I edged slightly away from my companion with the disagreeable impression that he was gone mad.
He went on;—"When I lived in the West Indies, the children of the slaves, about my house, were treated with great kindness and indulgence. They would come about my table at dessert, and often had little presents given them. So they grew into objects of affection. But, out of several, some, of course, took ill and died. I cannot tell you what grief it caused me. Then this has happened several times, after the death of one or other of my little favourites:—a bird has flown into the hall, and into my sitting-room, and has hovered near me, and, after a while, has flown away. For a few days it has regularly returned, and then finally disappeared. I thought it was tenanted by the spirit of my lost favourite, which had come to bid me farewell."
I drew nearer again to my companion. I felt I was in all events safe from violence from him. And I contrasted, with humiliation, his beautiful superstition with the commonplace remembrance of a school-boy conviction of my own, one dark night, upon Blackheath, that a direction-post was a ghost.
My friend had not, indeed, always been a dreamer: and although this is no place to narrate his course of daring and hazardous adventure, on which I am therefore silent, yet I wish to be allowed to re-establish his credit for intelligence, by reporting the answer which he made, on another occasion, to a question, as to what he thought of the emancipation of the Negroes in our colonies. "The principle," answered my friend, "was good, but you were in too great a hurry. Before giving them freedom, you should have made them fit for it. They were not impatient. Slavery is an African institution. Some outlay of public money, and extreme care and prudence in your measures, would have enabled you to secure their humane treatment in the interval. As fast as they became innoculated with the wants and habits of civilised life, you might have made freedmen of the most advanced, and given them official occupation, or allotted them land under proper conditions. One sheep would have followed another. The fag-end you might have emancipated together. Thirty or forty years, and a million of money, would have done the thing. The results would have been, from first to last, beneficial to the colonists. It would have set an example which other nations could have followed. It would have been a noble return for having, temporarily, used the race as unmitigated slaves. It would have been an act of enlightened philanthropy. It would have become statesmen. What you did reads and works like the puerile suggestion of a school-boy's theme. What you are further doing, to suppress, by force, the trade in slaves, would have been worthy my distinguished countryman whose biography has immortalised Cervantes. Humanity would smile at it, but that she shudders and sickens."
But, to leave the region of dreams, which are no longer realisable, let us shift the scene.
The churchyard has its nightly terrors. One heard of corpse-lights seen dancing over graves—but over some alone. A few only had witnessed this; but they had no doubt on the matter. Things looked "uncanny;" but time did not pause, and the story was forgotten. Even when the tale was fresh, what was it but superstition? Who of those who hugged its sympathetic terrors by the Christmas fireside, thought they could be true on the bright frosty morning of the morrow? It was mere fancy. There was nothing in it. Yet there was something. And now and then a striking and mysterious event would occur to bring back the old idea. There was a cottage, (this I heard of a certainty,) in a hamlet I could name, to which a bad report attached. A room in it was haunted. More than one who had slept there had seen, at midnight, the luminous apparition of a little child standing upon the hearth-stone. At length suspicion became active. The hearth-stone was raised, and there were found, buried beneath it, the remains of an infant. A story was now divulged, how the former tenant and a female of the neighbourhood had, a very few years before, abruptly left the village. The apparition here was real and significant enough.
"It will have blood, they say; blood will have blood. Stones have been known to move, and trees to speak: Augurs and understood relations have, By magot-pyes, and choughs, and rooks, brought forth The secret'st man of blood."
But tales like these, though true, gradually lose the sharpness of their evidence for want of an accredited contemporary narrator, and so become valueless. But time brings round every thing.
And at length a marvellous narrative, to the same effect with the above, made its appearance in a trustworthy German work, P. Kieffer's Archives, the complete authentication of which caused it to make a deep impression. The narrative was communicated by Herr Ehrman of Strasburg, the son-in-law of the well-known German writer Pfeffel, from whom he received it.
The ghost-seer was a young candidate for orders, eighteen years of age, of the name of Billing. He was known to have very excitable nerves,—had already experienced sensorial illusions, and was particularly sensitive to the presence of human remains, which made him tremble and shudder in all his limbs. Pfeffel, being blind, was accustomed to take the arm of this young man, and they walked thus together in Pfeffel's garden, near Colmar. At one spot in the garden Pfeffel remarked, that his companion's arm gave a sudden start, as if he had received an electric shock. Being asked what was the matter, Billing replied, "nothing." But, on their going over the same spot again, the same effect recurred. The young man being pressed to explain the cause of his disturbance, avowed that it arose from a peculiar sensation which he always experienced when in the vicinity of human remains; that it was his impression a human body must be interred there; but that if Pfeffel would return with him at night, he should be able to speak with more confidence. Accordingly, they went to the garden together when it was dark, and as they approached the spot, Billing observed a faint light over it. At two paces from it, he stopped and would go no further; for he saw hovering over it, or self-supported in the air, its feet only a few inches from the ground, a luminous female figure, nearly five feet high, with the right arm folded on her breast, the left hanging by her side. When Pfeffel himself stepped forward and placed himself about where the figure was, Billing said it was now on his right hand, now on his left, now behind, now before him. When Pfeffel cut the air with his stick, it seemed as if it went through and divided a light flame, which then united again. The visit, repeated the next night, in company with some of Pfeffel's relatives, gave the same result. They did not see any thing. Pfeffel, then, unknown to the ghost-seer, had the ground dug up, when there was found at some depth, beneath a layer of quicklime, a decomposing human body. The remains were removed, and the earth carefully replaced. Three days afterwards, Billing, from whom this whole proceeding had been kept concealed, was again led to the spot by Pfeffel. He walked over it now without experiencing any unusual impression whatever.
This extraordinary phenomenon, it is now generally known, has been completely elucidated through the discoveries of Von Reichenbach, to which, in a former letter, I had occasion to make allusion.
You are probably aware, that the individuals whose nerves Von Reichenbach found to be so sensitive to the proximity of crystals, magnets, &c., would, in the dark, see flames issuing from the same substances. Then, in the progress of his inquiries, Von Reichenbach found that chemical decomposition was a rich source of the new power he had discovered, by its action on the nerves. And being acquainted with the story of the ghost in Pfeffel's garden at Colmar, it occurred to him as not unlikely, that Billing had just been in the same condition with his own sensitive patients, and that graves very likely would present to all of them a luminous aura; and that thus the mystery might find a very simple explanation.
Accordingly, Miss Reichel, one of his most sensitive subjects, was taken at night to an extensive burying-ground, near Vienna, where many interments take place daily, and there were some thousand graves. The result did not disappoint Von Reichenbach's expectations. Whithersoever Miss Reichel turned her eyes, she saw masses of flame. This appearance manifested itself most about recent graves. About very old ones it was not visible. She described the appearance as resembling less bright flame than fiery vapour, something between fog and flame. In several instances, the light extended four feet in height above the ground. When Miss Reichel placed her hand in it, it seemed to her involved in a cloud of fire. When she stood in it, it came up to her throat. She expressed no alarm, being accustomed to the appearance.
The mystery has thus been entirely solved. For it is evident that the spectral character of the luminous apparition in the two instances I have narrated had been supplied by the imagination of the seers. So the superstition has vanished, leaving, as is usual, a very respectable truth behind it.
It is indeed a little unlucky for this new truth, which reveals either a new power in nature or an unexpected operation of familiar ones, that the phenomena which attest it are verifiable by a few only who are possessed of highly sensitive temperaments. And it is the use of the world to look upon these few as very suspicious subjects. This is unjust. Their evidence, the parties having otherwise a character for honesty, should be accepted with the same faith and the same distrust with which all evidence is to be viewed; with neither more nor less than in other cases. Nothing should be received in scientific inquiry which it is not compulsory on our understanding to believe. It is not a whit more difficult in these than in other cases to obtain inductive certainty. Nature is not here peculiarly coy or averse from being interrogated.
Philosophers occasionally regret the limited number of their senses, and think a world of knowledge would flow from their possessing but one more. Now, persons of highly-wrought nervous systems have what is equivalent to a new sense, in their augmentation of natural sensibility. But philosophers will not accept this equivalent. They must have the boon from nature their own way, or not at all.
To turn elsewhere.—We may now look into a broader seam of illusive power—one which lies entirely within ourselves, and needs no objective influence to bring its ghost-producing fertility into play. Let me exemplify it in operation.
A young gentleman, who has recently left Oxford, told me, that he was one evening at a supper-party in college, when they were joined by a common friend on his return from hunting. They expected him, but were struck with his appearance. He was pale and agitated. On questioning him, they learned the cause. During the latter part of his ride home, he had been accompanied by a horseman, who kept exact pace with him, the rider and horse being facsimiles of himself and the steed he rode, even to the copy of a newfangled bit he sported that day for the first time. The apparition vanished on his entering the town. He had, in fact, seen his double or fetch, and it had shaken his nerves pretty considerably. His friends advised him to consult the college tutor, who failed not to give him some good advice, and hoped the warning would not be thrown away. My informant, who thought the whole matter very serious, and was disposed to believe the unearthly visit to have been no idle one, added, that it had made the ghost-seer, for the time at all events, a wiser and better man.
