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"The Woo-Tang Mountains" by Thomas Allom

Commentary by G.H. Wright

In the schistose district of the Meilung mountains, that engross the southern part of Kiang-si, the forms of the cliffs and the crags are more varied than art could ever have made them, and than nature generally does. The goddess, however, in a sportive mood, seems to have moulded the amazingly diversified surface of the Woo-tang rocks, in which the Kan-kiang-ho has its source; for, the toppling position of the great mass that overhangs the village of Woo-tang and the vale of Nan-kang-foo, is obedient rather to the strength of adhesion than the laws of gravity. An Alpine grandeur pervades the whole mountain chain to the north of the Meilung group; and the Chinese are so entirely devoted to pleasure, so much engrossed by superstition, such victims to actual romance, that they associate every picturesque spot amidst these cloud-capped pinnacles with a legend of pleasure or pain-a duty enjoined by custom- a pilgrimage dictated by caprice or idleness.

The Woo-Tang Mountains (Wutang)

Many of the princes of Woo have acquired celebrity by their chivalrous bearing, by their disinterested patriotism, their great wisdom, or their solid, learning. One, however, is remembered with more feeling: his story has found, more sympathy than the sorrows or the sufferings of his kindred, from its interesting and romantic character. Too-fan was a prince of undaunted courage, great personal graces, and cultivated, mind. Whether he was disgusted with the insipidity of a courtier's life, or was inspired naturally with a love of wandering, is uncertain; but one day, after he had reached, the age of twenty, he left his royal home to enjoy the pleasures of the chase, and did not return at the accustomed time. Couriers were dispatched in all directions, and public proclamations issued, offering immense rewards to any one who could reveal the mystery of his sudden disappearance-but in vain. At length the emperor abandoned all hope of recovering his favourite son, went through the prescribed forms of wailing for an heir deceased, and appointed a successor to the lost but loved Too-fan. Time rolled its ceaseless course, and Hoo-fan, lately elected successor to the throne,, accompanied by a retinue of courtiers, proceeded to hunt in the valleys and amidst the rocks of Woo-tang; but the sportsmen being separated by the chances of the chase, the royal heir missed his companions, and rode in search of them down a sequestered glen, until he was exhausted by fatigue, and apprehensive of being overtaken by the darkness of night. In this distressing situation, a young female, modestly attired, approached him, inquired the occasion of his so little expected visit to that unfrequented spot, and invited him to alight, and take shelter in her lowly dwelling. Astonished at her exquisite beauty, at the kind yet unembarrassed manner in which she offered to extend the rites of hospitality to a stranger, Hoo-fan for awhile was not able to reply: attributing his silence to fatigue, she at once called for assistance, which was answered by the appearance of a young man at the cottage door,' who immediately advanced, and conducted the wanderer in.

Here the prince passed a night not of rest but distraction, although every effort that hospitality and benevolence could dictate was employed to reconcile him, and safe guidance to the precincts of his well-known hunting-ground, promised him on the morrow. But the surpassing beauty of his benefactress had made an impression on his heart, that reason could never efface; and his elevated rank induced him to believe, that it was not in mortal power to prevent him from one day calling her his own. This, however, was a fatal folly, and he lived just long enough to regret the error of such ungovernable passion. Perceiving that the beautiful mountaineer was the wife of the cottager, he proposed at once to purchase her, and increased his price to such an extravagant amount, that his host at length concluded that folly or madness could alone have prompted him to this singular request; leading him, accordingly, to the limit of his lonely vale, he bade him be happy, and farewell.

These, last words found no echo in the heart of Hoo-fan, who was henceforth to become the prey of a lawless and a hopeless passion; and, proceeding rather as his animal carried than himself conducted, at length returned to his companions, who were overjoyed at again beholding their royal leader. Changed in his very nature by the flame that withered up all his moral feelings, Hoo-fan now began to plot the destruction of the peasant of Woo-tang, that he might remove what he deemed the only impediment to the possession of his fair companion; and for this purpose, approaching his imperial father, he laid before him a grievance which he said ought to be immediately redressed. He told him how a bold rebel, of whose exact name he was uncertain, but whose secret home he knew, in defiance of imperial pleasure, continually hunted in the royal domains; and prayed permission to suppress the offence by punishing the offender. His request being granted, Hoo-fan set out, with a chosen few of his profligate associates, and reaching the once happy valley of Woo-tang, acquainted the cottager, who had treated him so hospitably when his life was in his power, that information of his predatory habits having reached the imperial throne, he had been deputed to inquire into the circumstances. Ingratitude, and a still deeper contempt for his fellow-men, for a moment overpowered the innocent victur, who bad not passed unnoticed the attention with which Hoo-fan had regarded his faithful wife; but, recovering himself quickly, he formed his resolution. "Great prince," said he, " allow me to give instructions to my dearly-loved wife, for the arrangements of our cottage during my absence, after which I shall obediently attend you." The prince withdrew, leaving the afflicted wife to hear the last fond words which the partner other solitude was ever, as Hoo-fan purposed, to whisper in her ear; but a watchful Providence had decreed far otherwise. " When I depart," said the husband calmly, " with prince Hoo-fan, and his satellites, do you, my dear wife, ascend yon hill, and hasten to the imperial palace by the shortest way; tell the chief officer of the court to bear this girdle, with the bright diamond that adorns it, to the emperor, wherever he may be; adding, that the owner is now on the way to an ignominious death, by the imperial order, and that the imperial presence alone can save him. Speed, and may Fo, the god of the faithful and the fond, befriend you."

Hoo-fan having told the emperor that such an offender did exist, must necessarily have inflicted punishment upon him for the pretended crime, in somewhat of a public manner, unless one of his infamous coadjutors should have boldness enough to supersede this necessity by assassination. This, however, would have been an attempt of the most perilous kind, the captive being a man of gigantic stature, extraordinary muscular power, and possessing the fleetness and activity of those very animals of the chase, which he was accused of pursuing and overtaking on foot. He was conducted, therefore, to the nearest tribunal, the summit of a lofty rock, which was itself enclosed between two huge perpendicular masses; and on this plateau, in the eye of just heaven, the iniquitous trial and punishment were to take place.

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