Monday, June 18, 2012

the mysterious date again


in the post…
…I complained about all the authors, whose diaries or memoires I happened to read, and who as if on purpose, avoided mentioning 26 July, and some of them omitted the very month July. I named the date “mysterious” but not in earnest, of course not. Now, about the author, who has no thought of avoiding the date.

The writer's name has much to do with the name of William “Kitty” Courtenay, 9th Earl of Devon (c.1768-1835)

“He was as much a martyr as Wilde, and almost certainly a more interesting and civilised man.”-(Alistair Sutherland) 
  
William Thomas Beckford (1760–1844), English novelist, art collector, travel writer, politician, author of Vathek (1786). 

But the excerpt, which is my latest discovery and which continues my previous post “Mysterious Date”, is not from the famous “Vathek” --







“Dreams, Waking Thoughts, and Incidents; in a Series of Letters from Various Parts of Europe”
LETTER VIII
excerpt 

July 22nd. - Joy to the Electors of Bavaria! for planting such extensive woods of fir in their dominions as shade over the chief part of the road from Augsburg to Munich.  Near the last-mentioned city, I cannot boast of the scenery changing to advantage.  Instead of flourishing woods and verdure, we beheld a parched dreary flat, diversified by fields of withering barley, and stunted avenues drawn formally across them; now and then a stagnant pool, and sometimes a dunghill, by way of regale.  However, the wild rocks of the Tyrol terminate the view, and to them imagination may fly, and walk amidst springs and lilies of her own creation.  I speak from authority, having had the pleasure of anticipating an evening in this romantic style.
Tuesday next is the grand fair, with horse-races and junketings: a piece of news I was but too soon acquainted with; for the moment we entered the town, good-natured creatures from all quarters advised us to get out of it; since traders and harlequins had filled every corner of the place, and there was not a lodging to be procured.  The inns, to be sure, were like hives of industrious animals sorting their merchandise, and preparing their goods for sale.  Yet, in spite of difficulties, we got possession of a quiet apartment.
July 23rd. - We were driven in the evening to Nymphenburg, the Elector’s country palace, whose bosquets, jets-d’eaux, and parterres are the pride of the Bavarians.  The principal platform is all of a glitter with gilded Cupids and shining serpents spouting at every pore.  Beds of poppies, hollyhocks, scarlet lychnis, and the most flaming flowers, border the edge of the walks, which extend till the perspective meets, and swarm with ladies and gentlemen in parti-coloured raiment.  The Queen of Golconda’s gardens in a French opera are scarcely more gaudy and artificial.  Unluckily, too, the evening was fine, and the sun so powerful that we were half roasted before we could cross the great avenue and enter the thickets, which barely conceal a very splendid hermitage, where we joined Mr. and Mrs. T., and a party of fashionable Bavarians.
Amongst the ladies was Madame la Contesse, I forget who, a production of the venerable Haslang, with her daughter, Madame de ---, who has the honour of leading the Elector in her chains.  These goddesses stepping into a car, vulgarly called a cariole, the mortals followed, and explored alley after alley and pavilion after pavilion.  Then, having viewed Pagodenburg, which is, as they told me, all Chinese; and Marienburg, which is most assuredly all tinsel; we paraded by a variety of fountains in full squirt, and though they certainly did their best (for many were set a-going on purpose), I cannot say I greatly admired them.
The ladies were very gaily attired, and the gentlemen, as smart as swords, bags, and pretty clothes could make them, looked exactly like the fine people one sees represented in a coloured print.  Thus we kept walking genteelly about the orangery, till the carriage drew up and conveyed us to Mr T’s.
Immediately after supper, we drove once more out of town, to a garden and tea-room, where all degrees and ages dance jovially together till morning.  Whilst one party wheel briskly away in the valz, another amuse themselves in a corner with cold meat and rhenish.  That despatched, out they whisk amongst the dancers, with an impetuosity and liveliness I little expected to have found in Bavaria.  After turning round and round, with a rapidity that is quite inconceivable to an English dancer, the music changes to a slower movement, and then follows a succession of zig-zag minuets, performed by old and young, straight and crooked, noble and plebeian, all at once, from one end of the room to the other.  Tallow candles snuffing and stinking, dishes changing, heads scratching, and all sorts of performances going forward at the same moment; the flutes, oboes, and bassoons snorting and grunting with peculiar emphasis; now fast, now slow, just as Variety commands, who seems to rule the ceremonial of this motley assembly, where every distinction of rank and privilege is totally forgotten.  Once a week, on Sundays that is to say, the rooms are open, and Monday is generally somewhat advanced before they are deserted.  If good humour and coarse merriment are all that people desire, here they are to be found in perfection, though at the expense of toes and noses.  Both these extremities of my person suffered most cruelly; and I was not sorry to retire about one in the morning to a purer atmosphere.
