Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 6/Michelet

Page:Once a Week Dec 1861 to June 1862.pdf/704 Page:Once a Week Dec 1861 to June 1862.pdf/705 Page:Once a Week Dec 1861 to June 1862.pdf/706 his sympathising emotion he has even descended to the obscure regions of life, to the animal kingdom, in which he saw beings formed in one image, that toil and suffer, and, after enlisting our sympathies by the grand dramas of history, he has sought to enlist them for the scenes of nature.

Need I add that, as he has greatly loved, his faults (and what author does not possess such?) will be easily forgiven him by the verdict of the future? Besides, his faults are as peculiarly his own as are his rare qualities. The great merit of Michelet's works is, that they are not formed either on the ideas or opinions of others. We might say that the author has read nothing, so truly does he remain ever the same, in spite of his vast erudition. The works of this author, which are so entirely inseparable from the man, readily remind one of a passage in Virgil:—"The companions of the pious Æneas come to a clump of trees, and prepare to tear them up, when, to their great surprise, they find blood and strips of flesh mingled with the roots." It is the same with Michelet's books: beneath the rich and capricious vegetation there is a palpitating heart, and the branches of thought grow, so to speak, out of its gaping wounds.

Alphonse Esquiros.




Fast Doings at Rome.—There is many a "slow coach" in Rome, whether it does or does not contain some Eminence in the way of a cardinal. But the most go-a-head observer will hardly complain of the pace at which certain omnibuses, including the "Tevere " and the "Corso," dash along with their four or more horses by the Flaminian road up to the Porta del Popolo. With ceilingless pens for waiting-rooms at railway stations and seatless third-class carriages on the Southern line, the city of the Cæsars can yet boast some of the fastest and largest omnibuses, and perhaps the best-horsed cabs of any place of its size.

The Misericordians.—The gaiety of Florence after dark is invaded by gloomy sights such as the traveller, if he comes upon them suddenly, is likely to view with a peculiar sense of sadness and perhaps of mystery. It is the time for funerals, and ever and anon a hoarse strain from the Misericordians wakes up the echoes of the streets, while their huge torches cast a sickening glare over wall and casement, revealing at the same time the hideous costume of these valuable agents of mercy. Few of the inhabitants can enter dreamland without ghastly reminiscences of the passage of silent sleepers on their way to the day's yawning vault outside the walls. The pace at which they are carried is more like that of the desperate Bersaglieri of Turin than the solemn cavalcade amongst us which conveys the lifeless burden away from its home of the past to its long one of the future.




In these latter days of southern exploration and discovery, I know not if adventures of twenty years since will be found sufficiently attractive to meet with attention from a public well nigh satiated with accounts by every mail of fresh gold discoveries, and who are accustomed to read of undertakings in our Australian colonies involving consequences of vast magnitude and moment.

Several of the early years of my manhood were spent in the bush of the great island-continent. It has not been my lot to be

"Ever reclining on the bank of life,
Ne'er wrestling with its flood."

Let me, however, at once assure the reader that in all my wanderings I never found one grain of native gold, and that however vividly certain incidents of my bush life are impressed upon my memory now, this cannot be caused by any importance I attached to them at the period of their occurrence. It was quite as much a matter of course for me then to sleep under a gum-tree as it is now to seek repose in my bed. After this open confession, no very thrilling adventures or hair-breadth escapes must be looked for in the following pages. In a few words, I am not a "sensation" writer, for I trust entirely to a literal adherence to facts, clothed, too, in homely language, to secure attention to what follows.

I simply purpose to give an account of a six months' residence—sometimes alone—on French Island, one of two islands, the other and seaward one being Phillip Island, situated in the Bay of Western Port, on the southern coast of Australia. I was a sort of Robinson Crusoe on a small scale, without the excitement of the wreck or the advantages of having a Man Friday; and should the personal pronoun be used rather freely in some portions of this narrative, let me plead the necessities of the case, for how with any propriety could a solitary man on a desolate island write of himself as we?

French Island was and still is uninhabited. It is of considerable extent, having a most uninteresting muddy coast studded with mangroves-trees usually found growing in perfection on mudflats over which the tide flows,—and it was with these same mangroves that my business lay. But of that by and by. Thrusting your boat between these formidable obstacles, you reach a belt of low marshy country intersected by knee-deep creeks of salt water, and extending some quarter of a mile inland. Then succeed undulating sand-hills producing coarse grass, dwarf myrtles, and tea-trees, but otherwise lightly timbered. A high range in the distance forms as it were the backbone of the island, which derived its name from having been visited by a French expedition many years ago. Although I thoroughly explored all its penetrable parts in the years 1842-3, I never discovered any evidence of a settlement having been attempted on its shores. Nevertheless the account of a French invasion is authentic. There was little to be got there, and probably our gallant allies made but a short stay. At all events, I never noticed any old marks on the trees, felled timber, or broken bottles.[1] The most notable of its natural productions were aquatic birds, snakes, rats, mosquitos, and sand-flies.

It was to this uninviting locality that my friend

  1. By the bye, the broken bottles are rather a peculiarity of British than of French colonisation.