Images de page

"We followed the crowd that were pressing towards a narrow door in the front of a large wooden building. This admitted us into the inner quadrangle of a Russian warehouse, where merchandize is stored and disposed of by wholesale; but not exposed for sale. A corresponding door, at the opposite side of this court, opens just upon a wooden barricade, which constitutes the barrier of China. In this there is another portal, ornamented with pillars, and displaying the Russian eagle above it, along with the cipher of the reigning emperor, Nicholas the First, by whom it was erected. "The change upon passing through this gate seemed like a dream, or the effect of magic; a contrast so startling could hardly be experienced at any other spot upon the earth. The unvaried sober hues of the Russian horde were succeeded all at once by an exhibition of gaudy finery, more fantastic and extravagant than was ever seen at any Christmas wake or parish festival in Germany. The roadway of the streets consists of a bed of wellbeaten clay, which is always neatly swept; while the walls of the same material, on either side, are relieved by windows of Chinese paper. These walls do not at first sight present the appearance of fronts of houses, as the roofs are flat and not seen from the street. Indeed, they are nearly altogether concealed by the gay coloured paper lanterns and flags with inscriptions on them, which are hung out on both sides of the way. Cords, with similar scrolls and lanterns, are likewise stretched from roof to roof across the street. These dazzling decorations stand out in glaring contrast with the dull yellow of the ground and walls. In the open crossings of the streets, which intersect each other at right angles, stood enormous chafing-dishes of castiron, like basins, upon a slender pedestal of four feet in height. The benches by which they were surrounded were occupied by teadrinkers, who sat smoking from the little pipes which they carry at their girdles, while their kettles were boiling at the common fire. It is only the porters and camel-drivers, and the petty dealers— that is, Mongols of the lowest class-who thus seek refreshment and chit-chat in the streets."

The travellers walked about the town, viewing its curiosities, and observing the various interesting phases of Chinese civilization, as it developes itself in that extreme limit of the empire. The evening gun, at length, however, put a period to their investigations, for they were then compelled to leave the town, no barbarian being allowed to remain within its circumference a moment after sunset. The next day Mr. Erman busied himself with collecting information as to the early Russian expeditions to China, and we are presented with an extremely graphic account of the birth and growth of that intercourse which has since risen to such extent. The Festival of the White VOL. XXV.-NO. XLIX.


Moon began on the following morning, and Chinese and Russian alike entered into its excitement. The streets were crowded with a gaily-attired throng of pleasureseekers, while the musical and dramatic performers of Maimachen paraded every public way, and at length offered one of their representations near the sargucher's residence. A feast of one hundred dishes, prepared by one of the great men of the place, next occupied the time of the European visiters; who were then conducted into the temple dedicated to the worship of the great god Fo, where a variety of ceremonies were witnessed, and an enormous number of peace-offerings presented to the idol. A visit to the theatre, which stood in close proximity to the house of worship, closed the day's proceedings; and Mr. Erman and his companions, passing through the wooden gate of the town, again stood in the Russian Empire.

Making a somewhat prolonged stay in Maimachen, the spring had somewhat advanced before our travellers proceeded again to their former starting-place, and made several excursions into other parts of Siberia. We now find them, after having travelled through a diversified country inhabited by several distinct tribes, advancing over a wide plain towards Yakutsk. A burying-ground marked the near approach to human habitations, and the black earth of some fresh graves was prominently visible above the white snow, together with some wooden crosses, and a small chapel in the midst. The town itself was shortly reached. It is situated on the bank overhanging a broad deep hollow, communicating in summer with a river which flows from a neighbouring lake, but now completely filled with snow. A wooden hut, with some towers in a wretched state of dilapidation, were the only traces which the ancient Russian conquerors left behind them, if we except the great stone-built cathedral dedicated to Saint Nicholas, and another church. A singular appearance was presented in the streets of Yakutsk. The more civilized immigrators from other lands have raised houses of somewhat European aspect, and between these moderu habitations stand the ancient dwellings of the aboriginal Yakuts, composed of clay and cow-dung, with doors of hairy hides and windows of ice. These people, disdaining the innovations brought from strange countries, chose rather to live in their own primitive simplicity, exchanging

the more solidly-constructed winter huts for light tents when the hot season comes round. This gives the city a heterogeneous and confused appearance, the only uniformity observable being that of the snow, the same covering which is spread alike over the comparatively stately dwelling of the stranger, and the wretched Yurts, the original owners of the land.

A thriving trade is carried on at this town, so that the inhabitants of Yakutsk are enabled annually to send great caravans of European and Chinese goods over the mountains to Okhotsk. Nothing can be more remarkable than the spirit and energy exhibited by these traders. Setting forth early in the year, they collect the produce of the whole line of coast on the Polar Sea, from the mouth of the Lena to the furthest point inhabited by the Chukchi, sometimes extending their voyage beyond Behring Straits, and occasionally even fetching merchandize from the mainland of America. Others wander in all directions through the surrounding countries, buying furs and skins, which, brought to this great centre of trade, are again distributed over a large portion of the world.

"The Yukagirs and Chukchi bring also to these markets the skins of the wild reindeer which they kill in summer. Great herds of these shy animals break forth every year, about the breedingtime, out of the forests in the South, and migrate with unrestrainable haste in a straight line to the naked plains near the sea. Thus the Samoyedes at the Obi told me, that the reindeer there choose for their summer pastures the many valleys in the mountains of Obdorsk, where we, however, in winter could find only traces of their former presence. In both places it is ascertained that these flights of the deer are occasioned by gnats, which then infest the woods; and I have seen in Kamschatka, under perfectly similar circumstances, reasons to admit the likelihood of this account."

The Chukchi say that many of their tribe have crossed from East Cape to America, and brought back furs with them from thence. To support their statement, they mention the names of several places on the continent. Many years ago an adventurous merchant ventured out upon the Polar Sea, and discovered some islands, though he missed that of New Siberia. With a train of dog sledges it was his custom to set forth every year, and come back laden with the materials of wealth. But his prosperous monopoly was but of short duration. Protodiakonov, an adventurous

trader, followed in his track, discovered New Siberia, and revealed the existence of the northern islands to his government. A brisk traffic is now sustained between these regions, of which one is not more extraordinary than the rest; for all are invested with the highest degree of interest. We cannot pause to enumerate the various materials which form the bulk of this great and annually increasing trade; though amongst the others we may mention ivory, mammoths' teeth, and rhinoceros horns.

But we must not here follow our travellers through any more of their interesting experience. We ourselves have accompanied Mr. Erman over every mile of the ground traversed by him, but space does not allow that we should afford our readers the same gratification. Nevertheless, we have in their company gone over a large portion of the countries visited by the able author of the present narrative. His work is one of the most interesting that has been published within many years. It forms an excellent companion to the wild and adventurous narrative of Mr. Richardson in the Saharan deserts, and to the extraordinary relations of the Rajah Brooke. We take leave of our author with regret, and thank him for the immense amount of interesting matter he has presented to the world. He has, it may be said, reclaimed Siberia from the oblivion into which neglect had thrown it. Little of political importance is connected with this snowy yet noble region; and for that reason perhaps the public has hitherto regarded them with indifference. Mr. Cooley has done the cause of knowledge much good service by his able and vigorous translation of Mr. Erman's valuable work. To no more skilful hands could the task have been intrusted.

ART. VII.-Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats. Edited by RICHARD MONCKTON MILNES. 2 vols. 8vo. London: Moxon, 1848.

WE cannot help thinking it exceedingly strange that we

should have remained so long without an authentic memoir of John Keats. It is difficult to fancy a subject more likely to attract a biographer. Independently altogether of its literary interest, the mystery and gloom which

surrounded his early death, the popular impressions regarding its causes, the universal sympathy which it occasioned, and the loud indignation against its alleged authors, expressed in every quarter, from the light and unfeeling scoff of the noble assailant of "the Quarterly, so savage and Tartarly," down to Shelley's deep and passionate curse

"On his head who pierced that innocent breast,

And scared the angel soul that was its earthly guest"

had excited a curiosity which no one could have expected to remain nearly thirty years unsatisfied.

Unlike the generality of youthful poets, too, Keats's character was one to which his published poetry could afford but little clue. Even if we allow for the scantiness and the fragmentary nature of his literary remains, we shall find few writers who have left less trace of themselves and their own personality in what they have written. His poetry is, in the last degree, ideal, or rather, so to speak, unpersonal. Very little of it deals with the realities of life at all, and the little which can be said to do so, throws no light on the individuality of the author himself. In the world of fancy and ideality-in his relation to external nature, to poetry, or to art-in all the generalities of feeling and passion-no writer ever revealed himself more fully or more freely. But in those things which are the staple of thought with ordinary men, and which form the especial burden of every youthful poet's theme—in all that regards his relations to common life, its hopes, its fears, its pleasures, its passions-Keats's pages may be considered as almost a perfect blank, at least in all that would tend to illustrate his own personal character and disposition.

Nor, by the way, can we subscribe unreservedly to a doctrine with regard to the lives of authors which Mr. Milnes cites, and appears to adopt, from Wordsworth's "Letter to a friend of Robert Burns; "-that "there is no cause why the lives of this class of men should be pried into with diligent curiosity, and laid open with the same disregard of reserve which may sometimes be expedient in composing the history of men who have borne an active part in the world." We are by no means disposed to cede to genius the immunity from observation which this doctrine would imply; and to permit it to shroud itself from critical scrutiny in the dim and misty veil which

« PrécédentContinuer »