Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

Venice; and now comes the singular part of my story. In Venice there is a little court of which I forget the name: but in it is an apothecary's shop, whither I went to buy some remedy for the bites of certain animals which abound in Venice. Crawling animals, skipping animals, and humming, flying animals; all three will have at you at once; and one night nearly drove me into a strait-waistcoat. Well, as I was coming out of the apothecary's with the bottle of spirits of hartshorn in my hand (it really does do the bites a great deal of good), whom should I light upon but one of my little Heidelberg-Baden boys!

I have said how handsomely they were dressed as long as they were with their mother. When I saw the boy at Venice, who perfectly recognized me, his only garb was a wretched yellow cotton gown. His little feet, on which I had admired the little shiny boots, were without shoe or stocking. He looked at me, ran to an old hag of a woman, who seized his hand ; and with her he disappeared down one of the thronged lanes of the city.

From Venice we went to Trieste (the Vienna railway at that time was only opened as far as Laybach, and the magnificent Semmering Pass was not quite completed). At a station between Laybach and Graetz, one of my companions alighted for refreshment, and came back to the carriage saying:

"There's that horrible man from Baden, with the two little boys.”

Of course, we had talked about the appearance of the little boy at Venice, and his strange altered garb. My companion said they were pale, wretched-looking, and dressed quite shabbily.

I got out at several stations, and looked at all the carriages. I could not see my little men. From that day to this I have never set eyes on them. That is all my story. Who were they? What could they be? How can you explain that mystery of the mother giving them up; of the remarkable splendor and elegance of their appearance while under her care ; of their barefooted squalor in Venice, a month afterwards ; of their shabby habiliments at Laybach? Had the father gambled away his money, and sold their clothes? How came they to have passed out of the hands of a refined lady (as she evidently was, with whom I first saw them) into the charge of quite a common woman like her with whom I saw one of the boys at Venice? Here is but one chapter of the story. Can any man write the next, or that preceding the strange one on which I happened to light? Who knows? the mystery may have some quite simple solution. I saw two children, attired like little princes, taken from their mother and consigned to other care; and a fortnight afterwards, one of them barefooted and like a beggar. Who will read this riddle of The Two Children in Black ?

ON RIBBONS.

The uncle of the present Sir Louis N. Bonaparte, K.G., &c., inaugurated his reign as Emperor over the neighboring nation by establishing an Order, to which all citizens of his country, military, naval, and civil — all men most distinguished in science, letters, arts, and commerce were admitted. The emblem of the Order was but a piece of ribbon, more or less long or broad, with a toy at the end of it. The Bourbons had toys and ribbons of their own, blue, black, and all-colored ; and on their return to dominion such good old Tories would naturally have preferred to restore their good old orders of Saint Louis, Saint Esprit, and Saint Michel ; but France had taken the ribbon of the Legion of Honor so to her heart that no Bourbon sovereign dared to pluck it thence.

In England, until very late days, we have been accustomed rather to pooh-pooh national Orders, to vote ribbons and crosses tinsel gewgaws, foolish foreign ornaments, and so forth. It is known how the Great Duke (the breast of whose own coat was plastered with some half-hundred decorations) was averse to the wearing of ribbons, medals, clasps, and the like, by his

We have all of us read how uncommonly distinguished Lord Castlereagh looked at Vienna, where he was the only gentleman present without any decoration whatever. And the Great Duke's theory was, that clasps and ribbons, stars and garters, were good and proper ornaments for himself, for the chief officers of his distinguished army, and for gentlemen of high birth, who might naturally claim to wear a band of garter blue across their waistcoats ; but that for common people Four plain coat, without stars and ribbons, was the most sensible wear.

And no doubt you and I are as happy, as free, as comfortable ; we can walk and dine as well; we can keep the winter's cold out as well, without a star on our coats, as without a

feather in our hats. How often we have laughed at the absurd mania of the Americans for dubbing their senators, members of Congress, and States representatives, Honorable. We have a right to call our Privy Councillors Right Honorable, our Lords' sons Honorable, and so forth ; but for a nation as numerous, well educated, strong, richi, civilized, free as our own, to dare to give its distinguished citizens titles of honor - monstrous assumption of low-bred arrogance and parvenu vanity! Our titles are respectable, but theirs absurd. Mr. Jones, of London, a Chancellor's son, and a tailor's grandson, is justly Honorable, and entitled to be Lord Jones at his noble father's decease: but Mr. Brown, the senator from New York, is a silly upstart for tacking Honorable to his name, and our sturdy British good sense laughs at him. Who has not laughed (I have myself) at Honorable Nahum Dodge, Honorable Zeno Scudder, Honorable' Hiram Boake, and the rest? A score of such queer names and titles I have smiled at in America. And, inutato nomine? I meet a born idiot, who is a peer and born legislator. This drivelling noodle and his descendants through life are your natural superiors and mine — your and my children's superiors. I read of an alderman kneeling and knighted at court: I see a gold-stick waddling backwards before Majesty in a procession, and if we laugh, don't you suppose the Americans laugh too?

