Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

and a couple of guns, and a most villainous crew, in poverty-stricken garments, rusty cutlasses in their hands and stilettos and pistols stuck in their waistbands. The pirates thoroughly ransacked the vessel, opened all the trunks and portmanteaus, but found little that they wanted except brandy and provisions. In releasing the vessel, the ragamuffins seem to have had a touch of humor, for they gave the captain a “receipt" for what they had taken, and an order on the British consul at Messina to pay for the same. This old-time courtesy was hardly appreciated at the moment. Irving passed a couple of months in Sicily, exploring with some thoroughness the ruins, and making several perilous inland trips, for the country was infested by banditti. One journey from Syracuse through the centre of the island revealed more wretchedness than Irving supposed existed in the world. The half-starved peasants lived in wretched cabins and often in caverns, amid filth and vermin. “God knows my mind never suffered so much as on this journey,” he writes, “when I saw such scenes of want and misery continually before me, without the power of effectually relieving them.” His stay in the ports was made agreeable by the officers of American ships cruising in those waters. Every ship was a home, and every officer a friend. He had a boundless capacity for good-fellowship. At Messina he chronicles the brilliant spectacle of Lord Nelson's fleet passing through the straits in search of the French fleet that had lately got out of Toulon. In less than a year, Nelson's young admirer was one of the thousands that pressed to see the remains of the great admiral as they lay in state at Greenwich, wrapped in the flag that had floated at the mast-head of the Victory. From Sicily he passed over to Naples in a fruit boat which dodged the cruisers, and reached Rome the last of March. Here he remained several weeks, absorbed by the multitudinous attractions. In Italy the worlds of music and painting were for the first time opened to him. Here he made the acquaintance of Washington Allston, and the influence of this friendship came near changing the whole course of his life. To return home to the dry study of the law was not a pleasing prospect; the masterpieces of art, the serenity of the sky, the nameless charm which hangs about an Italian landscape, and Allston's enthusiasm as an artist, nearly decided him to remain in Rome and adopt the profession of a painter. But after indulging in this dream, it occurred to him that it was not so much a natural aptitude for the art as the lovely scenery and Allston's companionship that had attracted him to it. He saw something of Roman society ; Torlonia the banker was especially assiduous in his attentions. It turned out when Irving came to make his adieus that Torlonia had all along supposed him a relative of General Washington. This mistake is offset by another that occurred later, after Irving had attained some celebrity in England. An English lady passing through an Italian gallery with her daughter stopped before a bust of Washington. The daughter said, “Mother, who was Washington 2 * “Why, my dear, don't you know?” was the astonished reply. “He wrote the ‘Sketch-Book.’” It was at the house of Baron von Humboldt, the Prussian minister, that Irving first met Madame de Staël, who was then enjoying the celebrity of “Delphine.” He was impressed with her strength of mind, and somewhat astounded at the amazing flow of her conversation, and the question upon question with which she plied him. In May the wanderer was in Paris, and remained there four months, studying French and frequenting the theatres with exemplary regularity. Of his life in Paris there are only the meagrest reports, and he records no observations upon political affairs. The town fascinated him more than any other in Europe; he notes that the city is rapidly beautifying under the emperor, that the people seem gay and happy, and Vive la bagatelle / is again the burden of their song. His excuse for remissness in correspondence was, “I am a young man and in Paris.” By way of the Netherlands he reached London in October and remained in England till January. The attraction in London seems to have been the theatre, where he saw John Kemble, Cooke, and Mrs. Siddons. Kemble's acting seemed to him too studied and over-labored; he had the disadvantage of a voice lacking rich, base tones. Whatever he did was judiciously conceived and perfectly executed; it satisfied the head, but rarely touched the heart. Only in the part of Zanga was the young critic completely overpowered by his acting,-Kemble seemed to have forgotten himself. Cooke, who had less range than Kemble, completely satisfied Irving as Iago. Of Mrs. Siddons, who was then old, he scarcely dares to give his impressions lest he should be thought extravagant. “Her looks,” he says, “her voice, her gestures, delighted me. She penetrated in a moment to my heart. She froze and melted it by turns; a glance of her eye, a start, an exclamation, thrilled through my whole frame. The more I see her the more I admire her. I hardly breathe while she is on the stage. She works up my feelings till I am like a mere child.” Some years later, after the publication of the “Sketch-Book,” in a London assembly Irving was presented to the tragedy queen, who had left the stage, but had not laid aside its stately manner. She looked at him a moment, and then in a deep-toned voice slowly enunciated, “You’ve made me

[graphic]
« AnteriorContinuar »