« IndietroContinua »
that which precedes, is absolutely un- ancient connexion with the wilder. rivalled: and this it was, with his lux- ness, with the Orient, with Jerusalem, uriant gayety, which procured for him should have been honoured amongst a preference, even with Milton, a poet all animals, by the visible impression so opposite by intellectual constitu- upon its back of Christian symbols tion. It is but reasonable, therefore, -seems reasonable even to the infanthat this function of the miraculous tine understanding when made acshould bear the name of Ovidian. quainted with its meekness, its paPagan it was in its birth ; and to pa- tience, its suffering life, and its assoganism its titles ultimately ascend. ciation with the founder of ChristiYet we know that in the transitional anity in one great triumphal solemnity. state through the centuries succeeding The very man who brutally abuses it
, to Christ, during which paganism and and feels a hard-hearted contempt for Christianity were slowly descending its misery and its submission, has a and ascending, as if from two differ. semi-conscious feeling that the same ent strata of the atmosphere, the two qualities were possibly those which powers interchanged whatsoever they recommended it to a distinctiont when could. (See Conyers Middleton; all things were valued upon a scale and see Blount of our own days.) It inverse to that of the world. Certain marked the earthly nature of pagan. it is, that in all Christian lands the ism, that it could borrow little or legend about the ass is current amongst nothing by organization : it was fitted the rural population. The haddock, to no expansion. But the true faith, again, amongst marine animals, is from its vast and comprehensive adap- supposed, throughout all maritime Eutation to the nature of man, lent itself rope, to be a privileged fish ; even in to many corruptions--some deadly austere Scotland, every child can point in their tendencies, some harmless. out the impression of St Peter's thumb, Amongst these last was the Ovidian by which from age to age it is distinform of connecting the unseen powers guished from fishes having otherwise moving in nature with human sym- an external resemblance. All domes. pathies of love or reverence. The ticated cattle, having the benefit of legends of this kind are universal man's guardianship and care, are be. and endless. No land, the most aus. lieved throughout England and Ger. tere in its protestantism, but has adopt- many to go down upon their knees at ed these superstitions: and every- one particular moment of Christmaswhere by those even who reject them eve, when the fields are covered with they are entertained with some degree darkness, when no eye looks down but of affectionate respect. That the ass, that of God, and when the exact anni. which in its very degradation still re- versary hour revolves of the angelic tains an under-power of sublimity, * song, once rolling over the fields and or of sublime suggestion through its flocks of Palestine. † The Glastonbury
* “ An under-power of sublimity”—Every body knows that Homer compared the Telamonian Ajax, in a moment of heroic endurance, to an ass. This, however, was only under a momentary glance from a peculiar angle of the case. But the Mahometan, too solemn, and also perhaps too stupid to catch the fanciful colours of things, absolutely by choice, under the Bagdad Caliphate, decorated a most favourite hero with the title of the Ass-- which title is repeated with veneration to this day. The wild ass is one of the few animals which has the reputation of never flying from an enemy.
+ “ Which recommended it to a distinction”- It might be objected that the Oriental ass was often a superb animal ; that it is spoken of prophetically as such; and that historically the Syrian ass is made known to us as having been used in the prosperous ages of Judea for the riding of princes. But this is no objection. Those circumstances in the history of the ass were requisite to establish its symbolic propriety in a great symbolic pageant of triumph. Whilst, on the other hand, the individual animal, there is good reason to think, was marked by all the qualities of the general race as a suffering and unoffending tribe in the animal creation. The asses on which princes rode were of a separate colour, of a peculiar breed, and improved, like the English racer, by continual care.
