Things and Thoughts in Europe . . . IX.

Things and Thoughts in Europe

Correspondence of The Tribune[No. IX.

Writing at Night—London—National Gallery—Murillo—The Flower Girl—Nursery Maids and Working Men—Hampton Court—Zoological Gardens—King of Animals—English Piety—Eagles—Sir John Soane’s Museum—Sarcophagus—Hogarth’s Pictures—Tasso’s Manuscripts—Anatomical Museum—Museum of Geology—Kew Gardens—The Great Cactus—The Reform Club House—Men Cooks—Orderly Kitchen—A Gilpin Excursion—The Bell at Edmonton—Omnibus—Cheapside—English Slowness—Freiligrath—Arcadia—Italian School—Mazzini—Italy—Italian Refugees—Coreggio—Hope of Italians—Addresses—Supper—Carlyle, his appearance, conversation, &c.

  Again I must begin to write late in the evening. I am told it is the custom of the literati in these large cities to work in the night. It is easy to see that it must be almost impossible to do otherwise; but not only is the practice very bad for the health and one that brings on premature old age, but I cannot think this night-work will prove as firm in texture and as fair of hue as what is done by sunlight. Give me a lonely chamber, a window from which through the foliage you can catch glimpses of a beautiful prospect, and the mind finds itself tuned to action.

  But London, London! I have yet some brief notes to make on London. We had scarcely any sunlight by which to see pictures, and I postponed all visits to private collections, except one, in the hope of being in England next time in the long Summer days. In the National Gallery I saw little except the Murillos; they were so beautiful that with me, who had no true conception of his kind of genius before, they took away the desire to look into anything else at the same time. They did not affect me much either, except with a sense of content in this genius, so rich and full and strong. It was a cup of sunny wine that refreshed but brought no intoxicating visions. There is something very great in the genius of Spain, there is such an intensity and singleness; it seems to me it has not half shown itself, and must have an important part to play yet in the drama of this planet.

  At the Dulwich Gallery I saw the Flower Girl of Murillo, an enchanting picture, the memory of which must always

“Cast a light upon the day,
A light that will not pass away,
A sweet forewarning.”

Who can despair when he thinks of a form like that, so full of life and bliss! Nature, that made human forms like that to match the butterfly and the bee on June mornings when the lime-trees are in blossom, has surely enough of happiness in store to satisfy us all, somewhere, sometime.

  It was pleasant, indeed, to see the treasures of those Galleries, of the British Museum, and of so charming a place as Hampton Court, open to everybody. In the National Gallery one finds a throng of nursery maids, and men just come from their work; true, they make a great deal of noise thronging to and fro on the uncarpeted floors in their thick bots, and noise from which, when penetrated by the atmosphere of Art, men, in the thicker boots, would know how to refrain, still I felt that the sight of such objects must be gradually doing them a great deal of good. The British Museum would, in itself, be an education for a man who should go there once a week, and think and read at his leisure moments about what he saw.

  Hampton Court I saw in gloom and rain, and my chief recollections are of the magnificent yew-trees beneath whose shelter—the work of ages—I took refuse from the pelting shower. The expectations cherished from childhood about the Cartoons, were all baffled; there was no light by which they could be seen, but I must hope to visit Hampton Court again in the time of roses.

  The Zoological Gardens are another pleasure of the million, since, although something is paid there, it is so little that almost all can afford it. To me, it is a vast pleasure to see animals where they can show out their habits or instincts, and to see them assembled from all climates and countries, amid verdure and with room enough as they are here, is a true poem. They have a fine Lion, the first I ever saw that realized the idea we have of the king of the animal world—but the groan and mane of this one were equally royal. The Eagles were fine, but rather disgraced themselves. It is a trait of English piety, which would, no doubt, fuel its defenders among ourselves, not to feed the animals on Sunday, that their keepers may have [illegible] —at least this was the explanation given us by one of these men of the state of ravenous hunger in which we found them on the Monday. —I half hope he was jesting with us. Certain it is that the Eagles were wild with famine, and even the grandest of them, who had eyed us at first as if we were not fit to live in the same zone with them, when the meat came around, after a short struggle to maintain his dignity, joined in the wild shriek and scramble with the rest.

