« AnteriorContinuar »
“ He told me, that he was one of seven friends, who all wandered up and down the world, with the same view of perfecting themselves in their studies, and that at parting, they always appointed another meeting at the end of twenty years, in a certain city which was mentioned, and that the first who came waited for the rest. I perceived, without his telling me, that Broussa was the city appointed for their present meeting. There were four of them there already, and appeared to converse with each other, with a freedom that spoke rather an old acquaintance, than an accidental meeting.”
With these persons the Sieur Lucas converses a long time about religion, natural philosophy, chemistry, alchemy, and the cabala.
“At last, I took the liberty to mention the illustrious Flamel, who, I said, had possessed the philosopher's stone, but was dead to all intents and purposes for all that. At the mention of his name, he smiled at my simplicity. As I bad by this time begun to yield some degree of credit to his discourse, I was surprised he should make a doubt of what I advanced upon this head ; the Dervise observed this, and could not help saying with an air of mirth, and do you really think the thing so ? do you actually believe Flamel is dead ? no, no, my friend, continued he, don't deceive yourself, Flamel is living still, neither he nor his wife are yet at all acquainted with the dead. It is not above three years ago since I left both the one and the other in the Indies, and he is, said he, one of my best friends; upon which, he was going to tell me, how their acquaintance grew, but stopping himself short of a sudden, that, said he, is little to the purpose, I will rather give you his true history, with respect to which, in your country, I dare say, you are not very well acquainted.
“We sages, continued he, though rare in the world, yet are of all sects and professions, neither is there any great inequality amongst us on that account. A little before the time of Flamel, there was u Jew of our fraternity; but as through his whole life he had a most ardent affection for his family, he could not elp desiring to see them after he once came to the knowledge of their being settled in France. We foresaw the danger of the thing, and did all that in us lay, to divert him from this journey, in which we often succeeded. At last, however, the passion of seeing his family grew so strong upon him, that go he would; but at the time of his departure, he made us a solemn promise to return to us as soon as it was possible. In a word, he arrived at Paris, which was, as it is now, the capital of the kingdom, and found there his father's descendants, in the highest esteem among the Jews.
Amongst others, there was a rabbi, who had a genius for the true philosophy, and who had been long in search of the great secret. Our friend did not hesitate at making himself known to his relation; on the contrary, he entered into a strict friendship with him, and gave him abundance of lights. But as the first matter is a long time preparing, he contented himself with putting into writing the whole series of the process, and to convince his nephew that
he had not amused him with falsehoods, he made projection in his presence on thirty ocques (an ocque is three pounds) of base metal, and turned it into pure gold. The rabbi, full of admiration, did all he could to persuade our brother to remain with him, but in vain ; because he, on the other hand, was resolved not to break his word with us. The Jew, when he found this, changed his affection into mortal hatred, and his avarice stifling all principles of nature and religion, he resolved to extinguish one of the lights of the universe. Dissembling, however, his black desigu, he besought the sage in the tenderest manner, to remain with him only for a few days. During this space, he plotted and executed his execrable purpose of murdering our brother, and made himself master of his medicine. Such horrible actions never remain long unpunished. Some other black things he had done came to light, for which the Jew was thrown into prison, convicted, and burnt alive.
“ The Jews fell soon after under a persecution at Paris, as without doubt you have heard. Flamel, more reasonable than the rest of his countrymen, entered into a strict friendship with some of them; and as his great honesty, and unblemished probity were well known, a Jew merchant intrusted him with all his books and papers, among which were those of the Jew which had been burnt, and the book that our brother had left with him. The merchant, taken up no doubt with his own affairs, and with the care of his trade, had never considered this valuable piece with any attention; but Flamel, whose curiosity led him to examine it more closely, perceiving several pictures of furnaces and alembics, and other vessels, he began immediately to apprehend that in this book was contained the grand secret. He got the first leaf of the book, which was in Hebrew, translated, and with the little he met with therein, was confirmed in his opinion; but knowing that the affair required prudence and circumspection, he took, in order to avoid all discovery, the following steps. He went into Spain, and as Jews were every where settled throughout that country, in every place that he came to, he applied himself
to the most learned, engaging each of them to translate a page of his book; having thus obtained an entire version, he set out again for Paris. He brought back with him a faithful friend of his, to labour with him in the work, and with whom he intended to share the secret; but a raging fever carried him off, and deprived Flamel of his associate. When therefore he came home, he and his wife entered together upon the work, and arriving in process of time at the secret, acquired immense riches, which they employed in building public edifices, and doing good to a multitude of people.”
The facts which we have quoted speak for themselves. The theories that have been from time to time brought forward, —of diet, air, exercise, &c., must of course be reduced to experiment, and take their station accordingly. With the astrologers we profess to have nothing to do: they are too occult. But the Hermetics are an interesting people. Less universal than ordinary conjurors, and with a sublimity to which our modern quacks (English or Italian) have no pretension, they have,
also, claims to our respect on the ground of pure and temperate lives, and sometimes of extensive learning.
We had intended to have devoted a page or two to the consideration of these wise men of the east and west ; but we must defer it to some other article. It would be curious to trace the descent of these sages,—from Pythagoras (who has been much slandered, we think) or his masters, the Egyptians, down to the fellows who eat fire at a fair,-the ventriloquists,—the venders of patent medicines,—the jugglers, the cheats, the mountebanks, &c. &c. They may all, we think, with a little trouble be derived from the same source; like rivers of different colours, clear and dull, rapid and slow, they branch out from the parent channel, and assume their own peculiar hues or figures. Some of these mystics have been knaves, no doubt : yet, mystery has been sometimes adopted for wise purposes, and deceit practised for benevolent ends. James's powders are given to children in jelly and sugar. It is the same with medicines of a different sort. Whether this be the best plan, or not, is another question. Good, like truth, should certainly be attained, where it is possible, by the straitest road : but where there is only one, and that circuitous, we think, that it would not be altogether wise to avoid it. But the ridentem dicere verum has caused much debate, and we do not desire to revive the question.