Yes, stars, garters, orders, knighthoods, and the like, are folly. Yes, Bobus, citizen and soap-boiler, is a good man, and no one laughs at him or good Mrs. Bobus, as they have their dinner at one o'clock. But who will not jeer at Sir Thomas on a melting day, and Lady Bobus, at Margate, eating shrimps in a donkey-chaise? Yes, knighthood is absurd : and chivalry an idiotic superstition: and Sir Walter Manny was a zany: and Nelson, with his flaming stars and cordons, splendent upon a day of battle, was a madman : and Murat, with his crosses and orders, at the head of his squadrons charging victorious, was only a crazy mountebank, who had been a tavern-waiter, and was puffed up with absurd vanity about his dress and legs. And the men of the French line at Fontenoy, who told Messieurs de la Garde to fire first, were smirking French dancing-masters ; and the Black Prince, waiting upon his royal prisoner, was acting an inane masquerade : and Chivalry is naught; and Honor is humbug; and Gentlemanhood is an extinct folly ; and Ambition is madness; and desire of distinction is criminal vanity ; and glory is bosh; and fair fame is idleness; and nothing is true but two and two; and the color of all the world is drab; and all men are equal; and one man is as tall as another; and one man is as good as another - and a great dale betther, as the Irish philosopher said.

Is this so? Titles and badges of honor are vanity; and in the American Revolution you have his Excellency General Washington sending back, and with proper spirit sending back, a letter in which he is not addressed as Excellency and General. Titles are abolished; and the American Republic swarms with men claiming and bearing them. You have the French soldier cheered and happy in his dying agony, and kissing with frantic joy the chief's hand who lays the little cross on the bleeding bosom. At home you have the Dukes and Earls jobbing and intriguing for the Garter ; the Military Knights grumbling at the Civil Knights of the Bath; the little ribbon eager for the collar; the soldiers and seamen from India and the Crimea marching in procession before the Queen, and receiving from her hands the cross bearing her royal name. And, remember, there are not only the cross wearers, but all the fathers and friends ; all the women who have prayed for their absent heroes ; Harry's wife, and Tom's mother, and Jack's daughter, and Frank's sweetheart, each of whom wears in her heart of hearts afterwards the badge which son, father, lover, has won by his merit; each of whom is made happy and proud, and is bound to the country by that little bit of ribbon.

I have heard, in a lecture about George the Third, that, at his accession, the King had a mind to establish an order for literary men. It was to have been called the Order of Minerya - I suppose with an Owl for a badge. The knights were to have worn a star of sixteen points, and a yellow ribbon ; and good old Samuel Johnson was talked of as President, or Grand, Cross, or Grand Owl, of the society. Now about such an order as this there certainly may be doubts. Consider the claimants, the difficulty of settling their claims, the rows and squabbles amongst the candidates, and the subsequent decision of posterity! Dr. Beattie would have ranked as first poet, and twenty years after the sublime Mr. Hayley would, no doubt, have claimed the Grand Cross. Mr. Gibbon would not have been eligible, on account of his dangerous freethinking opinions ; and her sex, as well as her republican sentiments, might have interfered with the knighthood of the immortal Mrs. Catharine Macaulay. How Goldsmith would have paraded the ribbon at Madame Cornelys's, or the Academy dinner! How Peter Pindar would have railed at it! Fifty years later, the noble Scott would have worn the Grand Cross and deserved it; but

Gifford would have had it; and Byron, and Shelley, and Hazlitt, and Hunt would have been without it; and had Keats been proposed as officer, how the Tory prints would have yelled with rage and scorn! Had the star of Minerva lasted to our present timebut I pause, not because the idea is dazzling, but too awful. Fancy the claimants, and the row about their precedence! Which philosopher shall have the grand cordon ?

which the collar? which the little scrap no bigger than a buttercup? Of the historians -- A, say, - and C, and F, and G, and S, and T, - which shall be Companion and which Grand Owl? Of the poets, who wears, or claims, the largest and brightest star? Of the novelists, there is A, and B and C D; and E (star of first magnitude, newly discovered), and F (a magazine of wit), and fair G, and H, and I, and brave old J, and charming K, and L, and M, and N, and O (fair twinklers), and I am puzzled between three P's — Peacock, Miss Pardoe, and Paul Pry - and Queechy, and R, and S, and T, mère et fils, and very likely U, O gentle reader, for who has not written his novel now-a-days? - who has not a claim to the star and stráw-colored ribbon? - and who shall have the biggest and largest ? Fancy the struggle! Fancy the squabble! Fancy the distribution of prizes !

Who shall decide on them? Shall it be the sovereign ? shall it be the Minister for the time being ? and has Lord Palmerston made a deep study of novels? In this matter the late Ministry,* to be sure, was better qualified ; but even then, grumblers who had not got their canary cordons, would have hinted at professional jealousies entering the Cabinet; and, the ribbons being awarded, Jack would have scowled at his because Dick had a broader one ; Ned been indignant because Bob's was as large: Tom would have thrust his into the drawer, and scorned to wear it at all. No- no: the so-called literary world was well rid of Minerva and her yellow ribbon. The great poets would have been indifferent, the little poets jealous, the funny men furious, the philosophers satirical, the historians supercilious, and, finally, the jobs without end. Say, ingenuity and cleverness are to be rewarded by State tokens and prizes

and take for granted the Order of Minerva is established who shall have it? A great philosopher? no doubt we cordially salute him G.C.M. A great historian? G.C.M. of course. A great engineer? G.C.M. A great poet? received with acclamation G.C.M. A great painter? oh! certainly, G.C.M.

That of Lord Derby, in 1859, which included Mr. Disraeli and Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton.

« ZurückWeiter »