« AnteriorContinuar »
and unrefined, but often expressing a vigorous moral sense-business-like and practical, frugal and severe ;—those of Spain, foremost in both quantity and quality—so rich in humour, so double-shotted with sensegravely thoughtful, too, and breathing the very spirit of chivalry and honour and freedom ;-those of Italy, too often glorifying artifice and cunning as the true guides and only safe leaders through the labyrinth of life, but sometimes not only delicately beautiful, and of a subtle wisdom not yet degenerated into cunning and deceit, but also noble and elevating;
-chose of modern Egypt, bespeaking the selfishness, the utter extinction of all public spirit, the poor, mean, sordid, and ignoble stump of the whole character of the people, with only a few faintest glimpses of that romance which one usually attaches to the East. And so on with other ethnological groups.
His comments on some of the proverbs he selects for elucidation are generally thoughtful and interesting. In the German saying, One foe is too many: an hundred friends are too few, he points out the sense of the sorry truth that hate is often a much more active principle than love—the hundred friends will wish you well, but the one foe will do you ill—their benevolence will be ordinarily passive, his malevolence will be constantly active, will be animosity, or spiritedness in evil. He quotes, Where the devil cannot come, he will send, as setting out to us the penetrative character of temptations, and the certainty that they will follow and find men out in their secretest retreats, and so rebuking the absurd supposition that by any outward arrangements, closet retirements, flights into the wilderness, sin can be kept at a distance-for temptations will inevitably overleap all these outward and merely artificial barriers. In the French proverb, It is easy to go afoot, when one leads one's horse by the bridle, we are taught how easy it is to stoop from state when that state may be resumed at will—how easy for one to part with luxuries and indulgences, which he only parts with exactly so long as may please himself. “No reason indeed is to be found in this comparative easiness for the not going afoot;' on the contrary, it may be a most profitable exercise ; but every reason for not esteeming the doing so too highly, nor setting it in value beside the trudging upon foot of him, who has no horse to fall back on at whatever moment he may please.” In another French proverb, Take the first advice of a woman, and not the second, we are certified, that in processes of reasoning, out of which the second counsels would spring, women may and will be, inferior to men ; but in intuitions, moral ones above all, they surpass them far-having what Montaigne ascribes to them in a remarkable word, l'esprit primesautier, that which, if it is to take its prey, must take it at the first bound. Our own, A burnt child fears the fire, good as it is, is shown to be inferior to that proverb of many tongues, A scalded dog fears cold water ;-for while the former expresses only that those who have once suffered will henceforward be timid in respect of that same thing from which they have suffered, the latter adds the tendency to exaggerate such fears, so that now they shall fear even where no fear is—a fact which clothes itself in a rich variety of forms: thus, one Italian proverb says, A dog which has been beaten with a stick, is afraid of its shadow ; and another, which could only have had its birth in the sunny south, where the glancing but
Oct.-VOL. XCIX. NO. cccxciv.
harmless lizard so often darts across your path, He who has been bitten by a serpent is alarmed by a lizard-another reading of what the Jewish Rabbis had said long before, He who has been bitten by a serpent, is afraid of a rope's end; even that which bears so remote a resemblance to a serpent as this does, shall now inspire him with terror; and similarly the Cingalese, with imagery borrowed from their own tropic clime, say, The man who has received a beating from a firebrand, runs away at sight of a fire-fly.
Another proverb of many tongues, One sword keeps another in the scabbard, furnishes Mr. Trench with a text against the “puling yet mischievous babble of our shallow Peace Societies, which, while they profess to embody, and they only to embody, the true spirit of Christianity, proclaim themselves in fact ignorant of all which it teaches; for they dream of having peace the fruit, while the evil root out of which have grown all the wars and fightings that have ever been in the world, namely, the lusts which stir in men's members, remain as vigorous and strong as ever." And another, Far-off water will not quench near fire, is his motto for an appeal to keep our English coasts guarded by an English fleet: “for let us only suppose that a blow were struck at the empire's heart, at the home and sanctuary of its greatness-no improbable supposition, when force and fraud are met together, and are watching their opportunity to strike it-what profit would it be then that her mighty armaments covered the distant seas, that her soldiers were winning comparatively barren victories in Africa and India ?” By the way, Mr. Trench loses no opportunity of “taking a rise” out of a certain imperial personage—bidding us observe, for instance, in confirmation of the proverb Extremes meet, how, “as lately in France, a wild and frantic democracy may be transformed by the base trick of a conjuror into an atrocious military tyranny;"--and again, still more bitterly, in noticing the too characteristic Egyptian proverb, If the monkey reigns, dance before him, he proceeds to say, “The monkey may reign in other lands besides those of the East; but the examples in a neighbouring land, not merely of statesmen and warriors, of men such as Guizot and Changarnier, but of many more in every class, erect amid a too general prostration, abundantly testify that reign as the monkey may, simia in purpurâ, all will not therefore count it their part and their wisdom to dance before him.” If Napoléon-le-petit should settle in Buckingham Palace, let not Mr. Trench count on a private chaplaincy: indeed, as a matter of “prudential morality,” it might be well (verbum sap.) to eschew a too frequent discussion of so ill-esteemed a character, if regard be had to the proverb, Talk of So-and-so in Black, and he's sure to appear. Fancy the French Imperator's “sure appearance," press-censors en suite, and Mr. Trench within shot-or invited to dinner, without a long spoon.
