Page images
PDF
EPUB

to be surprised to see a man of his age at the theatre, for that he seldom came there except upon a very particular occasion, like the present; for that, considering the extent of his dominions and the number of his sube jects, he could spare but little time for such amusements. I endeavoured, in the turn of my answer, to lead him towards the subject of my embassy, but he seemed not disposed to enter into it farther than by delivering me a little box of old japan, in the bottom of which were some pieces of agate, and other stones, much valued by the Chinese and Tartars; and at the top a small book, written and painted by his own hand, which he desired me to present to the king, my master, as a token of his friendship, saying, that the old box had been 800 years in his family. He, at the same time, gave me a book for myself, also written and painted by him, together with several purses of areca nut. He likewise gave a purse of the same sort to Sir George Staunton, and sent some small presents to the other gentlemen of the embassy. After this, several pieces of silk or porcelain, but seemingly of no great value, were distributed among the Tartar princes and chief courtiers, who appeared to receive them with every possible demonstration of humility and gratitude,

The theatrical entertainments consisted of great va. riety, tragical and comical, several distinct pieces were acted in succession, though without any apparent connection with one another. Some of them were historical, and others of pure fancy, partly in recitativo, partly in singing, and partly in plain speaking, without any accompaniment of instrumental music, but abounding in battles, murders, and most of the usual incidents of

- the drama. Last of all was the grand pantomime, which, from the approbation it met with, is, I presume, considered as a first rate effort of invention and ingenuity. It seemed to me, as far as I could comprehend

it, to represent the marriage of the Ocean with the * Earth. The latter exhibited her various riches and - and productions, dragons, and elephants, and tigers, and - eagles, and ostriches, oaks, and pines, and other trees of

different kinds. The Ocean was not behind hand, but poured forth on the stage the wealth of his dominions, under the figures of whales and dolphins, po puses and

leviathans, and other sea monsters; besides ships, - rocks, shells, spunges, and corals, all performed by

concealed actors, who were quite perfect in their parts, and performed their characters to admiration. These two marine and land regiments, after separately parading, in a circular procession, for a considerable time, at last joined together, and, forming one body, came to the front of the stage, when, after a few evo

lations, they opened to the right and left, to give room se for the whale, who seemed to be the commanding

officer, to waddle forward; and who, taking his station FDF exactly opposite the emperor's box, spouted out of his

mouth into the pit several tons of water, which quickly Tele disappeared through the perforations of the floor. This seine ejaculation was received with the highest applause, cate and two or three of the great men at my elbow desired

me to take particular notice of it; repeating at the ripod same time, “ Hao, kung hao"-"Charming, delightful!"

31 6 A little before one o'clock in the afternoon we retired; event and at four we returned to court, to see the evening's

entertainments, which were exhibited on the lawn, in front of the great tent, or pavilion, where he had been

[ocr errors]

first presented to the emperor. He arrived. very soon weldi after us, mounted his throne, and gave the signal to e, put begin. We had now wrestling, and dancing, and tumbling, and posture making, which appeared to us parti- A four cularly awkward and clumsy, from the performers is in i being mostly dressed according to the Chinese costume, ze mai one inseparable part of which, is a pair of heavy quilted boots, with the soles of an inch thick. The wrestlers, wedish however, seemed pretty expert, and afforded much dis; whi version to such as were admirers of the palæstra. place

A boy climbed up a pole, or bamboo, thirty or forty gatest feet high, played several gambols, and balanced himself | There on the top of it, in various attitudes; but his performance fell far short of what I have often met with in drsing, India of the same kind.

A fellow lay down on his back, and then raised his feet, legs, and thighs perpendicularly, so as to form a right angle with his body. On the soles of his feet marka was placed a large, round, empty jar, about four feet their hom long, and from two and a half to three feet diameter This he balanced for some time, turning it round and round, horizontally, till one of the spectators put a little d green boy in it, who, after throwing himself into various postures at the mouth of it, came out and sat on the top. He then stood up, then fell flat upon his back, then shifted to his belly, and after showing a hundred tricks of that sort, jumped down upon the ground, and relieved his coadjutor.

A man then came forward, and, after fastening three slender sticks to each of his boots, took six porcelain dishes, of eighteen inches diameter, and balancing them separately at the end of a little ivory rod, which

[ocr errors]

ground he held in his hand, and twirling them about for some time, put them, one after the other, upon the points of the boot-sticks above mentioned, they continuing to turn round all the while. He then took two small sticks in his left hand, and put dishes upon them in the same manner as upon the other, and also one more upon the little finger of his right hand, so that he had nine dishes annexed to him at once, all twirling together, which in a few minutes he took off, one by one, and placed them regularly on the ground, without the slightest interruption or miscarriage.. • There were many other things of the same kind, but I saw none at all comparable to the tumbling, ropedancing, wire-walking, and straw-balancing of Sadler's Wells; neither did I observe any feats of equitation in the style of Hughes's and Astley's amphitheatres, although I had been always told, that the Tartars were remarkably skilful in the instruction and discipline of their horses. Last of all were the fire-works, which, in some particulars, exceeded any thing of the kind I had ever seen. One piece of machinery I greatly admired; a green chest, of five feet square, was hoisted up by a pulley, to the height of fifty or sixty feet from the ground; the bottom was so constructed as then suddenly to fall out, and make way for twenty or thirty strings of lanterns, inclosed in the box, to descend from it, unfolding themselves from one another by deĝrees, so as at last to form a collection of at least five hundred, each having a light of a beautifully-coloured tiame burning brightly within it. This devolution and development of lanterns, which appeared to me to be composed of gauze and paper, were several times repeated, and every time exhibited a difference of co · lour and figure. On each side was a correspondence

of smaller boxes, which opened in like manner as the others, and let down an immense net-work of fire, with divisions and compartments of various forms and dimensions, round and square, hexagons, octagons, and lozenges, which shone like the brightest burnished copper, and flashed like prismatic lightning with every impulse of the wind. The diversity of colours, indeed, with which the Chinese have the secret of clothing fire, seems one of the chief merits of their pyrotechny. The whole concluded with a volcano, or general explosion and discharge of suns and stars, squibs, bouncers, crackers, rockets, and grenadoes, which involved the gardens for above an hour after in a cloud of smoke. Whilst these entertainments were going forwards, the emperor sent to us a variety of refreshments, all which, as coming from him, the etiquette of the court required us to partake of, although we had dined but a short time before. · However meanly we must think of the taste and delicacy of the court of China, whose most refined amusements seem to be chiefly such as I have now described, together with the wretched dramas of the morning, yet it must be confessed, that there was something grand and imposing in the general effect that resulted from the whole spectacle. The emperor himself being seated in front upon his throne, and all his great men and officers attending in their robes of ceremony, and stationed on each side of him, some standing, some sitting, some kneeling, and the guards and standard-bearers behind them in incalculable num.

« PreviousContinue »