Page images

ART. IV.- Narrative of a Journey in the Interior of China,

and of a Voyage to and from that Country, in the Years 1816 and 1817; containing un Account of the most interesting Transactions of Lord Amherst's Embassy to the Court of Pekin, and Observations on the Countries which it risited. By

Clarke Abel, F.L.S. London. 1918. WE E are now in possession of three quartos, besides a goodly

octavo, as the literary fruits of Lord Anherst's Embassy to China—how many more are yet hatching in the womb of time me venture not to conjecture; but we have heard that the same literary jobman who, under the guidance of Du Halde and Grozier, drove Æneas Anderson so successfully over the old ground, declares himself still able and willing to start with any other attendant of the embassy, notwithstanding the perils of the midnight procession round the walls of Pekin, and the horrors of the granite causeway.

Seriously, we scarcely imagined that Mr. Abel would have succeeded so well in filling his pages, without a repetition of what we bad already learned from Mr. Ellis and Mr. M.Leod; and in fact there is a good deal of the same kind of matter as was furnished by these gentlemen, and which can now hardly be considered as • interesting transactions. There is something, however, in Mr. Abel's book, which has no place in those of the other two; and there would have been more, but for the author's illness during the most interesting part of the journey through China, and the subsequent shipwreck of the Alceste; by the former he lost the opportunity of making his personal observations, and by the latter those collections of natural history which had been made partly by himself, but mostly by the exertions of others. Three hundred packages of seeds had been collected by the unremitting efforts of Mr. Hooper, for the Botanic Garden, which it seems were thrown overboard on leaving the wreck of the Alceste, 'to make room for some of the linen of one of the gentlemen of the embassy.' A collection of zoophites, of madrepores and of Lew-chew plants shared the same fate; as did also an extensive geological and botanical collection from the coast of Tartary, and (to complete the catalogue of misfortunes) another collection from the same part of the world, made for Mr. Livingston, surgeon to the British factory at Canton. All that remained to Mr. Abel was a small collection of China plants, and another of Chia rocks,—from these, says our author, * I have derived all the specimens which have enabled me to give the slight geological and botanical notices of China contained in this work. Under such untoward circumstances, we cannot help

' thinking, what indeed might be anticipated, that Mr. Abel has


E 2



been more successful in his remarks on every other part of his voyage, than in those relating to his tour through China.

The first place at which the embassy touched was Rio de Janeiro, on the sloping shore of which is situated the town of St. Sebastian, now the capital of the Brazils. Like every other town belonging to the nation which owns this garden of the world, though St. Sebastian possesses every facility for the promotion of neatness and cleanliness, it has not the smallest pretension to either.

In passing the fish and vegetable market,' says Mr. Abel,' every sense I possessed became disagreeably impressed—my hearing, by the jargon of the different languages used by the slaves, who were bartering for their masters, and by the old women, who were endeavouring to obtain the highest price for their articles of sale ;'a traveller, we think, ought not to be quite so squeamish:—what follows, however, is bad enough— my sense of sight and smell, he continues,' was overpowered by a horrible combination of every sort of filth, which sent forth the most sickening effluvia that ever exhaled from the corruption of a charnel-house; the very air tasted of putridity, and my clothes felt unctuous to the touch from accidental contamination. With an abundance of the finest fresh water immediately above the city, and one of the most magnificent harbours in the world at its feet, nothing but the love of dirt could enable the people to sustain the reproach of every foreigner that visits these delightful shores. The strongest efforts of the imagi

• nation,' says Mr. Abel, cannot picture any thing so heavenly as the country, or so disguisting as the town. The first contains mauy of the noblest works of nature in their greatest freshness and beauty, on a magnificent scale; the latter exhibits all the disgusting objects which pride, slavery, laziness, and filth can possibly engender.

On the arrival of the frigate off Anger Point, in the Strait of Sunda, Mr. Abel, instead of accompanying the ambassador overland to Batavia, preferred paying a visit to the crater of Gunoug Karang in the interior, which however bad nothing very remarkable abont it; but it gave him an opportunity of corroborating Sir Thomas Raffles's account of the kind and benevolent disposition of the native Javanese.