In more ignorant times, the appearance of one's fetch was held to be of very alarming import, and to menace either death or serious personal harm. Now, it is known to be one of the commonest forms in which sensorial illusions shape themselves. And these are matters of every-day occurrence.
It would seem, that when the blood is heated or the nervous system over-strained, we are liable to attach reality to the mere productions of the imagination. There must be few who have not had personal experience of this affection. In the first night of a febrile attack, and often in the progress of fever, the bed-hangings appear to the patient swarming with human faces, generally of a disagreeable and menacing expression. With some, opium will produce a host of similar visitants. In much illness, I have often myself taken this drug, and always hoped it would provide me a crop of apparitions that I might analyse. But I was disappointed; opium I found to give me only a great tranquillity and clearness of thought. Once or twice only have I had a vision, and that but a transitory landscape. I used in vain to look upon that black mixture which lies before one in the dark, and try to make its fragmentary lights arrange themselves into definite shapes. And I have imaged to my mind familiar scenes or faces, (as in the daytime a strong conception will half realise such,) but they were not more distinct then than formerly,—ideas only and perfectly transient. But, as I have said, once or twice I have had the satisfaction of seeing a bright and coloured landscape spread before my view; yet unlike reality, and more resembling a diorama, occupying a rectangle on the black mixture before my eyes. It was not a known and familiar scene, but a brilliant sketch, made out of materials I remembered, but could not by a deliberate effort have combined so effectively. It was a spontaneous throe of the imagination, which had force to overpersuade the organs of perception.
How well did Shakspeare understand this creative power of the fancy!—the air-drawn dagger of Macbeth, and his test—"come, let me clutch thee!" are physiologically perfect. Nor less perfect or true to nature, is the conception of the ghost of Banquo haunting the kingly murderer. The ghost, it is obvious, however, should not in the play appear bodily. The audience are in the position of the guests at the royal supper-table, who saw it not. I wonder how in Shakspeare's time the stage-directions ran upon this point. Probably as now. Though Shakspeare wrote for all times, he was probably wise enough to act for the present. Or perhaps, with no disrespect to his unequalled genius, he understood not the principles of which he exactly portrayed the workings, and was, like Shelley's poet,
"Hidden in the light of thought."
So, some say the sun may be dark as another planet; and that the spots on it are its common earth seen through the gaps in its luminous atmosphere.
To the world, the alpha and omega of this piece of philosophy were furnished by the publication of the case of Nicolai, the bookseller of Berlin. Its details were read before the Academy of Sciences at Berlin, in 1799. The substance ran thus. Nicolai had had some family troubles which much annoyed him. Then, on the 21st of February 1791, there stood before him, at the distance of ten paces, the ghost of his eldest son. He pointed at it, directing his wife to look. She saw it not, and tried to convince him that it was an illusion. In a quarter of an hour it vanished. In the afternoon, at four o'clock, it came again. Nicolai was alone. He went to his wife's room—the ghost followed him. About six other apparitions joined the first, and they walked about, among, and through each other. After some days the apparition of his son stayed away; but its place was filled with the figures of a number of persons, some known, some unknown to Nicolai—some of dead, others of living persons. The known ones were distant acquaintances only. The figures of none of Nicolai's habitual friends were there. The appearances were almost always human: exceptionally, a man on horseback, with dogs and birds would present themselves. The apparitions came mostly after dinner, at the commencement of digestion. They were just like real persons; the colouring a thought fainter. The apparitions were equally distinct whether Nicolai was alone or in society, by day as in the dark, in his own house or those of others; but in the latter case they were less frequent, and they very seldom presented themselves in the streets. During the first eight days they seemed to take very little notice of each other, but walked about like people at a fair, only here and there communing with each other. They took no notice of Nicolai, or of his remarks about them to his wife and physician. No effort of his would dismiss them, or bring an absent one back. When he shut his eyes, they sometimes disappeared, sometimes remained; when he opened his eyes, they were there as before. After a week they became more numerous, and began to converse. They conversed with each other, and then addressed him. Their remarks were short and unconnected, but sensible and civil. His acquaintances inquired after his health, and expressed sympathy for him, and spoke in terms comforting him. The apparitions were most conversible when he was alone; nevertheless they mingled in the conversation when others were by, and their voices had the same sound as those of real persons. This illusion went on thus from the 24th of February to the 20th of April; so that Nicolai, who was in good bodily health, had time to become tranquillised about them, and to observe them at his ease. At last they rather amused him. Then the doctors thought of an efficient plan of treatment. They prescribed leeches: and then followed the denouement to this interesting representation. The apparitions became pale and vanished. On the 20th of April, at the time of applying the leeches, Nicolai's room was full of figures moving about among each other. They first began to have a less lively motion; shortly afterwards their colours became paler—in another half hour fainter still, though the forms still remained. About seven o'clock in the evening, the figures had became colourless, and they moved scarcely at all, but their outline was still tolerably perfect. Gradually that became less and less defined. At last they disappeared, breaking into air, fragments only remaining, which at last all vanished. By eight o'clock all were gone, and Nicolai subsequently saw no more of them.
Other cases are on record in which there was still greater facility of ghost-production than Nicolai evinced. One patient could, for instance, by thinking of a person, summon his apparition to join the others. He could not, however, having done this, subsequently banish him. The sight is the sense most easily and frequently tricked; next, the hearing. In some extraordinary cases the touch, also, has participated in the delusion.
Herr von Baczko, already subject to visual hallucinations, of a diseased nervous system, his right side weak with palsy, his right eye blind, and the vision of the left imperfect, was engaged one evening, shortly after the battle of Jena, as he tells us in his autobiography, in translating a brochure into Polish, when he felt a poke in his loins. He looked round, and found that it proceeded from a Negro or Egyptian boy, seemingly about twelve years of age. Although he was persuaded the whole was an illusion, he thought it best to knock the apparition down, when he felt that it offered a sensible resistance. The Negro then attacked him on the other side, and gave his left arm a particularly disagreeable twist, when Baczko pushed him off again. The Negro continued to visit him constantly during four months, preserving the same appearance, and remaining tangible; then he came seldomer; and, after finally appearing as a brown-coloured apparition with an owl's head, he took his leave.
The illusion and its principle having been thus elucidated, it is hardly worth while to look into its operation in tales of vulgar terror. But it is highly interesting to trace its effects on minds of a high order, when its suggestions have been received and interpreted as the visits and communications of superior beings. You have heard, I dare say, my dear Archy, of the mysticism of Schwedenborg. Now that they are explained, the details of his hallucinations are highly gratifying to one's curiosity.
Schwedenborg, the son of a Swedish clergyman of the name of Schwedberg, ennobled as Schwedenborg, was, up to the year 1743, which was the fifty-fourth of his age, an ordinary man of the world, distinguished only in literature, having written many volumes of philosophy and science, and being Professor in the Mineralogical school, where he was much respected. On a sudden, in the year 1743, he believed himself to have got into a commerce with the world of spirits, which so fully took possession of his thoughts, that he not only published their revelations, but was in the habit of detailing, with the greatest equanimity, his daily chat with them. Thus he says, "I had a conversation the other day on that very point with the Apostle Paul," or with Luther, or some other dead person. Schwedenborg continued in what he believed to be daily communion with spirits till his death, in 1772. He was, without doubt, in the fullest degree convinced of the reality of his spiritual commerce. So in a letter to the Wirtemburg prelate, Oetinger, dated November 11, 1766, he uses the following words:—"If I have spoken with the Apostles? To this I answer, I conversed with St Paul during a whole year, particularly on the text, Romans iii. 28. I have three times conversed with St John, once with Moses, and a hundred times with Luther, who allowed that it was against the warning of an angel that he professed 'fidem solam,' and that he stood alone upon the separation from the Pope. With angels, finally, have I these twenty-two years conversed, and converse daily.
"Of the angels," he says, "they have human forms, the appearance of men that I have a thousand times seen; for I have spoken with them as a man with other men, often with several together; and have seen nothing in the least to distinguish them from ordinary men." [They had evidently just the appearance of Nicolai's visitors.] "Lest any one should call this an illusion, or imaginary perception, it is to be understood that I am accustomed to see them, when perfectly myself wide awake, and in full exercise of my observation. The speech of an angel or of a spirit sounds like, and as loud as, that of a man, but it is not heard by the bystanders; the reason is, that the speech of an angel or a spirit finds entrance first into a man's thoughts, and reaches his organs of hearing from within outwards." This is indeed cum ratione insanire! how just an analysis of the illusion, when he is most deceived by it!
"The angels who converse with men, speak not in their own language, but in the language of men, and likewise in other languages which are inwardly known to man, not in languages which he does not understand." Schwedenborg here took up the angels, and to explain their own ideas to them observed, that they most likely appeared to speak his mother tongue, because, in fact, it was not they who spoke, but himself by their suggestion. The angels held out, however, and went away unconvinced.
"When approaching, the angels often appear like a ball of light; and they travel in companies so grouped together—they are allowed so to unite by the Lord—that they may act as one being, and share each others' ideas and knowledge; and in this form they bound through the universe, from planet to planet."