  Sir John Soane’s Museum I saw containing the sarcophagus described by Du Waagen, Hogarth’s pictures, a fine Canatellé and a manuscript of Tasso. It fills the house once the residence of his body, still of his mind. It is not a mind with which I have sympathy; I found there no law of harmony, and it annoyed me to see things all jumbled together as if in an old curiosity shop. Nevertheless it was a generous bequest, and much may perhaps be found there of value to him who takes time to seek. This house stands on one side of Lincoln’s [illegible] Fields and on the other is the College of Surgeons. I visited their Anatomical Museum, and there the contents were so arranged by the light which has dawned on modern science, that even one as ignorant on the subject as I can read them as in a book.

  The Museum of Economic Geology in like manner I saw with a great deal of pleasure, for its clear arrangement, which enables any one to get directly at what he wants. I believe there is none such in New-York; if not, it is well worthy imitation there. The Gardens at Kew I saw with delight; thereabouts all was so green and still one could indulge at leisure in the humorous and fantastic associations that cluster around the name of Kew, like the curls of a ‘big wig’ round the serene and sleepy face of its wearer. Here are fourteen green-houses; in one you find all the palms; in another the productions of the regions of snow; in one, of those squibs and humorsome utterances of Nature, the cactuses—ay! there I saw the great-grandfather of all the cactuses, a hoary, solemn plant—declared to be a thousand years old—disdaining to say if it is not really much older. In another the most exquisitely minute plants, delicate as the tracery of frostwork, too delicate for the bowers of fairies, such at least as visit the grass brains of earthly poets.

  The Reform Club was the only one of those splendid establishments that I visited. Certainly the force of comfort can no farther go, nor can anything be better contrived to make dressing, eating, news-getting, and even sleeping, (for there are bedrooms as well as dressing rooms for those who will) be got through with as glibly as possible. Yet to me this palace of so many “single gentlemen rolled into one,” seemed stupidly comfortable in the absence of that elegant arrangement and vivacious atmosphere which only Women can inspire. In the kitchen, indeed, I met them and, on that account, it seemed the pleasantest part of the building—though, even there, they are but the servants of servants. There reigned supreme a genius in his way, who has published a work on Cookery, and around him his pupils—young men who pay a handsome yearly fee for the novitiate under his instruction. I am not sorry, however, to see men predominant in the cooking department, as I hope to see that and washing transferred to their care in the progress of things, since they are “the stronger sex.”

  The arrangements of this kitchen were very fine, combining great convenience with neatness, and even elegance. Fourier himself might have taken pleasure in them. Thence we passed into the private apartments of the artist, and found them full of pictures by his wife, an artist in another walk. One or two of them had been engraved. She was an Englishwoman.

  A whimsical little excursion we made on occasion of the anniversary of the wedding day of two of my friends. They who had often enjoyed reading the account of John Gilpin’s in America thought that now they were in England and near enough, they would celebrate their’s also at “The Bell at Edmonton.” I accompanied them, with “a little foot page” to eke out the train, pretty and graceful and playful enough for the train of a princess. But our excursion turned out somewhat of a failure in an opposite way to Gilpin’s. Whereas he went too fast, we went too slow. First we took coach and went through Cheapside to take omnibus at (strange misnomer!) the Flower-Pot. But Gilpin could never have had his race through Cheapside as it is in its present crowded state; we were obliged to proceed at a funeral pace. We missed the omnibus, and when we took the next one it went with the slowness of a “family horse” in the old chaise of a New-England Deacon, and after all, only took us half way. At the half-way house a carriage was to be sought. The lady who let it and all her grooms were to be allowed time to recover from their consternation at so unusual a move as strangers taking a carriage to dine at the little inn at Edmonton, now a mere alehouse, before we could be allowed to proceed. (The English stand lost in amaze at “Yankee notions” with their quick come and go, and it is impossible to make them “go ahead” in the zig-zag-chain-lightning path, unless you push them.) A rather odd part of the plan had been a pilgrimage to the grave of Lamb, with a collateral view to the rural beauties of Edmonton, but night had fallen on all such hopes two hours at least before we reached the Bell. There, indeed, we found them somewhat more alert to comprehend our wishes; they laughed when we spoke of Gilpin, showed us a print of the race and the window where Mrs. Gilpin must have stood; balcony, alas! there was none; allowed us to make our own fire, and provided us a wedding dinner of tough meat and stale bread. Nevertheless we danced, dined, paid, (I believe) and celebrated the wedding quite to our satisfaction, though in the space of half an hour, as we knew friends were even at that moment expecting us to tea at some miles distance. But it is always pleasant in this world of routine to act out a freak, “such an one,” said an English gentleman, “one of us would rarely never have dreamed of, much less acted.” “Why, was it not pleasant?” “Oh, very! but so out of the way!”