' In descending the mountain I was obliged to use great caution, as the path must always be very slippery, in consequence of the heavy dews which fall upon the mountain ; the thickness of the woods preventing their evaporation. On our return it was especially so, as it was raining heavily during our descent. I stumbled frequently, and should have fallen more than once, but for the attention of the natives. They followed me closely, uttered a cry at every false step I made, and caught me by the arm whenever I was in danger. It is impossible to do justice tu the active and emulous good-nature of these mountaineers, who were



anxious to excel each other in rendering me service. During my stay on the mountain I received great assistance from them in all my pursuits, although they could not comprehend their object. They were at first much amused at my collecting plants familiar to their daily observation, yet vied with each other in gathering them for me. If I pointed to a flower at a great elevation, several started to obtain it, and he who succeeded evidently triumphed in his fortune. Neither was my presence necessary to excite them to this benevolent activity. Not being able, from the advance of the day, to reach the top of the mountain, I dispatched several natives to collect specimens of rocks from it; and on their return, I was surprised to see them laden with pieces of rock, hundles of plants, and joints of bamboo full of water collected from hollows at the top of the mountain. This they seemed to consider as holy, advising me to wash myself with it as a security against danger. But I should exhaust the patience of my reader were I to mention but a small proportion of the numerous proofs I personally experienced of the innate principles of benevolence that enter into the moral character of the Javanese. Not only in the excursion of which I am now giving the narrative, but during the whole period of my first and second visit in Java, they repeatedly occurred to me. That their intellectual is equal to their moral excellence, may be inferred from the specimens of their poetry which have lately been given to the world. Yet these are the people who have been pursued as beasts of prey, and of whom upwards of four hundred have been barbarously and uselessly slaughtered since the island of Java has been given up by the English. Thank God, I did not hear that any of my countrymen had ever oppressed them, but often heard, and often saw, that the Javanese looked upon the English rather as benefactors than as masters, and it was notorious that the name of Raffles was almost idolized by them.'-pp. 35, 36.

Having heard that the Sultan of Bantam was at the point of death, Mr. Abel proceeded to his residence to make a tender of his medical aid. "He found him stretched on a small pallet supported

. in the arms of an interesting looking woman, and attended by two of his male relatives; he grasped the doctor's hand, shook his head, and declined his assistance, which, says Mr. Abel, ‘would have been unavailing, as he died a few hours after I left him.'

• On quitting this house of mourning, I hastened to a grove, where I expected to find many of the great bats of Java, which had been represented to me as vampires, and which in look and ferocity might be supposed to appropriate the fables of those frightful beings. I had often seen, since my arrival in Java, flying in the day-time at a great elevation, an animal making a noise so resembling the cawing of a crow, that at first I mistook it for a species of this bird. I now saw many of its species suspended in large clusters with their heads downward from the branches of trees; and so firmly did they adhere, that although I fired at them, and must have destroyed two or three, they did not fall. By throwing large stones, I obliged them to quit their resting places and to take wing, many of them with young ones clinging to their E 3


[ocr errors]

breasts. They then hovered about, screeched violently, and, flapping their enormous wings, circled close over my head, reminding me of the harpies of antiquity. After some trials, I succeeded in shooting two, a male and female : the male being the larger. Nothing could be more hideous than their aspect. Their bodies, covered with long hair, resemble that of a fox in colour, smell, and form, but that of a full grown rat in size. They are suspended between wings, similar in texture to those of a common bat, but extending five feet from one extremity to the other. The tail, which is four inches long, is also like that of the fox, and is enclosed by the membrane uniting the hinder extremities. The female, which was only wounded in one of its wings, endeavoured to strike me with the other, screeching violently at the same time, and grinning horribly. When left to itself it exerted its fury on tbe wounded limb, which it smashed with its teeth.'—p. 43.

It would be useless to employ our pages in repeating from Mr. Abel’s book any of the political discussions of the British embassy, at its first intercourse with the Chinese in the gulf of Petchelee, or at its subsequent landing near the mouth of the Pei-ho; but as objects frequently appear in different lights, according as they are viewed by different persons, or even by the same person in different moods and humours, we shall occasionally notice the impressions made ou Mr. Abel by the appearance of the people and the country, as the embassy glided along the river which was to conduct them to the confines of the capital.

• We found the banks of the river covered on our arrival with a crowd of people assembled to see the embassy ; and forming a most motley group. In front were mandarins and soldiers, tawdrily dressed and variously armed: behind, the mob of all classes and complexions, some in white robes, others quite naked, some in immense hats, others with parasols, many bare-headed, and all with long tails. This diversified mass was suddenly thrown into confusion by a party of soldiers, who, flourishing whips on all sides, opened a passage for a number of servants, carrying trays laden with all kinds of provision in profuse abundance. These formed a present from the legate to the ambassador and his train, and were placed in order in the fronts of the boats of the three commissioners. It would be impossible to particularise the different parts of this ostentatious supply. It comprised all sorts of dressed meat, of sheep roasted in halves and quarters, pigs and fowls in abundance, innumerable Chinese made dishes, amongst others, stewed sharks' fins, stags' sinews, birds' nests and sea-slugs, pyramids of cakes and sweetmeats, a large quantity of pickle, and several jars of wine. A part of these formed our dinner: and as it was the first time of partaking of Chinese fare, curiosity induced us to taste the made dishes, but their flavour did not tempt us to do more. The joints of mutton, pigs, and fowls, were so besmeared with a kind of varnish, that they exhibited a perfect metallic polish, and seemed so much more adapted to please the eye

than gratify the palate, that we did not attempt to injure the brilliancy of their surface.'-pp. 73, 74.


[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

Mr. Abel had the fortune to pass the first night in this farfamed empire on the bare boards, among myriads of mosquitoes ; and found in the morning that his perambulations were to be confined to a spot of ground about one hundred yards square, guarded on every side by soldiers. This early specimen of suffering and restraint was not calculated to put him in the best possible humour with the heavenly empire,' and accordingly we are presented with the following sketch.

* No country in the world can afford, I imagine, fewer objects of interest to any species of traveller, than the banks of the Pei-ho between Ta-koo and Tien-sing. The land is marshy and sterile, the inhabitants are poor and squalid, their habitations mean, dirty, and dilapidated, and the native productions of the soil are few and unattractive. The scenery had only novelty and strangeness to recommend it; but had it possessed the attractions of Arcadia, they would have been polluted by miserable objects of wretched and naked men, tracking our boats and toiling often through a deep mire under a burning sun. These poor fellows were attended by overseers, who kept them to their work, and prevented their desertion, but did not, as far as I could observe, exert their authority with cruelty. Scarcely had our eyes become in some degree familiarised with their appearance, when they were offended by the sight of a dead body frightfully swollen, lying on his back, and floating down the river. Our boatmen passed it without regard. I must confess, that in turning from the contemplation of such objects, I recovered with some difficulty that state of mind which was necessary to an unprejudiced examination of the country through which I was passing.'-pp. 75, 76.

The feast of the Yellow Screen at Tien-sing tended to augment rather than allay the disappointment and dissatisfaction felt on the first landing of the embassy. That curious scene, having been fully described by Mr. Ellis, need not be repeated here. The store of ice, which the party was able to procure at Tien-sing for cooling their wine and fruit, appears to have been the first pleasur, able object that presented itself;' and it is admitted that no people understand better the refreshing qualities of ice, during hot weather, than the Chinese.' Every fruiterer had it in abundance, and every Chinese almost was seen carrying it about in his hands. The thickness of it, Mr. Abel thinks, sufficiently testified the severity of the cold which must prevail in these parts during the winter :'-it rather testifies the knowledge which the Chinese possess of the art of making and filling ice-houses, and of ramming down and breaking the material into small fragments, so as to form one solid

mass ;

the preservation of ice having no reference to its original · thickness.'

Squalidness and tilth continued, we are told, to be the leading characteristics from Tien-sing to Tong-cheu. In the latter city, 'mud and stench predominated, and received an increase of of




[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »