Good and dear friend,
After leading a half savage life so long, the tameness of the city appears quite strange. I can now imagine the home-sickness of the North American Indians, even the most civilized of whom always return to their woods at last. Freedom has such a matchless charm.
Yesterday, after dinner, I left Cashel, taking Captain S's brother in the carriage with me. While daylight lasted we saw at least twenty ruins, far and near. One of the most beautiful stands at the foot of an isolated hill, Killough Hill, called the garden of Ireland, because, according to the popular tradition, every indigenous plant in Ireland is to be found on it. The cause of this unwonted fertility is, that it was formerly the summer residence of the fairy queen, whose gardens bloomed here. The soil still retains some portion of its wondrous virtues. The ruin has likewise one of the mysterious slender round towers without any entrance. Some few of them have an opening or door, not at the bottom, however, but in the middle. It is impossible to conceive a more romantic watch-tower for the fairy hill. The weather was remarkably mild and beautiful, and the full moon so brilliant that I could read with perfect ease in my carriage. We slept, nevertheless, through a great part of the night.
I found a letter from you in Dublin;a thousand thanks for all the kindness and affection towards me which it contains. Do not be too anxious as to the situation of your friend. Tell her she must act as necessity requires, avert what can be averted, postpone inevitable evil as long as possible, but always bear calmly what is actually present. This at Least is my philosophy. Your quotation from Madame de Sévigné amused me extremely. Her letters are certainly extraordinary; repeating the same things, and those trivial enough, though volume after volume; yet by the new turn she continually gives them, always entertaining, sometimes bewitching; depicting court, city and country with equal grace; taking a somewhat affected love for the most insignificant of women as her main theme, yet never wearying: these were certainly conditions which no one but herself could have fulfilled. She is not in the least degree romantic, nor was she, while living, remarkably distinguished; but she is, without question, the best-bred model du ton le plus parfait. Without doubt she also possessed good temper bestowed by nature, ennobled and refined by art. Art is at least visible throughout; and probably her letters, which she knew were eagerly read by many, were carefully polished, and were calculated as much for society as for her daughter; for the admirable lightness of her style betrays much more of care than the épanchement of the moment permits. The representation of the manners of the day has a considerable effect in heightening the interest of the letters, but I doubt whether such letters written now would enjoy equal success. We are become both too serious and too avaricious. Les jolis riens ne suffisent
p.421plus. We want excitement, and violent excitement. Where a giant like Lord Byron appears, little prettinesses sink into insignificance. I was just now reading in his works,for I never travel without them. I fell upon the description of a scene precisely like many I have lately witnessed. In what elevated language did I find my own feelings expressed! I translate it for you as well as I can, in a sort of poetic prose, and as literally as possible:
- Der Himmel wandelt sich!Welch ein Wechsel! O Nacht
Und Sturm und Finsterniss, wohl seyd ihr wundermächtig!
Doch lieblich Eure Machtdem Lichte gleich,
Das aus dem dunklen Aug des Weibes bricht.Weithin
Von Gipfel zu Gipfel, die schmetternden Felsen entlang
Springt der eilende Donner. Nicht die einsame Wolke allein,
Jeder Berg hat eine Zunge gefunden,
Und Jura sendet durch den Nebelvorhang Antwort
Zurück, dem lauten Zuruf der jubelnden Alpen.
Das ist eine Nacht!o herrliche Nacht!
Du wurdest nicht gesandt für Schlummer. Lass auch mich
Ein Theilnehmer seyn an Deiner wilden, fernhin schallenden Freude
Ein Theil vom Sturmeund ein Theil deiner selbst
Wie der See erleuchtet glänztgleich dem phosphorischen Meer!
Und die vollen Regentropfenwie sie herabtanzen auf seine Wellen!
Und nun wird Alles wieder schwarzund von neuem
Hallt der Berge Chorus wieder, in lauter Lust,
Als säng' er Triumph über eines jungen Erdbebens Geburt!
Is not that beautiful? What true poetic feeling! What a pity that we have no good translation of his works. Göthe alone were able to give a perfectly satisfactory version of them,if he were not occupied in creating what equals them in grandeur, and surpasses them in lightness, grace and sweetness.