I will, in conclusion, add another different, but equally interesting sketch.
"It is now seven years ago," so spoke, before her judges, the simple, but high-minded Joan of Arc—"the beginning of the year 1431; it was a summer day, towards the middle hour, I was about thirteen years old, and was in my father's garden, that I heard for the first time, on my right hand towards the church, a voice, and there stood a figure in a bright radiance before my eyes. It had the appearance and look of a right good and virtuous man, bore wings, was surrounded with light on all sides, and by the angels of Heaven. It was the Archangel Michael. The voice seemed to me to command respect; but I was yet a child, and was frightened at the figure, and doubted very much whether it was the archangel! I saw him and the angels as distinctly before my eyes as I now see you, my judges." With words of encouragement the archangel answered to her, that God had taken pity upon France, and that she must hasten to the assistance of the king. At the same time he promised her that St Catherine and St Margaret would shortly visit her; he told her that she should do what they commanded her, because they were sent by God to guide and conduct her. "Upon this," continued Joan, "St Catherine and St Margaret appeared to me, as the angel had foretold. They ordered me to get ready to go to Robert de Beaudricourt, the king's captain. He would several times refuse me, but at last would consent, and give me people, who would conduct me to the king. Then should I raise the siege of Orleans. I replied to them that I was a poor child, who understood nothing about riding on horseback and making war. They said I should carry my banner with courage; God would help me, and win back for my king his entire kingdom. As soon as I knew," continued Joan, "that I was to proceed on this errand, I avoided, as much as I could, afterwards taking part in the sports and amusements of my young companions."——"So have the Saints conducted me during seven years, and have given me support and assistance in all my need and labours; and now at present," said she to her judges, "no day goes by, but they come to me."——"I seldom see the Saints that they are not surrounded with a halo of light; they wear rich and precious crowns, as it is reasonable they should. I see them always under the same forms, and have never found in their discourse any discrepancies. I know how to distinguish one from the other, and distinguish them as well by the sound of their voices as by their salutation. They come often without my calling upon them. But when they do not come, I pray to the Lord that he will send them to me; and never have I needed them but they have visited me."
Such is part of the defence of the high-spirited Joan of Arc, who was taken prisoner by the Duke of Burgundy on the 23d of May 1430—sold by him for a large sum to the English, and by them put on her trial as a heretic, idolatress, and magician—condemned, and finally burned alive, the 30th of May 1431. Ill-fated heroine! I seem to be thinking of writing her epitaph, but I am considering only that there is more to come out of her evidence. For although her heavenly visitants were simply sensorial illusions, there yet remains something unexplained. How came she to foresee the path she was destined to follow? The inquiry would launch us on a broad and wild sea of conjecture, for the navigation of which we have not yet the requisite charts on board, and it grows late—so good-night, dear Archy.
"Suadentque cadentia sidera somnum." "Cras ingens iterabimus aequor."
Yours, &c., MAC DAVUS.
A NEW SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY.
THE BATHS OF MONT DOR.
There is a tremendous valley opening all the way down, from the central summits of the ridge of the Monts Dor, quite into the undulating, and thence into the flat country, lying westward of this mountain chain. Where the valley commences, it is nothing more than a combination of mountain gullies, and is like a wild and precipitous ravine; but by degrees it widens out into spacious amphitheatres, and at times contracts itself again so as barely to allow of a struggling river to make its way betwixt the rocky sides. In some places, the valley makes a straight reach four or five miles in extent, but in others, winds and turns about in abrupt and varied curves; its descent is now gradual, and now rapid, where the stream dashes over ledges of rock or cuts its way through some rough and stubborn pass. Nearly all the ravines and smaller valleys that open into it bring down their contributions of mountain torrents; and the whole collection of waters, thus wending their way to the ocean, form what is called the Dor. This river meets with the Dogne lower down in its course; and, under the joint name of the two waters, the flood rushes broad and strong through Guienne into the Gironde. The high and bare mountain whence the Dor derives its principal source is the Pic de Sancy, the loftiest hill in the middle of France; it is the king of all the volcanoes of this vast igneous chain, and has its sides deeply furrowed and excavated into immense craters or volcanic vents. From it proceed numerous branches or arms, composed of basaltic currents congealed into columnar masses in the early days of the world. These stretch out league after league, away from their parent head, and present on their tops vast plateaux of green and moory pasture-land; while their sides are either abrupt precipices of basaltic columns, or else are clothed with primeval forests, which have sprung up and still flourish on the rich materials of their decomposing slopes. The valley of the Dor is therefore shut in either by precipitous volcanic walls, or is guarded by sombre woods. Once on the tops of the plateaux, and you may ride a whole day on unbroken turf; or, if you penetrate within the forest lands, you may wander for any time you please, days or weeks, without seeing either their beginning or their end. On the summits of the mountains around, snow is to be found in patches, even in the hottest days of summer; and as the Pic de Sancy is more than six thousand feet above the level of the sea, almost every gradation of climate is to be found amongst these lonely hills. In the dog-days, the valleys are so hot that you gladly escape to the upper lands for air and coolness; but the winter sets in, in October, and the valley of the Dor is then covered deep with snow for many a long month. The Dor itself is a pleasant lively stream: it can boast of some picturesque falls here and there, but it is commonly a "brawling brook," winding about at its pleasure; allowing itself to be forded every now and then; and producing plenty of small trout for those who like to waste their time in fishing.
The urchins of the peasant tribe know how to get these finny creatures more cannily than the professed angler; you may see them on a summer's morning wading up the stream, and hunting under every stone, and in each little pool, for the objects of their search. As soon as they see a trout, they drive it into little convenient nooks that they know of, and there—how they manage it nobody knows, but the result is certain—they catch them with their hands or knock them on the head with their sticks; and will always produce you a respectable dish at a few hours' notice.
About a couple of leagues below the Pic de Sancy, towards the west, one of the plateaux on the northern side of the valley assumes an exceedingly bold and regular appearance; it is called the Plateau de l'Angle—perhaps from its making, by an abrupt termination, the corner of two valleys; and it towers out like a promontory at sea, soaring some four or five hundred feet above the bed of the river. Not very far from where this plateau is cut off—a mile or so—there is a bold cascade dashing over its side, and carrying off the superfluous waters of a pool and morass higher up in the bosom of the mountains. Here the basaltic precipice is hollowed out into a circling chasm, and over its black face rushes the impetuous stream upon a huge chaos of rocks and debris below, foaming and roaring until it finds its way into the Dor far down in the valley at its foot. A few hundred feet to the westward of this cascade, and at the lowest part of the precipitous columnar cliff, burst forth several copious fountains of hot mineral waters, half-way to boiling heat when they leave their rocky cells, and ever keeping up the same degree both of heat and quantity. These are the springs which give celebrity to the place, and constitute the baths of Mont Dor.
The Romans—those true "rerum domini"—knew of the spot, as they did of most other good things within their wide empire; and they frequented these springs so much that they erected over them a magnificent bathing establishment, and adorned the spot with a beautiful temple. In the midst of the present village stand the remains of one and the other of their buildings; and thus the hydropathic system of the ancients is allied with the practice of the modern Academie de Medecine. No records of the destruction, nor indeed of the existence, of this Roman watering-place have been preserved; probably, the buildings fell into natural decay, and during the middle ages were allowed to remain unrepaired and unheeded. Only foundations, broken shafts of columns, cornices, capitals, and altars are now discernible; but they are enough to add greatly to the interest of the locality.
At Saint Nectaire, two leagues further down the valley, and indeed at other spots in it, thermal sources not much inferior to those of Mont Dor are to be met with; the whole district bears intimate evidence of its volcanic nature, and the rheumatic or dyspeptic invalid may here get stewed or washed out to his full satisfaction and lasting benefit.
The village of Mont Dor-les-Bains is, however, that which has been selected by the beau monde of France as one of their choicest places of resort; and here public money has been added to the efforts of private speculation in order to render the baths at once ample and commodious. Over the best sources is erected a large edifice, the lower story of which is occupied by halls, and bathing-rooms for every variety of medical purpose; while above are assembly-rooms, and the apartments of the Government physician.
The distribution below is most convenient. The water, after issuing from the rock, is conveyed by distinct channels into numerous baths contained in small chambers on either side of a large central hall: while other conduits take it to plunging and swimming baths, to douches, and to other medical contrivances. In the small single baths you receive the water piping hot from the rock, at about one hundred degrees of Fahrenheit; and you may lie there, bolling away—for a constant supply of the same natural water keeps running into and through your bath—for hours together, upon payment of a franc. The water costs nothing; the building has been erected at the public expense, and the visitor therefore enjoys this luxury at a moderate rate. For the poorer class of patients gratuitous baths are provided; and in fact the gifts of nature are here grudged to no one, but every man's wants may be gratified in a liberal manner.
