tain the talisman, which he confided to a workman, who gradually hammered the metal into the astral form, using his tools only at those moments when the Master, consulting the Alfonsine tables, desired him to proceed. It happened that the smith was left alone with the statue when it was nearly finished, and a sudden thought, inspired by his good genius, induced him to give the last stroke to the magical image. His hand fell in the right ascension of the planets; the virtue was imparted, and the statue instantly leaped from the table, and fixed itself firmly on the floor. No effort of the goldsmith could remove it; but, as he guessed rightly of the true nature of the attractive influence, he dug up the pavement, under which he discovered an earthen vessel full of coin, which had been concealed by some former owner of the niansion. Who could be more rejoiced than our goldsmith? Destiny bad gifted him with the means of becoming the master of all the secret treasures of the earth. He instantly resolved to appropriate the inestimable talisman to himself; and, to evade pursuit, he embarked in a ship which was then setting sail. The wind blew briskly and favourably, and in a short time they were out at sea; when the ship sailed over a treasure concealed in the caverns of the deep. The talisman obeyed its call : it sprang from the hand of its astonished owner, and, with all his hopes, was lost for ever beneath the waves.

Wretchedness, disappointment, and delusion thus invariably conclude the mystic or legendary narrations, in which human avarice is represented as yearning after gold, and attempting to wrest it from heaven or from hell. If the gift is bestowed, it becomes a glittering curse ; but oftener it is denied, and Fate tantalizes the eagerness of humanity. When the Arab searches the ruined temple, the chest of stone sinks lower and lower beneath the soil. The rocks fall in and bury the treasure just when his charm is about to take; if the cavern opens before the suffumigations of the sorcerer, the treasure vanishes from his grasp. The moral is as obvious as the source of the mythos, in which we again observe the varied sway of the good and of the evil.

Our subject is far from being exhausted; but our readers, perhaps, have already begin to suspect that we betray a greater degree of fondness for the superstitions of a rude and barbarous age than is altogether consistent with the good sense and information for which, without doubt, they are willing to give iis credit. We fraukly acknowledge, that the perusal of Piccatrix and Cornelius Agrippa, of Delrio and Renigins, of Glauvill and Sinclair, has amused us during many an idle hour, and solaced us during many a weary one: and, in justification of our taste, it may not be improper to observe, that the superstitions of the middle ages' are worthy of a more


minute, minute, and, we may add, a more philosophic and impartial investigation than they bave bitherto obtained.

If the Fays sporting on the wold, or the Demons bursting from their prisou-house, are considered merely as allowable subjects for the lay of the poet, and which his old charter of fiction authorises him to use with freedom, an inaccurate standard is assigned to the worth of popular mythology. So far as the idlest tales are believed and credited, they are facts; and it is as facts that they are to be studied. Poetic talent may give a graceful form to the spirit, who is uucouth in the fancy of the churl, but the essence and iinport of the airy being remain unchanged. And the whole creed of popular superstition is linked in the esoteric history of mankind, which is, perhaps, more instructive than the relation of the rise and fall of empires. This is equally the case with the occult sciences, as they are usually termed. Scarcely two centuries have elapsed since the whole category of magical and cabalistic and theosophic mysteries entered into the real business of life, and these fallacious pursuits were associated with severe and specious learning. Exorcisms were chanted by the priest; and arrayed in his stole, or even in his surplice, it oft became dubious whether the rites of the church were not assimilated by him to the forbidden arts of sorcery. The Astrologer was honoured in the presence-chamber of the prince. Denounced by the preacher and consigned to the flames by the bench, the Wizzard received secret service money from the cabinet, for the purpose of destroying the hostile armament, as it sailed before the wind. And the Senate quailed with fear at the recital of plots and conspiracies, when it was disclosed how traitors sought to shorten the days of the Monarch and overturn the state by tormenting waxen images with veedles, or burying them with their heads downwards. In no rank of society were these hallucinations discredited or discouraged. A gloomy mist of credulity enwrapped the cathedral and the hall of justice, the cottage and the throne; and no mortal eye could discern the witchery of the visions in which all beJieved so strangely. Baseless as they are, they acquire an effective value, when we place ourselves in the era to which they belong; for an error which prevails universally, no one having the will or the ability to disprove it, bas quite as much weight in human socieves as a truth which cannot be refuted. Nor is it now an unprofitable or useless task to recall the memory of the fleeting pageant. If we wish to ascertain the strength of the human mind, we must begin our trial by searching out its weaknesses. Most faithful of all others is that warning which is given to the judgment, when it is compelled to bend back upon itself, and to dwell on the contemplation of its own follies. On the chart of the careful navigator are marked the banks of fog and vapour, which caused him to divert his belm


from the course which he ought to have pursued, and which inspired him with vain hope or with groundless terror; inducing him to believe in the existence of happy islands, in climates where there is nought but the waste bosom of the ocean, or to dread the craggy rocks and dangerous shoals, though the billows roll on in unbroken flow. And the delineation of these unreal lands will prove as useful to the future sailor as the bearings of the firmest shores, for they apprize him of the deceit to wbich he may be exposed. Our vessel is built with greater science than the gorgeous though inartificial galliot of ancient days. The loadstone guides us unerringly when the load-star is lost in clouds; yet still we are destined to be tossed upon the waters, and to wander from the harbour which, fruitlessly, we strive to gain. Doubt ought still to be our companion even when we flatter ourselves that we have attained to certainty: because we have not yet learned to know ourselves, or to distrust our inborn frailty. Though neither cheered by the apparition of protecting spirits, nor fearing the enmity of the goblin or the demon, we are still as liable, as of old, to be seduced by our own delusions.

Confidence, rather than humility, is now abounding, when an estimation is put upon the character of our times. It is the common boast, that the present age, our age, the age we live in, is a period of enlightened philosophy. - The words so employed mean, in fact, that we who use them are enlightened philosophers; but let that pass.-And when it becomes necessary to make good our title to the praise which we demand, we usually bless ourselves, and expatiate with much complacency in comparing the modern advances in ' arts and sciences' and philosophy with the rudeness and barbarity of the dark ages. At the first thought, it is not easy to avoid sharing in such sentiments. We find that the inheritance of falsehood, once peculiarly the portion of our forefathers, has not descended to us. Opinions were received by them, which are now known to be preposterous by the least informed. They were obstinate in the propagation of absurdities which we have abandoned; zealous in defending the misbegotten offspring of doting ignorance, whose deformity is now universally recognized. Struck by the contrast, and valuing, sometimes overvaluing, the advantages which we unquestionably enjoy, our triumph appears confirmed. Pointing to the steam-engine and the printing-press, the telescope and the barometer, we bestow gentle pity upon the ignorance of those who are sleeping in the grave, whilst we contemn and despise the errors which they committed. Yet if their demerits are compared with ours, we may perhaps pause before we confirm ourselves in the belief of our relative superiority. We have refused to adopt the iunumerable false and foolish doctrines to which the mind was formerly subjected: another modification is now given to the follies


and errors which owe their birth to the same generating cause, but they are still equally repudiated by common sense, and by the dictates of sound reason: and the rejection of ancient follies and errors has been effected, so far at least as the great multitude are concerned in the rejection, rather by the mighty revolution which bas been brought about in our ideas and in our manners, than by any real amelioration in the intellect of the many-headed monster.

It would not be a difficult task to raise up a modern counterpart which should grin and mowe at every ancient folly; but inferences might be drawn from the array, which would be wholly contrary to our intent. Such comparisons would not be presented for the silly and heartless purpose of ministering to malice or scoffing at individual character. "Let it not be supposed that they would be drawn in a spirit of sarcasm or satire, or result from a sullen inseusibility to the blessings of knowledge and civilization. On the contrary, they are such as ever force themselves upon the judgment of those who are most anxious to witness the true advancement of their fellowcreatures, and to honour the great men who have been appointed to the task of leading mankind onwards in the noble path of intellectual improvement: and who, entertaining such sentiments, fear at the same time that a presumptuous estimation of the superiority which we certainly enjoy over our predecessors, may tend to foster sentiments which, if not vicious, are yet so unlike virtues, that knowledge becomes less desirable when allied to them. It is hardly a paradox to maintain that we may become uncharitable and spiteful in our treatment of our contemporaries in consequence of our scornful triumphis over the credulity of Albertus Magnus or Roger Bacon, and that by despising the ignorance of past times we crush the germ of real amelioration. Sir Thomas Brown, who stood upon the isthmus which divides us from them, has thus pointed out the main cause of their errors. "The mortallest enemy unto knowledge, that which hath done the greatest execution upon truth, hath been a peremptory adhesion to authority, and more especially the establishing of our belief upon the dictates of antiquity. For, as every capacity may observe, most men of ages present so superstitiously do look on ages past, that the authority of the one exceeds the reasons of the other.' Other foes to knowledge have now arisen, and which are to be combated with greater difficulty. Our prevailing fault is an impatience of all teachers, of all authority, of all experience, of all precedent; a fault which derives its principal support from the notions which we entertain of the great superiority of ourselves over all who have gone before us. Enthusiasm misleads us, and we form an estimate of the merits of our age which will be sobered by reflection. Our large words deceive us, and not only


are they the vehicles of false ideas, but they also always associate themselves with opinions which involve an utter contradiction.

Such is the conclusion to which we arrive. And those who are most strenuous in extolling the improvement of the present age, are usually at the same time the most earnest in deploring the obstinacy of mankind in refusing to adopt the opinions which they advocate, opinions, which, according to their representation, are either the cause or the consequence of the intellectual pre-eminence of modern times. Praises are lavished on the .enlightened world' collectively, which are denied to all its component parts save one. Under pretence of lauding our contemporaries we are simply whispering a tribute of Aattery into our own ears. And the merits with which we are so willing to invest the universal age expand from our own egotism.

Nor even where the progress of knowledge is most cheering and undeniable, should we allow it to fill us with overweening glory, because we are then too often tempted to indulge in bitterness, or even in anger, towards those who, as we imagine, are disabled by their mental inferiority or ignorance from contributing to the causes of our exultation. Calm reflection will teach us to view the trophies which have been gained by the human intellect with less complacency, but at the same time we may perhaps become subdued into a greater degree of toleration towards its failings. Science has triumphed over matter. Fire impels the vessel along the hostile element. The aeronaut soars above the eagle in the thin


and the firm metals torn from the bowels of the earth fume into gas at the touch of the chemist, and wing him on his way. The triple ray of the sun has been unravelled. We ascend in contemplation on his beams, and bathe in the central flood of light and life. And we have weighed in the balance the orbs which circle on the dark verge of our universe. Bounds however have been prescribed to us, and we must not sorrow, if we who are placed a little below the angels, are not allowed to pass them. There is a truer philosophy from which we learn that our present state of being is not the existence in which we are to advance in an unchecked career of excellence. Faculties of miraculous energy and force have been given to the buman mind, but they have been imprinted on dust and ashes, and united to imperfections, reminding us that they are not our own; and that we are heedless of the will, and unthankful to the goodness of the Infinite Intelligence from whom they have been derived, if we werely deem those gifts to be subservient to the poor, proud selfishness of mortality. The learning of one generation becomes folly in

We change our baubles, but our infirmity remains the same; and if there are immortal spectators of the flecting drama of human life, they witness in every century the same peevish actors


« ElőzőTovább »