« AnteriorContinuar »
of the sovereign was swallowing, at Versailles, the adulation of degraded courtiers of every rank and profession. There were met together the vain and the ambitious, the designing and the foolish, the humblest and the proudest of those who, whether proud or humble, or ambitious, or vain, or crafty, were alike the devoted servants of the monarch or the monarch's mistress -princes, cardinals, and bishops-dukes and every kind of noble-excisemen and priests, and keepers of the royal conscience and royal necessary—all ministers each in their degree, from the secretaries of state to the lowest underlings of officeclerks of the ordnance, victualling, stamps, customs, colonies, and post-office-farmers and receivers-general-judges and cooks, confessors and every other caterer to the irregularities of the royal appetite-in short, the whole corps de ballet of the ancient strumpetocracy, including all the sons of St. Louis, and the whole legitimate and illegitimate spawn of the Bourbon blood. Such was the order of things which is often alleged in defence of the mistress of a king, and we see no adequate reason why it may not be made to yield one excuse in extenuation of the frailties and the follies of a private woman.
ART. V. - The Voyages and Adventures of Ferdinand Mendez
Pinto, a Portugal: during his Travels, for the space of one and twenty years, in the kingdoms of Ethiopia, China, Tartaria, Cauchin-china, Calaminham, Siam, Pegu, Japan, and a great part of the East-Indies. With a relation and description of most of the places thereof; their religion, laws, riches, customs, and government in the time of peace and war. Where he five times suffered shipwrack, was sixteen times sold, and thirteen times made a slave. Written originally by himself in the Portugal tongue, and dedicated to the Majesty of Philip, King of Spain. Done into English by H. C. Gent. Printed by J. Macock, and are to be sold by Henry Herringman, at the sign of the Blew Anchor, in the lower-walk of the New Exchange. 1663.
Such is the elaborate title page of this wonderful traveller, which is ushered to the English world by a dedication to the great and unfortunate Earl of Strafford, asserting, that “ the work is so full of variety and strange occurrences, that the like will hardly be met with elsewhere,” &c. This is followed by
an apologetical defence of Ferdinand Mendez Pinto, his History,” which consists of references to every Portuguese book which was at that time extant, and many Latin ones,
confirmatory of those circumstances mentioned by our traveller, which were likely to excite amazement or doubt in his readers.
Yet with all the pains thus taken, poor Ferdinand comes down to us, through the long vista of three hundred years, with a label round his neck as the “ Prince of Liars,” fastened there for ever by the hand of the inimitable Cervantes-himself, not only Prince, but Emperor, of the whole walk of Fiction; no part or portion of which he chose to part with for the embellishment of a work professing to be true.
With regard to this sweeping condemnation we are yet not entirely inclined to coincide, and can scarcely help concluding it as too severe, and savouring full as much of the prejudice entertained by the Spanish author against the Portuguese author, as of the lover of truth in opposition to the lying legendary. One thing is at least certain, which is, that Ferdinand Mendez Pinto never misleads his readers, except to contribute to their amusement, in presenting to their eyes splendid pageants, magnificent processions, and brilliant spectacles, or to excite their commiseration by such repeated sorrows and hardships, such flagellations and imprisonments, as we stay-athome people find it difficult to believe any one man had sufficient vitality to live through. With respect to any regular description of places, as their properties, their geographical situation, form of government, produce, merchandise, acquirements in literature, or knowledge of agriculture, he neither troubles himself nor his reader, but carries throughout the air of that character we firmly believe to be his, that of an unlearned runagate, who sought his bread as thousands do, by wandering abroad rather than working at home; having naturally much curiosity, and consequently observation, which, when aided by a retentive memory, personal courage, and total indifference to the ties of country and kindred, fit a man well for the many wanderings and hardships here described. Throughout his long narrative, saving that he is a good catholic, and occasionally remembers the rites of his church, we never find him refer to any book, or any vestige of knowledge that could be gained previous to his leaving Europe, of which he evidently knows very little. His mind was a perfect blank, on which his succeeding adventures were engraved, and his observations registered, with a minuteness of detail which must startle the incredulous, who will be apt to believe, that a wretch in the nakedness and hunger, captivity and banishment, under which he suffered, is little likely to recollect the speeches of others, or the thoughts of his own sad heart; or take much cognizance even of the revolution of empires, and the destruction of kings. Such persons should however remember, that those periods in our own lives, connected with
pain and danger, make strong impressions, and even after the lapse of many years spent in the busy scenes of life, we can, with great distinctness, trace the approaches of a fever, or the painful consequences of a fall. The minutest incident connected with a fire, a highway robbery, an amputation, the loss of a beloved child, or the fear of losing one, obtain a place in the mind, of such permanent and abiding character, with all the accompaniments of what “he said,” and “she thought,” and
I apprehended,” that we ought not hastily to conclude, in the case of Ferdinand, imagination has eked out the deficiencies of memory, or invention supplied the stores of interest. Although the power of endurance sometimes appears superhuman, yet we know that man is strong to suffer, and that in the very prime of life, with a body neither debilitated by early indulgence, nor injured by mental application, it is possible to endure long and successive hardships of the most appalling kind.
With regard to several circumstances, posterity (though late) will do that justice to his reputation denied by his own times, a comfort which has frequently followed the traveller, when he could, unhappily, take no comfort in it—when the sneer of doubt, the assertion of calumny, and the cruelty of contempt, had spent their shaft, and laid that enterprising spirit low, which had withstood all other evils. Ferdinand tells us,
of beautiful gardens, in which the moon sheds such a kindly influence, that the roses bloom every month, instead of every summer.' Now this was laughed at by the wits of his day; but we see these very roses adorn our northern gardens, renewed if not strictly from month to month, yet many times in the year. He describes "a wonderful beast with two legs, and in some respects resembling a bird,” which we recognise as the Cassiowary. His account of the Pagoda of Trinkalamar, before whose chariot wheels so many wretches sacrifice themselves, though utterly incredible in his day, is so far from being new to us, that it is, unhappily, as well verified as a transaction in Paris or Edinburgh, and has ceased (monstrous as it appears) to excite astonishment. It is remarkable, that he never once mentions the burnings of the Malabar women with the bodies of their husbands, of which, we apprehend, he must have heard, though he might not witness, and we are thence induced to conclude, that there is some truth in an assertion he repeatedly makes, that he has “kept back the relation of diverse wonderous things, which would have been to the contentment of some, by reason that others would have scoffed.”
His accounts of the conduct, violence, misfortunes, and bloodshed, attending the various eastern sovereigns, whose courts he happened to visit, and in whose battles he was from necessity engaged, appear to us faithful in their general his
tory, since they partake precisely the characteristics of all despotic governments; and in the most terrific pictures they exhibit of ferocity and endurance, do not exceed the well authenticated accounts of similar personages performing on similar theatres at the present day. Ferdinand gives us not one tyrant so dreadful as Ali Pacha, nor one overthrow more complete than his-the prodigality with which human life is sacrificed, the remorseless cruelty with which the offending victim is pursued, and the sweeping injustice with which whole families are destroyed for the crime of one delinquent, are not detailed by him in any manner different from those who have come after him, when treating on such awful, hateful, yet deeply interesting subjects. In his pages, as in those of others from that period to the present, an eastern sovereign ever appears in the light of a mighty volcano, from whose mouth destruction issues with the rapidity of lightning. Majestic and resplendent, when beheld as an object of distant admiration, but sure and remorseless in its direction, and desolating in its course; sometimes smiting the wicked in its wrath, but more frequently destroying the virtuous in its caprice, and every where shedding a baleful influence on the progress of freedom, and the rights of humanity.
Many are the awful changes and retributions, the unmerited misfortunes, and horrible revenges, related by Ferdinand, as taking place during a period of about twenty-five years in the great theatre of Asia, and which might well “ furnish matter for the tragic muse” to us, especially as they are frequently given with many affecting particulars, and the speeches of the principal parties, in the grand and figurative language of the east, which being diametrically opposed to that of the narrator, and apparently far above his powers of composition, impress us with an almost irresistible reliance on their truth.
It is but justice to declare, that of all the books of travels it has been our delight first, and, subsequently, our duty to peruse, (and they have been numerous, large, and frequently heavy enough,) we never yet met with one gaping gazer at sights, who could describe a holy procession, the reception of an embassador, or any of the pageantries of an eastern court, with half the ability of Mendez Pinto. Every mottoed lantern, silken banner, and gilded device, is registered by him with the minuteness of a "keeper of the brawls,” and the regular succession of aged nobles, fair damsels, armed warriors, beautiful boys, bearers of censers, and of standards; strewers of flowers, beaters of cymbals, &c., in all their varieties of crimson, scarlet, green, and yellow, with golden coronets, braided tresses, and Aowery wreaths, are arranged in their places with the utmost precision.
We recommend him to Farley and Dibdin as an invaluable coadjutor, and consider him capable of touching a new spring of gaiety even in the miraculous Grimaldi, as he particularly admires the “ pretty fantasy of a certain dance, wherein fair young maidens danced with ould men:" in fact, we have not only materials for thus newly ornamenting our dramatic exhibitions ; but the dramas themselves delineated with an accuracy, which decidedly proves them worthy of adoption for those occasions which call for the splendour and novelty of eastern pomp, or magical surprise. Nor can we doubt, that several of our extracts will strike our readers, as containing not only the germ, but the incidents necessary for composing dramatic representations, which may combine powerful pathos, the most exquisite scenery, together with strict poetic justice. This is more especially found in the history of the Portuguese favourite, which occurs towards the end of the work ; which we shall now proceed to examine, and from which we shall extract all that verifies our assertions, and is really worthy of perusal, leaving our readers the power of judging for themselves the probability of our traveller's honesty, and the extent of his invention; and saving them from the dryness of his details, and the recapitulation of hardships generally monotonous, and frequently as incredible as they.are dull.
Ferdinand Mendez Pinto begins his history by lamenting the malice of fortune, and declaring, that the history of his travels, and his sorrows, are all he has to leave his children ;he says, that in the space of twenty-one years, “ he was thirteen times a captive, and seventeen times sold as a slave;" he speaks of his parents as poor people, and that he was too much “cockered up by his mother,” whom he left at eleven or twelve years, to enter the service of a lady. Under the advice of his uncle he left his native land in 1537, in a ship commanded by Don Pedro de Silva, son of Admiral Don Vasco de Gama, for the Indies. They touch at various parts, and encounter some disagreeable circumstances, and at length arrive at Mecqua, where they meet with some trifling bad offices from a renegado Christian, who,“ by reason of his marriage with a Mahometan woman, had abjured his religion :” and we have here, a most notable example of the spirit of the times and the church to which our traveller belongs, and which may serve as a proof, that although evidently a man of mild temper and conciliating manners, he yet was a good catholic, and a firm believer in the infallibility of all the inquisitorial edicts of his mother church.
"Our captains much amazed hereat, gently persuaded him to acquit this abominable belief, and become a Christian again ; whereunto