July 24th. - Custom condemned us to visit the palace, which glares with looking-glass, gilding, and cut velvet, most sumptuously fringed and spangled.  The chapel, though small, is richer than anything Crœsus ever possessed, let them say what they will.  Not a corner but shines with gold, diamonds, and scraps of martyrdom studded with jewels.  I had the delight of treading amethysts and the richest gems under foot, which, if you recollect, Apuleius thinks such supreme felicity.  Alas! I was quite unworthy of the honour, and had much rather have trodden the turf of the mountains.  Mammon would never have taken his eyes off the pavement; mine soon left the contemplation of it, and fixed on St. Peter’s thumb, enshrined with a degree of elegance, and adorned by some malapert enthusiast with several of the most delicate antique cameos I ever beheld; the subjects, Ledas and sleeping Venuses, are a little too pagan, one should think, for an apostle’s finger.
From this precious repository we were conducted through the public garden to a large hall, where part of the Sleitzom collection is piled up, till a gallery can be finished for its reception.  ’Twas a matter of great favour to view, in this state, the pieces that compose it, - a very imperfect one too, since some of the best were under operation.  But I would not upon any account have missed the sight of Rubens’s “Massacre of the Innocents.”  Such expressive horrors were never yet transferred to canvas, and Moloch himself might have gazed at them with pleasure.
After dinner we were led round the churches; and if you are as much tired with reading my voluminous descriptions, as I was with the continual repetition of altars and reliquaries, the Lord have mercy upon you!  However, your delivery draws near.  The post is going out, and to-morrow we shall begin to mount the cliffs of the Tyrol; but don’t be afraid of any long-winded epistles from their summits: I shall be too well employed in ascending them.  Just now, as I have lain by a long while, I grow sleek, and scribble on in mere wantonness of spirit.  What excesses such a correspondence is capable of, you will soon be able to judge.
July 25th. - The noise of the people thronging to the fair did not allow me to slumber very long in the morning.  When I got up, every street was crowded with Jews and mountebanks, holding forth and driving their bargains in all the energetic vehemence of the German tongue.  Vast quantities of rich merchandise glittered in the shops as we passed along to the gates.  Heaps of fruit and sweetmeats set half the grandams and infants in the place a-cackling with felicity.
Mighty glad was I to make my escape; and in about an hour or two, we entered a wild tract of country, not unlike the skirts of a princely park.  A little farther on stands a cluster of cottages, where we stopped to give our horses some bread, and were pestered with swarms of flies, most probably journeying to Munich fair, there to feast upon sugared tarts and bottle-noses.
The next post brought us over hill and dale, grove and meadow, to a narrow plain, watered by rivulets and surrounded by cliffs, under which lies scattered the village of Wollrathshausen, consisting of several cottages, built entirely of fir, with strange galleries hanging over the way.  Nothing can be neater than the carpentry of these simple edifices, nor more solid than their construction; many of them looked as if they had braved the torrents which fell from the mountains a century ago; and, if one may judge from the hoary appearance of the inhabitants, here are patriarchs who remember the Emperor Lewis of Bavaria.  Orchards of cherry-trees impend from the steeps above the village, which to our certain knowledge produce no contemptible fruit.
Having refreshed ourselves with their cooling juice, we struck into a grove of pines, the tallest and most flourishing perhaps we ever beheld.  There seemed no end to these forests, save where little irregular spots of herbage, fed by cattle, intervened.  Whenever we gained an eminence it was only to discover more ranges of dark wood, variegated with meadows and glittering streams.  White clover and a profusion of sweet-scented flowers clothe their banks; above, waves the mountain-ash, glowing with scarlet berries; and beyond, rise hills and rocks and mountains, piled upon one another, and fringed with fir to their topmost acclivities.  Perhaps the Norwegian forests alone equal these in grandeur and extent. Those which cover the Swiss highlands rarely convey such vast ideas. There, the woods climb only half way up their ascents, and then are circumscribed by snows: here, no boundaries are set to their progress, and the mountains, from their bases to their summits, display rich unbroken masses of vegetation.
As we were surveying this prospect, a thick cloud, fraught with thunder, obscured the transparence of the horizon, whilst flashes startled our horses, whose snorts and stampings resounded through the woods.  What from the shade of the firs and the impending tempests, we travelled several miles almost in total darkness.  One moment the clouds began to fleet, and a faint gleam promised serener hours, but the next all was gloom and terror; presently a deluge of rain poured down upon the valley, and in a short time the torrents, beginning to swell, raged with such fury as to be with difficulty forded.  Twilight drew on, just as we had passed the most terrible; then ascending a steep hill under a mountain, whose pines and birches rustled with the storm, we saw a little lake below. A deep azure haze veiled its eastern shore, and lowering vapours concealed the cliffs to the south; but over its western extremities a few transparent clouds, the remains of the rays of a struggling sunset, were suspended, which streamed on the surface of the waters, and tinged with tender pink the brow of a verdant promontory.
