It is said that the delights of pleasures in anticipation exceed the pleasures themselves: in this case doubtless some months of great enjoyment passed in making plans of every description, until I at length arrived in Colombo, Ceylon's seaport capital.
I never experienced greater disappointment in an expectation than on my first view of Colombo. I had spent some time at Mauritius and Bourbon previous to my arrival, and I soon perceived that the far-famed Ceylon was nearly a century behind either of those small islands.
Instead of the bustling activity of the Port Louis harbor in Mauritius, there were a few vessels rolling about in the roadstead, and some forty or fifty fishing canoes hauled up on the sandy beach. There was a peculiar dullness throughout the town - a sort of something which seemed to say, "Coffee does not pay." There was a want of spirit in everything. The ill-conditioned guns upon the fort looked as though not intended to defend it; the sentinels looked parboiled; the very natives sauntered rather than walked; the very bullocks crawled along in the midday sun, listlessly dragging the native carts. Everything and everybody seemed enervated, except those frightfully active people in all countries and climates, "the custom-house officers:" these necessary plagues to society gave their usual amount of annoyance.
What struck me the most forcibly in Colombo was the want of shops. In Port Louis the wide and well-paved streets were lined with excellent "magasins" of every description; here, on the contrary, it was difficult to find anything in the shape of a shop until I was introduced to a soi-disant store, where everything was to be purchased from a needle to a crowbar, and from satin to sail-cloth; the useful predominating over the ornamental in all cases. It was all on a poor scale and after several inquiries respecting the best hotel, I located myself at that termed the Royal or Seager's Hotel. This was airy, white and clean throughout; but there was a barn-like appearance, as there is throughout most private dwellings in Colombo, which banished all idea of comfort.
A good tiffin concluded, which produced a happier state of mind, I ordered a carriage for a drive to the Cinnamon Gardens. The general style of Ceylon carriages appeared in the shape of a caricature of a hearse: this goes by the name of a palanquin carriage. Those usually hired are drawn by a single horse, whose natural vicious propensities are restrained by a low system of diet.
In this vehicle, whose gaunt steed was led at a melancholy trot by an equally small-fed horsekeeper, I traversed the environs of Colombo. Through the winding fort gateway, across the flat Galle Face (the race-course), freshened by the sea-breeze as the waves break upon its western side; through the Colpettytopes of cocoanut trees shading the road, and the houses of the better class of European residents to the right and left; then turning to the left - a few minutes of expectation - and behold the Cinnamon Gardens!
What fairy-like pleasure-grounds have we fondly anticipated! what perfumes of spices, and all that our childish imaginations had pictured as the ornamental portions of a cinnamon garden!
A vast area of scrubby, low jungle, composed of cinnamon bushes, is seen to the right and left, before and behind. Above, is a cloudless sky and a broiling sun; below, is snow-white sand of quartz, curious only in the possibility of its supporting vegetation. Such is the soil in which the cinnamon delights; such are the Cinnamon Gardens, in which I delight not. They are an imposition, and they only serve as an addition to the disappointments of a visitor to Colombo. In fact, the whole place is a series of disappointments. You see a native woman clad in snow-white petticoats, a beautiful tortoiseshell comb fastened in her raven hair; you pass her - you look back - wonderful! she has a beard! Deluded stranger, this is only another disappointment; it is a Cingalese Appo - a man - no, not a man - a something male in petticoats; a petty thief, a treacherous, cowardly villain, who would perpetrate the greatest rascality had he only the pluck to dare it. In fact, in this petticoated wretch you see a type of the nation of Cingalese.