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For long enough the world has shook
And from the northern hills I burst,
And where I went the spot was cursed,
Beneath the terror of the Goth,
Before my ruthless sabaoth,
In judgment my triumphal car;
The avenging Scythian to the war,
O’er guilty king and guilty realm,
And Vengeance sat upon the helm;
I pour'd the torrent of my powers,
In vain within their seven-bill'd towers ;
I go to Him from whom I came;
Of glory that adorns my name ;
But darker ministers of fate
Ånd in the caves of vengeance wait,
Vol. V. No. 25.–1823.
ARCACHON, IN THE LANDES.
A RAGE for travelling, in all its various modifications, having become, as it were, a component part of English character, it is no wonder that so few spots of this habitable globe are unexplored or undescribed. The thirst of novelty and passion for research have flooded the world like another deluge, and left scarcely a mountain-top inviolate for the ark of a solitary voyager like me to rest on.
It was my lot to be born in a bog, or at least very close upon its borders, where the hoarse gusls of the west wind swept gloomily over a trackless waste, and the only object in perspective was a naked hill, surmounted by a crumbling ruin, and haunted by associations of vague and romantic wildness. I may have thus imbibed from early impression a passion for the less bustling scenes of life, and a hatred of that common-place parade of sight-seeing frivolity, against which one stumbles at every step in cities, great or small.
Epris de la campagne, et l'aimant en poëte,
Je l'aimois, je l'aimois jusque dans ses horreurs. It is therefore that I am the very worst of town-going Ciceroni. I never, literally never, pry into palaces, have but little pleasure in a chamber of audience, and never once in my existence was guilty of the indecorum of falling asleep during the debates of a consistory ecclesiastic. But as for winding through a forest, treading a mountain-path, trudging over a moor, or any such uncourtly exercise, I will allow myself to be backed against any one, from the highest of the Himalaya range to the swampiést of the Lincolnshire fens. I had always an especial envy of those whose good fortune enabled them to explore the mysteries of the Desert; the driver Hassan, who saw, and his poet Collins, whose fine mind imagined, the wonders of those trackless wastes; travellers of many a name and nation, who have delighted the world by their relations of those sublimely desolate regions; but above all, the heavenfavoured Colabah, who, wandering over the desert of Aden in search of his lost camel, found himself 'suddenly at the gates of the celebrated city and garden of Irem, made by King Shedad of the giant tribe of Ad, “ the like whereof hath not been erected in the land, "* and preserved for countless centuries invisible to the common race of men, but sometimes miraculously exposed to the gazing eyes of a chosen believer.f
Such were the scenes that I panted to plunge into; but, placed by destiny in remote seclusion from them, I have not yet been allowed to moralize, like Volney, amidst the mouldering monuments of Tadmor, or repose my wearied limbs under the delicious foliage of its grove of palms. But I have availed myself of every domestic recompense. ! have wandered lonely over Salisbury Plain—lost myself in the level wilderness of the Curragh of Kildare-passed days in the swampy solitudes of the Aberdeenshire moors, with no object of life before my eyes but the feathered tenants against whom I waged war, and no
* The Koran, chap. 89. For the adventure of Colabah, see d'Herbelot, Bib. Orient. p. 51.
sound of animated thing to greet me, but the crowing of the blackcock, the wild screams of the bittern, or the shriek of the snipes, as they fled from my intrusive steps. I had read of The Landes, or Deserts of Gascony; of their vast pine forests, their uncultured wastes, and moving wonders—the dunes, or travelling sand-hills, and the rude inhabitants clothed in sheep-skins, and stalking on with Patagonian strides, on stilts that raise them to a level with the topmast branches of the trees.
