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Barber? Do you suppose. Figaro does not see anything droll in the Count's ménage ? And when the Count asks him what he, the Count, had done to merit all those felicities, and Figaro says—Monseigneur, VOUS-vous étes donné la peine de naître-Do you think Figaro says that, like a solemn fool, or like a man of wit, laughing in his sleeve? What of Beaumarchais' comedies ? Are they not one long joke from beginning to end, and a rare joke, too; ay, and one which made men think, and bore fruit! Come and be a good, tame Jacobin, and leave the League for to-night. Go and see Mario and Gassier in Il Barbiere ; read Beaumarchais' play before dinner, and you will then see the fun in ‘Lothair?!”
"Pish!” said our serious friend, who really had an appointment at the League. “If it be all a joke, that makes it worse. It is rather a prolonged joke, if it be, and one which plain folk do not readily see through. The world is ready to take all this as a revelation in sober truth, from one who, by his own account, has had special favour from what you call the Majestic Theme. To pander to the public taste is itself a vile thing, even though you scorn them for swallowing your bait. To parade (being a man in authority, whom princes delight to honour) to parade a worthless type of life, with a wink to the knowing that you are quite of their mind, is not a great part. To worship a great State with the knee and the lip, and sneer at it in your heart, and sneer aloud, and sneering, pocket all its good things, and grasp at its chief seats, is rather worse, I take it, than stupidly to believe in it. Figaro, no doubt, laughed at his patrons; but he dearly loved their kitchen, and he pocketed their ducats. And therefore he was a rogue, as well as a slave. But I see no Figaro in the matter, and in truth I have no time for talking now. I have an appointment at a conference of reformers about the land question—the land question in England, not in Ireland. Perhaps, indeed, you are all right! I know nothing of literature, and never read a novel. Write a review in praise of “Lothair,' and convert me!” and the stubborn reformer went off to his meeting on the Land Question, and quite forgot Il Barbiere, Beaumarchais, and “ Lothair."
“There was much truth though in his last remark!” we said to ourselves, as he went off—though it was impossible to avoid laughing at his serious air. But we took his advice about writing the Review, and we shall certainly send him a copy.
When our literal friend was gone off on his mission of pulling to pieces the majestic symmetry of our landed system, we fell into a reverie full of the witty Barber, and many a delightful reminiscence of M. Got at the Français, and Ronconi at the Opera. And then taking up · Lothair' to commence our review, we fell into a light sleep, and dreamt of the Barber!
O Figaro! O most audacious and deft of serving-men, what a wicked wit it is! What a society do you show us! What a sublime unconsciousness of its approaching end! How the young grandees of Spain work their own mad wills! What indescribable gambols of youth! What engaging liveliness of young blood! Any number of varlets to be had for a few ducats, and what droll puts the citizens seem in it all! A gallant lad gets into a scrape, which brings down Guard and Police! Ecco ! vien qui ! see the insignia of a Grandee! Scusi Eccellenza : I see! a thousand pardons! Off hats and up swords ! Le Roi s'amuse :—make way there for his grace ! And all this our ingenious Beaumarchais had the happy idea of presenting to Paris in the last decade of the ancien régime. Bold playwright, have a care!
And the consummate impudence of our Figaro, the exquisite liberties he takes with his great friends! strutting behind their pompous footsteps, mimicking their gait, and laughing back at the audience. O mad wag, they will find thee out! Why Bartolo's self, though thou art thrusting thy lather into his rheumy old eyes, will see thou art mocking! And as for Almaviva, he may be a grandee of Spain, but he is a gentleman, Barber, and may not relish thy menial pranks!
And what a rich and golden kind of life it is in Almaviva's palaces, if you chance to live there; how the power of wealth can create like a conjuror's rod; what extravaganzas of caprice money can produce !
"O che bel vivere,
Di qualitá—di qualitá !” All in good taste, too! from the best makers in the Puerta del Sol-solid, real, representing so much human labour, so many consumable things, so much food, clothing, &c., as the dull dogs in political economy make out; and the cream of it is, that each production is more useless and bizarre than the last. It is like an Arabian night-Aladdin's lamp, Peribanou's fan. Ask for what you like—there it is. Will his Lordship ride? See a troop of exquisite thoroughbred Barbs, stand paving the turf, and champing their golden bits whilst inimitable jockeys hold the stirrup! Would his Grace care to sail ? Haste ! ten thousand labourers, whilst thou art at luncheon, all carefully kept out of sight, shall make thee a spacious lake of artificial water: a gondola of wrought pearl floats on its perfumed breast-its sails are of amber satin. Will your Grace deign to take the trouble to sink into this velvet couch ? Does his highness like this prospect? Presto! a majestic palace rises with its stately saloons from out its statued terraces.' His Grace's retainers throng its porches in obsequious crowds, and with the plumage of a
cockatoo! Will his Lordship enter and deign to pass a day beneath the chaste magnificence of his new home? or will his Excellency condescend to indicate in which of his princely castles he will be served ?
And the beauty of it is, that it is all real. It is fact. No Aladdin's palaces vanishing with the dream. But there they stand, built by actual human hands, and fitted up, as we say, by the best purveyors in Madrid. It is a little prosaic—it wants the romance of Aladdin ; but it gains tenfold in being real. One of those economic bores would calculate out for you how much sweat of man went to the making of it all; how many millions of men and women it would support if it were all turned into food ; how many lives have been worn out in attaining this stupendous result. And, after all, if your whim so be, you won't let the poor wretches even see you; but will go and hire lodgings in the Champs Elysées, or perhaps, after all, live in a tent on the top of Caucasus. O it beats Crassus and Lucullus, and dims Versailles and Monseigneurs! And the best of it is, that it is all right and good. It is necessary to give a high tone to life. Authors, statesmen, bishops even can prove it. Crassus was a brute, Versailles was a blunder; but this—this is the cultured magnificence of their stately lives.
What a dream we had! We seemed to see a Magnifico—was it Figaro, Aladdin, Rouge Sanglier, or some Grand Vizier of all the cultured magnificence of these stately lives (by special behest of the Majestic Theme), enter into the Paradise prepared for him of old ? We beheld him in a vision, bepalaced for evermore in choice saloons resplendent with ormolu and scagliola! There, as he reclined on couches of amber-satin, dazzling duchesses and paladins of high degree fed him with hatchis, as seraphic as his fancies; and served him from salvers of sapphire, expressly manufactured by Ruby of Bond Street. Farewell! Barber-Grand-Vizier! in thy day thou hast amused many, apparently thyself also; why shouldest thou not amuse us ?
Moral! Retrorsum Tonsor! satis lusisti! Get thee behind the scenes, Barber, and let another speak the epilogue. The historian saith :—“Small substance in that Figaro : thin wire-drawn intrigues, thin wire-drawn sentiments and sarcasms; a thing lean, barren; yet which winds and whisks itself as through a wholly mad universe, adroitly, with a high-sniffing air; wherein each, which is the grand secret, may see some image of himself and of his own state and ways. So it runs its hundred nights, and all France runs with it; laughing applause — all men must laugh, and a horse-racing Anglomaniac noblesse loudest of all. ... Beaumarchais has now culminated, and unites the attributes of several demigods." (Carlyle, “French Revol. ;" sub. ann. 1784.)
TALES OF OLD JAPAN.
No. I.—THE FORTY-SEVEN Rôxins. The books which have been written of late years about Japan, have either been compiled from official records, or have contained the sketchy impressions of passing travellers. Of the inner life of the Japanese, the world at large knows but little : their religion, their superstitions, their ways of thought, the hidden springs by which they move all these are as yet mysteries. Nor is this to be wondered at. The first western men who came in contact with Japan, I ain speaking not of the old Dutch and Portuguese traders and priests, but of the diplomatists ard merchants of eleven years ago, met with a cold reception. Above all things, the native Government threw obstacles in the way of any inquiry into their language, literature, and history. The fact was that the Tycoon's Government, with whom only any relations were maintained, knew that the Imperial purple with which they sought to invest their chief, must quickly fade before the strong sun-light which would be brought upon it 80 soon as there should be European linguists capable of examining their books and records. No opportunity was lost of throwing dust in the eyes of the new-comers, whom, even in the most trifling details, it was the official policy to lead astray. Now, however, there is no cause for concealment; the Roi Fainéant has shaken off his sloth and his Maire du Palais together, and an intelligible Government, which need not fear scrutiny from abroad, is the result: the records of the country being but so many proofs of the Mikado's title to power, there is no reason for keeping up any show of mystery. The path of inquiry is open to all; and although there is yet much to be learnt, some knowledge has been attained, in which it may interest those who stay at home to share.
The recent revolution in Japan has wrought changes social as well as political; and it may be that when, in addition to the advance whlch has already been made, railways and telegraphs shall have connected the principal points of the Land of Sunrise, the old Japanese, such as he was and had been for centuries when we found him eleven short years ago, will have become extinct. It has appeared to me that no better means could be chosen of preserving a record of a curious and fast disappearing civilisation, than the translation of some of the most interesting national legends and histories, together with other specimens of literature bearing upon the same subject. Thus the Japanese may tell their own tale, their
translator only adding here and there a few words of heading or tag to a chapter, where an explanation or amplification may seem necessary. I fear that the long and hard names will often make my tales tedious reading, but I believe that those who will bear with the difficulty will learn more of the character of the Japanese people than by skimming over descriptions of travel and adventure, however brilliant. The lord and his retainer, the warrior and the priest, the humble artisan and the despised Eta or pariah, each in his turn will become a leading character in my budget of stories; and it is out of the mouths of these personages that I hope to show forth a tolerably complete picture of Japanese society.
Having said so much by way of preface, I beg my readers to fancy themselves wafted away to the shores of the Bay of Yedo—a fair, smiling landscape: gentle slopes, crested by a dark fringe of pines and firs, lead down to the sea; the quaint eaves of many a temple and holy shrine peep out here and there from the groves; the bay itself is studded with picturesque fisher-craft, the torches of which shine by night like glow-worms among the outlying forts; far away to the west loom the goblin-haunted heights of Oyama, and beyond the twin hills of the Hakoné Pass—Fuji-yama, the Peerless Mountain, solitary and grand, stands in the centre of the plain, from which it sprang vomiting flames twenty-one centuries ago. For a hundred and sixty years the huge mountain has been at peace, but the frequent earthquakes still tell of hidden fires, and none can say when the red-hot stones and ashes may once more fall like rain over five provinces.
In the midst of a nest of venerable trees in Takanawa, a suburb of Yedo, is hidden Sengakuji, or the Spring-hill Temple, renowned throughout the length and breadth of the land for its cemetery, which contains the graves of the Forty-seven Rônins, famous in
(1) According to Japanese tradition, in the fifth year of the Emperor Kôrei (286 B.c.). the earth opened in the province of Omi, near Kiôto and Lake Biwa, sixty miles long by about eighteen broad, was formed in the shape of a Biwa, or four-stringed lute, from which it takes its name. At the same time, to compensate for the depression of the earth but at a distance of over three hundred miles from the lake, rose Fuji-yama, the last eruption of which was in the year 1707. The last great earthquake at Yedo took place about fifteen years ago. Twenty thousand souls are said to have perished in it, and the dead were carried away and buried by cart-loads; many persons, trying to escape from their falling and burning houses, were caught in great clefts, which yawned suddenly in the earth, and as suddenly closed upon the victims, crushing them to death. For several days heavy shocks continued to be felt, and the people camped out, not daring to return to such houses as had been spared, nor to build up those which lay in ruins.
(2) The word Rônin means, literally, a “ wave-man ;" one who is tossed about hither and thither, as a wave of the sea. It is used to designate persons of gentle blood, entitled to bear arms, who, having become separated from their feudal lords by their own act, or by dismissal, or by fate, wander about the country in the capacity of somewhat disreputable knights-errant, without ostensible means of living, in some cases offering themselves for hire to new masters, in others supporting themselves by pillage ; or who, falling a grade in the social scale, go into trade, and become simple wardsmen.