A TRIP TO BARBARY.*
-Mn. Sara. must forgive us if we find this book unusually dull. It is almost the first time-he has exposed himself to such a remark. Eccentric, marl, and defiant, he has broken every other rule of composition, but he has borne in mind the sentence in Voltaire's preface to the Enfant Prodigue, Tour les genres rent bons, hors Is genre ennuyeux." This time his faults are not so strongly marked as usual, but his merits are also less decided. It is true -that he sometimes imitates Thackeray, sometimes Dickens, and sometimes himself: But the-imitation-of Thackeray is confmedto one character, Colonel Chubbstiok, and that of- Dickens, or-the school of Dickens, to the -chapter of facts, with its constant inter- pellations of Mr. Gradgrind. It is also true that he makes Tor- quato Tasso write-in the fourteenth century, although Tasso was not born till 1544. But then he is describing Algiers, and nothing can be more natural than that he should confound 'l'asso with an Italian poet who did write-in the fourteenth century, and who, as Miss Whim tells us, took his name of Dante Algiery from being born at Algiers.
What makes Mr. Sala's Trip to Barbary more tiresome reading than many of his-former-books, is-partly that he has reprinted his special correspondence with little alteration, and partly that he was out of his element. In the conversation he holds with his colleague, Mr. Lignumvitte, at the beginning of the book, he says that Malta has been worn threadbare, Alexandria and Cairo are as stale as the Sphynx, and that therefore he will not go as special correspondent to do the opening of the Suez Canal. Algeria is new ground, he has only read seven or eight books upon it, and it sounds better. Now, if we had been Mr. Sala's proprietors—which of course our known principles on slavery pre- vent us from being—we should have reversed his decision. It is essential to Mr. Sala's success that what he describes should be stale or threadbare. The broad features of what is perfectly new baffle him, and it is not till his mind is saturated with petty details that it can present him a coherent vision. He builds with bricks, and not with blocks of stone ; what seems a careless paint- ing proves to be a mosaic. One result of this is that all places Look much the same to him till he has mastered their minor differences. No one but Mr. Sala could have said, "In all the cities I have seen, I cannot recollect one thoroughfare more ad- mirably picturesque in its lines and play of chiaro-oscuro than Wyeh Street, Drury Lane, on a bright summer's morning, before the vile shops were opened." It is quite natural and consistent to find the same man likening "Broadway to Bond Street, the ta"ostinnoi Dyer to Rag Fair, the Kremlin to Dublin Castle, the Grand Canal to Pall Mall with the pavement up and the water- pipes-cut, and the Merceria at Venice to Cranbourne Alley." No doubt there is something palatial in Pall Mall, and there is something palatial in the Grand Canal. "So there is a river in Macedon, and there is also, moreover, a river at Monmouth; it is called Wye at Monmouth, but it is out of my prairie what is the name of the other river-; but 'tis all one, 'tis alike as my fingers is to my fingers, and there is salmons in both." But when Mr. Sala came to taste the "salmons" he would say the quality was different. There is some difference between the Ca'd'oro and the Carlton, between the Rialto and the Reform. Not all the noise of the water-pipes which would- follow the adoption of his expedient would convert the Rag and Famish into the Palazzo Grassi.
The worst of such comparisons is, that by hinting at a distant likeness you put it out of your reader's power to catch the points of non-raremblanoe. A man who knows Cranbourne Alley well can never realize the Merceria at Venice if he is bidden to start from Cranbourne Alley. The likeness is slight and non-essential, the difference is just all in all. We remember seeing in some Journal a comparison of the Boulevards to Tottenham Court Road. The Boulevards might remind some man of Tottenham Court Road, if only because they are so very unlike, but what impres- sion of the Boulevards would that convey to a stranger? Then, • A Trip to Barbary by a liuundabout ROate. By GegFge Augastna Sal& 14cdou :
Onsley Brothers. ises.
too, Mr. Sala presames.on his power of comparison, and by way of a cockney simile likens Algiers to Quebec :— " Take Quebec. Give its quaint houses a triple coat of whitewash. Substitute dark red tiles for the glittering tin roofs of Stadacona. Widen the waters of the St. Lawrence into a bay. Convert Point Levis into the Maison Curer), and assume that the Heights of Abraham are Fort rEmpereur. You have no call to meddle with either water or sky. Rare and intense blue are common to both, the African and the American. Arrange this in your mind, and you will have an idea of Algiers. Bit Quebec, it may be urged, isn't in Cockaigne, but in Canada. Dear heart ! what does that matter ? Any kind of stick is good enough to beat a dog withal. To the Cockney mind everything is the county of'Middlesex and the lower part of Quebec is very like the lower part of Brantford, especially as regards beer-shops."
This is all very well, but how. does the fact that the lower part of Quebec is very like the lower part. of Brantford assist the Brent. ford cockney in his comprehension of Algiers? And this brings us back to the point from which we started—that Mr. Sala is out of his element. Hail he been describing with his usual minuteness any of the places known to himself and his readers, it would have been very well to illustrate those plazas by comparing them with Venice, or Quebec, or Moscow. If you are deseribing Pall Mall, raid you are -reminded of some detail of the Grand Canal, the in- troduction of that detail will make your meaning clearer, and will perhaps give your readers some idea of- Venice. If you want them to know Pall Mall, and you tell them some things in it are like Venice, you may make them know both Pall Mall and Venice. But if you want them to know Venice, and tell them it is like Pall,Mall, you only make them know Pall Mall.
