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An essay by Thomas De Quincey

Modern Superstition

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Title:     Modern Superstition
Author: Thomas De Quincey [More Titles by De Quincey]

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, quae ramis (arbor!) miserabile corpus
Nunc tegis unius, mox es tectura duorum,
Signa tene caedis:--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 other.

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 aerial, 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 lips.

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 Biblicae_, 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 Virgilianae_.

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, therefore, the original or mother-voice. But about the time of Pericles, that is, exactly one hundred years before the time of Alexander the Great, the light of prophecy was quenched in Malachi or Haggai; and the oracular jewels in the breast-plate became simultaneously dim. Henceforwards the mother-voice was heard no longer: but to this succeeded an imperfect or daughter-voice, (_Bathcol_,) which lay in the first words happening to arrest the attention at a moment of perplexity. An illustration, which has been often quoted from the Talmud, is to the following effect:--Rabbi Tochanan, and Rabbi Simeon Ben Lachish, were anxious about a friend, Rabbi Samuel, six hundred miles distant on the Euphrates. Whilst talking earnestly together on this subject in Palestine, they passed a school; they paused to listen: it was a child reading the first book of Samuel; and the words which they caught were these--_And Samuel died_. These words they received as a _Bath-col_: and the next horseman from the Euphrates brought word accordingly that Rabbi Samuel had been gathered to his fathers at some station on the Euphrates.

Here is the very same case, the same _Bath-col_ substantially, which we have cited from Orton's _Life of Doddridge_. And Du Cange himself notices, in his Glossary, the relation which this bore to the Pagan _Sortes_. 'It was,' says he, 'a fantastical way of divination, invented by the Jews, not unlike the _Sortes Virgilianae_ of the heathens. For, as with them the first words they happened to dip into in the works of that poet were a kind of oracle whereby they predicted future events,--so, with the Jews, when they appealed to _Bath-col_, the first words they heard from any one's mouth were looked upon as a voice from Heaven directing them in the matter they inquired about.'

If the reader imagines that this ancient form of the practical miraculous is at all gone out of use, even the example of Dr. Doddridge may satisfy him to the contrary. Such an example was sure to authorize a large imitation. But, even apart from that, the superstition is common. The records of conversion amongst felons and other ignorant persons might be cited by hundreds upon hundreds to prove that no practice is more common than that of trying the spiritual fate, and abiding by the import of any passage in the Scriptures which may first present itself to the eye. Cowper, the poet, has recorded a case of this sort in his own experience. It is one to which all the unhappy are prone. But a mode of questioning the oracles of darkness, far more childish, and, under some shape or other, equally common amongst those who are prompted by mere vacancy of mind, without that determination to sacred fountains which is impressed by misery, may be found in the following extravagant silliness of Rousseau, which we give in his own words--a case for which he admits that he himself would have _shut up_ any other man (meaning in a lunatic hospital) whom he had seen practising the same absurdities:--

'Au milieu de mes etudes et d'une vie innocente autant qu'on la puisse mener, et malgre tout ce qu'on m'avoit pu dire, la peur de l'Enfer m'agitoit encore. Souvent je me demandois--En quel etat suis-je? Si je mourrois a l'instant meme, _serois-je damne_? Selon mes Jansenistes, [he had been reading the books of the Port Royal,] la chose est indubitable: mais, selon ma conscience, il me paroissoit que non. Toujours craintif et flottant dans cette cruelle incertitude, j'avois recours (pour en sortir) aux expedients les plus risibles, et pour lesquels je ferois volontiers enfermer un homme si je lui en voyois faire autant. ... Un jour, revant a ce triste sujet, je m'exercois machinalement a lancer les pierres contre les troncs des arbres; et cela avec mon addresse ordinaire, c'est-a-dire sans presque jamais en toucher aucun. Tout au milieu de ce bel exercise, je m'avisai de faire une espece de pronostic pour calmer mon inquietude. Je me dis --je m'en vais jeter cette pierre contre l'arbre qui est vis-a-vis de moi: si je le touche, signe de salut: si je le manque, signe de damnation. Tout en disant ainsi, je jette ma pierre d'une main tremblante, et avec un horrible battement de coeur, mais si heureusement qu'elle va frapper au beau-milieu de l'arbre: ce qui veritablement n'etoit pas difficile: car j'avois eu soin de le choisir fort gros et fort pres. _Depuis lors je n'ai plus doubte de mon salut._ Je ne sais, en me rappelant ce trait, si je dois rire ou gemir sur moimeme.'--_Les Confessions, Partie I. Livre VI._

Now, really, if Rousseau thought fit to try such tremendous appeals by taking 'a shy' at any random object, he should have governed his sortilegy (for such it may be called) with something more like equity. Fair play is a jewel: and in such a case, a man is supposed to play against an adverse party hid in darkness. To shy at a cow within six feet distance gives no chance at all to his dark antagonist. A pigeon rising from a trap at a suitable distance might be thought a _sincere_ staking of the interest at issue: but, as to the massy stem of a tree 'fort gros et fort pres'--the sarcasm of a Roman emperor applies, that to miss under such conditions implied an original genius for stupidity, and to hit was no trial of the case. After all, the sentimentalist had youth to plead in apology for this extravagance. He was hypochondriacal; he was in solitude; and he was possessed by gloomy imaginations from the works of a society in the highest public credit. But most readers will be aware of similar appeals to the mysteries of Providence, made in public by illustrious sectarians, speaking from the solemn station of a pulpit. We forbear to quote cases of this nature, though really existing in print, because we feel that the blasphemy of such anecdotes is more revolting and more painful to pious minds than the absurdity is amusing. Meantime it must not be forgotten, that the principle concerned, though it may happen to disgust men when associated with ludicrous circumstances, is, after all, the very same which has latently governed very many modes of ordeal, or judicial inquiry; and which has been adopted, blindly, as a moral rule, or canon, equally by the blindest of the Pagans, the most fanatical of the Jews, and the most enlightened of the Christians. It proceeds upon the assumption that man by his actions puts a question to Heaven; and that Heaven answers by the event. Lucan, in a well known passage, takes it for granted that the cause of Caesar had the approbation of the gods. And why? Simply from the event. It was notoriously the triumphant cause. It was victorious, (_victrix_ causa Deis placuit; sed _victa_ Catoni.) It was the '_victrix_ causa;' and, _as_ such, simply because it was 'victrix,' it had a right in his eyes to postulate the divine favor as mere matter of necessary interference: whilst, on the other hand, the _victa causa_, though it seemed to Lucan sanctioned by human virtue in the person of Cato, stood unappealably condemned. This mode of reasoning may strike the reader as merely Pagan. Not at all. In England, at the close of the Parliamentary war, it was generally argued--that Providence had decided the question against the Royalists by the mere fact of the issue. Milton himself, with all his high-toned morality, uses this argument as irrefragable: which is odd, were it only on this account--that the issue ought necessarily to have been held for a time as merely hypothetic, and liable to be set aside by possible counter-issues through one generation at the least. But the capital argument against such doctrine is to be found in the New Testament. Strange that Milton should overlook, and strange that moralists in general have overlooked, the sudden arrest given to this dangerous but most prevalent mode of reasoning by the Founder of our faith. He first, he last, taught to his astonished disciples the new truth--at that time the astounding truth-- that no relation exists between the immediate practical events of things on the one side, and divine sentences on the other. There was no presumption, he teaches them, against a man's favor with God, or that of his parents, because he happened to be afflicted to extremity with bodily disease. There was no shadow of an argument for believing a party of men criminal objects of heavenly wrath because upon them, by fatal preference, a tower had fallen, and because _their_ bodies were exclusively mangled. How little can it be said that Christianity has yet developed the fulness of its power, when kings and senates so recently acted under a total oblivion of this great though novel Christian doctrine, and would do so still, were it not that religious arguments have been banished by the progress of manners from the field of political discussion.

But, quitting this province of the ominous, where it is made the object of a direct personal inquest, whether by private or by national trials, or the sortilegy of events, let us throw our eyes over the broader field of omens, as they offer themselves spontaneously to those who do not seek, or would even willingly evade them. There are few of these, perhaps none, which are not universal in their authority, though every land in turn fancies them (like its proverbs) of local prescription and origin. The death-watch extends from England to Cashmere, and across India diagonally to the remotest nook of Bengal, over a three thousand miles' distance from the entrance of the Indian Punjaub. A hare crossing a man's path on starting in the morning, has been held in all countries alike to prognosticate evil in the course of that day. Thus, in the _Confessions of a Thug_, (which is partially built on a real judicial document, and everywhere conforms to the usages of Hindostan,) the hero of the horrid narrative [Footnote: '_The hero of the horrid narrative_.'--Horrid it certainly is; and one incident in every case gives a demoniacal air of coolness to the hellish atrocities, viz the regular forwarding of the _bheels_, or grave- diggers. But else the tale tends too much to monotony; and for a reason which ought to have checked the author in carrying on the work to three volumes, namely, that although there is much dramatic variety in the circumstances of the several cases, there is none in the catastrophes. The brave man and the coward, the erect spirit fighting to the last, and the poor creature that despairs from the first,--all are confounded in one undistinguishing end by sudden strangulation. This was the original defect of the plan. The sudden surprise, and the scientific noosing as with a Chilian _lasso_, constituted in fact a main feature of Thuggee. But still, the gradual theatrical arrangement of each Thug severally by the side of a victim, must often have roused violent suspicion, and that in time to intercept the suddenness of the murder. Now, for the sake of the dramatic effect, this interception ought more often to have been introduced, else the murders are but so many blind surprises as if in sleep.] charges some disaster of his own upon having neglected such an omen of the morning. The same belief operated in Pagan Italy. The same omen announced to Lord Lindsay's Arab attendants in the desert the approach of some disaster, which partially happened in the morning. And a Highlander of the 42d Regiment, in his printed memoirs, notices the same harbinger of evil as having crossed his own path on a day of personal disaster in Spain.

Birds are even more familiarly associated with such ominous warnings. This chapter in the great volume of superstition was indeed cultivated with unusual solicitude amongst the Pagans--_ornithomancy_ grew into an elaborate science. But if every rule and distinction upon the number and the position of birds, whether to the right or the left, had been collected from our own village matrons amongst ourselves, it would appear that no more of this Pagan science had gone to wreck than must naturally follow the difference between a believing and a disbelieving government. Magpies are still of awful authority in village life, according to their number, &c.; for a striking illustration of which we may refer the reader to Sir Walter Scott's _Demonology_, reported not at second-hand, but from Sir Walter's personal communication with some seafaring fellow-traveller in a stage-coach.