  Returning, we passed the house where Freiligrath finds a temporary home, earning the bread of himself and his family in a commercial house. England houses the exile, but not without house-tax, window-tax, and head-tax. Where is the Arcadia that dares invite all genius to her arms, and change her golden wheat for their green laurels and immortal flowers? Arcadia!—would the name were America!

  And here returns naturally to my mind one of the most interesting things I have seen here or elsewhere—the school for poor Italian boys, sustained and taught by a few of their exiled compatriots, and especially by the mind and efforts of Mazzini. The name Joseph Mazzini is well known to those among us who take an interest in the cause of human freedom, who, not content with the peace and ease bought for themselves by the devotion and sacrifices of their fathers, look with anxious interest on the suffering nations who are preparing for a similar struggle. Those who are not, like the brutes that perish, content with the enjoyment of mere national advantages, indifferent to the idea they represent, cannot forget that the human family is one,

“And beats with one general heart.”

  They know that there can be no genuine happiness, no salvation for any, unless the same can be secured for all.

  To this universal interest in all nations and places where Man, understanding his inheritance, strives to throw off an arbitrary rule and establish a state of things where he shall be governed as becomes a man by his own conscience and intelligence, where he may speak the truth as it rises in his mind, and indulge his natural emotions in purity, is added an especial interest in Italy, the mother of our language and our laws, our greatest benefactress in the gifts of genius, the garden of the world, in which our best thoughts have delighted to expatiate, but over whose bowers now hangs a perpetual veil of sadness, and whose noblest plants are doomed to removal—for, if they cannot bear their ripe and perfect fruit in another climate, they are not permitted to lift their heads to heaven in their own.

  Some of these generous refugees our country has received kindly, if not with a fervent kindness; and the word CORAGGIO is still in my ears as I heard it spoken in New-York by one whose heart long oppression could not paralyze. SPERANZA some of the Italian youth now inscribe on their banners, encouraged by some traits of apparent promise in the new Pope. However, their only true hope is on themselves, in their own courage, and in that wisdom which may only be learned through many disappointments as to how to employ it so that it may destroy tyranny, not themselves.

  Mazzini, one of these noble refugees, is not only one of the heroic, the courageous, and the faithful—Italy boasts many such—but he is also one of the wise. One of those who, disappointed in the outward results of their undertakings, can yet “bate no jot of heart and hope,” but must “steer right onward,” for it was no superficial enthusiasm, no impatient energies, that impelled him, but an understanding of what must be the designs of Heaven with regard to Man, since God is Love, is Justice. He is one who can live fervently but steadily, gently, every day, every hour, as well as on great occasions, by the light of a hope, for, with Schiller, he is sure that “Those who live for their faith shall behold it living.” He is one of those same beings who, measuring all things by the ideal standard, have yet no time to mourn over failure or imperfection; there is too much to be done to obviate it.

  Thus Mazzini, excluded from publication in his native language, has acquired the mastery both of French and English, and through his expressions in either shine the thoughts which animated his earlier effort, with mild and steady radiance. The misfortunes of his country have only widened the sphere of his instructions, and made him an exponent of the better era to Europe at large. Those who wish to form an idea of his mind could not do better than to read his sketches of the Italian Martyrs in the “People’s Journal.” They will find there, on one of the most difficult occasions, an ardent friend speaking of his martyred friends, the purity of impulse, warmth of sympathy, largeness and steadiness of view and fineness of discrimination which must belong to a legislator for a CHRISTIAN commonwealth.

  But though I have read these expressions with great delight, this school was one, to me, still more forcible of the same ideas. Here these poor boys, picked up from the streets, are redeemed from bondage and gross ignorance by the most patient and constant devotion of time and effort. What love and sincerity this demands from minds capable of great thoughts, large plans and rapid progress, only their peers can comprehend, yet exceedingly great shall be the reward; and as among the fishermen and poor people of Judea were picked up by those who have become to modern Europe the leaven that leavens the whole mass, so may these poor Italian boys yet become more efficacious as missionaries to their people than would an Orphic poet at this period. These youths have very commonly good faces, and eyes from which that Italian fire that has done so much to warm the world glows out. We saw the distribution of prizes to the school, heard addresses from Mazzini, Pistracci, Mariatti (once a resident in our country) and an English gentleman who takes a great interest in the work, and then adjourned to an adjacent room where a supper was provided for the boys and other guests, among whom we saw some of the exiled Poles. The whole evening gave a true and deep pleasure, though tinged with sadness. We saw a planting of the Kingdom of Heaven, though now no larger than a grain of mustard-see, and though, perhaps, none of those who watch the spot may live to see the birds singing in its branches.

  I have not yet spoken of one of our benefactors, Mr. Carlyle, whom I saw several times. I approached him with more reverence after a little experience of England and Scotland had taught me to appreciate the strength and hight of that wall of shams and conventions which he, more than any man, or thousand men—indeed, he almost alone—has begun to throw down. Wherever there was fresh thought, generous hope, the thought of Carlyle has begun the work. He has torn off the veils from hideous facts; he has burnt away foolish illusions; he has awakened thousands to know what it is to be a man; that we must live, and not merely pretend to others that we live. He has touched the rocks and they have given forth musical answer; little more was wanting to begin to construct the city.

  —But that little was wanting, and the work of construction is left to those that come after him: nay, all attempts of the kind he is the readiest to deride, fearing new shams worse than the old, unable to trust the general action of a thought, and finding no heroic man, no natural king to represent it and challenge his confidence.

  Accustomed to the infinite wit and exuberant richness of his writings, his talk is still an amazement and a splendor scarcely to be faced with steady eyes. He does not converse—only harangues. It is the usual misfortune of such marked men (happily not one invariable or inevitable) that they cannot allow other minds room to breathe and show themselves in their atmosphere, and this miss the refreshment and instruction which the greatest never cease to need from the experience of the humblest. Carlyle allows no one a chance, but bears down all opposition, not only by his wit and onset of words resistless in their sharpness as so many bayonets, but by actual physical superiority, raising his voice and rushing his opponent with a torrent of sound. This is not the least from unwillingness to allow freedom to others; on the contrary, no man would more enjoy than a manly resistance to his thought, but it is the impulse of a mind accustomed to follow out its own impulse as the hawk its prey, and which knows not how to stop in the chase. Carlyle, indeed, is arrogant and overbearing, but in his arrogance there is no littleness, no self-love; it is the heroic arrogance of some old Scandinavian conqueror—it is his nature and the untamable impulse that has given him power to crush the dragons. You do not love him, perhaps, nor revere, and perhaps, also, he would only laugh at you if you did, but you like him heartily, and like to see him the powerful smith, the Siegfried, melting all the old iron in his furnace till it glows to a sunset red, and burns you if you senselessly go too near. He seemed to me quite isolated, lonely as the desert, yet never was man more fitted to prize a man, could he find one to match his mood. He finds them, but only in the past. He sings rather than talks. He pours upon you a kind of satirical, heroical, critical poem, with regular cadences, and generally catching up near the beginning some singular epithet, which serves as a refrain when his song is full, or with which as with a knotting needle he catches up the stitches if he has chanced now and then to let fall a row. For the higher kinds of poetry he has no sense, and his talk on that subject is delightfully and gorgeously absurd; he sometimes stops a minute to laugh at it himself, then begins anew with fresh vigor—for all the spirits he is driving before him seem to him as Fata Morganas, ugly masks, in fact, if he can but make them turn about, but he laughs that they seem to others such dainty Ariels. He puts out his chin sometimes till it looks like the beak of a bird, and his eyes flash bright instinctive meanings like Jove’s bird; yet he is not calm and grand enough for the eagle; he is more like the falcon, and yet not of gentle blood enough for that either. He is not exactly like anything but himself, and therefore you cannot see him without the most hearty refreshment and good will, for he is original, rich and strong enough to afford a thousand faults; one expects some wild land in a rich kingdom. His talk, like his books, is full of pictures, his critical strokes masterly; allow for his point of view, and his survey is admirable. He is a large subject; I cannot speak more of wiselier of him now, nor needs it; his works are true, to blame and praise him, the Siegfried of England, great and powerful, if not quite invulnerable, and of a might rather to destroy evil than legislate for good. At all events, he seems to be what Destiny intended, and represents fully a certain side; so we make no remonstrance as to his being and proceeding for himself, though we sometimes must for us.

  I had meant some remarks on Sarnee’s pictures, and the little I saw of the Theatre in England; but these topics must wait till my next, when they will connect themselves naturally enough with what I have to say of Paris.        *

“Things and Thoughts in Europe,” New-York Daily Tribune, 19 February 1847, p. 1.