I could not help fixing myself on the banks of the lake for several minutes, till this apparition was lost, and confounded with the shades of night.  Looking round, I shuddered at a craggy mountain, clothed in dark forests and almost perpendicular, that was absolutely to be surmounted before we could arrive at Wallersee.  No house, not even a shed appearing, we were forced to ascend the peak, and penetrate these awful groves.
Great praise is due to the directors of the roads across them, which, considering their situation, are wonderfully fine.  Mounds of stone support the passage in some places; and, in others, it is hewn with incredible labour through the solid rock.  Beeches and pines of a hundred feet high, darken the way with their gigantic branches, casting a chill around, and diffusing a woody odour.  As we advanced, in the thick shade, amidst the spray of torrents, and heard their loud roar in the chasm beneath, I could scarcely help thinking myself transported to the Grande Chartreuse; and began to conceive hopes of once more beholding St. Bruno. {140}  But, though that venerable father did not vouchsafe an apparition, or call to me again from the depths of the dells, he protected his votary from nightly perils, and brought us to the banks of Wallersee Lake.  We saw lights gleam upon its shores, which directed us to a cottage where we reposed after our toils, and were soon lulled to sleep by the fall of distant waters.
July 26th. - The sun rose many hours before me, and when I got up was spangling the surface of the lake, which expands between steeps of wood, crowned by lofty crags and pinnacles.  We had an opportunity of contemplating this bold assemblage as we travelled on the banks of the Meer, where it forms a bay sheltered by impending forests; the water, tinged by their reflection with a deep cerulean, calm and tranquil.  Mountains of pine and beech rising above, close every outlet; and, no village or spire peeping out of the foliage, impress an idea of more than European solitude.  I could contentedly have passed a summer’s moon in these retirements, hollowed myself a canoe, and fished for sustenance.
From the shore of Wallersee, our road led us straight through arching groves, which the axe seems never to have violated, to the summit of a rock covered with spurge-laurel, and worn by the course of torrents into innumerable craggy forms.  Beneath, lay extended a chaos of shattered cliffs, with tall pines springing from their crevices, and rapid streams hurrying between their intermingled trunks and branches.  As yet, no hut appeared, no mill, no bridge, no trace of human existence.
After a few hours’ journey through the wilderness, we began to discover a wreath of smoke; and presently the cottage from whence it arose, composed of planks, and reared on the very brink of a precipice.  Piles of cloven spruce-fir were dispersed before the entrance, on a little spot of verdure browsed by goats; near them sat an aged man with hoary whiskers, his white locks tucked under a fur cap.  Two or three beautiful children, their hair neatly braided, played around him; and a young woman, dressed in a short robe and Polish-looking bonnet, peeped out of a wicket window.
I was so much struck with the exotic appearance of this sequestered family, that, crossing a rivulet, I clambered up to their cottage and begged some refreshment.  Immediately there was a contention amongst the children, who should be the first to oblige me.  A little black-eyed girl succeeded, and brought me an earthen jug full of milk, with crumbled bread, and a platter of strawberries fresh picked from the bank.  I reclined in the midst of my smiling hosts, and spread my repast on the turf: never could I be waited upon with more hospitable grace.  The only thing I wanted was language to express my gratitude; and it was this deficiency which made me quit them so soon.  The old man seemed visibly concerned at my departure; and his children followed me a long way down the rocks, talking in a dialect which passes all understanding, and waving their hands to bid me adieu.
I had hardly lost sight of them and regained my carriage before we entered a forest of pines, to all appearance without bounds, of every age and figure; some, feathered to the ground with flourishing branches; others, decayed into shapes like Lapland idols.  I can imagine few situations more dreadful than to be lost at night amidst this confusion of trunks, hollow winds whistling among the branches, and strewing their cones below.  Even at noonday, I thought we should never have found our way out.
At last, having descended a long avenue, endless perspectives opening on either side, we emerged into a valley bounded by swelling hills, divided into agreeable shady inclosures, where many herds were grazing.  A rivulet flows along the pastures beneath; and after winding through the village of Boidou, loses itself in a narrow pass amongst the cliffs and precipices which rise above the cultivated slopes, and frame in this happy pastoral region.  All the plain was in sunshine, the sky blue, and the heights illuminated, except one rugged peak with spires of rock, shaped not unlike the views I have seen of Sinai, and wrapped, like that sacred mount, in clouds and darkness.  At the base of this tremendous mass, lies a neat hamlet called Mittenvald, surrounded by thickets and banks of verdure, and watered by frequent springs, whose sight and murmurs were so reviving in the midst of a sultry day, that we could not think of leaving their vicinity, but remained at Mittenvald the whole evening.