Many vague reflections flitted across my brain, as I took to the road which led in the direction of the Landes. The remote and unfixed antiquity of the town behind me, with its many political vicissitudes and intimate concern with English recollections, all floated together in a bewildering chaos ; and I felt, in spite of myself, a national pride and a sort of national inheritance in the place. I then began to look into futurity with about as much rational result as when I pried into the past. From antiquity I wandered to imagination. Generations to come passed before me more rapidly than those which were gone. Empires and nations were upset in quick succession. The town on which I had been speculating was crumbled in decay. The inhabitants were dead—the buildings fallen—the shipping wasted. Volcanoes, deluges, and earthquakes had all been in full play; and, centuries in advance, I had placed myself amidst the desolation—when I was recalled to real sensation by the nature of the soil on which I trod. There never was a more irrefragable touch of the bathos. I was in a moment let down from my sublimities, by the simple and undignified process of the sand working into my shoes! I was in fact in the Landes—the desert—the wilderness—the Gallia Sabulosa, if the ghost of Cæsar and the geographers will pardon me the new-made division.
There can be little doubt that this waste tract was once the bed of the sea. So say both theory and tradition. But as to the time of its receding we are deficient in data on which to build, as the waters have left no trace, and history furnishes no record. Extensive pine-woods nearly cover this ocean of sand. Here and there, a hut or a hamlet forms the centre of a patch of green, on which troops of ragged sheep or goats are seen to browse, attended by a being mounted on high stilts, (to keep him out of the sands, which are wet
in winter and burning in summer,) covered with a clothing of skins, and looking less like a man than a sheep. The first days of my entering these forlorn and monotonous regions were marked with adventures of no common interest; but these are too long for insertion here, and may possibly form the subject of a regular narration hereafter.
The district of Arcachon, including the little town of La Teste, its capital, is probably one of the most perfect retirements in any part of civilized Europe. Standing on the remote and uncultured border of the Bay of Biscay, it is utterly out of the way of communication with the world; and its name is never heard beyond the edges of the forest which surrounds it, except when a maritime report is given of some unhappy vessel beat to pieces by the breakers, which are eternally lashing the desolate sands of its beach. La Teste is very rarely ornamented with the appearance of a stranger: the unbroken intercourse of its inhabitants with one another, gives them that sameness of thought and similarity of expression, which is remarked so often between man and wife sufficiently unfashionable to live much together. Their views, both physical and moral, may be said to be bounded on three sides by desert, and on the fourth by the wide-stretching sea. They are either fishermen, or dealers in the products of the pine-woods; and a few leagues, by land or water, seem the limits of their intelligence. The aspect of the place is wild and flat, yet not unpleasing. At that period of the day when the tide is full in, it is delightful to gaze on the placid lake of Arcachon, for such is the name of the horse-shoe excavation, on the deepest ridge of which the town is built. But when the waves recede, and for three miles out nothing is to be seen but a sedgy exposure, it is not easy to imagine a more unattractive landscape. It has none of the sublimities of ocean, for the great Biscayan Gulf is too far out to be visible from this part of the shore. There is, however, one remarkable feature in the prospect, which is not without beautythe accumulation of those sand-heaps far to the right of the lake, which shine in the sun-beams with a dazzling brilliancy; and for a parallel to which we must travel to another portion of the globe. On the left stretches a thick forest, close up to which the waves reach at high tide, when a long circuit must be taken to approach it; but the strand at low water is quite uncovered, and permits those who love the shady solitudes of the wood to reach them by a walk of about half a league.
