Memoirs of Josef Boruwlaski - CHAP. VII.

CHAP. VII.
Descriptive account of medicinal springs and salt mines of Poland -- Wild men of the woods unknown in that country -- Laughable mistake occasioned by the ringing of bells -- Introduction to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire; afterwards to the Prince of Wales -- Visit from the Duke of Gloucester -- Admitted to the presence of the King and Queen -- Attacked by dangerous illness -- Curious dream -- Visit to Bath, Bristol, and Chester; duped by an impostor in the latter city -- Arrival in Dublin; invitation from the Lord Lieutenant -- Return to England -- Concert at Leeds -- Visit to Oxford.

            MR. McMAHON welcomed me with such marks of civility and friendship, as excited in me an anxious wish to visit the country, of which he was a native, and so excellent a specimen. I soon discovered, that Mr. McMahon had passed considerable part of his time abroad; by which he had acquired a general knowledge of the customs and manners of many nations which he had visited. He possessed also a sweetness of disposition, a readiness of communication, and a general pleasantry, which are seldom to be attained by a constant residence at home; and which, all combined, rendered him one of the most agreeable and desirable companions imaginable.

            Having expressed a wish to be informed of the curious productions of my country, I readily communicated to .him ,whatever at first presented itself to my recollection; and mentioned the astonishing virtues of an ebbing and flowing spring, in the palatinate of Cracow,-- similar, to that which, since I have been in England, I have observed at Tideswell, near Buxton in Derbyshire,-- possessing wonderful medicinal qualities, tending to the prolongation of life; many of the inhabitants in the neighbourhood laving lived to the age of 150 years and upwards, and in some instances to 200. This spring, which may justly be stated one of the phenomena of nature, rises, to the best of my recollection, not far distant from the Wielieska and Bochnia, in the neighbourhood of the salt mines; which naturally led me to speak of those most striking objects of natural curiosity, out of whose wonderful caverns are dug four distinct kinds of salt; one extremely hard resembling crystal, another soft and transparent, a third white but brittle, and all of them brackish, but the fourth considerably less pungent than the rest, These are all dug about six miles from Cracow. On one side of the mines is a stream of salt water; and on the other, one of fresh. My account of these and other particulars led me, of course, into a much wider and more extended field of description, than I will now trouble my readers with; and I had the supreme felicity to find, that what I had said, gave some satisfaction to my friend, who became more and more anxious to be informed, as if his appetite increased by what it fed on. He was, above all, particularly solicitous to be satisfied, as to the truth of the several accounts which he had read and heard, respecting wild men of the woods in Poland; and although I felt a certain degree of unwillingness to enter into this detail, inasmuch as I must, of necessity, palpably expose and contradict all that had been hitherto written on the subject, and give the lie direct to numerous writers; many of whom, for the mere purpose of makting a book, had invented the most ridiculous and fabulous stories, in order to swell the number of their pages; whilst others, affecting an air of greater plausibility, had endeavoured to impress upon the minds of their readers a belief, that the neighbouring barbarous nations frequently bore off whole villages of people into slavery, compelling the women to carry or leave behind in the woods, their children, to be nurtured by the bears,-- yet a strict regard to truth compelled me to expose the gross absurdity of all these stories. And I could not refrain from observing, that the writers who had thus attempted to impose upon the world, had either never considered the natural feeling of the mothers of these poor infants; or they had ventured to write upon the subject with that degree of confidence which they assumed, because that part of the country, in which such things are stated to have happened, lies in so remote a part of the globe, that they could not, or would not, give themselves the trouble of inquiring into the truth of their statements: but being desirous, at all events, to relate some wonderful particulars respecting that corner of the world, they had introduced into their works, miracles surpassing that of the delivery of Daniel from the lions. I was, however, compelled to assure Mr. McMahon, that I could not recollect a single instance in which a Polish child was so happy as to be delivered from the paws of the bears, as Daniel had been from the jaws of the lion; and that, therefore, I should not have any very considerable degree of confidence in committing my own children to so polished a mode of education. Mr. McMahon, upon this, took notice of the disposition of the parent bird. He observed, that, although, according to its nature and habits, it was accustomed to leave its young when at a sufficient age to be able to provide for themselves; yet he could by no means from thence be led to infer, that a mother could, from any motive, be induced to leave her child behind her in the wood; and therefore, we both concluded, that the whole accounts were erroneously reported in the Polish history.

            From this, the conversation became general; and the astonishing fund of anecdote and information possessed by my companion, pleasantly beguiled the hours. I was proceeding, in answer to his questions, to state, that my parents were born in the palatinate of Kiow, in Ukraine, in the Lower Padolia, which lies east from the Upper Volhinia, and not far distant from the river Borysthenes; when my narrative was interrupted, by the servant introducing coffee. On my taking the first cup, I heard a bell passing in the street, of which I did not take any notice, till it approached the door of Mr. McMahon; upon which I instantly made the sign of the cross, and bent my knees; from which circumstance, he and his friend (a comedian who was in company) immediately knowing me to be a stranger in the country, determined to amuse themselves at my expense, and accordingly, they began their devotions. The bells in the street never ceasing, we of course continued our prayers, till at length I observed the countenance of the comedian most wonderfully distorted, as if he had received a paralytic stroke, or got some disorder in his body, causing the most horrid grimaces. I endeavoured in vain to resume my cup of coffee; for, no sooner had it reached my lips, than tinkle tinkle again went the bell; down I dropt on my knees, and I could not finish a single cup. At length, I was induced to enquire into the reason why so many priests were employed in the streets; and you will imagine, that the answer did not prove at all satisfactory to me, when Mr. McMahon informed me, that I had arrived just at the commencement of the plague, and that the whole town was in a state of grievous desolation and trouble.

            Whilst I was listening to this information, the comedian was rehearsing his part of the joke in an adjoining room, and began to cry out, in the most piteous tones, "Lord have mercy upon us, there are four fallen down dead in the street;" and made the sign of the cross with such contortions, that he appeared to me to be possessed with a devil. But when I observed the wonderful change in his countenance, concluded that he was affected by a spasmodic complaint, and I repeatedly requested him to send for a doctor; but whilst I was speaking, the bell again began; our prayers of course followed; and I immediately declared my determination of quitting the town, since was not yet in a hurry to join the dead. Upon which Mr. McMahon, perceiving me serious, observed, that he found I had not acquired an intimate knowledge of the history of England, or I should have known, that, on the Reformation, in the time of King Henry VIII., that monarch declared himself Supreme Head of the Church of England; that one a his first acts, in the exercise of his spiritual jurisdiction, was the total suppression of the existing priesthood, and an abolition of the ceremonials of the church; and that, therefore, since he had thus commenced Shepherd of the English flock, we no longer behold the host, or priests in the streets; and, as liberty of conscience was allowed, there was not any occasion for persons to visit the dwellings of the people. He concluded with entreating me, no more to regard the bells that I heard, which only served to announce the postman's passing by. Although this information composed my mind at the moment, yet it was a considerable time before I became perfectly familiarized to the sound of the bells. At length, however, by habit, and the well-timed raillery of my friend, I became as reconciled to it as the English themselves.

            After having for some time enjoyed the agreeable society and instructive conversation of. my friend, I felt the necessity of turning my attention to other considerations which more immediately affected my own individual interest, and of preparing to act my part upon another stage. As I possessed letters of recommendation to several of the first nobility in the kingdom, I consulted Mr. McMahon, on the propriety of making use of them; who readily agreed with me, that no time was to be lost in making my application, particularly to their Graces the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire; and although I had every where heard them praised and extolled, in the highest degree, for their politeness, affability, and desire to please; yet their gracious reception of me so far exceeded my most sanguine expectations, that any attempt, on my part, to describe it, would fall very far short of the justice which I owe them. His Grace the Duke did not join us in the conversation: I observed that he was absorbed in thought. Very likely his Grace might be one of the administration at this time, which was during the American war.

            As I was going to take my leave of the Duke and Duchess, I was presented to Lady Spencer, who was so kind as to appoint a day to receive me. at her house. There I had the honour of seeing his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, to why Lady Spencer graciously presented me; and the Prince received me with his usual affability, which deservedly gains him universal esteem. I was, about this time, honoured with a visit from his Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester, at whose door I had called, as soon as I arrived, to deliver a letter which his Highness the Margrave of Anspach had favoured me with for him. As I was not fortunate enough to find the Duke at home, he thought proper to surprise me by a visit incognito. Mr. Cramer, first violin performer at his Majesty's concerts, was then with me, who, being known to the Royal Duke, disappointed his intention of being unknown; and his Royal Highness assured me, that he would do every thing in his power to oblige me. From that time, this amiable Prince has not failed to favour me with proofs of his protection, of which I shall speak more at large in the sequel.

            The Duchess of Devonshire and her whole family still continued their promise, to take the most lively interest in all that concerned me, conscious that my situation was beneath my birth, education, and sentiments. She kindly recommended me to all her acquaintance; in the number of whom I must distinguish the Countess of Egremont, who, being informed that mention had been made of me at court, stuffed one of my shoes with cotton, and sent it to the Queen. This exciting their curiosity, their Majesties condescended to appoint a day for me to wait on them. It is to the Countess of Egremont that I am indebted for this honour, who was so kind as to take me to her Majesty. The King and all the Royal family were present His Majesty desired me to sit down, and put several questions to me. The conversation was often interrupted by the witty and agreeable sallies of his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. The young Princes and Princesses, having recovered from the astonishment I had caused them, entered into those familiarities with me, which were becoming youth of their high rank. I had the honour of remaining four hours with their Majesties; who, I flatter myself, were pleased with my efforts to entertain them. These efforts were, however, nearly fatal to me; for I returned with a fever, and the very next day I was dangerously ill. His Majesty was so kind as to send me his physician, Sir Richard Jebb, by whose attention, and that of my good friend Dr. Walker, I recovered in a fortnight.

            Various rumours were at that time circulated respecting my visit to court; and it was mentioned in some newspapers, that I had received a considerable sum of money from their Majesties. These reports were, as usual, founded on conjecture only; for, had they the least foundation in truth, I would not have omitted to mention the particulars, as I consider it my duty to declare all the favours I have been indulged with. The fact is, that his Majesty vouchsafed to treat me as a Polish gentleman; and, though it be an honour to receive favours from a king, these marks of Royal condescension obliterated in me every idea of personal interest. I was compelled to suppress the dictates of self-love, when the matter in question was to provide for the subsistence of life. It could not be of any use to apply to those, who had never experienced want, to feel for my situation; nor could I expect any thing from national interest. Sir Robert Murray Keith had given me many letters for his friends in England; and assured me, a thousand times, that I could not fail to make a splendid fortune there, so sanguine were his feelings for his country. But he never declared to me, that I must exhibit myself. The hopes, with which he had inspired me, I found an empty shadow; and I was obliged, on my arrival in London, to adopt the plan suggested by his friends to me, of exhibiting myself. These circumstances made such an impression on my mind, that I dreamt the following dream:-- A stupendous giant appeared before me: he had a pleasing countenance, and strength in proportion to his bulk. At first, I was astonished and remained for some time mute; when, perceiving that I was rather uneasy, he said to me, "Do not fear me, I am your friend, and I will introduce you to the knowledge of the world." Then, stooping very low, he offered me his hand, and paid me a genteel compliment, drew me near to him as close as possible, and lifted me up over a country, where I saw the lake Asphaltites, which I had heard of before. He then threw me down, and I fell into that dead sea. I began to float upon the top, where I saw something rise up, resembling bulls without heads: I continued swimming with difficulty, and at last reached the bank, where I found trees that bear fruit of divers kinds, like apples, which were fair and pleasant to the eye. After viewing them very eagerly (for I was nearly exhausted with want), I pulled and opened some, but found nothing but dust. I could find no Joseph to explain this dream, nor did I experience the least change in my situation. I was advised to give a concert, and afterwards, I was prevailed upon to make an exhibition of myself.

            The pressure of want, and hope of success, overcame all those emotions in my heart, that made the expedient seem so shocking. I gave my first concert by the advice of their Graces the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. In truth, I was frightened at the expense, which amounted to a very considerable sum; but I was amply indemnified, the assembly being both, brilliant and numerous. Had the enthusiasm continued, some concerts given now and then, would have placed me above want. This, however, was not the case; for, having attempted to give another a few weeks after in the same place, the receipts scarcely cleared my expenses. I was consequently obliged to think of some new means to support myself.

            At the beginning of the winter following, I went to Bath, where I met with many persons who seemed to entertain a friendship for me. I had not been long there, before the arrival of the learned pig was announced in that city. The proprietor of that wonderful animal, bringing with him from London strong recommendations of its abilities, attracted crowded audiences of all the gentry; so that I thought it most prudent to return to London. On my arrival, respect led me to the door of Lady Clermont; who received me with her usual politeness, and related to me the whole of her conversation with her Grace the Duchess of Devonshire, who had expressed her concern at my situation, and said I should soon be convinced of it. This conversation brought to my mind a meeting of many lords in my apartment, about six months before, the purport of which was, to open a subscription, to secure me an easy and decent maintenance for the remainder of my days. I flattered myself, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire would have been at the head of the subscription: they had often questioned me respecting my situation, and the concern they seemed to feel for it, was so striking, that, for a while, I really flattered myself the intended subscription would take place. But it failed, and I lost all hopes of an immediate amelioration of my circumstances.

            However gloomy may be the general aspect of winter, the sun sometimes smiles in spite of the season -- resistless in the power of his brightness, the least ray of which will melt the frozen snow. Equally cheering to me, in this winter of my fate, was the appearance of the Misses Metcalfe, whose names I am forbid to mention. Whilst kindly meditating deeds of beneficence, they asked me many questions, with that affability and feeling concern, which, far from denoting an eager curiosity, only waited for an answer, that might give them an opportunity of endeavouring to assist me. They did not approve of my giving a concert, much less of my making an exhibition of myself. Their noble souls; replete with elevated sentiments, looked upon this exhibition with disdain, though they did not openly disclose their mind on the occasion; and I was therefore compelled to try some other plan, as the visits I received would by no means support my expenses.

            I determined to renew my concerts, the profits of which afforded me a temporary relief. With this determination I set out for Ireland; but, foreseeing this trip would be longer than I expected, I stopped at Bristol, intending to leave it in a week. I, however, remained there two months, and had no reason to complain; for, though I did not intend to stay so long, I enjoyed every satisfaction I could wish, which I attribute, in part, to the marks of friendship shewn me by Mr. Crespigny, and the generous disposition of the inhabitants of this truly opulent city, who honoured me with many distinguished testimonies of their benevolence, and proved themselves to be as elevated in sentiment, as their city is in splendour.

            From Bristol I went to Chester, where the civilities and kindness I met with detained me some weeks. It was during my stay there I got acquainted with one of those men, who, having received from nature good abilities and a good appearance, think themselves exempt from the trouble of being provided with principles of honour and integrity; and who, compelled through their misconduct to leave their own country, establish themselves in foreign lands, abusing the credulity and good faith of those whom they find means to inspire with confidence. This man assumed the name of the Marquis de Montpellier, and for a while was very cautious not to come to my apartments but among great people, with whom he strove to act an officious part, in order to give me a good opinion of his connexions. Nor did he fail in his design: for he artfully persuaded me, that he was in habits of intimacy with the first nobility of Ireland; that, if he would attempt it, nothing could be so easy as for him to procure me there a subscription of two thousand guineas; and that, for this purpose, he had only to set out before me, to secure a house, and announce my coming, in order to prepare their minds for my reception; so that I could not help giving credit to all the chimeras he amused me with. Thus, the pretended Marquis set out, invested with full power, and I followed him in a fortnight after.

            I recollect, I had a fortunate passage, and as Lady Clermont had condescended to give me a letter to the master of the packet, I had much reason to be pleased with the attention and care of the Captain, and all his crew; who, notwithstanding many pressing entreaties, would not accept the smallest remuneration for their trouble. On my arrival in Dublin, I hoped to find a house ready for me; but was extremely surprised at meeting my pretended friend, at an inn near the port, where he had announced me as a great lord. And, thanks to his provident care, I fared very daintily, not yet perceiving that I was his dupe. Nay, it was not till a fortnight after, that, being informed by a respectable person, both of the pretended Marquis's character, and the harm that such an acquaintance would do me, I had wisdom enough to get rid of dais parasite, by giving him money to cross the sea again.

            When I set out from London, many of my acquaintances had been so attentive as to supply me with letters of recommendation, as well to his Grace the Lord Lieutenant, as to the chief lords and most of the distinguished ladies in Ireland. My Lord Viceroy sent me an invitation to his court on an assembly day; and, if I may judge from the reception I met with, I afforded them much pleasure. Some time after, he was succeeded by his Grace the Duke of Rutland, under whose patronage and that of the Duchess, I had the honour to give the Irish nobility a concert at the rotunda. The assembly was extremely brilliant, and her Grace the Vice-Queen was the principal ornament of it. The Duke, unfortunately, the very same night found himself indisposed, on which account I was deprived of the honour of his presence. His Grace's illness gave great uneasiness to the inhabitants of Dublin; but, by the skill of his eminent physician, who ordered him to take exercise in the open air, he speedily recovered. His Grace hunted the next day in his park. His complaint was the headache, which in general seized him in the afternoon. It had been long observed that he had a bad digestion, and of that complaint he died, greatly regretted by those who knew him.

            After remaining two years in Ireland, which was longer than I intended, in compliance with several pressing entreaties, I returned to England; and, travelling rapidly through Liverpool, Manchester, and Halifax, arrived at Leeds, where I intended to give a concert, to defray my expenses on the road; but found it, upon trial, to be impracticable, as a society of amateurs were there, who did not wish to oblige performers that were strangers, and who would not allow any of those who played with them, to be engaged on any account. Fortunately, I had the patronage of Colonel Wood, who, by his great exertion and kindness, procured from the neighbouring towns performers, who attracted mle a most elegant, profitable, and numerous assembly; for which the gallant Colonel deserves to be mentioned in this page, and his name engraven on my heart.

            This concert gained me some reputation; and, in consequence, the inhabitants of the town ran eagerly to see me. Amongst my visitors, I received into my apartments a lady, who might, in size, dispute the palm with the celebrated Daniel Lambert. All present fixed their eyes upon her, with surprise; but the laws of good breeding soon repressed our astonishment. Colonel Wood, with his usual politeness, offered her his seat upon the sofa; and we began a lively conversation, in which the lady did not join, listening, however, with an air of contempt. This behaviour displeased the whole company; upon which, Colonel Wood winked at me, as much as to say, take no notice of her; and I took this hint. But she seized the moment of silence, and asked me what religion I professed? "Madam," I replied, "I am a Roman Catholic." I saw her instantly turn her head, with a singular grimace, saying, there was no hope for me to go to heaven. "Excuse me, Madam," said I, "don't be so hasty in judging of such serious matters; we find in holy writ, that narrow is the gate to heaven." She said, the knew that. Then I replied, "I hope I have more chance than you;" looking, at the same moment, at her broad bulky shape, similar to that of Bacchus. The Colonel and the rest of the company could not refrain from laughing; and the lady was obliged to bid me adieu, and take her departure, with the idea I should never meet her in heaven. Perhaps she forgot the difference of our size, and did not consider how much she must be reduced, to be adapted to the measure of the gate. However, some one present, pleased with our brisk conversation, next day put it in the newspapers. But I was not informed of the public opinion, what side they thought right or wrong, being obliged immediately to set out.

            I passed rapidly through Birmingham, in order to be, at the time appointed, at Oxford, where I made it considerable stay; not losing any time for my own affairs, but merely to examine this truly wonderful University, which must be the admiration of all strangers, such is the magnificent and noble architecture of its colleges and halls. But there is no occasion for my being particular, as it has already been amply described by the best writers. Nothing is left for me, but to observe, that Britain must be a blessed nation, and the admiration of the world; for she opens the door of all kinds of knowledge to the children of her land, and is like a loving mother preventing her breast, to feed her hungry infants.

 

Prev Next