By four o'clock in the morning of a summer day, you may see a train of ghost-like beings winding along the village street, clad in the simple attire of a chemise, a blanket, and the eternal nightcap—lean, sallow-faced, or crippled mortals, who have had the wise precaution to undress at home, and not being afraid of shocking the wood-nymphs from their propriety, sally forth to court the Goddess of Health. They congregate in a dark cellar-like chamber, round an ample and steaming pool, and then sink into it, to forget for a while all their pains and maladies, and to enjoy that indescribably delightful sensation of having the joints gently unscrewed and fresh oiled. Others, whose shoulders and backs have known the pangs of lumbago and acute rheumatism, are put under one of the douches; and down comes on them a discharge of the hot fluid as if from the hose of a fire-engine, or as though shot out from some bursting steam-boiler. Away fly the pains and troubles of humanity; the rickety machine is put in order for that day at least, and twenty-four hours of peaceful enjoyment is the almost invariable consequence.
Later on in the morning, the fashionable visitors crawl forth to the baths; but not so late that nine o'clock does not see them all safely housed again after their ablutions, shaving or curling away with might and main to get ready for a grand dejeuner. For here, as at Bath, not only is it well to remember the inscription,—
"[Greek: ariston men udor]"
but it would be advisable to add,
"[Greek: Broma de megiston]:"
seeing that the appetite which is got up by all this early rising, and steaming, and washing, is doomed to be satisfied in a way fully worthy of the most refined French cuisine.
In the village there are numerous hotels and boarding-houses, capable of suiting the pockets and the wishes of all the middling, and even of the lower classes of society:—but there are three or four principal houses,—and especially two, reserved for the aristocracy; and here all the elite of the visitors congregate. We wealthy English may laugh at the moderate expense for which this kind of thing can be done in France, but we are not apt to grumble at it when we find it suit our pockets; and, therefore, take with you at once the description of the kind of fare you are likely to meet with here, and the amount of damage it will do to your fortune. In these large hotels, then, which are commodious houses, a vast number of bedrooms are provided for the guests, and two good reception-rooms; besides an immense salle-a-manger. Some sixty or a hundred guests can be accommodated in each house, and can sit down at table together. Breakfast is served between nine and ten,—and a glorious breakfast it is! All kinds of good things, which an old artiste from Paris comes down for the season to cook: ending with fruits of many kinds and cafe-au-lait—that Continental beverage which John Bull can no more imitate than he can the wines of the Rhone or the Rhine:—in short, 'tis as good a breakfast as they could put on the table at Verey's. Dinner is ready at six, and maintains its proper superiority over the breakfast, both in the number of dishes and in the length of its service. The wines are good, and the fruits delicious, for they all come from Clermont—whence many a wagon-load of comestibles is tugged weekly over the mountains to satisfy the exigencies of the fastidious invalids!
Well: they give you these two glorious spreads, your room, your light, your linen, and your attendance, for five francs a-day.
And how is this day passed? Why, 'tis a true castle of indolence, is Mont Dor-les-Bains; "a pleasing land of sleepy-head," where every one follows the bent of his own fancy, and where the only serious occupation is, to forget all care and to do nothing. After rising from the breakfast table, parties are immediately formed for the promenade or the distant excursion; and, for the latter, some two or three score of boys and girls are stationed on the Grande Place, each in charge of an animal disguised with the name of a horse, which you hire for the whole day, to go where, and how far you please, for the enormous sum of two francs. It is true that the animal has neither symmetry nor blood, but it is the indigenous pony of these mountains; it is a slow, sure-footed beast, and it will carry you up and down the steepest hill-side with exemplary patience and sagacity. Do not lose your own patience, however, if you mount one of them. They have no trotting, nor galloping, nor any other pace whatever in them, out of the half-amble half-walk at which they commonly proceed. But then, they know no better food than mountain-grass, or the occasional luxury of some chopped straw, and they will follow you all round the village for a slice of bread held before their noses. Nevertheless they suit the country; they accommodate the visitors; and there is not a spare horse to be got in the village by half-past ten, for love or money.
The day's ramble ended, and dinner duly dismissed, every body—that is to say, every body who is any body at all—adjourns to the salle de reunion, the large assembly-room built over the baths. This is really a handsome well-arranged ball-room, full of mirrors, ottomans, and benches; at one end is a billiard and card room, and behind are rooms for robing. Here, upon the payment of a napoleon, you have the entree for the season; and here the guests meet, more upon the terms of a large family than as though they were strangers. Etiquette is relaxed; every body knows every body. The elder men take to billiards and ecarte,—the graver ladies form into little coteries; a younger one goes to the piano, a circle is made, a romance is sung; and then, as the strain becomes lighter, the feet beat in sympathy, and the gay quadrille is formed. At eight or nine o'clock the room is at its fullest; the village minstrels are called in—some half-dozen violins, a clarionet, and a cornet; the music becomes louder, the mazy waltz is danced, and the enjoyment of the day is at its crowning point.
Happy, happy days! still happier, still more delightful nights! No trouble, no excess—health and cheerfulness going hand-in-hand. The most refined society in France, and yet the most simple and most unaffected; good-humour and politeness ruling all things: all calculated for enjoyment, nought for disquietude and regret!
At eleven o'clock it is understood that every body vacates the room; and, within half an hour after, not a sound is to be heard in the village, save the dash of the cascade, and the murmuring of the silvery Dor.
Well: 'tis a motley assemblage this! The world is checkered here not less than in the noisy and elegant capital; and man's peculiarities, man's excellencies, and man's defects, follow him even into the heart of these wild mountains, showing themselves in these smaller groups, not less strongly than amid the crowded streets of Paris! How should it be otherwise? Does not every one come hither to unbend, to throw off the stiff mask of metropolitan society for the moment, and to become themselves natural while they invoke the aid of nature's healthy influence? The strict etiquette of the Faubourg St Germain may here be safely laid aside awhile; and the inspirations of country life, the happy the delightful inspirations of youth, may be once more resumed. What a comfort to be able to get out of the buckram and taffetas of the court, to put on one's neglige, or one's shooting-jacket, and to keep company awhile with no less cheerful companions than the songsters and the rangers of the forest! Why it does one's inmost soul good to fly away from the din and turmoil, even of the pleasure-seeking Parisians, and to revert to the simple, yet grand and expansive ideas which scenery such as this of Mont Dor brings into the mind in an instant.
True: the mountains increase in magnitude and grandeur as you approach them; once within their lofty and austere recesses, and their sublimity makes itself felt. You are brought into immediate contact with some of the mightiest works of the Creator, and the mind expands of itself, unconsciously and irresistibly, till it becomes capable of imbibing, of comprehending, and of enjoying the full magnificence of nature!
But does the courtier, does the citizen lay aside his pack of habits, as well as his pack of cares, when he becomes a temporary denizen of the country? Would that it were so! He is cast in a mould—his mind has been warped: his body requires moistening with the freshest and the earliest dews of many an "incense-breathing morn," ere it can resume the full elasticity and joyous lightness of rustic activity; and his soul wants a long oblivion of all conventional preoccupation, all trouble and all intrigue, ere it can recover the tone and temper of younger days.
Now, I had been saying all this to myself, and should have gone on moralising till the weary hour of noon, perhaps; but while I was leaning over the balustrade of my window, looking down into the Grande Place——Oh yes, to be sure! there is a Grande Place at Mont Dor-les-Bains, as well as at any other town, village, or city. Did you ever in your life hear or see any thing French to which the epithet of Grand had not been, by some means or other, tacked on? From the Grand Monarque at the head of the Grande Armee of the Grande Nation, down to the Grand limonadier of the Grand Cafe of the Grande Place, it is all Grand. Oh, this villanous spirit of exaggeration! this attempt at the sublime so inevitably linked to the ridiculous!——Just so! I was leaning over the balustrade of my window, which, from the third story of the hotel, "gave," as they term it, into the Grande Place. Now it is one of the most delightful things imaginable, after you have indulged in your morning's ablutions, and have produced that indefinable lilac tint on your chin, which tells of easy shaving soap and a Rogers's true old English razor, to don your shawl dressing-gown, and, having adjusted your bonnet grec towards the right side of your head, so as to allow the glossy curl to escape and hang pendant on the left; when all this is done, to "light the brown cigar," to put yourself in an elegant reclining posture between your opening jalousies, and, with both elbows resting on the red velvet cushion that crowns the hard edge of the balustrade, to puff forth light wreaths of blue vapour into the balmy air, and to see the bathers come back from the baths. There you may "think down hours to moments:" and so was it with myself; for I took my post at my window by half-past six, and at nine I was still there. Every now and then went forth my curling column; then my eye would catch the glorious "mountain-tops bathed in the golden light of morn;" then I would give a glance at sublunary things awhile, and speculate on the moving animals below; then puff, and gaze, and speculate again; and all that while be the happiest of men, in the absolute absence of any thing but perfect idleness.
You may say what you please, but it does the mind good to think of nothing at times; to let the impressions of passing events glide through the soul, and titillate the imagination, but to "leave no trace behind." Oh yes! this fairy dancing on the sands of life's dull shore, is very pleasant occupation for a summer morn, and eke a summer eve. It is poetical, to say the least of it; and day-dreams may sometimes prove not less agreeable than those mysterious scenes of night, when the soul quits her corporeal shackles, and roams in pure fancy through the world of thought, seeing sights of beauty, and scenes of paradisaical splendour, which the dull organs of bodily vision can never attain unto. Why! the happiest portion of my life is that which I have passed in the land of dreams: one third of my existence has been spent there—and I have friends, and well-known faces, and peaceful valleys, and bright streams, and strains of ethereal music, which are still and ever vivid in my waking mind, but at night call me to themselves, and wrap me in a state of enjoyment which certainly this poor weak body of mind never could be capable of experiencing. I have positively new, altogether new and unheard-of ideas—I do not mean irrational ones, nor those phantasmagoric combinations that haunt the diseased brains of some wretched mortals—but reasonable, possible, natural ideas of form and substance, which I am persuaded have their types in some corner or other of the universe, and which it may perhaps be hereafter my too happy destiny to witness, and to dwell amongst for ever and for aye. I would not exchange my dreams for all the realities of——
"Monsieur! veut-il dejeuner au salon?" said the slip-shod garcon of the hotel, tapping me on the shoulder. "The company have all taken their seats, and I have kept a chair for Monsieur. Does Monsieur prefer Burgundy or claret? The vin ordinaire is not sufferable: au reste, here is the carte, and Monsieur has only to choose."
"'Tis a reality, my friend, that I was not then exactly thinking of—but breakfast I must, and will. But just tell me, for a minute, where these people come from, that I see down in the Place there, at that corner—the old gentleman in nankeen, with the green shade over his eyes, and the fat little dame by his side; and those young ladies at the door of the large hotel opposite, and the spruce militaire there at the window, and that knot of men in long brown surtouts, one of whom is gesticulating so vehemently."
"Excusez, Monsieur, those gentlemen are great politicians," (grand again, thought I!) "and one of them is deputy for the Department—M. de Beauparler: he has just been voting against the Ministry, sir; he is a great friend of M. Lafitte, sir; oh, sir! c'est le plus grand orateur de notre pays! You ought to hear him, sir. As for the young ladies, sir, they are les Demoiselles Leroy: it was their father that you were remarking just now—the old gentleman—very short-sighted, sir—he is immensely rich; Pardi! que sais-je?" (here he shrugged up his shoulders to his ears,) "they say he has 50,000 francs a-year!—c'est assommant!" (here he shut his eyes and raised his nose at an angle of forty-five degrees.) "Quant aux demoiselles, elles sont"——(he was evidently at a loss for an expression; so he extended his first two fingers to his lips, closing tightly the others and his thumb, and then blew a kiss with them to the winds.)
Tap! tap! at the door. "Pierre! are you coming down, then? they are asking for you every where!" And the tightly girded, and somewhat altius accincta, fille-de-chambre—a spruce little black-eyed Auvergnate,—tripped into the room. "Excusez, milor! but Pierre is such a gossip!" "My good girl, I will detain neither Pierre nor yourself: give me my coat, dust my room well, and now show me to the salle-a-manger."
As good luck would have it, Pierre had placed a chair for me next to Madame de Mirepoix, her husband was on the other side of his lady,—'twas impossible to be in better company. Opposite to me was a venerable white-haired mustached gentleman, evidently a military man, and next to me was a lady, some five-and-forty, or thereabouts, with a strong Spanish cast of countenance and complexion, and her husband, a short thick-necked apoplectic-looking man, by her side. The rest of the company, though various enough in their physiognomical aspect, were evidently persons of the upper ranks of society, and among them were several choice specimens of the best and oldest nobility of France. They seemed all to make one joyous family party, as if they had been relations rather than strangers; every body was laughing and chatting with his neighbour; they were plying their forks most vigorously, and the noise and bustle was excessive.
"What do you think of our baths?" said my lovely neighbour; "for of course you have already been immersed in, and have tasted the waters." I humbly alleged the negative. "Well! I declare this phlegme Britannique is insupportable. Why, sir, we were at the bath-house before six this morning."
"Had I but known it, Madame"——
"Ah, just so!" said the little apoplectic gentleman leaning across his wife to me: "Monsieur est Anglais! c'est tres bien, c'est tres bien! Monsieur, you do us great honour to come to visit this savage wilderness. But voyez-vous, you would have done much better to have stopped at Paris; there's nothing here, sir—absolutely nothing! What are these mountains? Bare rocks! forests, indeed, there are; but there are forests every where. Give me, sir, the Foret de Montmorency, even the Bois de Boulogne; and for rocks, I wish for nothing better than the Rocher de Cancale." (Here he rubbed his hands excessively, and looked round the table for a smile at the bon-mot.)
"M. Bouton will pardon me," observed the old officer, "but if he had travelled all over Europe as I have done, he would not wonder at the desire to change an every-day scene for something new. When our corps d'armee was traversing the Mont St Bernard, I assure you I never felt the slightest regret at having quitted Paris:—we could have gone on to the end of the world with the spirits we then were in. It was the same in the Pyrenees:—for more reasons than one I was extremely sorry when we had to quit Pampeluna for Bayonne"—and the old gentleman sighed, and looked wistfully up at the ceiling, as though many a painful recollection came across his mind at that moment.
"Which are the finer mountains sir," was my inquiry—"the Pyrenees or these of Auvergne?"
"You can hardly draw a comparison between them," he replied. "There is vast extent, width, and height in the Pyrenees, and a certain degree of savage horror about them, which you do not feel even amidst the Alps:—they partake of the nature both of France and Spain:—they are unlike any mountains I know of. But for all this, sir, do not allow yourself to hold a poor opinion of these heights of Mont Dor: you will find here scope and exercise for all your enthusiasm, all your love of the picturesque. Are you fond of shooting and hunting?—well, then, if you were to remain here during September and October, braving the early snows which come upon these mountains even in autumn, you would have your choice of all animals from the wolf to the chevreuil and the hare, and of all birds from the eagle to the partridge. There are plenty of snipes on these hills."
"M. le Baron de Bretonville," said Madame Bouton, "do not go to tempt the English gentleman to any of your hare-brained expeditions: he is come here to enjoy the baths:—he is a victim to the spleen; he must be danced and talked and bathed into good health, and a little vivacity first of all. When we all leave the baths, we will give him permission to stop behind with you, and you may kill all the game you can find. At present we want a cavalier for our expedition: there is Madame d'Arlincourt, and Madame de Tourzel, and the Duchesse de Vauvilliers, and Madame de Mirepoix there, on your right—why these ladies are all here by themselves; they want a cavalier this very morning. Figurez-vous, Monsieur!" and the lady turned towards me—"we want somebody to come and find our ponies for us, and to take care of our shawls, and to carry our books, and our stools, and positively, with the exception of two officers who are at the other hotel, I do not know whom to ask. We engage you, sir, for the whole of this very day: our husbands"——
"I thought, Madame, that these ladies were all alone here."
"Ah!—our husbands, ca va sans dire!—but gentlemen of that kind do nothing else than play billiards all the morning."
"It is only the young and the gallant," here interposed Madame de Mirepoix "that dare to face our forests.—You shall teach us all some English as we ride along: I could give any thing to master your barbarous language:—you have only one musical word in it—moonlight."
Now, I know not what there was in the pronunciation of Madame de Mirepoix, but though the word had never before entered into my imagination as any thing but one of the most commonplace of our vocabulary, there was a witchery in the sound as it flowed forth from her swelling lips that riveted my attention, and set my imagination on fire. 'Tis the same with French:—how refined and how mellow soever may be the utterance of the most polished courtier of France, of the most learned academician of the Institute, there is sometimes a rich pouting sound, a sort of velvety and oily intonation, that distinguishes the speech of the women of high birth such as I never heard in any other country. It is not to be defined: but whoso has drunk in the golden tones of such a syren, will know what I mean. Moonlight! yes, 'tis a pleasing word, by its signification and its associated ideas, if not by its own innate harmony: yes; I have learned the full influence and sweetness of moonlight, whether in the summer woodland or in the wintry cloister; true, there is both music and poetry, ay and something else, in moonlight.
"I agree to the thing, Madame la Marquise, if not to the sound; nothing could be more beautiful than the latter as you have pronounced it, except the reality, amidst these mountains and these retired deep-green glades."
"Nous le verrons, peut-etre."
All the great valleys that branch out from the sides of the volcanic chain of Auvergne were once, no doubt, filled with impenetrable forests: gloomy wildernesses, thick as those of American wilds, where scarcely the light of the sun could penetrate, and tenanted only by the wolf, the bear, the boar, and the stag. Now these forests have disappeared from the eastern and western skirts of the chain, and are to be found in primitive luxuriance only in the centre, where civilisation and the destroying step of man have not made their way. Here the original forest is still to be seen in all its pride; untouched, untrimmed, unheeded by man: full of all its sublime grandeur—solemn, vast, and mysterious as forests have ever been; sobering, soothing, and beautiful as forests will ever be. In some of the valleys the trees are principally of the deciduous kind; enormous oaks, and chestnuts, and beeches, filling up the vacant space left by the granitic walls on either side: but in the higher regions of the mountainous district, in the more hidden recesses of the hills, they are all of the silver-fir species, and they attain a luxuriance of growth not to be imagined but by those who have studied this, the noblest of the whole tribe of pines. Here forests occur, leagues upon leagues in extent, filling up wide and winding valleys; running out upon the elevated plateaux of the mountains; and wrapping the whole country in gloomy majesty. You may ride day after day through these intricate sylvan scenes, and never cross the track of a human being: or you may emerge from the depth of the wood, at some unexpected turn of a valley, upon a delightful little farm or village in a green glade of welcome verdure; and you may there witness the extreme simplicity of the hardy mountaineers. Still higher up on the hills, and on the vast pasture grounds that reach up to their summits, along the gently descending plateaux, occurs the birch, luxuriating in the cold exposure of its habitation as though it were in Siberia instead of France: and ever and anon, whether high up or low down the sides of the hills, you will find the box and the juniper bushes flourishing in perennial perfection.