Separating myself and my adventures (which are, as I before hinted, reserved for another occasion) from the scene around me, I must beg the reader to place himself beside me, in the heart of the forest, and admire the beautiful and simple marble monument erected by the present King of France to the memory of Monsieur Brumontier, the man who, after all the baffled efforts of his predecessors to stop the progress of those moving sand-bills, the fabled accessories of which were more terrible than the winged dragon of Triptolemus, or the flying-horse of Michael Scot, succeeded in giving freedom to the soil and hope to the inhabitants, by the simple expedient of planting those woods, in the heart of which his memory is thus fittingly enshrined. But by far the greatest curiosity of these wilds, and one, indeed, of the greatest any where, is the Chapel of St. Thomas Iliricus, originally built by the contributions of the fishermen of those parts, and dedicated to the Virgin, in gratitude for a miraculous favour conferred upon their neighbourhood in the lifetime of the saint, and somewhat about the year 1521, if the traditionary records of the old people (the only chronicle of the La Testians) be a sufficiently accurate voucher for the date. The venerable Thomas was celebrated, in his time, as a great preacher, and for having exerted his uncommon eloquence against the heretical encroachments, then creeping in upon religion in France; and after sermonizing and anathematizing for some time to little purpose-for the impious work of enlightening the human mind gained ground in spite of his forensic hostility, he resolved on withdrawing from the world, before the vexatious ripening of intellect, which was then in the bud, should overpower, in its blossoming odour, the fragrance of his own sanctity. He, in pursuance of this sage and saintly resolution, turned his steps towards the west.
“ The 'yorld was all before him where to choose,"
and, passing through the hamlet of La Tête de Buche, the original appellation of La Teste, he arrived on the borders of the Lake of Arcachon, where he scooped himself a hut, the site of which is still marked out by the pious visitations of many a pilgrim. Thomas was fond of a solitary ramble, which formed, in spite of time or tide, his daily exercise for body and mind. One evening, while pursuing his favourite walk during the continuance of a tempest, that would probably have driven him to his hut, had not a secret inspiration urged him still to keep abroad, he discovered a vessel far out at sea, in great distress and apparently on the eve of perishing. Not being able to render the least possible assistance otherwise than by his prayers, he betook himself to his knees, and had scarcely commenced an impassioned invoca. tion, when the little vessel, as if it had been possessed of the powers of mortal vision, perceived him, and instantly turned its prow towards the spot where he knelt, and with a rush of sail that belonged not to any human management, it cut through the mountain-billows, and in an instant traced its frothy path from the utmost verge of the horizon to the edge of the strand on which the anchorite was placed. He, bewildered and fixed in admiration of the miracle, lost all power of speech, for he beheld upon the prow a bright form robed in white, and surrounded by a radiance that he knew to be of Heaven. The hands of this celestial being were raised above its head, as if something was suspended in them. Its bright wings fluttered a moment in the foam of the waves which sparkled in the sunny tints—an instant more and all was a blank. The vessel had totally disappeared; whether it sunk in the furious element, or 6 vanished into thin air,” the monk by no means could divine ; and all that he heard to give him a clue for unravelling the miracle, was the flapping of wings above him, and a strain of exquisite melody, that seemed to die away in the upper regions of the heavens. Thomas arose from his posture of devotion, and gazed with a holy wonder on the scene around him. The waves were in a moment still—the wind was hushed—the sun darted from the clouds, which were scattered across the firmament in a thousand beautiful and fantastic forms of brightness-the roaring of the surge was changed to the gentle murmur of the tide, as it flowed in upon the sand, and seemed to sink into it, as if in repose from its recent agitation. At the feet of the monk lay a small image of the Virgin. He approached it with a mixture of devotion and awe; when, to his delight and admiration, it sprang up into his arms, where he folded it with a rush of overpowering sensation that may be better imagined than described. He brought the heaven-sent relic to his hut, where he erected a rude altar to its honour; but the rustic inhabitants, thinking such a shrine unworthy the miraculous image, built him a little chapel around the spot. The overflowing of the lake, in one of its accustomed inundations a short time afterwards, levelled the little building to the ground; and when, wonderful to tell, the pious erectors attempted to move the little image from its shrine, which the waves had no power to overthrow, it resisted the efforts of dozens of men to remove it; and it was only by the powerful prayers of Thomas that forty pair of the strongest oxen had force sufficient to effect that object. The image, be it known, is full twelve inches in height! Another chapel was built, and another catastrophe was at hand. It was utterly cast down by one of the moving