Imágenes de páginas

proved to my entire satisfaction ; and—soldier, Frenchman, and Papist though he be--the sooner I join your hands and get quit of this money, the better. Not a word, my dear Jane, unless to fix the day. Surely you are not going to compliment me for doing my duty ? I don't know how I shall part with her, though, well as you deserve her,” continued he, turning to Colonel d’Auberval ; “you must bring her sometimes to Belford;” and, passing the back of his withered hand across his eyes to brush off the unusual softness, the good dissenting minister walked out of the room.


The Thames Tunnel.
Good Monsieur Brunel,

Let misanthropy tell
That your work, half complete, is begun ill;

Heed them not, bore away

Through gravel and clay,
Nor doubt the success of your Tunnel.

That very mishap,

When Thames forced a gap,
And made it fit haunt for an otter,

Has proved that your scheme

Is no catchpenny dream ;-
They can't say “ 'twill never hold water."


Craven Street, Strand.
In Craven Street, Strand, ten attorneys find place,
And ten dark coal-barges are moor'd at its base.
Fly, Honesty, fly! seek some safer retreat ;
For there's craft in the river, and craft in the street.

Lines written under a Portrait of Jupiter and Danäe.
Fair Maid of Argos! dry thy tears, nor shun
The bright embrace of Saturn's amorous son.
Pour'd from high Heaven, athwart thy brazen tower,
Jove bends propitious in a glittering shower.
Take, gladly take, the boon the Fates impart;
Press the gilt treasure to thy panting heart;
And to thy venal sex this truth unfold-
How few, like Danäe, clasp both god and gold !


I OFTEN amuse myself in an idle hour by deviating from what may be called the epic history of mankind, into the strange and wayward episodes that tell sometimes of the madness of a whole nation, sometimes of the absurdities of individuals, who seem leagued together, as it were, for the purpose of proving the ludicrous extent to which the human intellect is susceptible of error of every description. The author of Hudibras


“ It is a pleasure quite as great

To be cheated, as to cheat ;" and really it would appear, from the innumerable eccentricities recorded in the memoirs of past ages, as if the extravagant notions of one man, when boldly and plausibly announced, exercised a sort of magnetic influence on others, creating a sense of pleasure proportioned to the degree of credulity which those hallucinations demanded. There is something in pretension itself which subdues opposition. We do not reason about it-we do not examine it—we give it credit for being well-founded, and we are delighted at the opportunity of knowing, or of expecting to know, anything beyond the ordinary range of our ideas. Mystery has an indefinable charm for us all—even for those amongst us who affect only to be guided by matter-of-fact evidence. If such a thing as enchantment were capable of being realized, there is not a senator or a judge in the land who would not be enchanted at least once a year.

I myself, who now write about human folly, am just as much given, I confess it honestly, to that pleasant mood as any of my neighbours. For instance, I firmly believe that before I entered the atmosphere of this planet I existed in some other region. It is true that I have no recollection of it; but it is equally true that I do not recollect any of the sensations that must have passed through my frame during the period of life which immediately preceded my birth. The faculties which I enjoyed during my former existence were such as I should have no occasion for here, and therefore I left them behind me, as the butterfly drops the organization of the caterpillar. Neither will the faculties which I now possess be of the slightest use to me in the stage of being that is to follow this world. Our sensations are strictly limited to the nature of the circumstances in which we are placed ; and when those circumstances change, we change with them from planet to planet throughout the variations of eternity.

I know that this globe, which we call the earth, is inhabited. The air, the waters, and the solid strata beneath our feet, teem with living creatures. Man commands them all by his intellectual power; and yet, if I ascend to the dome of St. Paul's, I see him below me not much larger than a crow: if I go a little higher in a balloon, I lose sight of him altogether. Place me on Mars, and I behold this earth, which we consider so immense, reduced to the size of a marble ; waft me beyond Uranus, and of your entire solar system I can discern only the sun, which would twinkle in my night like a common star. I say, therefore, that every star which we see is a sun to worlds of its own; that those worlds are all inhabited by creatures who live, and die, and pass on from one mode of existence to another; and that analogy leads me to believe that I lived somewhere beyond earth before, as that I shall live out of it hereafter.

