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Ross calls “the southern twilight,” to warm himself beneath pines on the sands trodden by camels, amidst caravans, in the sunshine of Syria.
“ About half a league from the town, towards the west, the Emir Fakardin has planted a forest of pines on a sandy plateau which spreads itself between the sea and the plain of Baghdad, a handsome Arab village at the foot of the Lebanon. The Emir, I was told, planted this magnificent forest as a rampart against the invasion of the immense hills of red sand which rise a little further on, and which threatened to overwhelm Beyroot and its rich plantations. The forest has become superb: the trunks of the trees are from sixty to eighty feet high, and perfectly straight; and they touch one another with their wide-spreading heads, which cover an immense space with their shadow. Paths of sand wind among the trunks of the pines, and afford the softest surface for the horses' feet. The rest of the ground is a light downy greensward interspersed with flowers of the brightest red. The bulbs of the wild hyacinths are so large as not to be crushed when trodden upon by the horses. Through the colonnades formed by the trunks of these pines, you see, on the one hand, the white and reddish sand-hills that intercept the view of the sea, on the other the plain of Baghdad and the course of the river in that plain, and a
corner of the gulf, resembling a small lake, so completely is it inclosed by the horizon of the land, and the twelve or fifteen Arab villages scattered over the last slopes of the Lebanon, and lastly the groups of the Lebanon itself, which form a curtain to that scene.
The light is so bright and the air so clear, that you distinguish, at the distance of several leagues, the forms of the cedars or of the carob-trees on the mountains, or the huge eagles swimming without moving their wings in the ocean of ether.
This pine-wood is certainly the most magnificent of all the scenes that I ever beheld in my life. The sky, the mountains, the snow, the blue horizon of the sea, the red and funereal horizon of the desert of sand; the meanders of the river; the solitary heads of the cypresses; the bunches of palm-trees scattered over the country: the graceful appearance of the cottages covered with orange-trees and with vines drooping from the roofs; the austere look of the lofty Maronite monasteries, throwing broad patches of shade or large jets of light on the perpendicular sides of the Lebanon; the caravans of camels, laden with merchandise from Damascus, passing in silence between the trunks of the trees; troops of indigent Jews mounted on asses, holding two children in each arm ; women shrouded in white veils, on horseback, marching to the sound of the fife and tambourine, surrounded by a crowd of children, dressed in red stuff bordered with gold, and dancing before their horses; a few mounted Arabs, running the dgerid around us upon steeds whose manes literally sweep the ground; groups of Turks, seated before a coffee-house constructed of boughs, smoking their pipes or saying their prayers; a little further off, the desert hills of endless sand, tinged with gold by the rays of the evening sun, and from which the wind raises clouds of scorching dust; lastly, the dull roaring of the sea mingling with the musical sound of the wind in the heads of the pines, and the notes of thousands of unknown birds—all these together present to the eye and the mind of the spectator a combination the most sublime, the most delightful, and at the same time the most melancholy, that ever intoxicated my soul. It is the scene of my dreams, to which I shall not fail to revert every day.”
NOVELS. SAD TRUTHS ARISING FROM LONG CORRESPONDENCES. EPISTOLARY
Novels were still, at the end of the last century, comprehended in the general proscription. Richardson slept forgotten: his countrymen found in his style traces of the inferior society in which he had lived. Fielding maintained his ground well. Sterne, the aspirant to originality, was out of date. « The Vicar of Wakefield" was still read.
If Richardson's style is not good—and of this we foreigners are no judges-he will not live, for it is only by style that a writer lives. In vain we revolt against this truth : the best written work, adorned with portraits of the most striking resemblance, possessing a thousand other recommendations, falls still-born, if deficient in style. Style, of which there are a thousand kinds, is not to be acquired; it is the gift of Heaven, it is a natural talent. But if Richardson has been forsaken only for certain vulgar expressions unendurable by elegant society, he may revive; the revolution which is taking place, by lowering the aristocracy and raising the middling classes, will render less perceptible, or remove altogether, the traces of lowly habits and of an inferior language.
Novels in letters, considering the narrow space within which the action and the characters are confined, lack that local interest and that philosophic truth, which are attached to the perusal of real correspondence. Take, for instance, the works of Voltaire : read the first letter, addressed in 1715, to the Marquise de Mimeure, and the last note, addressed on the 26th of May, 1778, four days before the death of the writer, to Count de Lally Tollendal ; reflect on all that passed during that interval of sixty-three years.
Observe that long procession of the dead : Chaulieu, Cideville, Thiriot, Algarotti, Genonville, Helvetius; of the other sex, the Princess of Bayreuth, the Marechale de Villars, the Marquise de Pompadour, the Comtesse de Fontaine, the Marquise du Chatelet, Madame Denis, and those creatures of pleasure who pass through life laughing, the Lecouvreurs, the Luberts, the Gaussins, the Salles, the Carmargos; Terpsichores, “ with steps measured by the Graces,” as the poet says,