Page images
PDF
EPUB

directed our course towards the north, and had just emerged from the grove of sacred peepuls, which is traversed by the road from Sirr to Khomanoh, when the sun's first rays fell upon the earth. My face happened, at that moment, to be turned towards the lake; and a scene, or rather vision, was presented to my eye, which, for splendour and sublimity, exceeded all that the fancy of man can ever have created, even in a dream. A forest of towers, palaces, spires, pyramids, battlements, and domes, piled above each other, frosted with gems and gold, and thrusting their glittering pinnacles into the clouds, seemed to be based upon the lake, and to stretch away, right and left, in an interminable line, into the desert. The appearance, however, lasted but a moment, for before I could bring my mind to bear, as it were, upon the pageant, the mighty fabric was shattered to fragments, as if riven by a thunderbolt, and the ruins, like a picture painted on a cloud, were blown away over the waste by the cold breezes of the morning. The Jemadar, or native officer, who accompanied us, a Rajpoot of high birth and gallant character, exclaimed, as the spectral city vanished-Hurchund Raja ca poori !—“The city of the Rajah Hurchund.” From this I discovered that my companions, as well as myself, had beheld the vision; and furthermore learned, upon inquiry, that at certain seasons of the year it may always be seen in some part or other of the desert, but most frequently on the spot where it had appeared to us.

Both my companion and myself now put several questions to the Jemadar respecting Hurchund, but could learn nothing more than that the city, or palace of the desert, was called after his name. My mind, however, involuntarily conceived the most extraordinary curiosity to learn the history of the Great Rajah, the phantom of whose grandeur was supposed thus to hover over his ancient dominions, in order, it would seem, to shame the present race into humility, by giving them an idea of the wealth and magnificence of their ancestors. Occupied with these reflections, I journeyed on to Jussulmer, observing little, and doing nothing; while my friend, the Lieutenant, kept a journal, containing the history of our suppers and dinners; sketched every landscape, bad and good, which presented itself, and composed five sonnets on fire-flies and ruins, which we encountered on the way. At Jussulmer, however, it was fated that my curiosity should be gratified. Conversing with a venerable priest of the Jairus, that ancient sect among whom the primitive faith of Hindoostan is supposed to be preserved, and full of the idea of the Great Rajah and his palace, I inquired whether in his profound researches into the history of his country, he had met with any account of the Rajah Hurchund. “ Certainly,” said he, “and I have here, in this temple, the very chronicle in which it is found.” He then went into the sanctuary, and a moment afterwards returned with the manuscript in his hand. It was written, I found, in the Sanscrit, and with

all that simplicity of style for which the ancient writings of most nations are remarkable. I sat down on the base of a pillar, and read, or rather devoured the chronicle; and so firm a hold did the subject take of my imagination, that, though I made no copy, I could, at this distance of time, repeat the whole story word for word, whether in the original or in English. Perhaps the circumstances under which I became acquainted with it, may have given this history an undue degree of importance in my eyes; but of this the reader, when he has carefully perused it, will be the best judge.

Hurchund ascended the throne of Northern India a few months before he had reached his twentieth year. The seat of government, at the period of his accession, was Ajmere; but in journeying through his dominions he discovered in the desert a beautiful oasis, or island, in the centre of which was a verdant mountain of moderate elevation; and with reckless absurdity he resolved to abandon the palaces of his ancestors, and to erect a new capital upon this enchanting but solitary spot. It was in vain that his mother, his brothers, and the sage counsellors of his deceased father, represented to liim the madness of building a city in a situation which, however beautiful in itself, was surrounded by a desert that was nearly impassable. That which they regarded as an objection, was his principal reason for fixing upon the place. He loved to contemplate beauty by the side of deformity, sterility mocked by abundance, and the pomp,

and riches, and glory of nature and art, in the arms, as it were, of silence and utter desolation. Besides, his kingdom was in profound peace; and his imagination, which was fertile and vigorous, required to be embodied in some palpable form. It was necessary he should create something. He therefore gathered together architects and labourers, from all parts of his dominions, and commenced the erection of a city, which he was determined should be the most superb the light of heaven ever shone upon.

The summit of the mountain having been levelled, and its bowels pierced for marble, he began with the building of his own palace; and in the course of a few years its prodigious domes, towering to an enormous height above the plain, and surrounded by a wilderness of glittering towers, appeared from a distance like those vast structures which the eye sometimes discovers or shapes in the clouds. Next arose the temples of the gods; and then the palaces of the princes and nobles who submitted to his sway, and were forward to follow his example. Thus Hurchund and his courtiers proceeded for thirteen years; and when, at the end of that period, the city was completed, and the beautiful fields which surrounded it bad been converted into the most lovely gardens, the imperial treasury was still far from being exhausted.

All this while, Hurchund, though not positively unhappy, for no person actively employed can ever be so, was not altogether contented. He was surrounded by

crowds of men who entitled themselves his friends, and, what was still more remarkable, by innumerable women, who would have been proud to be called his mistresses ; but when he attempted to open his way into the hearts of any of these friends, whether male or female, he discovered with horror, that every avenue to that secret citadel was closed or dark, and at length began to fear that no eye, save that of God, could penetrate whither his researches were desirous of arriving.

Meanwhile, continual thought, accompanied by a secret anxiety, which increased as he ascended higher and higher the arch of life, had blanched his dark locks, and communicated to his features an appearance of sedateness and severity which but ill accorded with the condition of his soul. He now grasped at pleasures with something like a fierce determination to enjoy the passing moment; but found that, like the shades of the dead, described by ancient poets, they were mere forms without substance—deceiving the senses, but eluding the touch of the mind. Still he proceeded, yearning for some human being whom he might love without reserve, to whom he could open his heart, and who, in return, would perform the same sacred office for him. But he yearned in vain. In every bosom he discovered envy and littleness; and at length began unconsciously to believe that the Almighty had created him superior to other men, in soul as in fortune.

After meditating long upon his condition, a scheme

« PreviousContinue »