« AnteriorContinuar »
THE LAST DAYS OF MR. SALT. No class of men earn their reputation with greater personal sacrifices than travellers, or with more just claims on the gratitude of society; and there are few men who have a more indisputable right to “ the traveller's fame” than Mr. Salt. His name is indissolubly connected with that of Abyssinia, in the recollection of all well-informed persons. It is not our purpose to refer to the early history of Mr. Salt, further than to state that he made his debut in the world as a promising artist, having studied under one of the most eminent portrait painters of the day. His talent as a draughtsman recommended him to the notice of Lord Valencia; and with that nobleman he visited those countries which he so elegantly illustrated and described. The patronage of his fellow-traveller, on his subsequent return from the East, procured him the Egyptian Consulate-a post for which his talents and intelligence eminently qualified him; but the attainment of it was attended with such delay, that his private fortune was consumed by the expensive mode of life he was obliged to enter into, during the two long years he laid siege to the doors of Downing Street. It was to the generosity of a tailor, at this critical period, he was indebted for all his ultimate success : he had danced attendance at the levees of the Ministers till his last guinea was expended, and his sagacious tradesmen began to discover they had to do with a gentleman who went to Court in the morning, and dined at the Coal-Hole the same evening. It was delightful to see how the eyes of the consul sparkled with satisfaction whenever he recurred to the subject of the magnificent conduct of his tailor, as he was wont to call it. Mr. Salt was returning one morning in a melancholy mood from a fruitless interview with Lord Castlereagh, when he encouvtered the unwelcome apparition of his tailor at the steps of his hall door.
“ There is a small account, Mr. Salt," said the tailor, “which—”
“ You are unlikely to be paid for some time,” replied the dejected gentleman.
“ You are joking, Sir," was the rejoinder.
“ I am not exactly in a joking humour," said Mr. Salt. “ I have been fool enough to put faith in great men’s promises; I have spent my time, and lost my money: but, nevertheless, you will be paid, with interest, some day or another."
“ And yet, Sir," continued the tailor, “it is a pity to give up the chace after so long a run.-We'll not talk of the bill now, Sir-if pounds would be of any service, bring me your bond, Sir.-I wish you a good morning
The tailor kept his word; Mr. Salt kept his; and in a very little time that gentleman was Consul-general in Egypt. For nearly ten years he discharged the duties of his office with honour to himself, and advantage to the public service. With the exception of Mr. Briggs, no European so entirely possessed the confidence of the Pacha. When he chose to assert the dignity of his high station, bis deportment was such as might become a British Officer; he was every inch a Consul. In his intercourse with English travellers, there are few who have given the page of their travels' history to the world who have not bad occasion to speak of his affability and hospitality. His house was the hotel of the Egyptian visitor, where he took his ease as at his own inn, and found his host no less remarkable for his civility than for his extensive information on every subject connected with Oriental research. For the last two years of his life, the inroads which a long residence in the East had made upon his constitution became apparent through their effects. He could not be said to be in ill health, but changes became evident in his temper and habits of life, which a medical man might have justly attributed to some internal functional derangement. As it was, those who only knew him in the latter part of his life, formed most erroneous ideas of his character;
and, as in thousands of similar instances, they attributed qualities to an ailing man, which were altogether foreign to the sound man's nature. We have heard him spoken of as a peevish misanthrope, a gloomy hypochondriac, a superstitious and a timid man; and yet Salt was none of these. The sick man might have seemed what he was not, and then only to a bad observer of human nature. In the latter part of the year 1828, his health became so bad that he was unable to take advantage of the leave of absence he obtained from Government to return to England. The writer of this brief notice, on his arrival in Alexandria from Syria, found him so alarmingly ill, that he recommended his immediate removal to the higher and more healthy parts of Egypt, as affording the last hope of amendment. In this he was unfortunately too long opposed by every body about him except Mr. Thurburn, the partner of Mr. Briggs, and Mr. Montefiore, a gentleman whose kindness was felt and repeatedly acknowledged by poor Salt in his last moments. The medical man who attended him for the last two years was on the point of setting out for England, and it was two days previous to his departure that he was