« ZurückWeiter »
which strangers are apt to be deceived as to the fineness of their brickwork. They work in stucco with great skill, representing animals, flowers, and fruits, which are sometimes coloured to imitate nature, and the cheapness of this ornament makes it very common. The partition-walls of the inner courts are frequently broken into compartments, which are filled with an open work of green varnished tile, or coarse porcelain. The mode in which they tile their roofs is evidently derived from the use of split bamboos for the same purpose, as it is practised to this day by the Malays, and described by Marsden. The transverse section of these tiles being something of a semicircle, they are laid down the roof with their concave sides uppermost to serve as gutters, the upturned edges of every range being contiguous. But as these would admit the rain at the lines of contact, other tiles are laid in a contrary position over them, and the whole secured in their places by mortar.
In towns, where space is of consequence, the houses and shops of the greater number of the inhabitants have a story above the ground-floor, and on the roof is often erected a wooden stage or platform for drying goods, or for taking the air in hot evenings. This custom contributes to make their houses very liable to catch and to spread fires during a conflagration. Nothing surprises the Chinese more than the representations or descriptions of the five and six-storied houses of European cities; and the Emperor is said to have inquired if it was the smallness of the territory that compelled the inhabitants to build their dwellings so near the clouds. They have the most absurd superstition in regard to the ill-luck that attends the elevation of dwellings above a certain height; and the erection of a gable end (which they denominate by their character for metal, approaching to the same shape,) will fill a whole family with
consternation, until certain ceremonies have been performed to dispel the “ evil influence." These remedies are about as well founded in common sense as the evils which they are employed to remove, and resemble exactly the charms and exorcisms used in our olden time against witches, ghosts, and devils. In the same way that a horseshoe, with us, nailed against the door was an infallible protection from a witch; the figure of a dragon, with its mouth wide open, opposite to the unlucky roof, “swallows up all the ngõky, the bad air, or influence.” The Chinese, however, never seemed to have reached that height of judicial acumen by which in former times, with us, inany a helpless old woman was thrown into the water, to be drowned if she sank, or be burnt if she floated.
The magnificence of Chinese mansions is estimated in some measure by the ground which they cover, and by the number and size of the courts and buildings. The real space is often eked out by winding and complicated passages or galleries, decorated with carving and trellis-work in very good taste. The walks are often paved with figured tiles. Large tanks or ponds, with the nelumbium, or sacred lotus, are essential to every country-house, and these pools are generally filled with quantities of the golden carp, and other fish. Masses of artificial rock either rise out of the water, or are strewn about the grounds, in an affected imitation of nature, and on these are often planted their stunted trees. Sir William Chambers's description of Chinese gardening is a mere prose work of imagination, without a shadow of foundati n in reality. Their taste is indeed extremely defective and vicious on this particular point, and, as an improvement of nature, ranks much on a par with the cramping of their women's feet. The only exception exists in the gardens, or rather parks, of the Em
peror at Yuen-ming-yuen, which Mr. Barrow describes as grand both in plan and extent; but for a subject to imitate these would be almost criminal, even if it were possible.
The apartments of the Chinese are by no means so full of furniture as ours in England, and in this respect they have reached a point of luxury far short of our own. Perhaps, however, they are the only people of Asia who use chairs : these resemble the solid and lumbering pieces of furniture which were in fashion more than a century ago, as described by Cowper:
6 But restless was the chair; the back erect
Distress'd the weary loins, that felt no ease;
That prest it, and the feet hung dangling down.” Cushions, with hangings for the back, are sometimes used of silk, or English woollens, generally of a scarlet colour embroidered in silk patterns by the Chinese women.
Near the chairs are commonly placed those articles of furniture which the Portuguese call cuspadores, or spitting-pots, rendered necessary by the universal habit of smoking. The disagreeable noise that attends the clearing the throat and fauces of the poison inhaled by this bestial practice, is perpetual among the Chinese, and makes one enter feelingly into the complaints which have proceeded from several visitors of the United States, in regard to similar habits among our Trans-atlantic brethren.
Among the principal ornaments are the varied lanterns of silk, horn, and other materials, which are suspended from the roofs, adorned with crimson tassels, but which for purposes of illumination are so greatly behind our lamps, and produce more smoke than light. At a Chinese feast, one is always reminded of the lighting of a Roman entertainment:
“ Sordidum flammæ trepidant rotantes
The great variety, and in the eyes of a Chinese, the beauty of the written character, occasions its being adopted as an ornament on almost all occasions. Calligraphy (or fine penmanship) is much studied among them, and the autographs of a friend or patron, consisting of moral sentences, poetical couplets, or quotations from the sacred books, are kept as memorials, or displayed as ornaments in their apartments. They are generally inscribed largely upon labels of white satin, or fine coloured paper, and almost always in pairs, constituting those parallelisms which we shall have to notice under the head of Literature and Poetry.
In the forms of their furniture they often affect a departure from straight and uniform lines, and adopt what might be called a regular confusion, as in the divisions and shelves of a bookcase, or the compartments of a screen. Even in their door-ways, instead of a regular right-angled aperture, one often sees a complete circle, or the shape of a leaf, or of a jar. This however is only when there are no doors required to be shut, their absence being often supplied by hanging-screens of silk and cloth, or bamboo blinds like those used in India. Their beds are generally very simple, with curtains of silk or cotton in the winter, and a fine mosquito-net during the hot months, when they lie on a mat spread upon the hard bottom of a bed. Two or three boards, with a couple of narrow benches or forms on which to lay them, together with a mat, and three or four bamboo sticks, to stretch the mosquito curtains of coarse hempen cloth, constitute the bed of an ordinary Chinese.
It may readily be supposed that, in the original country of porcelain, a very usual ornament of dwellings consists in vases and jars of that material, of which the antiquity is valued above every other quality. This taste has led to the manufacture of factitious antiques, not only in porcelain, but in bronze, and other substances,-points on which strangers are often very egregiously taken in at Canton. The shapes of their tripods, and other ancient vessels, real or imitated, are often fantastical, and not unlike similar vestiges in Europe. In these they place their sticks of incense, composed principally of sandal-wood dust, which serve to perfume their chambers, as well as to regale the gods in their temples. The Chinese are great collectors of curiosities of all kinds, and the cabinets of some individuals at Canton are worth examining.
Having considered the accommodations of the Chinese when at rest, we may view them in locomotion, or when travelling. The manner in which the greater part of the empire is intersected by rivers and canals makes water-carriage the most common, as well as comm
nmodious, method of transit from place to place: but where that is impossible, they travel (towards the south) in chairs; and, in the great flat about Peking, in a one-horse tilted waggon, or cart, -for it deserves no better name. The multiform inconveniences of these primitive machines were experienced by the members of the last embassy, and have been feelingly described by some of them. The wheels, frequently solid and without spokes, are low, and fixed to very short axletrees. The bodies, covered with tilts of coarse cotton, open only in front, and are just wide enough to admit two persons closely wedged. They have no raised seats, and the only posture is to be stretched at length, or with the legs drawn up, the sufferer being always in close contact with the axle, without the intervention of