It is curious to see the enormous size to which the silver-fir will here attain. Sometimes this tree rises with the utmost regularity—sending out its branches at equal intervals, tier above tier—itself tapering upwards, and each circle of branches decreasing in diameter until a hundred and fifty feet are gained. The stems of some of these giants of the forest are eighteen feet in circumference at the height of a man from the ground, and their lower branches would of themselves form trees such as many a trim and well-kept park could never boast of. At other times the original tree will have met with an accidental fracture when young, and after going up twenty or thirty feet from the ground, as an immense wooden column, will throw out three or four other trees from its summit, which will all shoot up parallel to each other into the air and form a little forest of themselves. Very frequently, however, it happens that the tree has been contorted in its early growth, and then broken afterwards: in such cases it seems to have forgotten its nature completely, and to have gone mad in its spirit of increase; for it turns and forces itself into the strangest convolutions and intricacies of form. It becomes like a short stunted oak, or a thickly knotted thorn: or it might sometimes be mistaken for a willow, at others for a cedar—for any thing but one of the same species as the stately spire of wood that soars up into the heaven close by its side.
When the tree becomes quite dead, blasted by lightning, or injured by the attacks of animals at its base, it does not therefore lose all its beauty; for it becomes immediately covered with a peculiar gray lichen of great length and luxuriance; occupying every branch and twig of the dead tree, and clothing it, as it were, with a second but a new kind of foliage. This lichen will sometimes hang down from the branches in strings of weeping vegetation to the length of five feet and more. You may sometimes ride under the living tree where this parasitical foliage is mixed with the real covering of the boughs, forming the most anomalous, and yet the most picturesque of contrasts.
In forests of this kind, the undergrowth of brushwood of every variety is exceedingly abundant and beautiful: every woodland shrub is to be found there—the hazel especially—and the thickets thereby formed are quite impenetrable. As the older and larger trees decay, they lose their footing in the soil, and fall in every variety of strange position—presenting a picture of desolation, the effect of which is at first strange to the mind, and at last becomes even painful. But wherever a tree falls, there a luxuriant growth of moss succeeds: a little peat-bed forms itself underneath: generations after generations of mosses and watery plants succeed one another; and in time the prostrate trunk is entirely buried under a bright-green bed, soft as down, but treacherous to the foot as a quicksand. Often may the wanderer amid these wild glades think to throw himself on one of these inviting couches; and, bounding on to it, he sinks five or six feet through moss and weed and dirty peat, till his descent is stopped by the skeleton of the vast tree that lies beneath. Wild flowers grow all around: and every spot of ground that will produce them is covered in the summer season with the tempting little red strawberry, or the wild raspberry, or the blushing rose. Above all, still keep peering, in solemn and interminable array, the vast monarchs of the wood, the stately and elegant silver-firs.
When you attempt to leave the forests and advance towards the upper grounds, you commonly find yourself stopped by a precipitous wall of basaltic columns, ranging from sixty to seventy feet in height in one unbroken shaft, and forming a vast barrier for miles and miles in length. In some places, these gray basaltic walls come circling round, and constitute an immense natural theatre, sombre and grand as the forest itself. No sound is there heard save the dashing of a distant cascade, or the wind in deep symphony rushing through the slow-waving tops of the trees. Below is a carpet of the most lively green, variegated with turfs of wild flowers and fruits—one of nature's secret, yet choicest gardens. Through the midst trickles a silvery stream, coming you know not whence, but musical in its course, and soon losing itself in the thick underwood that borders the spot all around. Such is the Salle de Mirabeau—one of the loveliest of the many lovely hiding-places of these sublime forests.
The feathered tenants of these woods are mostly birds of prey, or at all events such as the raven, the jay, the pie, and others which can either defend themselves against, or escape from, the falcons that consider these solitudes as their own especial domains. The voices of few singing-birds are to be heard; they have taken refuge nearer the habitations of man: but the hooting of the owl, the beating of the woodpecker, and the screaming of kites and hawks, are all the living sounds that proceed here from the air. Red-deer, wolves, wild-boars, roebucks, and foxes, are the denizens of these forests and these mountains: there is room here for them all to live at their ease; and they abound. No one with a good barrel and a sure aim, ever entered these forests in vain: his burden is commonly more than he can carry home. It is in fact a glorious country for the sportsman; for the lower ranges of the hills abound in hares, the cultivated grounds have plenty of partridges and quails, and the forests are tenanted as has been seen. He who can content himself with his gun or his rod—for the streams are full of trout—may here pass a golden age, without a thought for the morrow, without a desire unfulfilled.
Certainly, if I wished to retire from the world and lead a life of philosophic indifference, not altogether out of the reach of society when I wanted it, these hills and these forests of Auvergne, and the Mont Dor, would be the spots I should select. The mind here would become attuned to the grand harmonies of nature's own making; here, philosophy might be cultivated in good earnest; here, books might be studied and theories digested, without interruption and with inward profit. Here, a man might cultivate both science and art, and he might become again the free and happy being which, until he betook himself to congregating in towns, he was destined to be. Yes! when I do withdraw from this world's vanities and troubles, give me forests and mountains like those of Mont Dor.
THE FIGHTING EIGHTY-EIGHTH.
The pugnacity of Irishmen has grown into a proverb, until, in the belief of many, a genuine Milesian is never at peace but when fighting. With certain nations, certain habits are inseparably associated as peculiarly characterising them. Thus, in vulgar apprehension, the Frenchman dances, the German smokes, the Spaniard serenades; and on all hands it is agreed that the Irishman fights. Naturally bellicose, his practice is pugnacious: antagonism is his salient and distinctive quality. Born in a squabble, he dies in a shindy: in his cradle he squeals a challenge; his latest groan is a sound of defiance. Pike and pistol are manifest in his well-developed bump of combativeness; his name is FIGHT, there can be no mistake about it. From highest to lowest—in the peer and the bog-trotter, the inherent propensity breaks forth, more or less modified by station and education.
Be its expression parliamentary or popular, in Donnybrook or St Stephen's, out it will. "Show me the man who'll tread on my coat!" shouts ragged Pat, flourishing his shillelagh as he hurls his dilapidated garment on the shebeen-house floor. From his seat in the senate, a joint of the "Tail" intimates, in more polished but equally intelligible phrase, his inclination for a turn upon the turf. Wherever blows are rife, Hibernia's sons appear; in big fights or little wars the shamrock gleams in the van. No matter the cloth, so long as the quarrel be there. In Austrian white, or Spanish yellow, or Prussian blue,—even in the blood-coloured breeks of Gallia's legions, but especially, and preferred above all, in the "old red rag" of the British grenadier, have Irishmen displayed their valour. And on the list of heroes whom the Green Isle has produced, a proud and prominent place is justly held by that gallant corps, the Rangers of Connaught.
Those of our civilian readers to whom the word "Ranger" is more suggestive of bushes and kangaroos, or of London parks and princes of the blood, than of parades and battle-fields, are referred to page 49 of the Army List. They will there find something to the following effect:—
88th, CONNAUGHT RANGERS.
The Harp and Crown.
The Sphinx, "Egypt." "Talavera." "Busaco." "Fuentes d'Onore." "Cindad Rodrigo." "Badajoz." "Salamanca." "Vittoria." "Nivelle." "Orthes." "Toulouse." "Peninsula."
There is a forest of well-won laurels in this dozen of names. They form a proud blazon for any corps, and one that might satisfy the most covetous of honour. But of all men in the world, old soldiers are the hardest to content. They are patented grumblers. Napoleon knew it, and christened his vieille garde his grognards: tough and true as steel, they yet would have their growl. Now the lads of the Eighty-Eighth, having proved themselves better men even than the veteran guards of the Corsican corporal, also claim the grumbler's privilege, setting forth sundry griefs and grave causes of complaint. They are not allowed the word "Pyrenees" upon their colours, although, at the fight of that name, they not only were present, but rendered good service:—whilst for Waterloo many a man got a medal who, during the whole battle, was scarce within boom of cannon. During more than four years of long marches, short commons, severe hardships, and frequent fighting, the general commanding the third division—the fighting division, as it was called—viewed the Connaughters with dislike, even stigmatised them as confirmed marauders, and recommended none of their officers for promotion, although many greatly distinguished themselves, and some,—the brave Mackie, at Ciudad Rodrigo, for instance—successfully led forlorn-hopes. Finally, passing over the old sore of non-decoration for Peninsular services, since that, common to many regiments, is at last about to be healed,—Mr Robinson, the biographer of Sir Thomas Picton, has dared, in order to vindicate the harsh and partial conduct of his hero, to cast dust upon the facings of the brave boys of Connaught. It need hardly be said that they have found defenders. Of these, the most recent is Lieutenant Grattan, formerly an officer of the Eighty-eighth, and who, after making a vigorous stand, in the pages of a military periodical, against the calumniators of his old corps, has brought up his reserves and come to its support in a book of his own. His volumes, however, are not devoted to mere controversy. He has understood that he should best state the case, establish the merits, and confound the enemies of his regiment, by a faithful narrative of his and its adventures, triumphs, and sufferings. Thus, whilst he has seized the opportunity to deal out some hard knocks to those who have blamed the conduct (none have ever impugned the courage) of the Connaught Rangers, he has produced an entertaining book, thoroughly Irish in character, where the ludicrous and the horrible, the rollicking and the slaughtering, mingle and alternate. Even when most indignant, good humour and a love of fun peep through his pages. His prologue or preamble, entitled "An Answer to some attacks in Robinson's Life of Picton," although redolent of "slugs in a sawpit," is full of the national humour. "Frequently," Mr Robinson has asserted, "just before going into battle, it would be found, upon inspection, that one-half of the Eighty-eighth regiment were without ammunition, having acquired a pernicious habit of exchanging the cartridge for aguardiente, and substituting in their places pieces of wood, cut and coloured to resemble them." Such things have been heard of, even in very well-regulated regiments, as the exchange of powder and ball for brandy and other creature comforts; but it is very unlikely that the practice should have prevailed to any thing like the extent here set down, in a British army in active service and under Wellington's command, and the artfully prepared quaker-cartridges increase the improbability of the statement. Lieutenant Grattan scouts the tale as a base fabrication, lashes out in fine style at its propagator, and claims great merit for the officers who taught their men to beat the best troops in the world with timber ammunition. He puts forward a more serious refutation by a string of certificates from men and officers of all ranks who served with him in the Peninsula, and who strenuously repel the charge as a malignant calumny.
It was at the close of the campaign of 1809, that the historian of the Connaught Rangers, then a newly commissioned youngster, joined, within a march of Badajoz, the first battalion of his regiment. The palmy and triumphant days of the British army in the Peninsula could then hardly be said to have begun. True, they had had victories; the hard-earned one of Talavera had been gained only three months previously, but the general aspect of things was gloomy and disheartening. The campaign had been one of much privation and fatigue; rations were insufficient, quarters unhealthy, and Wellington's little army, borne on the muster-rolls as thirty thousand men, was diminished one-third by disease. The Portuguese, who numbered nearly as many, were raw and untried troops, scarce a man of whom had seen fire, and little reliance could be placed upon them. In spite of Lord Wellington's judicious and reiterated warnings, the incompetent and conceited Spanish generals risked repeated engagements, in which their armies—numerous enough, but ill disciplined, ill armed, and half-starved—were crushed and exterminated. The French side of the medal presented a very different picture. Elated by their German victories, their swords yet red with Austrian blood, Napoleon's best troops and ablest marshals hurried southwards, sanguinely anticipating, upon the fields of the Peninsula, an easy continuation of their recent triumphs. Three hundred and sixty thousand men-at-arms—French, Germans, Italians, Poles, even Mamelukes—spread themselves over Spain, occupied her towns, and invested her fortresses. Ninety thousand soldiers, under Massena, "l'enfant cheri de la Victoire," composed the so-called "army of Portugal," intended to expel from that country, if not to annihilate, the English leader and his small but resolute band, who, undismayed, awaited the coming storm. In the ever-memorable lines of Torres Vedras, the legions of Buonaparte met a stern and effectual dike to their torrent of headlong aggression. Upon the happy selection and able defence of those celebrated positions, were based the salvation of the Peninsula and the subsequent glorious progress of the British arms. Whilst referring to them, Mr Grattan seizes the opportunity to enumerate the services rendered by the army in Spain. "The invincible men," he says, "who defended those lines, aided no doubt by Portuguese and Spanish soldiers, afterwards fought for a period of four years, during which time they never suffered one defeat; and from the first commencement of this gigantic war to its final and victorious termination, the Peninsular army fought and won nineteen pitched battles, and innumerable combats; they made or sustained ten sieges, took four great fortresses, twice expelled the French from Portugal, preserved Alicant, Carthagena, Cadiz, and Lisbon; they killed, wounded, and took about two hundred thousand enemies, and the bones of forty thousand British soldiers lie scattered on the plains and mountains of the Peninsula." And thereupon our friend, the Connaughter, bursts out into indignation that warriors who did such deeds, and, on fifteen different occasions received the thanks of parliament, should have been denied a medal for their services. Certainly, when men who went through the whole, or the greater part, of those terrible campaigns, which they began as commissioned officers, are now seen holding no higher than a lieutenant's rank, one cannot but recognise their title to some additional recompense, and marvel that the modest and well-merited badge they claim should so long have been refused them. Mr Grattan puts much of the blame of such refusal at the door of the Duke of Wellington. Not that he is usually a depreciator of his former leader, of whose military genius and great achievements he ever speaks with respect amounting to veneration. But he does not hesitate to accuse him of having sacrificed his old followers and friends to his own vanity, which petty feeling, he maintains, made the Duke desire that the only medal granted for the war against Napoleon, should be given for the only victory in which he beat the Emperor in person. We believe that many Peninsular officers, puzzled to account for the constant and seemingly causeless refusal of the coveted decoration, hold the same opinion with Mr Grattan. We esteem it rather plausible than sound. The names Of WELLINGTON and WATERLOO would not the less be immortally associated because a cross bearing those of PENINSULA and PYRENEES, or any other appropriate legend, shone upon the breasts of that "old Spanish infantry," of whom the Duke always spoke with affection and esteem, and to whom he unquestionably is mainly indebted for the wealth, honours, and fame which, for more than thirty years, he has tranquilly enjoyed. Moreover, we cannot credit such selfishness on the part of such a man, or believe that he, to whom a grateful sovereign and country decerned every recompense in their power to bestow, would be so thankless to the men to whose sweat and blood he mainly owed his success—to men who bore him, it may truly be said, upon their shoulders, to the highest pinnacle of greatness a British subject can possibly attain. Waterloo concluded the war: its results were immense, the conduct of the troops engaged heroic; but when we compare the amount of glory there gained with the renown accumulated during six years' warfare—a renown undimmed by a single reverse;—still more, when we contrast the dangers and hardships of one short campaign, however brilliant, with those of half-a-dozen long ones crowded with battles and sieges, we must admit that if the victors of La Belle Alliance nobly earned their medal, the veterans of Salamanca and Badajoz, Vittoria and Toulouse, have a threefold claim to a similar reward. They have long been unjustly deprived of it, and now comparatively few remain to receive the tardily-accorded distinction.