requested to accompany the invalid up the Nile. This gentleman was an English surgeon, and we have reason to believe he was sincerely attached to Mr. Salt. The preparations were at length completed for the journey, and Mr. Salt, in a state of extreme debility, was conveyed from Mr. Briggs' to his own house, where he spent several hours in examining his papers. It was evident that he regarded it as a final arrangement; and when looking over his private letters, he frequently shed tears. It was a sad spectacle. He sat leaning over his table in the dining-room supported by pillows; a death-like paleness on his features, and a melancholy solemnity in his air, which was in keeping with the task he was performing. He was attired in his undress uniform ; and those who have witnessed in Italy the appalling custom of dressing up the dead for the last ceremony, may form some conception of the scene we had before
The doctor (for such is the title given to the members of every branch of the medical profession in the East) was employed in laying before him the various papers he asked for, in sealing up some, and destroying others. In the midst of the occupation, when
coffee was brought in, he said to Mr. Montefiore
“Well, Doctor, when a man is leaving his own house for the last time you will not deny him a parting cup. It is not very long since you saw me at the head of this table with all my friends about me; to eat and drink and be merry was then our business, but to-morrow it is to die."
“ That morrow, Sir,” replied Mr. Montefiore, “ I trust, will be very distant day ;-this detestable climate of Alexandria depresses the spirits of every one.-No man thinks his life worth a three years' purchase ; yet a trip along the Nile gives a renewal of vigour to the constitution, and without it no man could live here."
The invalid shook his head; his only reply was, “ There is one consolation, a man can die any where.” There was a general silence, and it was only interrupted by an intimation to the Doctor to proceed with an examination of the papers. He asked to see a letter which Mr. Montefiore had put aside : it was written in a small hand; he trembled when he opened it; he shed no tears while he perused it, but his eyes were rivetted on the signature for several minutes : at length he folded it up slowly and put it in his bosom, and merely said to Mr. Montefiore, “Go on, Sir.” That letter was from his deceased wife. He loved her to distraction, and her loss was a death-blow to his happiness. The next roll of papers he examined was a collection of his early poems, with which Mr. Montefiore was well acquainted, and nothing but the strongest remonstrances could have preserved the largest portion of them from the flames. Mr. Montefiore thought highly of their merits : he said it was not only injurious to Mr. Salt, but an injustice to the public, to destroy them; their publication, he was sure, would add to his reputation,
“If I were a young man,” replied Mr. Salt, “ they might procure me notoriety, but that sort of notoriety can do the dying no good; and, were I desirous of being better talked of after death than I have been living, there are other papers I might be more desirous of giving to the public. These letters,” he added, taking up another packet, part of my correspondence with Belzoni, and they would exbibit the secret of that jealousy which induced him, while carrying on his researches at my expense, to load me with imputations, which, in health, I had neither the inclination nor leisure to refute ; and now, in sickpess, have still less. Burn them with the rest; my remembrance of the quarrel shall be buried with their ashes."
The next roll of papers which came under examination was a voluminous manuscript, which had occupied his intervals of leisure for the last two years. It was a work of fiction, illustrative of the manners of the Levantines ; and, though the work was not completed, it would have made a very curious and valuable addition to our knowledge of this people. Mr. Salt had often spoken of the success he anticipated for it in sanguine terms. He glanced over a few pages of it, put it down, and then took it up, read over a few sentences more, and at last flung it from him. It was a painful struggle ; but it was the hand of death which was exercising the office of the critic, and the levity of the tone of health and cheerfulness stood a poor chance of approval in such a scrutiny. An order was given for its destruction; Mr. Montefiore affected not to hear it: it was repeated, but he still hesitated ; it was expressed in a louder voice, but he still refused. Poor Salt manifested some symptoms of impatience; he snatched up the papers, and threw them into the grate ; but it was
a momentary impulse of displeasure, for, resuming his former tone, he said to Mr. Montefiore,
“Well, Doctor, you would not have done for Brutus's freedman; you have forced an author to be his own executioner. It is not an easy task to lay violent hands on one's own book; you should have given it a quietus—One might have expected such an act of friendship from a physician.”