When of a fine, clear, summer night I look up at the countless fires with which the canopy of heaven is filled, I see them huddled together without any regard whatever to harmonious effect, so far as the eye of man is concerned. We have, indeed, classed them into degrees of magnitude, and figured them in our charts in a thousand fanciful groups, to which we have given the most absurd names. But perfect harmony and beauty of arrangement the stars must present from some point of view, which we cannot at present attain. We are at the wrong side of the magnificent fabric to be able to appreciate its divine proportions, and this fact alone shows that we are in a state of progress from imbecility to perfection. If we perceive dimly now the system of the universe, the period must arrive when we shall grasp the whole within our ken with a faculty all but omnipotent.

This earth has its scenes of beauty which we can easily appreciate. The mountain, towering above the clouds and covered with the snows of centuries, is placed for us in contrast with the green valley, watered by bright streams whose music soothes our ear, and peopled by herds and flocks that furnish us with raiment and food. There is no tree that grows that is not calculated by the disposition of its branches for, picturesque effect. The very shades of their leaves present an agreeable variety,---from the silver of the ash to the lead of the olive. At every step we take we behold a flower that is a world of beauty in itself;

-its slender green stem,-its graceful chalice,-its leaves painted, each from a model of its own, in all the hues of the rainbow. Upon those leaves, or in the grass beneath them, or in the air around them, myriads of insects are moving in families, -most of them clothed in similar colours,-from the blaze of the fire-fly to the funeral garb of the beetle. In the stream a similar diversity of form and colour appears; and the woods resound with winged creatures who follow the same law of variety, calculated to attract and to please the eye of man. Physically speaking, therefore, we are at home here; that is to say, all our senses are adapted to the position in which we are placed, so far as our terrestrial existence is concerned. But the eye of the mind goes infinitely farther than the limits to which the body is restricted. We have made for ourselves instruments by which we can discern thousands of other worlds not visible to the unassisted sense, and which have taught us to feel that qur present habitation is but one of the mansions of intelligent beings with which the universe abounds.

It is not then to be wondered at, if we find man in all ages, like a bird just taken from his native forest, beating his wings constantly against the wires of his cage. The objects which we see around us are as nothing compared with those which we do not see. If the inventor of the hydro-oxygen microscope had lived three hundred years ago, he would have been indicted and convicted, and perhaps burnt as a sorcerer. We who behold the wonders which that instrument discloses to the view, nevertheless feel it difficult to believe, when we up a drop of water on the head of a pin, that it is crowded with organized beings, who live upon each other, and still find within that small

compass more nutriment than they can consume. What is the eye, then, as a guide to the mind ? It is but a flickering light which often misrepresents objects, and which,


however useful for general purposes, frequently grows pale before the fire of the intellect itself. That fire is given more or less to every man; but at best it breaks out in flashes, like the lightning on the distant hills, now revealing a glorious prospect for a moment, now consigning it to darkness more dense than before. Thus, between the bodily organ fitted only for the purposes of this life, and the ethereal spirit adapted for other stages of existence, we perpetually fluctuate from plain fact to incomprehensible mystery.

It is, in truth, to this double character which man sustains, bearing in the same person the developed organs of a perishable animal and the germ of an immortal cherub, that we are to trace all the superstitions and delusions which have prevailed in the world ever since it has been peopled by our race. Our very dreams are calculated to create inquiry beyond the curtains which veil futurity from our view. Pythagoras and Plato, the wisest men of their age, not only paid great attention to those visions of the night, but prescribed a system of diet which was supposed to be conducive to their prophetic power, their consistency and clear

The discipline of the Roman armies was preserved, and their valour frequently raised to heroism, by means of auspices which to us appear of the most ridiculous description. The Indians of America have a thousand peculiar superstitions, for which they are in some measure indebted to their interminable forests, and the vast solitudes over which they pursue


prey. Perhaps the most natural of all modes of divination, if we may use the epithet, was that which derived its inAuence from the stars. Before man had been enabled, by a series of fortunate discoveries, to penetrate in some degree into the laws by which the universe is governed, he looked at the stars as exclusively connected with his own world, and, beholding the same luminaries, night after night, his associations of happiness or misery became connected with their positions and their aspects.

