Imagens da página

Commodore, who was nodding with sleep by my side, had a loaf of bread thrown at his nose. On quitting the ship about 11 o'clock (such a night, so warm and still, with a moon so bright that you could read by it), they lighted up the lovely “Doris” with blue lights, and gave me a British cheer, which we returned as well as we could, and so ended a very enjoyable day.”

Life at Beirut had its drawbacks from the unhealthiness and variableness of the climate. But her cheerfulness was invincible. She might describe herself as “weak and thin, like French hotel wine: no body in me at all ! but “crusty,”yes, and sour, a little. Or she might complain of the “awful nature of our storms, when she spent “great part of every night in holding hard on to my window shutters, which keep boxing the ears of the unhappy house so as to threaten its demolition.' But she still threw herself into every form of innocent enjoyment with her usual spirit and vivacity. “I went hunting yesterday, she tells the Duchess of Somerset, in February 1861:

* –such a pretty sight and such curious hunting! The ground was a grassy plain on the other side of the Beirut River, intersected by little watercourses and studded with groves of pine trees, some full-grown and tall, and others making a thick underwood or scrub, in which the jackals (which we came to hunt) were hidden. We had a brace of beautiful Persian greyhounds, which sniffed and ran about, but were perfectly useless, but our real pack consisted of two battalions of Zouaves and Spahis, who drove the pines in full uniform, encircling them and gradually diminishing the circle, shouting and screaming until the jackals ran out and went tearing down the watercourses, with the army at their heels, firing at impossible distances. I think I never saw so animated a scene— the wild Algerine horses, and their wilder riders in scarlet trousers, red morocco jack-boots, and white bernouses floating on the windthe whole relieved against the bright green pine groves and purple mountains, or the bright gold of the sandbank. The huntsmen and whippers-in consisted of a French General and two Colonels. General Ducrot's wife and I were the only ladies. My little Arab mare leaped everything she came to like a feather, and seemed to enjoy it as much as I did, and Madame Ducröt, though on a heavy French horse, followed with much pluck and animation. After four hours of this, and killing several jackals, the Spahis “offered” us as a sort of fête their national dance,—a dance the principal figure of which consisted in turning head over heels and administering a severe blow on your partner's head with your foot, and also what they call a “fantasia,” which is two or three horsemen racing against each other (the horses absolutely touching), the bridles held in the riders' mouths, while they present, aim, and fire at full speed with wonderful precision.’


[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

One of the poems collected in the volume of Lady Dufferin's verses is an address to ‘The Seine near Etiolles,’ a country place belonging to the Comte de Ste. Aulaire. The following extract is from a letter written at the town-house of the same friend in the Rue Las Cases at Paris:–

‘I am living in a quiet old house in the Faubourg St. Germain, with the picture of my dear old friend M. de Ste. Aulaire folding his arms opposite my bed, and his mother Egidie de Nogan (whom I once saw in the garden at Etiolles in 1847, a gallant old lady of ninetynine) smiles from the other side of the room, in a long-waisted bodice garlanded with flowers, and a powdered toupie—done at the age of sixteen, a bright French face with sparkling black eyes and thick eyebrows. I had just been reading her Life, written by her son (in the form of “Notices surmes Portraits de Famille,” a most interesting little manuscript book, containing 1,000 details full of life and colour, either of his own souvenirs d'enfance, or very recent traditions of his family, and running through the whole of the French Revolution). The smiling black-eyed thing must have lived through hours that would have killed most women, in constant flight, or else hiding from the ever-impending guillotine, in hourly dread of her father's execution (who was in prison), or her husband's capture (who was a fugitive), seeing her only son (my dear friend) by stealth, when he could manage to get to her hiding-place, which was often impossible for him to do from the faintness produced by want of food, and he, a young growing lad, in delicate health. They were both literally starving for months. However, there she was at Etiolles in 1847, and lived to see her children's great-grandchildren.’