The conversation now took a lighter turn than it had hitherto done : the remainder of the papers were disposed of, and by noon the janissary made his appearance to announce that every thing was in readiness in the boat for our immediate embarkation.
Never shall I forget the dejection of the sick man's countenance at that moment: his eyes filled up, and they glanced over the apartment as if they were taking a farewell look of every well-known object: the last thing they encountered, as he was borne from the room, was the picture of his only child, who was far away, and whom he was doomed to behold no more.
“ My dear Mr. Salt," said Mr. Montefiore, as he still stood gazing on the picture, “ for God's sake let us quit this place. It is a gloomy day, and everything looks dismal here; but the house will be in better order when you return: the weather will be better, and we shall all be more cheerful than we are now : every thing will be well.”
“ You are right, Doctor," replied Mr. Salt;“every thing will be well when I do return.”
In passing the outer-room he lingered a few seconds at the glassdoor which led into the garden. The improvements he had but recently projected were going on, and the new house he had intended for his future residence was just completed. If there was a cultivated plot of ground in Egypt which deserved the name of garden, it was this spot. Its improvement was the Consul's well-known hobby, a child could not be fonder of a plaything than poor Salt was of his garden. No stranger passed through Egypt without visiting it, and even now it wants not a melancholy interest for the traveller. The poor Arab, who was wont to conduct the visitor through every walk and arbour, now leads him in si
lence to one solitary spot, and points out the grave of his revered master.
The usual bustle of a departure fortunately took off the attention of Mr. Salt, as we withdrew him from the window. Mr. Montefiore took care to fill up every pause in the confusion of the scene in passing through the hall, and left little opportunity of recurring to other thoughts than those immediately connected with the preparations for our journey. The business of embarkation was at length effected: the principal English merchants of the factory had come aboard to take leave of the Consul ; and, ill able as he was to undergo this ceremony, he exerted himself to evince how sensibly he felt the mark of respect which had been paid to him.
During the voyage up the canal, Mr. Salt was unable to leave his bed, and his exhaustion was so great that we were apprehensive he would not live to reach the Nile: these fears were frequently expressed to Mr. Montefiore, and more than once he was pressed by the attendants to return to Alexandria. He said he was aware of the responsibility he had undertaken in removing the invalid, but he was also aware there was no probability of Mr. Salt's recovery in Alexandria, and a possibility of it existed up the Nile, and at any responsibility his friend should have that cbance. In every previous illness of Mr. Salt that change had been beneficial to him ; and, to our great delight, it appeared to be so on the present occasion. From the very moment we reached the Nile he began to rally. The verdure of the Delta, the freshness of the Etesian breeze, after the arid soil and oppressive atmosphere of Alexandria, bad their accustomed influence on the spirits of us all ; and for several days we had sanguine hopes of the recovery of the patient.
We had landed at the village of Dessuke, with the intention of remaining a few days. Mr. Salt had taken a fancy to the situation of the Aga's house, and here we took up our abode. It was a miserable tenement, consisting of two habitable apartments, if the outer one deserved that name, being an open shed, with a range of benches for all its furniture. Here was nightly congregated the numerous retinue of the Consul : a cosmopolite would have smiled with complacency on its composition. There were no two individuals of the same country; the same floor was the bed of an Arab, an Englishman,
an Irishman, an Egyptian, a Greek, an Italian, and a Turk. They lived together in peace in this well-regulated Babel, with very little confusion of tongues, and no conflict of opinion at all : if there was any emulation amongst them, it was in studying to meet the wants and wishes of their sick master.
The death-bed of Mr. Salt was, in a foreign country, without a single member of his family at his side-without a female hand to smooth his pillow, or the ordinary messenger of glad tidings to comfort or console him, Yet was he followed to the last gasp by fidelity and friendship. Never did I behold the closing scene of life so much divested of its terror, or nature's final struggle encountered amidst so decorous a tranquillity.