I called yesterday at the Lord Lieutenant's house in the Phoenix Park. He invited me to dine with him to-day. The party was brilliant. He is beloved in Ireland for his impartiality, and for the favour he has always shown to the cause of emancipation. His exploits as a general officer are well known, and no man has a more graceful and polished address in society. A more perfect work of art than his false leg I never saw.
p.422Marquis, although not young, has still a very fine person, and his artificial leg and foot rival the other à s'y méprendre. The only thing which betrays it, is some little difficulty in walking. On the whole, I know few Englishmen who have so good a tournure as the present Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. When he resides in the city, a very rigid etiquette, like that of a little court, is observed; but in the country he lives like a private gentleman. The power and dignity of a Lord Lieutenant are considerable as representative of the King; but he holds them only at the pleasure of the ministry. Among other privileges he has that of creating Baronets; and in former times inn-keepers, and men even less qualified, have received that dignity. When his functions cease he gains no accession of rank by the past performance of them. His salary during his continuance in office is £50,000 per annum, and a residence free of charge; so that he can very well lay by his own income. This, however, the present Lord Lieutenant does not appear disposed to do: his establishment is very liberal and splendid. He is surrounded too by very interesting men, who unite extreme good breeding with frankness and cordiality, and seem to judge of party questions with moderation and good sense. From what I have said, it may safely be presumed that Lord Anglesea's residence here will not be of long duration; and indeed I heard some hints to that effect. As he suffers dreadfully from Ticdouloureux, I recommended H to him, as a person remarkable for cures of that complaint, and gave his physician the book in which he treats of it. The Marquis said, smiling, I shall find no difficulty in obtaining leave of absence; at the same time casting a significant glance on his private secretary. This confirmed me in the surmise I have just expressed. It will be a great calamity for Ireland, who rejoices in the new and unaccustomed blessing of a governor who views the disgusting religious dissensions by which she has so long been torn, with the eye of a philosopher.
Before I drove to the Phoenix Park I attended divine worship in a Catholic chapel. It is a handsome building: the interior is a large oval, with a colonnade of Ionic pillars running round it, surmounted by a beautiful dome, and an excellent alto-relievo in the arched roof above the altar: it represents the Ascension. The figure and expression of our Saviour are peculiarly admirable. The fancy of the artist has placed him before us such as we must imagine him. The Catholics affirm that they possess genuine portraits of Christ. Indeed, in the south of Germany I once saw an advertisement of a collection of genuine portraits of God Almighty.
The chief altar stands quite alone, and is of a simple and beautiful form: it is of white marble, and was made in Italy. The slab on the top and the base are of dark marble. The front fa[cedil ]ade is divided into three compartments, on the middle is a monstrous pyx of gold bronze, and on each side bas-reliefs of praying angels.
Above, on the centre of the altar, stands a magnificent temple of splendid gems and gold, in which the real pyx is kept, and near it two no less magnificent golden candlesticks. On each side of the altar stands a tripod, supported by angels with folded wings; on the tablet at the top are placed the Host and the wine. The details are executed in the best possible taste, and a grand simplicity reigns through the whole. From the roof hangs a massive silver chain, supporting an antique lamp of the same metal, which is kept perpetually burning. It is certainly one of the most beautiful institutions of the Catholic religion, that some churches stand open day and night to all who long for communion with Heaven. In Italy
p.423I scarcely ever went to rest without visiting one of these; and giving myself up to the wondrous effect produced in the stillness of night by the red fantastic light thrown on the vaulted roof by the few scattered lamps, I never failed to find some solitary figure, kneeling in supplicating reverence before one of the altars, busied only with his God and himself, and utterly unmindful of all that passed around. In one of these churches stood the gigantic statute of St. Christopher, leaning against the middle pillar, and touching the roof with his head. On his shoulders was his heavy burthen, the miraculous child; and in his hand, as a staff, a full-grown trunk of a tree, with fresh green boughs, which were renewed every month. The light of a lamp suspended above, surrounded the infant Christ with a glory, and threw some rays, as if in benediction, upon the pious giant.
When I compare the Catholic service as it is performed here, with that of the English Protestant church, I must unquestionably prefer the former. It may perhaps contain some superfluous ceremonies, some which even border on the burlesque, such as the tossing about of the censers, the continual shifting of dresses, &c.; but still this form of worship has a sort of antique grandeur which imposes and satisfies. The music was excellent; the singers very good, and, which amazingly enhanced the effect, invisible. Some Protestants call this a taint of sensuality; but I cannot discover why the scream of an unmusical Lutheran congregation, which rends one's ears, should be more pious than good music, executed by people who have been well taught. Even with a view to the contents of the sermon, the comparison was greatly to the advantage of the Catholic church. While the Protestant congregation at Tuam was entertained with miracles, swine, and evil spirits, the discourse here was purely moral and practical. The eloquent preacher had taken envy as his subject, and said among other excellent remarks, If you would know whether you are entirely free from this crime, so afflicting to humanity, so degrading to the individual who cherishes it,examine yourselves thoroughly, whether you never experienced an unquiet and dissatisfied feeling at the constant and growing prosperity of another; whether you never felt a slight satisfaction at the tidings that some mischance had happened to a fortunate neighbour? This is a serious inquiry, and few will make it earnestly without advantage.
The way in which every one reads silently in his prayer-book, while the sublime music elevates the soul, and withdraws it from the earthly and trivial, appears to me far preferable to the loud responses and prayers of the Anglican church. During this interval of silent veneration, little heed is given to the ceremonies, the change of raiment, or the incensing the priests. But even allowing for these slight blemishes, the Catholic church strikes the mind, as a whole, as something congruous and harmonious with itself, and venerable from its antiquity and its consistency: the English Protestant church, on the contrary, as something patch-work, incongruous, and unconnected. In connexion with the German church (of course I mean as it is understood by such men as Krug and Paulus,) these two establishments might be likened to three individuals who were in a magnificent place, affording every variety of enjoyment, and of valuable information; but shut out from God's sun and his beautiful open creation
p.424by a high wall. The first of the three was satisfied with the glitter of the jewels and the light of the tapers, and never cast one wistful glance toward the few chinks in the wall which admitted some glimpse of daylight. The other two were restless and dissatisfied; they felt that there was something still better and fairer abroad, and determined to get over the high wall, cost what it would. Well provided with every thing they thought they should want, they began this great undertaking. They had many perils, many inconveniences to encounter, but at length they reached the top. Here, indeed, they could behold the sun's radiant countenance, but clouds often concealed it, and the beautiful green of the meadows beneath was often deformed by weeds and thorns, amidst which terrible wild beasts roamed prowling about. But nothing could daunt the second of the three, nor turn him from his enterprise; his intense desire for freedom conquered all fear and all doubt: unhesitatingly, he let himself down into the new world, and as he left every thing behind him that he might be perfectly unimpeded, he soon disappeared within the sacred enclosure. As to the third, he remains still sitting on the wall, between heaven and earth; still living on the food, and delighting in the finery he brought with him from below, and unable to wean himself from it, though the rays of the sun, which now fall uninterrupted on the false tinsel, shows it in all its worthlessness. Like the ass in the fable, he hesitates between the two bundles of hay, without knowing which to prefer. Backward he cannot go, and he has not courage to go forward; the flesh-pots of Canaan detain him where he is so long as they last.
If I do not choose to make allotria that is to talk of things which have nothing to do with my travels or my residence here, living in the world will make my letters very barren. I could draw out a scheme or formula and have it lithographed, leaving a few blanks to be filled ad libitum. For instance, Rose late, and out of humour. Walked, rode, or drove out to make visits. Dined with Lord , or Mr. ; dinner good, or bad; conversation, common places. Evening, a tiresome party, rout, ball, or above all, amateur concert. N. B. My ears still ache. In London, might be added, as a standing remark, The crowd nearly suffocated me, and the heat was greater than on the highest bench of a Russian vapour bath. Physical exertion to-day=5 degrees (reckoning a fox-hunt at 20,) intellectual profit therefrom =0. Result, Diem perdidi.
It is not quite so bad here: in this season the fatigue one has to undergo does not exceed that of a large German town; but there are a great superabundance of invitations which one cannot civilly refuse. For how truly can I say with the English poet, How various are the feelings of guests in that world which is called great and gay, but which is the most melancholy and tedious of any to those who cannot share in its gaiety!
I am just returned from a dinner-party, in which there was rather a provincial tone, but no want of pretension. Some things were comical enough; but the worst of it is, one buys a little laughing with such a quantity of ennui. The dinner too was a real mystification for a gourmet, and the house and park correspond with it.
My propitious star placed me at table next to Lord P, a celebrated political character, who has taken his stand on the good and noble side,
p.425and has remained faithful to the cause of emancipation. It gave me great pleasure to find that his views of things agreed so perfectly with those which I had been led to entertain from my own observations on the spot. One of his expressions struck me by its naïveté. I remarked to him, that from what I saw, even emancipation could do little good; for that the real evil was, that the soil was the property of an aristocracy, whose interests would always lead them to reside in England; and above all, the sums which were extorted from the poor Catholics by the Protestant church. So long as this remained unaltered, I saw no hope of any better state of things.
Yes, replied he; but to alter that is impossible. If the Protestant clergy were deprived of their wealth they would lose all their importance. How can that be? replied I, laughing. Is it possible that virtue, mild instruction, and pious devotion to the duties of his office, would not ensure to a clergyman, even of the highest rank, more respect with a moderate income than immoderate luxury; or are 20,000l. a-year really necessary to make a Bishop or Archbishop appear decently in society? My dear Sir, answered Lord P, such a thing may exist and maintain itself abroad, but will never do in Old England, where, above all, money, and much money is required and necessary to obtain respectability and consideration. This remark was not applied to the aristocracy; but it is not the less true that money is essential to its very existence, although it now affects, with no little display of haughtiness, to estimate noble birth far above mere wealth.
Lady M, who was present, entertained the company as usual by her wit. She amused me with some diverting anecdotes [gap: deleted/extent: two lines]
It is remarkable, that in no country does one meet half so many old maids as in England; and very frequently they are rich. Their excessive pride of wealth, which leads them to think no rank and greatness sufficient for them, or the exaggerated romantic notions in which they are brought up, are the causes of this phenomenon. English girls insist on being loved entirely and solely for themselves. French women make no such pretension, judging rightly enough, that this devoted affection will grow out of marriage, where there are the qualities fitted to produce it; and that where these do not exist, it will not endure, whatever the lover may say or believe to the contrary. The English, like true Turks, keep the intellects of their wives and daughters in as narrow bounds as possible, with a view of securing their absolute and exclusive property in them as much as possible, and in general their success is perfect. A foreigner serves as an amusement, a plaything to Englishwomen, but always inspires them with some degree of fear and reserve. It is extremely rare for them to bestow as much of their confidence upon him as upon a countryman.
They regard him as a half atheist, or a superstitious worshipper of Baal, and sometimes amuse themselves with attempting to convert him. I do not speak here of the London Exclusives; they give the same result as the rubbing together of all colours,none remains.
The beautiful weather tempted me out into the country. I rode about the whole day, and saw two fine seats, Malahide and Howth. They have one peculiarity in common; both have remained for nine hundred years in the possession of the same family, which no English seat that I have seen or heard of can boast. Malahide has also an historical interest, for it belongs to the Talbots; and the armour of the celebrated warrior, with the mark of a blow from a partisan on the breast is preserved here. One-half of the castle is extremely old, the other was demolished by Cromwell, and rebuilt in the antique style. In the former part they showed me chairs five hundred years old, and a room in which the rich boiserie, the carved ceiling and the floor, all of black oak, had remained unchanged for seven hundred years. The new part contains many interesting pictures.
There is a portrait of the Duchess of Portsmouth, so lovely that I almost envied Charles the Second even in his grave, the glory of making her a Duchess. An old picture of Mary Stuart, although represented at an advanced period of her life, confirmed me in my conviction of the resemblance of the portrait of this unfortunate and beautiful queen, which I saw in the County Wicklow. I looked with interest at a scene at the court of Madrid, with a portrait of the king seated in great solemnity in a scarlet robe; Charles the First, as Prince of Wales, dancing rather légèrement, a minuet with the Infanta; and the gay, seducing Buckingham magnificently dressed, and paying assiduous court to one of the ladies of honour.
Howth Castle, belonging to the St. Lawrence family, and inhabited by Lord Howth, who is no absentee, has been more modernized, and with no happy effect. The Grecian portico accords but ill with the small Gothic windows and the high gables. Here likewise the sword and armour of a celebrated ancestor with a romantic name is carefully preserved. He was called Sir Armoricus Tristram, and in the year 1000 gave battle to the Danes on this spot, and I think lost his life. The antique stables were full of noble hunters: Lord Howth's hounds are also very celebrated. On my return I went to the theatre, where Ducrow, the English Franconi, ennobles his art by his admirable representation of animated statues. This is a high enjoyment to a lover of art, and far surpasses the Tableaux which are in such favour on the continent. When the curtain draws up, you see a motionless statue on a lofty pedestal in the centre of the stage. This is Ducrow; and it is hardly credible how an elastic dress can fit so exquisitely and so perfectly represent marble, only here and there broken by a bluish vein. He appeared first as the Hercules Farnese. With the greatest skill and precision he then gradually quitted his attitude from one gradation to another, of display of strength; but at the moment in which he presented a perfect copy of the most celebrated statues of antiquity, he suddenly became fixed as if changed to marble. Helmet, sword, and shield, were now given to him, and transformed him in a moment into the wrathful Achilles, Ajax, and other Homeric heroes. Then came the Discobolus and others, all equally perfect and true. The last was the attitude of the fighting Gladiator, succeeded by a masterly
p.427representation of the dying Gladiator. This man must be an admirable model for painters and sculptors: his form is faultless, and he can throw himself into any attitude with the utmost ease and grace. It struck me how greatly our unmeaning dancing might be ennobled, if something like what I have described were introduced, instead of the absurd and vulgar hopping and jumping with which we are now entertained. It gave me pain to see this fine artist, (for he certainly merits no less a name,) ride nine horses at once, in the character of a Chinese sorcerer; drive twelve at once in that of a Russian courier; and lastly, go to bed with a poney dressed as an old woman.
I must now bid you good night, and good-bye for some days. To-morrow morning early this letter will go by post.