The mystic doctrines of astrology were cultivated during several centuries in the most civilized countries of Europe, especially in Germany, where they have by no means as yet fallen into entire contempt. Even in England, I myself am acquainted with a gentleman who confidently believes, not that he can predict the future, but that he can truly relate the past events in the life of a person who is for the first time introduced to him, provided the party can state the exact moment of his birth. When this moment is ascertained, our modern astrologer refers to his Ephemerides, in which the rising and setting of the principal constellations are marked down, and, by a process of calculation which he does not disclose, he then proceeds to relate the very periods when circumstances of a pleasant or disagreeable nature occurred to the inquirer. I have been present at some of these exhibitions of the astrological art, and was obliged to admit, from the acknowledgments of the persons whose past histories were thus revealed, that there was something in the matter beyond my comprehension.

It is little more than a century ago since a physician of the classic name of Agricola, who lived at Ratisbon, obtained great celebrity by certain discoveries which he declared he had made as to the multiplication of plants and trees. He could produce, he said, from a small branch, or even from a leaf, sixty large forest-trees in the course of an hour, through the sole instrumentality of fire. He published several works on the subject, to one of which-entitled “ Agriculture parfaite, ou nouvelle Découverte,” &c., printed at Amsterdam, in two volumes, in the year 1720 —the reader may refer, if he have any fancy for studies of that kind. If Agricola really exhibited his experiments in the presence of others, he must have taken a leaf out of the books of the Indian jugglers, whose feats in the same line are of the most extraordinary character. They actually sow the seed of any tree which the spectator calls for, in the earth, and after a few cabalistical words are pronounced over it, a mulberry, a palm, or a walnut plant, is seen gradually springing upward, which never ceases to grow until it becomes a large tree, with its natural fruit depending from its branches! This is not all. The fruit is plucked and given to the spectator to eat; and while he is engaged in partaking of the enchanted dates or walnuts, the branches of this miraculous tree are crowded with birds of every kind of plumage, who fill the air with their melody. A signal is then given, and the tree, with its feathered inhabitants, disappears in an instant, leaving behind it not a trace of its existence !

If an exhibition of this incomprehensible nature were related to me from some old manuscript of the middle ages, I should at once laugh at the writer as a person who had been deluded by scme clumsy contrivance, or who had invented the narrative for the purpose of deception. But feats of a similar description are performed in our own day in India, which have been witnessed by thousands of our countrymen. The author of the “ Oriental Annual," a gentleman of unquestionable veracity, mentions a scene at which he was present, that made my blood run cold when first I read it. The operator introduces into the middle of the circle a naked little girl, about eight years old, in a wicker basket. The girl is shown to all the spectators. The operator then enters into a conversation with her which soon assumes an angry tone; he threatens to kill her with a drawn sword, she supplicates for mercy, and while her piteous cries grow louder and louder, he plunges the weapon in her bosom two or three times successively. The earth is dyed with blood, while her agonizing groans announce dissolution. The spectators are ready to fall on the wretch whom they believe to be guilty of so barbarous a murder, when the little girl enters the circle from without, dressed in her usual attire, and as gay as if nothing whatever had happened to her!

A still more extraordinary feat than this took place in the presence of the Emperor Jehangire, of whose curious Autobiographical Memoirs an account is given in the last Number of the “Quarterly Review.” The performers produced a living man, whose head they cut off in the first instance. They next divided the limbs from the trunk, and the mutilated remains lay on the ground for some time. A curtain was then extended over the spot, and one of the performers, putting himself under the curtain, emerged from it again in a few minutes, followed by the individual who was supposed to have been so completely dissected !

As these Memoirs happen to be open before me, and are very little known, I shall mention two or three other exhibitions which very much astonished the emperor, and can hardly fail to amuse the reader. I shall select from amongst those which have not been noticed in the Quarterly.”

They took a small bag, and having first shown that it was entirely empty, one of them put his hand into the hag; on withdrawing his hand again, out came two game cocks of the largest size and great

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »