ASIA AND ITS INHABITANTS
"Several of the designs were novel to the English. One of them I will describe. A large box was raised to a great height, and the bottom being removed as if by accident, an immense number of paper lamps fell from it. When they left the box they were all neatly folded; but in falling they opened by degrees and sprung one out of the other. Each then assumed a regular form, and suddenly a beautifully coloured light appeared. The Chinese seemed to understand the art of shaping the fireworks at their fancy. On either side of the large boxes were smaller ones, which opened in a similar manner, letting fall burning torches, of different shapes, as brilliant as burnished copper, and flashing like lightning at each movement of the wind. The display ended with the eruption of an artificial volcano."
It is the usual custom for the Emperor of China to conclude his birthday festivities by hunting in the forests of Tartary; but in the present case advancing age rendered that diversion unwise, and his Majesty decided to return to Pekin, the English embassy being invited to precede him thither.
Macartney, however, felt that it was time to terminate his mission. In the first place, it was not customary for ambassadors to reside long at the Chinese court; and in the second, the fact that the Chinese emperor defrayed the expenses of the embassy naturally induced him to curtail his stay. In a short time he received from Tchien Lung the reply to the letter of the King of England, and the presents intended for the English monarch, as well as a number for the members of his suite. This Macartney rightly interpreted as his congé!
The English went back to Tong Chou Fou by way of the imperial canal. Upon this trip they saw the famous bird "Leutzé," fishing for its master. It is a species of cormorant, and is so well trained that it is unnecessary to place either a cord or ring round its neck to prevent it from swallowing any of its prey.
"Upon every boat or raft there are ten or twelve of these birds, ready to plunge the instant they receive a sign from their masters. It is curious to see them catch enormous fish, and carry them in their beaks."
|"The famous bird Leutzé."|
Macartney mentions a singular manner of catching wild ducks and other water-birds. Empty jars and calabashes are allowed to float upon the water for several days, until the birds are accustomed to the sight of them. A man then enters the water, places one of the jars upon his head, and advancing gently, seizes the feet of any bird which allows him to come near enough: he rapidly immerses it in the water to choke it, and then noiselessly continues his search until his bag is full.
The embassy visited Canton and Macao, and thence returned to England. We need not dwell upon the return voyage.
We must now consider that portion of Asia which may be called the interior. The first traveller to be noticed is Volney.
Every one knows, by repute at least, his book on Ruins; but his account of his adventures in Egypt and Syria far surpasses it. There is nothing exaggerated in the latter; it is written in a quiet, precise manner, and is one of the most instructive of books. The members of the Egyptian Expedition refer to it as containing exact statements as to climate, the productions of the soil, and the manners of the inhabitants.
Volney prepared himself most carefully for the journey, which was a great undertaking for him. He determined to leave nothing to chance, and upon reaching Syria he realized that he could not possibly acquire the knowledge of the country he desired unless he first made himself acquainted with the language of the people. He therefore retired to the monastery of Mar-Hannd, in Libiya, and devoted himself to the study of Arabic.
Later on, in order to learn something of the life led by the wandering tribes of the Arabian desert, he joined company with a sheik, and accustomed himself to the use of a lance, and to live on horseback, thus qualifying himself to accompany the tribes in their excursions. Under their protection he visited the ruins of Palmyra and Baalbec, cities of the dead, known to us only by name.
"His style of writing," says La Beuve, "is free from exaggeration, and marked by singular exactness and propriety. When, for example, he wishes to illustrate the quality of the Egyptian soil, and in what respect it differs from that of Africa, he speaks of 'this black, light, greasy earth,' which is brought up and deposited by the Nile. When he wishes to describe the warm winds of the desert, with their dry heat, he compares them 'to the impression which one receives upon opening a fierce oven to take out the bread;' according to his description, speaking of the fitful winds, he says they are not merely laden with fog, but gritty and powdery, and in reality full of fine dust, which penetrates everything; and of the sun, he says it 'presents to view but an obscured disk.'"