Among the ancient stories of the same class is one which we shall repeat--having reference to that Herod Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great, before whom St. Paul made his famous apology at Caesarea. This Agrippa, overwhelmed by debts, had fled from Palestine to Rome in the latter years of Tiberius. His mother's interest with the widow of Germanicus procured him a special recommendation to her son Caligula. Viewing this child and heir of the popular Germanicus as the rising sun, Agrippa had been too free in his language. True, the uncle of Germanicus was the reigning prince; but he was old, and breaking up. True, the son of Germanicus was not yet on the throne; but he soon would be; and Agrippa was rash enough to call the Emperor a _superannuated old fellow_, and even to wish for his death. Sejanus was now dead and gone; but there was no want of spies: and a certain Macro reported his words to Tiberius. Agrippa was in consequence arrested; the Emperor himself condescending to point out the noble Jew to the officer on duty. The case was a gloomy one, if Tiberius should happen to survive much longer: and the story of the omen proceeds thus:--'Now Agrippa stood in his bonds before the Imperial palace, and in his affliction leaned against a certain tree, upon the boughs of which it happened that a bird had alighted which the Romans call _bubo_, or the owl. All this was steadfastly observed by a German prisoner, who asked a soldier what might be the name and offence of that man habited in purple. Being told that the man's name was Agrippa, and that he was a Jew of high rank, who had given a personal offence to the Emperor, the German asked permission to go near and address him; which being granted, he spoke thus:--"This disaster, I doubt not, young man, is trying to your heart; and perhaps you will not believe me when I announce to you beforehand the providential deliverance which is impending. However, this much I will say--and for my sincerity let me appeal to my native gods, as well as to the gods of this Rome, who have brought us both into trouble--that no selfish objects prompt me to this revelation--for a revelation it is--and to the following effect:--It is fated that you shall not long remain in chains. Your deliverance will be speedy; you shall be raised to the very highest rank and power; you shall be the object of as much envy as now you are of pity; you shall retain your prosperity till death; and you shall transmit that prosperity to your children. But"--and there the German paused. Agrippa was agitated; the bystanders were attentive; and after a time, the German, pointing solemnly to the bird, proceeded thus:--"But this remember heedfully--that, when next you see the bird which now perches above your head, you will have only five days longer to live! This event will be surely accomplished by that same mysterious god who has thought fit to send the bird as a warning sign; and you, when you come to your glory, do not forget me that foreshadowed it in your humiliation."' The story adds, that Agrippa affected to laugh when the German concluded; after which it goes on to say, that in a few weeks, being delivered by the death of Tiberius; being released from prison by the very prince on whose account he had incurred the risk; being raised to a tetrarchy, and afterwards to the kingdom of all Judea; coming into all the prosperity which had been promised to him by the German; and not losing any part of his interest at Rome through the assassination of his patron Caligula--he began to look back respectfully to the words of the German, and forwards with anxiety to the second coming of the bird. Seven years of sunshine had now slipped away as silently as a dream. A great festival, shows and vows, was on the point of being celebrated in honor of Claudius Caesar, at Strato's Tower, otherwise called Caesarea, the Roman metropolis of Palestine. Duty and policy alike required that the king of the land should go down and unite in this mode of religious homage to the emperor. He did so; and on the second morning of the festival, by way of doing more conspicuous honor to the great solemnity, he assumed a very sumptuous attire of silver armor, burnished so highly as to throw back a dazzling glare from the sun's morning beams upon the upturned eyes of the vast multitude around him. Immediately from the sycophantish part of the crowd, of whom a vast majority were Pagans, ascended a cry of glorification as to some manifestation of Deity. Agrippa, gratified by this success of his new apparel, and by this flattery, not unusual in the case of kings, had not the firmness (though a Jew, and conscious of the wickedness, greater in himself than in the heathen crowd,) to reject the blasphemous homage. Voices of adoration continued to ascend; when suddenly, looking upward to the vast awnings prepared for screening the audience from the noonday heats, the king perceived the same ominous bird which he had seen at Rome in the day of his affliction, seated quietly, and looking down upon himself. In that same moment an icy pang shot through his intestines. He was removed into the palace; and at the end of five days, completely worn out by pain, Agrippa expired in the 54th year of his age, and the seventh of his sovereign power.

Whether the bird, here described as an owl, was really such, may be doubted, considering the narrow nomenclature of the Romans for all zoological purposes, and the total indifference of the Roman mind to all distinctions in natural history which are not upon the very largest scale. We should much suspect that the bird was a magpie. Meantime, speaking of ornithoscopy in relation to Jews, we remember another story in that subdivision of the subject which it may be worth while repeating; not merely on its own account, as wearing a fine oriental air, but also for the correction which it suggests to a very common error.

In some period of Syrian warfare, a large military detachment was entering at some point of Syria from the desert of the Euphrates. At the head of the whole array rode two men of some distinction: one was an augur of high reputation, the other was a Jew called Mosollam, a man of admirable beauty, a matchless horseman, an unerring archer, and accomplished in all martial arts. As they were now first coming within enclosed grounds, after a long march in the wilderness, the augur was most anxious to inaugurate the expedition by some considerable omen. Watching anxiously, therefore, he soon saw a bird of splendid plumage perching on a low wall. 'Halt!' he said to the advanced guard: and all drew up in a line. At that moment of silence and expectation, Mosollam, slightly turning himself in his saddle, drew his bow-string to his ear; his Jewish hatred of Pagan auguries burned within him; his inevitable shaft went right to its mark, and the beautiful bird fell dead. The augur turned round in fury. But the Jew laughed at him. 'This bird, you say, should have furnished us with omens of our future fortunes. But had he known anything of his own, he would never have perched where he did, or have come within the range of Mosollam's archery. How should that bird know our destiny, who did not know that it was his own to be shot by Mosollam the Jew?'

Now, this is a most common but a most erroneous way of arguing. In a case of this kind, the bird was not supposed to have any conscious acquaintance with futurity, either for his own benefit or that of others. But even where such a consciousness may be supposed, as in the case of oneiromancy, or prophecy by means of dreams, it must be supposed limited, and the more limited in a personal sense as they are illimitable in a sublime one. Who imagines that, because a Daniel or Ezekiel foresaw the grand revolutions of the earth, therefore they must or could have foreseen the little details of their own ordinary life? And even descending from that perfect inspiration to the more doubtful power of augury amongst the Pagans, (concerning which the most eminent of theologians have held very opposite theories,) one thing is certain, that, so long as we entertain such pretensions, or discuss them at all, we must take them with the principle of those who professed such arts, not with principles of our own arbitrary invention.