Thanks to Mr. Sala, most of us do know London, but we should have been glad-to know Barbary. Not but that we have pictures of Algiers and its houses, bright and intelligible picture:agog:I:retirees, but few inproportion to the-number of pages. Here, for instance, is a vignette of Algiers :— " It is all bonito, from the snowy mole glancing -in the blue, blue waters of the port, to the great battered old Turkish fortress of the Kaaba crowning the amphitheatre in the centre,—Caesar's loge de face, so to speak, whence he can watch the games and receive the salutes of the gladiators. Beautiful as is the chromatic effect of the city from a dia- tance—an effect that Stanfield, or Pyne, or Beverley, might revel in— I have heard a French landscape painter say that there are but four hues to make up the picture, Cobalt for the sea, zinc) white for the houses, burnt umber glazed with raw sienna for the hills, and turquoise (with the texture of satin) for the sky. To this I may add a little Venetian red for the tiled roofs. These hues are all frank, outspoken, and trenchant, but they never jar between themselves. or offend you."
Yet Mr. Sala is much more at his ease-when he can turn from the natives to the invaders, as we see by the contrast between his thumb-nail sketch of Algiers and his full-length called " Cmsarean Architecture." His figure about the Algerians wanting to cut Emile Pereire into so many hundred pieces, like the eyes of potatoes, and sow him broadcast all over the Tell and the Sahel—" with judicious administrative manure, he might come up nicely, even in the Sahara "—clever as it is, is significant of Mr. Sala himself. He "comes up" in the next page with the aid of social manure, when an Algerian shopkeeper of whom he buys photographs of Arab costumes wishes him to purchase the effigies of the Bishop of Orleans-and " Skittelle, charmante Miss Anglaise." Or listen to him at Oran, inveighing against a modern French building, a new vox clamantis in eremo "As for the domestic architecture of the Second, Empire, I venture to think it detestable. It consists solely of storeys piled one atop of another, pierced with ten times too many windows, and overloaded with the most meretricious decorations—hunohbacked caryatides, with their tongues hanging out, acanthus leaves growing from the pits of their stomachs, and groaning under the weight of nothing at all ; festoona where there should be fiat surfaces, and string courses where there should be mouldings; heads in high relief of men with beards, and women with jonquils sprouting,from their ears —heads which have not even the grotesque merit of a Gothic gargoyle, but are simply idiotic and without signification. But there is plenty of this unutterable trumpery —miles of it, acres of it, whereever an open space occurs the architect fills it with plate-glass ; wherever there is an iron bar he sticks Ane gold leaf on it. The result is of course gorgeous ; the result is Imperial Paris ; the result is the Boulevard de Sebastopol, de Magenta, de Males- herbes, du Prince Eugene, du Diable—anything you like to mention. With an interminable arcade on the ground-floor, the result is the Bste de Rivoli, the barrenest, unsightliest range of arches, to my mind, in all Europe, but which the French imagine to be twenty times finer than the Piazza del Popolo or the Procuratie Vecchio. But the inside of these Imperial palaces! Well, you have seen the Grand Hotel and the Hotel du Louvre, the Grand Café and the saloons of the Jockey Club. A thousand nimble decorators have cribbed the ornaments from the Galerie crApollon and the State apartments of Versailles, and stuck them thick as peas all over the walls, cornices, and ceilings. The result is a combination of Madame Tussaud's Napoleon Museum, the Hurssal at Hombourg, the Hampton-Courtism of Verrio and Laguerre, and a nightmare vision of the Court of Lions in the Alhambra. And then we are bidden to fall down and worsip the Golden Calf of Imperial Paris ! In the whole of renovated France, in all this, dazzling mayonnaise, this incredible salmagundi of scene-painting, stone-chipping, mouldings and.
bosses, columns and curtains, carvings and gildings, arcades without end and composite poodle columns, I state a conscientious belief that there has not been erected during the last fifteen years one new or original public building which can vie with the Royal Exchange, London, with the Bank of Ireland, or with St. George's Hall, Liverpool. I put our Gothic and Tudor triumphs—our Westminster Palace, our Margaret- Street Church, our Lincoln's Inn Hall—quite on one side."
But have we not heard all this before? Or is it meant for the use of the Arabs ? So long as they keep to their peculiar French, of which Mr. Sala tells us an amusing story, they are perhaps safe from the invasion of Haussmann. That high potentate would
have a fit of apoplexy at being tutoye by an Arab, yet, as Mr. Sala shows, the most dignified native will often find his tongue sliding into the familiar toi. One of the most exalted Arabs gave a dinner to a large party of French, and the dinner was such a success that a French lady complimented the host on the style of his entertain- ment. " Ah, madame !" he replied, making a low bow, and laying
his hand on his heart, " flow !" We are reminded of the English lady of high rank and extreme piety who went to confess in St. Peter's, where there are confessionals for almost every nation and language. She chose the confessional labelled "English," and opened her grief, in that tongue, but was rather astonished when the priest interrupted her with, "Did you do dat ? Den you are one dam rascal I"