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amounted to 700 per diem. The pestilence was caused in great measure by the crowded and filthy condition of the conventillos
, or cheap lodging-houses, which were an institution in Buenos Ayres
. It was not till the middle of February that the Government plucked up courage to interfere with them. When at last they were broken up, and the huddled-up denizens turned into the country, the infecting influences by degrees subsided,
In this quarter of the world the foreign historian of the year has to record no important political events, but some physical calamities on a large scale : to wit, the spread of the cholera in Arabia ; violent inundations at Tientsin and other places in China; and a very terrible famine in Persia, for which charitable collections were set on foot in England.
“A population of four millions,” says the Times of October 26th, “scattered over an arid country about as large as Great Britain and France together, is being swept away by thousands and tens of thousands. It appears that a large number of the inhabitants of Persia belong to wandering tribes whose sustenance is provided by their flocks and herds, and who are, therefore, entirely dependent on pasturage. Three years of drought have almost totally destroyed the grass on the mountain sides and in the valleys, and the people and their cattle have been perishing together. The suffering may have been less severe in the cultivated districts; but even there it has been terrible, and the accounts from the cities alone are sufficiently appalling. At Ispahan, the capital, 12,000 people have died of want, and more than double that number in the province. Out of a population of 10,000 at Kazeroon, as many as 4000 have been starved to death, 4000 more bave fled the place, and children have been trampled to death underfoot in the scramble for relief. It is impossible to look for any natural recovery until next spring, and the country possesses none of the ordinary means of transport and supply. There are not even, according to Sir Henry Rawlinson, the means of transporting grain from one district to another. The people are, as it were, perishing in a wilderness, and their future sufferings must be awful unless other nations come to their
Speaking of this Persian famine, M. Arminius Vambéry says, “Agriculture in Persia is in a very primitive state; the want of water is so great that the fields have to be irrigated by subterranean canals, which extend across the country for miles, and the peasant seldom cultivates more than what is required for his household, as the people live on nothing but vegetables for four months in the year. There is, consequently, never any considerable superfluity of corn, and the results of a bad harvest are terrible. : .. governors of the various provinces, and all the members of the
ruling dynasty, have collected all the reserves of corn, and are selling it at extraordinary high prices to the starving population.
The King himself does not take part in this disgraceful trade, but he seems to be troubled but little with the anxieties of government, for he passes about ten months of the year in hunting, and during that time the greatest catastrophes may fall on his country without any one coming forward to remedy them. Is it surprising that under such circumstances the people should take their destinies into their own hands ? Already a rebellion has broken out in Shiraz against the ruling prince, Yemin-ed-Dowlet. Similar outbreaks have taken place in Yezd, Kirman, and Tabriz.
· Every where political parties are springing up, some desiring a Russian, others an English occupation of Persia; while a powerful national party wishes to put on the throne Abbas Mirza, the brother of the Shah, who lives on an English pension at Bagdad.”
LITERATURE, ART, AND SCIENCE IN 1871.
The year 1871 will perhaps not be conspicuous in the annals of future literary historians as the date of the appearance of any book of first-rate excellence. We must, of course, speak with due reserve, for such books are not always discovered by contemporaries; and amongst the masses of literature which have filled the shelves of our circulating libraries it is possible that there may be some system of philosophy or politics destined to change the face of the world, or some poem which our grandchildren will be learning by heart and admiring as a masterpiece of the Victorian era. It may be so, for 176 new books of poetry appeared in 1871, to say nothing of 155 new novels, whilst there were 562 contributions to theological literature, and a proportional quantity of works of a different description. Now, as we can make no pretensions to have read through the whole of this vast mass; as we have, moreover, learnt by sad examples that the critics who praise and the critics who damn are alike fallible, we must be content to run the risk of omitting some works which really deserve praise, and of noticing others which will have but an ephemeral existence. All that we can profess to do with any certainty is to give a brief account of those books which have made the widest impression upon the public, or which have excited most interest amongst the smaller circle who claim to be qualified judges. Even if the popularity has been fleeting, the fact that it once existed is of some interest; and it is worth while to record the opinions of critics by office, even if the only result is to illustrate once more their liability to error.
We shall begin by noticing two small publications which come under the first category, and which enjoyed a popularity significant at any rate of the state of the national feeling at the time. We refer to the two little pamphlets called the “Battle of Dorking" and the “Fight at Dame Europa's School.” Both of them owed their origin to the Franco-Prussian war. The “Battle of Dorking" originally appeared in “Blackwood's Magazine.” It was a bit of imaginary history, intended to illustrate the unprepared state of this country to resist a foreign invasion. It was in the form of recollections by an old volunteer, supposed to have been engaged in the campaign which took place when a German army had landed on the south coast and was advancing upon London. The critical action took place at Dorking, and ended in the total defeat of the English forces after a gallant engagement. The story was ingeniously contrived to illustrate the defects of our military organization; and showed how, from no want of physical courage or of patriotic feeling, a mixed force of regulars, militia, and volunteers was placed at a terrible disadvantage when confronted by thoroughly disciplined and admirably commanded troops. The design, though ingenious, was not in itself remarkably original. The story, however, owed its success not merely to the degree in which it corresponded to the feelings of the time, but to the marked literary skill with which a number of picturesque details were combined so as to produce a startling verisimilitude. The incidents were, of course, borrowed more or less from the contemporary records of the Continental war. They were, however, skilfully adapted to the local peculiarities of English life and scenery, and critics were not wanting who declared that nothing more excellent had been done in this particular way since the time of Defoe. We shall not attempt to say how far this judgment may be confirmed when we have had time for cooler observation. We shall only add that the secret of the authorship has not yet been revealed, although it has been publicly stated and not contradicted that Colonel Chesney, the head of the new Indian Civil Engineering College at Cooper's Hill, was the author in question.
The other pamphlet to which we have referred enjoyed a popularity which perhaps requires more explanation. The allegory sets forth the details of a disturbance which had begun in Dame Europa's School by a thrashing admi. nistered by William to Louis, whilst the other boys, and especially wohn, look on without interference. When Louis has been well thrashed, he begs John to help him
“What can I do P' says John. 'I have no power ; besides, you began.' • Well, thank you kindly then, John, for—the sticking-plaister. But when William and Louis do not appear at dinner-time, Dame Europa takes up the matter, and, learning how the case is from the small boys, she demands of John why he had not separated the two combatants. Please, ma'am, because I was a neutral,' answers John. "A what, sir ' 'A neutral, ma'am. "Just precisely what you had no business to be,' replies the Dame. Any baby can be that; I might as well have made little George here a monitor if I had meant him to have nothing to do.' John urges that he did take a sideindeed, both sides : the little boys tittering cry in chorus that he sucked up to both of them.' And then the Dame gives John a smart lecture. She says that she has long watched his career with pain, and had seen him content to sacrifice duty, influence, and honour for the sake of money. Nobody cares now what he thinks or says, because he has grown a sloven and a screw. He has, instead of making them desist, been sitting in his shop coining coppers out of his schoolfellows' wounds and misery. It is in vain he pleads that ‘Louis began, and that William is only defending his fatherland.' It is very like defence, the Dame observes contemptuously, to chase a boy half across the playground, spoil his flower-beds, and try to kick him and his arbour to pieces. Finally, as being unfit for his post, John is to be dismissed from the monitorship; but the chorus of small boys having loudly represented the excellence of his conduct in the matter of giving cold water, plaister, lint, &c., and doing all kinds of things' for the two culprits, he is eventually permitted to remain monitor on condition of future good conduct. “If it be really true that the head and champion of the school is thoroughly beaten by circumstances—utterly at a loss at some critical moment what is the right thing to do let him confess at once that he is unequal to the place; that he is not the boy we took him for; that his courage has been overrated, and his reputation as a hero too cheaply earned; that for all his vaunted influence with others he is too weak to stay an unrighteous strife, to avert a storm of cruel
, savage blows; to spare the infliction of wounds which will lie gaping and unhealed for long, long years to come, bearing on their ghastly face a bitter hatred of the foe that dealt them, and contempt for the neutral' friend who calmly looked on.''
We need not discuss the moral. It suited the temper of the day; and the apologue enjoyed a wonderful popularity. “Dame Europa" and the "Battle of Dorking” both enjoyed a circulation, as it was said, of near 200,000. Independently of any question as to their literary merits, which we cannot reckon very highly in the last case, the result is certainly worth notice as illustrative of contemporary feeling.
Of various other books which resulted from the war, we shall only mention two, both of which originally appeared in the columns of the Daily News. That paper obtained a great reputation for the excellence of its war correspondence. A volume, containing a large selection from that part of it which described the campaign, both from the French and German point of view, was published, and obtained a deserved success. A more curious and characteristic book contained a description of Paris during the siege, by a gentleman who described himself as "the besieged resident.” It was marked by a peculiar humour, cynical enough, but also undeniably amusing. Few more graphic accounts of the feelings of an inhabitant of a town under such circumstances have ever been published, and they were not the less remarkable because he was in a state of imperfect sympathy with most of his fellowsufferers, which left him at full leisure to observe their foibles, and indeed to ridicule them unsparingly. Not that he spared himself. There is an amusing sincerity in his statement, on hearing that the bombardment was likely to injure the orchids in the hot-houses, and the Venuses in the galleries. "I know for my part,” he says, “ that I would rather that every statue and every plant in the world were shattered to atoms by shells than that I were.” The tone thus indicated pervades most of the narrative. We will quote a passage in which the “besieged resident" describes his feelings on finding himself finally shut up irremediably in the doomed city, and realizing the horrors of his fate.
He had been seized with a horrible feeling that he should some day or other marry a hideous old woman, like unto one of Macbeth's witches,” who was in the habit of making his bed. The petroleum of the lamps on the boulevards was getting too much for him, and he was growing tired of hearing, night after night, the undertakers in the room above him nail up the coffins of those who had died during the day. At last, on December the 29th-, immediately, it will be observed, before the appointed time at which the bombardment of the city was to begin—the “psychological moment” arrived, and we find the Resident exclaiming, in a strain of pathos which will go to many a heart,
“I am looking forward with horrible misgivings to the time when I shall have no more money, so that I shall, perhaps, be thankful for being lodged and fed at the public expense. My banker has withdrawn from Paris, and his representative declines to look at my bill, although I offer ruinous interest.