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TANZS long as I can remember the play of SUGA “The Tempest,” one passage in it has
K always set me upon wondering. It has E
puzzled me beyond measure. In vain I strove to find the meaning of it. I seemed doomed to cherish infinite, hopeless curiosity.
It is where Prospero, relating the banishment of Sycorax from Argier, adds :
For one thing that she did,
They would not take her life. How have I pondered over this when a boy! How have I longed for some authentic memoir of the witch to clear up the obscurity! Was the story extant in the chronicles of Algiers ? Could I get at it by some fortunate introduction to the Algerine ambassador ? Was a voyage thither practicable? The Spectator, I knew, went to Grand Cairo only to measure the pyramid. Was not the object of my quest of at least as much importance? The blue-eyed hag! could she have done anything good or meritorious ? might that succubus relent? then might there be hope for the Devil. I have often admired since that none of the commentators have boggled at this passage; how they could ON A PASSAGE IN “THE TEMPEST.” 275 swallow this camel, such a tantalizing piece of obscurity, such an abortion of an anecdote.
At length, I think I have lighted upon a clue which may lead to show what was passing in the mind of Shakespeare when he dropped this imperfect rumour. In the “Accurate Description of Africa, by John Ogilby (folio), 1670,” page 230, I find written as follows. The marginal title to the narrative is, “Charles the Fifth besieges Algier :”–
“In the last place, we will briefly give an account of the emperour, Charles the Fifth, when he besieg'd this city; and of the great loss he suffer'd therein.
“This prince, in the year one thousand five hundred forty-one, having embarqued upon the sea an army of twenty-two thousand men aboard eighteen gallies, and an hundred tall ships, not counting the barques and shallops, and other small boats, in which he had engaged the principal of the Spanish and Italian nobility, with a good number of the Knights of Malta ; he was to land on the coasts of Barbary, at a cape callid Matifou. From this place unto the city of Algier, a flat shore or strand extends itself for about four leagues, the which is exceeding favourable to gallies. There he put ashore with his army, and in a few days caused a fortress to be built, which unto this day is call'd the castle of the Emperour.
“In the meantime the city of Algier took the alarm, having in it at that time but eight hundred Turks, and six thousand Moors, poor-spirited men, and unexercised in martial affairs ; besides it was at that time fortifi'd only with walls, and had no outworks : insomuch that by reason of its weakness, and the great forces of the Emperour, it could not in appearance escape taking. In fine, it was attempted with such order, that the army came up to the very gates, where the Chevalier de Sauignac, a Frenchman by nation, made himself remarkable above all the rest, by the miracles of his valour. For having repulsed the Turks, who, having made a sally at the gate call's Babason, and there desiring to enter along with them, when he saw that they shut the gate upon him, he ran his ponyard into the same, and left it sticking deep therein. They next fell to battering the city by the force of cannon; which the assailants so weakened, that in that great extremity the defendants lost their courage, and resolved to surrender.
“But as they were thus intending, there was a witch of the town, whom the history does not name, which went to seek out Assam Aga, that commanded within, and pray'd him to make it good yet nine days longer, with assurance, that within that time he should infallibly see Algier delivered from that siege, and the whole army of the enemy dispersed, so that Christians should be as cheap as birds. In a word, the thing did happen in the manner as foretold ; for upon the twenty-first day of October, in the same year, there fell a continual rain upon the land, and so furious a storm at sea, that one might have seen ships hoisted into the clouds, and in one instant again precipitated into the bottom of the water: insomuch that the same dreadful tempest was followed with the loss of fifteen gallies, and above an hundred other vessels ; which was the cause why the Emperour, seeing his army wasted by the bad weather, pursued by a famine, occasioned by wrack of his ships, in which was the greatest part of his victuals and ammunition, he was constrain’d to raise the siege, and set ON A PASSAGE IN “THE TEMPEST.” 277 sail for Sicily, whither he retreated with the mises rable reliques of his fleet.
“In the meantime that witch being acknowledged the deliverer of Algier, was richly remune rated, and the credit of her charms authorized. So that ever since, witchcraft hath been very freely tolerated ; of which the chief of the town, and even those who are esteem'd to be of greatest sanctity among them, such as are the Marabous, a religious order of their sect, do for the most part make profession of it, under a goodly pretext of certain revelations which they say they have had from their prophet, Mahomet.
“And hereupon those of Algier, to palliate the shame and the reproaches that are thrown upon them for making use of a witch in the danger of this siege, do say that the loss of the forces of Charles V. was caused by a prayer of one of their Marabous, named Cidy Utica, which was at that time in great credit, not under the notion of a magitian, but for a person of a holy life. Afterwards in remembrance of their success, they have erected unto him a small mosque without the Babason gate, where he is buried, and in which they keep sundry lamps burning in honour of him : nay, they sometimes repair thither to make their sala, for a testimony of greater veneration.”
Can it be doubted, for a moment, that the dramatist had come fresh from reading some older narrative of this deliverance of Algier by a witch, and transferred the merit of the deed to his Sycorax, exchanging only the “rich remuneration,” which did not suit his purpose, to the simple pardon of her life? Ogilby wrote in 1670; but the authorities to which he refers for his account of Barbary are Johannes de Leo or Africanus, Louis Marmol, Diego de Haedo, Johannes Gramaye, Braeves, Cel. Curio, and Diego de Torres, names totally unknown to me, and to which I beg leave to refer the curious reader for his fuller satisfaction.