About three weeks after our arrival at Dessuke, the symptoms of Mr. Salt's disorder became of so aggravated a character that every hour seemed to lead to the inevitable result. The patient continued in perfect possession of his faculties : he told Mr. Montefiore, who was endeavouring to prevail on him to take some remedy, that nature was worn out, and art could do no more.
“ It is in vain, my good friend," said he, “ to seek to alter my opinion -your kindness now is more valuable to me than the skill of twenty doctors. You have done your part, it remains for me to do mine; and, while the power is left me to go through it, it must be performed.”
He desired pen and ink to be brought to the bed-side ; every one but Mr. Montefiore was ordered to leave the apartment, and from nine o'clock
till midnight he continued dictating his last directions to that gentleman.
When the attendants were allowed to enter the room, the tears were pouring down his face ; he was talking of his child, and all night long he continued speaking of her. We begged of him to compose himself to sleep; and when we ceased to importune him, and were silent for a few seconds, he would turn to us and say, “ Will none of you talk of her ?”
From this time forward, he would hardly suffer Mr. Montefiore from his sight; awake as well as sleeping bis hand was constantly in his. His faithful Arab servant was stationed on the other side, and at the foot of the bed was seated his old Abyssinian fellow-traveller ; and every time he missed him, there was an inquiry for “Old Coffin”-and the oftrepeated words, “ I want to see that honest face of his.”
In the day, when there was any temporary remission of his sufferings, he would have Coffin's little Abyssinian boy brought to him, and speak a few sentences to the child in his native tongue ; and the little fellow never left the chamber without tears in his eyes. I believe he loved the Consul even better than his father.
At other times Mr. Montefiore would be called on to repeat the Lord's Prayer. On one occasion, when Mr. Montefiore inquired if there was any other portion of the service he wished to have read, Mr. Salt replied
" The universal prayer is all-sufficient; it is the compendium of Christianity ; it comprehends all our wants. Its sublime simplicity has ever been my admiration; and, at this solemn moment, that feeling of admiration is, if possible, increased, when one who differs from me in his creed, is yet enabled to join with me in one common form of supplication.”
Shortly after, recurring to Mr. Montefiore's religion, he desired him to set down on paper his reasons for the opinions he maintained. Mr. Montefiore employed the evening in endeavouring to comply with this singular request, but the task was not without difficulty; and, when called on, he could only assure Mr. Salt at last, that he had a great many good reasons for the faith that was in him, but at that moment there was only one he could call to mind-his father had entertained the same opinions, and they had been his mother's likewise.
“ Well, Doctor," said Mr. Salt, “a man may have but one reason for his sect, aud it may suffice ; but he has a thousand reasons for being a Christian,"
He has, indeed, Sir,” replied Mr. Montefiore ; “for no other system, ancient or modern, has ever conducted men to so spiritual a conception of a Supreme Being, without body, parts, or passions; the vastness of whose power is commensurate with his wisdom, and whose unerring justice is yet compatible with infinite mercy.”
Mr. Salt made no reply to these and other observations of a similar nature, but he took Mr. Montefiore's hand and repeated the Lord's Prayer in a loud voice. Yes, Doctor,” said he, after a short pause, pray together, and perhaps we may meet in another place. The wall which separates our creeds is built of sand, but time will wear it down, and leave the fundamental truths of our religion disencumbered at its base.”
Mr. Salt continued the conversation till he was quite exhausted, and he told Mr. Montefiore it did him good to think and talk of that which so nearly concerned his future happiness.
Mr. Salt's religious sentiments inclined to Unitarianism. He believed in the divine mission of our Saviour; he recognized in Jesus the chosen messenger of God; but he thought the Prophecies of the Old Testament were unessential to the proof of Christianity, and he expressed regret that the New Testament was appended to the Old. No man felt a profounder reverence for the Gospel than he did ; and po man was more sensible of the fidelity of the Old Scriptures and the sublimity of their lan