DISCOVERY OF THE BLUE GROTTO IN THE ISLE OF
CAPRI. ONE summer day I landed with my friend Ernest Fries in the beautiful bay on the north coast of Capri. The sun was fast approaching the distant Ischia as we sprang on the rattling shingle, and never will I forget the pleasing emotions I then experienced, and which came crowding on me now that my long cherished desire to tread this lovely island was at length fulfilled. The waves, lashing with boisterous though harmonious fury on those wondrous masses of rock which had already excited my admiring attention from Naples, seemed to me to be singing of my departure from a lively town to this humble cliff, inhabited only by simple fishermen and gardeners, where the horse's hoof never reverberates, and brilliant equipages are unknown.
The island, with its rocks and caves, its weather-beaten ruins and newly-erected towns, its hanging-gardens and steps boldly cut in the face of the rock, had, however, from a distance, almost impressed me with the idea that it was a little world in itself, filled with wonders, and surrounded with traditionary lore ; and as I was by no means limited to time, I resolved thoroughly to search each nook and corner, and anticipated no small degree of pleasure in the result.
The beach, shortly after our arrival, was crowded with the inhabitants of both towns, who, by their pleasing aspect, strongly reminded us of their ancestors the Greeks, by whom the place was originally peopled. They received the small cargo of the market-boat in which we had crossed, and with wonderful activity carried part up the steps hewn in the rock, to the town of Anticapri, and the remainder to Capri by a more gentle ascent. A brisk lad shouldered our valise, and we followed slowly in the latter course. We soon found ourselves in what bore the appearance of a vast amphitheatre. In front was a row of white flat-roofed houses, over which was raised terrace above terrace clad with the graceful vine, until a bold rock crowned with the overhanging town shut out all further view. Our path wound along these terraces, which were ornamented here and there with myrtles, laurels, and luxurious evergreens, interspersed with graceful palms and mastich-trees. A few birds passed us on the way to their nests in the surrounding clefts ; and the cheerful though monotonous hum of brilliant insects which abounded in the olivetrees rendered the path less wearisome than we should otherwise have found it. It was a delightful evening, and all that I had heard of this beautiful spot was recalled to my memory by the lovely scene before me. On casting our eyes behind, the enchanting Bay of Naples, Ischia, Procida, and all the Pontine islands, bathed in the glowing colours of the setting sun, were presented to our gaze, and combined to enhance a prospect seldom excelled.
We at length reached the heights, and passed through a gateway into the small town of Capri, which is built somewhat after the Oriental style, and were conducted by the youth who bore our luggage to the cleanlooking locanda of Don Guiseppo Pagano, where, for a moderate remuneration, we received a hearty welcome.
Our host, a little, hale man, some fifty years of age, led us step by step through his quaintly but comfortably built dwelling ; and, as he observed me glancing over a small collection of old books I found in one of the rooms, informed me that he had obtained them in Naples when studying there, and represented himself to be the notary of the place. I was not a little delighted to find in him a well-informed man, and to see that several of his books, written in Latin and Italian, treated of the island of Capri. On discovering that it was my intention to examine the island narrowly, he in the most friendly manner handed me all his books that would assist me in my research, and promised me to obtain, on the following morning, further information from his neighbours.
Nothing now remained to complete our object but to sail round the island and examine the coast; and as we had hitherto been prevented from doing this in consequence of the heavy swell which had prevailed, we resolved to devote the first calm morning to the purpose. A serene evening seemed at last to prognosticate the desired opportunity, and we made our hope known to our host, who participated in it, and promised to secure the aid of an experienced boatman, who, to use his expression, would row a man from yonside the Styx in the face of Charon. “He is old,” said he, “but has the eye of a hawk, a firm heart, and a powerful arm.” Such unqualified approbation quite prepossessed me in the man's favour, and he was accordingly sent for. We had subsequently much reason to be pleased with him, as he was the means of saving our lives on two occasions.
During the absence of the messenger, I employed myself in asking the notary for every possible intelligence respecting the proposed expedition, and took notes of what I thought would be likely to interest us most. As an old islander, he gave me detailed information as to those places which were most worthy of a visit, and which were very incorrectly given on the maps I had before me. After finishing, I gave him the paper for his perusal, and observing him, after a short time, screwing up his mouth, and nodding his head in a very shrewd manner, inquired if anything occurred to him,
“Why, yes," said he, after considerable hesitation, “something does occur to me, but there are some strange circumstances connected with it. I have now seen fifty-six summers, and have not yet been able to persuade any one to it—but I think I had better drop the subject."
With that he stopped short, but my curiosity being now awakened, I inquired what he referred to, and, after repeating my question more than once, he continued :
“Yes, I am fifty-six years of age, and for the greater part of that time I have entertained a desire which I have earnestly wished to see carried into effect. Allow me to explain it to you. On the north-west point of the island there is a tower called Damecuta, in the neighbourhood of which there are many Roman remains; and there is every reason to believe that Tiberius had a palace in that quarter. There is a tradition current that the place was originally termed Dame Chiusa,' or the Ladies' Prison, because the emperor is supposed to have here confined not a few of the fairer sex for the furtherance of his base designs.” ,
I hinted, by way of jest, that he surely did not contemplate the idea of releasing and letting these antiquated dames loose upon society.
“Oh no!" answered he, smiling. “But a palace of Tiberius certainly stood there. Now attend,” continued he, seriously: "at the foot of those ruins, on the shore, there is a place called Grotella, where the action of the waves has worked out several caves, which penetrate more or less into the rock. One of these, with an extremely confined opening, is held in bad repute, and even in broad daylight the fishermen avoid the place, imagining that it is tenanted by a host of evil spirits ; I, however”—and he glanced round to see if any of the family were within hearing, and added in an under tone-“I, however, give no ear to these tales, although, should it be known in the island, I would be held for little better than a Pagan; but as an educated man, you will allow that piety consists in more than a belief in goblins. Suffice it to say, that since my youth I have cherished a strong desire to swim into the place and look about me. I confess to you, however, frankly, that a dread has always attached itself to the idea, and that never, nor now, as father of a family, for still greater considerations, would I dare to enter it alone. God forbid! But as man and boy, many are the powerful swimmers I have asked to accompany me, in vain! The fear of the devil was too strong in them to allow of my gaining them over. My desire to penetrate the mysteries of the cave was much increased about thirty years ago by a circumstance connected with it related to me by an aged fisherman in whose family a tradition was handed down, that upwards of two hundred years before some priests had resolved to brave the terrors of the place, and actually swam a short distance in, when they were simultaneously seized with sudden fear, and hastened back. According to their account the grotto has the appearance of a large temple, in which there is a high altar, surrounded by figures representing the heathen deities. They stated also, that the water in the interior was of such peculiar properties that it filled the minds of those swimming in it with an indescribable perturbation. In all the books which refer to the island notice is taken of the grotto, and writers agree that for several centuries no individual has had the temerity to visit it. To this,” said our host, grasping my hand, “ I have only to add my firm belief that the ruins above decidedly formed a palace of Tiberius ; and as the emperor had no palace without a secret outlet, I maintain that the passage from the ruins leads through the grotto. In this case, the grotto, if of considerable dimensions, might well have been employed as a temple of Nereus and the nymphs; and this idea is confirmed by the classics, from whom we learn that Tiberius, in many instances, made use of the caves in the island, and ornamented them with much taste. All strangers with whom I have hitherto conversed on this subject have derided my opinion as a fanciful dream. I feel assured, however, that from the kind attention you have bestowed upon my story, you will grant I am right in asserting that the matter is one worthy of strict research.”
“My worthy host,” said I, “ the strangers who laughed at your conclusions appear to me nearly as weak as the fishermen with their fear of the devil. Everything you have mentioned bears so plausible an aspect, that I am burning with curiosity to visit the haunted temple with you."
“It can only be entered swimming," said the notary, in a doubtful tone, "and the water in the interior is deep.”