Mahometanism, which every where pillages Christianity, cannot but have its own face at times glorified by its stolen jewels. This solemn hour of jubilation, gathering even the brutal natures into its fold, recalls accordingly the Mahometan legend (which
Thorn is a more local superstition; but the very moment when the first Chrisat one time the legend was as widely tian procession, bearing a cross in their diffused as that of Loretto, with the arms, solemnly stepped on shore from angelic translation of its sanctities : the vessels of Christendom. We Proon Christmas morning, it was devoutly testants know better : we understand believed by all Christendom, that this the impossibility of supposing such a holy thorn put forth its annual blos- narrow and local reference in orbs, so
And with respect to the aspen transcendently vast as those compostree, which Mrs Hemans very natural. ing the constellation--orbs removed ly mistook for a Welsh legend, having from each other by such unvoyageable first heard it in Denbighshire, the worlds of space, and having, in fact, popular faith is universal that it no real reference to each other more shivers mystically in sympathy with than to any other heavenly bodies the horror of that mother tree in whatsoever. The unity of synthesis, Palestine which was compelled to by which they are composed into one furnish materials for the cross. Nei. figure of a cross, we know to be a ther would it in this case be any ob- mere accidental result from an arbi. jection, if a passage were produced trary synthesis of human fancy. Take from Solinus or Theophrastus, imply- such and such stars, compose them ing that the aspen tree had always into letters, and they will spell such a shivered-for the tree might presum- word. But still it was our own choice ably be penetrated by remote presenti. synthesis of our own fancy, oriments, as well as by remote remem- ginally to combine them in this way. brances. In so vast a case the obscure They might be divided from each sympathy should stretch, Janus-like, other, and otherwise combined. All
And an objection of the this is true: and yet, as the com. same kind to the rainbow, considered bination does spontaneously offer itas the sign or seal by which God at- self* to every eye, as the gloritested his covenant in bar of all future ous cross does really glitter for ever deluges, may be parried in something through the silent hours of a vast of the same way.
It was not then hemisphere, even they who are not first created_true : but it was then superstitious, may willingly yield to first selected by preference, amongst a the belief-that, as the rainbow was multitude of natural signs as yet un. laid in the very elements and necessities appropriated, and then first charged of nature, yet still bearing a prededication with the new function of a message to a service which would not be called for and a ratification to man. Pretty much until many ages had passed, so also the the same theory, that is, the same way mysterious cypher of man's imperishof accounting for the natural existence able hopes may have been entwined without disturbing the supernatural and enwreathed with the starry heavens functions, may be applied to the great from their earliest creation, as a preconstellation of the other liemisphere, figuration — as a silent heraldry of called the Southern Cross. It is viewed hope through one period, and as a
popularly in South America, and the heraldry of gratitude through the etike southern parts of our northern hemi. other. Sie sphere, as the great banner, or gon- All these cases which we have been
falon, held aloft by heaven before the rehearsing, taking them in the fullest Spanish heralds of the true faith in literality, agree in this general point of 1492. To that superstitious and ig- union,—they are all silent incarnations norant race it costs not an effort to of miraculous power— miracles, suppossuppose, that by some synchronising ing them to have been such originally, miracle, the constellation had been locked up and embodied in the regular then specially called into existence at course of nature, just as we see linea.
the reader may remember is one of those incorporated into Southey's Thalaba,) of a great hour revolving once in every year, during which the gates of Paradise were thrown open to their utmost extent, and gales of happiness issued forth, upon the total family of man.
*“Does spontaneously offer itself.”—Heber (Bishop of Calcutta) complains that this constellation is not composed of stars answering his expectation in point of magnitude. But þe admits that the dark barren space around it gives to this inferior magnitude 4 very advantageous relief.
ments of faces and of forms in petri. Ovidian, is too aerial, too allegoric, factions, in variegated marbles, in spars, almost to be susceptible of much terror. or in rocky strata, which our fancy inter. It is the mere fancy, in a mood halfprets as once having been real human playful, half-tender, which submits to existences; but which are now con- the belief. It is the feeling, the sen. founded with the substance of a mineral timent, which creates the faith ; not product. Even those who are most the faith which creates the feeling. superstitious, therefore, look upon And thus far we see that modern feel cases of this order as occupying a ing and Christian feeling has been to midway station between the physical the full as operative as any that is and the hyperphysical, between the peculiar to paganism ; judging by the regular course of nature and the pro- Romish Legenda, very much more so. vidential interruption of that course. The Ovidian illustrations, under å The stream of the miraculous is here false superstition, are entitled to give confluent with the stream of the natu- the designation, as being the first, the ral. By such legends the credulous earliest, but not at all as the richest. man finds his superstition but little Besides that, Ovid's illustrations emannursed ; the incredulous finds his ated often from himself individually, philosophy but little revolted. Both not from the popular mind of his counalike will be willing to admit, for in- try; ours of the same classification stance, that the apparent act of reve- uniformly repose on large popular rential thanksgiving, in certain birds, traditions from the whole of Christiat when drinking, is caused and support, antiquity. These again are agencies ed by a physiological arrangement; of the supernatural which can never and yet, perhaps, both alike would have a private or personal application ; bend so far to the legendary faith as they belong to all mankind and to all to allow a child to believe, and would generations. But the next in order perceive a pure childlike beauty in are more solemn; they become terrific believing, that the bird was thus ren- by becoming personal. These comdering a homage of deep thankfulness prehend all that vast body of the marto the universal Father, who watches vellous which is expressed by the word for the safety of sparrows, and sends Ominous. On this head, as dividing his rain upon the just and upon the itself into the ancient and modern, we unjust. In short, the faith in this will speak next. order of the physico-miraculous is Every body is aware of the deep open alike to the sceptical and the non- emphasis which the Pagans laid upon sceptical : it is touched superficially words and upon names, under this with the colouring of superstition, with aspect of the ominous. The name of its tenderness, its humility, its thank. several places was formally changed fulness, its awe; but, on the other by the Roman government, solely hand, it is not therefore tainted with with a view to that contagion of evil the coarseness, with the silliness, with which was thought to lurk in the sylthe credulity of superstition. Such a Jables, if taken significantly. Thus, faith reposes upon the universal signs the town of Maleventum, (Illcome, diffused through nature, and blends as one might render it,) had its name with the mysterious of natural gran- changed by the Romans to Benevendeurs wherever found—with the mys- tum, (or Welcome.) Epidamnum terious of the starry heavens, with the again, the Grecian Calais, correspond. mysterious of music, and with that in ing to the Roman Dover of Brundufinite form of the mysterious for man's sium, was a name that would have dimmest misgivings
startled the stoutest-hearted Roman " Whose dwelling is the light of setting “from his propriety.” Had he suffered
this name to escape him inadvertently, But, from this earliest note in the his spirits would have forsaken himascending scale of superstitious faith, he would have pined away under a let us pass to a more alarming key. certainty of misfortune, like a poor This first, which we have styled in Negro of Koromantyn who is the victim equity as well as for distinction) the of Obi. * As a Greek word, which it was, the name imported no ill ; but memorable examples on record. Out
*“ The victim of Obi.”—It seems worthy of notice, that this magical fascination is generally called Obi, and the magicians Obeah men, throughout Guinea, Negroland, &c. ; whilst the Hebrew or Syriac word for the rites of necromancy was Ob or Obh, at least when ventriloquism was concerned.
for a Roman to say Ibo Epidamnum, of a large number which occur to us, I was in effect saying, though in a hy we will cite two:- The present King brid dialect, half-Greek half-Roman, of the French bore in his boyish days
“ I will go to ruin." The name was a title which he would not have borne, ; therefore changed to Dyrrachium; but for an omen of bad augury at, a substitution which quieted more tached to his proper title. He was anxieties in Roman hearts than the called the Duc de Chartres before the erection of a lighthouse or the deepen- Revolution, whereas his proper title ing of the harbour mouth.
was Duc de Valois. And the origin equally strong, to take one out of many of the change was this :- The Rehundreds that have come down to us, gent's father had been the sole brois reported by Livy. There was an ther of Louis Quatorze. He married officer in a Roman legion, at some for his first wife our English princess period of the Republic, who bore the Henrietta, the sister of Charles II., name either of Atrius Umberor Umbrius (and through her daughter, by the Ater: and this man being ordered on way, it is that the House of Savoy, some expedition, the soldiers refused i. e. of Sardinia, has pretensions to the to follow him. They did right. We English throne.) This unhappy lady, remember that Mr Coleridge used it is too well established, was poisoned. facetiously to call the well-known Voltaire, amongst many others, has sister of Dr Aikin, Mrs Barbauld, affected to doubt the fact; for which " that pleonasm of nakedness”-the in his time there might be some exidea of nakedness being reduplicated cuse. But since then better evidences and reverberated in the bare and have placed the matter beyond all the bald. This Atrius Umber might question: We now know both the be called “that pleonasm of darkness;", fact, and the how, and the why. The and one might say to him, in the Duke, who probably was no party to words of Othello, « What needs this the murder of his young wife, though iteration?" To serve under the Gloomy
otherwise on bad terms with her, was enough to darken the spirit of hope; married for his second wife a coarse but to serve under the Black Gloomy German princess, homely in every was really rushing upon destruction. sense, and a singular contrast to the Yet it will be alleged that Captain elegant creature whom he had lost. Death was a most favourite and heroic She was a daughter of the Bavarian leader in the English navy; and that Elector ; ill-tempered by her own in our own times, Admiral Coffin, confession, self-willed, and a plain though an American by birth, has not speaker to excess ; but otherwise a been unpopular in the same service. woman of honest German principles. This is true : and all that can be Unhappy she was through a long life ; said is, that these names were two- unhappy through the monotony as edged swords, which might be made well as the malicious intrigues of the to tell against the enemy as well as French court; and so much so, that against friends. And possibly the she did her best (though without Roman centurion might have turned effect) to prevent her Bavarian niece his name to the same account, had he from becoming dauphiness. She possessed the great Dictator's presence acquits her husband, however, in the of mind; for he, when landing in memoirs which she left behind, of any Africa, having happened to stumble intentional share in her unhappiness ; an omen of the worst character, in she describes him constantly as a Roman estimation-took out its sting well-disposed prince. But whether by following up his own oversight, as it were, that often walking in the dusk if it had been intentional, falling to the through the numerous apartments of ground, kissing it, and ejaculating that that vast mansion which her husband in this way he appropriated the soil. had so much enlarged, naturally she
Omens of every class were certain- turned her thoughts to the injured ly regarded, in ancient Rome, with a lady who had presided there before reverence that can hardly be sur- herself; or whether it arose from the passed. But yet, with respect to these inevitable gloom which broods conomens derived from names, it is cer- tinually over mighty palaces, so much tain that our modern times have more is known for certain, that one even
ing, in the twilight, she met, at a of our countrymen are so ready to remote quarter of the reception-rooms, represent as friendly to the French something that she conceived to be a and hostile to ourselves,) had taken spectre. What she fancied to have the opportunity of attacking the respassed on that occasion, was never sel. The engagement was obstinate; known except to her nearest friends; but at length the inevitable catasand if she made any explanations in tropbe could be delayed no longer. her memoirs, the editor has thought The commander, an Italian named fit to suppress them. She mentions Morandi, was a brave man; any fate only, that in consequence of some appeared better than that which awaitominous circumstances relating to the ed him from an enemy so malignant. title of Valois, which was the proper He set fire to the powder magazine ; second title of the Orleans family, her the vessel blew up; Morandi perished son, the Regent, had assumed in his in the Nile; and all of less nerve, who boyhood that of Duc de Chartres. had previously reached the shore in His elder brother was dead, so that safety, were put to death to the very the superior title was open to him; last man, with cruelties the most de. but, in consequence of those mysteri- testable, by their inhuman enemies. ous omens, whatever they might be, For all this Napoleon cared little ; which occasioned much whispering but one solitary fact there was in the at the time, the great title of Valois report which struck him with consterwas laid aside for ever as of bad nation. This ill-fated djerme—what augury; nor has it ever been resumed was it called ? It was called L'Italie ; through a century and a half that and in the name of the vessel Nahave followed that mysterious warn- poleon read an augury of the fate ing; nor will it be resumed unless the which had befallen the Italian terrinumerous children of the present tory. Considered as a dependency of Orleans branch should find themselves France, he felt certain that Italy was distressed for ancient titles ; which is lost; and Napoleon was inconsolable
. not likely, since they enjoy the honours But what possible connexion, it was of the elder house, and are now the asked, can exist between this vessel on children of France in a technical the Nile and a remote peninsula of
Southern Europe ? No matter," Here we have a great European replied Napoleon; “my presentiments case of state omens in the eldest of never deceive me. You will see that Christian houses. The next which all is ruined. I am satisfied that my we shall cite is equally a state case, Italy, my conquest, is lost to France!" and carries its public verification along So, indeed, it was. All European with itself. In the spring of 1799, news had long been intercepted by the when Napoleon was lying before English cruisers ; but immediately Acre, he became anxious for news after the battle with the Vizier in from Upper Egypt, whither he had July 1799, an English admiral first dispatched Dessaix in pursuit of a informed the French army of Egypt distinguished Mameluke leader. This that Massena and others had lost all was in the middle of May. Not many that Bonaparte had won in 1796. But days after, a courier arrived with it is a strange illustration of human favourable despatches-favourable in blindness, that this very subject of Na. the main, but reporting one tragical poleon's lamentation--this very canoccurrence on a small scale that, to paign of 1799-it was, with its blunNapoleon, for a superstitious reason, ders and its long equipage of disasters, outweighed the public prosperity. A that paved the way for his own elevadjerme, or Nile boat of the largest tion to the Consulship, just seven class, having on board a large party •calendar months from the receipt of of troops and of wounded men, to that Egyptian despatch ; since most gether with most of a regimental band, certainly, in the struggle of Brumaire had run ashore at the village of Be- 1799, doubtful and critical through mouth. No case could be more hope- every stage, it was the pointed coil. less. The neighbouring Arabs were trasť between his Italian campaig 13 of the Yambo tribe-of all Arabs the and those of his successors which gave most ferocious. These Arabs and effect to Napoleon's pretensions with the Fellahs (whom, by the way, many the political combatants, and which