« НазадПродовжити »
“ Leave reasonne, believe, wonder
Faith hath maisterye,-reasonne is under." But such was not the motto of the Pilgrim of Mont Blanc. One of the first things he told me (if I can claim such a distinction for of the jumbled mass of garrulity which he poured out) was that he neither believed nor feared anything.
“Craignez rien, croyez rien,'--such, sacre bleu ! is my device. That's the way to get through the world, isn't it, Filoz?" and Filoz nodded his head thereat.
And in a very short time we were all three on very amicable terms of acquaintanceship. “Somewhat too quick and incautious,” will be whispered by the calculating crowd who consult a pedigree before they venture to shake a hand, and scrutinize a rent-roll ere they condescend to acknowledge a friendship. “What were his connexions? Was he of an old family? Was he cousin to a lord ?”
Who, let me ask in my turn, that has seen life and studied men, ever bothers himself now with such a catechism ? Twenty years ago it was well and good.
But revolution is abroad; the real“ schoolmaster,” which will soon drive wisdom into mankind, and not at the wrong end either, as the old flagellators used to strive to do. Real men of the world are sure to learn, by bitter experience, that acquaintances formed at random, and not too nicely chosen, are often the best, and that the most“ select ” are, many a time, the least truly respectable.
We must not stop to argue the question now. But taking it for granted, for a month at least, push on towards Montanvert, and as far up Mont Blanc as the heavy masses of yet unthawed snow, and the perils of partial avalanches, will admit.
I had proposed to the Pilgrim to accompany me on the ascent. He cheerfully acceded. I took a guide, Jean Marie Payot by name, a man between fifty and sixty, but as lively and active as a young goat, as garrulous and story-telling as an old nurse. A substantial supply of cold meat and bread, and three or four bottles of wine, gave ballast to this light-footed and light-hearted mountaineer; and away we all went, each with his spiked stick in hand, and the Pilgrim, maugre all my counsellings, loaded with his clumsy yet ragged coat, his fiddle thrust into its broad pocket, and his pack double strapped on his shoulders. He was a wild-looking fellow, even without his beard; but was the scene a civilized one? If proportion be a leading element of beauty, then was my Pilgrim in fine keeping with the rugged rocks, and uprooted pines, and shattered branches through which we moved ; and the fine crash of the distant avalanches formed a fit accompaniment to the scene and its associations.
Shall I tell all that passed between us on that day of adventurous companionship! Not all-but some of it I will. He proved to me that
a fellow of infinite humour." He carried a pack of cards in his pocket. No conjurer or fortune-teller I ever came across could deal them more deftly. He sang
several snatches of wild songs" with admirable skill, and a voice of deep melody. He played with three or four fragments of granite together, in a way that no Indian juggler could surpass with balls or rings. He “discoursed” something more than sweet music on a pipe that might, for simplicity, mock the tenuis avena of Tityrus;
it was a mere reed, a straw indeed, with but one finger-hole, on which, by an inconceivable acuteness of ear and rapidity of motion, he whistled or piped—or produced, at any rate, imitations of a whole forest of birds, and played airs with most inspiring effect; such airs as the “Parisienne," the - Marseillaise,” and others that ought never to be played but in a region of liberty. But was there nothing more in him than these loose accomplishments? Much, much more; and the world will one day know it!
We went up towards the ascent of the Aiguilles de Chamoz, so deep that the snow reached our middle, so high that the frightened guide dragged us back by the tail of the coat. We ventured so far across the chasms of the Mer de Glace that he gave us up for lost. We plucked the first blossomed branches of rhododendron that had been seen this season at Chamounix, and at no small risk, but not quite so great as that of “ one who gathered samphire."
Wonderful exploits! will some sneering cynic say; and I will simply answer, that every act of a day like that was worth an age of commonplace enjoyment.
I must leave much untold of the huge rocks we hurled below, bounding and crashing for thousands of feet, shivered into myriads of fragments, and making the mountain-side look as though it leaped with life; or of the rail-road slides we made down ravines of frozen snow, sitting on large granite blocks, and steering ourselves with the spiked batons imperfectly and perilously. For these, and many another mountain amusement, I have no space to tell ; and more do I regret not to be able to repeat some of the wild stories of the valley, told with fine effect by our admirable guide; but for these last a time and a place may be found.
We descended by the source of the Aveyron, reached Chamounix at night, and early next morning took to the road, through that incomparable district of sublimity of eight or nine leagues, by the Tête Noire, Argentiere, Trient, and to Martigny. There we slept, and there we separated the following morning, I on my route to Germany, he on his to But there I stop. Where was he going? Reader, I may not tell. What was his name? his purpose? The first, depend on it, was of greatness that might cast the peerage of the living world into shade. The latter was so splendid, that a light hand or a truant pen must not dare to lift the veil or tell the secret. Does he still live, and his purpose too? Wait awhile, good reader.
THE DEBTOR'S EXPERIENCE.
No. I. For those persons, the smooth tenor of whose lives has never been disturbed by the cutting blasts of adversity, who ascribe exemption therefrom to their own superior excellence and moral rectitude, who read and hear of their chilling, withering effects, either as “idle tales," or the merited award for gross impropriety of conduct, the following pages will possess little or no interest; from such the writer expects slight sympathy: but he appeals with some degree of confidence to that class (and, alas ! how great is the number !) who have acquired sad experience of the “ ills that flesh is heir to."
Accustomed to public life, in which he served highly and honourably during many years in a distant portion of the King's dominions, after an absence of eight from his native land, the writer received an order to accompany his official chief to Europe upon public business. The rapture with which he obeyed the summons, and prepared to recross the Atlantic, can be understood only by persons who have been similarly situated, who have been long strangers to the home of their fathers, rendered dear to memory by the thousand heart-stirring recollections of affectionate childhood, the joys of youth, or hopes and anticipations of manhood : such alone can fully comprehend his feelings upon approaching the shores of Albion, or participate in the torrent of delight which burst upon him as the stately vessel which bore him thither sailed, with a fresh breeze, up the Bristol Channel after ten weeks' sojourn upon the mighty ocean. But had his feelings been otherwise, he dared not have demurred : the “ fiat” had gone forth from one who had power to command, and must be obeyed. The greetings of old friends and acquaintances were warm, sincere, and affectionate; but in a few short months how sad the reverse !
An official neglect upon the part of his superior officer, entirely independent of and beyond the control of the writer, deprived him of his salary and appointments! the Secretary of State, after a six months' correspondence, officially notifying that he was “held responsible for having deliberately absented himself from the duties of his office without leave.” A decision founded in gross injustice and contrary to facts!
The voluminous and protracted correspondence alluded to, without reference to the merits of the case, was mere official verbiage; for officiaux are vastly polite at the moment they inflict the most fagrant cruelties upon persons who become subject to their capricious power. It has been well remarked by one conversant with its abominations, that "in great matters, no government upon earth is so profuse and regardless of consequences as that of Great Britain; but, in smaller concerns, such as the mere private and personal interests of an old public servant, none is so mean, so frequently and abominably unjust.” The writer of these pages is a sad personal instance of this latter fact, which involved him in great pecuniary difficulties, and who from the enjoyment of a handsome income, accustomed to the comforts and luxuries of life, moving, not merely in what is termed “good society,” but possessing the esteem and intimate acquaintance of the great and honourable, found himself suddenly the subject of painful vicissitudes, and a victim, one bright morning in the “ merry month of May,” of that stupid, senseless,
degrading, demoralizing law, which, in this “ free country," empowers creditors to seize upon, and incarcerate in idleness, misery, and rice, the
vile bodies ” of such of their debtors as have no other means of satisfying their demands. The present papers are intended to give a faint description of the vicious republic of which he involuntarily became a member, its governing laws, its characteristic pursuits and manners, their influence upon society, and a few portraits of some of the “ élite ” with whom the writer was condemned to herd.
Upon the 16th “morning of the month”—May, 1833—the glorious monarch of the skies rose in resplendent beauty, and peeping through the curtains of my couch at five o'clock, bade me
i shake off dull sloth” and seek the verdant fields. I obeyed the summons and wandered towards “Primrose Hill.” All nature seemed inspired ;--not a cloud obscured the horizon;—the din and noise of this huge metropolis forawhile were hushed; —the bleating of cattle, and the singing of birds, were almost the only sounds that fell upon the ear. Such a scene, under such circumstances, could not have failed to produce a salutary effect upon and to calm the passions of the most impetuous of the fiery race of Adam: within me it caused an all-overness of delight.
Winding my way homewards about the hour of eight in high spirits and right-good time for the breakfast-table, an appalling, though gentle tap, upon my dexter shoulder, from a rather well-dressed man, who descended from a “stanhope,” in Regent-street, in an instant changed the current of my blood, as he politely stated,“ I have a writ against you, Sir,” forthwith presenting the diabolical instrument of his authority. Astounded at this dire intelligence, my heart sickened. Light, easy, and joyous but a few short moments since, how heavily did it now beat at that fate which thus occasioned an instantaneous transition from joy to grief- from hope to despair !
Instinctively I obeyed, and in silence accompanied my conductor whither he chose to lead. Curiosity, at length, induced me to ask his name, and that of my destination. Readers, such of you as know the important personage will not be surprised to learn that an indistinct feeling of awe took possession of me, when informed that I was held captive at the will of that renowned chief of bumbailiffs and sponginghouse keepers, Mr. Sloman, and that it was towards his secure sanctuary our steps were directed. After threading many streets and alleys, and looking upon all with a degree of affection, as though they and I should never come again in contact, Mr. Sloman, at length, introduced me to his gloomy abode in Cursitor-street. The “stanhope,” which after my capture was driven by his deputy at a slow funeral pace as far as Clare-market, was thence dispatched, by this great cormorant, in pursuit of other victims.
By an attendant I was shown into a spacious sitting-room upon the first floor, which was filled with costly, if not with elegant, furniture, and its walls were adorned with valuable and extremely beautiful paintings. A magnificent “Sunset,” of very large dimensions, by Claude, particularly claimed my admiration. A connoisseur, who called to examine them for a nobleman who was about to become a purchaser, assured me that it was an original by that immortal artist, worth 30001., and that there were many others of proportionate value.
My readers, at least some of them, will doubtless share my surprise at this assertion, and wonder with me how this man could become possessor of such costly works of art! A twelve hours' acquaintance with the place served to enlighten me very considerably. The genus, to which Mr. Sloman belongs, have a facility of acquiring “ the needful ” from the wretched unfortunates who fall within their grasp, known to and practised only by themselves.
Sighing deeply at the sad prospects before me, I sipped a cup of wretched stuff yclept tea, and called for writing materials, which occupied me during several hours, but, as it ultimately proved, unsuccessfully.
Dinner succeeded breakfast, and that in process of time was followed by supper ; the day passed miserably enough, but it did pass. Time runs his race as surely, though heavily, in the dungeon of the wasted prisoner, as in the drawing-room of the most haughty countess. Heaven's “bright luminary," shining upon all, imparts not equal elasticity of spirits, but is, at the same moment, lighting to scenes of boisterous mirth and those of direst woe! How little do the proud and wealthy, in the plenitude of riches and luxury, know of the miseries of their poorer brethren! How little do they--nay, how absolutely unable are they to sympathize with their fellow men in less happy circumstances !
This house was filled with captives ; I saw many of them smoking in a small court-yard ; but as they were members of a general room, we did not associate.
In the evening “ mine host” of the staff made his appearance, and civilly informed me that his wife, “ with her little account,” wished to speak with me, adding, that such matters belonged exclusively to her. I was forthwith introduced to the female deity who presides over this den of captivity. Mrs. Sloman, with great civility, presented her bill, containing some twenty items for breakfast, dinner, coffee, lodgings, various etceteras, and two messengers, amounting to one pound twelve shillings! Had the articles supplied been of first-rate quality, I might, perhaps, have submitted in silence to the charges; but the chopped, stained hay and sloe-leaves, in lieu of tea; stale bread, bad butter, most un-juvenile eggs; ill-dressed steak, from the carcase of a beast that must have shared its antiquity with that of the fair lady herself; the direst beverage, called sherry, from some neighbouring ginshop; in fine, every article being of the most exceptionable kind, induced me to remonstrate with my lady caterer, and denounce her provisions as execrable, her charges exorbitant, and her effrontery unparalleled! To my utter surprise, she heard me with the most imperturbable calmness; and, after some discussion, consented to a considerable reduction in its amount, under the fear that I should carry into effect my threat of removing,-one she had no power to control.
In expectation of liberty through an arrangement with the man at whose suit I was captured, I sojourned nearly a week at Sloman's house. This hope frustrated, upon the seventh morning I desired him to convey my body to the county receptacle, provided by a wise legislature for the detention of all unhappy sprites, who, no matter whether from misfortunes or otherwise, may be unable to meet a creditor's demands.
On the 23d instant I was, therefore, conducted to what the vulgar