Page images

sagacity and perfect self reliance having carried him through the most formidable difficulties in the great desert, he found himself on the high way to Gaza which led to Hebron. His route hence is upon comparatively well-known ground, and therefore it will not be expected, after our copious descriptions of less familiar scenes, that we should much longer seek his company. One quotation, and it is rather a long one, must suffice, belonging to a display witnessed in the Holy City; and as the faithful Paul made a principal figure on the occasion, our readers must feel it to be the more acceptable on that account. This functionary and fellow-traveller had been invited by the well-fed superior of a convent to assist in the washing the feet of certain representatives of the twelve disciples. Accordingly the author was asked if he could spare his familiar for a whole afternoon when the ceremony was to take place. The request was acceded to, the acquiescent master resolving to be a spectator of the religious observance.

"This ceremony of washing the feet of the disciples, intended by our Saviour as a beautiful lesson of humility, is performed from year to year, ostensibly to teach the same lesson; and in this case the humility of the superior was exalted shamefully at the expense of the disciples. Most of the twelve would have come under the meaning, though inexplicable, term of loafer;' but one, a vagrant Pole, was, beyond all peradventure, the greatest blackguard that I ever saw. A black muslin frock-coat, dirty and glossy from long use, buttoned tight across the breast, and reaching down to his ancles, and an old foxy, low-crowned hat, too big for him, and almost covering his eyes and ears, formed his entire dress, for he had no trousers, shoes, or shirt; he was snub-nosed, pock-marked, and sore-eyed; wore a long beard, and probably could not remember the last time he had washed his face-think, then, of his feet. If Paul had been dignified, he was puffed up almost to bursting; and the self-complacency with which he looked upon himself and all around him was admirably beyond description. By great good fortune for my designs against Paul, the Pole stood next and before him in the line of the quasi disciples; and it was refreshing to turn from the consequential and complacent air of the one to the crestfallen look of the other, and to see him, the moment he caught my eye, with a suddenness that made me laugh, turn his head to the other side; but he had hardly got it there before he found me on that side too; and so I kept him watching and dodging, and in a perpetual fidget. To add to his mortification, the Pole seemed to take particularly to him; and as he was before him in the line, was constantly turning round and speaking to him with a patronising air; and I capped the climax of his agony by going up in a quiet way, and asking him who was the gentlemen before him. I could see him wince, and for a moment I thought of letting him alone; but he was often on stilts, and I seldom had such an opportunity of pulling him down. Besides, it was so ludicrous, I could not help it. If I had had any one with me to share the joke, it would have been exquisite. As it was, when I saw his determination to dodge me, I neglected everything else, and devoted myself entirely to him; and let the poor fellow turn where he would, he was sure to find me leaning

against a pillar, with a smile on my face and my eyes intently fixed upon him; occasionally I would go up and ask him some questions about his friend before him; and finally, as if I could not joke about it any more, and felt on my own account the indignity offered to him, I told him that, if I were he, I would not stand it any longer; that I was ashamed to see him with such a pack of rascals; that they had made a cat's-paw of him, and advised him to run for it, saying that I would stand by him against a bull from the pope. He now spoke for the first time, and told me that he had been thinking of the same thing; and by degrees, actually worked himself up to the desperate pitch of incurring the hazard of excommunication, if it must needs be so, and had his shoes and stockings in his hand ready for a start, when I brought him down again by telling him it would soon be over; and, though he had been shamfully treated, that he might cut the gentleman next to him whenever he pleased.

"After goading him as long as he could possibly bear, I left him to observe the ceremony. At the upper end of the chapel, placed there for the occasion, was a large chair, with a gilt frame and velvet back and cushion, intended as the seat of the nominal disciple. Before it was a large copper vase, filled with water, and a plentiful sprinkling of rose leaves; and before that, a large red velvet cushion, on which the superior kneeled to perform the office of lavation. I need not suggest how inconsistent was this display of gold, rose-water, and velvet, with the humble scene it was intended to represent; but the tinsel and show imposed upon the eyes for which they intended.