One example will make this clear:--There are in England [Footnote: '_There are in England_'--Especially in Somersetshire, and for twenty miles round Wrington, the birthplace of Locke. Nobody sinks for wells without their advice. We ourselves knew an amiable and accomplished Scottish family, who, at an estate called Belmadrothie, in memory of a similar property in Ross shire, built a house in Somersetshire, and resolved to find water without help from the jowser. But after sinking to a greater depth than ever had been known before, and spending nearly L200, they were finally obliged to consult the jowser, who found water at once.] a class of men who practise the Pagan rhabdomancy in a limited sense. They carry a rod or rhabdos (_rhabdos_) of willow: this they hold horizontally; and by the bending of the rod towards the ground they discover the favorable places for sinking wells; a matter of considerable importance in a province so ill-watered as the northern district of Somersetshire, &c.; These people are locally called _jowsers_; and it is probable, that from the suspicion with which their art has been usually regarded amongst people of education, as a mere legerdemain trick of Dousterswivel's, is derived the slang word to _chouse_ for _swindle_. Meantime, the experimental evidences of a real practical skill in these men, and the enlarged compass of speculation in these days, have led many enlightened people to a Stoic _epochey_, or suspension of judgment, on the reality of this somewhat mysterious art. Now, in the East, there are men who make the same pretensions in a more showy branch of the art. It is not water, but treasures which they profess to find by some hidden kind of rhabdomancy. The very existence of treasures with us is reasonably considered a thing of improbable occurrence. But in the unsettled East, and with the low valuation of human life wherever Mahometanism prevails, insecurity and other causes must have caused millions of such deposits in every century to have perished as to any knowledge of survivors. The sword has been moving backwards and forwards, for instance, like a weaver's shuttle, since the time of Mahmoud the Ghaznevide, [Footnote: Mahmood of Ghizni, which, under the European name of Ghaznee, was so recently taken in one hour by our Indian army under Lord Keane Mahmood was the first Mahometan invader of Hindostan.] in Anno Domini 1000, in the vast regions between the Tigris, the Oxus, and the Indus. Regularly as it approached, gold and jewels must have sunk by whole harvests into the ground. A certain per centage has been doubtless recovered: a larger per centage has disappeared for ever. Hence naturally the jealousy of barbarous Orientals that we Europeans, in groping amongst pyramids, sphynxes, and tombs, are looking for buried treasures. The wretches are not so wide astray in what they believe as in what they disbelieve. The treasures do really exist which they fancy; but then also the other treasures in the glorious antiquities have that existence for our sense of beauty which to their brutality is inconceivable. In these circumstances, why should it surprise us that men will pursue the science of discovery as a regular trade? Many discoveries of treasure are doubtless made continually, which, for obvious reasons, are communicated to nobody. Some proportion there must be between the sowing of such grain as diamonds or emeralds, and the subsequent reaping, whether by accident or by art. For, with regard to the last, it is no more impossible, _prima fronte_, that a substance may exist having an occult sympathy with subterraneous water or subterraneous gold, than that the magnet should have a sympathy (as yet occult) with the northern pole of our planet.

The first flash of careless thought applied to such a case will suggest, that men holding powers of this nature need not offer their services for hire to others. And this, in fact, is the objection universally urged by us Europeans as decisive against their pretensions. Their knavery, it is fancied, stands self-recorded; since, assuredly, they would not be willing to divide their subterranean treasures, if they knew of any. But the men are not in such self- contradiction as may seem. Lady Hester Stanhope, from the better knowledge she had acquired of Oriental opinions, set Dr. Madden right on this point. The Oriental belief is that a fatality attends the appropriator of a treasure in any case where he happens also to be the discoverer. Such a person, it is held, will die soon, and suddenly--so that he is compelled to seek his remuneration from the wages or fees of his employers, not from the treasure itself.

Many more secret laws are held sacred amongst the professors of that art than that which was explained by Lady Hester Stanhope. These we shall not enter upon at present: but generally we may remark, that the same practices of subterranean deposits, during our troubled periods in Europe, led to the same superstitions. And it may be added, that the same error has arisen in both cases as to some of these superstitions. How often must it have struck people of liberal feelings, as a scandalous proof of the preposterous value set upon riches by poor men, that ghosts should popularly be supposed to rise and wander for the sake of revealing the situations of buried treasures. For ourselves, we have been accustomed to view this popular belief in the light of an argument for pity rather than for contempt towards poor men, as indicating the extreme pressure of that necessity which could so have demoralized their natural sense of truth. But certainly, in whatever feelings originating, such popular superstitions as to motives of ghostly missions did seem to argue a deplorable misconception of the relation subsisting between the spiritual world and the perishable treasures of this perishable world. Yet, when we look into the Eastern explanations of this case, we find that it is meant to express, not any overvaluation of riches, but the direct contrary passion. A human spirit is punished--such is the notion--punished in the spiritual world for excessive attachment to gold, by degradation to the office of its guardian; and from this office the tortured spirit can release itself only by revealing the treasure and transferring the custody. It is a penal martyrdom, not an elective passion for gold, which is thus exemplified in the wanderings of a treasure-ghost.

But, in a field where of necessity we are so much limited, we willingly pass from the consideration of these treasure or _khasne_ phantoms (which alone sufficiently ensure a swarm of ghostly terrors for all Oriental ruins of cities,) to the same marvellous apparitions, as they haunt other solitudes even more awful than those of ruined cities. In this world there are two mighty forms of perfect solitude--the ocean and the desert: the wilderness of the barren sands, and the wilderness of the barren waters. Both are the parents of inevitable superstitions --of terrors, solemn, ineradicable, eternal. Sailors and the children of the desert are alike overrun with spiritual hauntings, from accidents of peril essentially connected with those modes of life, and from the eternal spectacle of the infinite. Voices seem to blend with the raving of the sea, which will for ever impress the feeling of beings more than human: and every chamber of the great wilderness which, with little interruption, stretches from the Euphrates to the western shores of Africa, has its own peculiar terrors both as to sights and sounds. In the wilderness of Zin, between Palestine and the Red Sea, a section of the desert well known in these days to our own countrymen, bells are heard daily pealing for matins, or for vespers, from some phantom convent that no search of Christian or of Bedouin Arab has ever been able to discover. These bells have sounded since the Crusades. Other sounds, trumpets, the _Alala_ of armies, &c.;, are heard in other regions of the Desert. Forms, also, are seen of more people than have any right to be walking in human paths: sometimes forms of avowed terror; sometimes, which is a case of far more danger, appearances that mimic the shapes of men, and even of friends or comrades. This is a case much dwelt on by the old travellers, and which throws a gloom over the spirits of all Bedouins, and of every cafila or caravan. We all know what a sensation of loneliness or 'eeriness' (to use an expressive term of the ballad poetry) arises to any small party assembling in a single room of a vast desolate mansion: how the timid among them fancy continually that they hear some remote door opening, or trace the sound of suppressed footsteps from some distant staircase. Such is the feeling in the desert, even in the midst of the caravan. The mighty solitude is seen: the dread silence is anticipated which will succeed to this brief transit of men, camels, and horses. Awe prevails even in the midst of society: but, if the traveller should loiter behind from fatigue, or be so imprudent as to ramble aside-- should he from any cause once lose sight of his party, it is held that his chance is small of recovering their traces. And why? Not chiefly from the want of footmarks where the wind effaces all impressions in half an hour, or of eyemarks where all is one blank ocean of sand, but much more from the sounds or the visual appearances which are supposed to beset and to seduce all insulated wanderers.

Everybody knows the superstitions of the ancients about the _Nympholeptoi_, or those who had seen Pan. But far more awful and gloomy are the existing superstitions, throughout Asia and Africa, as to the perils of those who are phantom-haunted in the wilderness. The old Venetian traveller Marco Polo states them well: he speaks, indeed, of the Eastern or Tartar deserts; the steppes which stretch from European Russia to the footsteps of the Chinese throne; but exactly the same creed prevails amongst the Arabs, from Bagdad to Suez and Cairo-- from Rosetta to Tunis--Tunis to Timbuctoo or Mequinez. 'If, during the daytime,' says he, 'any person should remain behind until the caravan is no longer in sight, he hears himself unexpectedly called to by name, and in a voice with which he is familiar. Not doubting that the voice proceeds from some of his comrades, the unhappy man is beguiled from the right direction; and soon finding himself utterly confounded as to the path, he roams about in distraction until he perishes miserably. If, on the other hand, this perilous separation of himself from the caravan should happen at night, he is sure to hear the uproar of a great cavalcade a mile or two to the right or left of the true track. He is thus seduced on one side: and at break of day finds himself far removed from man. Nay, even at noon-day, it is well known that grave and respectable men to all appearance will come up to a particular traveller, will bear the look of a friend, and will gradually lure him by earnest conversation to a distance from the caravan; after which the sounds of men and camels will be heard continually at all points but the true one; whilst an insensible turning by the tenth of an inch at each separate step from the true direction will very soon suffice to set the traveller's face to the opposite point of the compass from that which his safety requires, and which his fancy represents to him as his real direction. Marvellous, indeed, and almost passing belief, are the stories reported of these desert phantoms, which are said at times to fill the air with choral music from all kinds of instruments, from drums, and the clash of arms: so that oftentimes a whole caravan are obliged to close up their open ranks, and to proceed in a compact line of march.'

Lord Lindsay, in his very interesting travels in Egypt, Edom, &c.;, agrees with Warton in supposing (and probably enough) that from this account of the desert traditions in Marco Polo was derived Milton's fine passage in Comus:--


'Of calling shapes, and beckoning shadows dire,
And aery tongues that syllable men's names
On sands, and shores, and desert wildernesses.'


But the most remarkable of these desert superstitions, as suggested by the mention of Lord Lindsay, is one which that young nobleman, in some place which we cannot immediately find, has noticed, but which he only was destined by a severe personal loss immediately to illustrate. Lord L. quotes from Vincent le Blanc an anecdote of a man in his own caravan, the companion of an Arab merchant, who disappeared in a mysterious manner. Four Moors, with a retaining fee of 100 ducats, were sent in quest of him, but came back _re infecta_. 'And 'tis uncertain,' adds Le Blanc, 'whether he was swallowed up in the sands, or met his death by any other misfortune; as it often happens, by the relation of a merchant then in our company, who told us, that two years before, traversing the same journey, a comrade of his, going a little aside from the company, saw three men who called him by his name; and one of them, to his thinking, favored very much his companion; and, as he was about to follow them, his real companion calling him to come back to his company, he found himself deceived by the others, and thus was saved. And all travellers in these parts hold, that in the deserts are many such phantasms seen, that strive to seduce the traveller.' Thus far it is the traveller's own fault, warned as he is continually by the extreme anxiety of the Arab leaders or guides, with respect to all who stray to any distance, if he is duped or enticed by these pseudo-men: though, in the case of Lapland dogs, who ought to have a surer instinct of detection for counterfeits, we know from Sir Capel de Broke and others, that they are continually wiled away by the wolves who roam about the nightly encampments of travellers. But there is a secondary disaster, according to the Arab superstition, awaiting those whose eyes are once opened to the discernment of these phantoms. To see them, or to hear them, even where the traveller is careful to refuse their lures, entails the certainty of death in no long time. This is another form of that universal faith which made it impossible for any man to survive a bodily commerce, by whatever sense, with a spiritual being. We find it in the Old Testament, where the expression, 'I have seen God and shall die,' means simply a supernatural being; since no Hebrew believed it possible for a nature purely human to sustain for a moment the sight of the Infinite Being. We find the same faith amongst ourselves, in case of _doppelgaenger_ becoming apparent to the sight of those whom they counterfeit; and in many other varieties. We modern Europeans, of course, laugh at these superstitions; though, as La Place remarks, (_Essai sur les Probabilites_,) any case, however apparently incredible, if it is a recurrent case, is as much entitled to a fair valuation as if it had been more probable beforehand.[Footnote: _'Is as much entitled to a fair valuation, under the lans of induction, as if it had been more probable beforehand'_--One of the cases which La Place notices as entitled to a grave consideration, but which would most assuredly be treated as a trivial phenomenon, unworthy of attention, by commonplace spectators, is--when a run of success, with no apparent cause, takes place on heads or tails, (_pile ou croix_) Most people dismiss such a case as pure accident. But La Place insists on its being duly valued as a fact, however unaccountable as an effect. So again, if in a large majority of experiences like those of Lord Lindsay's party in the desert, death should follow, such a phenomenon is as well entitled to its separate valuation as any other.] This being premised, we who connect superstition with the personal result, are more impressed by the disaster which happened to Lord Lindsay, than his lordship, who either failed to notice the _nexus_ between the events, or possibly declined to put the case too forward in his reader's eye, from the solemnity of the circumstances, and the private interest to himself and his own family, of the subsequent event. The case was this:--Mr. William Wardlaw Ramsay, the companion (and we believe relative) of Lord Lindsay, a man whose honorable character, and whose intellectual accomplishments speak for themselves, in the posthumus memorabilia of his travels published by Lord L., had seen an array of objects in the desert, which facts immediately succeeding demonstrated to have been a mere ocular _lusus_, or (according to Arab notions) phantoms. During the absence from home of an Arab sheikh, who had been hired as conductor of Lord Lindsay's party, a hostile tribe (bearing the name of Tellaheens) had assaulted and pillaged his tents. Report of this had reached the English travelling party; it was known that the Tellaheens were still in motion, and a hostile rencounter was looked for for some days. At length, in crossing the well known valley of the _Wady Araba_, that most ancient channel of communication between the Red Sea and Judea, &c.;, Mr. Ramsay saw, to his own entire conviction, a party of horse moving amongst some sand-hills. Afterwards it became certain, from accurate information, that this must have been a delusion. It was established, that no horseman _could_ have been in that neighborhood at that time. Lord Lindsay records the case as an illustration of 'that spiritualized tone the imagination naturally assumes, in scenes presenting so little sympathy with the ordinary feelings of humanity;' and he reports the case in these pointed terms: --'Mr. Ramsay, a man of remarkably strong sight, and by no means disposed to superstitious credulity, distinctly saw a party of horse moving among the sand-hills; and I do not believe he was ever able to divest himself of that impression.' No--and, according to Arab interpretation, very naturally so; for, according to their faith, he really _had_ seen the horsemen; phantom horseman certainly, but still objects of sight. The sequel remains to be told--by the Arabian hypothesis, Mr. Ramsay had but a short time to live--he was under a secret summons to the next world. And accordingly, in a few weeks after this, whilst Lord Lindsay had gone to visit Palmyra, Mr. Ramsay died at Damascus.

This was a case exactly corresponding to the Pagan _nympholepsis_ --he had seen the beings whom it is not lawful to see and live. Another case of Eastern superstition, not less determined, and not less remarkably fulfilled, occurred some years before to Dr. Madden, who travelled pretty much in the same route as Lord Lindsay. The doctor, as a phrenologist, had been struck with the very singular conformation of a skull which he saw amongst many others on an altar in some Syrian convent. He offered a considerable sum in gold for it; but it was by repute the skull of a saint; and the monk with whom Dr. M. attempted to negotiate, not only refused his offers, but protested that even for the doctor's sake, apart from the interests of the convent, he could not venture on such a transfer: for that, by the tradition attached to it, the skull would endanger any vessel carrying it from the Syrian shore: the vessel might escape; but it would never succeed in reaching any but a Syrian harbor. After this, for the credit of our country, which stands so high in the East, and should be so punctiliously tended by all Englishmen, we are sorry to record that Dr. Madden (though otherwise a man of scrupulous honor) yielded to the temptation of substituting for the saint's skull another less remarkable from his own collection. With this saintly relic he embarked on board a Grecian ship; was alternately pursued and met by storms the most violent; larboard and starboard, on every quarter, he was buffeted; the wind blew from every point of the compass; the doctor honestly confesses that he often wished this baleful skull back in safety on the quiet altar from which he took it; and finally, after many days of anxiety, he was too happy in finding himself again restored to some oriental port, from which he secretly vowed never again to sail with a saint's skull, or with any skull, however remarkable phrenologically, not purchased in an open market.

Thus we have pursued, through many of its most memorable sections, the spirit of the miraculous as it moulded and gathered itself in the superstitions of Paganism; and we have shown that, in the modern superstitions of Christianity, or of Mahometanism, (often enough borrowed from Christian sources,) there is a pretty regular correspondence. Speaking with a reference to the strictly popular belief, it cannot be pretended for a moment, that miraculous agencies are slumbering in modern ages. For one superstition of that nature which the Pagans had, we can produce twenty. And if, from the collation of numbers, we should pass to that of quality, it is a matter of notoriety, that from the very philosophy of Paganism, and its slight root in the terrors or profounder mysteries of spiritual nature, no comparison could be sustained for a moment between the true religion and any mode whatever of the false. Ghosts we have purposely omitted, because that idea is so peculiarly Christian [Footnote: '_Because that idea is so peculiarly Christian_'--One reason, additional to the main one, why the idea of a ghost could not be conceived or reproduced by Paganism, lies in the fourfold resolution of the human nature at death, viz.--1. _corpus_; 2. _manes_; 3. _spiritus_; 4. _anima_. No reversionary consciousness, no restitution of the total nature, sentient and active, was thus possible. Pliny has a story which looks like a ghost story; but it is all moonshine--a mere _simulacrum_.] as to reject all counterparts or affinities from other modes of the supernatural. The Christian ghost is too awful a presence, and with too large a substratum of the real, the impassioned, the human, for our present purposes. We deal chiefly with the wilder and more aerial forms of superstition; not so far off from fleshly nature as the purely allegoric--not so near as the penal, the purgatorial, the penitential. In this middle class, 'Gabriel's hounds'--the 'phantom ship'--the gloomy legends of the charcoal burners in the German forests--and the local or epichorial superstitions from every district of Europe, come forward by thousands, attesting the high activity of the miraculous and the hyperphysical instincts, even in this generation, wheresoever the voice of the people makes itself heard.

But in Pagan times, it will be objected, the popular superstitions blended themselves with the highest political functions, gave a sanction to national counsels, and oftentimes gave their starting point to the very primary movements of the state. Prophecies, omens, miracles, all worked concurrently with senates or princes. Whereas in our days, says Charles Lamb, the witch who takes her pleasure with the moon, and summons Beelzebub to her sabbaths, nevertheless trembles before the beadle, and hides herself from the overseer. Now, as to the witch, even the horrid Canidia of Horace, or the more dreadful Erichtho of Lucan, seems hardly to have been much respected in any era. But for the other modes of the supernatural, they have entered into more frequent combinations with state functions and state movements in our modern ages than in the classical age of Paganism. Look at prophecies, for example: the Romans had a few obscure oracles afloat, and they had the Sibylline books under the state seal. These books, in fact, had been kept so long, that, like port wine superannuated, they had lost their flavor and body. [Footnote: '_Like port wine superannuated, the Sibylline books had lost their flavor and their body_.'--There is an allegoric description in verse, by Mr. Rogers, of an ice-house, in which winter is described as a captive, &c.;, which is memorable on this account, that a brother poet, on reading the passage, mistook it, (from not understanding the allegorical expressions,) either sincerely or maliciously, for a description of the house-dog. Now, this little anecdote seems to embody the poor Sibyl's history,--from a stern icy sovereign, with a petrific mace, she lapsed into an old toothless mastiff. She continued to snore in her ancient kennel for above a thousand years. The last person who attempted to stir her up with a long pole, and to extract from her paralytic dreaming some growls or snarls against Christianity, was Aurelian, in a moment of public panic. But the thing was past all tampering. The poor creature could neither be kicked nor coaxed into vitality.] On the other hand, look at France. Henry the historian, speaking of the fifteenth century, describes it as a national infirmity of the English to be prophecy-ridden. Perhaps there never was any foundation for this as an exclusive remark; but assuredly not in the next century. There had been with us British, from the twelfth century, Thomas of Ercildoune in the north, and many monkish local prophets for every part of the island; but latterly England had no terrific prophet, unless, indeed Nixon of the Vale Royal in Cheshire, who uttered his dark oracles sometimes with a merely Cestrian, sometimes with a national reference. Whereas in France, throughout the sixteenth century, every principal event was foretold successively, with an accuracy that still shocks and confounds us. Francis the First, who opens the century, (and by many is held to open the book of _modern history_, as distinguished from the middle or _feudal_ history,) had the battle of Pavia foreshown to him, not by name, but in its results--by his own Spanish captivity--by the exchange for his own children upon a frontier river of Spain--finally, by his own disgraceful death, through an infamous disease conveyed to him under a deadly circuit of revenge. This king's son, Henry the Second, read some years _before_ the event a description of that tournament, on the marriage of the Scottish Queen with his eldest son, Francis II., which proved fatal to himself, through the awkwardness of the Compte de Montgomery and his own obstinacy. After this, and we believe a little after the brief reign of Francis II., arose Nostradamus, the great prophet of the age. All the children of Henry II. and of Catharine de Medici, one after the other, died in circumstances of suffering and horror, and Nostradamus pursued the whole with ominous allusions. Charles IX., though the authorizer of the Bartholomew massacre, was the least guilty of his party, and the only one who manifested a dreadful remorse. Henry III., the last of the brothers, died, as the reader will remember, by assassination. And all these tragic successions of events are still to be read more or less dimly prefigured in verses of which we will not here discuss the dates. Suffice it, that many authentic historians attest the good faith of the prophets; and finally, with respect to the first of the Bourbon dynasty, Henry IV., who succeeded upon the assassination of his brother-in-law, we have the peremptory assurance of Sully and other Protestants, countersigned by writers both historical and controversial, that not only was he prepared, by many warnings, for his own tragical death--not only was the day, the hour prefixed--not only was an almanac sent to him, in which the bloody summer's day of 1610 was pointed out to his attention in bloody colors; but the mere record of the king's last afternoon shows beyond a doubt the extent and the punctual limitation of his anxieties. In fact, it is to this attitude of listening expectation in the king, and breathless waiting for the blow, that Schiller alludes in that fine speech of Wallenstein to his sister, where he notices the funeral knells that sounded continually in Henry's ears, and, above all, his prophetic instinct, that caught the sound from a far distance of his murderer's motions, and could distinguish, amidst all the tumult of a mighty capital, those stealthy steps


----'Which even then were seeking him
Throughout the streets of Paris.'

We profess not to admire Henry the Fourth of France, whose secret character we shall, on some other occasion, attempt to expose. But his resignation to the appointments of Heaven, in dismissing his guards, as feeling that against a danger so domestic and so mysterious, all fleshly arms were vain, has always struck us as the most like magnanimity of anything in his very theatrical life.

Passing to our own country, and to the times immediately in succession, we fall upon some striking prophecies, not verbal but symbolic, if we turn from the broad highway of public histories, to the by-paths of private memories. Either Clarendon it is, in his Life (not his public history), or else Laud, who mentions an anecdote connected with the coronation of Charles I., (the son-in-law of the murdered Bourbon,) which threw a gloom upon the spirits of the royal friends, already saddened by the dreadful pestilence which inaugurated the reign of this ill-fated prince, levying a tribute of one life in sixteen from the population of the English metropolis. At the coronation of Charles, it was discovered that all London would not furnish the quantity of purple velvet required for the royal robes and the furniture of the throne. What was to be done? Decorum required that the furniture should be all _en suite_. Nearer than Genoa no considerable addition could be expected. That would impose a delay of 150 days. Upon mature consideration, and chiefly of the many private interests that would suffer amongst the multitudes whom such a solemnity had called up from the country, it was resolved to robe the King in _white_ velvet. But this, as it afterwards occurred, was the color in which victims were arrayed. And thus, it was alleged, did the King's council establish an augury of evil. Three other ill omens, of some celebrity, occurred to Charles I., viz., on occasion of creating his son Charles a knight of the Bath, at Oxford some years after; and at the bar of that tribunal which sat in judgment upon him.

The reign of his second son, James II., the next reign that could be considered an unfortunate reign, was inaugurated by the same evil omens. The day selected for the coronation (in 1685) was a day memorable for England--it was St. George's day, the 23d of April, and entitled, even on a separate account, to be held a sacred day as the birthday of Shakspeare in 1564, and his deathday in 1616. The King saved a sum of sixty thousand pounds by cutting off the ordinary cavalcade from the Tower of London to Westminster. Even this was imprudent. It is well known that, amongst the lowest class of the English, there is an obstinate prejudice (though unsanctioned by law) with respect to the obligation imposed by the ceremony of coronation. So long as this ceremony is delayed, or mutilated, they fancy that their obedience is a matter of mere prudence, liable to be enforced by arms, but not consecrated either by law or by religion. The change made by James was, therefore, highly imprudent; shorn of its antique traditionary usages, the yoke of conscience was lightened at a moment when it required a double ratification. Neither was it called for on motives of economy, for James was unusually rich. This voluntary arrangement was, therefore, a bad beginning; but the accidental omens were worse. They are thus reported by Blennerhassett, (History of England to the end of George I., Vol. iv., p. 1760, printed at Newcastle-upon-Tyne: 1751.) 'The crown being too little for the King's head, was often in a tottering condition, and like to fall off.' Even this was observed attentively by spectators of the most opposite feelings. But there was another simultaneous omen, which affected the Protestant enthusiasts, and the superstitious, whether Catholic or Protestant, still more alarmingly. 'The same day the king's arms, pompously painted in the great altar window of a London church, suddenly fell down without apparent cause, and broke to pieces, whilst the rest of the window remained standing. Blennerhassett mutters the dark terrors which possessed himself and others.' 'These,' says he, 'were reckoned ill omens to the king.'

In France, as the dreadful criminality of the French sovereigns through the 17th century began to tell powerfully, and reproduce itself in the miseries and tumults of the French populace through the 18th century, it is interesting to note the omens which unfolded themselves at intervals. A volume might be written upon them. The French Bourbons renewed the picture of that fatal house which in Thebes offered to the Grecian observers the spectacle of dire auguries, emerging from darkness through three generations, _a plusieurs reprises_. Everybody knows the fatal pollution of the marriage pomps on the reception of Marie Antoinette in Paris; the numbers who perished are still spoken of obscurely as to the amount, and with shuddering awe for the unparalleled horrors standing in the background of the fatal reign --horrors


'That hush'd in grim repose, await their evening prey.'


But in the life of Goethe is mentioned a still more portentous (though more shadowy) omen in the pictorial decorations of the arras which adorned the pavilion on the French frontier; the first objects which met the Austrian Archduchess on being hailed as Dauphiness, was a succession of the most tragic groups from the most awful section of the Grecian theatre. The next alliance of the same kind between the same great empires, in the persons of Napoleon and the Archduchess Marie Louisa, was overshadowed by the same unhappy omens, and, as we all remember, with the same unhappy results, within a brief period of five years.

Or, if we should resort to the fixed and monumental rather than to these auguries of great nations--such, for instance, as were embodied in those _Palladia_, or protesting talismans, which capital cities, whether Pagan or Christian, glorified through a period of twenty-five hundred years, we shall find a long succession of these enchanted pledges, from the earliest precedent of Troy (whose palladium was undoubtedly a talisman) down to that equally memorable, and bearing the same name, at Western Rome. We may pass, by a vast transition of two and a half millennia, to that great talisman of Constantinople, the triple serpent, (having perhaps an original reference to the Mosaic serpent of the wilderness, which healed the infected by the simple act of looking upon it, as the symbol of the Redeemer, held aloft upon the Cross for the deliverance from moral contagion.) This great consecrated talisman, venerated equally by Christian, by Pagan, and by Mahometan, was struck on the head by Mahomet the Second, on that same day, May 29th of 1453, in which he mastered by storm this glorious city, the bulwark of eastern Christendom, and the immediate rival of his own European throne at Adrianople. But mark the superfetation of omens-- omen supervening upon omen, augury engrafted upon augury. The hour was a sad one for Christianity; just 720 years before the western horn of Islam had been rebutted in France by the Germans, chiefly under Charles Martel. But now it seemed as though another horn, even more vigorous, was preparing to assault Christendom and its hopes from the eastern quarter. At this epoch, in the very hour of triumph, when the last of the Caesars had glorified his station, and sealed his testimony by martyrdom, the fanatical Sultan, riding to his stirrups in blood, and wielding that iron mace which had been his sole weapon, as well as cognizance, through the battle, advanced to the column, round which the triple serpent roared spirally upwards. He smote the brazen talisman; he shattered one head; he left it mutilated as the record of his great revolution; but crush it, destroy it, he did not--as a symbol prefiguring the fortunes of Mahometanism, his people noticed, that in the critical hour of fate, which stamped the Sultan's acts with efficacy through ages, he had been prompted by his secret genius only to 'scotch the snake,' not to crush it. Afterwards the fatal hour was gone by; and this imperfect augury has since concurred traditionally with the Mahometan prophecies about the Adrianople gate of Constantinople, to depress the ultimate hopes of Islam in the midst of all its insolence. The very haughtiest of the Mussulmans believe that the gate is already in existence, through which the red Giaours (the _Russi_) shall pass to the conquest of Stamboul; and that everywhere, in Europe at least, the hat of Frangistan is destined to surmount the turban--the crescent must go down before the cross.


[The end]
Thomas De Quincey's essay: Modern Superstition

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