Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
 
Telmessus
By William Makepeace Thackeray (1811–1863)
 
From A Journey from Cornhill

THERE should have been a poet in our company to describe that charming little bay of Glaucus, into which we entered on the 26th of September, in the first steamboat that ever disturbed its beautiful waters. You can’t put down in prose that delicious episode of natural poetry; it ought to be done in a symphony, full of sweet melodies and swelling harmonies; or sung in a strain of clear crystal iambics, such as Milnes knows how to write. A mere map, drawn in words, gives the mind no notion of that exquisite nature. What do mountains become in type, or rivers in Mr. Vizetelly’s best brevier? Here lies the sweet bay, gleaming peaceful in the rosy sunshine; green islands dip here and there in its waters; purple mountains swell circling round it; and towards them, rising from the bay, stretches a rich green plain, fruitful with herbs and various foliage, in the midst of which the white houses twinkle. I can see a little minaret, and some spreading palm trees; but, beyond these, the description would answer as well for Bantry Bay as for Makri. You could write so far, nay, much more particularly and grandly, without seeing the place at all, and after reading Beaufort’s Caramania, which gives you not the least notion of it.
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  Suppose the great hydrographer of the admiralty himself can’t describe it, who surveyed the place; suppose Mr. Fellowes, who discovered it afterwards—suppose, I say, Sir John Fellowes, Knt., can’t do it (and I defy any man of imagination to get an impression from his book)—can you, vain man, hope to try? The effect of the artist, as I take it, ought to be, to produce upon his hearer’s mind, by his art, an effect something similar to that produced on his own by the sight of the natural object. Only music, or the best poetry, can do this. Keats’s Ode to the Grecian Urn is the best description I know of that sweet, old, silent ruin of Telmessus. After you have once seen it, the remembrance remains with you, like a tune from Mozart, which he seems to have caught out of heaven, and which rings sweet harmony in your ears for ever after! It’s a benefit for all after life! You have but to shut your eyes, and think, and recall it, and the delightful vision comes smiling back to your order!—the divine air—the delicious little pageant, which nature set before you on this lucky day.  2
  Here is the entry made in the note-book on the eventful day;—“In the morning steamed into the bay of Glaucus—landed at Makri—cheerful old desolate village—theatre by the beautiful seashore—great fertility, oleanders—a palm-tree in the midst of the village, spreading out like a Sultan’s aigrette—sculptured caverns, or tombs, up the mountain—camels over the bridge.”  3
  Perhaps it is best for a man of fancy to make his own landscape out of these materials: to group the couched camels under the plane-trees; the little crowd of wandering, ragged heathens come down to the calm water, to behold the nearing steamer; to fancy a mountain, in the sides of which some scores of tombs are rudely carved; pillars and porticoes, and Doric entablatures. But it is of the little theatre that he must make the most beautiful picture, a charming little place of festival, lying out on the shore, and looking over the sweet bay and the swelling purple islands. No theatre-goer ever looked out on a fairer scene. It encourages poetry, idleness, delicious sensual reverie. O Jones! friend of my heart! would you not like to be a white-robed Greek, lolling languidly on the cool benches here, and pouring compliments in the Ionic dialect into the rosy ears of Neæra? Instead of Jones your name should be Ionides; instead of a silk hat, you should wear a chaplet of roses in your hair: you would not listen to the choruses they were singing on the stage, for the voice of the fair one would be whispering a rendezvous for the mesonuktiais horais, and my Ionides would have no ear for aught beside. Yonder, in the mountain, they would carve a Doric cave temple, to receive your urn when all was done; and you would be accompanied thither by a dirge of the surviving Ionidæ. The caves of the dead are empty now, however, and their place knows them not any more among the festal haunts of the living. But, by way of supplying the choric melodies sung here in old time, one of our companions mounted on the scene and spouted,
        “My name is Norval.”
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