hand in his, the magician then described with ink a square figure in the palm, drawing divers figures in a very mysterious manner. Finally pouring a quantity of ink (quite a pool) into the boy's hand, he was desired to keep his eyes steadfastly fixed upon it, and his head was forced down to within a few inches of his hand. The magician began muttering some unintelligible jargon with great rapidity till he was nearly breathless. He sprinkled incense, coriander seeds, &c. into a charcoal fire, then consumed one of the sentences written on the long slip of paper, then asked the boy repeatedly if he saw anything; upon receiving a negative, observed, he feared the lad was very stupid. The boy, half frightened, was spurred into intelligence; with some more efforts he saw a little boy. ' Has he not something in his hand ?' ' Is it not a flag ?'

' Yes, yes; he has a flag.' In this way the boy was persuaded that he saw seven flags, seven tents, the Sultan, and a large army—then comes the jugglery of the naming a person who is to appear to the boy, who is to describe him; he failed most completely in every instance but one.

'A lady of the party afterwards took the lad's part, and though fully convinced of the absurdity of the juggle, fancied she saw a flag and two stars. We tried to persuade her that it was the reflection of her own eyes, and of the slip of paper dangling from her forehead; but she became so much excited, that her friends would not allow her to remain longer under the magic influence. The conjuror refused to try his art upon grown-up males. The delusion is evidently produced by gradually working upon feelings already predisposed by superstition or other causes to the necessary state of excitement; as the diseased system of a dreamer makes the victim believe that he sees anything brought to his imagination. The fumes of the incense, the unearthly sounds, were enough to cause a wandering in the boy's ideas, and the constrained posture of the head, and the fixedness of his eyes upon the shining pool of ink which reflected ad infinitum his own black face and bright eyes, may easily be supposed to have completed his mystification.'**

Editor's notes
* Mrs. Rowley, then travelling in the East with her husband.
and brother.
** Eothen's trial of the Chief of the Magicians at Cairo is one of the most characteristic passages in the book.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

More of Mr Davidson's Eastern stories

July, 1835.—Another visit to Mr. Davidson, to me far more interesting than the last; when the chief topic of discourse and object of investigation were his arms, though curious, beautiful, and even awful, when you come to arrows, of which the slightest scratch will infuse a poison producing inflammation and extensive discoloration, and to a lance which he does not remove from a scabbard, fearing the accidental ill-effects that might arise from handling a point which has been three years in the poison of the Upas-tree. Still all this was not in my way.

Yesterday he showed us the model of the Pyramids, and instead of giving us a lecture upon the subject, entered into a sort of discussion with Mr. (Sir Gardner) Wilkinson, the traveller, and author of a very celebrated work on Thebes. Davidson has a theory of his own on the subject of the Pyramids. He considers them as signs or monuments in commemoration of the Deluge, deriving the present name from Py (the) Aram (ancient).

The most startling fact which he told us was, that in Mexico and on the coast of Coromandel there exist to this day pyramids of still greater magnitude than the Egyptian, but not as high. One of those in India is said to be a mile between each angle, but not as high as the Egyptian. All are of antiquity far beyond any tradition ; all face the cardinal points ; all have the entrance to the north; and this entrance is never in the centre of the side on which it is placed.

These points of coincidence in buildings so very remote, in three different quarters of the globe, are certainly very curious; but I should find it very difficult to believe that, if these edifices had the distinction which Mr. Davidson assigns to them, they would never be mentioned in the Bible. By Mr. Wilkinson's book, I find their existence is proved by hieroglyphic inscriptions to have been as remote as the time of the Pharaoh of Joseph. The cause of the various measurements of the base of the great pyramid of Cheops is that, sand having accumulated round it, it is not easy to ascertain the height from which to measure; of course the least difference makes a very great one in the circumference.

The base is called 728 feet, the perpendicular height 500 feet: it occupies eleven acres, and is equal in extent to the whole of Lincoln's Inn Fields, from house to house. Humboldt's measurement of the great pyramid of Chobula in Mexico: height 172 feet, base 1,355 feet square.*
Editor’s note
* In Ward's Mexico, the height is stated as 177 feet; base, 1,778 feet square.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Mr Davidson's Eastern stories

July 14th[1835].—How I wish I could fix here one quarter of the amusement and information which I have derived from the conversation of Mr. Davidson, the eastern traveller; he seems to me like a man walked out of the ' Arabian Nights' bodily. When, just after dinner, he began a story in which Oriental salutation formed a feature, he to our great surprise jumped from his chair, repeated a few Arabic words, which he translated, 'I devote myself to you in thought' (he struck his forehead); ' in love' (striking his heart); ' in deed ' (showing his hands); (from the crown of my head to the sole of my foot'—so saying, he prostrated his length (full six feet) on the floor at Charlotte's feet. Then, from under his neckcloth, he pulled a beard full twelve inches long, told us of a Frenchman very recently dead, whose beard showed the ointment flowing from Aaron's beard ' even to the hem of his garment' to be no figure. This man's was so long as to sweep the ground when he sate down, coal black and very fine: it was regularly anointed and incensed, the fumigation passing between the throat and beard held out.

' Little facts (he said) curiously illustrate the unchangeableness of the grandiloquent Eastern character. A very few years ago, a troop of Mamelukes, riding near Constantinople, stopped some shepherds, from whom one of the Mamelukes requested a draught of milk they had just drawn. Having drunk it, he refused the wretched remuneration required, telling the shepherd it was but too much honour for him to furnish milk to a Mameluke, and utterly despising the threats of the outraged shepherd, who declared he would have justice, if he applied to the Sultan himself. He actually made his complaint within the hour, and brought his adversary before the distributor of justice. The Mameluke utterly denied the whole transaction, declaring he had not drunk a drop of milk. The modern Solomon settled the difference between the conflicting testimonies by ordering the defendant to be opened, that it might be ascertained whether his stomach contained milk. Of course the milk was found, and the poor shepherd received some fraction of a farthing, being the lawful price of his commodity.

'Strong murmurs began to rise among the troop of Mamelukes, who thought death rather a severe punishment for such an offence, and seemed a little inclined to avenge their companion. Upon this, the judge (I am not sure whether it was not the Sultan) assured them he should never have thought of putting to death a Mameluke for taking a little milk from a shepherd, who was, in fact, too highly honoured in furnishing him refreshment; but that the soldier had been proved guilty of telling a lie, had disgraced the name of Mameluke, and deserved death for that offence. This explanation, of course, delighted the whole corps.'*

I was asking one day about Lady Hester Stanhope. He did not see her, having arrived just after the death of her only English companion, who having begun as maid, ended as secretary, friend, &c. &c. He describes her, as others have done, turning night into day, and sleeping through the daylight, with very weak eyes and without any decided pursuit but astrology. He says she has lost much of her power, or rather, of her widely extended influence; still possessing the most arbitrary authority over her own small district. This diminution of power may be ascribed partly to her increase of years, which prevents her from riding and showing herself among them, partly to the want of that novelty which dazzles, but chiefly from the want of money, from the weight of debt, which prevents her from spending among them the annual income which she derives from England.

Upon this subject he gave us a story curiously illustrative of Oriental character. About two years ago. Lady Hester went into Persia, with a view of obtaining assistance and protection from the Shah. She provided a present of English goods, which was really very handsome. This was (according to etiquette) offered to the Shah by means of the interpreter, through whom were also sent the thanks with all the grandiloquence of the East; his sense of the magnificence of the present: sun, moon, and stars were all eclipsed : gratitude was described in the same terms : their admiration for the spirit, liberality, greatness of mind, of the English aristocracy: of which he felt the influence so strongly, as to be aware that to the English the true way of showing the sense of favours received was to gratify their noble nature by asking more. Aware not only of this, but that his poor empire did not contain anything worthy of being offered to the great English lady, he would ask of her the favour of a loan. Her project (which the Shah had discovered) was to borrow money from him, which she never could have returned.
Editor’s note
* This story, so far as relates to opening the stomach of the
soldier, is told by Gibbon of one of the barbarian monarchs who
overran the Empire.

Saturday, May 06, 2006


July 7th.—Went yesterday to see the aerial ship, as they call the new balloon. It is very interesting, though I cannot believe that it will actually perform the voyage from London to Paris, in about six weeks from the present time (if the wind is perfectly fair), in five hours.

The form of a cylinder with conical ends, and the various contrivances for admitting or excluding the atmospheric air, seem to place it a little less at the mercy of the wind than former balloons. Still the directing power, or rather the stemming power, is quite wanting. They have the power of raising themselves into the higher regions of the atmosphere, where they may expect another current, or may go almost upon the sea, as the buoyancy of the whole machine would prevent it from sinking.

Still it is owned, that if there is a wind against them, even such as would only carry them five miles an hour, they cannot go. Therefore it seems to me utterly impossible that the machine should ever be brought into use as a conveyance; but I suppose that for scientific purposes it might be useful in investigation, and perhaps were navigation still dependent on winds and tides and the power of steam undiscovered, it might have been of real use.

The gallery in which the passengers are to go, seems to me perilously slight, and obviously unequal to the encounter with any severe weather. The ribs or joists of the floor are covered only with basket-work, which seems very insufficient for a number of persons (the crew alone is seventeen) to tread with safety.*

Editor’s note
* It would seem from this description, compared with that of the French monster balloon, that the art of aerial navigation has made little progress in the last 30 years.

Mr Coesvelt's pictures

June l8th.—Went to see Mr. Coesvelt's pictures, and return convinced that, for my own pleasure, I should prefer that to any collection I know in London; perhaps one reason is that it is so entirely Italian; another is that, among the pictures, there is not one of which the subject is disagreeable; no disgusting nudity, no painful martyrdom, &c. &c.

He has both increased and diminished the collection since I saw it in Brook Street, four or five years ago. He has two or three very fine Raphael's; one that I am inclined to place higher than any one I know in England; that is from the Alva collection. There is an Infant St. John, whose look of pure intense adoration towards the Infant Christ is finer than almost anything I know.

I should say that Parmegiano is here on his throne; that here I have learnt to value him more highly than I have ever done before. Still I do not like his large pictures as well as the smaller ones; there is one large one recently added to the collection, which Mr. Coesvelt values very highly, but which I think a rather French and maniere Parmegiano.

A few days afterwards I went to see the King's pictures, and felt that they lost much by comparison with Mr. Coesvelt's. Perhaps their inferiority in my eyes would be expressed in a very few words—their boast is Flemish Mr. Coesvelt's pictures are all Italian.*

Editor's Note
* This collection has been sold and dispersed.