Abbildungen der Seite

This room contains a vast variety of the smaller species of foreign birds, and a few small animals—such as monkies, &c. But what we have come to see is shut up in that great deal press, the front of which lets down with hinges, and leaves the whole interior, with its contents, exposed to the view and even the touch of the spectators—for it is not found necessary to interpose any safeguard before this most terrificlooking of all the animal tribe. And it is lucky that this is the case ; for Bob, who has the care of this animal, has made such good use of the buonamano's he has received in the course of the day, that he is not in the best condition to protect us in case of danger. But Bob has too strong a sense of natural justice to forego what has, time out of mind, been " his custom always of an afternoon,"—merely to accommodate the idle habits of other people. If you visit him and his charge at a proper hour, you 'll find him in a proper condition to do the honours of the visit; and this is all that can in reason be required of him. But I believe I need not have made this apology for him. I've heard it whispered in your village, Reuben, that the Vicar's steed knows as well, if not better, when his reverend burthen is tipsy, than the said burthen does itself; and I rather think it is the same with Bob and the Boa. You see he has by this time let down the side of the serpent's house, and taken off the blankets which covered him; and there the monster lies, black, twisted, and self-involved, like one of your late writing-master's flourishes. I question whether any one ever looked at this extraordinary creature for the first time, without feeling a cold shudder creep through every part. It is a sort of object that (for what reason I know not) we never form an adequate conception of beforehand. The one before us is fourteen feet long, and is entirely covered with a brilliant coating of black, picked out with a sort of whitish yellow; the whole varnished like the face of a picture. The head and neek are much smaller, and of lighter colour, than the rest of the body-the largest part of which is perhaps a foot and a half in circumference ;-and the tail diminishes in size almost to a point. But perhaps the most striking part of this singular creature, and the sight of which affects the spectator in the most extraordinary manner, is the tongue; which, at the approach or touch of any person, it puts out of its mouth (without appearing to open the latter) and moves about with a quick flickering motion, accompanied by a low hissing noise. The part that it puts out of the mouth is about an inch and a half long, and divided into two about half way down from the extremity--each portion being about the thickness of a small quill. Bob (whose word, by the by, I would not take for so much as Hamlet offered to take the Ghost's) told me, the last time I saw this creature, that it had the day before eaten three live fowls, “ feathers and all," and ten pounds of beef. Though I don't know why I should suspect him of exaggeration in this, when he adds that it never eats more than once in a fortnight, and sometimes not for months together. It is perfectly harmless and quiet—never attempting to move out of the case or cupboard in which it lies ; and the only indication it ever gives of the kind and degree of power that it possesses is when you place your hand between the side of its box and any part of it that happens to be lying there-in which case it presses against your hand, and if you were not prepared to slip it away immediately, would crush it. But we are spending more of onr time here than we

intended, or can afford; so taking leave of Bob and his charge, without waiting for his “true and particular account" of its “life, character, and behaviour,” we will at once descend to the great room which we came principally to see.

This room does really contain a magnificent collection of objects — such a one as probably was never before collected together in modern times, The whole of the hither end is occupied by the huge bulk of the elephant, which reaches from side to side, and from the floor to the ceiling, and is divided from the rest of the room by solid beams of wood banded with iron, which cross each other in the form of a grating. At the opposite end is the great lion, gazing around him with the air of an imprisoned emperor, and swishing his tail about, “ as a gentleman swishes his cane." All along the right-hand side of the room are dens containing seven or eight other lions, male and female, of different ages and species, besides tigers, leopards, panthers, hyenas, porcupines, &c. And on the left side is a fine Arabian camel. They are all at this time on the qui vive ; but there is an air of doubt and uncertainty about them all, as they have not yet heard the signal (of a blow on the gong), which immediately precedes their feeding. At length that signal is given, outside the room, and unexpectedly by the visitors; and then the scene which instantly takes place has in it a most extraordinary mixture of the terrific and the agreeable. A huge discordant roar bursts from almost every den at the same moment; and the inhabitants of each rush against the bars, rampant, and with their eyes flashing fire, and seem on the point of tearing their way into the open space where the spectators are standing. And yet in the midst of all, we feel that pleasantest of all securities, which exists in the presence of, and almost in contact with, danger and death. We are here surrounded, and as it

