Passengers carry all sorts of luxuries on board, in the firm faith that they shall be able to profit by them all. Friends send them various indigestibles. To many all these well-meant preparations soon become a mockery, almost an insult. It is a clear case of Sic(k) vos non vobis. The tougher neighbor is the gainer by these acts of kindness; the generosity of a sea-sick sufferer in giving away the delicacies which seemed so desirable on starting is not ranked very high on the books of the recording angel. With us three things were best: grapes, oranges, and especially oysters, of which we had provided a half barrel in the shell. The "butcher" of the ship opened them fresh for us every day, and they were more acceptable than anything else.
"Take, O boatman, thrice thy fee,"
Among the places which I saw in my first visit was Longford Castle, the seat of the Earl of Radnor. I remembered the curious triangular building, constructed with reference to the doctrine of the Trinity, as churches are built in the form of the cross. I remembered how the omnipresent spire of the great cathedral, three miles away, looked down upon the grounds about the building as if it had been their next-door neighbor. I had not forgotten the two celebrated Claudes, Morning and Evening. My eyes were drawn to the first of these two pictures when I was here before; now they turned naturally to the landscape with the setting sun. I have read my St. Ruskin with due reverence, but I have never given up my allegiance to Claude Lorraine. But of all the fine paintings at Longford Castle, no one so much impressed me at my recent visit as the portrait of Erasmus by Hans Holbein. This is one of those pictures which help to make the Old World worth a voyage across the Atlantic. Portraits of Erasmus are not uncommon; every scholar would know him if he met him in the other world with the look he wore on earth. All the etchings and their copies give a characteristic presentation of the spiritual precursor of Luther, who pricked the false image with his rapier which the sturdy monk slashed with his broadsword. What a face it is which Hans Holbein has handed down to us in this wonderful portrait at Longford Castle! How dry it is with scholastic labor, how keen with shrewd scepticism, how worldly-wise, how conscious of its owner's wide-awake sagacity! Erasmus and Rabelais,--Nature used up all her arrows for their quivers, and had to wait a hundred years and more before she could find shafts enough for the outfit of Voltaire, leaner and keener than Erasmus, and almost as free in his language as the audacious creator of Gargantua and Pantagruel.
I suppose I ought to form no opinion at all about the aspect of Paris, any more than I should of an oyster in a month without an r in it. We were neither of us in the best mood for sight-seeing, and Paris was not sitting up for company; in fact, she was "not at home." Remembering all this, I must say that the whole appearance of the city was dull and dreary. London out of season seemed still full of life; Paris out of season looked vacuous and torpid. The recollection of the sorrow, the humiliation, the shame, and the agony she had passed through since I left her picking her way on the arm of the Citizen King, with his old riflard over her, rose before me sadly, ominously, as I looked upon the high board fence which surrounded the ruins of the Tuileries. I can understand the impulse which led the red caps to make a wreck of this grand old historical building. "Pull down the nest," they said, "and the birds will not come back." But I shudder when I think what "the red fool-fury of the Seine" has done and is believed capable of doing. I think nothing has so profoundly impressed me as the story of the precautions taken to preserve the Venus of Milo from the brutal hands of the mob. A little more violent access of fury, a little more fiery declamation, a few more bottles of vin bleu, and the Gallery of the Louvre, with all its treasures of art, compared with which the crown jewels just sold are but pretty pebbles, the market price of which fairly enough expresses their value,--much more, rather, than their true value,--that noble gallery, with all its masterpieces from the hands of Greek sculptors and Italian painters, would have been changed in a single night into a heap of blackened stones and a pile of smoking cinders.
On the following day, after dining with Lady Holland (wife of Sir Henry, niece of Macaulay), we went across the street to our neighbor's, Lady Stanley's. There was to be a great meeting of schoolmistresses, in whose work her son, the Honorable Lyulph Stanley, is deeply interested. Alas! The schoolma'ams were just leaving as we entered the door, and all we saw of them was the trail of their descending robes. I was very sorry for this, for I have a good many friends among our own schoolmistresses, --friends whom I never saw, but know through the kind words they have addressed to me.
I have shown how not to see the British museum; I will tell how to see it.
I made but two brief visits to the British Museum, and I can easily instruct my reader so that he will have no difficulty, if he will follow my teaching, in learning how not to see it. When he has a spare hour at his disposal, let him drop in at the Museum, and wander among its books and its various collections. He will know as much about it as the fly that buzzes in at one window and out at another. If I were asked whether I brought away anything from my two visits, I should say, Certainly I did. The fly sees some things, not very intelligently, but he cannot help seeing them. The great round reading-room, with its silent students, impressed me very much. I looked at once for the Elgin Marbles, but casts and photographs and engravings had made me familiar with their chief features. I thought I knew something of the sculptures brought from Nineveh, but I was astonished, almost awe-struck, at the sight of those mighty images which mingled with the visions of the Hebrew prophets. I did not marvel more at the skill and labor expended upon them by the Assyrian artists than I did at the enterprise and audacity which had brought them safely from the mounds under which they were buried to the light of day and the heart of a great modern city. I never thought that I should live to see the Birs Nimroud laid open, and the tablets in which the history of Nebuchadnezzar was recorded spread before me. The Empire of the Spade in the world of history was founded at Nineveh by Layard, a great province added to it by Schliemann, and its boundary extended by numerous explorers, some of whom are diligently at work at the present day. I feel very grateful that many of its revelations have been made since I have been a tenant of the travelling residence which holds so many secrets in its recesses.
The next evening we went to the Lyceum Theatre to see Mr. Irving. He had placed the Royal box at our disposal, so we invited our friends the Priestleys to go with us, and we all enjoyed the evening mightily. Between the scenes we went behind the curtain, and saw the very curious and admirable machinery of the dramatic spectacle. We made the acquaintance of several imps and demons, who were got up wonderfully well. Ellen Terry was as fascinating as ever. I remembered that once before I had met her and Mr. Irving behind the scenes. It was at the Boston Theatre, and while I was talking with them a very heavy piece of scenery came crashing down, and filled the whole place with dust. It was but a short distance from where we were standing, and I could not help thinking how near our several life-dramas came to a simultaneous exeunt omnes.