With all her love of France and the French, Lady Dufferin was keenly alive to the discomforts of travelling in the country during the days of passports and afterwards. “Oh!’ she cries,

‘that I could transport a bit of that Provence sky which I have

been enjoying over your dear dripping heads in Ireland It is

a terrible drawback on the goods of English life to lead a web-foot

existence. I sometimes fancy that I could put up with any amount of despotic monarchy taken warm, with Burgundy, rather than the British constitution, with all that cold water. But the dream disappears on the slightest contact with French officials, either on railroads or elsewhere; no, give me a mackintosh and let me lie in

a ditch in old Ireland, rather than the “dry places” in which

French authority struts and spits, &c. Either they really are more

rude than they used to be, or else it is because I have been more intimately in contact with the lower order of officials in France on the out-of-the-way railroads I have been travelling (above all, being alone with only a maid, they naturally put on a little extra brutality). The fact is, the poor creatures having been deprived of their natural pâture and tit-bit, the British Passport, they are like starving lions that have tasted blood. They hardly know how to vent the suppressed malevolence to which that glorious institution gave such a ready outlet. They can no longer wake up a fat John Bull out of his uneasy apoplectic slumber every half-hour to ask him for it; nor drag him through narrow doorways into fusty bureaua, before an irresponsible tribunal of cocked-hats; nor glower at him as if he were a malefactor, if his nose is not as flat or his menton as round as the document represents. All these delights and refreshments being cut off, they naturally “take it out” in all sorts of small spites and annoyances. They kick your trunks, and knock your band-boxes on the head, and chalk opprobrious hieroglyphics on your new leather portmanteau. They lock you in, and bar you out of every door on the premises, and they invent doors, that lead nowhere, for that sole purpose. They forbid you to passer, and won't allow you to rester anywhere. They would willingly “pinch your eyeballs” (like Quilp) if they could. Finally they put muzzles on the (no) noses of minute Japanese dogs, which reach nearly to their tails. Can the spite of bureaucracy go further?”

In her poems, songs, and verses, Lady Dufferin is exactly what she was in her letters and in real life. Her poetical pieces, which constitute the bulk of the volume, leave behind them a vivid impression of the writer's true self. Nothing is studied, nothing unreal, nothing artificial. On the contrary, all is fresh, unaffected, genuine, and spontaneous. The marked features of the writer's character, as it stands revealed in these poems, are a true genius for love, an innocent gaiety, a playful humour, the patience and endurance which have for their source deep religious feeling, and a warm and tender sympathy for sorrow and suffering. There are the peaks which rise, always clear and radiant, above the mists that hang about the lower levels. Below these heights, as round the mountain sides of her own native land, gather from time to time clouds of melancholy which thicken as troubles increase and life draws on. Yet the gloom, even at its darkest, is never settled; but ever and anon is pierced, broken, and scattered to the winds by bright flashes of fancy, brilliant gleams of infectious gaiety, vivid rays of wit and humour. It is these alternating effects of light and shade, storm and sunshine, which give a special charm to Lady Dufferin's poetry, as similar atmospheric variations lend a peculiar beauty to Irish landscape.

Judged by a purely critical standard, the poems as a whole are inferior both in quantity and quality to those of her sister, Mrs. Norton. In feeling, tone of thought, range of sympathy and interests, the two sisters had many points in common. The best of Lady Dufferin's verses rival, if they do not surpass, for tenderness and simple grace of expression, anything that



Mrs. Norton ever wrote. But in intensity of passion, in magnitude of design, in force of language, and in the mass of her work, Mrs. Norton was the superior, if not by natural endowment at least by constant exercise of her powers as well as by stress of circumstances. Lady Dufferin's poetry, in fact, has the excellences and the limitations of the natural poetic gifts which are the heritage of the Irish nation. The scenery of Ireland, with its mountains, hills, and valleys, its secluded lakes, streams, and rivers, its brilliant colouring, its legend-haunted ruins, its venerable monuments of past ages, seems, directly or by association, to invite poetry at every turn. Irish history, rich in stirring incidents, in the vicissitudes of victories and defeats, in the rise and fall of noble families and the fidelity of dependants, supplies in lavish abundance elements of romantic interest. Nor are the ultimate results of the national struggle unfavourable to the development of poetic genius, for the finest ballads and patriotic lyrics have seldom been songs of victory or paeans of triumph; they have rather been the wail over lost causes or the dirge of defeated heroes. In the misty moonlight of Irish mythology wander a crowd of shadowy creations of popular fancy, which at once illustrate and encourage the desire of the people to lean on some external arm, and are well fitted to be the parents at once of religious feeling and poetic imagination. Children, to whom the wiles of the Leprechaun, the pranks of the Phooka, the warnings of the Banshee, and the vision of the long-haired, long-robed Geilt are at once familiar, yet mysterious, are necessarily nurtured in an atmosphere of wonder and of awe which is more congenial to poetic fancy than more prosaic and practical surroundings. And, finally, the national character itself seems to be peculiarly susceptible and responsive to influences such as those which we have enumerated. Intensely patriotic, warmhearted, vivacious, imaginative, the Irish people have a depth of melancholy below the surface of their gaiety. If they were merely the wild, reckless, rollicking people, which they are sometimes represented to be, we might expect that the influence of their surroundings would be too ephemeral to produce any lasting effect. The shallow rapids of the sparkling, dancing brook reflect only a confused shimmer of light and colour in its changing surface; it is only in the deeper and more sluggish waters that heaven and earth are faithfully pictured. In the Irish nature there is this depth, and in it we should expect to find the poetic influences of their surroundings reproduced. Yet in the highest fields of poetry, although the materials lie close to the people on every side, and although the national character character is peculiarly susceptible to their influences, no native Irish poet has ever reached the highest rank. To Englishmen indeed one side of the literature of Ireland is necessarily a sealed book. It may be that in the vernacular poetry of the country there may be found specimens which would lead us to modify our judgment, and to which no translation has ever done full justice. The bards of Ireland were numerous, and Munster holds the pre-eminence alike in potatoes and peasant poets. Characteristic specimens have been collected of their compositions which were highly valued by Edmund Spenser. But it must be remembered that their poetry has long reached the jour des louanges, when criticism is silenced in the presence of death. Subject therefore to the unknown glories of vernacular poetry, it remains true that Ireland has produced no native poet of the highest rank. It would be an interesting speculation to examine into the causes of this inferiority, and to determine whether the national history, or the national character, has most conduced to the comparative starvation of poetic genius. As novelists, dramatists, historians, journalists, Irish writers have excelled. In the pulpit, on the platform, in Parliament, Irish orators have found full scope for their poetic fancy, and have clothed their thought in impassioned language, and adorned their eloquence with striking similes, fine images, and picturesque metaphors. In prose and in oratory they have produced poets by the score. But in verse no native poet has appeared who can be compared with the great names of English literature. The reason of this fact lies beyond the scope of our present purpose. It is immaterial, whether the hand of the stranger, or the voice of the native, is most to blame. But Nature would not be wholly denied her purpose. If man has made Ireland a land of sorrow, she has made it a land of song. In the less aspiring, less sustained, and shorter flights of verse Irish writers have remarkably excelled. It may be that the mational genius is best adapted to brief compositions attuned to a single key, and that in longer pieces facility of expression and exuberance of fancy prove fatal gifts. It is as song-writers, whether their inspiration be patriotism, love, or war, that Irish poets have put their natural gifts to the most perfect use. They command all the excellences which are essential to success. The tone of feeling is decided; the versification is free from forced inversions; and the separate pieces are short. Elastic in rhythm, animated and forcible in language, racy in tone, their songs seem to be the natural product of


a genuine feeling which finds in verse its freest expression. The

« AnteriorContinuar »