upon, by death under its most frightful form; and yet we hold our life as securely as if we were seated by our own hearths. I know of no other situation of the kind that can be compared with this. In other cases, if we would feel the sense of danger we must encounter danger; we cannot feel it without fearing it: but here we can enjoy all the stimulus of the one, without suffering the debasing and counteracting effects of the other. To have experienced a storm at sea, or been present in a great battle, and escaped from them, are fine things doubtless; but who would risk the danger for the after pleasure? The situation nearest to the one before us is that of sailing on a calm ocean, and feeling that there is nothing between us and the fathomless abyss below, but a deal plank. Or perhaps the standing in a coalmine in the midst of the fire-damp, and holding in one's hand a lighted safety-lamp, is a still stronger example of the presence of danger and safety together, or rather of the actual contact of them; for there is actually nothing intervening between the light of the lamp and the matter which it is to act upon-nothing but a stratum of that matter itself, which is not sufficiently heated to permit the communication of the flame. But in both these instances, though the danger is there, we do not see it, and therefore do not feel it—we only, or chiefly feel the safety. But here, the danger is visible to our eyes—it rings and rattles in our ears -it actually moves our whole frames ;—for the roarings and rampings of the beasts shake the very building in which we stand. And yet here we stand, as if it were a mere performance that we were wit

were, looked

nessing-an imitation, and not the real thing. But that it is the real thing, is the secret of the pleasure, or whatever else it is to be called, that we derive from it. In fact, it is sought after on the same principle that we go to see a public execution: and if I might venture to say so much in the presence of ladies, I would add that the measure of the satisfaction to be derived from exhibitions of this nature is, the degree of healthful strength of nerve in the deriver of it. If the babits of modern life had not wasted away the nerves of our nobility and ģentry to mere gossamers, and thus rendered nervousness an indispensable qualification for a fine lady,-changing “ a disease to a commodity,”—we should have combats of gladiators and athletæ, and battles of wild beasts, as they had in days of old; and the ladies would distribute the prizes at them! But the looks of some of the said ladies warn me that I am treading on tender ground; so I return to my descriptions. The

gong sounds--the bcasts (losing all sense of courtly decorum) seem ready to burst from their dens—and a man with an iron hand, who acts as carver to the royal banquet, apportions out the different meats on the sideboard, and proceeds to deliver them in the order of precedence which the guests seem naturally to claim ;-the great lion being served first, then the lioness, (for royalty supersedes politeness among beasts as well as men); and then the inferior guests,-from the younger branches of the blood royal, through the nobility of leopards, tigers, panthers, &c. down to the monkeys that chatter and make mops and mows all the while, like the little dwarfs and fools of the old courts. The guests not being troubled with delicate appetites and squeamish stomachs, the cates served up on the occasion are, as you may suppose, not “composed of all the delicacies of the season." On the contrary, the first course consists of bare bones,—the thigh, leg, and knuckle bones of an ox—which are thrown into the dens through a small opening at the bottom in front. And when they have had time to discuss these sufficiently, and to whet their appetite upon them instead of satisfying it, they receive the meat which had been previously cut off,

I shall only notice, in particular, the behaviour of the chief guests on this occasion, lest my account of the feast should last longer than the feast itself. Nero, the great lion, who, until the sound of the gong, and the receipt of his ration, had maintained a becoming majesty of deportment, immediately descended from the centre of his gravity, and roared, growled, and flew about his den, exactly like a wild beast !urged to this unseemly behaviour (I confess) by the irritating conduct of the man with the iron hand-who approached him to a disrespectful nearness, and pretended to be about to take away his plate before he had done with it. The consort royal (who is a beast of extraordinary personal charms, and of most gentle manners,) conducted herself in a very different, and perhaps a no less characteristic style. When the bare bones were given to her, she took one of them (a long thigh bone of an ox) mto her mouth, without touching it with her fingers as all the rest did—and proceeded to march deliberately round and round her den with it; and this she continued to do after she had been served with the second course, of meat,--and indeed, during the whole time that the banquet lasted ; as much as to indicate, to whomsoever it might concern, that she knew better what became her birth and station than to eat in the presence of observers. I confess there seemed to me a little affectation in this a little over-niceness ; especially as a royal cousin of hers,-a queen-duchess, who is said to partake in some of her propensities, and who at present reigns by divine right, as she used to do in her native woods by quite as good a title, namely, divine might, -does not deem it beneath her dignity to dine in the presence of ber admiring subjects.