The first action to which Mr Grattan refers, as having himself taken share in, is that of Busaco. The name is familiar to every body, but yet, of all the Peninsular battles, it is perhaps the one of which least is generally known. It was not a very bloody fight—the loss in killed and wounded having been barely seven per cent of the numbers engaged; still it was a highly important one, as testing the quality of the Portuguese levies, upon which much depended. Upon the whole, they behaved pretty well, although they committed one or two awkward blunders, and one of their militia regiments took to flight at the first volley fired by their own friends. Mr Grattan does not usually set himself up as a historical authority with respect to battles, except in matters pertaining to his own regiment or brigade, and which came under his own observation. Nevertheless, concerning Busaco, he speaks boldly out, and asserts his belief that no correct report of the action exists in print. Napier derives his account of it from Colonel Waller, whose statement is totally incorrect, and has been expressly contradicted by various officers (amongst others, by General King) who fought that day with Picton's division. Colonel Napier's strong partiality to the light division sometimes prevents his doing full justice to other portions of the army. In this instance, however, any error he has fallen into, arises from his being misinformed. He himself was far away to the left, fighting with his own corps, and could know nothing, from personal observation, of the proceedings of Picton's men. Opposed to a very superior force, including some of the best regiments of the whole French army, they had their hands full; and the Eighty-eighth, especially, covered themselves with glory. At one time, the Rangers had not only the French fire to endure, but also that of the Eighth Portuguese, whose ill-directed volleys crossed their line of march. An officer sent to warn the Senhores of the mischief they did, received, before he could fulfil his mission, a French and a Portuguese bullet, and the Eighth continued their reckless discharge. But no cross-fire could daunt the men of Connaught. "Push home to the muzzle!" was the word of their gallant lieutenant-colonel, Wallace; and push home they did, totally routing their opponents, and nearly destroying the French Thirty-sixth, a pet battalion of the Emperor's. Stimulus was not wanting; Wellington stood by, and, with his staff and several generals, watched the charge. The Eighty-eighth were greatly outnumbered, and Marshal Beresford, their colonel, "expressed some uneasiness when he saw his regiment about to plunge into this unequal contest. But when they were mixed with Regnier's division, and putting them to flight down the hill, Lord Wellington, tapping Beresford on the shoulder, said to him, 'Well Beresford, look at them now!'" And when the work was done, and the fight over, Wellington rode up to Colonel Wallace, and seizing him warmly by the hand, said, "Wallace, I never witnessed a more gallant charge than that made by your regiment!" Beresford spoke to several of the men by name, and shook the officers' hands; and even Picton forgot his prejudice against the regiment, whom he had once designated as the "Connaught foot-pads," and expressed himself satisfied with their conduct. Many of the men shed tears of joy. So susceptible are soldiers to praise and kindness, and so easy is it by a few well-timed words to repay their toils and perils, and renew their store of confidence and hope. And numerous were the occasions during the Peninsular contest when they needed all the encouragement that could be given them. After Busaco, when blockaded in the lines of Torres Vedras, their situation was far from agreeable. The wet season set in, and their huts, roofed with heather—a pleasant shelter when the sun shone, but very ineffectual to resist autumnal rains—became untenable. Every device was resorted to for the exclusion of the deluge, but in vain. Fortunately, the French were in a still worse plight. In miserable cantonments, short of provisions and attacked by disease, the horses died, and the men deserted; until, on the 14th November, Massena broke up his camp, and retired upon Santarem. The Anglo-Portuguese army made a corresponding movement into more comfortable quarters, and rumours were abroad of an approaching engagement; but it did not take place, and a period of comparative relaxation succeeded one of severe hardship and arduous duty. Men and officers made the most of the holiday. There was never any thing of the martinet about the Duke. He was not the man to harass with unnecessary and vexations drills, or rigidly to enforce unimportant rules. Those persons, whether military or otherwise, who consider a strictly regulation uniform as essential to the composition of a British soldier, as a stout heart and a strong arm, and who stickle for a closely buttoned jacket, a stiff stock, and the due allowance of pipe-clay, would have been somewhat scandalised, could they have beheld the equipment of Wellington's army in the Peninsula. Mr Grattan gives a comical account of the various fantastical fashions and conceits prevalent amongst the officers. "Provided," he says, "we brought our men into the field well-appointed, and with sixty rounds of good ammunition each, he (the Duke) never looked to see whether their trousers were black, blue, or grey; and as to ourselves, we might be rigged out in all the colours of the rainbow, if we fancied it." The officers, especially the young subs, availed themselves largely of this judicious laxity, and the result was a medley of costume, rather picturesque than military. Braided coats, long hair, plumed hats, and large mustaches, were amongst the least of the eccentricities displayed. In a curious spirit of contradiction, the infantry adopted brass spurs, anticipatory, perhaps, of their promotion to field-officers' rank; and, bearing in mind, that "there is nothing like leather," exhibited themselves in ponderous over-alls, a la Hongroise, topped and strapped, and loaded down the side with buttons and chains. One man, in his rage for singularity, took the tonsure, shaving the hair off the crown of his head; and another, having covered his frock-coat with gold tags and lace, was furiously assaulted by a party of Portuguese sharpshooters, who, seeing him, in the midst of the enemy's riflemen, whither his headlong courage had led him, mistook him for a French general, and insisted upon making him prisoner. And three years later, when Mr Grattan and a party of his comrades landed in England, in all the glories of velvet waistcoats, dangling Spanish buttons of gold and silver, and forage caps of fabulous magnificence, they could hardly fancy that they belonged to the same service as the red-coated, white-breeched, black-gaitered gentlemen of Portsmouth garrison.
The embarkation of the British army, which in the summer of 1810 was deemed imminent both in England and the Peninsula and considered probable by Lord Liverpool himself, was no longer thought of after Busaco, save by a few of those croaking gentlemen, who, in camps as in council-houses, view every thing through smoked spectacles. Reinforcements, both English and Spanish, reached the lines of Torres Vedras, which Wellington continued to strengthen, and Massena dared not attack. The accession of General Drouet's corps increased the army of the Prince of Essling to upwards of 70,000 men. His cavalry, too, was twice as strong as that of the British; but, notwithstanding this superiority, and the desire which he must have felt to retrieve his fame, tarnished by the repulse at Busaco, and by his fruitless movement on the lines of Lisbon, Massena remained inert, in front of the man whom Napoleon's Moniteur contemptuously designated as the "Sepoy General." Spring approached without either army assuming the offensive, until, on the 5th of March 1811, the French began their retreat from Portugal, closely followed up by Wellington. There was little difficulty in tracing them: they left a broad trail of blood, and desolation. With bare blade, and blazing brand, they swept across the land; church and convent, town and village, the farm and the cottage, were given to the flames; on the most frivolous pretexts, often without one, women, children, and unarmed men were barbarously murdered; and many a Portuguese lost his life for refusing to point out treasures which existed only in the imagination of the fierce and greedy Frenchman. Enraged at the dearth of provisions, of which they stood in great need, and which had been every-where removed or destroyed, the retreating army abandoned themselves to frightful cruelties and excesses. All along the line of march, the pursuers found piles of bodies, groups of murdered peasantry, and, mingled with them, the corpses of Frenchmen, often hideously mutilated, according to the barbarous usage which has been continued in more recent wars by the vindictive population of the Peninsula. The retaliation was terrible, but the provocation had been extreme. Mr Grattan's details of some of the scenes he himself witnessed, are painfully minute and vivid; and whilst reading them, we cease to wonder that, after the lapse of a third of a century, hatred of the French exists almost undiminished in the countries they so cruelly and wantonly ravaged.
However orderly and well-conducted, there is always something discouraging in a retreat, as there is a cheerful and exhilarating feeling attendant on an advance. Nevertheless, during their progress across Portugal, the French maintained their high reputation. Their rear-guard, commanded by Marshal Ney, made good fight when pressed by the British, but their losses were heavy before they reached the Spanish frontier. This they crossed early in April, and a month later they had to recross it, to convey supplies to the fortress of Almeida, the only place in Portugal over which the tricolor still floated. The result of this movement was the bloody combat of Fuentes d'Onore, a complete but dearly-bought triumph for our arms. Here the Eighty-eighth nobly distinguished themselves. At first they were in reserve, whilst for eight hours two Highland regiments, the Eighty-third and some light companies, fought desperately in the town, opposed to the fresh troops which Massena continually sent up. Their loss was very heavy, the streets were heaped with dead, the heat was excessive, and ammunition grew scarce. The Highlanders and the French grenadiers fought in the cemetery, across the graves and tombstones. "Wallace, with his regiment, the Eighty-eighth, was in reserve on the high ground which overlooked the churchyard, and was attentively viewing the combat which raged below, when Sir Edward Pakenham galloped up to him, and said, 'Do you see that, Wallace?'—'I do,' replied the colonel; 'and I would rather drive the French out of the town than cover a retreat across the Coa.'—'Perhaps,' said Sir Edward, 'his lordship don't think it tenable.' Wallace answering, said, 'I shall take it with my regiment, and keep it too.'—'Will you?' was the reply; 'I'll go and tell Lord Wellington so.' In a moment or two, Pakenham returned at a gallop, and waving his hat, called out, 'He says you may go.—Come along, Wallace!'"
Poor Pakenham! ever foremost to lead a charge or brave a peril. He deserved a better fate, after his glorious exploits in the Peninsula, than to be picked off by a sneaking Yankee rifle, in the swampy plains of New Orleans. But the same "boiling spirit and hasty temper" that won him laurels in Europe, led him to his death in another hemisphere. Over-confidence may be pardoned in a man who had so often driven before him the redoubtable cohorts of the modern Alexander. And one mistake cannot obliterate the memory of fifty gallant feats.—Full of fight, and led on by Pakenham, Mackinnon, and Wallace, the Eighty-eighth advanced at a smart trot into the town, where the French Ninth regiment and a few hundreds of the Imperial Guard awaited them. Their charge was irresistible; they cleared the place and drove the enemy into the river. They even pursued them through it, and several Rangers fell on the French side of the stream. About a hundred and fifty of the Old Guard ran into a street, of which the further end was barricaded. Mr Grattan, whose account of the affair is a graphic and interesting piece of military narrative, is amusingly cool and naif in referring to this incident. "Mistakes of this kind," he says, "will sometimes occur, and when they do, the result is easily imagined.... In the present instance, every man was put to death; but our soldiers, as soon as they had leisure, paid the enemy that respect which is due to brave men." We apprehend that, with the Connaughters, leisure, in this sense, was scanty, at least at Fuentes d'Onore; but, in so close and desperate a fight, hot blood is apt to drown mercy. The dashing charge of the Eighty-eighth nearly closed the day's performances, although the French batteries, admirably served, still peppered the town. Men and officers sheltered themselves as well as they could, but many were killed; whilst Pakenham, with reckless bravery, rode about the streets, a mark for the enemy's shot, which tore up the ground around him whenever he stood still. "He was in a violent perspiration and covered with dust, his left hand bound round with a handkerchief, as if he had been wounded; he was ever in the hottest of the fire: and, if the whole fate of the battle had depended on his exertions, he could not have fought with more devotion."