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The Vault at PfaffsAn Archive of Art and Literature by the Bohemians of Antebellum New York
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Text for Page 277

              [newspaper clipping: first colum]
SOME years ago, a bright morning in the cold season
found me in a palanquin, entering the deserted streets
of the palace-town of Futtehpur Sikri.  The resolution of
passing a day there, suddenly formed, had left no time for
driving arrangements; and as I wished to be early on the
spot, with a view to certain commissariat requirements for an
expected friend, I had come out from Agra by what was
called �bearer dawk.�  The ruins are those of a country
palace of the Emperor Akbar and its environs, about twenty
miles from Agra, on the road to Bhurtpore.  The site was
probably chosen on account of the residence there of a
celebrated Mohammedan saint, to whom the Emperor was
much attached�the Sheikh Selim Chishtee; but it is in
itself not unstriking, though the surrounding country is far
from beautiful.  In the dead level of the Gangetic Valle, a
spur of sandstone hills affords a pleasant relief, and the view
from the ridge is extensive, including on one side the heavy
eastern walls of Bhurtpore, and on the other distant minarets,
indicating the structures that lie without the gates of Agra.
Our equipments had been located in a large kiosk-like
building of two storeys, called Beer Bul�s palace, and break-
fast was in progress of preparation, when the sound of wheels
was heard, and a dog-cart threaded its way through the
fallen stonework which encumbered the road.  A tall man,
spare in flesh but large in bone, with a complexion of 
swarthy hue, a noticeably fine forehead and spiritual eyes.
jumped down, and cheeril bade good morrow.  The face
had a little of the American cadaverousness, and was fringed
on lip and chin with hair, exhibiting almost an Arab nig-
gardness in growth; but the quick, inquiring look, that lost
not a moment in admiring the sandstone carving of the
kiosk, and the kindly lines of the mouth produced the im-
pression of high intelligence and geniality, which had a day

[newspaper clipping: second column]
or two previously, on my first meeting him, drawn me
him cordially.
  This was Bayard Taylor, who was then, as he laughingly
said, on his way from the Blue Nile to join Commodore
Marshall in Japan, but tempted by the proximity of the
Himalayas to take a peep at India.  He was soon interested
in breakfast, with that pleased curiosity about trifles and a
humorous treatment of shifts and contrivances which makes
a man a pleasant companion.  The meal being effected with
some affectation of sauce-making, turning out of omelettes,
and so on, Taylor, with his instincts of a traveller, desired
to gain a general idea of the scene.  �I should like to
ascend somewhere, if possible,� he cried; �the first thing to
be mastered is a bird�s-eye view.�  So he was conducted to
the Haran Minar, a curious tower, the lower part of which
bristles with masonry projections like tusks, intended, pro-
bably, for the suspension of horns and other trophies of the
chase.  He went up this, taking with him his drawing mate-
rials, and remained for an hour or more at its summit.  But
when the hush of noon had come, and the strong warm
glare brought out the outlines of the dismantled buildings
in dark shadows on the brown soil, Taylor rejoined me.  He
was full of admiration of the light.  The beauty of the
light in India, he said, struck him more than anything.  �I
take it in by eye-fulls,� was his enthusiastic expression.  His
drawing had onl been finished in outline, and seemed in-
efficient; he intended it, perhaps, merely or a memento,
and did not regard it as a deliberate attempt in art.  And
now we set about seeing our sights.  The exquisite
marble lace-work of the Sheik�s tomb, the commanding
gateway of its court, the Pachisee board of huge flags,
where Akbar and his courtiers would play, it is said, at a
kind of draughts, with women dressed in two distinguishing
colours for counters, and the beautiful council gallery of
carved red stone, a fac-simile of which is now in the Ken-
sington Museum, and the other buildings, one the chamber
of Miriam, Christian wife of the Emperor, outside of which
the Capuchins of Agra can still trace, as they fancy, a fresco
of the Assumption, were all duly visited.  No one, let along
a poet, could pass through this scene of faded pageant and
dead imperial splendour�once teeming with life, and noisy
with human speech, or ringing with human laughter, but
now absolutely deserted, the lair of the wolf and the jackal,
and the home of desolation and decay, without an emotion
called forth by the spectacle of transient earthly glory.
	�Les rois triomphent, beaux, fiers, joyeux, courrouc�s,
	  Puissants, victorieux; alors Dieu dit, �Assez.��
  We wandered hither and thither in the delicious balmi-
ness, just tinged with pleasant languor, of a winter mid-day
in those latitudes; and when all was inspected, thought we
had earned our afternoon meal.  And to this we applied
ourselves, with the same serio-comic earnestness on Taylor�s
part, which made each dish a subject for mirth or comment.
Then in a pleasurable condition of kief, comfortable with
assuaged nerves, and soothed by coffee, we discoursed
about literature.  He was willing to admit that America had
not done great things yet, but he thought she was brooding
over achievement, and that it would be on a grand scale of
power and completeness when it came.  He hesitated to
allow a certain want of spontaneity in Longfellow, which,
with warmly expressed admiration for his many beauties, I
ventured to say I thought was felt in England.  He spoke
of poetry as some distinguished men spoke of it in France
after 1830, as the flower of literary occupation rather than a
possession exercised by an unearthly spirit over mind and
life.  He mentioned his own poems as a source of excessive
delight to him, and viewed verse-making as the branch of
art to which he devoted the prime of his leisure and the pick
of his intellect.  He told of a litte room in New York,
suggestively furnished with elegant objects, into which he
allowed no daily tasks, no �copy,� no newspaper require-
ments to enter.  Once within its doorway, he assumed his
singing robes, and sat alone with his lyre, in the sunshine of
his best thoughts.  There was something in all this of
Th�ophile Gautier, who would speak of his poetry as a line               
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