"One after another the disciples came up, seated themselves in the chair, and put their feet in the copper vase. The superior kneeled upon the cushion, with both his hands washed the right foot, wiped it with a clean towel, kissed it, and then held it in his hands to receive the kisses of the monks, and of all volunteers that offered. All went on well enough until it came to the turn of Paul's friend and forerunner, the doughty Pole. There was a general titter as he took his place in the chair; and I saw the superior and the monk who assisted him hold down their heads and laugh almost convulsively. The Pole seemed to be conscious that he was creating a sensation, and that all eyes were upon him, and sat with his arms folded, with an ease and self-complacency altogether indescribable, looking down in the vase, and turning his foot in the superior's hands, heel up, toe up, so as to facilitate the process; and when the superior had washed and kissed it, and was holding it up for others to do the same, he looked about him with all the grandeur of a monarch in the act of coronation. Keeping his arms folded, he fairly threw himself back into the huge chair, looking from his foot to the monks, and from the monks to his foot again, as one to whom the world had nothing more to offer. It was more than a minute before any one would venture upon the perilous task of kissing those very suspicious toes, and the monk who was assisting the superior had to go round and drum them up; though he had already kissed it once in the way of his particular duty, to set an example he kissed it a second time; and now, as if ashamed of their backwardness, two or three rushed forward at once; and the ice once broken, the effect seemed electric, and there was a greater rush to kiss his foot than there had been to any of the others.

VOL. III. (1837.) No. II.

"It was almost too hard to follow Paul after this display. I ought to have spared him, but I could not. His mortification was in proportion to his predecessor's pride. He was sneaking up to the chair, when, startled by some noise, he raised his head, and caught the eye which, above all others, he would have avoided. A broad laugh was on my face; and poor Paul was so discomfited, that he stumbled, and came near pitching headlong into the vase. I could not catch his eye again; he seemed to have resigned himself to the worst. I followed him round in the procession, as he thrice made the tour of the chapel and corridors, with a long lighted candle in his hand; and then we went down to the superior's room, where the monks, the superior, the twelve, and myself, were entertained with coffee. As the Pole, who had lagged behind, entered after we were all seated, the superior, with the humour of a good fellow, cried out Viva Polacca;' all broke out in a loud laugh, and Paul escaped in the midst of it. About an hour afterward I met him outside the Damascus Gate. Even then he would have shunned me; but I called him, and, to his great relief, neither then nor at any other time referred to the washing of the feet of the disciples."

During his residence in Palestine, our traveller visited the most interesting spots that have been consecrated in early Christian history, and by his descriptions of these and other scenes spoken of in Scripture has revived in our bosoms long cherished associations, and lent them the freshness which in our youth they possessed, when first we became able to comprehend their solemnity and import. The view, too, which he conveys of the ruin that has befallen many venerable scenes is deeply impressive and affecting. What other wonders can the world furnish to the imagination of mankind, which can compare to many here treated of? None in the annals of this nether sphere-for those which we refer to, have been the most illustrious foot-prints of Almighty power, justice, and goodness, of which our race is cognizant.

ART. II.-Lectures on English Poetry, prior to the time of Milton. By STANHOPE BUSBY, Esq. London: Whittaker. 1837.

WHEN the student of British literature turns to the works or to the names of some thirty or forty poets who flourished prior to the time of Milton, and were held in the highest estimation, at least for a time, and then compares the manner in which they are now regarded, or, with few exceptions, totally neglected, discouraging and painful reflections necessarily fill his mind. Yet it concerns deeply not only every one who desires to obtain an adequate or satisfactory acquaintance with the fathers of English literature, the progress of the language as well as its idiomatic power and tenderness, but all who are eager to become familiar with the past conditions of man in this country, in his private and social spheres, that the national productions of the imagination be carefully examined and traced. A philosopher may construct a theory and speculate wisely on

