« PrécédentContinuer »
shoulders. I perceive to-day that the branches have grown long and stout; let me count with my fingers how many years have elapsed. The western wind having of late blown for several days, I perceive they are blighted, and stripped of their blooming hue. I think mankind in general resemble those delicate willows. . . . The blighted willows will again experience the return of spring; but man, as yet, when old, has never become young.
These are the reflections of one of the maids. The other, interrupting her, says:
Such thoughts we should discard, as the wind disperses the evening clouds. Let it not be said that the revolutions of the moon and year make us old! but let us converse about this evening's beautiful moon.
These natural sentiments enter into the poetry of all nations; the expression of them alone can be original. The above extracts will recal to the reader's remembrance several passages of Beattie's 'Hermit,' and those exquisite lines in the Epitaph of Bion, which have been thus translated into English:
Our plants and trees revive; the blushing rose
One morning, Yaou-seen is prevailed upon by her favourite maid to stroll into the gardens of Leang. From the earliness of the hour, they hope to escape unperceived by the owner, whom the young lady thinks sufficiently sound in mind still to enjoy his repose, and to dream "with his soul by his side." However, she turns out to be mistaken: Leang meets her " among the flowers," and hazards at once a decla ration of love, and a request that she will allow him to hope for her hand. The lady wards off his eagerness with smiles, and contrives to escape without committing herself. However, the hearts of the lovers remain not long sealed to each other; another meeting, more effectual and propitious, takes place by moonlight, during which all the closeness of reserve melts away, the lady owns her love, and consents to bind herself to Leang by a vow of eternal constancy; of which, to make surety doubly sure, two written copies are made, one of which the lady deposits in her bosom, and Leang preserves the other. Yaouseen's maids are witnesses of the contract, which Leang considers so entirely a marriage, that he even presses his mistress for permission to exercise all the privileges of a husband at once. The lady, alarmed at this precipitancy in the presence of her slaves, exclaims:
Were you to kill me, I aver I will not consent to your wish, but with a firm resolution wait in the bridal-chamber till spring! ... Young Leang, perceiving that she would not yield to his embrace, restraining his grief, sat by her side in the shade of the flowers.
In a very few days, Yaou-seen has reason to congratulate herself on her prudence; for Leang's father, resigning his distant employment,
4 It has the same reputation in China as the east wind in England.
and returning home in company with an old friend, contracts, without consulting his son, an alliance between Leang and his friend's daughter. The young student, now dreaming of nothing but Yaouseen and love, is immediately sent for from Chang-chow, and informed of his unexpected destiny. The passage in which he bids his mistress farewell beneath the bamboos, is exceedingly pretty, even in Mr. Perring Thoms's translation; for the natural sentiments of the heart are allowed to burst forth in their genuine simplicity :
Leang, with tears, addressing Yaou-seen, said, "To-day our separation must take place, and we be parted as by a dense cloud, for my father, having resigned his office, has returned to cultivate his fields. .. Who is able to relieve me of the anguish I now feel on parting? Can the willow's silken thread bind the single youth? Yaou-seen, among other things, replies, "From henceforth, though your father and mother should not give their consent, most assuredly I will never trifle with you by marrying some other person. Since death, which regards neither the rich nor the poor, is the lot of all mankind, it is my determination to leave behind me a chaste grave, a companion for the evening's dusk. As yet, I am unacquainted with the decision of you, my husband; but you can now say a few sincere words before the flowers." Leang renews his vows, and thus they continued hand in hand, dallying, they knew not how long, till they saw the şun in the west, and the willows' shadow reflected on them.
