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“nothing conscious of his future toils," "approving all pastures but his own,” (Hurdis), grows up, and for a while longer retains his liberty.
Starts to the voluntary race again.
Then think how short the time, since, joyous, free,
Upon the road, the brutal stroke resounds.
The veteran steed excused his task at length,
There seels a pleasure perfect in its kind. This may be accepted as almost the total sum of the natural horse in poetry. That episode in Venus and Adonis, where the conduct of the young boar-hunter's steed suggests to the quick-witted goddess an argument from analogies, has suggested several exaggerated descriptions of the stallion at large, but they are scarcely sketches from the life.
In the chase, Somerville of course excepted, the horse does not occupy the prominent place that might have been expected. Hunting is not a favourite pastime of the poet. He does not ride as Byron says Don Juan did :
So that his horse, or charger, hunter, hack,
And they skirt the subject, except so far as sentiment goes, with the utmost delicacy. Some, indeed, contemn "the squire” who takes a pride in his steed.
Somerville, of course, is a unique exception, and his apostrophes of the “brave youths ” who go a-hunting are delightful rubbish, as the opening rhapsody goes to show :
Hail, happy Britain ! highly favor'd isle,
But he knew a good horse as well as Hurdis did, and was a far better sportsman than he was a poet. For the utter humiliation of the noble brute read Eliza Cook.
The race-horse finds but few friends among the poets. They see only the cruelty of the sport. The jockeys are “murderers," and the animals come in with "rivers of sweat and blood flowing from gored sides.” They admire the animal “ with his nostrils thin, blown abroad by the pride within,” but they avoid it.
The war-horse finds more frequent and appreciative reference, but the poets cannot shake Job off. The few lines of the Patriarch's poem stretch farther than all their laboured eulogies, just as the staff. of Moses reached farther than the linked sceptres of all the Kings of Edom. It neighs and paws and snorts, but it gets no further, after all, than the 25th verse of the 39th chapter of the Book of Job. “Taboring the ground” is, however, an excellent conceit of Quarles, and shows an unusual judgment in plagiarising.
The poet's cart-horse is a most dismal creation. Not long ago cruelty to animals was much more prevalent than it is now—thanks to a Society that has the eyes of Argus, the funds of Creesus, and the sympathy of the country—and from Chaucer to Wordsworth the draught-horse is a miserable brute, habitually ill-treated and dying from cruel over-work. It is “as lene as is a rake" (Chaucer); “all bones and leather” (Butler); "a wretched unlucky corse" (Ramsay); “ toil-worn" (Graham, who seems to have had an exceptionally bad opinion of Scotch treatment of horses). Cowper implores the carter to spare his “poor beasts”; Wordsworth beseeches the waggoner to be mindful of his responsibilities. Both these poets, however, pay a tribute of respect to the draught-horse's willingness, while those who know him better-Hurdis, Clare, and Bloomfield, for instance-admire it, “patient of the slow-paced swain's delay;" or as
Up against the hill they strain,
Joanna Baillie has a bitter passage ; is there still all the old truth about it?
What forms are these with lean galled sides? In vain
The playful kitten and the faithful hound. In metaphors and analogies, similes and morals drawn from an original so exceptionally promising as the horse, the poets show them•selves strangely self-denying and even parsim.onious. In a great measure the dog forestalls it. Moreover, when comparisons of courage, speed, or a generous spirit are sought, there are the poets' lions and eagles to draw upon. The horse, therefore, is made an adjunct in description rather than a moral auxiliary. It adds a material feature to the scene, but affords no lesson. The poets, in fact-for their sympathy with Nature is usually only superficial-do not recognise the horse as an animal. It is an equipment, an adornment, furniture.
Herbert is a very striking exception : he has a whole quiver full of equine "jacula.” Thus, for example, "a jade eats as much as a good horse ;” “Who lets his wife go to every feast, and his horse drink at every water, shall neither have good wife nor horse ; " " The master's eye fattens the horse ;” “For want of a nail the shoe is lost : for want of a shoe the horse is lost: for want of a horse the rider is lost.” “The horse thinks one thing, and he that saddles him another.” “Speed without pains, a horse." These must suffice. Cowper uses the metaphor "pack-horse constancy," and Churchill, though with deficient skill, utilises the colt as a simile for "loose Digression," that “spurring connexion and her formal yoke, Bounds through the forest and wanders far astray.” The colt, indeed, furnishes an analogy to many things and persons that depreciate it, for the poets too often forget that, after all, innocence in the young beast sets it quite apart from the deliberate obliquities of reasoning humanity.
THROUGH THE BREACH IN THE
OES one Englishman in a million know what or where the
Isker Gorge is ? For the benefit of the many ignorant let us explain first its whereabouts.
The southern end of this gorge is not ten miles distant from Sofia, which for many hundreds of years has never ceased to be a place of considerable local importance in European Turkey, whether as the old residence of the Roumeli Beylerbeys, as chief town of a Mutessariflik from the beginning of this century until shortly before the last Russian War ; then, again, as capital of a province for a few years; as the seat of temporary Government during the Russian occupation; and, finally, since 1879, as the capital of free Bulgaria. The Northern end of this same gorge lies close to the important trading town of Wratsa, between which and Sofia it offers by far the shortest route to those who do not fear its dangers and difficulties. And yet it remained practically unknown to geographers and unvisited by European travellers until the year 1871, when Kanitz, an Austrian engineer and author of a work upon Bulgaria, was the first to partially explore and survey the northern or Wratsa portion of the defile.
It is not that the Isker Gorge is deficient in interest or natural beauty. Its wild and original scenery is unrivalled in European Turkey, and its conformation offers problems of the deepest interest to the consideration of topographers and engineers. For the Isker here succeeds in making the only breach in the otherwise unbroken rampart of the Balkans, and thus gives to Bulgaria a large and fertile province, and a capital which would not otherwise have been hers. In forming the Principality, the Powers decided to add to the Vilayet of the Danube the watersheds of the streams which flow into the Danube, and the Isker, which rises far to the south of the Balkans, on the Macedonian frontier, thus burrowing its way by what looks like a freak of nature through the great mountain chain, altered the destinies of the districts of Sofia and Küstendil.
How this has happened is still a doubtful point, and must remain
so until the question has been settled by an expert. Some visitors attribute the cleft to a convulsion of nature, while others explain it by the action of water, on the supposition that the basin of Sofia held in bygone ages a great lake, the overflow of which, beginning at a much higher level, in process of time scooped out the channel through which the Isker now escapes.
This natural railway cutting, through a chain of mountains upwards of 6,000 feet in height, could not fail eventually to attract the attention of engineers, and so it has come to pass that, within the last two years, the defile has been thoroughly surveyed with a view to the construction of a Trans-Balkan railway.
The account of Kanitz, who only superficially examined the northern portion of the gorge, is naturally insufficient, and the reports of the railway engineers and surveyors are purely technical and have not been published. No further excuse is needed for this short sketch, the first that has appeared in English, of a journey from Sofia to Wratsa by the Isker.
Day had just broken, dull and lowering, as we met at breakfast, and we felt that there was some small amount of truth in the scathing criticisms of Sofia society, which pronounced us all“ fit to be put in a lunatic asylum” for leaving our comfortable homes in such weather, to wander houseless and hungry through the Balkan. However, when we mounted and rode out, a motley company of eight, representing no less than five different nationalities, we put a bold face on the matter, for was there not a lady with the party, the first to penetrate the mysteries of Isker, and could we hold back while she showed complete indifference to discomfort and fatigue and danger?
And here I may say, at once, that our confidence was rewarded, and that, leaving clouds and rain behind us, we enjoyed the most delightful weather during the whole of our excursion.
Out of the new European quarter and past the Prince's Palace, which looks as if it might have been transferred bodily from some small German Residenz Stadt, down the narrow bazaar, silent now, but which, in two or three hours, will be teeming with life, we leave the town behind, and passing through the miserable gipsy village of Novo Selo, emerge upon the grassy plain of Sofia. What a place for gallop ! Prudence suggests that we have a long journey before us, and that we must spare our horseflesh, but prudent counsels do not prevail, and it is not long before we are in the full enjoyment of a gallop which continues with but little intermission until we reach the village of Corila, where we are to find our guide and pack-horses, and where the real difficulties of the road begin.