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

abstract points without leaving his closet; a writer may compile from the chroniclers of wars and mighty public events, a work which, in after ages, shall rank as a standard history of a kingdom, and be denominated, in that department, a classic, and yet confine himself to his library; but the author of a work of fiction, be it descriptive or dramatic, must have made himself master of the features contemporary with those of the period to be delineated, and of the characters to be put in action. To be a painter of life and manners inan must be studied closely, frequently, individually, and in multitudes; and if so, the poet or romancer will transmit a picture, bearing the colours and lineaments, and conveying the tone of the period in which he lives. Or should a writer draw merely from the depths of his own fancy, although the work will necessarily, in that case, only sketch and finish the portraits of his own individual feelings and modes of reflection, it can scarcely fail to mirror the prejudices and the images which the contemporary age has lent him, however silently and imperceptibly. Pleasantly and truly does the voice of our ancient nation resound, for instance, in ballad and song; and so long as poetry is an element that is generated in the human mind, and that feeds it with pleasure-because to be poetry truth and nature must conjoin, and these by our very constitution are necessary to life and its enjoyments-so long will poetry transmit forcible and descriptive illustrations of the ages in which it has breathed. To quote our author's language in his preliminary observations to these Lectures

There are perhaps few branches of literature more calculated to supply part of this information than poetry. While we occasionally meet with subjects furnished and adorned wholly by the imagination, we more often see poetic genius dwelling on realities, discoursing of the ambitions, or heightening the affections of mankind; painting in glowing colours whatever prominently excites our hopes or fears, our desire or our hatred, yet still affording an index of common opinion, and presenting us with images of those motives and passions by which human nature is impelled. In proportion as the author is confined to subjects that fall under his actual observation, the manners and usages of real life are interwoven with, and become the principle of his theme, and the persons of his fictions are endued with the same views that influence the common mass around him; they have the same superstitions, the same prejudices, and there is an impress of reality in the design that even the least reflective must appreciate."

It is therefore with satisfaction that we this month recur to a subject which occupied us in our immediately preceding number, and have to recommend, not merely to the scholar but to the general reader, another production that traces and characterizes the early history of British literature. Mr. Busby has, in these Lectures, to like Mr. Hippisley, gone over ground that has been learn

be sure,

edly and laboriously traversed by numerous and voluminous writers; but he has nevertheless done the reading community a manifest service by putting in a popular, rather than a formally critical shape, some of the most sensible and tasteful remarks that have ever been volunteered concerning the effusions of those bards who, from healthful infancy and promising youth, have raised British poetry to maturity and perfect manhood. He is, as all who study the subjects of which he treats are, an enthusiastic admirer of the early poets, but he is what many such are not-for though he waxes at times warm and eloquent, it is not at the expense of being perspicuous or correct. Indeed, we did not expect that, upon a field which admits of such copious description and illustration, that he could have compressed within little more than one hundred duodecimo pages, an intelligible and discriminative sketch not merely of the poetry and poets who flourished in Britain before the "Time of Milton," but also of the "Poetry of Milton and some of his Contemporaries.” Of the manner in which he has completed his undertaking we must offer some specimens.

After a hasty sketch of the poetry which has descended to us, belonging to periods previous to that of Chaucer, our author starts with this venerable name in the history of the muse, whose mistress was Nature; or, to use Mr. Busby's words, who was a poet "to whose searching glance the mystery of human motive lay bare and plain,”-one who" could appreciate the beautiful in nature, and the great in man.'


Whoever treats of early British literature must devote a particular portion of his work to the time and productions of Chaucer; and although the peculiar excellences of the father of English poetry cannot escape any critic, it is natural for each writer in Chaucer's case, as in that of all other masters and originalists, to take a somewhat distinct and separate view. Such various modes of treatment, however, may very well be brought together, and they ought to enable readers more perfectly to study the models described. Let us now, therefore, observe what are some of Mr. Busby's glances at our patriarchal bards. Thus of the author of the "Canterbury Tales".

"Our earlier poets were generally unlearned minstrels or recluse scholars, and their lays had either the rudeness of the hovel or the coldness of the convent. Chaucer, on the other hand, rose to repute under the auspices of the courtly, and was placed in a sphere of life where he had wider and better opportunities for studying manners, and rendering his style and language pointed and refined. The fame of the Italian poets had filled Europe, the Provencial romances were still popular, the spirit of chivalry was at its height, the English and Continental courts were remarkable for their splendour and gallantry, and there was everything that could excite a lively fancy, or rouse a fervid imagination.

« PreviousContinue »