What need of more words?-they part. When the student reaches home, and finds that, without his consent or knowledge, he has been betrothed to another, he becomes nearly frantic, and can scarcely restrain his anger even in the presence of his father. But what can he do? the paternal authority is not to be questioned in China. He is overwhelmed with grief, and after briefly greeting his parents, retires to brood in solitude over his gloomy fancies. The story now quits him, and returns to Yaou-seen. It seems that, shortly after the departure of Leang, the anniversary of her father's birthday returns, and young Heaou, whom the reader will remember to be Leang's cousin, arrives to partake of the natalitial feast. As Leang had not found courage to apprize the Yang family of the decision of his parents, the General, on inquiring for him of his nephew, expresses some surprise at the circumstance; and Heaou bluntly observes, that it must be attributed to his being too busily occupied with preparations for his approaching marriage. Yaou-seen, who had stood listening at the head of the table, now retires to her apartment to relieve her heart with tears. Shortly after this, her father receives the Emperor's commands to repair to the capital, whither he imme diately proceeds with his family, and is invested with the command of a numerous army then about to march beyond the Great Wall against the Hoo rebels. He departs, leaving his wife and daughter at the house of a near relative; and news very soon arrives that he has been defeated, and is surrounded by the daring rebels. In the meanwhile, Leang's marriage is deferred, and he again obtains permission to pursue his studies at Chang-chow. He now flies to throw himself, as he hopes, into the arms of Yaou-seen; he arrives at Yang's dwelling, and finds the grass growing on the paths of the garden, and heaps
of withered leaves drifted into the summer-house by the wind. Staring about wildly, not being able to comprehend what he sees, he comes up to a feeble old gardener, and learns from him the extent of his misfortunes. For a description of his grief we must refer to the poem itself, and proceed with the narrative.
By the arguments of his cousin Heaou, he is prevailed upon to attend the literary examinations at Nankin and Pekin, and his essays succeeding, is raised to very high dignities, both literary and civil. Still no news of Yaou-seen; and, therefore, as neither honour nor fame can efface her from his heart, he is unhappy in the midst of success. His apartments looking into the Han-lin gardens, and his own grounds adjoining them, he one evening, while walking among the flowers, hears a plaintive female voice on the other side of the wall, and looking over, discovers Yaou-seen sitting by a fish-pond, lamenting, and wiping away the tears from her eyes. He is soon by her side. Explanations follow; and when they part that night, it is with an understanding that Leang will obtain the Emperor's leave to fly to the rescue of his mistress's father. He is successful in his application to the Prince, and departs with a numerous army to the seat of war. The poet, not dealing in miracles, represents the young student as a very indifferent general: he proceeds with less prudence than ardour, and the wily foe retiring before him, he is drawn into the enemy's country, defeated, driven upon a mountain, and formally besieged there. Fame, whose reports are seldom very exact, rumours it abroad that he has fallen in battle; and the news soon reaches his parents, Yaou-seen, and his other betrothed bride. This young lady, whose love for Leang is pure fantasy, is immediately importuned by her thoughtless parents to contract a new union, and her compliance being insisted on rather harshly, she throws herself at night into the great river. An officer, however, who happens to be on the stream in his barge, saves her life, and being old and childless, he and his wife adopt her, and sail away with her on the next day. In the meanwhile, Heaou is sent out with fresh reinforcements against the rebels, and learning that both Leang and his uncle Yang are still living, though in danger, he approaches the spot where they are besieged, and informs them of his arrival by letters shot into the place on the points of arrows. To be brief, they entirely defeat the enemy, and returning to Pekin, are raised, by the gratitude of the Emperor, to the rank of duke. Further still, to reward the gallantry of Leang, the Emperor commands Yang to bestow on him the hand of his daughter, a command very agreeable to all parties,-and accordingly the lovers are at length united. Hearing of all these events, the antient officer who had saved the life of Yuh-king, Leang's other mistress, comes forward in her behalf, and claims the fulfilment of Leang's engagements. Her case being laid before the Emperor, that good-natured Prince ordains that Leang shall have two wives, and Yuh-king is forthwith associated in the honours of his "silken apartments." On this occasion, Yaou-seen displays to advantage her genuine love and devotion to her husband, by intimating that, rather
than stand in the way of his advancement in the Emperor's favour, she will consent to descend to the rank of mistress, and leave Yuhking in the undivided possession of his lawful bed. The Prince's clement decision, however, renders this sacrifice unnecessary.
There now remain two very interesting persons to be provided forYaou-seen's beautiful favourite maids; and the poet, making it a matter of conscience to dismiss his creations as graciously as possible, they also are introduced into the "silken apartments;" and the whole quaternity being no less fertile than beautiful, Leang has four sons presented him by his four ladies, in the course of the year. Having said thus much, and added that all were happy, the Chinese muse withdraws with manifest glee and satisfaction.
It remains to make a remark or two on the translation. Mr. Thoms appears, we are sorry to say, to be unacquainted with the grammar, no less than with the beauties and delicacies, of the English language. He employs the most barbarous phraseology; and, while he very often tries to convey a common fact in unwieldy pomp of words, his expressions, where beauty and tenderness of language are requisite, descend perpetually to coarseness and vulgarity. We are likewise persuaded that he woefully misrepresents his original in many places, either through an imperfect knowledge of the Chinese, or a still more imperfect knowledge of English; or, more probably, of both those languages. It is likely that a long residence in the East has defaced from his memory all the nice distinctions of words; at all events, a more unlucky choice of terms was never before made by any author. We shall give a few examples:
Young Leang, surprised at finding himself alone in the silent study, rosed, and with a smile, &c. (p. 4.)-If youth be not spent in gaiety and pleasure, the life is in vain. (Ib.)—The dew besprangled his clothes. (p. 15.)—The servants, through mistake, recognized him for young Heaou. (p. 17.)-He bounced against [met] young Heaou. (p. 31.) Then the bright moon was only to be seen, for man was in his first nap. (p. 32.)-To the south shall be raised a temple to the green plum, which pillars shall be inlaid with five different colours. (p. 42.)-From his ode I perceived he was deeply in love. I know his grief, as to extent, may be compared to the vast ocean. For his person and various attainments would usurp him the preference. (p. 69.)-Miss Yaou-seen, on hearing some one approach towards her, disregardless of Yun-heang, would in her flight take the precedence. (p. 85.)The two youths (Leang and his mistress) could do no other than separate. (p. 89.)-I, the rouged girl, who dwells, &c. (p. 92.)-While a solitary taper casted its dim light, &c. (p. 101.)—Her head sunked in her bosom. (p. 112.) -On the female servant jutting her mistress to retire to the fragrant room. (p. 113.-Flipping his fingers, he continued to sigh, &c. (p. 132.)-My looking-glass I will smash to pieces. (p. 139.)-Let us, disregardless of our fate, endeavour to escape with our lives. (p. 225.)-Being incompassitated by disease. (p. 229.)-Your slave will be content in being only your lady at call! (p. 243, &c. &c.)
Had the work been introduced to the public in an elegant and correct translation, it might have become a popular book; whereas now it can never expect to be generally tolerated, notwithstanding the
simplicity and vivacity of the author's conceptions. It is to the barbarous jargon, in fact, into which Oriental books are in general translated, that their slight success is chiefly to be attributed. In this matter, many of our Eastern scholars might gain something by imitating the French, who, whatever else they may do, are generally found to write their own language well.
But, great as are the defects of the translation, Chinese Courtship' is a book which we will venture strongly to recommend to as many of our readers as can overlook blunders in grammar and Orientalisms, or, at least, barbarisms in diction. It is well calculated to make us acquainted with the people who for so many years have supplied us with tea and porcelain, and who some time ago appeared to Voltaire, and many others, to be the wisest of nations. And as it is irksome to be ungrateful, we are certainly obliged to Mr. Thoms for his present, imperfect as it is; for though we could not but be considerably annoyed, while perusing his work, by the grotesqueness of his phraseology, the sentiments he was the means of unfolding to us extorted our forgiveness.
Composed and Sung, à l'improviste, upon hearing a Lady sing an Ode of Anacreon in the Original.
I WOULD the Teian bard were here,
To hear those liquid notes of thine.
His festive harp was often strung,
And if, perchance, to wake the lyre
To gentler themes, his fancy strove,
Oh! could he hear those notes so gay,
A brighter flame his bosom warm.
The warmth that Beauty's glance inspires,
His song would catch a grace from thine.
Sweet Songstress! strike the lyre again,
While captive hearts the strain approve; "Tis sweet to hear-but oh! 'tis vain
To see thee, and forbear to love.