ART. VI.-The White Devil, or the Tragedie of P. Giordano
Ursini, Duke of Brachiano, with the Life and Death of Vittoria
Corombona, the famous Venetian Courtezan. 4to. 1612. The Devil's Law-case; or When Woman go to law, the Devil is
full of Business. Tragi-Com. 4to. 1623. The Dutchess of Malfy, a Tragedy, as it was approvedly well
acted at the Blackfriers, by his Majesties' Servants. The perfect and exact copy, with divers things printed, that the length of the Play would not bear in the Presentment. Written by John
Webster. Appius and Virginia ; a Tragedy, by John Webster. London, 1654.
In the course of our dramatic researches, we have continually occasion to regret the difficulty of obtaining any accurate information respecting the biography of the early authors in that species of literature. However distinctly the character of the poet may be marked in his works,-however well we may be able to ascertain the degrees in which these lights of the world,
these stars in the dramatic galaxy, differ from each other in magnitude, we cannot repress a feeling of dissatisfaction at our ignorance of their personal history, the want of which deprives them of half their individuality. Their lives seem to have been forgotten, “ 'ere the worm pierced their winding sheets,"—their names have become little more than an abstract idea, and their identity has for the most part merged in two or three syllables. We have wished, over and over, to know the history of their mental discipline-the process by which they became authorsnay, we have been almost as anxious to be acquainted with the lines of their face, as of their compositions. Of John Webster, we only know that he lived in the reign of James the First, was clerk of the parish of St. Andrew's, Holborn; and that after writing several plays, and one or two other compositions, he died, but when or where cannot now be discovered. If the emoluments of the office which he filled, bore any proportion to those which are said to be received from it at the present day, they were by no means inconsiderable. He is described in the “Notes from Blackfriars, 1620," as being ill-natured in criticism, and slow in composition. Whether the first charge be just or not, it is impossible to say, as none of his writings of that kind are now remaining; there is, however, strong evidence against its verity in the preface to The White Devil, in which he speaks in handsome terms of several of hiscontemporaries, and ill-naturedly of none. As to the last charge, he confesses in the same place “that he writes not with a goose-quill winged with two feathers.”
There are four plays written by Webster, now extant, besides two wbich he is said to have written in conjunction with Rowley, called The Thracian Wonder, and a Cure for a Cuckold; and three which he wrote in conjunction with Dekker, viz. Northward-Hoe, Westward-Hoe, and Wyat's History. It appears from the dedication to The Devil's Law Case, that he had written more than the plays mentioned at the head of this article.“ Some of my other works,” he says, “ as the White Devil, the Dutchess of Malfy, Guise, and others, you have formerly seen." Webster, however, has left behind a sufficient number of plays to entitle him to the gratitude of every lover of the histrionic art; we say of the histrionic art, because they are much better calculated for representation than most of our early dramas. Indeed, nothing can be more distinct than the excellence which most peculiarly characterizes Webster, and that which distinguishes his predecessors and the generality of his contemporaries. They are, in truth, very opposite branches of the dramatic art. An author may unite just conception and skilful portraiture of character, with an ardent imagination and poetical enthusiasm, and yet fail in the production of an effective play. He may scatter about his pages the blossoms of
poetry with the prodigality of a genius, whose affluence is inexhaustible, -he may dazzle us with new images or new combinations of old ones,—he may sooth the ear with the delicious harmony of his versification, or charm us with characters of unfading beauty ; and the drama, notwithstanding all these high qualities, be unfit for public representation. But, if he be not impressive as a spectacle, he delights as a companion,—he has his reward in the study,-he is taken into our bosoms, and tires not with repetition. There is, on the other hand, a class of dramatists with perhaps less genius but more judgement, whose excellence is purely scenic, and upon whom, if the original intention of dramatic composition, effect in representation, mere acting, were the test of superiority, the palm would be bestowed; -their success is more striking but less permanent than that of the former. Repetition weakens their effect; the action of such pieces fades from the memory when the poetry and characters of the other class is engraven on it in characters, which
grey hairs may modify but not destroy. All things are not given to all writers; and there are but very few who conjoin both these qualifications. The present object of our consideration, is not to be ranked amongst these rare geniuses ; but he is an admirable dramatist, a learned artist in his own department. In reading our early dramatic poets, we cannot help being forcibly struck with the boldness with which they adventure on strange and eccentric characters, and the eagerness with which they seize on extraordinary incidents, that make the nerves tingle and the blood run cold. Webster was not behind the rest in these singular predilections, and if he had less imagination in the conception of them, he had more skill in working them up. Theobald, in the preface to his tragedy of The fatal Secret, altered from the Dutchess of Malfy, describes him as an impetuous genius, who travels so fast, that the imagination of his spectators cannot keep pace with him. To this opinion, however, we cannot assent; he appears to us to have possessed a strong mind, which kept its object steadily in view, and to the accomplishment of which he proceeded at as sober a pace as he probably did in the performance of his functions of a parish clerk, never allowing bis enthusiasm to run away with his judgement. Indeed, of enthusiasm he had but little, at least he always kept it in perfect subserviency to his grand object to produce effect. But, although his judgement is conspicuous in the management of his incidents, he never thought of restraining himself within the canons of dramatic criticism. “If it be objected,” says he in his preface to The White Devil, " this is no true dramatic poem, I shall easily confess it, Non potes in nugas dicere plura meas, ipse ego quam dixi; willingly and not ignorantly have I faulted. For should a man present