« AnteriorContinuar »
from nine to twelve; but that is not all, labour in Paris is not so widely extended. Besides, in the latter town, there is a great population of donoughts, whose evening occupation is the theatre. The London idlers are usually too high to enter a theatre when at certain seasons unvisited by the nobility. Only the extraordinary population of London fills the theatres; more than we might imagine under the circumstances we have mentioned. The managers must frequently have recourse to extraordinary measures to get full houses. Something especially good must be presented, either pleasing the eye or ear, or else full of spectacle. In this last the English are inexhaustible ; everything is there exaggerated, and even caricature is caricatured. All the elements and the animal kingdom must come to the aid of the spectacle. Menagerie heroes display themselves in some grandly-terrible fashion; the police do not interfere with such things; their task is to prevent public immorality. It would be ridiculous to lay down an æsthetic standard ; if you do not like it you can stay away, is the word here. It would be pure sentimentality to speak of degrading the stage by allowing animals to appear upon it. The expression that a theatre is a temple that should not be desecrated, is ignored. The Englishmạn only sees a temple in his church, and in the playhouse what it really is a place where life should be represented as closely as possible ; to-day Carter and his animals quit the theatre-to-morrow other artistes make their appearance. This is English. Who would wish to quarrel with the fashion of the country ?”
We must really close the book, or our extracts from it will go on ad infinitum. There is something immeasurably refreshing in reading a stranger's impressions of our glorious country, for glorious it is, spite of all the snarling attacks of would-be Liberals. Let them talk as they please about our foreign policy degrading us in the eyes of strangers, or swear that unless the five points are conceded a terrible revolution is impending. A fico for such trash! It is the greatest nation in the world, and the more it is abused, the more we love it. Hurrah for Old England !
BY A WINTER RESIDENT. It was very early in the year 1852 that the hope of finding in Malta a friend whom I had not seen for years, together with a kind of "cacoëthes” for travelling, and the non-existence of any positive obstacle to its indulgence, incited me to leave England, traverse France, following the most ordinary route to Marseilles, and thence to Malta, where I arrived on the 25th of January. The climate there was very enjoyable to one who came from northern latitudes, even though the season had been mild in England, and was considered a somewhat stormy and windy one in Malta. The peculiarities of the island-its beauties and defectsits history and inhabitants-its curiosities and productions--have been so often and so well described and painted both by pen and by pencil, that I will not here enlarge upon them, but proceed to give an account of some events that occurred to me there.
On the 25th of January we anchored in the Great Harbour, and gladly did we quit our vessel for the stone-land. We soon found lodgings (mine were in the Strada Vescovo), and I proceeded to seek my friend.
He had, I was informed, passed on to Greece a fortnight before, and would return in March or April. Uncertain what might be his future career, I resolved to wait for him, and to occupy and amuse myself as I best might during his absence.
There was no great difficulty in doing this in Malta, where everything supplies pictures of Eastern life, even to the bright eyes that peep out from the faldetta, reminding one of the glances that form the witchery of the Mahometan Yashmak, more than of those that laugh brightly and fearlessly under an European bonnet, hat, or wide-awake. The language, too-last link in the chain of Arabic dialects, though harsh and exclamatory, and wanting the soft cadences of the Persian, or the sparkling fluency of the Frank languages-would awaken many a train of thought, and give birth to many a fancy sketch, as, lying back in a boat, and crossing to Pietà or Sliema from Sa Maison, or from the Marsa Muscetta stairs across the still bosom of the Quarantine Harbour, we shot past a native boat, or one laden with the produce of Gozo, and heard the busy tongues of its crowded occupants ; or, when riding listlessly through the streets of Valetta, I watched an eager colloquy between two or more Maltese, each appearing in a state of extreme surprise, expressed in unconnected sounds, aided by lively gesticulations. But to him who loves the Arabic unmixed with European words, the villages offer more attractions than the town. · In one of these villages, not very far from Valetta, there exists a population so very remarkable in appearance that they could not be unnoticed. The peculiar blue of their eyes, and pleasant expression of their countenances, particularly excited my observation; the more so, that the whole village appeared infected with a most violent desire to laugh as soon as an Englishman looked at them. The children playing with melon-rinds looked up at the sound of a hoof-tread, and ran away laughing. The old crone at the fountain watering her mule, and the man washing his feet there, gave the same inquisitive look, and burst into fits of laughter. The pretty girls (for a Maltese girl is pretty, and a coquette also), picking garlic and opening pomegranates, glanced up, and hiding their faces all but the roguish eyes, started away, making the air ring with their merriment; and this not on my account only, but on that of every Englishman-every Frank I believe-passing through Crendi. And every one does pass through Crendi. After seeing Citta Vecchia, the ancient capital sitting so proudly on the heights in the centre of the island, and one or two other great sights, they pass through Crendi, for it is on the road to a very curious scene. Every one visits Hagiar Chem and its remarkable ruins, and every one visits also that very extraordinary place, “ Macluba :" an almost circular area, supporting ruins of which tradition relates that they were once part of a stately palace, wherein dark deeds were committed— deeds of so deep a dye that the palace was cursed, and suddenly sunk fifty feet lower than the level of the surrounding surface, leaving its former site like the crater of a volcano yawning over it.
Certain it is that you descend by many steps to visit ruins, among which trees have grown up, whose heads are lower than the rent banks standing around this fallen tract, presenting a very striking scene, and
really looking like a spot visited by some sore judgment. I came often to see it, and was always greeted by women and children with handfuls of the perfumed narcissus that grows wild there, and which carried back my thoughts, by one breath of its sweetness, to the April-face of England in spring-time. To the credit of these guides be it said, that whether I gave them reward or not, they were always courteous, and ready to welcome me the next time; never making any demand, but appearing quite pleased with a “grazie, tajjeb, tajjeb” (thank you, very much, very much), in my Anglo-Maltese.
Having visited this curious place often on one side, I began to be a little curious to approach it on the other, and to examine it more closely. Accordingly, one day I made a circuit, so as to approach it unobserved by my usual entertainers, who all lived in wretched huts on the entrance-side of Macluba. Dismounting from my little Arab horse, and tying him to a carob (or locust-tree), I sat down upon a loose fragment of stone, and pondered awhile upon the scene before me. I had climbed up the rugged and stony bank, and now looked down into the abyssthe island of ruin that had sunk so singularly. It was in vain to attempt descending on this side, and I had therefore nought to do but to give my thoughts way, and yielding myself to the bent of my nature—ever prone to seek or to seize upon an opportunity for a quiet reverie-let it lead me into some fanciful speculations as to the history of the place. I had a volume of Goethe with me, and on sitting down had taken it out to read. But I found myself wandering even from “Faust” among speculations more wild, and far less concentric than the mystic gambols of the fearful black dog.
How had that house been peopled ? How decorated ? How, oh how destroyed ? By what fearful crimes had its white stone floors been polluted ? Horrors greater than those of which the Capella, the Medici, the Borgia palaces might tell, rose before my imagination ; and the voices, the footsteps, and the cries of other days, were sounding in mine ears, when I suddenly perceived a small crevice in the rock, a little way below where I sat, and by a kind of fascination was compelled to look at it.
I tried to look elsewhere, to think of returning home, to occupy myself with the tangible, but neither would my eyes rest upon any other object, nor my mind suggest anything but my own visions of the past, strangely combined with a shuddering idea of the Spirit of Evil and his spells. In vain did I endeavour to look at the brilliant sky, or the sea; my eyes still turned towards this crevice, and to my horror I saw it opengradually—very gradually ; and out of its first faint outline was shaped a door-a low door. I felt it was no marvel that this side should be inhabited as well as the other. But I own my heart did bound with a wild throb when I saw the little door open, and a black dog escape from it!
Folly !--and yet it was one of those follies which spring from the deep source of innagination, and therefore of superstition, in almost every human heart ; and perhaps a general who has faced Affghan or Caffre warfare unalarmed, might yet feel as I did under precisely similar circumstances. But to proceed : I was firmly convinced that this was all mere fancy, heated by the vivid imagery of Goethe. I still gazed like one possessed, and saw that the door was truly a door, and that a hand, a head, a figure, were protruding from it! And I heard a long, low wail, ending in a shriek. Fascinated, I still gazed on, while from the opening door there emerged a wild-looking, aged being, clad in wondrous robes of every imaginable hue, yet hanging somewhat picturesquely around its limbs. It stared at me, uttered a savage growl, followed by many heartrending shrieks, and tossed with frantic arms the covering that concealed its head from side to side, but without getting rid of it. Utter silence reigned around, until a scream from my horse suddenly attracted my attention. Apparently, he had been bitten by the black dog, for he struggled violently until his bridle broke, and he bounded away. My knees trembled, and my senses seemed to leave me. I snatched up my stick and flung it down (a mad thing to do, for I had no other means of defence if attacked); it broke with the fall a few paces short of the malevolent being, who, however, took no notice of it. Still further dismayed, I now saw the black dog ready to attack me, and unable to distinguish between the real and the unreal-unable, too, to keep my footing on the slippery ground without more attention than I could now pay to it-I fell down the precipice.
When I recovered my senses, I found myself lying in a thicket of prickly pear-trees, supported by the thick and fleshy leaves that constitute the stem, branch, and foliage of this great cactus. And I was calm enough to observe this long before I recollected how I came there, and before any sound, except the sweeping of the wind down the hollow, had fallen upon my ear.
Presently, however, I heard a voice near me. I could not recognise the tongue in which the words were spoken, but they carried my thoughts to the events preceding my fall.
Methought I heard a gentle voice say, somewhat in a low mysterious tone, words that sounded like—“ X'handek, x'handek” (in English « Shandeck, shandeck"), as if in reply to the former harsh accents of one who had spoken faster in an unintelligible dialect. To my horror I now heard something move as if approaching me, and rustle among bushes ; but I was far from having a clear idea of anything being real or actual, except my being in the dominion of some power of evil. I cast my eyes helplessly upwards as I lay, and beheld a dog-the dog-black as Erebus, and with piercing eyes, moving nimbly, and with strong, elastic, rapid step, along the high ridge of ground above me. I now saw that I had fallen many feet on the inside of the high bank whereon I had been standing, and, consequently, I must be lying among the ruins, though my position prevented me from looking around beyond the cactus leaves.
The dog at length perceived me, and uttered a howl of rage. This was answered by a long, peculiar, shrieking whistle, which chilled me to the very soul. The animal bounded forwards; I made a spasmodie spring, and lost at once my balance and my consciousness. The last sounds I heard were those of the dog's howl and the wild shriek; the last sensation I recollected was that of falling; my next was one of alarm, as I opened my eyes and found myself in almost total darkness. A huge outline, dimly distinguished at a short distance, moved, and I groaned as I recognised the shape of the aged being I had seen before. It approached me—I tried to start up; the agony of the attempt made me groan again, and I felt a hand upon my arm, small and light, and a ray of light beamed in from some opening behind me, so that when I looked towards it, it lighted up a lovely apparition by my side.
Fair and youthful, in a Hadji dress of white, it seemed to me that my good genius had suddenly come to defend me. An ineffable calm stole over me as I looked upon those wondrously beautiful features and ethereal mien,
I dared to ask no questions. The Hadji lighted a lamp, and I saw that I was in a cave. I knew that in the centre of the island, at Citta Vecchia, there were catacombs, said to extend fifteen miles, but I knew of no other caves, except upon the coast, not even in the unequal strata of the rocky valley which transects the island from north-west to south-east (and which is called by geologists a fault), and Macluba was not in the line of this valley, but to the west of it. I could pursue this train of thought with some calmness since the arrival of my good genius the Hadji, so that even with my eyes fixed upon the movements of the aged shape, I could also notice those of the pilgrim; and could perceive that I was incessantly watched by both.
The younger eyes expressed kindly protection, and though I knew such appearances might be deceitful, I could not fail to find their glances a relief from the gleaming fire of the mysterious being's eyes. And this inexplicable figure which had been so quiet in one corner, now began to move. A sort of agitation seemed to pervade its whole frame; it uttered a long, low shriek, and the dog came bounding in. Both rushed upon me, but the Hadji interposed, waved a wand in front of me several times, making a mesmeric circle, which seemed to overpower the fiendlike dog : he slunk aside, and after a few low growls dropped down, while the aged shape, as if baffled, mingled extraordinary evolutions with horrid shrieks, and at length crouched Dear us, and sunk into a kind of stupor. This, however, did not last long, and it now began to speak in broken Spanish, with some Maltese words. My earliest days having been spent among the peasants of the Sierra Nevada, and my youth in travel in the East, I did not find the language an obstacle to the comprehension of the words, but listened to the following narrative.
THE LEGEND. “Ah! it was splendid once! The beautiful flowers grew fairly, the trees waved majestically, the locust and the palm, the pepper and the Roman pine, the orange and the medlar, waved their perfumed tresses like the lovely young girls glancing among the proud and glorious galleries, or like sunbirds in a bower.
“Generation after generation passed away. In every one were many sons and daughters, with treasures of gold, and gems, friends and followers, and looks of gladness.
“Generation after generation. In each, prosperous births, marriage feasts, all joyous—but sad and sudden deaths.
“Frequently, the hurried burial by the clear moonlight. No mourning, do sadness. No journeys to the home for the dead. No gifts to the brotherhood of death.
“Generation after generation. At last Ix’hulie* came. Fair Ix'hulie, oh why did thine hour come so soon? Why was thy bright face sent
* Pronounced like Isciulia in Italian.