Our inn had long airy galleries, and a pleasant balcony fronting the mountain.  In one of these we dined upon trout fresh from the rills, and cherries just culled from the orchards that cover the slopes above.  The clouds were dispersing, and the topmost peak half visible, before we ended our repast.  Every moment discovering some inaccessible cliff or summit, shining through the mists, and tinted by the sun with pale golden colours.  These appearances filled me with such delight and with such a train of romantic associations, that I left the table and ran to an open field beyond the huts and gardens, to gaze in solitude and catch the vision before it dissolved away.  You, if any human being is able, may conceive true ideas of these glowing vapours sailing over the pointed rocks; and brightening them in their passage with amber light.
When all were faded and lost in the blue ether, I had time to look around me and notice the mead in which I was standing.  Here, clover covered its surface; there, crops of grain; further on, beds of herbs and the sweetest flowers.  An amphitheatre of hills and rocks, broken into a variety of glens and precipices, guards the plain from intrusion, and opens a course for several clear rivulets, which, after gurgling amidst loose stones and fragments, fall down the steeps, and are concealed and quieted in the herbage of the vale.
A cottage or two peep out of the woods that hang over the waterfalls; and on the brow of the hills above, appears a series of eleven little chapels, uniformly built.  I followed the narrow path that leads to them, on the edge of the eminences, and met a troop of beautiful peasants, all of the name of Anna (for it was her saintship’s day), going to pay their devotions, severally, at these neat white fanes.  There were faces that Guercino would not have disdained copying, with braids of hair the softest and most luxuriant I ever beheld.  Some had wreathed it simply with flowers, other with rolls of a thin linen (manufactured in the neighbourhood), and disposed it with a degree of elegance one should not have expected on the cliffs of the Tyrol.
Being arrived, they knelt all together at the first chapel, on the steps, a minute or two, whispered a short prayer, and then dispersed each to her fane.  Every little building had now its fair worshipper, and you may well conceive how much such figures, scattered about the landscape, increased its charms.  Notwithstanding the fervour of their adorations (for at intervals they sighed and beat their white bosoms with energy), several bewitching profane glances were cast at me as I passed by.  Don’t be surprised, then, if I became a convert to idolatry in so amiable a form, and worshipped St. Anna on the score of her namesakes.
When got beyond the last chapel, I began to hear the roar of a cascade in a thick wood of beech and chestnut that clothes the steeps of a wide fissure in the rock.  My ear soon guided me to its entrance, which was marked by a shed encompassed with mossy fragments, and almost concealed by bushes of the caper-plant in full red bloom.  Amongst these I struggled, till, reaching a goat-track, it conducted me, on the brink of the foaming waters, to the very depths of the cliff, whence issues a stream which dashes impetuously down, strikes against a ledge of rocks, and sprinkles the impending thicket with dew.  Big drops hung on every spray, and glittered on the leaves partially gilt by the rays of the declining sun, whose mellow hues softened the summits of the cliffs, and diffused a repose, a divine calm, over this deep retirement, which inclined me to imagine it the extremity of the earth, and the portal of some other region of existence; some happy world beyond the dark groves of pine, the caves and awful mountains, where the river takes its source!  I hung eagerly on the gulph, impressed with this idea, and fancied myself listening to a voice that bubbled up with the waters; then looked into the abyss and strained my eyes to penetrate its gloom, but all was dark and unfathomable as futurity!  Awakening from my reverie, I felt the damps of the water chill my forehead, and ran shivering out of the vale to avoid them.  A warmer atmosphere, that reigned in the meads I had wandered across before, tempted me to remain a good while longer, collecting the wild pinks with which they are strewed in profusion, and a species of thyme scented like myrrh.  Whilst I was thus employed, a confused murmur struck my ear, and, on turning towards a cliff, backed by the woods from whence the sound seemed to proceed, forth issued a herd of goats, hundreds after hundreds, skipping down the steeps: then followed two shepherd boys, gamboling together as they drove their creatures along: soon after, the dog made his appearance, hunting a stray heifer which brought up the rear.  I followed them with my eyes till lost in the windings of the valley, and heard the tinkling of their bells die gradually away.  Now the last blush of crimson left the summit of Sinai, inferior mountains being long since cast in deep blue shades.  The village was already hushed when I regained it, and in a few moments I followed its example.






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