The only other personage whose conduct I shall notice on this occasion, is the elephant; and it offers a singular contrast to that of the rest of the guests. Amidst all the stir, hubbub, and turmoil that I have described above, he remains grave, silent, and self-possessed - his lithe proboscis weaving fantastic wreaths in the air outside the bars of his den, as we flourish with our finger when we are thoughtlessly thoughtful, and his huge bulk rising through the half-darkness behind, like a deeper shadow in the midst of shade. And when he of the iron hand comes to wait upon him in his turn, he still maintains the same philosophic gravity, and does every thing that he is bid with the air of one who is not afraid to disobey, but who is willing to serve since circumstances have made servitude his lot. There is in fact something extremely interesting in the behaviour of this extraordinary animal, who seems to possess a ten horse power, only that he may exercise it with the gentleness and docility of a well-conditioned child. He obeys bis keeper in the minutest particulars, and without the slightest hesitation or doubt, though his orders are issued without any change of tone or manner from that in which he is almost at the same moment addressing the spectators, or answering their questions. Indeed, the elephant's natural sagacity seems to have enabled him to reach that happiest consummation at which even the human mind can arrive-namely, the faculty of adapting itself to the circumstances in which it is placed, and“ doing its spiriting gently," whatever it may be.

In conclusion, there are two things to which I decidedly object in this feast; both of them appertaining to the treatment of the chief partaker of it- the great lion. The first is the unbandsome manner in which his feelings are tampered with, by pretending to take away his food after it is given to hiin, merely that he may be induced to " exaggerate his voice," and roar for the recreation of the spectators ;- -thus depriving him of that privilege which is allowed even to convicts and felons themselves, of eating their meal in peace. The next and more important circumstance, is their choosing to indignify him with the name of Nero. This latter I hold to be low treason at the least, if not high. They might as well dub him a member of the Holy Alliance at once! And to say the truth, I should not object to this, if the other members of that august body would occasionally admit him to their meetings!—But to call the king of beasts by the name of one who was scarcely worthy to be a king of men, is a manifest libel; and the Constitutional Association should look to it. Adieu for the present.

Your loving Cousin,


RING, joyous chords !-yet again, again!
A swifter still, and a wilder strain !
They are here the fair face and the careless heart,
And stars shall wane ere the mirthful part.
-But I met a dimly-mournful glance,
In a sudden turn of the flying dance;
I heard the tone of a heavy sigh,
In a pause of the thrilling melody;
And it is not well that Woe should breathe
On the bright spring-flowers of the festal wreath ;
-Ye that to Thought or to Grief belong,

Leave, leave the Hall of Song !
Ring, joyous chords !—but who art Thou
With the shadowy locks o'er thy pale young brow,
And the world of dreaming gloom that lies
In the misty depths of thy soft dark eyes ?
-Thou hast loved, fair girl! thou hast loved too well !
Thou art mourning now o'er a broken spell,
Thou hast pour'd thy heart's rich treasures forth,
And art unrepaid for their priceless worth !
-Mourn on! yet come thou not here the while,
It is but a pain to see thee smile !
There is not a tone in our songs for thee,

-Home with thy sorrows flee!
Ring, joyous chords !-yet again, again!
-But what dost thou with the revel's train ?
A silvery voice through the soft air floats,
But thou hast no part in the gladdening notes;
There are bright young faces that pass thee by,
But they fix no glance of thy wandering eye!
Away! there's a void in thy yearning breast,
Thou weary man! wilt thou here find rest?
Away! for thy thoughts from the scene have fled,
And the love of thy spirit is with the dead !
Thou art but more lone midst the sounds of mirth :

-Back to thy silent hearth!
Ring, joyous chords !-yet again, again!
A swifter still, and a wilder strain !
-But thou, though a reckless mien be thine,
And thy cup be crown’d with the foaming wine,
By the fitful bursts of thy laughter loud,
By thine eye's quick flash through its troubled cloud,
I know thee!-it is but the wakeful fear
Of a haunted bosom, that brings thee here!
I know thee !-thou fearest the lonely Night,
With her piercing stars, and her deep wind's might!
There's a tone in her voice which thou fain wouldst shun,
For it asks what the secret soul hath done!
And thou—there's a dark weight on thine-Away!

- Back to thy home, and pray ! Ring, joyous chords !--yet again, again! A swifter still, and a wilder strain

And bring new wreaths !_We will banish all
Save the free in heart, from our festive hall.
On through the maze of the fleet dance, on!
-But where are the young and the lovely ?-gone!

« ZurückWeiter »