Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Narrative And Miscellaneous Papers, Vol. II. by Thomas De Quincey

Part 1 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Produced by Anne Soulard, Charles Franks
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.





[Footnote: Thoughts on Some Important Points relating to the System of
the World. By J. P. Nichol, LL.D., Professor of Astronomy in the
University of Glasgow. William Tait, Edinburgh. 1846.]

Some years ago, some person or other, [in fact I believe it was
myself,] published a paper from the German of Kant, on a very
interesting question, viz., the age of our own little Earth. Those who
have never seen that paper, a class of unfortunate people whom I
suspect to form _rather_ the majority in our present perverse
generation, will be likely to misconceive its object. Kant's purpose
was, not to ascertain how many years the Earth had lived: a million of
years, more or less, made very little difference to _him_. What he
wished to settle was no such barren conundrum. For, had there even been
any means of coercing the Earth into an honest answer, on such a
delicate point, which the Sicilian canon, Recupero, fancied that there
was; [Footnote: _Recupero_. See Brydone's Travels, some sixty or
seventy years ago. The canon, being a beneficed clergyman in the Papal
church, was naturally an infidel. He wished exceedingly to refute
Moses: and he fancied that he really had done so by means of some
collusive assistance from the layers of lava on Mount Etna. But there
survives, at this day, very little to remind us of the canon, except an
unpleasant guffaw that rises, at times, in solitary valleys of Etna.]
but which, in my own opinion, there neither is, nor ought to be,--
(since a man deserves to be cudgelled who could put such improper
questions to a _lady_ planet,)--still what would it amount to?
What good would it do us to have a certificate of our dear little
mother's birth and baptism? Other people--people in Jupiter, or the
Uranians--may amuse themselves with her pretended foibles or
infirmities: it is quite safe to do so at _their_ distance; and,
in a female planet like Venus, it might be natural, (though, strictly
speaking, not quite correct,) to scatter abroad malicious insinuations,
as though our excellent little mamma had begun to wear false hair, or
had lost some of her front teeth. But all this, we men of sense know to
be gammon. Our mother Tellus, beyond all doubt, is a lovely little
thing. I am satisfied that she is very much admired throughout the
Solar System: and, in clear seasons, when she is seen to advantage,
with her bonny wee pet of a Moon tripping round her like a lamb, I
should be thankful to any gentleman who will mention where he has
happened to observe--either he or his telescope--will he only have the
goodness to say, in what part of the heavens he has discovered a more
elegant turn-out. I wish to make no personal reflections. I name no
names. Only this I say, that, though some people have the gift of
seeing things that other people never could see, and though some other
people, or other some people are born with a silver spoon in their
mouths, so that, generally, their geese count for swans, yet, after
all, swans or geese, it would be a pleasure to me, and really a
curiosity, to see the planet that could fancy herself entitled to
sneeze at our Earth. And then, if she (viz., our Earth,) keeps but one
Moon, even _that_ (you know) is an advantage as regards some
people that keep none. There are people, pretty well known to you and
me, that can't make it convenient to keep even one Moon. And so I come
to my moral; which is this, that, to all appearance, it is mere
justice; but, supposing it were not, still it is _our_ duty, (as
children of the Earth,) right or wrong, to stand up for our bonny young
mamma, if she _is_ young; or for our dear old mother, if she
_is_ old; whether young or old, to take her part against all
comers; and to argue through thick and thin, which (sober or not) I
always attempt to do, that she is the most respectable member of the
Copernican System.

Meantime, what Kant understood by being old, is something that still
remains to be explained. If one stumbled, in the steppes of Tartary, on
the grave of a Megalonyx, and, after long study, had deciphered from
some pre-Adamite heiro-pothooks, the following epitaph:--'_Hic
jacet_ a Megalonyx, or _Hic jacet_ a Mammoth, (as the case
might be,) who departed this life, to the grief of his numerous
acquaintance in the seventeen thousandth year of his age,'--of course,
one would be sorry for him; because it must be disagreeable at
_any_ age to be torn away from life, and from all one's little
megalonychal comforts; that's not pleasant, you know, even if one
_is_ seventeen thousand years old. But it would make all the
difference possible in your grief, whether the record indicated a
premature death, that he had been cut off, in fact, whilst just
stepping into life, or had kicked the bucket when full of honors, and
been followed to the grave by a train of weeping grandchildren. He had
died 'in his teens,' that's past denying. But still we must know to
what stage of life in a man, had corresponded seventeen thousand years
in a Mammoth. Now exactly this was what Kant desired to know about our
planet. Let her have lived any number of years that you suggest, (shall
we say if you please, that she is in her billionth year?) still that
tells us nothing about the _period_ of life, the _stage_, which she may
be supposed to have reached. Is she a child, in fact, or is she an
adult? And, _if_ an adult, and that you gave a ball to the Solar
System, is she that kind of person, that you would introduce to a
waltzing partner, some fiery young gentlemen like Mars, or would
you rather suggest to her the sort of partnership which takes place at
a whist-table? On this, as on so many other questions, Kant was
perfectly sensible that people, of the finest understandings, may and
do take the most opposite views. Some think that our planet is in that
stage of her life, which corresponds to the playful period of twelve or
thirteen in a spirited girl. Such a girl, were it not that she is
checked by a sweet natural sense of feminine grace, you might call a
romp; but not a hoyden, observe; no horse-play; oh, no, nothing of that
sort. And these people fancy that earthquakes, volcanoes, and all such
little _escapades_ will be over, they will, in lawyer's phrase,
'cease and determine,' as soon as our Earth reaches the age of maidenly
bashfulness. Poor thing! It's quite natural, you know, in a healthy
growing girl. A little overflow of vivacity, a _pirouette_ more or
less, what harm should _that_ do to any of us? Nobody takes more
delight than I in the fawn-like sportiveness of an innocent girl, at
this period of life: even a shade of _espièglerie_ does not annoy
me. But still my own impressions incline me rather to represent the
Earth as a fine noble young woman, full of the pride which is so
becoming to her sex, and well able to take her own part, in case that,
at any solitary point of the heavens, she should come across one of
those vulgar fussy Comets, disposed to be rude and take improper
liberties. These Comets, by the way, are public nuisances, very much
like the mounted messengers of butchers in great cities, who are always
at full gallop, and moving upon such an infinity of angles to human
shinbones, that the final purpose of such boys (one of whom lately had
the audacity nearly to ride down the Duke of Wellington) seems to be--
not the translation of mutton, which would certainly find its way into
human mouths even if riding boys were not,--but the improved geometry
of transcendental curves. They ought to be numbered, ought these boys,
and to wear badges--X 10, &c. And exactly the same evil, asking
therefore by implication for exactly the same remedy, affects the
Comets. A respectable planet is known everywhere, and responsible for
any mischief that he does. But if a cry should arise, 'Stop that
wretch, who was rude to the Earth: who is he?' twenty voices will
answer, perhaps, 'It's Encke's Comet; he is always doing mischief;'
well, what can you say? it _may_ be Encke's, it may be some other
man's Comet; there are so many abroad and on so many roads, that you
might as well ask upon a night of fog, such fog as may be opened with
an oyster knife, whose cab that was (whose, viz., out of 27,000 in
London) that floored you into the kennel.

These are constructive ideas upon the Earth's stage of evolution, which
Kant was aware of, and which will always find toleration, even where
they do not find patronage. But others there are, a class whom I
perfectly abominate, that place our Earth in the category of decaying
women, nay of decayed women, going, going, and all but gone. 'Hair like
arctic snows, failure of vital heat, palsy that shakes the head as in
the porcelain toys on our mantel-pieces, asthma that shakes the whole
fabric--these they absolutely fancy themselves to _see_. They
absolutely _hear_ the tellurian lungs wheezing, panting, crying,
'Bellows to mend!' periodically as the Earth approaches her aphelion.

But suddenly at this point a demur arises upon the total question.
Kant's very problem explodes, bursts, as poison in Venetian wine-glass
of old shivered the glass into fragments. For is there, after all, any
stationary meaning in the question? Perhaps in reality the Earth is
both young and old. Young? If she is not young at present, perhaps she
_will_ be so in future. Old? if she is not old at this moment,
perhaps she _has_ been old, and has a fair chance of becoming so
again. In fact, she is a Phoenix that is known to have secret processes
for rebuilding herself out of her own ashes. Little doubt there is but
she has seen many a birthday, many a funeral night, and many a morning
of resurrection. Where now the mightiest of oceans rolls in pacific
beauty, once were anchored continents and boundless forests. Where the
south pole now shuts her frozen gates inhospitably against the
intrusions of flesh, once were probably accumulated the ribs of
empires; man's imperial forehead, woman's roseate lips, gleamed upon
ten thousand hills; and there were innumerable contributions to
antarctic journals almost as good (but not quite) as our own. Even
within our domestic limits, even where little England, in her south-
eastern quarter now devolves so quietly to the sea her sweet pastoral
rivulets, once came roaring down, in pomp of waters, a regal Ganges
[Footnote: _'Ganges:'_--Dr. Nichol calls it by this name for the
purpose of expressing its grandeur; and certainly in breadth, in
diffusion at all times, but especially in the rainy season, the Ganges
is the cock of the walk in our British orient. Else, as regards the
body of water discharged, the absolute payments made into the sea's
exchequer, and the majesty of column riding downwards from the
Himalaya, I believe that, since Sir Alexander Burnes's measurements,
the Indus ranks foremost by a long chalk.], that drained some
hyperbolical continent, some Quinbus Flestrin of Asiatic proportions,
long since gone to the dogs. All things pass away. Generations wax old
as does a garment: but eternally God says:--'Come again, ye children of
men.' Wildernesses of fruit, and worlds of flowers, are annually
gathered in solitary South America to ancestral graves: yet still the
Pomona of Earth, yet still the Flora of Earth, does not become
superannuated, but blossoms in everlasting youth. Not otherwise by
secular periods, known to us geologically as facts, though obscure as
durations, _Tellus_ herself, the planet, as a whole, is for ever
working by golden balances of change and compensation, of ruin and
restoration. She recasts her glorious habitations in decomposing them;
she lies down for death, which perhaps a thousand times she has
suffered; she rises for a new birth, which perhaps for the thousandth
time has glorified her disc. Hers is the wedding garment, hers is the
shroud, that eternally is being woven in the loom. And God imposes upon
her the awful necessity of working for ever at her own grave, yet of
listening for ever to his far-off trumpet of _palingenesis_.

If this account of the matter be just, and were it not treasonable to
insinuate the possibility of an error against so great a swell as
Immanuel Kant, one would be inclined to fancy that Mr. Kant had really
been dozing a little on this occasion; or, agreeably to his own
illustration elsewhere, that he had realized the pleasant picture of
one learned doctor trying to milk a he-goat, whilst another doctor,
equally learned, holds the milk-pail below. [Footnote: Kant applied
this illustration to the case where one worshipful scholar proposes
some impossible problem, (as the squaring of the circle, or the
perpetual motion,) which another worshipful scholar sits down to solve.
The reference was of course to Virgil's line,--'Atque idem jungat
vulpes, et _mulgeat hircos_.'] And there is apparently this two-
edged embarrassment pressing upon the case--that, if our dear excellent
mother the Earth could be persuaded to tell us her exact age in Julian
years, still _that_ would leave us all as much in the dark as
ever: since, if the answer were, 'Why, children, at my next birth-day I
shall count a matter of some million centuries,' we should still be at
a loss to _value_ her age: would it mean that she was a mere
chicken, or that she was 'getting up in years?' On the other hand, if
(declining to state any odious circumstantialities,) she were to
reply,--'No matter, children, for my precise years, which are
disagreeable remembrances; I confess generally to being a lady of a
certain age,'--here, in the inverse order, given the _valuation_
of the age, we should yet be at a loss for the _absolute_ years
numerically: would a 'certain age,' mean that 'mamma' was a million, be
the same more or less, or perhaps not much above seventy thousand?

Every way, you see, reader, there are difficulties. But two things used
to strike me, as unaccountably overlooked by Kant; who, to say the
truth, was profound--yet at no time very agile--in the character of his
understanding. First, what age now might we take our brother and sister
planets to be? For _that_ determination as to a point in
_their_ constitution, will do something to illustrate our own. We
are as good as they, I hope, any day: perhaps in a growl, one might
modestly insinuate--_better_. It's not at all likely that there
can be any great disproportion of age amongst children of the same
household: and therefore, since Kant always countenanced the idea that
Jupiter had not quite finished the upholstery of his extensive
premises, as a comfortable residence for a man, Jupiter having, in
fact, a fine family of mammoths, but no family at all of 'humans,' (as
brother Jonathan calls them,) Kant was bound, _ex analogo_, to
hold that any little precedency in the trade of living, on the part of
our own mother Earth, could not count for much in the long run. At
Newmarket, or Doncaster, the start is seldom mathematically true:
trifling advantages will survive all human trials after abstract
equity; and the logic of this case argues, that any few thousands of
years by which Tellus may have got ahead of Jupiter, such as the having
finished her Roman Empire, finished her Crusades, and finished her
French Revolution, virtually amounts to little or nothing; indicates no
higher proportion to the total scale upon which she has to run, than
the few tickings of a watch by which one horse at the start for the
Leger is in advance of another. When checked in our chronology by each
other, it transpires that, in effect, we are but executing the nice
manoeuvre of a start; and that the small matter of six thousand years,
by which we may have advanced our own position beyond some of our
planetary rivals, is but the outstretched neck of an uneasy horse at
Doncaster. This is _one_ of the data overlooked by Kant; and the
less excusably overlooked, because it was his own peculiar doctrine,--
that uncle Jupiter ought to be considered a greenhorn. Jupiter may be a
younger brother of our mamma; but, if he is a brother at all, he cannot
be so very wide of our own chronology; and therefore the first
_datum_ overlooked by Kant was--the analogy of our whole planetary
system. A second datum, as it always occurred to myself, might
reasonably enough be derived from the intellectual vigor of us men. If
our mother could, with any show of reason, be considered an old decayed
lady, snoring stentorously in her arm-chair, there would naturally be
some _aroma_ of phthisis, or apoplexy, beginning to form about
_us_, that are her children. But _is_ there? If ever Dr. Johnson
said a true word, it was when he replied to the Scottish judge
Burnett, so well known to the world as Lord Monboddo. The judge, a
learned man, but obstinate as a mule in certain prejudices, had said
plaintively, querulously, piteously,--'Ah, Doctor, we are poor
creatures, we men of the eighteenth century, by comparison with our
forefathers!' 'Oh, no, my Lord,' said Johnson, 'we are quite as strong
as our ancestors, and a great deal wiser.' Yes; our kick is, at least,
as dangerous, and our logic does three times as much execution. This
would be a complex topic to treat effectively; and I wish merely to
indicate the opening which it offers for a most decisive order of
arguments in such a controversy. If the Earth were on her last legs, we
her children could not be very strong or healthy. Whereas, if there
were less pedantry amongst us, less malice, less falsehood, and less
darkness of prejudice, easy it would be to show, that in almost every
mode of intellectual power, we are more than a match for the most
conceited of elder generations, and that in some modes we have energies
or arts absolutely and exclusively our own. Amongst a thousand
indications of strength and budding youth, I will mention two:--Is it
likely, is it plausible, that our Earth should just begin to find out
effective methods of traversing land and sea, when she had a summons to
leave both? Is it not, on the contrary, a clear presumption that the
great career of earthly nations is but on the point of opening, that
life is but just beginning to kindle, when the great obstacles to
effectual locomotion, and therefore to extensive human intercourse, are
first of all beginning to give way? Secondly, I ask peremptorily,--Does
it stand with good sense, is it reasonable that Earth is waning,
science drooping, man looking downward, precisely in that epoch when,
first of all, man's eye is arming itself for looking effectively into
the mighty depths of space? A new era for the human intellect, upon a
path that lies amongst its most aspiring, is promised, is inaugurated,
by Lord Rosse's almost awful telescope.

What is it then that Lord Rosse has accomplished? If a man were aiming
at dazzling by effects of rhetoric, he might reply: He has accomplished
that which once the condition of the telescope not only refused its
permission to hope for, but expressly bade man to despair of. What is
it that Lord Rosse has revealed? Answer: he has revealed more by far
than he found. The theatre to which he has introduced us, is
_immeasurably_ beyond the old one which he found. To say that he
found, in the visible universe, a little wooden theatre of Thespis, a
_tréteau_ or shed of vagrants, and that he presented us, at a
price of toil and of _anxiety_ that cannot be measured, with a
Roman colosseum,--_that_ is to say nothing. It is to undertake the
measurement of the tropics with the pocket-tape of an upholsterer.
Columbus, when he introduced the Old World to the New, after all that
can be said in his praise, did in fact only introduce the majority to
the minority; but Lord Rosse has introduced the minority to the
majority. There are two worlds, one called Ante-Rosse, and the other
Post-Rosse; and, if it should come to voting, the latter would
shockingly outvote the other. Augustus Cæsar made it his boast when
dying, that he had found the city of Rome built of brick, and that he
left it built of marble: _lateritiam invenit, marmoream reliquit_.
Lord Rosse may say, even if to-day he should die, 'I found God's
universe represented for human convenience, even after all the sublime
discoveries of Herschel, upon a globe or spherical chart having a
radius of one hundred and fifty feet; and I left it sketched upon a
similar chart, keeping exactly the same scale of proportions, but now
elongating its radius into one thousand feet.' The reader of course
understands that this expression, founded on absolute calculations of
Dr. Nichol, is simply meant to exhibit the _relative_ dimensions
of the _mundus Ante-Rosseanus_ and the _mundus Post-Rosseanus;_
for as to the _absolute_ dimensions, when stated in miles, leagues
or any units familiar to the human experience, they are too stunning
and confounding. If, again, they are stated in larger units, as for
instance diameters of the earth's orbit, the unit itself that
should facilitate the grasping of the result, and which really
_is_ more manageable numerically, becomes itself elusive of the
mental grasp: it comes in as an interpreter; and (as in some other
cases) the interpreter is hardest to be understood of the two. If,
finally, TIME be assumed as the exponent of the dreadful magnitudes,
time combining itself with motion, as in the flight of cannon-balls or
the flight of swallows, the sublimity becomes greater; but horror
seizes upon the reflecting intellect, and incredulity upon the
irreflective. Even a railroad generation, that _should_ have faith
in the miracles of velocity, lifts up its hands with an '_Incredulus
odi_!' we know that Dr. Nichol speaks the truth; but he _seems_
to speak falsehood. And the ignorant by-stander prays that the doctor
may have grace given him and time for repentance; whilst his more
liberal companion reproves his want of charity, observing that
travellers into far countries have always had a license for lying, as a
sort of tax or fine levied for remunerating their own risks; and that
great astronomers, as necessarily far travellers into space, are
entitled to a double per centage of the same Munchausen privilege.

Great is the mystery of Space, greater is the mystery of Time; either
mystery grows upon man, as man himself grows; and either seems to be a
function of the godlike which is in man. In reality the depths and the
heights which are in man, the depths by which he searches, the heights
by which he aspires, are but projected and made objective externally in
the three dimensions of space which are outside of him. He trembles at
the abyss into which his bodily eyes look down, or look up; not knowing
that abyss to be, not always consciously suspecting it to be, but by an
instinct written in his prophetic heart feeling it to be, boding it to
be, fearing it to be, and sometimes hoping it to be, the mirror to a
mightier abyss that will one day be expanded in himself. Even as to the
sense of space, which is the lesser mystery than time, I know not
whether the reader has remarked that it is one which swells upon man
with the expansion of his mind, and that it is probably peculiar to the
mind of man. An infant of a year old, or oftentimes even older, takes
no notice of a sound, however loud, which is a quarter of a mile
removed, or even in a distant chamber. And brutes, even of the most
enlarged capacities, seem not to have any commerce with distance:
distance is probably not revealed to them except by a _presence_,
viz., by some shadow of their own animality, which, if perceived at
all, is perceived as a thing _present_ to their organs. An animal
desire, or a deep animal hostility, may render sensible a distance
which else would not be sensible; but not render it sensible _as_
a distance. Hence perhaps is explained, and not out of any self-
oblivion from higher enthusiasm, a fact that often has occurred, of
deer, or hares, or foxes, and the pack of hounds in pursuit, chaser and
chased, all going headlong over a precipice together. Depth or height
does not readily manifest itself to _them_; so that any _strong_ motive
is sufficient to overpower the sense of it. Man only has a natural
function for expanding on an illimitable sensorium, the illimitable
growths of space. Man, coming to the precipice, reads his danger; the
brute perishes: man is saved; and the horse is saved by his rider.

But, if this sounds in the ear of some a doubtful refinement, the doubt
applies only to the lowest degrees of space. For the highest, it is
certain that brutes have no perception. To man is as much reserved the
prerogative of perceiving space in its higher extensions, as of
geometrically constructing the relations of space. And the brute is no
more capable of apprehending abysses through his eye, than he can build
upwards or can analyze downwards the ærial synthesis of Geometry. Such,
therefore, as is space for the grandeur of man's perceptions, such as
is space for the benefit of man's towering mathematic speculations,
such is the nature of our debt to Lord Rosse--as being the philosopher
who has most pushed back the frontiers of our conquests upon this
_exclusive_ inheritance of man. We have all heard of a king that,
sitting on the sea-shore, bade the waves, as they began to lave his
feet, upon their allegiance to retire. _That_ was said not vainly
or presumptuously, but in reproof of sycophantic courtiers. Now,
however, we see in good earnest another man, wielding another kind of
sceptre, and sitting upon the shores of infinity, that says to the ice
which had frozen up our progress,--'Melt thou before my breath!' that
says to the rebellious _nebulæ_,--'Submit, and burst into blazing
worlds!' that says to the gates of darkness,--'Roll back, ye barriers,
and no longer hide from us the infinities of God!'

'Come, and I will show you what is beautiful.'

From the days of infancy still lingers in my ears this opening of a
prose hymn by a lady, then very celebrated, viz., the late Mrs.
Barbauld. The hymn began by enticing some solitary infant into some
silent garden, I believe, or some forest lawn; and the opening words
were, 'Come, and I will show you what is beautiful!' Well, and what
beside? There is nothing beside; oh, disappointed and therefore enraged
reader; positively this is the sum-total of what I can recall from the
wreck of years; and certainly it is not much. Even of Sappho, though
time has made mere ducks and drakes of her lyrics, we have rather more
spared to us than this. And yet this trifle, simple as you think it,
this shred of a fragment, if the reader will believe me, still echoes
with luxurious sweetness in my ears, from some unaccountable hide-and-
seek of fugitive childish memories; just as a marine shell, if applied
steadily to the ear, awakens (according to the fine image of Landor
[Footnote: 'Of Landor,' viz., in his 'Gebir;' but also of Wordsworth in
'The Excursion.' And I must tell the reader, that a contest raged at
one time as to the _original property_ in this image, not much
less keen than that between Neptune and Minerva, for the chancellorship
of Athens.]) the great vision of the sea; places the listener

'In the sun's palace-porch,
And murmurs as the ocean murmurs there.'

Now, on some moonless night, in some fitting condition of the
atmosphere, if Lord Rosse would permit the reader and myself to walk
into the front drawing-room of his telescope, then, in Mrs. Barbauld's
words, slightly varied, I might say to him,--Come, and I will show you
what is sublime! In fact, what I am going to lay before him, from Dr.
Nichol's work, is, or at least _would_ be, (when translated into
Hebrew grandeur by the mighty telescope,) a step above even that object
which some four-and-twenty years ago in the British Museum struck me as
simply the sublimest sight which in this sight-seeing world I had seen.
It was the Memnon's head, then recently brought from Egypt. I looked at
it, as the reader must suppose, in order to understand the depth which
I have here ascribed to the impression, not as a human but as a
symbolic head; and what it symbolized to me were: 1. The peace which
passeth all understanding. 2. The eternity which baffles and confounds
all faculty of computation; the eternity which _had_ been, the
eternity which _was_ to be. 3. The diffusive love, not such as
rises and falls upon waves of life and mortality, not such as sinks and
swells by undulations of time, but a procession--an emanation from some
mystery of endless dawn. You durst not call it a smile that radiated
from the lips; the radiation was too awful to clothe itself in
adumbrations or memorials of flesh.

In _that mode_ of sublimity, perhaps, I still adhere to my first
opinion, that nothing so great was ever beheld. The atmosphere for
_this_, for the Memnon, was the breathlessness which belongs to a
saintly trance; the holy thing seemed to live by silence. But there
_is_ a picture, the pendant of the Memnon, there _is_ a dreadful
cartoon, from the gallery which has begun to open upon Lord Rosse's
telescope, where the appropriate atmosphere for investing it
must be drawn from another silence, from the frost and from the
eternities of death. It is the famous _nebula_ in the constellation
of Orion; famous for the unexampled defiance with which it resisted
all approaches from the most potent of former telescopes; famous
for its frightful magnitude and for the frightful depth to which
it is sunk in the abysses of the heavenly wilderness; famous just now
for the submission with which it has begun to render up its secrets to
the all-conquering telescope; and famous in all time coming for the
horror of the regal phantasma which it has perfected to eyes of flesh.
Had Milton's 'incestuous mother,' with her fleshless son, and with the
warrior angel, his father, that led the rebellions of heaven, been
suddenly unmasked by Lord Rosse's instrument, in these dreadful
distances before which, simply as expressions of resistance, the mind
of man shudders and recoils, there would have been nothing more
appalling in the exposure; in fact, it would have been essentially the
same exposure: the same expression of power in the detestable phantom,
the same rebellion in the attitude, the same pomp of malice in the
features to a universe seasoned for its assaults.

The reader must look to Dr. Nichol's book, at page 51, for the picture
of this abominable apparition. But then, in order to see what _I_
see, the obedient reader must do what I tell him to do. Let him
therefore view the wretch upside down. If he neglects that simple
direction, of course I don't answer for anything that follows: without
any fault of mine, my description will be unintelligible. This
inversion being made, the following is the dreadful creature that will
then reveal itself.

_Description of the Nebula in Orion, as forced to show out by Lord
Rosse._--You see a head thrown back, and raising its face, (or eyes,
if eyes it had,) in the very anguish of hatred, to some unknown
heavens. What _should_ be its skull wears what _might_ be an
Assyrian tiara, only ending behind in a floating train. This head rests
upon a beautifully developed neck and throat. All power being given to
the awful enemy, he is beautiful where he pleases, in order to point
and envenom his ghostly ugliness. The mouth, in that stage of the
apocalypse which Sir John Herschel was able to arrest in his eighteen-
inch mirror, is amply developed. Brutalities unspeakable sit upon the
upper lip, which is confluent with a snout; for separate nostrils there
are none. Were it not for this one defect of nostrils; and, even in
spite of this defect, (since, in so mysterious a mixture of the angelic
and the brutal, we may suppose the sense of odor to work by some
compensatory organ,) one is reminded by the phantom's attitude of a
passage, ever memorable, in Milton: that passage, I mean, where Death
first becomes aware, soon after the original trespass, of his own
future empire over man. The 'meagre shadow' even smiles (for the first
time and the last) on apprehending his own abominable bliss, by
apprehending from afar the savor 'of mortal change on earth.'

----'Such a scent,' (he says,) 'I draw
Of carnage, prey innumerable.'

As illustrating the attitude of the phantom in Orion, let the reader
allow me to quote the tremendous passage:--

'So saying, with delight he snuff'd the smell
Of mortal change on earth. As when a flock
Of ravenous fowl, though many a league remote,
Against the day of battle, to a field,
Where armies lie encamp'd, come flying, lured
With scent of living carcasses design'd
For death, the following day, in bloody fight;
So scented the grim feature, [Footnote: 'So scented the grim
feature,' [_feature_ is the old word for _form or outline that
is shadowy_; and also for form (shadowy or not) which abstracts from
the _matter_.] By the way, I have never seen it noticed, that
Milton was indebted for the hint of this immortal passage to a superb
line-and-a-half, in Lucan's Pharsalia.] and upturn'd
His nostril wide into the murky air,
Sagacious of his quarry from so far.'

But the lower lip, which is drawn inwards with the curve of a conch
shell,--oh what a convolute of cruelty and revenge is _there_!
Cruelty!--to whom? Revenge!--for what? Ask not, whisper not. Look
upwards to other mysteries. In the very region of his temples, driving
itself downwards into his cruel brain, and breaking the continuity of
his diadem, is a horrid chasm, a ravine, a shaft, that many centuries
would not traverse; and it is serrated on its posterior wall with a
harrow that perhaps is partly hidden. From the anterior wall of this
chasm rise, in vertical directions, two processes; one perpendicular,
and rigid as a horn, the other streaming forward before some portentous
breath. What these could be, seemed doubtful; but now, when further
examinations by Sir John Herschel, at the Cape of Good Hope, have
filled up the scattered outline with a rich umbrageous growth, one is
inclined to regard them as the plumes of a sultan. Dressed he is,
therefore, as well as armed. And finally comes Lord Rosse, that
glorifies him with the jewellery [Footnote: _The jewellery of
Stars_. And one thing is very remarkable, viz., that not only the
stars justify this name of jewellery, as usual, by the life of their
splendor, but also, in this case, by their arrangement. No jeweller
could have set, or disposed with more art, the magnificent quadrille of
stars which is placed immediately below the upright plume. There is
also another, a truncated quadrille, wanting only the left hand star
(or you might call it a bisected lozenge) placed on the diadem, but
obliquely placed as regards the curve of that diadem. Two or three
other arrangements are striking, though not equally so, both from their
regularity and from their repeating each other, as the forms in a
kaleidoscope.] of stars: he is now a vision 'to dream of, not to tell:'
he is ready for the worship of those that are tormented in sleep: and
the stages of his solemn uncovering by astronomy, first by Sir W.
Herschel, secondly, by his son, and finally by Lord Rosse, is like the
reversing of some heavenly doom, like the raising of the seals that had
been sealed by the angel, in the Revelations. But the reader naturally
asks, How does all this concern Lord Rosse's telescope on the one side,
or general astronomy on the other? This _nebula_, he will say,
seems a bad kind of fellow by your account; and of course it will not
break my heart to hear, that he has had the conceit taken out of him.
But in what way can _that_ affect the pretensions of this new
instrument; or, if it did, how can the character of the instrument
affect the general condition of a science? Besides, is not the science
a growth from very ancient times? With great respect for the Earl of
Rosse, is it conceivable that he, or any man, by one hour's working the
tackle of his new instrument, can have carried any stunning
revolutionary effect into the heart of a section so ancient in our
mathematical physics? But the reader is to consider, that the ruins
made by Lord Rosse, are in _sidereal_ astronomy, which is almost
wholly a growth of modern times; and the particular part of it
demolished by the new telescope, is almost exclusively the creation of
the two Herschels, father and son. Laplace, it is true, adopted their
views; and he transferred them to the particular service of our own
planetary system. But he gave to them no new sanction, except what
arises from showing that they would account for the appearances, as
they present themselves to our experience at this day. That was a
_negative_ confirmation; by which I mean, that, had their views
failed in the hands of Laplace, then they were proved to be false; but,
_not_ failing, they were not therefore proved to be true. It was
like proving a gun; if the charge is insufficient, or if, in trying the
strength of cast iron, timber, ropes, &c., the strain is not up to the
rigor of the demand, you go away with perhaps a favorable impression as
to the promises of the article; it has stood a moderate trial; it has
stood all the trial that offered, which is always something; but you
are still obliged to feel that, when the ultimate test is applied,
smash may go the whole concern. Lord Rosse applied an ultimate test;
and smash went the whole concern. Really I must have laughed, though
all the world had been angry, when the shrieks and yells of expiring
systems began to reverberate all the way from the belt of Orion; and
positively at the very first broadside delivered from this huge four-
decker of a telescope.

But what was it then that went to wreck? That is a thing more easy to
ask than to answer. At least, for my own part, I complain that some
vagueness hangs over all the accounts of the nebular hypothesis.
However, in this place a brief sketch will suffice.

Herschel the elder, having greatly improved the telescope, began to
observe with special attention a class of remarkable phenomena in the
starry world hitherto unstudied, viz.: milky spots in various stages of
diffusion. The nature of these appearances soon cleared itself up thus
far, that generally they were found to be starry worlds, separated from
ours by inconceivable distances, and in that way concealing at first
their real nature. The whitish gleam was the mask conferred by the
enormity of their remotion. This being so, it might have been supposed
that, as was the faintness of these cloudy spots or _nebulæ_, such
was the distance. But _that_ did not follow: for in the treasury
of nature it turned out that there were other resources for modifying
the powers of distance, for muffling and unmuffling the voice of stars.
Suppose a world at the distance _x_, which distance is so great as
to make the manifestation of that world weak, milky, nebular. Now let
the secret power that wields these awful orbs, push this world back to
a double distance! _that_ should naturally make it paler and more
dilute than ever: and yet by _compression_, by deeper centralization,
this effect shall be defeated; by forcing into far closer neighborhood
the stars which compose this world, again it shall gleam out brighter
when at 2_x_ than when at _x_. At this point of compression, let the
great moulding power a second time push it back; and a second time it
will grow faint. But once more let this world be tortured into closer
compression, again let the screw be put upon it, and once again it
shall shake off the oppression of distance as the dew-drops are shaken
from a lion's mane. And thus in fact the mysterious architect plays at
hide-and-seek with his worlds. 'I will hide it,' he says, 'and it shall
be found again by man; I will withdraw it into distances that shall
seem fabulous, and again it shall apparel itself in glorious light; a
third time I will plunge it into aboriginal darkness, and upon the
vision of man a third time it shall rise with a new epiphany.'

But, says the objector, there is no such world; there is no world that
has thus been driven back, and depressed from one deep to a lower deep.
Granted: but the same effect, an illustration of the same law, is
produced equally, whether you take four worlds, all of the same
magnitude, and plunge them _simultaneously_ into four different
abysses, sinking by graduated distances one below another, or take one
world and plunge it to the same distances _successively_. So in
Geology, when men talk of substances in different stages, or of
transitional states, they do not mean that they have watched the same
individual _stratum_ or _phenomenon_, exhibiting states removed
from each other by depths of many thousand years; how could they?
but they have seen one stage in the case A, another stage in the
case B. They take, for instance, three objects, the same (to use the
technical language of logic) generically, though numerically different,
under separate circumstances, or in different stages of advance. They
are one object for logic, they are three for human convenience. So
again it might seem impossible to give the history of a rose tree from
infancy to age: how could the same rose tree, at the same time, be
young and old? Yet by taking the different developments of its flowers,
even as they hang on the same tree, from the earliest bud to the full-
blown rose, you may in effect pursue this vegetable growth through all
its stages: you have before you the bony blushing little rose-bud, and
the respectable 'mediæval' full-blown rose.

This point settled, let it now be remarked, that Herschel's resources
enabled him to unmask many of these _nebulæ_: stars they were, and
stars he forced them to own themselves. Why should any decent world
wear an _alias_? There was nothing, you know, to be ashamed of in
being an honest cluster of stars. Indeed, they seemed to be sensible of
this themselves, and they now yielded to the force of Herschel's
arguments so far as to show themselves in the new character of
_nebulæ_ spangled with stars; these are the _stellar nebulæ_;
quite as much as you could expect in so short a time: Rome was not
built in a day: and one must have some respect to stellar feelings. It
was noticed, however, that where a bright haze, and not a weak milk-
and-water haze, had revealed itself to the telescope, this, arising
from a case of _compression_, (as previously explained,) required
very little increase of telescopic power to force him into a fuller
confession. He made a clean breast of it. But at length came a dreadful
anomaly. A 'nebula' in the constellation _Andromeda_ turned
restive: another in _Orion_, I grieve to say it, still more so. I
confine myself to the latter. A very low power sufficed to bring him to
a slight confession, which in fact amounted to nothing; the very
highest would not persuade him to show a star. 'Just one,' said some
coaxing person; 'we'll be satisfied with only one.' But no: he would
_not_. He was hardened, 'he wouldn't _split_.' And Herschel
was thus led, after waiting as long as flesh and blood _could_
wait, to infer two classes of _nebulæ_; one that were stars; and
another that were _not_ stars, nor ever were meant to be stars.
Yet _that_ was premature: he found at last, that, though not raised
to the peerage of stars, finally they would be so: they were the
matter of stars; and by gradual condensation would become suns, whose
atmosphere, by a similar process of condensing, would become planets,
capable of brilliant literati and philosophers, in several volumes
octavo. So stood the case for a long time; it was settled to the
satisfaction of Europe that there were two classes of _nebulæ_,
one that _were_ worlds, one that were _not_, but only the pabulum
of future worlds. Silence arose. A voice was heard, 'Let there
be Lord Rosse!' and immediately his telescope walked into Orion;
destroyed the supposed matter of stars; but, in return, created
immeasurable worlds.

As a hint for apprehending the delicacy and difficulty of the process
in sidereal astronomy, let the inexperienced reader figure to himself
these separate cases of perplexity: 1st, A perplexity where the dilemma
arises from the collision between magnitude and distance:--is the size
less, or the distance greater? 2dly, Where the dilemma arises between
motions, a motion in ourselves doubtfully confounded with a motion in
some external body; or, 3dly, Where it arises between possible
positions of an object: is it a real proximity that we see between two
stars, or simply an apparent proximity from lying in the same visual
line, though in far other depths of space? As regards the first
dilemma, we may suppose two laws, A and B, absolutely in contradiction,
laid down at starting: A, that all fixed stars are precisely at the
same _distance_; in this case every difference in the apparent
magnitude will indicate a corresponding difference in the real
magnitude, and will measure that difference. B, that all the fixed
stars are precisely of the same _magnitude_; in which case, every
variety in the size will indicate a corresponding difference in the
distance, and will measure that difference. Nor could we imagine any
exception to these inferences from A or from B, whichever of the two
were assumed, unless through optical laws that might not equally affect
objects under different circumstances; I mean, for instance, that might
suffer a disturbance as applied under hypoth. B, to different depths in
space, or under hypoth. A, to different arrangements of structure in
the star. But thirdly, it is certain, that neither A nor B is the
abiding law: and next it becomes an object by science and by
instruments to distinguish more readily and more certainly between the
cases where the distance has degraded the size, and the cases where the
size being _really_ less, has caused an exaggeration of the
distance: or again, where the size being really less, yet co-operating
with a distance really greater, may degrade the estimate, (though
travelling in a right direction,) below the truth; or again where the
size being really less, yet counteracted by a distance also less, may
equally disturb the truth of human measurements, and so on.

A second large order of equivocating appearances will arise,--not as to
magnitude, but as to motion. If it could be a safe assumption, that the
system to which our planet is attached were absolutely fixed and
motionless, except as regards its own _internal_ relations of
movement, then every change outside of us, every motion that the
registers of astronomy had established, would be objective and not
subjective. It would be safe to pronounce at once that it was a motion
in the object contemplated, _not_ in the subject contemplating.
Or, reversely, if it were safe to assume as a universal law, that no
motion was possible in the starry heavens, then every change of
relations in space, between ourselves and them, would indicate and
would measure a progress, or regress, on the part of our solar system,
in certain known directions. But now, because it is not safe to rest in
either assumption, the range of possibilities for which science has to
provide, is enlarged; the immediate difficulties are multiplied; but
with the result (as in the former case) of reversionally expanding the
powers, and consequently the facilities, lodged both in the science and
in the arts ministerial to the science. Thus, in the constellation
_Cygnus_, there is a star gradually changing its relation to our
system, whose distance from ourselves (as Dr. Nichol tells us) is
ascertained to be about six hundred and seventy thousand times our own
distance from the sun: that is, neglecting minute accuracy, about six
hundred and seventy thousand stages of one hundred million miles each.
This point being known, it falls within the _arts_ of astronomy to
translate this apparent angular motion into miles; and presuming this
change of relation to be not in the star, but really in ourselves, we
may deduce the velocity of our course, we may enter into our _log_
daily the rate at which our whole solar system is running. Bessel, it
seems, the eminent astronomer who died lately, computed this velocity
to be such (viz., three times that of our own earth in its proper
orbit) as would carry us to the star in forty-one thousand years. But,
in the mean time, the astronomer is to hold in reserve some small share
of his attention, some trifle of a side-glance, now and then, to the
possibility of an error, after all, in the main assumption: he must
watch the indications, if any such should arise, that not ourselves,
but the star in _Cygnus_, is the real party concerned, in drifting
at this shocking rate, with no prospect of coming to an anchorage.
[Footnote: It is worth adding at this point, whilst the reader
remembers without effort the numbers, viz., forty-one thousand
years, for the time, (the space being our own distance from the sun
repeated six hundred and seventy thousand times,) what would be the
time required for reaching, in the _body_, that distance to which
Lord Rosse's six feet mirror has so recently extended our
_vision_. The time would be, as Dr. Nichol computes, about two
hundred and fifty millions of years, supposing that our rate of
travelling was about three times that of our earth in its orbit. Now,
as the velocity is assumed to be the same in both cases, the ratio
between the distance (already so tremendous) of Bessel's 61
_Cygni_, and that of Lord Rosse's farthest frontier, is as forty-
one thousand to two hundred and fifty millions. This is a simple rule-
of-three problem for a child. And the answer to it will, perhaps,
convey the simplest expression of the superhuman power lodged in the
new telescope:--as is the ratio of forty-one thousand to two hundred
and fifty million, so is the ratio of our own distance from the sun
multiplied by six hundred and seventy thousand, to the outermost limit
of Lord Rosse's sidereal vision.]

Another class, and a frequent one, of equivocal phenomena, phenomena
that are reconcilable indifferently with either of two assumptions,
though less plausibly reconciled with the one than with the other,
concerns the position of stars that seem connected with each other by
systematic relations, and which yet _may_ lie in very different
depths of space, being brought into seeming connection only by the
human eye. There have been, and there are, cases where two stars
dissemble an interconnection which they really _have_, and other
cases where they simulate an interconnection which they have not. All
these cases of simulation and dissimulation torment the astronomer by
multiplying his perplexities, and deepening the difficulty of escaping
them. He cannot get at the truth: in many cases, magnitude and distance
are in collusion with each other to deceive him: motion subjective is
in collusion with motion objective; duplex systems are in collusion
with fraudulent stars, having no real partnership whatever, but
mimicking such a partnership by means of the limitations or errors
affecting the human eye, where it can apply no other sense to aid or to
correct itself. So that the business of astronomy, in these days, is no
sinecure, as the reader perceives. And by another evidence, it is
continually becoming less of a sinecure. Formerly, one or two men,--
Tycho, suppose, or, in a later age, Cassini and Horrox, and Bradley,
had observatories: one man, suppose, observed the stars for all
Christendom; and the rest of Europe observed _him_. But now, up
and down Europe, from the deep blue of Italian skies to the cold frosty
atmospheres of St. Petersburg and Glasgow, the stars are conscious of
being watched everywhere; and if all astronomers do not publish their
observations, all use them in their speculations. New and brilliantly
appointed observatories are rising in every latitude, or risen; and
none, by the way, of these new-born observatories, is more interesting
from the circumstances of its position, or more _picturesque_ to a
higher organ than the eye--viz., to the human heart--than the New
Observatory raised by the university of Glasgow.[Footnote: It has been
reported, ever since the autumn of 1845, and the report is now,
(August, 1846,) gathering strength, that some railway potentate, having
taken a fancy for the ancient college of Glasgow, as a bauble to hang
about his wife's neck, (no accounting for tastes,) has offered, (or
_will_ offer,) such a price, that the good old academic lady in
this her moss-grown antiquity, seriously thinks of taking him at his
word, packing up her traps, and being off. When a spirit of galavanting
comes across an aged lady, it is always difficult to know where it will
stop: so, in fact, you know, she may choose to steam for Texas. But the
present impression is, that she will settle down by the side of what
you may call her married or settled daughter--the Observatory; which
one would be glad to have confirmed, as indicating that no purpose of
pleasure-seeking had been working in elderly minds, but the instinct of
religious rest and aspiration. The Observatory would thus remind one of
those early Christian anchorites, and self-exiled visionaries, that
being led by almost a necessity of nature to take up their residence in
deserts, sometimes drew after themselves the whole of their own

The New Observatory of Glasgow is now, I believe, finished; and the
only fact connected with its history that was painful, as embodying and
recording that Vandal alienation from science, literature, and all
their interests, which has ever marked our too haughty and Caliph-Omar-
like British government, lay in the circumstance that the glasses of
the apparatus, the whole mounting of the establishment, in so far as it
was a scientific establishment, and even the workmen for putting up the
machinery, were imported from Bavaria. We, that once bade the world
stand aside when the question arose about glasses, or the graduation of
instruments, were now literally obliged to stand cap in hand, bowing to
Mr. Somebody, successor of Frauenhofer or Frauendevil, in Munich! Who
caused _that_, we should all be glad to know, if not the wicked
Treasury, that killed the hen that laid the golden eggs by taxing her
until her spine broke? It is to be hoped that, at this moment, and
specifically for this offence, some scores of Exchequer men,
chancellors and other rubbish, are in purgatory, and perhaps working,
with shirt-sleeves tucked up, in purgatorial glass-houses, with very
small allowances of beer, to defray the cost of perspiration. But why
trouble a festal remembrance with commemorations of crimes or
criminals? What makes the Glasgow Observatory so peculiarly
interesting, is its position, connected with and overlooking so vast a
city, having more than three hundred thousand inhabitants, (in spite of
an American sceptic,) nearly all children of toil; and a city, too,
which, from the necessities of its circumstances, draws so deeply upon
that fountain of misery and guilt which some ordinance, as ancient as
'our father Jacob,' with his patriarchal well for Samaria, has
bequeathed to manufacturing towns,--to Ninevehs, to Babylons, to Tyres.
How tarnished with eternal canopies of smoke, and of sorrow; how dark
with agitations of many orders, is the mighty town below! How serene,
how quiet, how lifted above the confusion and the roar, how liberated
from the strifes of earth, is the solemn Observatory that crowns the
grounds above! And duly, at night, just when the toil of over-wrought
Glasgow is mercifully relaxing, then comes the summons to the laboring
astronomer. _He_ speaks not of the night, but of the day and the
flaunting day-light, as the hours 'in which no man can work.' And the
least reflecting of men must be impressed by the idea, that at wide
intervals, but intervals scattered over Europe, whilst 'all that mighty
heart' is, by sleep, resting from its labors, secret eyes are lifted up
to heaven in astronomical watch-towers; eyes that keep watch and ward
over spaces that make us dizzy to remember, eyes that register the
promises of comets, and disentangle the labyrinths of worlds.

Another feature of interest, connected with the Glasgow Observatory, is
personal, and founded on the intellectual characteristics of the
present professor, Dr. Nichol; in the deep meditative style of his mind
seeking for rest, yet placed in conflict for ever with the tumultuous
necessity in _him_ for travelling along the line of revolutionary
thought, and following it loyally, wearied or not, to its natural home.

In a sonnet of Milton, one of three connected with his own blindness,
he distinguishes between two classes of servants that minister to the
purposes of God. '_His_ state,' says he, meaning God's state, the
arrangement of his regular service, 'is kingly;' that is to say, it
resembles the mode of service established in the courts of kings; and,
in this, it resembles that service, that there are two classes of
ministers attending on his pleasure. For, as in the trains of kings are
some that run without resting, night or day, to carry the royal
messages, and also others--great lords in waiting--that move not from
the royal gates; so of the divine retinues, some are for action only,
some for contemplation. 'Thousands' there are that

----'at his bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest.'

Others, on the contrary, motionless as statues, that share not in the
agitations of their times, that tremble not in sympathy with the storms
around them, but that listen--that watch--that wait--for secret
indications to be fulfilled, or secret signs to be deciphered. And, of
this latter class, he adds-that they, not less than the others, are
accepted by God; or, as it is so exquisitely expressed in the closing

'_They_ also serve, that only stand and wait.'

Something analogous to this one may see in the distributions of
literature and science. Many popularize and diffuse: some reap and
gather on their own account. Many translate, into languages fit for the
multitude, messages which they receive from human voices: some listen,
like Kubla Khan, far down in caverns or hanging over subterranean
rivers, for secret whispers that mingle and confuse themselves with the
general uproar of torrents, but which can be detected and kept apart by
the obstinate prophetic ear, which spells into words and ominous
sentences the distracted syllables of ærial voices. Dr. Nichol is one
of those who pass to and fro between these classes; and has the rare
function of keeping open their vital communications. As a popularizing
astronomer, he has done more for the benefit of his great science than
all the rest of Europe combined: and now, when he notices, without
murmur, the fact that his office of popular teacher is almost taken out
of his hands, (so many are they who have trained of late for the duty,)
that change has, in fact, been accomplished through knowledge, through
explanations, through suggestions, dispersed and prompted by himself.

For my own part, as one belonging to the laity, and not to the
_clerus_, in the science of astronomy, I could scarcely have
presumed to report minutely, or to sit in the character of dissector
upon the separate details of Dr. Nichol's works, either this, or those
which have preceded it, had there even been room left disposable for
such a task. But in this view it is sufficient to have made the general
acknowledgment which already _has_ been made, that Dr. Nichol's
works, and his oral lectures upon astronomy, are to be considered as
the _fundus_ of the knowledge on that science now working in this
generation. More important it is, and more in reconciliation with the
tenor of my own ordinary studies, to notice the philosophic spirit in
which Dr. Nichol's works are framed; the breadth of his views, the
eternal tendency of his steps in advance, or (if advance on that
quarter, or at that point, happens to be absolutely walled out for the
present,) the vigor of the _reconnoissances_ by which he examines
the hostile intrenchments. Another feature challenges notice. In
reading astronomical works, there arises (from old experience of what
is usually most faulty) a wish either for the naked severities of
science, with a total abstinence from all display of enthusiasm; or
else, if the cravings of human sensibility are to be met and gratified,
that it shall be by an enthusiasm unaffected and grand as its subject.
Of that kind is the enthusiasm of Dr. Nichol. The grandeurs of
astronomy are such to him who has a capacity for being grandly moved.
They are none at all to him who has not. To the mean they become
meannesses. Space, for example, has no grandeur to him who has no space
in the theatre of his own brain. I know writers who report the marvels
of velocity, &c., in such a way that they become insults to yourself.
It is obvious that in _their_ way of insisting on our earth's
speed in her annual orbit, they do not seek to exalt _her_, but to
mortify _you_. And, besides, these fellows are answerable for
provoking people into fibs:--for I remember one day, that reading a
statement of this nature, about how many things the Earth had done that
we could never hope to do, and about the number of cannon balls,
harnessed as a _tandem_, which the Earth would fly past, without
leaving time to say, _How are you off for soap?_ in vexation of
heart I could not help exclaiming--'That's nothing: I've done a great
deal more myself;' though, when one turns it in one's mind, you know
there must be some inaccuracy _there_. How different is Dr.
Nichol's enthusiasm from this hypocritical and vulgar wonderment! It
shows itself not merely in reflecting the grandeurs of his theme, and
by the sure test of detecting and allying itself with all the indirect
grandeurs that arrange themselves from any distance, upon or about that
centre, but by the manifest promptness with which Dr. Nichol's
enthusiasm awakens itself upon _every_ road that leads to things
elevating for man; or to things promising for knowledge; or to things
which, like dubious theories or imperfect attempts at systematizing,
though neutral as regards knowledge, minister to what is greater than
knowledge, viz., to intellectual _power_, to the augmented power
of handling your materials, though with no more materials than before.
In his geological and cosmological inquiries, in his casual
speculations, the same quality of intellect betrays itself; the
intellect that labors in sympathy with the laboring _nisus_ of
these gladiatorial times; that works (and sees the necessity of
working) the apparatus of many sciences towards a composite result; the
intellect that retires in one direction only to make head in another;
and that already is prefiguring the route beyond the barriers, whilst
yet the gates are locked.

There was a man in the last century, and an eminent man too, who used
to say, that whereas people in general pretended to admire astronomy as
being essentially sublime, he for _his_ part looked upon all that
sort of thing as a swindle; and, on the contrary, he regarded the solar
system as decidedly vulgar; because the planets were all of them so
infernally punctual, they kept time with such horrible precision, that
they forced him, whether he would or no, to think of nothing but post-
office clocks, mail-coaches, and book-keepers. Regularity may be
beautiful, but it excludes the sublime. What he wished for was
something like Lloyd's list.

_Comets_--due 3; arrived 1.
_Mercury_, when last seen, appeared to be distressed; but made no
_Pallas_ and _Vesta_, not heard of for some time; supposed to
have foundered.
_Moon_, spoken last night through a heavy bank of clouds; out
sixteen days: all right.

Now this poor man's misfortune was, to have lived in the days of mere
planetary astronomy. At present, when our own little system, with all
its grandeurs, has dwindled by comparison to a subordinate province, if
any man is bold enough to say so, a poor shivering unit amongst myriads
that are brighter, we ought no longer to talk of astronomy, but of
_the astronomies_. There is the planetary, the cometary, the
sidereal, perhaps also others; as, for instance, even yet the nebular;
because, though Lord Rosse has smitten it with the son of Amram's rod,
has made it open, and cloven a path through it, yet other and more
fearful _nebulæ_ may loom in sight, (if further improvements
should be effected in the telescope,) that may puzzle even Lord Rosse.
And when he tells his _famulus_--'Fire a shot at that strange
fellow, and make him show his colors,' possibly the mighty stranger may
disdain the summons. That would be vexatious: we should all be incensed
at _that_. But no matter. What's a _nebula_, what's a world,
more or less? In the spiritual heavens are many mansions: in the starry
heavens, that are now unfolding and preparing to unfold before us, are
many vacant areas upon which the astronomer may pitch his secret
pavilion. He may dedicate himself to the service of the _Double
Suns_; he has my license to devote his whole time to the quadruple
system of suns in _Lyra_. Swammerdam spent his life in a ditch
watching frogs and tadpoles; why may not an astronomer give nine lives,
if he had them, to the watching of that awful appearance in
_Hercules_, which pretends to some rights over our own unoffending
system? Why may he not mount guard with public approbation, for the
next fifty years, upon the zodiacal light, the interplanetary ether,
and other rarities, which the professional body of astronomers would
naturally keep (if they could) for their own private enjoyment? There
is no want of variety now, nor in fact of irregularity: for the most
exquisite clock-work, which from enormous distance _seems_ to go
wrong, virtually for us _does_ go wrong; so that our friend of the
last century, who complained of the solar system, would not need to do
so any longer. There are anomalies enough to keep him cheerful. There
are now even things to alarm us; for anything in the starry worlds that
look suspicious, anything that ought _not_ to be there, is, for
all purposes of frightening us, as good as a ghost.

But of all the novelties that excite my own interest in the expanding
astronomy of recent times, the most delightful and promising are those
charming little pyrotechnic planetoids,[Footnote: _'Pyrotechnic
Planetoids:'_--The reader will understand me as alluding to the
periodic shooting stars. It is now well known, that as, upon our own
poor little earthly ocean, we fall in with certain phenomena as we
approach certain latitudes; so also upon the great ocean navigated by
our Earth, we fall in with prodigious showers of these meteors at
periods no longer uncertain, but fixed as jail-deliveries. 'These
remarkable showers of meteors,' says Dr. Nichol, 'observed at different
periods in August and November, seem to demonstrate the fact, that, at
these periods, we have come in contact with two streams of such
planetoids then intersecting the earth's orbit.' If they intermit, it
is only because they are shifting their nodes, or points of
intersection.] that variegate our annual course. It always struck me as
most disgusting, that, in going round the sun, we must be passing
continually over old roads, and yet we had no means of establishing an
acquaintance with them: they might as well be new for every trip. Those
chambers of ether, through which we are tearing along night and day,
(for _our_ train stops at no stations,) doubtless, if we could put
some mark upon them, must be old fellows perfectly liable to
recognition. I suppose, _they_ never have notice to quit. And yet,
for want of such a mark, though all our lives flying past them and
through them, we can never challenge them as known. The same thing
happens in the desert: one monotonous iteration of sand, sand, sand,
unless where some miserable fountain stagnates, forbids all approach to
familiarity: nothing is circumstantiated or differenced: travel it for
three generations, and you are no nearer to identification of its
parts: so that it amounts to travelling through an abstract idea. For
the desert, really I suspect the thing is hopeless: but, as regards our
planetary orbit, matters are mending: for the last six or seven years I
have heard of these fiery showers, but indeed I cannot say how much
earlier they were first noticed,[Footnote: Somewhere I have seen it
remarked, that if, on a public road, you meet a party of four women, it
is at least fifty to one that they are all laughing; whereas, if you
meet an equal party of my own unhappy sex, you may wager safely that
they are talking gravely, and that one of them is uttering the word
_money_. Hence it must be, viz, because our sisters are too much
occupied with the playful things of this earth, and our brothers with
its gravities, that neither party sufficiently watches the skies. And
_that_ accounts for a fact which often has struck myself, viz.,
that, in cities, on bright moonless nights, when some brilliant
skirmishings of the Aurora are exhibiting, or even a luminous arch,
which is a broad ribbon of snowy light that spans the skies, positively
unless I myself say to people--'Eyes upwards!' not one in a hundred,
male or female, but fails to see the show, though it may be seen
_gratis_, simply because their eyes are too uniformly reading the
earth. This downward direction of the eyes, however, must have been
worse in former ages: because else it never _could_ have happened
that, until Queen Anne's days, nobody ever hinted in a book that there
_was_ such a thing, or _could_ be such a thing, as the Aurora
Borealis; and in fact Halley had the credit of discovering it.] as
celebrating two annual festivals--one in August, one in November. You
are a little too late, reader, for seeing this year's summer festival;
but that's no reason why you should not engage a good seat for the
November meeting; which, if I recollect, is about the 9th, or the Lord
Mayor's day, and on the whole better worth seeing. For anything
_we_ know, this may be a great day in the earth's earlier history;
she may have put forth her original rose on this day, or tried her hand
at a primitive specimen of wheat; or she may, in fact, have survived
some gunpowder plot about this time; so that the meteoric appearance
may be a kind congratulating _feu-de-joye_, on the anniversary of
the happy event. What it is that the 'cosmogony man' in the 'Vicar of
Wakefield' would have thought of such novelties, whether he would have
favored us with his usual opinion upon such topics, viz., that
_anarchon ara kai ateleutaion to pan_, or have sported a new one
exclusively for this occasion, may be doubtful. What it is that
astronomers think, who are a kind of 'cosmogony men,' the reader may
learn from Dr. Nichol, Note B, (p. 139, 140.)

In taking leave of a book and a subject so well fitted to draw out the
highest mode of that grandeur, which _can_ connect itself with the
external, (a grandeur capable of drawing down a spiritual being to
earth, but not of raising an earthly being to heaven,) I would wish to
contribute my own brief word of homage to this grandeur by recalling
from a fading remembrance of twenty-five years back a short
_bravura_ of John Paul Richter. I call it a _bravura_, as being
intentionally a passage of display and elaborate execution; and
in this sense I may call it partly 'my own,' that at twenty-five years'
distance, (after one single reading,) it would not have been possible
for any man to report a passage of this length without greatly
disturbing [Footnote: _'Disturbing;'_--neither perhaps should I
much have sought to avoid alterations if the original had been lying
before me: for it takes the shape of a dream; and this most brilliant
of all German writers wanted in that field the severe simplicity, that
horror of the _too much_, belonging to Grecian architecture, which
is essential to the perfection of a dream considered as a work of art.
He was too elaborate, to realize the grandeur of the shadowy.] the
texture of the composition: by altering, one makes it partly one's own;
but it is right to mention, that the sublime turn at the end belongs
entirely to John Paul.

'God called up from dreams a man into the vestibule of heaven, saying,
--"Come thou hither, and see the glory of my house." And to the
servants that stood around his throne he said,--"Take him, and undress
him from his robes of flesh: cleanse his vision, and put a new breath
into his nostrils: only touch not with any change his human heart--the
heart that weeps and trembles." It was done; and, with a mighty angel
for his guide, the man stood ready for his infinite voyage; and from
the terraces of heaven, without sound or farewell, at once they wheeled
away into endless space. Sometimes with the solemn flight of angel wing
they fled through Zaarrahs of darkness, through wildernesses of death,
that divided the worlds of life: sometimes they swept over frontiers,
that were quickening under prophetic motions from God. Then, from a
distance that is counted only in heaven, light dawned for a time
through a sleepy film: by unutterable pace the light swept to
_them_, they by unutterable pace to the light: in a moment the
rushing of planets was upon them: in a moment the blazing of suns was
around them. Then came eternities of twilight, that revealed, but were
not revealed. To the right hand and to the left towered mighty
constellations, that by self-repetitions and answers from afar, that by
counter-positions, built up triumphal gates, whose architraves, whose
archways--horizontal, upright--rested, rose--at altitudes, by spans--
that seemed ghostly from infinitude. Without measure were the
architraves, past number were the archways, beyond memory the gates.
Within were stairs that scaled the eternities above, that descended to
the eternities below: above was below, below was above, to the man
stripped of gravitating body: depth was swallowed up in height
insurmountable, height was swallowed up in depth unfathomable. Suddenly
as thus they rode from infinite to infinite, suddenly as thus they
tilted over abysmal worlds, a mighty cry arose--that systems more
mysterious, that worlds more billowy,--other heights, and other
depths,--were coming, were nearing, were at hand. Then the man sighed,
and stopped, shuddered and wept. His over-laden heart uttered itself in
tears; and he said,--"Angel, I will go no farther. For the spirit of
man aches with this infinity. Insufferable is the glory of God. Let me
lie down in the grave from the persecutions of the infinite; for end, I
see, there is none." And from all the listening stars that shone around
issued a choral voice, "The man speaks truly: end there is none, that
ever yet we heard of." "End is there none?" the angel solemnly
demanded: "Is there indeed no end? And is this the sorrow that kills
you?" But no voice answered, that he might answer himself. Then the
angel threw up his glorious hands to the heaven of heavens; saying,
"End is there none to the universe of God? Lo! also there is no

NOTE.--On throwing his eyes hastily over the preceding paper, the
writer becomes afraid that some readers may give such an interpretation
to a few playful expressions upon the age of our earth, &c., as to
class him with those who use geology, cosmology, &c., for purposes of
attack, or insinuation against the Scriptures. Upon this point,
therefore, he wishes to make a firm explanation of his own opinions,
which, (whether right or wrong,) will liberate him, once and for all,
from any such jealousy.

It is sometimes said, that the revealer of a true religion, does not
come amongst men for the sake of teaching truths in science, or
correcting errors in science. Most justly is this said: but often in
terms far too feeble. For generally these terms are such as to imply,
that, although no function of his mission, it was yet open to him--
although not pressing with the force of an obligation upon the
revealer, it was yet at his discretion--if not to correct other men's
errors, yet at least in his own person to speak with scientific
precision. I contend that it was _not_. I contend, that to have
uttered the truths of astronomy, of geology, &c., at the era of new-
born Christianity, was not only _below_ the purposes of a
religion, but would have been _against_ them. Even upon errors of
a far more important class than any errors in science can ever be,--
superstitions, for instance, that degraded the very idea of God;
prejudices and false usages, that laid waste human happiness, (such as
slavery and many hundreds of other abuses that might be mentioned,) the
rule evidently acted upon by the Founder of Christianity was this--
Given the purification of the fountain, once assumed that the fountains
of truth are cleansed, all these derivative currents of evil will
cleanse themselves. And the only exceptions, which I remember, to this
rule, are two cases in which, from the personal appeal made to his
decision, Christ would have made himself a party to wretched delusions,
if he had not condescended to expose their folly. But, as a general
rule, the branches of error were disregarded, and the roots only
attacked. If, then, so lofty a station was taken with regard even to
such errors as had moral and spiritual relations, how much more with
regard to the comparative trifles, (as in the ultimate relations of
human nature they are,) of merely human science! But, for my part, I go
further, and assert, that upon three reasons it was impossible for any
messenger from God, (or offering himself in that character,) for a
moment to have descended into the communication of truth merely
scientific, or economic, or worldly. And the reasons are these:
_First_, Because it would have degraded his mission, by lowering
it to the base level of a collision with human curiosity, or with petty
and transitory interests. _Secondly_, Because it would have ruined
his mission; would utterly have prostrated the free agency and the
proper agency of that mission. He that, in those days, should have
proclaimed the true theory of the Solar System and the heavenly forces,
would have been shut up at once--as a lunatic likely to become
dangerous. But suppose him to have escaped _that_; still, as a
divine teacher, he has no liberty of caprice. He must stand to the
promises of his own acts. Uttering the first truth of a science, he is
pledged to the second: taking the main step, he is committed to all
which follow. He is thrown at once upon the endless controversies which
science in every stage provokes, and in none more than in the earliest.
Or, if he retires as from a scene of contest that he had not
anticipated, he retires as one confessing a human precipitance and a
human oversight, weaknesses, venial in others, but fatal to the
pretensions of a divine teacher. Starting besides from such
pretensions, he could not (as others might) have the privilege of
selecting arbitrarily or partially. If upon one science, then upon
all,--if upon science, then upon, art,--if upon art and science, then
upon _every_ branch of social economy, upon _every_ organ of
civilization, his reformations and advances are equally due; due as to
all, if due as to any. To move in one direction, is constructively to
undertake for all. Without power to retreat, he has thus thrown the
intellectual interests of his followers into a channel utterly alien to
the purposes of a spiritual mission.

Thus far he has simply failed: but next comes a worse result; an evil,
not negative but positive. Because, _thirdly_, to apply the light
of a revelation for the benefit of a merely human science, which is
virtually done by so applying the illumination of an _inspired_
teacher, is--to assault capitally the scheme of God's discipline and
training for man. To improve by _heavenly_ means, if but in one
solitary science--to lighten, if but in one solitary section, the
condition of difficulty which had been designed for the strengthening
and training of human faculties, is _pro tanto_ to disturb--to
cancel--to contradict a previous purpose of God, made known by silent
indications from the beginning of the world. Wherefore did God give to
man the powers for contending with scientific difficulties? Wherefore
did he lay a secret train of continual occasions, that should rise, by
intervals, through thousands of generations, for provoking and
developing those activities in man's intellect, if, after all, he is to
send a messenger of his own, more than human, to intercept and strangle
all these great purposes? When, therefore, the persecutors of Galileo,
alleged that Jupiter, for instance, could not move in the way alleged,
because then the Bible would have proclaimed it,--as they thus threw
back upon God the burthen of discovery, which he had thrown upon
Galileo, why did they not, by following out their own logic, throw upon
the Bible the duty of discovering the telescope, or discovering the
satellites of Jupiter? And, as no such discoveries were there, why did
they not, by parity of logic, and for mere consistency, deny the
telescope as a fact, deny the Jovian planets as facts? But this it is
to mistake the very meaning and purposes of a revelation. A revelation
is not made for the purpose of showing to idle men that which they may
show to themselves, by faculties already given to them, if only they
will exert those faculties, but for the purpose of showing _that_
which the moral darkness of man will not, without supernatural light,
allow him to perceive. With disdain, therefore, must every considerate
person regard the notion,--that God could wilfully interfere with his
own plans, by accrediting ambassadors to reveal astronomy, or any other
science, which he has commanded men to cultivate _without_
revelation, by endowing them with all the natural powers for doing so.

Even as regards astronomy, a science so nearly allying itself to
religion by the loftiness and by the purity of its contemplations,
Scripture is nowhere the _parent_ of any doctrine, nor so much as
the silent sanctioner of any doctrine. Scripture cannot become the
author of falsehood,--though it were as to a trifle, cannot become a
party to falsehood. And it is made impossible for Scripture to teach
falsely, by the simple fact that Scripture, on such subjects, will not
condescend to teach at all. The Bible adopts the erroneous language of
men, (which at any rate it must do, in order to make itself
understood,) not by way of sanctioning a theory, but by way of using a
fact. The Bible _uses_ (postulates) the phenomena of day and
night, of summer and winter, and expresses them, in relation to their
causes, as _men_ express them, men, even, that are scientific
astronomers. But the results, which are all that concern Scripture, are
equally true, whether accounted for by one hypothesis which is
philosophically just, or by another which is popular and erring.

Now, on the other hand, in geology and cosmology, the case is still
stronger. _Here_ there is no opening for a compliance even with
popular language. _Here_, where there is no such stream of
apparent phenomena running counter (as in astronomy) to the real
phenomena, neither is there any popular language opposed to the
scientific. The whole are abstruse speculations, even as regards their
objects, not dreamed of as possibilities, either in their true aspects
or their false aspects, till modern times. The Scriptures, therefore,
nowhere allude to such sciences, either under the shape of histories,
applied to processes current and in movement, or under the shape of
theories applied to processes past and accomplished. The Mosaic
cosmogony, indeed, gives the succession of natural births; and that
succession will doubtless be more and more confirmed and illustrated as
geology advances. But as to the time, the duration, of this cosmogony,
it is the idlest of notions that the Scriptures either have or could
have condescended to human curiosity upon so awful a prologue to the
drama of this world. Genesis would no more have indulged so mean a
passion with respect to the mysterious inauguration of the world, than
the Apocalypse with respect to its mysterious close. 'Yet the six
_days_ of Moses!' Days! But is any man so little versed in biblical
language as not to know that (except in the merely historical
parts of the Jewish records) every section of time has a secret and
separate acceptation in the Scriptures? Does an _æon_, though a
Grecian word, bear scripturally [either in Daniel or in Saint John] any
sense known to Grecian ears? Do the seventy _weeks_ of the prophet
mean weeks in the sense of human calendars? Already the Psalms, (xc)
already St. Peter, (2d Epist.) warn us of a peculiar sense attached to
the word _day_ in divine ears? And who of the innumerable
interpreters understands the twelve hundred and odd days in Daniel, or
his two thousand and odd days, to mean, by possibility, periods of
twenty-four hours? Surely the theme of Moses was as mystical, and as
much entitled to the benefit of mystical language, as that of the

The sum of the matter is this:--God, by a Hebrew prophet, is sublimely
described as _the Revealer_; and, in variation of his own expression,
the same prophet describes him as the Being 'that knoweth the
darkness.' Under no idea can the relations of God to man be more
grandly expressed. But of what is he the revealer? Not surely of those
things which he has enabled man to reveal for himself, and which he has
commanded him so to reveal, but of those things which, were it not
through special light from heaven, must eternally remain sealed up in
the inaccessible darkness. On this principle we should all laugh at a
revealed cookery. But essentially the same ridicule applies to a
revealed astronomy, or a revealed geology. As a fact, there _is_
no such astronomy or geology: as a possibility, by the _a priori_
argument which I have used, (viz., that a revelation on such fields,
would contradict _other_ machineries of providence,) there _can_ be no
such astronomy or geology. Consequently there _can_ be none such in the
Bible. Consequently there _is_ none. Consequently there can be no
schism or feud upon _these_ subjects between the Bible and the
philosophies outside. Geology is a field left open, with the amplest
permission from above, to the widest and wildest speculations of man.


It is said continually--that the age of miracles is past. We deny that
it is so in any sense which implies this age to differ from all other
generations of man except one. It is neither past, nor ought we to wish
it past. Superstition is no vice in the constitution of man: it is not
true that, in any philosophic view, _primus in orbe deos fecit timor_
--meaning by _fecit_ even so much as _raised into light_. As Burke
remarked, the _timor_ at least must be presumed to preexist, and must
be accounted for, if not the gods. If the fear created the gods, what
created the fear? Far more true, and more just to the grandeur of man,
it would have been to say--_Primus in orbe deos fecit sensus
infiniti_. Even in the lowest Caffre, more goes to the sense of a
divine being than simply his wrath or his power. Superstition, indeed,
or the sympathy with the invisible, is the great test of man's nature,
as an earthly combining with a celestial. In superstition lies the
possibility of religion. And though superstition is often injurious,
degrading, demoralizing, it is so, not as a form of corruption or
degradation, but as a form of non-development. The crab is harsh, and
for itself worthless. But it is the germinal form of innumerable finer
fruits: not apples only the most exquisite, and pears; the peach and
the nectarine are said to have radiated from this austere stock when
cultured, developed, and transferred to all varieties of climate.
Superstition will finally pass into pure forms of religion as man
advances. It would be matter of lamentation to hear that superstition
had at all decayed until man had made corresponding steps in the
purification and development of his intellect as applicable to
religious faith. Let us hope that this is not so. And, by way of
judging, let us throw a hasty eye over the modes of popular
superstition. If these manifest their vitality, it will prove that the
popular intellect does not go along with the bookish or the worldly
(philosophic we cannot call it) in pronouncing the miraculous extinct.
The popular feeling is all in all.

This function of miraculous power, which is most widely diffused
through Pagan and Christian ages alike, but which has the least root in
the solemnities of the imagination, we may call the _Ovidian_. By
way of distinction, it may be so called; and with some justice, since
Ovid in his _Metamorphoses_ gave the first elaborate record of
such a tendency in human superstition. It is a movement of superstition
under the domination of human affections; a mode of spiritual awe which
seeks to reconcile itself with human tenderness or admiration; and
which represents supernatural power as expressing itself by a sympathy
with human distress or passion concurrently with human sympathies, and
as supporting that blended sympathy by a symbol incarnated with the
fixed agencies of nature. For instance, a pair of youthful lovers
perish by a double suicide originating in a fatal mistake, and a
mistake operating in each case through a noble self-oblivion. The tree
under which their meeting has been concerted, and which witnesses their
tragedy, is supposed ever afterwards to express the divine sympathy
with this catastrophe in the gloomy color of its fruit:--

'At tu, quæ ramis (arbor!) miserabile corpus
Nunc tegis unius, mox es tectura duorum,
Signa tene cædis:--pullosque et luctibus aptos
Semper habe fructus--gemini monumenta cruoris:'

Such is the dying adjuration of the lady to the tree. And the fruit
becomes from that time a monument of a double sympathy--sympathy from
man, sympathy from a dark power standing behind the agencies of nature,
and speaking through them. Meantime the object of this sympathy is
understood to be not the individual catastrophe, but the universal case
of unfortunate love exemplified in this particular romance. The
inimitable grace with which Ovid has delivered these early traditions
of human tenderness, blending with human superstition, is notorious;
the artfulness of the pervading connection, by which every tale in the
long succession is made to arise spontaneously out of that which
precedes, is absolutely unrivalled; and this it was, with his luxuriant
gayety, which procured for him a preference, even with Milton, a poet
so opposite by intellectual constitution. It is but reasonable,
therefore, that this function of the miraculous should bear the name of
_Ovidian_. Pagan it was in its birth; and to paganism its titles
ultimately ascend. Yet we know that in the transitional state through
the centuries succeeding to Christ, during which paganism and
Christianity were slowly descending and ascending, as if from two
different strata of the atmosphere, the two powers interchanged
whatsoever they could. (See Conyer's Middleton; and see Blount of our
own days.) It marked the earthly nature of paganism, that it could
borrow little or nothing by organization: it was fitted to no
expansion. But the true faith, from its vast and comprehensive
adaptation to the nature of man, lent itself to many corruptions--some
deadly in their tendencies, some harmless. Amongst these last was the
Ovidian form of connecting the unseen powers moving in nature with
human sympathies of love or reverence. The legends of this kind are
universal and endless. No land, the most austere in its Protestantism,
but has adopted these superstitions: and everywhere by those even who
reject them they are entertained with some degree of affectionate
respect. That the ass, which in its very degradation still retains an
under-power of sublimity, [Footnote: '_An under-power of sublimity_.'--
Everybody 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 colors of
things, absolutely by choice, under the Bagdad Caliphate, decorated a
most favorite 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.] or of
sublime suggestion through its ancient connection with the wilderness,
with the Orient, with Jerusalem, should have been honored amongst all
animals, by the visible impression upon its back of Christian symbols
--seems reasonable even to the infantine understanding when made
acquainted with its meekness, its patience, its suffering life, and
its association with the founder of Christianity in one great
triumphal solemnity. The very man who brutally abuses it, and feels a
hardhearted contempt for its misery and its submission, has a semi-
conscious feeling that the same qualities were possibly those which
recommended it to a distinction, [Footnote: '_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 color, of
a peculiar breed, and improved, like the English racer, by continual
care.] when all things were valued upon a scale inverse to that of the
world. Certain it is, that in all Christian lands the legend about the
ass is current amongst the rural population. The haddock, again,
amongst marine animals, is supposed, throughout all maritime Europe, to
be a privileged fish; even in austere Scotland, every child can point
out the impression of St. Peter's thumb, by which from age to age it is
distinguished from fishes having otherwise an external resemblance. All
domesticated cattle, having the benefit of man's guardianship and care,
are believed throughout England and Germany to go down upon their knees
at one particular moment of Christmas eve, when the fields are covered
with darkness, when no eye looks down but that of God, and when the
exact anniversary hour revolves of the angelic song, once rolling over
the fields and flocks of Palestine. [Footnote: Mahometanism, which
everywhere 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 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.] The Glastonbury Thorn is a more local
superstition; but at one time the legend was as widely diffused as that
of Loretto, with the angelic translation of its sanctities: on
Christmas morning, it was devoutly believed by all Christendom, that
this holy thorn put forth its annual blossoms. And with respect to the
aspen tree, which Mrs. Hemans very naturally mistook for a Welsh
legend, having first heard it in Denbighshire, the popular faith is
universal--that it shivers mystically in sympathy with the horror of
that mother tree in Palestine which was compelled to furnish materials
for the cross. Neither would it in this case be any objection, if a
passage were produced from Solinus or Theophrastus, implying that the
aspen tree had always shivered--for the tree might presumably be
penetrated by remote presentiments, as well as by remote remembrances.
In so vast a case the obscure sympathy should stretch, Janus-like, each
way. And an objection of the same kind to the rainbow, considered as
the sign or seal by which God attested his covenant in bar of all
future deluges, may be parried in something of the same way. It was not
then first created--true: but it was then first selected by preference,
amongst a multitude of natural signs as yet unappropriated, and then
first charged with the new function of a message and a ratification to
man. Pretty much the same theory, that is, the same way of accounting
for the natural existence without disturbing the supernatural
functions, may be applied to the great constellation of the other
hemisphere, called the Southern Cross. It is viewed popularly in South
America, and the southern parts of our northern hemisphere, as the
great banner, or gonfalon, held aloft by Heaven before the Spanish
heralds of the true faith in 1492. To that superstitious and ignorant
race it costs not an effort to suppose, that by some synchronizing
miracle, the constellation had been then specially called into
existence at the very moment when the first Christian procession,
bearing a cross in their arms, solemnly stepped on shore from the
vessels of Christendom. We Protestants know better: we understand the
impossibility of supposing such a narrow and local reference in orbs,
so transcendently vast as those composing the constellation--orbs
removed from each other by such unvoyageable worlds of space, and
having, in fact, no real reference to each other more than to any other
heavenly bodies whatsoever. The unity of synthesis, by which they are
composed into one figure of a cross, we know to be a mere accidental
result from an arbitrary synthesis of human fancy. Take such and such
stars, compose them into letters, and they will spell such a word. But
still it was our own choice--a synthesis of our own fancy, originally
to combine them in this way. They might be divided from each other, and
otherwise combined. All this is true: and yet, as the combination does
spontaneously offer itself [Footnote: '_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 he admits that the dark barren space around it
gives to this inferior magnitude a very advantageous relief.] to every
eye, as the glorious cross does really glitter for ever through the
silent hours of a vast hemisphere, even they who are not superstitious,
may willingly yield to the belief--that, as the rainbow was laid in the
very elements and necessities of nature, yet still bearing a pre-
dedication to a service which would not be called for until many ages
had passed, so also the mysterious cipher of man's imperishable hopes
may have been entwined and enwreathed with the starry heavens from
their earliest creation, as a prefiguration--as a silent heraldry of
hope through one period, and as a heraldry of gratitude through the

All these cases which we have been rehearsing, taking them in the
fullest literality, agree in this general point of union--they are all
silent incarnations of miraculous power--miracles, supposing them to
have been such originally, locked up and embodied in the regular course
of nature, just as we see lineaments of faces and of forms in
petrifactions, in variegated marbles, in spars, or in rocky strata,
which our fancy interprets as once having been real human existences;
but which are now confounded with the substance of a mineral product.
Even those who are most superstitious, therefore, look upon cases of
this order as occupying a midway station between the physical and the
hyperphysical, between the regular course of nature and the
providential interruption of that course. The stream of the miraculous
is here confluent with the stream of the natural. By such legends the
credulous man finds his superstition but little nursed; the incredulous
finds his philosophy but little revolted. Both alike will be willing to
admit, for instance, that the apparent act of reverential thanksgiving,
in certain birds, when drinking, is caused and supported by a
physiological arrangement; and yet, perhaps, both alike would bend so
far to the legendary faith as to allow a child to believe, and would
perceive a pure childlike beauty in believing, that the bird was thus
rendering a homage of deep thankfulness to the universal Father, who
watches for the safety of sparrows, and sends his rain upon the just
and upon the unjust. In short, the faith in this order of the physico-
miraculous is open alike to the sceptical and the non-sceptical: it is
touched superficially with the coloring of superstition, with its
tenderness, its humility, its thankfulness, its awe; but, on the other
hand, it is not therefore tainted with the coarseness, with the
silliness, with the credulity of superstition. Such a faith reposes
upon the universal signs diffused through nature, and blends with the
mysterious of natural grandeurs wherever found--with the mysterious of
the starry heavens, with the mysterious of music, and with that
infinite form of the mysterious for man's dimmest misgivings--

'Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns.'

But, from this earliest note in the ascending scale of superstitious
faith, let us pass to a more alarming key. This first, which we have
styled (in equity as well as for distinction) the _Ovidian_, is
too ærial, too allegoric, almost to be susceptible of much terror. It
is the mere _fancy_, in a mood half-playful, half-tender, which
submits to the belief. It is the feeling, the sentiment, which creates
the faith; not the faith which creates the feeling. And thus far we see
that modern feeling and Christian feeling has been to the full as
operative as any that is peculiar to paganism; judging by the Romish
_Legenda_, very much more so. The Ovidian illustrations, under a
false superstition, are entitled to give the designation, as being the
first, the earliest, but not at all as the richest. Besides that,
Ovid's illustrations emanated often from himself individually, not from
the popular mind of his country; ours of the same classification
uniformly repose on large popular traditions from the whole of
Christian antiquity. These again are agencies of the supernatural which
can never have a private or personal application; they belong to all
mankind and to all generations. But the next in order are more solemn;
they become terrific by becoming personal. These comprehend all that
vast body of the marvellous which is expressed by the word _Ominous_.
On this head, as dividing itself into the ancient and modern, we will
speak next.

Everybody is aware of the deep emphasis which the Pagans laid upon
words and upon names, under this aspect of the ominous. The name of
several places was formally changed by the Roman government, solely
with a view to that contagion of evil which was thought to lurk in the
syllables, if taken significantly. Thus, the town of Maleventum, (Ill-
come, as one might render it,) had its name changed by the Romans to
Beneventum, (or Welcome.) _Epidamnum_ again, the Grecian Calais,
corresponding to the Roman Dover of Brundusium, was a name that would
have startled the stoutest-hearted Roman 'from his propriety.' Had he
suffered this name to escape him inadvertently, his spirits would have
forsaken him--he would have pined away under a certainty of misfortune,
like a poor Negro of Koromantyn who is the victim of Obi.[Footnote:
'_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.] As a Greek word, which it was, the
name imported no ill; but for a Roman to say _Ibo Epidamnum_, was
in effect saying, though in a hybrid dialect, half-Greek half-Roman, 'I
will go to ruin.' The name was therefore changed to Dyrrachium; a
substitution which quieted more anxieties in Roman hearts than the
erection of a light-house or the deepening of the harbor mouth. A case
equally strong, to take one out of many hundreds that have come down to
us, is reported by Livy. There was an officer in a Roman legion, at
some period of the Republic, who bore the name either of Atrius Umber
or Umbrius Ater: and this man being ordered on some expedition, the
soldiers refused to follow him. They did right. We remember that Mr.
Coleridge used facetiously to call the well-known sister of Dr. Aikin,
Mrs. Barbauld, 'that pleonasm of nakedness'--the idea of nakedness
being reduplicated and reverberated in the _bare_ and the _bald_.
This Atrius Umber might be called 'that pleonasm of darkness;' and one
might say to him, in the words of Othello, 'What needs this iteration?'
To serve under the Gloomy was enough to darken the spirit of hope; but
to serve under the Black Gloomy was really rushing upon destruction.
Yet it will be alleged that Captain Death was a most favorite and
heroic leader in the English navy; and that in our own times, Admiral
Coffin, though an American by birth, has not been unpopular in the same
service. This is true: and all that can be said is, that these names
were two-edged swords, which might be made to tell against the enemy as
well as against friends. And possibly the Roman centurion might have
turned his name to the same account, had he possessed the great
Dictator's presence of mind; for he, when landing in Africa, having
happened to stumble--an omen of the worst character, in Roman
estimation--took out its sting by following up his own
oversight, as if it had been intentional, falling to the ground,
kissing it, and ejaculating that in this way he appropriated the soil.

Omens of every class were certainly regarded, in ancient Rome, with a
reverence that can hardly be surpassed. But yet, with respect to these
omens derived from names, it is certain that our modern times have more
memorable examples on record. Out of a large number which occur to us,
we will cite two:--The present King of the French bore in his boyish
days a title which he would not have borne, but for an omen of bad
augury attached to his proper title. He was called the Duc de Chartres
before the Revolution, whereas his proper title was Duc de Valois. And
the origin of the change was this:--The Regent's father had been the
sole brother of Louis Quatorze. He married for his first wife our
English princess Henrietta, the sister of Charles II., (and through her
daughter, by the way, it is that the house of Savoy, _i.e._ of
Sardinia, has pretensions to the English throne.) This unhappy lady, it
is too well established, was poisoned. Voltaire, amongst many others,
has affected to doubt the fact; for which in his time there might be
some excuse. But since then better evidences have placed the matter
beyond all question. We now know both the fact, and the how, and the
why. The Duke, who probably was no party to the murder of his young
wife, though otherwise on bad terms with her, married for his second
wife a coarse German princess, homely in every sense, and a singular
contrast to the elegant creature whom he had lost. She was a daughter
of the Bavarian Elector; ill-tempered by her own confession, self-
willed, and a plain speaker to excess; but otherwise a woman of honest
German principles. Unhappy she was through a long life; unhappy through
the monotony as well as the malicious intrigues of the French court;
and so much so, that she did her best (though without effect) to
prevent her Bavarian niece from becoming dauphiness. She acquits her
husband, however, in the memoirs which she left behind, of any
intentional share in her unhappiness; she describes him constantly as a
well-disposed prince. But whether it were, that often walking in the
dusk through the numerous apartments of that vast mansion which her
husband had so much enlarged, naturally she turned her thoughts to the
injured lady who had presided there before herself; or whether it arose
from the inevitable gloom which broods continually over mighty palaces,
so much is known for certain, that one evening, in the twilight, she
met, at a remote quarter of the reception-rooms, something that she
conceived to be a spectre. What she fancied to have passed on that
occasion, was never known except to her nearest friends; and if she
made any explanations in her memoirs, the editor has thought fit to
suppress them. She mentions only, that in consequence of some ominous
circumstances relating to the title of _Valois_, which was the
proper second title of the Orleans family, her son, the Regent, had
assumed in his boyhood that of Duc de Chartres. His elder brother was
dead, so that the superior title was open to him; but, in consequence
of those mysterious omens, whatever they might be, which occasioned
much whispering at the time, the great title of Valois was laid aside
for ever as of bad augury; nor has it ever been resumed through a
century and a half that have followed that mysterious warning; nor will
it be resumed unless the numerous children of the present Orleans
branch should find themselves distressed for ancient titles; which is
not likely, since they enjoy the honors of the elder house, and are now
the _children of France_ in a technical sense.

Here we have a great European case of state omens in the eldest of
Christian houses. The next which we shall cite is equally a state case,
and carries its public verification along with itself. In the spring of
1799, when Napoleon was lying before Acre, he became anxious for news
from Upper Egypt, whither he had despatched Dessaix in pursuit of a
distinguished Mameluke leader. This was in the middle of May. Not many
days after, a courier arrived with favorable despatches--favorable in
the main, but reporting one tragical occurrence on a small scale that,
to Napoleon, for a superstitious reason, outweighed the public
prosperity. A _djerme_, or Nile boat of the largest class, having
on board a large party of troops and of wounded men, together with most
of a regimental band, had run ashore at the village of Benouth. No case
could be more hopeless. The neighboring Arabs were of the Yambo tribe--
of all Arabs the most ferocious. These Arabs and the Fellahs (whom, by
the way, many of our countrymen are so ready to represent as friendly
to the French and hostile to ourselves,) had taken the opportunity of
attacking the vessel. The engagement was obstinate; but at length the
inevitable catastrophe could be delayed no longer. The commander, an
Italian named Morandi, was a brave man; any fate appeared better than
that which awaited him from an enemy so malignant. He set fire to the
powder magazine; the vessel blew up; Morandi perished in the Nile; and
all of less nerve, who had previously reached the shore in safety, were
put to death to the very last man, with cruelties the most detestable,
by their inhuman enemies. For all this Napoleon cared little; but one
solitary fact there was in the report which struck him with
consternation. This ill-fated _djerme_--what was it called? It was
called _L'Italie_; and in the name of the vessel Napoleon read an
augury of the fate which had befallen the Italian territory. Considered
as a dependency of France, he felt certain that Italy was lost; and
Napoleon was inconsolable. But what possible connection, it was asked,
can exist between this vessel on the Nile and a remote peninsula of
Southern Europe? 'No matter,' replied Napoleon; 'my presentiments never
deceive me. You will see that all is ruined. I am satisfied that my
Italy, my conquest, is lost to France!' So, indeed, it was. All
European news had long been intercepted by the English cruisers; but
immediately after the battle with the Vizier in July 1799, an English
admiral first informed the French army of Egypt that Massena and others
had lost all that Bonaparte had won in 1796. But it is a strange
illustration of human blindness, that this very subject of Napoleon's
lamentation--this very campaign of 1799--it was, with its blunders and
its long equipage of disasters, that paved the way for his own
elevation to the Consulship, just seven calendar months from the
receipt of that Egyptian despatch; since most certainly, in the
struggle of Brumaire 1799, doubtful and critical through every stage,
it was the pointed contrast between _his_ Italian campaigns and
those of his successors which gave effect to Napoleon's pretensions
with the political combatants, and which procured them a ratification
amongst the people. The loss of Italy was essential to the full effect
of Napoleon's previous conquest. That and the imbecile characters of
Napoleon's chief military opponents were the true keys to the great
revolution of Brumaire. The stone which he rejected became the keystone
of the arch. So that, after all, he valued the omen falsely; though the
very next news from Europe, courteously communicated by his English
enemies, showed that he had interpreted its meaning rightly.

These omens, derived from names, are therefore common to the ancient
and the modern world. But perhaps, in strict logic, they ought to have
been classed as one subdivision or variety under a much larger head,
viz. words generally, no matter whether proper names or appellatives,
as operative powers and agencies, having, that is to say, a charmed
power against some party concerned from the moment that they leave the

Homer describes prayers as having a separate life, rising buoyantly
upon wings, and making their way upwards to the throne of Jove. Such,
but in a sense gloomy and terrific, is the force ascribed under a
widespread superstition, ancient and modern, to words uttered on
critical occasions; or to words uttered at any time, which point to
critical occasions. Hence the doctrine of _euphaemismos_, the
necessity of abstaining from strong words or direct words in expressing
fatal contingencies. It was shocking, at all times of paganism, to say
of a third person--'If he should die;' or to suppose the case that he
might be murdered. The very word _death_ was consecrated and
forbidden. _Si quiddam humanum passus fuerit_ was the extreme form
to which men advanced in such cases. And this scrupulous feeling,
originally founded on the supposed efficacy of words, prevails to this
day. It is a feeling undoubtedly supported by good taste, which
strongly impresses upon us all the discordant tone of all impassioned
subjects, (death, religion, &c.,) with the common key of ordinary
conversation. But good taste is not in itself sufficient to account for
a scrupulousness so general and so austere. In the lowest classes there
is a shuddering recoil still felt from uttering coarsely and roundly
the anticipation of a person's death. Suppose a child, heir to some
estate, the subject of conversation--the hypothesis of his death is put
cautiously, under such forms as, 'If anything but good should happen;'
'if any change should occur;' 'if any of us should chance to miscarry;'
and so forth. Always a modified expression is sought--always an
indirect one. And this timidity arises under the old superstition still
lingering amongst men, like that ancient awe, alluded to by Wordsworth,
for the sea and its deep secrets--feelings that have not, no, nor ever
will, utterly decay. No excess of nautical skill will ever perfectly
disenchant the great abyss from its terrors--no progressive knowledge
will ever medicine that dread misgiving of a mysterious and pathless
power given to words of a certain import, or uttered in certain
situations, by a parent, to persecuting or insulting children; by the
victim of horrible oppression, when laboring in final agonies; and by
others, whether cursing or blessing, who stand central to great
passions, to great interests, or to great perplexities.

And here, by way of parenthesis, we may stop to explain the force of
that expression, so common in Scripture, '_Thou hast said it._' It
is an answer often adopted by our Saviour; and the meaning we hold to
be this: Many forms in eastern idioms, as well as in the Greek
occasionally, though meant _interrogatively_, are of a nature to
convey a direct categorical _affirmation_, unless as their meaning
is modified by the cadence and intonation. _Art thou_, detached
from this vocal and accentual modification, is equivalent to _thou
art_. Nay, even apart from this accident, the popular belief
authorized the notion, that simply to have uttered any great thesis,
though unconsciously--simply to have united verbally any two great
ideas, though for a purpose the most different or even opposite, had
the mysterious power of realizing them in act. An exclamation, though
in the purest spirit of sport, to a boy, '_You shall be our
imperator_,' was many times supposed to be the forerunner and fatal
mandate for the boy's elevation. Such words executed themselves. To
connect, though but for denial or for mockery, the ideas of Jesus and
the Messiah, furnished an augury that eventually they would be found to
coincide, and to have their coincidence admitted. It was an
_argumentum ad hominem_, and drawn from a popular faith.

But a modern reader will object the want of an accompanying design or
serious meaning on the part of him who utters the words--he never meant
his words to be taken seriously--nay, his purpose was the very
opposite. True: and precisely that is the reason why his words are
likely to operate effectually, and why they should be feared. Here lies
the critical point which most of all distinguishes this faith. Words
took effect, not merely in default of a serious use, but exactly in
consequence of that default. It was the chance word, the stray word,
the word uttered in jest, or in trifling, or in scorn, or
unconsciously, which took effect; whilst ten thousand words, uttered
with purpose and deliberation, were sure to prove inert. One case will
illustrate this:--Alexander of Macedon, in the outset of his great
expedition, consulted the oracle at Delphi. For the sake of his army,
had he been even without personal faith, he desired to have his
enterprise consecrated. No persuasions, however, would move the
priestess to enter upon her painful and agitating duties for the sake
of obtaining the regular answer of the god. Wearied with this,
Alexander seized the great lady by the arm, and using as much violence
as was becoming to the two characters--of a great prince acting and a
great priestess suffering--he pushed her gently backwards to the tripod
on which, in her professional character, she was to seat herself. Upon
this, in the hurry and excitement of the moment, the priestess
exclaimed, _O pai, anixaitos ei--O son, thou art irresistible_;
never adverting for an instant to his martial purposes, but simply to
his personal importunities. The person whom she thought of as incapable
of resistance, was herself, and all she meant _consciously_ was--O
son, I can refuse nothing to one so earnest. But mark what followed:
Alexander desisted at once--he asked for no further oracle--he refused
it, and exclaimed joyously:--'Now then, noble priestess, farewell; I
have the oracle--I have your answer, and better than any which you
could deliver from the tripod. I am invincible--so you have declared,
you cannot revoke it. True, you thought not of Persia--you thought only
of my importunity. But that very fact is what ratifies your answer. In
its blindness I recognise its truth. An oracle from a god might be
distorted by political ministers of the god, as in time past too often
has been suspected. The oracle has been said to _Medize_, and in
my own father's time to _Philippize_. But an oracle delivered
unconsciously, indirectly, blindly, that is the oracle which cannot
deceive.' Such was the all-famous oracle which Alexander accepted--such
was the oracle on which he and his army reposing went forth 'conquering
and to conquer.'

Exactly on this principle do the Turks act, in putting so high a value
on the words of idiots. Enlightened Christians have often wondered at
their allowing any weight to people bereft of understanding. But that
is the very reason for allowing them weight: that very defect it is
which makes them capable of being organs for conveying words from
higher intelligences. A fine human intelligence cannot be a passive
instrument--it cannot be a mere tube for conveying the words of
inspiration: such an intelligence will intermingle ideas of its own, or
otherwise modify what is given, and pollute what is sacred.

It is also on this principle that the whole practice and doctrine of
Sortilegy rest. Let us confine ourselves to that mode of sortilegy
which is conducted by throwing open privileged books at random, leaving
to chance the page and the particular line on which the oracular
functions are thrown. The books used have varied with the caprice or
the error of ages. Once the Hebrew Scriptures had the preference.
Probably they were laid aside, not because the reverence for their
authority decayed, but because it increased. In later times Virgil has
been the favorite. Considering the very limited range of ideas to which
Virgil was tied by his theme--a colonizing expedition in a barbarous
age, no worse book could have been selected: [Footnote: '_No worse
book could have been selected._'--The probable reason for making so
unhappy a choice seems to have been that Virgil, in the middle ages,
had the character of a necromancer, a diviner, &c. This we all know
from Dante. Now, the original reason for this strange translation of
character and functions we hold to have arisen from the circumstance of
his maternal grandfather having borne the name of _Magus_. People
in those ages held that a powerful enchanter, exorciser, &c., must have
a magician amongst his _cognati_; the power must run in the blood,
which on the maternal side could be undeniably ascertained. Under this
preconception, they took Magus not for a proper name, but for a
professional designation. Amongst many illustrations of the magical
character sustained by Virgil in the middle ages, we may mention that a
writer, about the year 1200, or the era of our Robin Hood, published by
Montfaucon, and cited by Gibbon in his last volume, says of Virgil,--
that '_Captus a Romanis invisibiliter exiit, ivitque Neapopolim_.'] so
little indeed does the AEneid exhibit of human life in its
multiformity, that much tampering with the text is required
to bring real cases of human interest and real situations within the
scope of any Virgilian sentence, though aided by the utmost latitude of
accommodation. A king, a soldier, a sailor, &c., might look for
correspondences to their own circumstances; but not many others.
Accordingly, everybody remembers the remarkable answer which Charles I.
received at Oxford from this Virgilian oracle, about the opening of the
Parliamentary war. But from this limitation in the range of ideas it
was that others, and very pious people too, have not thought it profane
to resume the old reliance on the Scriptures. No case, indeed, can try
so severely, or put upon record so conspicuously, this indestructible
propensity for seeking light out of darkness--this thirst for looking
into the future by the aid of dice, real or figurative, as the fact of
men eminent for piety having yielded to the temptation. We give one
instance--the instance of a person who, in _practical_ theology,
has been, perhaps, more popular than any other in any church. Dr.
Doddridge, in his earlier days, was in a dilemma both of conscience and
of taste as to the election he should make between two situations, one
in possession, both at his command. He was settled at Harborough, in
Leicestershire, and was 'pleasing himself with the view of a
continuance' in that situation. True, he had received an invitation to
Northampton; but the reasons against complying seemed so strong, that
nothing was wanting but the civility of going over to Northampton, and
making an apologetic farewell. On the last Sunday in November of the
year 1729, the doctor went and preached a sermon in conformity with
those purposes. 'But,' says he, 'on the morning of that day an incident
happened, which affected me greatly.' On the night previous, it seems,
he had been urged very importunately by his Northampton friends to
undertake the vacant office. Much personal kindness had concurred with
this public importunity: the good doctor was affected; he had prayed
fervently, alleging in his prayer, as the reason which chiefly weighed
with him to reject the offer, that it was far beyond his forces, and
chiefly because he was too young [Footnote: '_Because he was too
young_'--Dr. Doddridge was born in the summer of 1702; consequently
he was at this era of his life about twenty-seven years old, and
consequently not so obviously entitled to the excuse of youth. But he
pleaded his youth, not with a view to the exertions required, but to
the _auctoritas_ and responsibilities of the situation.] and had
no assistant. He goes on thus:--'As soon as ever this address' (meaning
the prayer) 'was ended, I passed through a room of the house in which I
lodged, where a child was reading to his mother, and the only words I
heard distinctly were these, _And as thy days, so shall thy strength
be_.' This singular coincidence between his own difficulty and a
scriptural line caught at random in passing hastily through a room,
(but observe, a line insulated from the context, and placed in high
relief to his ear,) shook his resolution. Accident co-operated; a
promise to be fulfilled at Northampton, in a certain contingency, fell
due at the instant; the doctor was detained, this detention gave time
for further representations; new motives arose, old difficulties were
removed, and finally the doctor saw, in all this succession of steps,
the first of which, however, lay in the _Sortes Biblicæ_, clear
indications of a providential guidance. With that conviction he took up
his abode at Northampton, and remained there for the next thirty-one
years, until he left it for his grave at Lisbon; in fact, he passed at
Northampton the whole of his public life. It must, therefore, be
allowed to stand upon the records of sortilegy, that in the main
direction of his life--not, indeed, as to its spirit, but as to its
form and local connections--a Protestant divine of much merit, and
chiefly in what regards practice, and of the class most opposed to
superstition, took his determining impulse from a variety of the
_Sortes Virgilianæ_.

This variety was known in early times to the Jews--as early, indeed, as
the era of the Grecian Pericles, if we are to believe the Talmud. It is
known familiarly to this day amongst Polish Jews, and is called
_Bathcol_, or the _daughter of a voice_; the meaning of which
appellation is this:--The _Urim and Thummim_, or oracle in the
breast-plate of the high priest, spoke directly from God. It was,

Book of the day: