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Title: Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque Vol. 2 Author: Edgar Allan Poe * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0603411h.html Edition: 1 Language: English Character set encoding: Latin-1(ISO-8859-1)--8 bit Date first posted: July 2006 Date most recently updated: July 2006 This eBook was produced by: Richard Scott Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
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Seltsamen tochter Jovis Seinem schosskinde Der Phantasie. --Goethe.
SIOPE. A FABLE
A TALE OF JERUSALEM
LOSS OF BREATH
WHY THE LITTLE FRENCHMAN WEARS HIS HAND IN A SLING
THE CONVERSATION OF EIROS AND CHARMION
Chacun a ses vertus. --Crebillon's Xerxes.
Antiochus Epiphanes is very generally looked upon as the Gog of the prophet Ezekiel. This honor is, however, more properly attributable to Cambyses, the son of Cyrus. And, indeed, the character of the Syrian monarch does by no means stand in need of any adventitious embollishment. His accession to the throne, or rather his usurpation of the sovereignty, a hundred and seventy-one years before the coming of Christ--his attempt to plunder the temple of Diana at Ephesus--his implacable hostility to the Jews--his pollution of the Holy of Holies, and his miserable death at Taba, after a tumultuous reign of eleven years, are circumstances of a prominent kind, and therefore more generally noticed by the historians of his time than the impious, dastardly, cruel, silly, and whimsical achievements which make up the sum total of his private life and reputation.
Let us suppose, gentle reader, that it is now the year of the world three thousand eight hundred and thirty, and let us, for a few minutes, imagine ourselves at that most grotesque habitation of man, the remarkable city of Antioch. To be sure there were, in Syria and other countries, sixteen cities of that name besides the one to which I more particularly allude. But ours is that which went by the name of Antiochia Epidaphne, from its vicinity to the little village of Daphne, where stood a temple to that divinity. It was built (although about this matter there is some dispute) by Seleucus Nicanor, the first king of the country after Alexander the Great, in memory of his father Antiochus, and became immediately the residence of the Syrian monarchy. In the flourishing times of the Roman empire, it was the ordinary station of the prefect of the eastern provinces; and many of the emperors of the queen city, (among whom may be mentioned, most especially, Verus and Valens,) spent here the greater part of their time. But I perceive we have arrived at the city itself. Let us ascend this battlement, and throw our eyes around upon the town and neighboring country.
What broad and rapid river is that which forces its way with innumerable falls, through the mountainous wilderness, and finally through the wilderness of buildings?
That is the Orontes, and the only water in sight, with the exception of the Mediterranean, which stretches, like a broad mirror, about twelve miles off to the southward. Every one has beheld the Mediterranean; but, let me tell you, there are few who have had a peep at Antioch. By few, I mean few who, like you and I, have had, at the same time, the advantages of a modern education. Therefore cease to regard that sea, and give your whole attention to the mass of houses that lie beneath us. You will remember that it is now the year of the world three thousand eight hundred and thirty. Were it later--for example, were it unfortunately the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and thirty-nine, we should be deprived of this extraordinary spectacle. In the nineteenth century Antioch is--that is, Antioch will be, in a lamentable state of decay. It will have been, by that time, totally destroyed, at three different periods, by three successive earthquakes. Indeed, to say the truth, what little of its former self may then remain, will be found in so desolate and ruinous a state, that the patriarch will have removed his residence to Damascus. This is well. I see you profit by my advice, and are making the most of your time in inspecting the premises--in--satisfying your eyes with the memorials and the things of fame that most renown this city.
I beg pardon--I had forgotten that Shakspeare will not flourish for nearly seventeen hundred and fifty years to come. But does not the appearance of Epidaphne justify me in calling it grotesque?
It is well fortified--and in this respect is as much indebted to nature as to art.
There are a prodigious number of stately palaces.
And the numerous temples, sumptuous and magnificent, may bear comparison with the most lauded of antiquity.
All this I must acknowledge. Still there is an infinity of mud huts and abominable hovels. We cannot help perceiving abundance of filth in every kennel, and, were it not for the overpowering fumes of idolatrous incense, I have no doubt we should find a most intolerable stench. Did you ever behold streets so insufferably narrow, or houses so miraculously tall? What a gloom their shadows cast upon the ground! It is well the swinging lamps in those endless colonnades are kept burning throughout the day--we should otherwise have the darkness of Egypt in the time of her desolation.
It is certainly a strange place! What is the meaning of yonder singular building? See!--it towers above all others, and lies to the eastward of what I take to be the royal palace.
That is the new Temple of the Sun, who is adored in Syria under the title of Elah Gabalah. Hereafter a very notorious Roman emperor will institute this worship in Rome, and thence derive a cognomen Heliogabalus. I dare say you would like a peep at the divinity of the temple. You need not look up at the heavens, his Sunship is not there--at least not the Sunship adored by the Syrians. That deity will be found in the interior of yonder building. He is worshipped under the figure of a large stone pillar terminating at the summit in a cone or pyramid, whereby is denoted Fire.
Hark!--behold!--who can those ridiculous beings be--half naked--with their faces painted--shouting and gesticulating to the rabble?
Some few are mountebanks. Others more particularly belong to the race of philosophers. The greatest portion, however--those especially who belabor the populace with clubs--are the principal courtiers of the palace, executing, as in duty bound, some laudable comicality of the king's.
But what have we here? Heavens!--the town is swarming with wild beasts! How terrible a spectacle!--how dangerous a peculiarity!
Terrible, if you please; but not in the least degree dangerous. Each animal, if you will take the pains to observe, is following, very quietly, in the wake of its master. Some few, to be sure, are led with a rope about the neck, but these are chiefly the lesser or more timid species. The lion, the tiger, and the leopard are entirely without restraint. They have been trained without difficulty to their present profession, and attend upon their respective owners in the capacity of valets-de-chambre. It is true, there are occasions when Nature asserts her violated dominion--but then the devouring of a man-at-arms, or the throtling of a consecrated bull, are circumstances of too little moment to be more than hinted at in Epidaphne.
But what extraordinary tumult do I hear? Surely this is a loud noise even for Antioch! It argues some commotion of unusual interest.
Yes--undoubtedly. The king has ordered some novel spectacle--some gladiatorial exhibition at the Hippodrome--or perhaps the massacre of the Scythian prisoners--or the conflagration of his new palace--or the tearing down of a handsome temple--or, indeed, a bonfire of a few Jews. The uproar increases. Shouts of laughter ascend the skies. The air becomes dissonant with wind instruments, and horrible with the clamor of a million throats. Let us descend, for the love of fun, and see what is going on. This way--be careful. Here we are in the principal street, which is called the street of Timarchus. The sea of people is coming this way, and we shall find a difficulty in stemming the tide. They are pouring through the alley of Heraclides, which leads directly from the palace--therefore the king is most probably among the rioters. Yes--I hear the shouts of the herald proclaiming his approach in the pompous phraseology of the East. We shall have a glimpse of his person as he passes by the temple of Ashimah. Let us ensconce ourselves in the vestibule of the sanctuary--he will be here anon. In the meantime let us survey this image. What is it? Oh, it is the god Ashimah in proper person. You perceive, however, that he is neither a lamb, nor a goat, nor a satyr--neither has he much resemblance to the Pan of the Arcadians. Yet all these appearances have been given--I beg pardon--will be given by the learned of future ages to the Ashimah of the Syrians. Put on your spectacles, and tell me what it is. What is it?
Bless me, it is an ape!
True--a baboon; but by no means the less a deity. His name is a derivation of the Greek Simia--what great fools are antiquarians! But see!--see!--yonder scampers a ragged little urchin. Where is he going? What is he bawling about? What does he say? Oh!--he says the king is coming in triumph--that he is dressed in state--and that he has just finished putting to death with his own hand a thousand chained Israelitish prisoners. For this exploit the ragamuffin is lauding him to the skies. Hark!--here comes a troop of a similar description. They have made a Latin hymn upon the valor of the king, and are singing it as they go.
Mille, mille, mille, Mille, mille, mille, Decollavimus, unus homo! Mille, mille, mille, mille, decollavimus! Mille, mille, mille! Vivat qui mille mille occidit! Tantum vini habet nemo Quantum sanguinis effudit! *
[* Flavius Vopiscus says that the hymn which is here introduced, was sung by the rabble upon the occasion of Aurelian, in the Sarmatic war, having slain with his own hand nine hundred and fifty of the enemy.]
Which may be thus paraphrased:
A thousand, a thousand, a thousand, A thousand, a thousand, a thousand, We, with one warrior, have slain! A thousand, a thousand, a thousand, a thousand, Sing a thousand over again! Soho!--let us sing Long life to our king, Who knocked over a thousand so fine! Soho!--let us roar, He has given us more Red gallons of gore Than all Syria can furnish of wine!
Do you hear that flourish of trumpets?
Yes--the king is coming! See!--the people are aghast with admiration, and lift up their eyes to the heavens in reverence. He comes--he is coming--there he is!
Who?--where?--the king?--do not behold him--cannot say that I perceive him.
Then you must be blind.
Very possible. Still I see nothing but a tumultuous mob of idiots and madmen, who are busy in prostrating themselves before a gigantic camelopard, and endeavoring to obtain a kiss of the animal's hoofs. See! the beast has very justly kicked one of the rabble over--and another--and another--and another. Indeed I cannot help admiring the animal for the excellent use he is making of his feet.
Rabble, indeed!--why these are the noble and free citizens of Epidaphne! Beast, did you say?--take care that you are not overheard. Do you not perceive that the animal has the visage of a man? Why, my dear sir, that camelopard is no other than Antiochus Epiphanes, Antiochus the Illustrious, King of Syria, and the most potent of the autocrats of the East! It is true that he is entitled, at times, Antiochus Epimanes, Antiochus the madman--but that is because all people have not the capacity to appreciate his merits. It is also certain that he is at present ensconced in the hide of a beast, and is doing his best to play the part of a camelopard--but this is done for the better sustaining his dignity as king. Besides, the monarch is of a gigantic stature, and the dress is therefore neither unbecoming nor over large. We may, however, presume he would not have adopted it but for some occasion of especial state. Such you will allow is the massacre of a thousand Jews. With how superior a dignity the monarch perambulates upon all fours! His tail, you perceive, is held aloft by his two principal concubines, Elline and Argelais; and his whole appearance would be infinitely prepossessing, were it not for the protuberance of his eyes, which will certainly start out of his head, and the queer color of his face, which has become nondescript from the quantity of wine he has swallowed. Let us follow to the hippodrome, whither he is proceeding, and listen to the song of triumph which he is commencing:
Who is king but Epiphanes? Say--do you know? Who is king but Epiphanes? Bravo--bravo! There is none but Epiphanes, No--there is none: So tear down the temples, And put out the sun! Who is king but Epiphanes? Say--do you know? Who is king but Epiphanes? Bravo--bravo!
Well and strenuously sung! The populace are hailing him 'Prince of Poets,' as well as 'Glory of the East,' 'Delight of the Universe,' and 'most remarkable of Camelopards.' They have encored his effusion--and, do you hear?--he is singing it over again. When he arrives at the hippodrome he will be crowned with the poetic wreath, in anticipation of his victory at the approaching Olympics.
But, good Jupiter!--what is the matter in the crowd behind us?
Behind us, did you say?--oh!--ah!--I perceive. My friend, it is well that you spoke in time. Let us get into a place of safety as soon as possible. Here!--let us conceal ourselves in the arch of this aqueduct, and I will inform you presently of the origin of this commotion. It has turned out as I have been anticipating. The singular appearance of the camelopard with the head of a man, has, it seems, given offence to the notions of propriety entertained in general by the wild animals domesticated in the city. A mutiny has been the result, and, as is usual upon such occasions, all human efforts will be of no avail in quelling the mob. Several of the Syrians have already been devoured--but the general voice of the four-footed patriots seems to be for eating up the camelopard. 'The Prince of Poets,' therefore, is upon his hinder legs, and running for his life. His courtiers have left him in the lurch, and his concubines have let fall his tail. 'Delight of the Universe,' thou art in a sad predicament! 'Glory of the East,' thou art in danger of mastication! Therefore never regard so piteously thy tail--it will undoubtedly be draggled in the mud, and for this there is no help. Look not behind thee, then, at its unavoidable degradation--but take courage--ply thy legs with vigor--and scud for the hippodrome! Remember that thou art Antiochus Epiphanes, Antiochus the Illustrious!--also 'Prince of Poets,' 'Glory of the East, 'Delight of the Universe,' and 'most remarkable of Camelopards!' Heavens! what a power of speed thou art displaying! What a capacity for leg-bail thou art developing! Run, Prince! Bravo, Epiphanes! Well done, Camelopard! Glorious Antiochus! He runs!--he moves!--he flies! Like a shell from a catapult he approaches the hippodrome! He leaps!--he shrieks!--he is there! This is well--for hadst thou, 'Glory of the East,' been half a second longer in reaching the gates of the amphitheatre, there is not a bear's cub in Epidaphne who would not have had a nibble at thy carcass. Let us be off--let us take our departure!--for we shall find our delicate modern ears unable to endure the vast uproar which is about to commence in celebration of the king's escape! Listen! it has already commenced. See!--the whole town is topsy-turvy.
Surely this is the most populous city of the East! What a wilderness of people! what a jumble of all ranks and ages! what a multiplicity of sects and nations! what a variety of costumes! what a Babel of languages! what a screaming of beasts! what a tinkling of instruments! what a parcel of philosophers!
Come let us be off!
Stay a moment! I see a vast hubbub in the hippodrome--what is the meaning of it, I beseech you?
That?--oh nothing! The noble and free citizens of Epidaphne being, as they declare, well satisfied of the faith, valor, wisdom, and divinity of their king, and having, moreover, been eye-witnesses of his late superhuman agility, do think it no more than their duty to invest his brows (in addition to the poetic crown) with the wreath of victory in the foot race--a wreath which it is evident he must obtain at the celebration of the next Olympiad, and which, therefore, they now give him in advance.
"Listen to me," said the Demon, as he placed his hand upon my head. "There is a spot upon this accursed earth which thou hast never yet beheld And if by any chance thou hast beheld it, it must have been in one of those vigorous dreams which come like the simoon upon the brain of the sleeper who hath lain down to sleep among the forbidden sunbeams--among the sunbeams, I say, which slide from off the solemn columns of the melancholy temples in the wilderness. The region of which I speak is a dreary region in Libya, by the borders of the river Zaire. And there is no quiet there, nor silence.
"The waters of the river have a saffron and sickly hue--and they flow not onwards to the sea, but palpitate forever and forever beneath the red eye of the sun with a tumultuous and convulsive motion. For many miles on either side of the river's oozy bed is a pale desert of gigantic water-lilies. They sigh one unto the other in that solitude, and stretch towards the heaven their long ghastly necks, and nod to and fro their everlasting heads. And there is an indistinct murmur which cometh out from among them like the rushing of subterrene water. And they sigh one unto the other.
"But there is a boundary to their realm--the boundary of the dark, horrible, lofty forest. There, like the waves about the Hebrides, the low underwood is agitated continually. But there is no wind throughout the heaven. And the tall primeval trees rock eternally hither and thither with a crashing and mighty sound. And from their high summits, one by one, drop everlasting dews. And at the roots strange poisonous flowers lie writhing in perturbed slumber. And overhead, with a rustling and loud noise, the gray clouds rush westwardly forever, until they roll, a cataract, over the fiery wall of the horizon. But there is no wind throughout the heaven. And by the shores of the river Zaire there is neither quiet nor silence.
"It was night, and the rain fell; and, falling, it was rain, but, having fallen, it was blood. And I stood in the morass among the tall lilies, and the rain fell upon my head--and the lilies sighed one unto the other in the solemnity of their desolation.
"And, all at once, the moon arose through the thin ghastly mist, and was crimson in color. And mine eyes fell upon a huge gray rock which stood by the shore of the river, and was litten by the light of the moon. And the rock was gray, and ghastly, and tall,--and the rock was gray. Upon its front were characters engraven in the stone; and I walked through the morass of water-lilies, until I came close unto the shore, that I might read the characters upon the stone. But I could not decypher the characters. And I was going back into the morass, when the moon shone with a fuller red, and I turned and looked again upon the rock, and upon the characters--and the characters were DESOLATION.
"And I looked upwards, and there stood a man upon the summit of the rock, and I hid myself among the water-lilies that I might discover the actions of the man. And the man was tall and stately in form, and was wrapped up from his shoulders to his feet in the toga of old Rome. And the outlines of his figure were indistinct--but his features were the features of a deity; for the mantle of the night, and of the mist, and of the moon, and of the dew, had left uncovered the features of his face. And his brow was lofty with thought, and his eye wild with care; and, in the few furrows upon his cheek I read the fables of sorrow, and weariness, and disgust with mankind, and a longing after solitude.
"And the man sat down upon the rock, and leaned his head upon his hand, and looked out upon the desolation. He looked down into the low unquiet shrubbery, and up into the tall primeval trees, and up higher at the rustling heaven, and into the crimson moon. And I lay close within shelter of the lilies, and observed the actions of the man. And the man trembled in the solitude--but the night waned and he sat upon the rock.
"And the man turned his attention from the heaven, and looked out upon the dreary river Zaire, and upon the yellow ghastly waters, and upon the pale legions of the water-lilies. And the man listened to the sighs of the water-lilies, and to the murmur that came up from among them. And I lay close within my covert and observed the actions of the man. And the man trembled in the solitude--but the night waned and he sat upon the rock.
"Then I went down into the recesses of the morass, and waded afar in among the wilderness of the lilies, and called unto the hippopotami which dwelt among the fens in the recesses of the morass. And the hippopotami heard my call, and came, with the behemoth, unto the foot of the rock, and roared loudly and fearfully beneath the moon. And I lay close within my covert and observed the actions of the man. And the man trembled in the solitude--but the night waned and he sat upon the rock.
"Then I cursed the elements with the curse of tumult; and a frightful tempest gathered in the heaven where before there had been no wind. And the heaven became livid with the violence of the tempest--and the rain beat upon the head of the man--and the floods of the river came down--and the river was tormented into foam--and the waterlilies shrieked within their beds--and the forest crumbled before the wind-- and the thunder rolled,--and the lightning fell--and the rock rocked to its foundation. And I lay close within my covert and observed the actions of the man. And the man trembled in the solitude--but the night waned and he sat upon the rock.
"Then I grew angry and cursed, with the curse of silence, the river, and the lilies, and the wind, and the forest, and the heaven, and the thunder, and the sighs of the water-lilies. And they became accursed and were still. And the moon ceased to totter in its pathway up the heaven--and the thunder died away--and the lightning did not flash-- and the clouds hung motionless--and the waters sunk to their level and remained--and the trees ceased to rock--and the water-lilies sighed no more--and the murmur was heard no longer from among them, nor any shadow of sound throughout the vast illimitable desert. And I looked upon the characters of the rock, and they were changed--and the characters were SILENCE.
"And mine eyes fell upon the countenance of the man, and his countenance was wan with terror. And, hurriedly, he raised his head from his hand, and stood forth upon the rock, and listened. But there was no voice throughout the vast illimitable desert, and the characters upon the rock were SILENCE. And the man shuddered, and turned his face away, and fled afar off, and I beheld him no more."
Now there are fine tales in the volumes of the Magi--in the iron- bound, melancholy volumes of the Magi. Therein, I say, are glorious histories of the Heaven, and of the Earth, and of the mighty Sea--and of the Genii that over-ruled the sea, and the earth, and the lofty heaven. There was much lore too in the sayings which were said by the sybils; and holy, holy things were heard of old by the dim leaves that trembled around Dodona--but, as Allah liveth, that fable which the Demon told me as he sat by my side in the shadow of the tomb, I hold to be the most wonderful of all! And as the Demon made an end of his story, he fell back within the cavity of the tomb and laughed. And I could not laugh with the Demon, and he cursed me because I could not laugh. And the lynx which dwelleth forever in the tomb, came out therefrom, and lay down at the feet of the Demon, and looked at him steadily in the face.
By late accounts from Rotterdam that city seems to be in a high state of philosophical excitement. Indeed phenomena have there occurred of a nature so completely unexpected, so entirely novel, so utterly at variance with preconceived opinions, as to leave no doubt on my mind that long ere this all Europe is in an uproar, all physics in a ferment, all dynamics and astronomy together by the ears.
It appears that on the--day of--,(I am not positive about the date,) a vast crowd of people, for purposes not specifically mentioned, were assembled in the great square of the Exchange in the well-conditioned city of Rotterdam. The day was warm--unusually so for the season-- there was hardly a breath of air stirring, and the multitude were in no bad humor at being now and then besprinkled with friendly showers of momentary duration. These occasionally fell from large white masses of cloud which chequered in a fitful manner the blue vault of the firmament. Nevertheless about noon a slight but remarkable agitation became apparent in the assembly; the clattering of ten thousand tongues succeeded; and in an instant afterwards ten thousand faces were upturned towards the heavens, ten thousand pipes descended simultaneously from the corners of ten thousand mouths, and a shout which could be compared to nothing but the roaring of Niagara resounded long, loud, and furiously, through all the environs of Rotterdam.
The origin of this hubbub soon became sufficiently evident. From behind the huge bulk of one of those sharply-defined masses of cloud already mentioned, was seen slowly to emerge into an open area of blue space, a queer, heterogeneous, but apparently solid body or substance, so oddly shaped, so whimsically put together, as not to be in any manner comprehended, and never to be sufficiently admired, by the host of sturdy burghers who stood open-mouthed below. What could it be? In the name of all the vrows and devils in Rotterdam, what could it possibly portend? No one knew--no one could imagine--no one, not even the burgomaster Mynheer Superbus Von Underduk, had the slightest clue by which to unravel the mystery; so, as nothing more reasonable could be done, every one to a man replaced his pipe carefully in the left corner of his mouth, and, cocking up his right eye towards the phenomenon, puffed, paused, waddled about, and grunted significantly-- then waddled back, grunted, paused, and finally--puffed again.
In the meantime, however, lower and still lower towards the goodly city, came the object of so much curiosity, and the cause of so much smoke. In a very few minutes it arrived near enough to be accurately discerned. It appeared to be--yes! it was undoubtedly a species of balloon; but surely no such balloon had ever been seen in Rotterdam before. For who, let me ask, ever heard of a balloon entirely manufactured of dirty newspapers? No man in Holland certainly--yet here under the very noses of the people, or rather, so to speak, at some distance above their noses, was the identical thing in question, and composed, I have it on the best authority, of the precise material which no one had ever known to be used for a similar purpose. It was an egregious insult to the good sense of the burghers of Rotterdam. As to the shape of the phenomenon it was even still more reprehensible, being little or nothing better than a huge foolscap turned upside down. And this similitude was by no means lessened, when, upon nearer inspection, there was perceived a large tassel depending from its apex, and around the upper rim or base of the cone a circle of little instruments, resembling sheep-bells, which kept up a continual tinkling to the tune of Betty Martin. But still worse. Suspended by blue ribbands to the end of this fantastic machine, there hung by way of car an enormous drab beaver hat, with a brim superlatively broad, and a hemispherical crown with a black band and a silver buckle. It is, however, somewhat remarkable, that many citizens of Rotterdam swore to having seen the same hat repeatedly before; and indeed the whole assembly seemed to regard it with eyes of familiarity, while the vrow Grettel Phaall, upon sight of it, uttered an exclamation of joyful surprise, and declared it to be the identical hat of her good man himself. Now this was a circumstance the more to be observed, as Phaall, with three companions, had actually disappeared from Rotterdam about five years before, in a very sudden and unaccountable manner, and up to the date of this narrative all attempts had failed of obtaining any intelligence concerning them whatsoever. To be sure, some bones which were thought to be human, and mixed up with a quantity of odd-looking rubbish, had been lately discovered in a retired situation to the east of Rotterdam; and some people went so far as to imagine that in this spot a foul murder had been committed, and that the sufferers were in all probability Hans Phaall and his associates. But to return.
The balloon, for such no doubt it was, had now descended to within a hundred feet of the earth, allowing the crowd below a sufficiently distinct view of the person of its occupant. This was in truth a very droll little somebody. He could not have been more than two feet in height--but this altitude, little as it was, would have been enough to destroy his equilibrium, and tilt him over the edge of his tiny car, but for the intervention of a circular rim reaching as high as the breast, and rigged on to the cords of the balloon. The body of the little man was more than proportionally broad, giving to his entire figure a rotundity highly absurd. His feet, of course, could not be seen at all, although a horny substance of suspicious nature was occasionally protruded through a rent in the bottom of the car, or, to speak more properly, in the top of the hat. His hands were enormously large. His hair was extremely gray, and collected into a cue behind. His nose was prodigiously long, crooked and inflammatory--his eyes full, brilliant, and acute--his chin and cheeks, although wrinkled with age, were broad, puffy, and double--but of ears of any kind or character, there was not a semblance to be discovered upon any portion of his head. This odd little gentleman was dressed in a loose surtout of sky-blue satin, with tight breeches to match, fastened with silver buckles at the knees. His vest was of some bright yellow material; a white taffety cap was set jauntily on one side of his head; and, to complete his equipment, a blood-red silk handkerchief enveloped his throat, and fell down, in a dainty manner, upon his bosom, in a fantastic bow-knot of supereminent dimensions.
Having descended, as I said before, to about one hundred feet from the surface of the earth, the little old gentleman was suddenly seized with a fit of trepidation, and appeared altogether disinclined to make any nearer approach to terra firma. Throwing out, therefore, a quantity of sand from a canvass bag, which he lifted with great difficulty, he became stationary in an instant. He then proceeded, in a hurried and agitated manner, to extract from a sidepocket of his surtout a large morocco pocket-book. This he poised suspiciously in his hand--then eyed it with an air of extreme surprise, and was evidently astonished at its weight. He at length opened it, and drawing therefrom a huge letter sealed with red sealing-wax and tied carefully with red tape, let it fall precisely at the feet of the burgomaster Superbus Von Underduk. His Excellency stooped to take it up. But the aeronaut, still greatly discomposed, and having apparently no farther business to detain him in Rotterdam, began at this moment to make busy preparations for departure; and, it being necessary to discharge a portion of ballast to enable him to reascend, the half dozen bags of sand which he threw out, one after another, without taking the trouble to empty their contents, tumbled, every one of them, most unfortunately, upon the back of the burgomaster, and rolled him over and over no less than one-andtwenty times, in the face of every man in Rotterdam. It is not to be supposed, however, that the great Underduk suffered this impertinence on the part of the little old man to pass off with impunity. It is said, on the contrary, that, during the period of each and every one of his one-and-twenty circumvolutions, he emitted no less than one-and-twenty distinct and furious whiffs from his pipe, to which he held fast the whole time with all his might, and to which he intends holding fast until the day of his death.
In the meantime the balloon arose like a lark, and, soaring far away above the city, at length drifted quietly behind a cloud similar to that from which it had so oddly emerged, and was thus lost forever to the wondering eyes of the good citizens of Rotterdam. All attention was now directed to the letter, whose descent and the consequences attending thereupon had proved so fatally subversive of both person and personal dignity, to his Excellency the illustrious Burgomaster Mynheer Superbus Von Underduk. That functionary, however, had not failed, during his circumgyratory movement, to bestow a thought upon the important object of securing the packet in question, which was seen, upon inspection, to have fallen into the most proper hands, being actually directed to himself and Professor Rub-a-dub, in their official capacities of President and Vice-President of the Rotterdam College of Astronomy. It was accordingly opened by those dignitaries upon the spot, and found to contain the following extraordinary and indeed very serious communication.
To their Excellencies Von Underduk and Rub-a-dub, President and Vice- President of the States' College of Astronomers in the city of Rotterdam.
Your Excellencies may perhaps be able to remember an humble artizan by name Hans Phaall, and by occupation a mender of bellows, who, with three others, disappeared from Rotterdam, about five years ago, in a manner which must have been considered by all parties at once sudden, and extremely unaccountable. If, however, it so please your Excellencies, I, the writer of this communication, am the identical Hans Phaall himself. It is well known to most of my fellow citizens, that for the period of forty years, I continued to occupy the little square brick building at the head of the alley called Sauerkraut, and in which I resided at the time of my disappearance. My ancestors have also resided therein time out of mind, they, as well as myself, steadily following the respectable and indeed lucrative profession of mending of bellows. For, to speak the truth, until of late years that the heads of all the people have been set agog with the troubles and politics, no better business than my own could an honest citizen of Rotterdam either desire or deserve. Credit was good, employment was never wanting, and on all hands there was no lack of either money or good will. But, as I was saying, we soon began to feel the terrible effects of liberty, and long speeches, and radicalism, and all that sort of thing. People who were formerly the very best customers in the world had now not a moment of time to think of us at all. They had, so they said, as much as they could do to read about the revolutions, and keep up with the march of intellect, and the spirit of the age. If a fire wanted fanning it could readily be fanned with a newspaper; and, as the government grew weaker, I have no doubt that leather and iron acquired durability in proportion, for in a very short time there was not a pair of bellows in all Rotterdam that ever stood in need of a stitch or required the assistance of a hammer. This was a state of things not to be endured. I soon grew as poor as a rat, and, having a wife and children to provide for, my burdens at length became intolerable, and I spent hour after hour in reflecting upon the speediest and most convenient method of putting an end to my life. Duns, in the meantime, left me little leisure for contemplation. My house was literally besieged from morning till night, so that I began to rave, and foam, and fret like a caged tiger against the bars of hisenclosure. There were three fellows in particular, who worried me beyond endurance, keeping watch continually about my door, and threatening me with the utmost severity of the law. Upon these three I internally vowed the bitterest revenge, if ever I should be so happy as to get them within my clutches, and I believe nothing in the world but the pleasure of this anticipation prevented me from putting my plan of suicide into immediate execution, by blowing my brains out with a blunderbuss. I thought it best, however, to dissemble my wrath, and to treat them with promises and fair words, until, by some good turn of fate, an opportunity of vengeance should be afforded me.
One day, having given my creditors the slip, and feeling more than usually dejected, I continued for a long time to wander about the most obscure streets without any object whatever, until at length I chanced to stumble against the corner of a bookseller's stall. Seeing a chair close at hand, for the use of customers, I threw myself doggedly into it, and hardly knowing why, opened the pages of the first volume which came within my reach. It proved to be a small pamphlet treatise on Speculative Astronomy, written either by Professor Encke of Berlin, or by a Frenchman of somewhat similar name. I had some little tincture of information on matters of this nature, and soon became more and more absorbed in the contents of the book, reading it actually through twice before I awoke, as it were, to a recollection of what was passing around me. By this time it began to grow dark, and I directed my steps towards home. But the treatise had made an indelible impression on my mind, and as I sauntered along the dusky streets, I revolved carefully over in my memory the wild and sometimes unintelligible reasonings of the writer. There were some particular passages which affected my imagination in a powerful and extraordinary manner. The longer I meditated upon these, the more intense grew the interest which had been excited within me. The limited nature of my education in general, and more especially my ignorance on subjects connected with natural philosophy, so far from rendering me diffident of my own ability to comprehend what I had read, or inducing me to mistrust the many vague notions which had arisen in consequence, merely served as a farther stimulus to imagination; and I was vain enough, or perhaps reasonable enough, to doubt whether those crude ideas which, arising in ill-regulated minds, have all the appearance, may not often in effect possess also the force--the reality--and other inherent properties of instinct or intuition; and whether, to proceed a step farther, profundity itself might not, in matters of a purely speculative nature, be detected as a legitimate source of falsity and error. In other words, I believed, and still do believe, that truth is frequently, of its own essence, superficial, and that, in many cases, the depth lies more in the abysses where we seek her, than in the actual situations wherein she may be found. Nature herself seemed to afford me corroboration of these ideas. In the contemplation of the heavenly bodies it struck me forcibly that I could not distinguish a star with nearly as much precision, when I gazed upon it with earnest, direct, and undeviating attention, as when I suffered my eye only to glance in its vicinity alone. I was not, of course, at that time aware that this apparent paradox was occasioned by the centre of the visual area being less susceptible of feeble impressions of light than the exterior portions of the retina. This knowledge, and some of another kind, came afterwards in the course of an eventful period of five years, during which I have dropped the prejudices of my former humble situation in life, and forgotten the bellows-mender in far different occupations. But at the epoch of which I speak, the analogy which the casual observation of a star offered to the conclusions I had already drawn, struck me with the force of positive confirmation, and I then finally made up my mind to the course which I afterwards pursued.
It was late when I reached home, and I went immediately to bed. My mind, however, was too much occupied to sleep, and I lay the whole night buried in meditation. Arising early in the morning, and contriving again to escape the vigilance of my creditors, I repaired eagerly to the bookseller's stall, and laid out what little ready money I possessed, in the purchase of some volumes of Mechanics and Practical Astronomy. Having arrived at home safely with these, I devoted every spare moment to their perusal, and soon made such proficiency in studies of this nature as I thought sufficient for the execution of my plan. In the intervals of this period I made every endeavor to conciliate the three creditors who had given me so much annoyance. In this I finally succeeded--partly by selling enough of my household furniture to satisfy a moiety of their claim, and partly by a promise of paying the balance upon completion of a little project which I told them I had in view, and for assistance in which I solicited their services. By these means--for they were ignorant men-- I found little difficulty in gaining them over to my purpose.
Matters being thus arranged, I contrived, by the aid of my wife, and with the greatest secrecy and caution, to dispose of what property I had remaining, and to borrow, in small sums, under various pretences, and without paying any attention to my future means of repayment, no inconsiderable quantity of ready money. With the means thus accruing I proceeded to purchase at intervals, cambric muslin, very fine, in pieces of twelve yards each--twine--a lot of the varnish of caoutchouc--a large and deep basket of wicker-work, made to order--and several other articles necessary in the construction and equipment of a balloon of extraordinary dimensions. This I directed my wife to make up as soon as possible, and gave her all requisite information as to the particular method of proceeding. In the meantime I worked up the twine into a net-work of sufficient dimensions; rigged it with a hoop and the necessary cords; bought a quadrant, a compass, a spy-glass, a common barometer with some important modifications, and two astronomical instruments not so generally known. I then took opportunities of conveying by night, to a retired situation east of Rotterdam, five iron-bound casks, to contain about fifty gallons each, and one of a larger size--six tinned ware tubes, three inches in diameter, properly shaped, and ten feet in length--a quantity of a particular metallic substance or semi-metal which I shall not name-- and a dozen demi-johns of a very common acid. The gas to be formed from these latter materials is a gas never yet generated by any other person than myself--or at least never applied to any similar purpose. The secret I would make no difficulty in disclosing, but that it of right belongs to a citizen of Nantz in France, by whom it was conditionally communicated to myself. The same individual submitted to me, without being at all aware of my intentions, a method of constructing balloons from the membrane of a certain animal, through which substance any escape of gas was nearly an impossibility. I found it however altogether too expensive, and was not sure, upon the whole, whether cambric muslin with a coating of gum caoutchouc was not equally as good. I mention this circumstance, because I think it probable that hereafter the individual in question may attempt a balloon ascension with the novel gas and material I have spoken of, and I do not wish to deprive him of the honor of a very singular invention.
On the spot which I intended each of the smaller casks to occupy respectively during the inflation of the balloon, I privately dug a hole two feet deep--the holes forming in this manner a circle of twentyfive feet in diameter. In the centre of this circle, being the station designed for the large cask, I also dug a hole three feet in depth. In each of the five smaller holes, I deposited a canister containing fifty pounds, and in the larger one a keg holding one hundred and fifty pounds of cannon powder. These--the keg and the canisters--I connected in a proper manner with covered trains; and having let into one of the canisters the end of about four feet of slow-match, I covered up the hole, and placed the cask over it, leaving the other end of the match protruding about an inch, and barely visible beyond the cask. I then filled up the remaining holes, and placed the barrels over them in their destined situation.
Besides the articles above enumerated, I conveyed to the depôt, and there secreted, one of M. Grimm's improvements upon the apparatus for condensation of the atmospheric air. I found this machine, however, to require considerable alteration before it could be adapted to the purposes to which I intended making it applicable. But with severe labor, and unremitting perseverance, I at length met with entire success in all my preparations. My balloon was soon completed. It would contain more than forty thousand cubic feet of gas; would take me up, I calculated, easily, with all my implements, and, if I managed rightly, with one hundred and seventy-five pounds of ballast into the bargain. It had received three coats of varnish, and I found the cambric muslin to answer all the purposes of silk itself--quite as strong and a good deal less expensive.
Everything being now ready, I exacted from my wife an oath of secrecy in relation to all my actions from the day of my first visit to the bookseller's stall, and, promising, on my part, to return as soon as circumstances would admit, I gave her all the money I had left, and bade her farewell. Indeed I had little fear on her account. She was what people call a notable woman, and could manage matters in the world without my assistance. I believe, to tell the truth, she always looked upon me as an idle body, a mere make-weight, good for nothing but building castles in the air, and was rather glad to get rid of me. It was a dark night when I bade her good bye, and, taking with me, as aids-de-camp, the three creditors who had given me so much trouble, we carried the balloon, with the car and accoutrements, by a roundabout way, to the station where the other articles were deposited. We there found them all unmolested, and I proceeded immediately to business.
It was the first of April. The night, as I said before, was dark-- there was not a star to be seen, and a drizzling rain, falling at intervals, rendered us very uncomfortable. But my chief anxiety was concerning my balloon, which in spite of the varnish with which it was defended, began to grow rather heavy with the moisture: my powder also was liable to damage. I therefore kept my three duns working with great diligence, pounding down ice around the central cask, and stirring the acid in the others. They did not cease, however, importuning me with questions as to what I intended to do with all this apparatus, and expressed much dissatisfaction at the terrible labor I made them undergo. They could not perceive, so they said, what good was likely to result from their getting wet to the skin merely to take a part in such horrible incantations. I began to get uneasy, and worked away with all my might--for I verily believe the idiots supposed that I had entered into a compact with the devil, and that, in short, what I was now doing was nothing better than it should be. I was, therefore, in great fear of their leaving me altogether. I contrived, however, to pacify them by promises of immediate payment as soon as I could bring the present business to a termination. To these speeches they gave of course their own interpretation--fancying, no doubt, that at all events I should come into possession of vast quantities of ready money; and provided I paid them all I owed, and a trifle more, in consideration of their services, I dare say they cared very little what became of either my soul or my carcass.
In about four hours and a half I found the balloon sufficiently inflated. I attached the car, therefore, and put all my implements in it--not forgetting the condensing apparatus, a copious supply of water, and a large quantity of provisions, such as pemmican, in which much nutriment is contained in comparatively little bulk. I also secured in the car a pair of pigeons and a cat. It was now nearly daybreak, and I thought it high time to take my departure. Dropping a lighted cigar on the ground, as if by accident, I took the opportunity, in stooping to pick it up, of igniting privately the piece of slow match, whose end, as I said before, protruded a very little beyond the lower rim of one of the smaller casks. This manoeuvre was totally unperceived on the part of the three duns, and, jumping into the car, I immediately cut the single cord which held me to the earth, and was pleased to find that I shot upwards, rapidly carrying with all ease one hundred and seventy-five pounds of leaden ballast, and able to have carried up as many more.
Scarcely, however, had I attained the height of fifty yards, when, roaring and rumbling up after me in the most horrible and tumultuous manner, came so dense a hurricane of fire, and smoke, and sulphur, and legs, and arms, and gravel, and burning wood, and blazing metal, that my very heart sunk within me, and I fell down in the bottom of the car, trembling with unmitigated terror. Indeed I now perceived that I had entirely overdone the business, and that the main consequences of the shock were yet to be experienced. Accordingly, in less than a second, I felt all the blood in my body rushing to my temples, and, immediately thereupon, a concussion, which I shall never forget, burst abruptly through the night, and seemed to rip the very firmament asunder. When I afterwards had time for reflection, I did not fail to attribute the extreme violence of the explosion, as regarded myself, to its proper cause--my situation directly above it, and in the exact line of its greatest power. But at the time I thought only of preserving my life. The balloon at first collapsed--then furiously expanded--then whirled round and round with horrible velocity--and finally, reeling and staggering like a drunken man, hurled me with great force over the rim of the car, and left me dangling, at a terrific height, with my head downwards, and my face outwards from the balloon, by a piece of slender cord about three feet in length, which hung accidentally through a crevice near the bottom of the wicker- work, and in which, as I fell, my left foot became most providentially entangled. It is impossible--utterly impossible--to form any adequate idea of the horror of my situation. I gasped convulsively for breath-- a shudder resembling a fit of the ague agitated every nerve and muscle in my frame--I felt my eyes starting from their sockets--a horrible nausea overwhelmed me--and at length I fainted away.
How long I remained in this state, it is impossible to say. It must, however, have been no inconsiderable time, for when I partially recovered the sense of existence, I found the day breaking, and the balloon at a prodigious height over a wilderness of ocean, and not a trace of land to be discovered far and wide within the limits of the vast horizon. My sensations, however, upon thus recovering, were by no means so rife with agony as might have been anticipated. Indeed there was much of incipient madness in the calm survey which I began to take of my situation. I drew up to my eyes each of my hands, one after the other, and wondered what occurrence could have given rise to the swelling of the veins, and the horrible blackness of the finger nails. I afterwards carefully examined my head, shaking it repeatedly, and feeling it with minute attention, until I succeeded in satisfying myself that it was not--as I had more than half suspected--larger than my balloon. Then, in a knowing manner, I felt in both my breeches pockets, and missing therefrom a set of tablets and a tooth-pick case, I endeavored to account for their disappearance, and, not being able to do so, felt inexpressibly chagrined. It now occurred to me that I suffered great uneasiness in the joint of my left ankle, and a dim consciousness of my situation began to glimmer through my mind. But, strange to say! I was neither astonished nor horror-stricken. If I felt any emotion at all, it was a kind of chuckling satisfaction at the cleverness I was about to display in extricating myself from this dilemma; and I never, for a moment, looked upon my ultimate safety as a question susceptible of doubt. For a few minutes I remained wrapped in the profoundest meditation. I have a distinct recollection of frequently compressing my lips, putting my forefinger, to the side of my nose, and making use of other gesticulations and grimaces common to men who, at ease in their arm-chairs, meditate upon matters of intricacy or importance. Having, as I thought, sufficiently collected my ideas, I now, with great caution and deliberation, put my hands behind my back, and unfastened the large iron buckle which belonged to the waistband of my inexpressibles. This buckle had three teeth, which, being somewhat rusty, turned with great difficulty upon their axis. I brought them however, after some trouble, at right angles to the body of the buckle, and was glad to find them remain firm in that position. Holding the instrument thus obtained within my teeth, I now proceeded to untie the knot of my cravat. I had to rest several times before I could accomplish this manoeuvre--but it was at length accomplished. To one end of the cravat I then made fast the buckle, and the other end I tied, for greater security, tightly around my wrist. Drawing now my body upwards, with a prodigious exertion of muscular force, I succeeded, at the very first trial, in throwing the buckle over the car, and entangling it, as I had anticipated, in the circular rim of the wicker-work.
My body was now inclined towards the side of the car, at an angle of about forty-five degrees--but it must not be understood that I was therefore only forty-five degrees below the perpendicular. So far from it, I still lay nearly level with the plane of the horizon--for the change of situation which I had acquired, had forced the bottom of the car considerably outwards from my position, which was accordingly one of the most imminent and deadly peril. It should be remembered, however, that when I fell, in the first instance, from the car, if I had fallen with my face turned towards the balloon, instead of turned outwardly from it as it actually was--or if, in the second place, the cord by which I was suspended had chanced to hang over the upper edge, instead of through a crevice near the bottom of the car,--I say it may readily be conceived that, in either of these supposed cases, I should have been unable to accomplish even as much as I had now accomplished, and the wonderful adventures of Hans Phaal would have been utterly lost to posterity. I had therefore every reason to be grateful-- although, in point of fact, I was still too stupid to be anything at all, and hung for, I suppose, a quarter of an hour, in that extraordinary manner, without making the slightest farther exertion whatsoever, and in a singularly tranquil state of idiotic enjoyment. But this feeling did not fail to die rapidly away, and thereunto succeeded horror, and dismay, and a chilling sense of utter helplessness and ruin. In fact, the blood so long accumulating in the vessels of my head and throat, and which had hitherto buoyed up my spirits with madness and delirium, had now begun to retire within their proper channels, and the distinctness which was thus added to my perception of the danger, merely served to deprive me of the self- possession and courage to encounter it. But this weakness was, luckily for me, of no very long duration. In good time came to my rescue the spirit of despair, and with frantic cries and convulsive struggles, I jerked my way bodily upwards, till, at length, clutching with a vice- like grip the long-desired rim, I writhed my person over it, and fell headlong and shuddering within the car.
It was not until some time afterwards that I recovered myself sufficiently to attend to the ordinary cares of the balloon. I then, however, examined it with attention, and found it, to my great relief, uninjured. My implements were all safe, and I had, fortunately, lost neither ballast nor provisions. Indeed, I had so well secured them in their places, that such an accident was entirely out of the question. Looking at my watch, I found it six o'clock. I was still rapidly ascending, and my barometer showed a present altitude of three and three-quarter miles. Immediately beneath me in the ocean, lay a small black object, slightly oblong in shape, seemingly about the size, and in every way bearing a great resemblance to one of those childish toys called a domino. Bringing my spy-glass to bear upon it, I plainly discerned it to be a British ninety-four gun ship, close-hauled, and pitching heavily in the sea with her head to the W.S.W. Besides this ship, I saw nothing but the ocean and the sky, and the sun, which had long arisen.
It is now high time that I should explain to your Excellencies the object of my perilous voyage. Your Excellencies will bear in mind, that distressed circumstances in Rotterdam had at length driven me to the resolution of committing suicide. It was not, however, that to life itself I had any positive disgust--but that I was harassed beyond endurance by the adventitious miseries attending my situation. In this state of mind--wishing to live, yet wearied with life--the treatise at the stall of the bookseller opened a resource to my imagination. I then finally made up my mind. I determined to depart, yet live--to leave the world, yet continue to exist--in short, to drop enigmas, I resolved, let what would ensue, to force a passage--if I could--to the moon. Now, lest I should be supposed more of a madman than I actually am, I will detail, as well as I am able, the considerations which led me to believe that an achievement of this nature, although without doubt difficult, and incontestably full of danger, was not absolutely, to a bold spirit, beyond the confines of the possible.
The moon's actual distance from the earth was the first thing to be attended to. Now, the mean or average interval between the centres of the two planets is 59.9643 of the earth's equatorial radii, or only about 237000 miles. I say the mean or average interval. But it must be borne in mind, that the form of the moon's orbit being an elipse of eccentricity amounting to no less than 0.05484 of the major semi-axis of the elipse itself, and the earth's centre being situated in its focus, if I could, in any manner, contrive to meet the moon, as it were, in its perigee, the above-mentioned distance would be materially diminished. But to say nothing, at present, of this possibility, it was very certain, that at all events, from the 237000 miles I should have to deduct the radius of the earth, say 4000, and the radius of the moon, say 1080, in all 5080, leaving an actual interval to be traversed, under average circumstances, of 231920 miles. Now this, I reflected, was no very extraordinary distance. Travelling on land has been repeatedly accomplished at the rate of thirty miles per hour, and indeed a much greater speed may be anticipated. But even at this velocity, it would take me no more than 322 days to reach the surface of the moon. There were, however, many particulars inducing me to believe that my average rate of travelling might possibly very much exceed that of thirty miles per hour, and, as these considerations did not fail to make a deep impression upon my mind, I will mention them more fully hereafter.
The next point to be regarded was a matter of far greater importance. From indications afforded by the barometer, we find that, in ascensions from the surface of the earth, we have, at the height of 1000 feet, left below us about one-thirtieth of the entire mass of atmospheric air--that at 10600, we have ascended through nearly one- third--and that at 18000, which is not far from the elevation of Cotopaxi, we have surmounted one-half of the material, or, at all events, one-half the ponderable body of air incumbent upon our globe. It is also calculated, that at an altitude not exceeding the hundredth part of the earth's diameter--that is, not exceeding eighty miles--the rarefaction would be so excessive, that animal life could, in no manner, be sustained, and moreover, that the most delicate means we possess of ascertaining the presence of the atmosphere, would be inadequate to assure us of its existence. But I did not fail to perceive that these latter calculations are founded altogether on our experimental knowledge of the properties of air, and the mechanical laws regulating its dilation and compression in what may be called, comparatively speaking, the immediate vicinity of the earth itself; and, at the same time, it is taken for granted, that animal life is, and must be, essentially incapable of modification at any given unattainable distance from the surface. Now, all such reasoning, and from such data, must of course be simply analogical. The greatest height ever reached by man, was that of 25000 feet, attained in the aeronautic expedition of Messieurs Gay-Lussac and Biot. This is a moderate altitude, even when compared with the eighty miles in question; and I could not help thinking that the subject admitted room for doubt, and great latitude for speculation.
But, in point of fact, an ascension being made to any stated altitude, the ponderable quantity of air surmounted in any farther ascension, is by no means in proportion to the additional height ascended, (as may be plainly seen from what has been stated before,) but in a ratio constantly decreasing. It is therefore evident that, ascend as high as we may, we cannot, literally speaking, arrive at a limit beyond which no atmosphere is to be found. It must exist, I argued--it may exist in a state of infinite rarefaction.
On the other hand, I was aware that arguments have not been wanting to prove the existence of a real and definite limit to the atmosphere, beyond which there is absolutely no air whatsoever. But a circumstance which has been left out of view by those who contend for such a limit, seemed to me, although no positive refutation of their creed, still a point worthy very serious investigation. On comparing the intervals between the successive arrivals of Encke's comet at its perihelion, after giving credit, in the most exact manner, for all the disturbances or perturbations due to the attractions of the planets, it appears that the periods are gradually diminishing--that is to say--the major axis of the comet's elipse is growing shorter, in a slow but perfectly regular decrease. Now, this is precisely what ought to be the case, if we suppose a resistance experienced by the comet from an extremely rare ethereal medium pervading the regions of its orbit. For it is evident that such a medium must, in retarding its velocity, increase its centripetal, by weakening its centrifugal force. In other words, the sun's attraction would be constantly attaining greater power, and the comet would be drawn nearer at every revolution. Indeed, there is no other way of accounting for the variation in question. But again. The real diameter of the same comet's nebulosity, is observed to contract rapidly as it approaches the sun, and dilate with equal rapidity in its departure towards its aphelion. Was I not justifiable in supposing, with M. Valz, that this apparent condensation of volume has its origin in the compression of the same ethereal medium I have spoken of before, and which is only denser in proportion to its solar vicinity? The lenticular-shaped phenomenon, also, called the zodiacal light(*), was a matter worthy of attention. This radiance, so apparent in the tropics, and which cannot be mistaken for any meteoric lustre, extends from the horizon obliquely upwards, and follows generally the direction of the sun's equator. It appeared to me evidently in the nature of a rare atmosphere extending from the sun outwards, beyond the orbit of Venus at least, and I believed indefinitely farther.(**) Indeed, this medium I could not suppose confined to the path of the comet's elipse, or the immediate neighborhood of the sun. It was easy, on the contrary, to imagine it pervading the entire regions of our planetary system, condensed into what we call atmosphere at the planets themselves, and in some of them modified by considerations, so to speak, purely geological.
[* The zodiacal light is probably what the ancients called Trabes. Emicant Trabes quos docos vocant.--Pliny lib. 2, p. 26.]
[** Since the original publication of Hans Phaall I find that Mr. Green, of Nassan-balloon notoriety, and other late aeronauts, deny the assertions of Humboldt, in this respect, and speak of a decreasing inconvenience--precisely in accordance with the theory here urged in a mere spirit of banter.]
Having adopted this view of the subject, I had little further hesitation. Granting that on my passage I should meet with atmosphere essentially the same as at the surface of the earth, I conceived that, by means of the very ingenious apparatus of M. Grimm, I should readily be enabled to condense it in sufficient quantities for the purpose of respiration. This would remove the chief obstacle in a journey to the moon. I had indeed spent some money and great labor in adapting the apparatus to the purposes intended, and I confidently looked forward to its successful application, if I could manage to complete the voyage within any reasonable period. This brings me back to the rate at which it might be possible to travel.
It is true that balloons, in the first stage of their ascensions from the earth, are known to rise with a velocity comparatively moderate. Now, the power of elevation lies altogether in the superior lightness of the gas in the balloon, compared with the atmospheric air; and, at first sight, it does not appear probable that, as the balloon acquires altitude, and consequently arrives successively in atmospheric strata of densities rapidly diminishing--I say, it does not appear at all reasonable that, in this its progress upwards, the original velocity should be accelerated. On the other hand, I was not aware that, in any recorded ascension, a diminution was apparent in the absolute rate of ascent--although such should have been the case, if on account of nothing else, on account of the escape of gas through balloons illconstructed, and varnished with no better material than the ordinary varnish. It seemed, therefore, that the effect of such an escape was only sufficient to counterbalance the effect of some accelerating power. I now considered, that provided in my passage I found the medium I had imagined, and provided it should prove to be actually and essentially what we denominate atmospheric air, it could make comparatively little difference at what extreme state of rarefaction I should discover it--that is to say, in regard to my power of ascending--for the gas in the balloon would not only be itself subject to a rarefaction partially similar, (in proportion to the occurrence of which, I could suffer an escape of so much as would be requisite to prevent explosion,) but, being what it was, would still, at all events, continue specifically lighter than any compound whatever of mere nitrogen and oxygen. In the meantime the force of gravitation would be constantly diminishing, in proportion to the squares of the distances, and thus, with a velocity prodigiously accelerating, I should at length arrive in those distant regions where the power of the earth's attraction would be superseded by the moon's. In accordance with these ideas, I did not think it worth while to encumber myself with more provisions than would be sufficient for a period of forty days.
There was still, however, another difficulty which occasioned me some little disquietude. It has been observed, that in balloon ascensions to any considerable height, besides the pain attending respiration, great uneasiness is experienced about the head and body, often accompanied with bleeding at the nose, and other symptoms of an alarming kind, and growing more and more inconvenient in proportion to the altitude attained.(*) This was a reflection of a nature somewhat startling. Was it not probable that these symptoms would increase indefinitely, or at least until terminated by death itself? I finally thought not. Their origin was to be looked for in the progressive removal of the customary atmospheric pressure upon the surface of the body, and consequent distention of the superficial blood-vessels--not in any positive disorganization of the animal system, as in the case of difficulty in breathing, where the atmospheric density is chemically insufficient for the purpose of a due renovation of blood in a ventricle of the heart. Unless for default of this renovation, I could see no reason, therefore, why life could not be sustained even in a vacuum--for the expansion and compression of chest, commonly called breathing, is action purely muscular, and the cause, not the effect, of respiration. In a word, I conceived that, as the body should become habituated to the want of atmospheric pressure, these sensations of pain would gradually diminish, and to endure them while they continued, I relied strongly upon the iron hardihood of my constitution.
[* Hevelius writes that he has several times found, in skies perfectly clear, when even stars of the sixth and seventh magnitude were conspicuous, that, at the same altitude of the moon, at the same elongation from the earth, and with one and the same excellent telescope, the moon and its maculæ did not appear equally lucid at all times. From the circumstances of the observation, it is evident that the cause of this phenomenon is not either in our air, in the tube, in the moon, or in the eye of the spectator, but must be looked for in something (an atmosphere?) existing about the moon.
Cassini frequently observed Saturn, Jupiter, and the fixed stars, when approaching the moon to occultation, to have their circular figure changed into an oval one, and, in other occultations, he found no alteration of figure at all. Hence it might be supposed that at some times and not at others, there is a dense matter encompassing the moon wherein the rays of the stars are refracted.]
Thus, may it please your Excellencies, I have detailed some, though by no means all the considerations which led me to form the project of a lunar voyage. I shall now proceed to lay before you the result of an attempt so apparently audacious in conception, and, at all events, so utterly unparalleled in the annals of human kind.
Having attained the altitude before mentioned, that is to say, three miles and three-quarters, I threw out from the car a quantity of feathers, and found that I still ascended with sufficient rapidity-- there was, therefore, no necessity for discharging any ballast. I was glad of this, for I wished to retain with me as much weight as I could carry, for reasons which will be explained in the sequel. I as yet suffered no bodily inconvenience, breathing with great freedom, and feeling no pain whatever in the head. The cat was lying very demurely upon my coat, which I had taken off, and eyeing the pigeons with an air of nonchalance. These latter being tied by the leg, to prevent their escape, were busily employed in picking up some grains of rice scattered for them in the bottom of the car.
At twenty minutes past six o'clock, the barometer showed an elevation of 26,400 feet, or five miles to a fraction. The prospect seemed unbounded. Indeed, it is very easily calculated by means of spherical geometry, what a great extent of the earth's area I beheld. The convex surface of any segment of a sphere is, to the entire surface of the sphere itself, as the versed sine of the segment is to the diameter of the sphere. Now, in my case, the versed sine--that is to say, the thickness of the segment beneath me, was about equal to my elevation, or the elevation of the point of sight above the surface. "As five miles, then, to eight thousand," would express the proportion of the earth's area seen by me. In other words, I beheld as much as a sixteen-hundredth part of the whole surface of the globe. The sea appeared unruffled as a mirror, although, by means of the spyglass, I could perceive it to be in a state of violent agitation. The ship was no longer visible, having drifted away, apparently, to the eastward. I now began to experience, at intervals, severe pain in the head, especially about the ears--still, however, breathing with tolerable freedom. The cat and pigeons seemed to suffer no inconvenience whatsoever.
At twenty minutes before seven, the balloon entered within a long series of dense cloud, which put me to great trouble, by damaging my condensing apparatus, and wetting me to the skin. This was, to be sure, a singular rencontre, for I had not believed it possible that a cloud of this nature could be sustained at so, great an elevation. I thought it best, however, to throw out two five-pound pieces of ballast, reserving still a weight of one hundred and sixty-five pounds.
Upon so doing, I soon rose above the difficulty, and perceived immediately, that I had obtained a great increase in my rate of ascent. In a few seconds after my leaving the cloud, a flash of vivid lightning shot from one end of it to the other, and caused it to kindle up, throughout its vast extent, like a mass of ignited and glowing charcoal. This, it must be remembered, was in the broad light of day. No fancy may picture the sublimity which might have been exhibited by a similar phenomenon taking place amid the darkness of the night. Hell itself might then have found a fitting image. Even as it was, my hair stood on end, while I gazed afar down within the yawning abysses, letting imagination descend, as it were, and stalk about in the strange vaulted halls, and ruddy gulfs, and red ghastly chasms of the hideous and unfathomable fire. I had indeed made a narrow escape. Had the balloon remained a very short while longer within the cloud--that is to say--had not the inconvenience of getting wet determined me to discharge the ballast, inevitable ruin would have been the consequence. Such perils, although little considered, are perhaps the greatest which must be encountered in balloons. I had by this time, however, attained too great an elevation to be any longer uneasy on this head.
I was now rising rapidly, and by seven o'clock the barometer indicated an altitude of no less than nine miles and a half. I began to find great difficulty in drawing my breath. My head too was excessively painful; and, having felt for some time a moisture about my cheeks, I at length discovered it to be blood, which was oozing quite fast from the drums of my ears. My eyes, also, gave me great uneasiness. Upon passing the hand over them they seemed to have protruded from their sockets in no inconsiderable degree, and all objects in the car, and even the balloon itself, appeared distorted to my vision. These symptoms were more than I had expected, and occasioned me some alarm. At this juncture, very imprudently, and without consideration, I threw out from the car three five-pound pieces of ballast. The accelerated rate of ascent thus obtained carried me too rapidly, and without sufficient gradation, into a highly rarefied stratum of the atmosphere, and the result had nearly proved fatal to my expedition and to myself. I was suddenly seized with a spasm which lasted for better than five minutes, and even when this, in a measure, ceased, I could catch my breath only at long intervals, and in a gasping manner--bleeding all the while copiously at the nose and ears, and even slightly at the eyes. The pigeons appeared distressed in the extreme, and struggled to escape; while the cat mewed piteously, and, with her tongue hanging out of her mouth, staggered to and fro in the car as if under the influence of poison. I now too late discovered the great rashness I had been guilty of in discharging the ballast, and my agitation was excessive. I anticipated nothing less than death, and death in a few minutes. The physical suffering I underwent contributed also to render me nearly incapable of making any exertion for the preservation of my life. I had indeed, little power of reflection left, and the violence of the pain in my head seemed to be greatly on the increase. Thus I found that my senses would shortly give way altogether, and I had already clutched one of the valve ropes with the view of attempting a descent, when the recollection of the trick I had played the three creditors, and the inevitable consequences to myself, should I return to Rotterdam, operated to deter me for the moment. I lay down in the bottom of the car, and endeavored to collect my faculties. In this I so far succeeded as to determine upon the experiment of losing blood. Having no lancet, however, I was constrained to perform the operation in the best manner I was able, and finally succeeded in opening a vein in my right arm, with the blade of my penknife. The blood had hardly commenced flowing when I experienced a sensible relief, and by the time I had lost about half a moderate basin full, most of the worst symptoms had abandoned me entirely. I nevertheless did not think it expedient to attempt getting on my feet immediately; but, having tied up my arm as well as I could, I lay still for about a quarter of an hour. At the end of this time I arose, and found myself freer from absolute pain of any kind than I had been during the last hour and a quarter of my ascension. The difficulty of breathing, however, was diminished in a very slight degree, and I found that it would soon be positively necessary to make use of my condenser. In the meantime looking towards the cat, who was again snugly stowed away upon my coat, I discovered, to my infinite surprise, that she had taken the opportunity of my indisposition to bring into light a litter of three little kittens. This was an addition to the number of passengers on my part altogether unexpected; but I was pleased at the occurrence. It would afford me a chance of bringing to a kind of test the truth of a surmise, which, more than anything else, had influenced me in attempting this ascension. I had imagined that the habitual endurance of the atmospheric pressure at the surface of the earth was the cause, or nearly so, of the pain attending animal existence at a distance above the surface. Should the kittens be found to suffer uneasiness in an equal degree with their mother, I must consider my theory in fault, but a failure to do so I should look upon as a strong confirmation of my idea.
By eight o'clock I had actually attained an elevation of seventeen miles above the surface of the earth. Thus it seemed to me evident that my rate of ascent was not only on the increase, but that the progression would have been apparent in a slight degree even had I not discharged the ballast which I did. The pains in my head and ears returned, at intervals, with violence, and I still continued to bleed occasionally at the nose: but, upon the whole, I suffered much less than might have been expected. I breathed, however, at every moment, with more and more difficulty, and each inhalation was attended with a troublesome spasmodic action of the chest. I now unpacked the condensing apparatus, and got it ready for immediate use. The view of the earth, at this period of my ascension, was beautiful indeed. To the westward, the northward, and the southward, as far as I could see, lay a boundless sheet of apparently unruffled ocean, which every moment gained a deeper and a deeper tint of blue, and began already to assume a slight appearance of convexity. At a vast distance to the eastward, although perfectly discernible, extended the islands of Great Britain, the entire Atlantic coasts of France and Spain, with a small portion of the northern part of the continent of Africa. Of individual edifices not a trace could be discovered, and the proudest cities of mankind had utterly faded away from the face of the earth. From the rock of Gibraltar, now dwindled into a dim speck, the dark Mediterranean sea, dotted with shining islands as the heaven is dotted with stars, spread itself out to the eastward as far as my vision extended, until its entire mass of waters seemed at length to tumble headlong over the abyss of the horizon, and I found myself listening on tiptoe for the echoes of the mighty cataract. Overhead, the sky was of a jetty black, and the stars were brilliantly visible.
The pigeons about this time seeming to undergo much suffering, I determined upon giving them their liberty. I first untied one of them--a beautiful gray-mottled pigeon--and placed him upon the rim of the wicker-work. He appeared extremely uneasy, looking anxiously around him, fluttering his wings, and making a loud cooing noise--but could not be persuaded to trust himself from off the car. I took him up at last, and threw him to about half-a-dozen yards from the balloon. He made, however, no attempt to descend as I had expected, but struggled with great vehemence to get back, uttering at the same time very shrill and piercing cries. He at length succeeded in regaining his former station on the rim--but had hardly done so when his head dropped upon his breast, and he fell dead within the car. The other one did-not prove so unfortunate. To prevent his following the example of his companion, and accomplishing a return, I threw him downwards with all my force, and was pleased to find him continue his descent, with great velocity, making use of his wings with ease, and in a perfectly natural manner. In a very short time he was out of sight, and I have no doubt he reached home in safety. Puss, who seemed in a great measure recovered from her illness, now made a hearty meal of the dead bird, and then went to sleep with much apparent satisfaction. Her kittens were quite lively, and so far evinced not the slightest sign of any uneasiness whatever.
At a quarter-past eight, being able no longer to draw breath at all without the most intolerable pain, I proceeded, forthwith, to adjust around the car the apparatus belonging to the condenser. This apparatus will require some little explanation, and your Excellencies will please to bear in mind that my object, in the first place, was to surround myself and car entirely with a barricade against the highly rarefied atmosphere in which I was existing--with the intention of introducing within this barricade, by means of my condenser, a quantity of this same atmosphere sufficiently condensed for the purposes of respiration. With this object in view I had prepared a very strong, perfectly air-tight, but flexible gumelastic bag. In this bag, which was of sufficient dimensions, the entire car was in a manner placed. That is to say, it (the bag) was drawn over the whole bottom of the car--up its sides--and so on, along the outside of the ropes, to the upper rim or hoop where the net-work is attached. Having pulled the bag up in this way, and formed a complete enclosure on all sides, and at bottom, it was now necessary to fasten up its top or mouth, by passing its material over the hoop of the net-work--in other words between the net-work and the hoop. But if the net-work was separated from the hoop to admit this passage, what was to sustain the car in the meantime? Now the net-work was not permanently fastened to the hoop, but attached by a series of running loops or nooses. I therefore undid only a few of these loops at one time, leaving the car suspended by the remainder. Having thus inserted a portion of the cloth forming the upper part of the bag, I refastened the loops--not to the hoop, for that would have been impossible, since the cloth now intervened,--but to a series of large buttons, affixed to the cloth itself, about three feet below the mouth of the bag--the intervals between the buttons having been made to correspond to the intervals between the loops. This done, a few more of the loops were unfastened from the rim, a farther portion of the cloth introduced, and the disengaged loops then connected with their proper buttons. In this way it was possible to insert the whole upper part of the bag between the net-work and the hoop. It is evident that the hoop would now drop down within the car, while the whole weight of the car itself, with all its contents, would be held up merely by the strength of the buttons. This, at first sight, would seem an inadequate dependence, but it was by no means so, for the buttons were not only very strong in themselves, but so close together that a very slight portion of the whole weight was supported by any one of them. Indeed, had the car and contents been three times heavier than they were, I should not have been at all uneasy. I now raised up the hoop again within the covering of gum-elastic, and propped it at nearly its former height by means of three light poles prepared for the occasion. This was done, of course, to keep the bag distended at the top, and to preserve the lower part of the net-work in its proper situation. All that now remained was to fasten up the mouth of the enclosure; and this was readily accomplished by gathering the folds of the material together, and twisting them up very tightly on the inside by means of a kind of stationary tourniquet.
In the sides of the covering thus adjusted round the car, had been inserted three circular panes of thick but clear glass, through which I could see without difficulty around me in every horizontal direction. In that portion of the cloth forming the bottom, was likewise a fourth window, of the same kind, and corresponding with a small aperture in the floor of the car itself. This enabled me to see perpendicularly down, but having found it impossible to place any similar contrivance overhead, on account of the peculiar manner of closing up the opening there, and the consequent wrinkles in the cloth, I could expect to see no objects situated directly in my zenith. This, of course, was a matter of little consequence--for, had I even been able to place a window at top, the balloon itself would have prevented my making any use of it.
About a foot below one of the side windows was a circular opening eight inches in diameter, and fitted with a brass rim adapted in its inner edge to the windings of a screw. In this rim was screwed the large tube of the condenser, the body of the machine being, of course, within the chamber of gum-elastic. Through this tube a quantity of the rare atmosphere circumjacent being drawn by means of a vacuum created in the body of the machine, was thence discharged in a state of condensation to mingle with the thin air already in the chamber. This operation, being repeated several times, at length filled the chamber with atmosphere proper for all the purposes of respiration. But in so confined a space it would in a short time necessarily become foul, and unfit for use from frequent contact with the lungs. It was then ejected by a small valve at the bottom of the car--the dense air readily sinking into the thinner atmosphere below. To avoid the inconvenience of making a total vacuum at any moment within the chamber, this purification was never accomplished all at once, but in a gradual manner,--the valve being opened only for a few seconds, then closed again, until one or two strokes from the pump of the condenser had supplied the place of the atmosphere ejected. For the sake of experiment I had put the cat and kittens in a small basket, and suspended it outside the car to a button at the bottom, close by the valve, through which I could feed them at any moment when necessary. I did this at some little risk, and before closing the mouth of the chamber, by reaching under the car with one of the poles before- mentioned to which a hook had been attached.
By the time I had fully completed these arrangements and filled the chamber as explained, it wanted only ten minutes of nine o'clock. During the whole period of my being thus employed I endured the most terrible distress from difficulty of respiration, and bitterly did I repent the negligence, or rather fool-hardiness, of which I had been guilty in putting off to the very last moment a matter of so much importance. But having at length accomplished it, I soon began to reap the benefit of my invention. Once again I breathed with perfect freedom and ease--and indeed why should I not? I was also agreeably surprised to find myself, in a great measure, relieved from the violent pains which had hitherto tormented me. A slight headache, accompanied with a sensation of fulness or distention about the wrists, the ankles, and the throat, was nearly all of which I had now to complain. Thus it seemed evident that a greater part of the uneasiness attending the removal of atmospheric pressure had actually worn off, as I had expected, and that much of the pain endured for the last two hours should have been attributed altogether to the effects of a deficient respiration.
At twenty minutes before nine o'clock--that is to say--a short time prior to my closing up the mouth of the chamber, the mercury attained its limit, or ran down, in the barometer, which, as I mentioned before, was one of an extended construction. It then indicated an altitude on my part of 132000 feet, or five-and-twenty miles, and I consequently surveyed at that time an extent of the earth's area amounting to no less than the three-hundred-andtwentieth part of its entire superficies. At nine o'clock I had again entirely lost sight of land to the eastward, but not before I became fully aware that the balloon was drifting rapidly to the N.N.W. The convexity of the ocean beneath me was very evident indeed--although my view was often interrupted by the masses of cloud which floated to and fro. I observed now that even the lightest vapors never rose to more than ten miles above the level of the sea.
At half-past nine I tried the experiment of throwing out a handful of feathers through the valve. They did not float as I had expected--but dropped down perpendicularly, like a bullet, en masse, and with the greatest velocity--being out of sight in a very few seconds. I did not at first know what to make of this extraordinary phenomenon: not being able to believe that my rate of ascent had, of a sudden, met with so prodigious an acceleration. But it soon occurred to me that the atmosphere was now far too rare to sustain even the feathers--that they actually fell, as they appeared to do, with great rapidity--and that I had been surprised by the united velocities of their descent and my own elevation.
By ten o'clock I found that I had very little to occupy my immediate attention. Affairs went on swimmingly, and I believed the balloon to be going upwards with a speed increasing momently, although I had no longer any means of ascertaining the progression of the increase. I suffered no pain or uneasiness of any kind, and enjoyed better spirits than I had at any period since my departure from Rotterdam, busying myself now in examining the state of my various apparatus, and now in regenerating the atmosphere within the chamber. This latter point I determined to attend to at regular intervals of forty minutes, more on account of the preservation of my health, than from so frequent a renovation being absolutely necessary. In the meanwhile I could not help making anticipations. Fancy revelled in the wild and dreamy regions of the moon. Imagination, feeling herself for once unshackled, roamed at will among the ever-changing wonders of a shadowy and unstable land. Now there were hoary and time-honored forests, and craggy precipices, and waterfalls tumbling with a loud noise into abysses without a bottom. Then I came suddenly into still noonday solitudes where no wind of heaven ever intruded, and where vast meadows of poppies, and slender, lily-looking flowers spread themselves out a weary distance, all silent and motionless forever. Then again I journeyed far down away into another country where it was all one dim and vague lake, with a boundary-line of clouds. And out of this melancholy water arose a forest of tall eastern trees, like a wilderness of dreams. And I bore in mind that the shadows of the trees which fell upon the lake remained not on the surface where they fell-- but sunk slowly and steadily down, and commingled with the waves, while from the trunks of the trees other shadows were continually coming out, and taking the place of their brothers thus entombed. "This, then," I said thoughtfully, "is the very reason why the waters of this lake grow blacker with age, and more melancholy as the hours run on." But fancies such as these were not the sole possessors of my brain. Horrors of a nature most stern and most appalling would too frequently obtrude themselves upon my mind, and shake the innermost depths of my soul with the bare supposition of their possibility. Yet I would not suffer my thoughts for any length of time to dwell upon these latter speculations, rightly judging the real and palpable dangers of the voyage sufficient for my undivided attention.
At five o'clock P.M., being engaged in regenerating the atmosphere within the chamber, I took that opportunity of observing the cat and kittens through the valve. The cat herself appeared to suffer again very much, and I had no hesitation in attributing her uneasiness chiefly to a difficulty in breathing--but my experiment with the kittens had resulted very strangely. I had expected of course to see them betray a sense of pain, although in a less degree than their mother; and this would have been sufficient to confirm my opinion concerning the habitual endurance of atmospheric pressure. But I was not prepared to find them, upon close examination, evidently enjoying a high degree of health, breathing with the greatest ease and perfect regularity, and evincing not the slightest sign of any uneasiness whatever. I could only account for all this by extending my theory, and supposing that the highly rarefied atmosphere around might perhaps not be, as I had taken for granted, chemically insufficient for the purposes of life, and that a person born in such a medium might possibly be unaware of any inconvenience attending its inhalation, while, upon removal to the denser strata near the earth, he might endure tortures of a similar nature to those I had so lately experienced. It has since been to me a matter of deep regret that an awkward accident at this time occasioned me the loss of my little family of cats, and deprived me of the insight into this matter which a continued experiment might have afforded. In passing my hand through the valve with a cup of water for the old puss, the sleeve of my shirt became entangled in the loop which sustained the basket, and thus, in a moment, loosened it from the button. Had the whole actually vanished into air it could not have shot from my sight in a more abrupt and instantaneous manner. Positively there could not have intervened the tenth part of a second between the disengagement of the basket and its absolute and total disappearance with all that it contained. My good wishes followed it to the earth, but, of course, I had no hope that either cat or kittens would over live to tell the tale of their misfortune.
At six o'clock I perceived a great portion of the earth's visible area to the eastward involved in thick shadow, which continued to advance with great rapidity until, at five minutes before seven, the whole surface in view was enveloped in the darkness of night. It was not, however, until long after this time that the rays of the setting sun ceased to illumine the balloon; and this circumstance, although of course fully anticipated, did not fail to give me an infinite deal of pleasure. It was evident that, in the morning, I should behold the rising luminary many hours at least before the citizens of Rotterdam, in spite of their situation so much farther to the eastward, and thus, day after day, in proportion to the height ascended, would I enjoy the light of the sun for a longer and a longer period. I now determined to keep a journal of my passage, reckoning the days from one to twenty- four hours continuously, without taking into consideration the intervals of darkness.
At ten o'clock, feeling sleepy, I determined to lie down for the rest of the night--but here a difficulty presented itself, which, obvious as it may appear, had totally escaped my attention up to the very moment of which I am now speaking. If I went to sleep as I proposed, how could the atmosphere in the chamber be regenerated in the interim? To breathe it for more than an hour, at the farthest, would be a matter of impossibility; or if even this term could be extended to an hour and a quarter, the most ruinous consequences might ensue. The consideration of this dilemma gave me no little disquietude, and it will hardly be believed that, after the dangers I had undergone, I should look upon this business in so serious a light, as to give up all hope of accomplishing my ultimate design, and finally make up my mind to the necessity of a descent. But this hesitation was only momentary. I reflected that man is the veriest slave of custom--and that many points in the routine of his existence are deemed essentially important, which are only so at all by his having rendered them habitual. It was very certain that I could not do without sleep-- but I might easily bring myself to feel no inconvenience from being awakened at regular intervals of an hour during the whole period of my repose. It would require but five minutes at most, to regenerate the atmosphere in the fullest manner, and the only real difficulty was to contrive a method of arousing myself at the proper moment for so doing. But this was a question which, I am willing to confess, occasioned me no little trouble in its solution. To be sure, I had heard of the student who, to prevent his falling asleep over his books, held in one hand a ball of copper, the din of whose descent into a basin of the same metal on the floor beside his chair, served effectually to startle him up, if, at any moment, he should be overcome with drowsiness. My own case, however, was very different indeed, and left me no room for any similar idea--for I did not wish to keep awake, but to be aroused from slumber at regular intervals of time. I at length hit upon the following expedient, which, simple as it may seem, was hailed by me, at the moment of discovery, as an invention fully equal to that of the telescope, the steam-engine, or the art of printing itself.
It is necessary to premise that the balloon, at the elevation now attained, continued its course upwards with an even and undeviating ascent, and the car consequently followed with a steadiness so perfect that it would have been impossible to detect in it the slightest vacillation whatever. This circumstance favored me greatly in the project I now determined to adopt. My supply of water had been put on board in kegs containing five gallons each, and ranged very securely around the interior of the car. I unfastened one of these--took two ropes, and tied them tightly across the rim of the wicker-work from one side to the other, placing them about a foot apart and parallel, so as to form a kind of shelf, upon which I placed the keg and steadied it in a horizontal position. About eight inches immediately below these ropes, and four feet from the bottom of the car, I fastened another shelf--but made of thin plank, being the only similar piece of wood I had. Upon this latter shelf, and exactly beneath one of the rims of the keg a small earthen pitcher was deposited. I now bored a hole in the end of the keg over the pitcher, and fitted in a plug of soft wood, cut in a tapering or conical shape. This plug I pushed in or pulled out, as might happen, until, after a few experiments, it arrived at that exact degree of tightness, at which the water, oozing from the hole, and falling into the pitcher below, should fill the latter to the brim in the period of sixty minutes. This, of course, was a matter briefly and easily ascertained by noticing the proportion of the pitcher filled in any given time. Having arranged all this, the rest of the plan is obvious. My bed was so contrived upon the floor of the car, as to bring my head, in lying down, immediately below the mouth of the pitcher. It was evident, that, at the expiration of an hour, the pitcher, getting full, would be forced to run over, and to run over at the mouth, which was somewhat lower than the rim. It was also evident, that the water, thus falling from a height of better than four feet, could not do otherwise than fall upon my face, and that the sure consequence would be, to waken me up instantaneously, even from the soundest slumber in the world.
It was fully eleven by the time I had completed these arrangements, and I immediately betook myself to bed with full confidence in the efficiency of my invention. Nor in this matter was I disappointed. Punctually every sixty minutes was I aroused by my trusty chronometer, when, having emptied the pitcher into the bung-hole of the keg, and performed the duties of the condenser, I retired again to bed. These regular interruptions to my slumber caused me even less discomfort than I had anticipated, and when I finally arose for the day it was seven o'clock, and the sun had attained many degrees above the line of my horizon.
April 3d. I found the balloon at an immense height indeed, and the earth's apparent convexity increased in a material degree. Below me in the ocean lay a cluster of black specks, which undoubtedly were islands. Far away to the northward I perceived a thin, white, and exceedingly brilliant line or streak on the edge of the horizon, and I had no hesitation in supposing it to be the southern disk of the ices of the Polar sea. My curiosity was greatly excited, for I had hopes of passing on much farther to the north, and might possibly, at some period, find myself placed directly above the Pole itself. I now lamented that my great elevation would, in this case, prevent my taking as accurate a survey as I could wish. Much however might be ascertained. Nothing else of an extraordinary nature occurred during the day. My apparatus all continued in good order, and the balloon still ascended without any perceptible vacillation. The cold was intense, and obliged me to wrap up closely in an overcoat. When darkness came over the earth, I betook myself to bed, although it was for many hours afterwards broad daylight all around my immediate situation. The water-clock was punctual in its duty, and I slept until next morning soundly--with the exception of the periodical interruption.
April 4th. Arose in good health and spirits, and was astonished at the singular change which had taken place in the appearance of the sea. It had lost, in a great measure, the deep tint of blue it had hitherto worn, being now of a grayish-white, and of a lustre dazzling to the eye. The islands were no longer visible--whether they had passed down the horizon to the south-east, or whether my increasing elevation had left them out of sight, it is impossible to say. I was inclined however, to the latter opinion. The rim of ice to the northward, was growing more and more apparent. Cold by no means so intense. Nothing of importance occurred, and I passed the day in reading--having taken care to supply myself with books.
April 5th. Beheld the singular phenomenon of the sun rising while nearly the whole visible surface of the earth continued to be involved in darkness. In time, however, the light spread itself over all, and I again saw the line of ice to the northward. It was now very distinct, and appeared of a much darker hue than the waters of the ocean. I was evidently aproaching it, and with great rapidity. Fancied I could again distinguish a strip of land to the eastward--and one also to the westward--but could not be certain. Weather moderate. Nothing of any consequence happened during the day. Went early to bed.
April 6th. Was surprised at finding the rim of ice at a very moderate distance, and an immense field of the same material stretching away off to the horizon in the north. It was evident that if the balloon held its present course, it would soon arrive above the Frozen Ocean, and I had now little doubt of ultimately seeing the Pole. During the whole of the day I continued to near the ice. Towards night the limits of my horizon very suddenly and materially increased, owing undoubtedly to the earth's form being that of an oblate spheroid, and my arriving above the flattened regions in the vicinity of the Arctic circle. When darkness at length overtook me I went to bed in great anxiety, fearing to pass over the object of so much curiosity when I should have no opportunity of observing it.
April 7th. Arose early, and, to my great joy, at length beheld what there could be no hesitation in supposing the northern Pole itself. It was there, beyond a doubt, and immediately beneath my feet--but, alas! I had now ascended to so vast a distance that nothing could with accuracy be discerned. Indeed, to judge from the progression of the numbers indicating my various altitudes respectively at different periods, between six A.M. on the second of April, and twenty minutes before nine A.M. of the same day, (at which time the barometer ran down,) it might be fairly inferred that the balloon had now, at four o'clock in the morning of April the seventh, reached a height of not less certainly than 7254 miles above the surface of the sea. This elevation may appear immense, but the estimate upon which it is calculated gave a result in all probability far inferior to the truth. At all events I undoubtedly beheld the whole of the earth's major diameter--the entire northern hemisphere lay beneath me like a chart orthographically projected--and the great circle of the equator itself formed the boundary line of my horizon. Your Excellencies may, however, readily imagine that the confined regions hitherto unexplored within the limits of the Arctic circle, although situated directly beneath me, and therefore seen without any appearance of being foreshortened, were still, in themselves, comparatively too diminutive, and at too great a distance from the point of sight to admit of any very accurate examination. Nevertheless what could be seen was of a nature singular and exciting. Northwardly from that huge rim before mentioned, and which, with slight qualification, may be called the limit of human discovery in these regions, one unbroken, or nearly unbroken sheet of ice continues to extend. In the first few degrees of this its progress, its surface is very sensibly flattened-- farther on depressed into a plane--and finally, becoming not a little concave, it terminates at the Pole itself in a circular centre, sharply defined, whose apparent diameter subtended at the balloon an angle of about sixty-five seconds, and whose dusky hue, varying in intensity, was, at all times darker than any other spot upon the visible hemisphere, and occasionally deepened into the most absolute and impenetrable blackness. Farther than this little could be ascertained. By twelve o'clock the circular centre had materially decreased in circumference, and by seven P.M. I lost sight of it entirely--the balloon passing over the western limb of the ice, and floating away rapidly in the direction of the equator.
April 8th. Found a sensible diminution in the earth's apparent diameter, besides a material alteration in its general color and appearance. The whole visible area partook in different degrees of a tint of pale yellow, and in some portions had acquired a brilliancy even painful to the eye. My view downwards was also considerably impeded by the dense atmosphere in the vicinity of the surface being loaded with clouds, between whose masses I could only now and then obtain a glimpse of the earth itself. This difficulty of direct vision had troubled me more or less for the last forty-eight hours--but my present enormous elevation brought closer together, as it were, the floating bodies of vapor, and the inconvenience became, of course, more and more palpable in proportion to my ascent. Nevertheless I could easily perceive that the balloon now hovered above the range of great lakes in the continent of North America, and was holding a course due south which would soon bring me to the tropics. This circumstance did not fail to give me the most heartfelt satisfaction, and I hailed it as a happy omen of ultimate success. Indeed the direction I had hitherto taken had filled me with uneasiness; for it was evident that, had I continued it much longer, there would have been no possibility of my arriving at the moon at all, whose orbit is inclined to the ecliptic at only the small angle of 5 o 8' 48?.
April 9th. To-day, the earth's diameter was greatly diminished, and the color of the surface assumed hourly a deeper tint of yellow. The balloon kept steadily on her course to the southward, and arrived at nine P.M. over the northern edge of the Mexican Gulf.
April 10th. I was suddenly aroused from slumber, about five o'clock this morning, by a loud, crackling, and terrific sound, for which I could in no manner account. It was of very brief duration, but, while it lasted, resembled nothing in the world of which I had any previous experience. It is needless to say that I became excessively alarmed, having, in the first instance, attributed the noise to the bursting of the balloon. I examined all my apparatus, however, with great attention, and could discover nothing out of order. Spent a great part of the day in meditating upon an occurrence so extraordinary, but could find no means whatever of accounting for it. Went to bed dissatisfied, and in a state of great anxiety and agitation.
April 11th. Found a startling diminution in the apparent diameter of the earth, and a considerable increase, now observable for the first time, in that of the moon itself, which wanted only a few days of being full. It now required long and excessive labor to condense within the chamber sufficient atmospheric air for the sustenance of life.
April 12th. A singular alteration took place in regard to the direction of the balloon, and although fully anticipated, afforded me the most unequivocal delight. Having reached, in its former course, about the twentieth parallel of southern latitude, it turned off suddenly at an acute angle to the eastward, and thus proceeded throughout the day, keeping nearly, if not altogether, in the exact plane of the lunar elipse. What was worthy of remark, a very perceptible vacillation in the car was a consequence of this change of route--a vacillation which prevailed, in a more or less degree, for a period of many hours.
April 13th. Was again very much alarmed by a repetition of the loud crackling noise which terrified me on the tenth. Thought long upon the subject, but was unable to form any satisfactory conclusion. Great decrease in the earth's apparent diameter, which now subtended from the balloon an angle of very little more than twenty-five degrees. The moon could not be seen at all, being nearly in my zenith. I still continued in the plane of the elipse, but made little progress to the eastward.
April 14th. Extremely rapid decrease in the diameter of the earth. To- day I became strongly impressed with the idea, that the balloon was now actually running up the line of apsides to the point of perigee-- in other words, holding the direct course which would bring it immediately to the moon in that part of its orbit the nearest to the earth. The moon itself was directly over-head, and consequently hidden from my view. Great and long continued labor necessary for the condensation of the atmosphere.
April 15th. Not even the outlines of continents and seas could now be traced upon the earth with anything approaching to distinctness. About twelve o'clock I became aware, for the third time, of that unearthly and appalling sound which had so astonished me before. It now, however, continued for some moments and gathered horrible intensity as it continued. At length, while stupified and terror-stricken I stood in expectation of I know not what hideous destruction, the car vibrated with excessive violence, and a gigantic and flaming mass of some material which I could not distinguish, came with a voice of a thousand thunders, roaring and booming by the balloon. When my fears and astonishment had in some degree subsided, I had little difficulty in supposing it to be some mighty volcanic fragment ejected from that world to which I was so rapidly approaching, and, in all probability, one of that singular class of substances occasionally picked up on the earth and termed meteoric stones for want of a better appellation.
April 16th. To-day, looking upwards as well I could, through each of the side windows alternately, I beheld, to my great delight, a very small portion of the moon's disk protruding, as it were, on all sides beyond the huge circumference of the balloon. My agitation was extreme--for I had now little doubt of soon reaching the end of my perilous voyage. Indeed the labor now required by the condenser had increased to a most oppressive degree, and allowed me scarcely any respite from exertion. Sleep was a matter nearly out of the question. I became quite ill, and my frame trembled with exhaustion. It was impossible that human nature could endure this state of intense suffering much longer. During the now brief interval of darkness a meteoric stone again passed in my vicinity, and the frequency of these phenomena began to occasion me much anxiety and apprehension.
April 17th. This morning proved an epoch in my voyage. It will be remembered that, on the thirteenth, the earth subtended an angular breadth of twenty-five degrees. On the fourteenth, this had greatly diminished--on the fifteenth, a still more rapid decrease was observable--and on retiring for the night of the sixteenth I had noticed an angle of no more than about seven degrees and fifteen minutes. What, therefore, must have been my amazement on awakening from a brief and disturbed slumber on the morning of this day, the seventeenth, at finding the surface beneath me so suddenly and wonderfully augmented in volume as to subtend no less than thirty-nine degrees in apparent angular diameter! I was thunderstruck. No words-- no earthly expression can give any adequate idea of the extreme--the absolute horror and astonishment with which I was seized, possessed, and altogether overwhelmed. My knees tottered beneath me--my teeth chattered--my hair started up on end. "The balloon then had actually burst"--these were the first tumultuous ideas which hurried through my mind--"the balloon had positively burst. I was falling--falling-- falling--with the most intense, the most impetuous, the most unparalleled velocity. To judge from the immense distance already so quickly passed over, it could not be more than ten minutes, at the farthest, before I should meet the surface of the earth, and be hurled into annihilation." But at length reflection came to my relief. I paused--I considered--and I began to doubt. The matter was impossible. I could not in any reason have so rapidly come down. Besides, although I was evidently approaching the surface below me, it was with a speed by no means commensurate with the velocity I had at first so horribly conceived. This consideration served to calm the perturbation of my mind, and I finally succeeded in regarding the phenomenon in its proper point of view. In fact amazement must have fairly deprived me of my senses when I could not see the vast difference, in appearance, between the surface below me, and the surface of my mother earth. The latter was indeed over my head, and completely hidden by the balloon, while the moon--the moon itself in all its glory--lay beneath me, and at my feet.
The stupor and surprise produced in my mind by this extraordinary change in the posture of affairs was perhaps, after all, that part of the adventure least susceptible of explanation. For the bouleversement in itself was not only natural and inevitable, but had been long actually anticipated as a circumstance to be expected whenever I should arrive at that exact point of my voyage where the attraction of the planet should be superseded by the attraction of the satellite-- or, more precisely, where the gravitation of the balloon towards the earth should be less powerful than its gravitation towards the moon. To be sure I arose from a sound slumber, with all my senses in confusion, to the contemplation of a very startling phenomenon, and one which, although expected, was not expected at the moment. The revolution itself must, of course, have taken place in an easy and gradual manner, and it is by no means clear that, had I even been awake at the time of the occurrence, I should have been made aware of it by any internal evidence of an inversion--that is to say by any inconvenience or disarrangement either about my person or about my apparatus.
It is almost needless to say that upon coming to a due sense of my situation, and emerging from the terror which had absorbed every faculty of my soul, my attention was, in the first place, wholly directed to the contemplation of the general physical appearance of the moon. It lay beneath me like a chart, and although I judged it to be still at no inconsiderable distance, the indentures of its surface were defined to my vision with a most striking and altogether unaccountable distinctness. The entire absence of ocean or sea, and indeed of any lake or river, or body of water whatsoever, struck me, at the first glance, as the most extraordinary feature in its geological condition. Yet, strange to say! I beheld vast level regions of a character decidedly alluvial--although by far the greater portion of the hemisphere in sight was covered with innumerable volcanic mountains, conical in shape, and having more the appearance of artificial than of natural protuberances. The highest among them does not exceed three and three-quarter miles in perpendicular elevation-- but a map of the volcanic districts of the Campi Phlegræi would afford to your Excellencies a better idea of their general surface than any unworthy description I might think proper to attempt. The greater part of them were in a state of evident eruption, and gave me fearfully to understand their fury and their power by the repeated thunders of the miscalled meteoric stones which now rushed upwards by the balloon with a frequency more and more appalling.
April 18th. To-day I found an enormous increase in the moon's apparent bulk, and the evidently accelerated velocity of my descent began to fill me with alarm. It will be remembered that, in the earliest stage of my speculations upon the possibility of a passage to the moon, the existence in its vicinity of an atmosphere dense in proportion to the bulk of the planet had entered largely into my calculations--this too in spite of many theories to the contrary, and, it may be added, in spite of a general disbelief in the existence of any lunar atmosphere at all. But, in addition to what I have already urged in regard to Encke's comet and the zodiacal light, I had been strengthened in my opinion by certain observations of Mr. Schroeter, of Lilienthal. He observed the moon, when two days and a half old, in the evening soon after sunset, before the dark part was visible, and continued to watch it until it became visible. The two cusps appeared tapering in a very sharp faint prolongation, each exhibiting its farthest extremity faintly illuminated by the solar rays, before any part of the dark hemisphere was visible. Soon afterwards, the whole dark limb became illuminated. This prolongation of the cusps beyond the semicircle, I thought, must have arisen from the refraction of the sun's rays by the moon's atmosphere. I computed, also, the height of the atmosphere (which could refract light enough into its dark hemisphere, to produce a twilight more luminous than the light reflected from the earth when the moon is about 32 o from the new) to be 1356 Paris feet; in this view, I supposed the greatest height capable of refracting the solar ray, to be 5376 feet. My ideas upon this topic had also received confirmation by a passage in the 82d volume of the Philosophical Transactions, in which it is stated that at an occultation of Jupiter's satellites, the third disappeared after having been about 1? or 2? of time indistinct, and the fourth became indiscernible near the limb.(*)
[* There is, strictly speaking, but little similarity between this sketchy trifle and the very celebrated and very beautiful "Moon-story" of Mr. Locke--but as both have the character of hoaxes, (although the one is in a tone of banter, the other of downright earnest,) and as both hoaxes are on the same subject, the moon--the author of "Hans Phaall" thinks it necessary to say, in self-defence, that his own jen- d'esprit was published, in the Southern Literary Messenger, about three weeks previously to the appearance of Mr. L.'s, in the New York "Sun." Fancying a similarity which does not really exist, some of the New York papers copied Hans Phaall, and collated it with the Hoax-- with the view of detecting the writer of the one in the writer of the other.]
Upon the resistance, or more properly, upon the support of an atmosphere, existing in the state of density imagined, I had, of course, entirely depended for the safety of my ultimate descent. Should I then, after all, prove to have been mistaken, I had in consequence nothing better to expect as a finale to my adventure than being dashed into atoms against the rugged surface of the satellite. And indeed I had now every reason to be terrified. My distance from the moon was comparatively trifling, while the labor required by the condenser was diminished not at all, and I could discover no indication whatever of a decreasing rarity in the air.
April 19th. This morning, to my great joy, about nine o'clock, the surface of the moon being frightfully near, and my apprehensions excited to the utmost, the pump of my condenser at length gave evident tokens of an alteration in the atmosphere. By ten I had reason to believe its density considerably increased. By eleven very little labor was necessary at the apparatus--and at twelve o'clock, with some hesitation, I ventured to unscrew the tourniquet, when, finding no inconvenience from having done so, I finally threw open the gum- elastic chamber, and unrigged it from around the car. As might have been expected, spasms and violent headache were the immediate consequence of an experiment so precipitate and full of danger. But these and other difficulties attending respiration, as they were by no means so great as to put me in peril of my life, I determined to endure as I best could, in consideration of my leaving them behind me momently in my approach to the denser strata near the moon. This approach, however, was still impetuous in the extreme; and it soon became alarmingly certain that, although I had probably not been deceived in the expectation of an atmosphere dense in proportion to the mass of the satellite, still I had been wrong in supposing this density, even at the surface, at all adequate to the support of the great weight contained in the car of my balloon. Yet this should have been the case, and in an equal degree as at the surface of the earth, the actual gravity of bodies at either planet being supposed in the ratio of their atmospheric condensation. That it was not the case however my precipitous downfall gave testimony enough--why it was not so, can only be explained by a reference to those possible geological disturbances to which I have formerly alluded. At all events I was now close upon the planet, and coming down with the most terrible impetuosity. I lost not a moment accordingly in throwing overboard first my ballast, then my water-kegs, then my condensing apparatus and gum-elastic chamber, and finally every individual article within the car. But it was all to no purpose. I still fell with horrible rapidity, and was now not more than half a mile at farthest from the surface. As a last resource, therefore, having got rid of my coat, hat, and boots, I cut loose from the balloon the car itself, which was of no inconsiderable weight, and thus, clinging with both hands to the hoop of the net-work, I had barely time to observe that the whole country as far as the eye could reach was thickly interspersed with diminutive habitations, ere I tumbled headlong into the very heart of a fantastical-looking city, and into the middle of a vast crowd of ugly little people, who none of them uttered a single syllable, or gave themselves the least trouble to render me assistance, but stood, like a parcel of idiots, grinning in a ludicrous manner, and eyeing me and my balloon askant with their arms set a-kimbo. I turned from them in contempt, and gazing upwards at the earth so lately left, and left perhaps forever, beheld it like a huge, dull, copper shield, about two degrees in diameter, fixed immoveably in the heavens overhead, and tipped on one of its edges with a crescent border of the most brilliant gold. No traces of land or water could be discovered, and the whole was clouded with variable spots, and belted with tropical and equatorial zones.
Thus, may it please your Excellencies, after a series of great anxieties, unheard of dangers, and unparalleled escapes, I had, at length, on the nineteenth day of my departure from Rotterdam, arrived in safety at the conclusion of a voyage undoubtedly the most extraordinary, and the most momentous, ever accomplished, undertaken, or conceived by any denizen of earth. But my adventures yet remain to be related. And indeed your Excellencies may well imagine that after a residence of five years upon a planet not only deeply interesting in its own peculiar character, but rendered doubly so by its intimate connection, in capacity of satellite, with the world inhabited by man, I may have intelligence for the private ear of the States' College of Astronomers of far more importance than the details, however wonderful, of the mere voyage which so happily concluded. This is, in fact, the case. I have much--very much which it would give me the greatest pleasure to communicate. I have much to say of the climate of the planet--of its wonderful alternations of heat and cold--of unmitigated and burning sunshine for one fortnight, and more than polar frigidity for the next--of a constant transfer of moisture, by distillation like that in vacuo, from the point beneath the sun to the point the farthest from it--of a variable zone of running water--of the people themselves--of their manners, customs, and political institutions--of their peculiar physical construction--of their ugliness--of their want of ears, those useless appendages in an atmosphere so peculiarly modified--of their consequent ignorance of the use and properties of speech--of their substitute for speech in a singular method of intercommunication--of the incomprehensible connection between each particular individual in the moon, with some particular individual on the earth--a connection analogous with, and depending upon that of the orbs of the planet and the satellite, and by means of which the lives and destinies of the inhabitants of the one are interwoven with the lives and destinies of the inhabitants of the other--and above all, if it so please your Excellencies, above all of those dark and hideous mysteries which lie in the outer regions of the moon--regions which, owing to the almost miraculous accordance of the satellite's rotation on its own axis with its sidereal revolution about the earth, have never yet been turned, and, by God's mercy, never shall be turned, to the scrutiny of the telescopes of man. All this, and more--much more--would I most willingly detail. But to be brief, I must have my reward. I am pining for a return to my family and to my home: and as the price of any farther communications on my part--in consideration of the light which I have it in my power to throw upon many very important branches of physical and metaphysical science--I must solicit, through the influence of your honorable body, a pardon for the crime of which I have been guilty in the death of the creditors upon my departure from Rotterdam. This, then, is the object of the present paper. Its bearer, an inhabitant of the moon, whom I have prevailed upon, and properly instructed, to be my messenger to the earth, will await your Excellencies' pleasure, and return to me with the pardon in question, if it can, in any manner, be obtained.
I have the honor to be, etc., your Excellencies' very humble servant.
Upon finishing the perusal of this very extraordinary document, Professor Rub-a-dub, it is said, dropped his pipe upon the ground in the extremity of his surprise, and Mynheer Superbus Von Underduik having taken off his spectacles, wiped them, and deposited them in his pocket, so far forgot both himself and his dignity, as to turn round three times upon his heel in the quintessence of astonishment and admiration. There was no doubt about the matter--the pardon should be obtained. So at least swore, with a round oath, Professor Rub-a-dub, and so finally thought the illustrious Von Underduk, as he took the arm of his brother in science, and without saying a word, began to make the best of his way home to deliberate upon the measures to be adopted. Having reached the door, however, of the burgomaster's dwelling, the professor ventured to suggest that as the messenger had thought proper to disappear--no doubt frightened to death by the savage appearance of the burghers of Rotterdam--the pardon would be of little use, as no one but a man of the moon would undertake a voyage to so horrible a distance. To the truth of this observation the burgomaster assented, and the matter was therefore at an end. Not so, however, rumors and speculations. The letter, having been published, gave rise to a variety of gossip and opinion. Some of the over-wise even made themselves ridiculous by decrying the whole business as nothing better than a hoax. But hoax, with these sort of people, is, I believe, a general term for all matters above their comprehension. For my part I cannot conceive upon what data they have founded such an accusation. Let us see what they say:
Imprimis. That certain wags in Rotterdam have certain especial antipathies to certain burgomasters and astronomers.
Don't understand at all.
Secondly. That an odd little dwarf and bottle conjurer, both of whose ears, for some misdemeanor, have been cut off close to his head, has been missing for several days from the neighboring city of Bruges.
Well--what of that?
Thirdly. That the newspapers which were stuck all over the little balloon were newspapers of Holland, and therefore could not have been made in the moon. They were dirty papers--very dirty--and Gluck, the printer, would take his bible oath to their having been printed in Rotterdam.
He was mistaken--undoubtedly--mistaken.
Fourthly. That Hans Phaall himself, the drunken villain, and the three very idle gentlemen styled his creditors, were all seen, no longer than two or three days ago, in a tippling house in the suburbs, having just returned, with money in their pockets, from a trip beyond the sea.
Don't believe it--don't believe a word of it.
Lastly. That it is an opinion very generally received, or which ought to be generally received, that the College of Astronomers in the city of Rotterdam--as well as all other colleges in all other parts of the world--not to mention colleges and astronomers in general--are, to say the least of the matter, not a whit better, nor greater, nor wiser than they ought to be.
Intensos rigidam in frontem ascendere canos Passus erat-- Lucan-- De Catone. --a bristly bore. Translation.
"Let us hurry to the walls"--said Abel-Phittim to Buzi-Ben-Levi, and Simeon the Pharisee, on the tenth day of the month Thammuz, in the year of the world three thousand nine hundred and forty-one--"let us hasten to the ramparts adjoining the gate of Benjamin, which is in the city of David, and overlooking the camp of the uncircumcised--for it is the last hour of the fourth watch, being sunrise; and the idolaters, in fulfilment of the promise of Pompey, should be awaiting us with the lambs for the sacrifices."
Simeon, Abel-Phittim, and Buzi-Ben-Levi were the Gizbarim, or sub- collectors of the offering, in the holy city of Jerusalem.
"Verily"--replied the Pharisee--"let us hasten: for this generosity in the heathen is unwonted; and fickle-mindedness has ever been an attribute of the worshippers of Baal."
"That they are fickle-minded and treacherous is as true as the Pentateuch"--said Buzi-Ben-Levi--"but that is only towards the people of Adonai. When was it ever known that the Ammonites proved wanting to their own interest? Methinks it is no great stretch of generosity to allow us lambs for the altar of the Lord, receiving in lieu thereof thirty silver shekels per head!"
"Thou forgettest, however, Ben-Levi"--replied Abel-Phittim--"that the Roman Pompey, who is now impiously besieging the city of the Most High, has no assurity that we apply not the lambs thus purchased for the altar, to the sustenance of the body, rather than of the spirit."
"Now, by the five corners of my beard"--shouted the Pharisee, who belonged to the sect called The Dashers (that little knot of saints whose manner of dashing and lacerating the feet against the pavement was long a thorn and a reproach to less zealous devotees--a stumbling- block to less gifted perambulators)--"by the five corners of that beard which as a priest I am forbidden to shave!--have we lived to see the day when a blaspheming and idolatrous upstart of Rome shall accuse us of appropriating to the appetites of the flesh the most holy and consecrated elements? Have we lived to see the day when"--
"Let us not question the motives of the Philistine"--interrupted Abel- Phittim--"for to-day we profit for the first time by his avarice or by his generosity. But rather let us hurry to the ramparts, lest offerings should be wanting for that altar whose fire the rains of heaven cannot extinguish--and whose pillars of smoke no tempest can turn aside."
That part of the city to which our worthy Gizbarim now hastened, and which bore the name of its architect King David, was esteemed the most strongly fortified district of Jerusalem--being situated upon the steep and lofty hill of Zion. Here a broad, deep, circumvallatory trench--hewn from the solid rock--was defended by a wall of great strength erected upon its inner edge. This wall was adorned, at regular interspaces, by square towers of white marble--the lowest sixty--the highest one hundred and twenty cubits in height. But in the vicinity of the gate of Benjamin the wall arose by no means immediately from the margin of the fosse. On the contrary, between the level of the ditch and the basement of the rampart, sprang up a perpendicular cliff of two hundred and fifty cubits--forming part of the precipitous Mount Moriah. So that when Simeon and his associates arrived on the summit of the tower called Adoni-Bezek--the loftiest of all the turrets around about Jerusalem, and the usual place of conference with the besieging army--they looked down upon the camp of the enemy from an eminence excelling, by many feet, that of the Pyramid of Cheops, and, by several, that of the Temple of Belus.
"Verily"--sighed the Pharisee, as he peered dizzily over the precipice--"the uncircumcised are as the sands by the sea-shore--as the locusts in the wilderness! The valley of The King hath become the valley of Adommin."
"And yet"--added Ben-Levi--"thou canst not point me out a Philistine-- no, not one--from Aleph to Tau--from the wilderness to the battlements--who seemeth any bigger than the letter Jod!"
"Lower away the basket with the shekels of silver!"--here shouted a Roman soldier in a hoarse, rough voice, which appeared to issue from the regions of Pluto--"lower away the basket with that accursed coin which it has broken the jaw of a noble Roman to pronounce! Is it thus you evince your gratitude to our master Pompeius, who, in his condescension, has thought fit to listen to your idolatrous importunities? The god Phoebus, who is a true god, has been charioted for an hour--and were you not to be on the ramparts by sunrise? Ædepol! do you think that we, the conquerors of the world, have nothing better to do than stand waiting by the walls of every kennel, to traffic with the dogs of the earth? Lower away! I say--and see that your trumpery be bright in color, and just in weight!"
"El Elohim!"--ejaculated the Pharisee, as the discordant tones of the centurion rattled up the crags of the precipice, and fainted away against the Temple--"El Elohim!--who is the god Phoebus?--whom doth the blasphemer invoke? Thou, Buzi-Ben-Levi! who art read in the laws of the Gentiles, and hast sojourned among them who dabble with the Teraphim!--is it Nergal of whom the idolator speaketh?--or Ashimah?-- or Nibhaz?--or Tartak?--or Adramalech?--or Anamalech?--or Succoth- Benoth?--or Dagon?--or Belial?--or Ball-Perith?--or Baal-Peor?--or Baal-Zebub?"
"Verily, it is neither--but beware how thou lettest the rope slip too rapidly through thy fingers--for should the wicker-work chance to hang on the projection of yonder crag, there will be a woful outpouring of the holy things of the sanctuary."
By the assistance of some rudely-constructed machinery, the heavily- laden basket was now lowered carefully down among the multitude--and, from the giddy pinnacle, the Romans were seen crowding confusedly around it--but, owing to the vast height and the prevalence of a fog, no distinct view of their operations could be obtained.
A half-hour had already elapsed.
"We shall be too late"--sighed the Pharisee, as, at the expiration of this period, he looked over into the abyss--"we shall be too late--we shall be turned out of office by the Katholim."
"No more"--responded Abel-Phittim--"no more shall we feast upon the fat of the land--no longer shall our beards be odorous with frankincense--our loins girded up with fine linen from the Temple."
"Raca!"--swore Ben-Levi--"Raca!--do they mean to defraud us of the purchase-money?--or, Holy Moses! are they weighing the shekels of the tabernacle?"
"They have given the signal at last"--cried the Pharisee--"they have given the signal at last!--pull away, Abel-Phittim!--and thou, Buzi- Ben-Levi, pull away!--for verily the Philistines have either still hold upon the basket, or the Lord hath softened their hearts to place therein a beast of good weight!" And the Gizbarim pulled away, while their burthen swung heavily upwards through the still increasing mist.
"Booshoh he!"--as, at the conclusion of an hour, some object at the extremity of the rope became indistinctly visible--"Booshoh he!"--was the exclamation which burst from the lips of Ben-Levi.
"Booshoh he!--for shame!--it is a ram from the thickets of Engedi, and as rugged as the valley of Jehosaphat!"
"It is a firstling of the flock,"--said Abel-Phittim--"I know him by the bleating of his lips, and the innocent folding of his limbs. His eyes are more beautiful than the jewels of the Pectoral--and his flesh is like the honey of Hebron."
"It is a fatted calf from the pastures of Bashan"--said the Pharisee-- "the heathen have dealt wonderfully with us--let us raise up our voices in a psalm--let us give thanks on the shawm and on the psaltery--on the harp and on the huggab--on the cythern and on the sackbut."
It was not until the basket had arrived within a few feet of the Gizbarim, that a low grunt betrayed to their perception a hog of no common size.
"Now El Emanu!"--slowly, and with upturned eyes ejaculated the trio, as, letting go their hold, the emancipated porker tumbled headlong among the Philistines--"El Emanu!--God be with us!--it is the unutterable flesh!"
"Let me no longer," said the Pharisee, wrapping his cloak around him and departing within the city--"let me no longer be called Simeon, which signifieth, 'he who listens'--but rather Boanerges, 'the son of Thunder.'"
My friend, the Baron Ritzner Von Jung, was of a noble Hungarian family, every member of which (at least as far back into antiquity as any certain records extend) was more or less remarkable for talent of some description--the majority for that species of grotesquerie in conception of which Tieck, a scion of the house, has given some vivid, although by no means the most vivid exemplifications. My acquaintance with him--with Ritzner--commenced at the magnificent Chateau Jung, into which a train of droll adventures, not to be made public, threw me par hazard during the summer months of the year 18--. Here it was I obtained a place in his regard, and here, with somewhat more difficulty, a partial insight into his mental conformation. In later days this insight grew more clear, as the intimacy which had at first permitted it became more close; and when, after three years separation, we met at G--n, I knew all that it was necessary to know of the character of the Baron Ritzner Von Jung.
I remember the buzz of curiosity which his advent excited within the college precincts on the night of the twenty-fifth of June. I remember still more distinctly, that while he was pronounced by all parties at first sight "the most remarkable man in the world," no person made any attempt at accounting for this opinion. That he was unique appeared so undeniable, it was deemed not pertinent to inquire wherein the uniquity consisted. But, letting this matter pass for the present, I will merely observe that, from the first moment of his setting foot within the limits of the university, he began to exercise over the habits, manners, persons, purses, moral feelings, and physical propensities of the whole community which surrounded him, an influence the most extensive and absolutely despotic, yet at the same time the most indefinitive and altogether unaccountable. Thus the brief period of his residence at the university forms an era in its annals, and is characterized by all classes of people appertaining to it or its dependencies as "that very extraordinary epoch forming the domination of the Baron Ritzner Vong Jung."
I have seen--and be it here borne in mind that gentlemen still living in Gotham who have been with myself witness of these things will have full recollection of the passages to which I now merely allude--I have seen, then, the most outrageously preposterous of events brought about by the most intangible and apparently inadequate of means. I have seen--what, indeed, have I not seen? I have seen Villanova, the danseuse, lecturing in the chair of National Law, and I have seen D--, P--, T--, and Von C--, all enraptured with her profundity. I have seen the protector, the consul, and the whole faculty aghast at the convolutions of a weathercock. I have seen Sontag received with hisses, and a hurdy-gurdy with sighs. I have seen an ox-cart, with oxen, on the summit of the Rotunda. I have seen all the pigs of G--n in periwigs, and all her cows in canonicals. I have seen fifteen hundred vociferous cats in the steeple of St. P--. I have seen the college chapel bombarded--I have seen the college ramparts most distressingly placarded--I have seen the whole world by the ears--I have seen old Wertemuller in tears--and, more than all, I have seen such events come to be regarded as the most reasonable, commendable, and inevitable things in creation, through the silent, yet all- pervading and magical influence of the dominator Baron Ritzner Von Jung.
Upon the Baron's advent to G--n, he sought me out in my apartments. He was then of no particular age--by which I mean that it was impossible to form a guess respecting his age by any data personally afforded. He might have been fifteen or fifty, and was twenty-one years and seven months. In stature he was about five feet eight inches. He was by no means a handsome man--perhaps rather the reverse. The contour of his face was somewhat angular and harsh. His forehead was lofty and very fair; his nose a snub; his eyes large, heavy, glassy and meaningless. About the mouth there was more to be observed. The lips were gently protruded, and rested the one upon the other after such fashion that it is impossible to conceive any, even the most complex, combination of human features, conveying so entirely, and so singly, the idea of unmitigated gravity, solemnity, and repose. My readers have thus the physical baron before them. What I shall add respecting those mental peculiarities to which I have as yet only partially adverted, will be told in my own words--for I find that, in speaking of my friend, I have been falling unwittingly into one of the many odd literary mannerisms of the dominator Baron Ritzner Von Jung.
It will be perceived, no doubt, from what I have already said, that the Baron was neither more nor less than one of those human anomalies now and then to be found, who make the science of mystification the study and the business of their lives. For this science a peculiar turn of mind gave him instinctively the cue, while his physical appearance afforded him unusual facilities for carrying his projects into effect. I firmly believe that no student at G--n, during that renowned epoch so quaintly termed the domination of the Baron Ritzner Von Jung, ever rightly entered into the mystery which overshadowed his character. I truly think that no person at the university, with the exception of myself, ever suspected him to be capable of a joke, verbal or practical--the old bull-dog at the garden-gate would sooner have been accused--the ghost of Heraclitus--or the wig of the Emeritus Professor of Theology. This, too, when it was evident that the most egregious and unpardonable of all conceivable tricks, whimsicalities, and buffooneries were brought about, if not directly by him, at least plainly through his intermediate agency or connivance. The beauty, if I may so call it, of his art mystisique lay in that consummate ability (resulting from an almost intuitive knowledge of human nature, and the most wonderful self-possession), by means of which he never failed to make it appear that the drolleries he was occupied in bringing to a point, arose partly in spite, and partly in consequence of the laudable efforts he was making for their prevention, and for the preservation of the good order and dignity of Alma Mater. The deep, the poignant, the overwhelming mortification which, upon each such failure of his praiseworthy endeavors, would suffuse every lineament of his countenance, left not the slightest room for doubt of his sincerity in the bosoms of even his most sceptical companions. The adroitness, too, was no less worthy of observation by which he contrived to shift the sense of the grotesque from the creator to the created--from his own person to the absurdities to which he had given rise. How this difficult point was accomplished I have become fully aware by means of a long course of observation on the oddities of my friend, and by means of frequent dissertations on the subject from himself; but upon this matter I cannot dilate. In no instance, however, before that of which I speak, have I known the habitual mystific escape the natural consequence of his manoeuvres, an attachment of the ludicrous to his own character and person. Continually enveloped in an atmosphere of whim, my friend appeared to live only for the severities of society; and not even his own household have for a moment associated other ideas than those of the rigid and august with the memory of the Baron Ritzner Von Jung.
To enter fully into the labyrinths of the Baron's finesse, or even to follow him in that droll career of practical mystification which gave him so wonderful an ascendency over the mad spirits of G--n, would lead me to a far greater length than I have prescribed to myself in this article. I may dwell upon these topics hereafter, and then not in petto. I am well aware that in tracing minutely and deliberately to their almost magical results the operations of an intellect like that of Ritzner, wherein an hereditary and cultivated taste for the bizarre was allied with an intuitive acumen in regard to the every-day impulses of the heart--an untrodden field would be found to lie open before me, rich in novelty and vigor, of emotion and incident, and abounding in rare food for both speculation and analysis. But this, I have already said, could not be accomplished in little space. Moreover, the Baron is still living in Belgium, and it is not without the limits of the possible that his eye may rest upon what I am now writing. I shall be careful, therefore, not to disclose, at least thus and here, the mental machinery which he has a pleasure, however whimsical, in keeping concealed. An anecdote at random, however, may convey some idea of the spirit of his practice. The method varied ad infinitum; and in this well-sustained variety lay chiefly the secret of that unsuspectedness with which his multifarious operations were conducted.
During the epoch of the domination it really appeared that the demon of the dolce far niente lay like an incubus upon the university. Nothing was done, at least, beyond eating and drinking, and making merry. The apartments of the students were converted into so many pot- houses, and there was no pot-house of them all more famous or more frequented than that of your humble servant, and the Baron Ritzner Von Jung--for it must be understood that we were chums. Our carousals here were many, and boisterous, and long, and never unfruitful of events.
Upon one occasion we had protracted our sitting until nearly daybreak, and an unusual quantity of wine had been drunk. The company consisted of seven or eight individuals besides the Baron and myself. Most of these were young men of wealth, of high connexion, of great family pride, and all alive with an exaggerated sense of honor. They abounded in the most ultra German opinions respecting the duello. To these Quixottic notions some recent Parisian publications, backed by three or four desperate and fatal rencontres at G--n, had given new vigor and impulse; and thus the conversation, during the greater part of the night, had run wild upon the all-engrossing topic of the times. The Baron, who had been unusually silent and abstracted in the earlier portion of the evening, at length seemed to be aroused from his apathy, took a leading part in the discourse, and dwelt upon the benefits, and more especially upon the beauties, of the received code of etiquette in passages of arms, with an ardor, an eloquence, an impressiveness, and, if I may so speak, an affectionateness of manner, which elicited the warmest enthusiasm from his hearers in general, and absolutely staggered even myself, who well knew him to be at heart a ridiculer of those very points for which he contended, and especially to hold the entire fanfaronade of duelling etiquette in the sovereign contempt which it deserves.
Looking around me during a pause in the Baron's discourse, (of which my readers, may gather some faint idea when I say that it bore resemblance to the fervid, chanting, monotonous, yet musical, sermonic manner of Coleridge,) I perceived symptoms of even more than the general interest in the countenance of one of the party. This gentleman, whom I shall call Hermann, was an original in every respect, except perhaps in the single particular that he was one of the greatest asses in all Christendom. He contrived to bear, however, among a particular set at the university, a reputation for deep metaphysical thinking, and, I believe, for some logical talent. His personal appearance was so peculiar that I feel confident my outline of him will be recognised at once by all who have been in company with the model. He was one of the tallest men I have ever seen, being full six feet and a half. His proportions were singularly mal-apropos. His legs were brief, bowed, and very slender; while above them arose a trunk worthy of the Farnesian Hercules. His shoulders, nevertheless, were round, his neck long although thick, and a general stoop forward gave him a slouching air. His head was of colossal dimensions, and overshadowed by a dense mass of straight raven hair, two huge locks of which, stiffly plastered with pomatum, extended with a lachrymose air down the temples, and partially over the cheek bones--a fashion which of late days has wormed itself (the wonder is that it has not arrived here before) into the good graces of the denizens of the United States. But the face itself was the chief oddity. The upper region was finely proportioned, and gave indication of the loftiest species of intellect. The forehead was massive and broad, the organs of ideality over the temples, as well as those of causality, comparison, and eventuality, which betray themselves above the os frontis, being so astonishingly developed as to attract the instant notice of every person who saw him. The eyes were full, brilliant, beaming with what might be mistaken for intelligence, and well relieved by the short, straight, picturesque-looking eyebrow, which is perhaps one of the surest indications of general ability. The aquiline nose, too, was superb; certainly nothing more magnificent was ever beheld, nothing more delicate nor more exquisitely modelled. All these things were well enough, as I have said; it was the inferior portions of the visage which abounded in deformity, and which gave the lie instanter to the tittle-tattle of the superior. The upper lip (a huge lip in length) had the appearance of being swollen as by the sting of a bee, and was rendered still more atrocious by a little spot of very black mustachio immediately beneath the nose. The under lip, apparently disgusted with the gross obesity of its fellow, seemed bent upon resembling it as little as might be, and getting as far removed from it as possible. It was accordingly very curt and thin, hanging back as if utterly ashamed of being seen; while the chin, retreating still an inch or two farther, might have been taken for--anything in the universe but a chin.
In this abrupt transition, or rather descent, in regard to character, from the upper to the lower regions of the face, an analogy was preserved between the face itself and the body at large, whose peculiar construction I have spoken of before. The result of the entire conformation was, that opinions directly conflicting were daily entertained in respect to the personal appearance of Hermann. Erect, he was absolutely hideous, and seemed to be, what in fact he really was, a fool. At table, with his hands covering the lower part of his visage, (an attitude of deep meditation which he much affected,) truly I never witnessed a more impressive tableau than his general appearance presented. As a duellist he had acquired great renown, even at G--n. I forget the precise number of victims who had fallen at his hands--but they were many. He was a man of courage undoubtedly. But it was upon his minute acquaintance with the etiquette of the duello, and the nicety of his sense of honor, that he most especially prided himself. These things were a hobby which he rode to the death. To Ritzner, ever upon the look-out for the grotesque, his peculiarities, bodily and mental, had for a long time past afforded food for mystification. Of this, however, I was not aware, although in the present instance I saw clearly that something of a whimsical nature was upon the tapis with my chum, and that Hermann was its especial object.
As the former proceeded in his discourse, or rather monologue, I perceived the excitement of Hermann momently increasing. At length he spoke, offering some objection to a point insisted upon by R., and giving his reasons in detail. To these the Baron replied at length (still maintaining his exaggerated tone of sentiment), and concluding, in what I thought very bad taste, with a sarcasm and a sneer. The hobby of Hermann now took the bit in his teeth. This I could discern by the studied hair-splitting farrago of his rejoinder. His last words I distinctly remember. "Your opinions, allow me to say, Baron Von Jung, although in the main correct, are in many nice points discreditable to yourself and to the university of which you are a member. In a few respects they are even unworthy of serious refutation. I would say more than this, sir, were it not for the fear of giving you offence, (here the speaker smiled blandly,) I would say, sir, that your opinions are not the opinions to be expected from a gentleman."
As Hermann completed this equivocal sentence, all eyes were turned upon the Baron. He became very pale, then excessively red, then, dropping his pockethandkerchief, stooped to recover it, when I caught a glimpse of his countenance while it could be seen by no one else at the table. It was radiant with the quizzical expression which was its natural character, but which I had never seen it assume except when we were alone together, and when he unbent himself freely. In an instant afterwards he stood erect, confronting Hermann, and so total an alteration of countenance in so short a period I certainly never witnessed before. For a moment I even fancied that I had misconceived him, and that he was in sober earnest. He appeared to be stifling with passion, and his face was cadaverously white. For a short time he remained silent apparently striving to master his emotion. Having at length seemingly succeeded, he reached a decanter which stood near him, saying, as he held it firmly clenched--"The language you have thought proper to employ, Mynheer Hermann, in addressing yourself to me, is objectionable in so many particulars, that I have neither temper nor time for specification. That my opinions, however, are not the opinions to be expected from a gentleman, is an observation so directly offensive as to allow me but one line of conduct. Some courtesy, nevertheless, is due to the presence of this company, and to yourself, at the present moment, as my guest. You will pardon me, therefore, if, upon this consideration, I deviate slightly from the general usage among gentlemen in similar cases of personal affront. You will forgive me for the moderate tax I shall make upon your imagination, and endeavor to consider, for an instant, the reflection of your person in younder mirror as the living Mynheer Hermann himself. This being done there will be no difficulty whatever. I shall discharge this decanter of wine at your image in yonder mirror, and thus fulfil all the spirit, if not the exact letter, of resentment for your insult, while the necessity of physical violence to your real person will be obviated," With these words he hurled the decanter full of wine furiously against the mirror which hung directly opposite Hermann, striking the reflection of his person with great precision, and of course shattering the glass into fragments. The whole company at once started to their feet, and, with the exception of myself and Ritzner, took their hats for departure. As Hermann went out, the Baron whispered me that I should follow him and make an offer of my services. To this I agreed, not knowing precisely what to make of so ridiculous a piece of business.
The duellist accepted my aid with his usual stiff, and ultra-recherché air, and taking my arm, led me to his apartment. I could hardly forbear laughing in his face while he proceeded to discuss with the profoundest gravity what he termed "the refinedly peculiar character" of the insult he had received. After a tiresome harangue in his ordinary style, he took down from his book-shelves a number of musty volumes on the subject of the duello, and entertained me for a long time with their contents; reading aloud, and commenting earnestly as he read. I can just remember the titles of some of the works. There was the "Ordonnance of Philip le Bel on Single Combat;" the "Theatre of Honor" by Favyn; and a treatise "On the Permission of Duels" by Andigiuer. He displayed, also, with much pomposity, Brantome's "Memoirs of Duels," published at Cologne, in 1666, in the types of Elzevir--a precious and unique vellum-paper volume, with a fine margin, and bound by Derôme. But he requested my attention particularly, and with an air of mysterious sagacity, to a thick octavo, written in barbarous Latin by one Hedelin a Frenchman, and having the quaint title, "Duelli Lex scripta, et non, aliterque." From this he read me one of the drollest chapters in the world concerning "Injurioe per applicationem, per constructionem, et per se," about half of which, he averred, was strictly applicable to his own "refinedly peculiar" case, although not one syllable of the whole matter could I understand for the life of me. Having finished the chapter he closed the book, and demanded what I thought necessary to be done. I replied that I had entire confidence in his superior delicacy of feeling, and would abide by what he proposed. With this answer he seemed flattered, and sat down to write a note to the Baron. It ran thus:
"Sir. " "My friend, Mr. P--, will hand you this note. I find it incumbent upon me to request, at your earliest convenience, an explanation of this evening's occurrences at your chambers. In the event of your declining this request, Mr. P. will be happy to arrange with any friend whom you may appoint, the steps preliminary to a meeting."
"With sentiments of perfect respect, Your most humble servant, Johan Hermann."
"To the Baron Ritzner Von Jung. August 18th, 18--."
"Not knowing what better to do, I called upon Ritzner with this epistle. He bowed as I presented it, and, with a grave countenance, motioned me to a seat. He then said that he was aware of the contents of the note, and that he did not wish to peruse it. With this, to my great astonishment, he repeated the letter nearly verbatim, handing me, at the same time, an already written reply. This, which ran as follows, I carried to Hermann:"
"Through our common friend, Mr. P., I have received your note of this evening. Upon due reflection I frankly admit the propriety of the explanation you suggest. This being admitted, I still find great difficulty, (owing to the refinedly peculiar nature of our disagreement, and of the personal affront offered on my part,) in so wording what I have to say by way of apology, as to meet all the minute exigencies, and, as it were, all the variable shadows of the case. I have great reliance, however, on that extreme delicacy of discrimination, in matters appertaining to the rules of etiquette, for which you have been so long so pre-eminently distinguished. With perfect certainty, therefore, of being comprehended, I beg leave, in lieu of offering any sentiments of my own, to refer you to the opinions of the Sieur Hedelin, as set forth in the ninth paragraph of the chapter on 'Injurioe per applicationem, per constructionem, et per se" in his "Duelli Lex scripta, et non, aliterque.' The nicety of your discernment in all the matters here treated of will be sufficient, I am assured, to convince you that the mere circumstance of my referring you to this admirable passage ought to satisfy your request, as a man of honor, for explanation."
"With sentiments of profound respect, Your most obedient servant. " "Von Jung. The Herr Johan Hermann. August 18th, 18--."
Hermann commenced the perusal of this epistle with a scowl, which, however, was converted into a smile of the most ludicrous self- complacency as he came to the rigmarole about Injurioe per applicationem, per constructionem, et per se. Having finished reading. he begged me, with the blandest of all possible airs, to be seated while he made reference to the treatise in question. Turning to the passage specified, he read it with great care to himself, then closed the book, and desired me, in my character of confidential acquaintance, to express to the Baron Von Jung his exalted sense of his chivalrous behaviour, and, in that of second, to assure him that the explanation offered was of the fullest, the most honorable, and the most unequivocally satisfactory nature. Somewhat amazed at all this, I made my retreat to the Baron. He seemed to receive Hermann's amicable letter as a matter of course, and, after a few words of general conversation, went to an inner room and brought out the everlasting treatise "Duelli Lex scripta, et non, aliterque." He handed me the volume and asked me to look over some portion of it. I did so, but to little purpose, not being able to gather the least particle of definite meaning. He then took the book himself, and read me a chapter aloud. To my surprise what he read proved to be a most horribly absurd account of a duel between two baboons. He now explained the mystery, showing that the volume, as it appeared Primâ facie, was written upon the plan of the nonsense verses of Du Bartas; that is to say, the language was ingeniously framed so as to present to the ear all the outward signs of intelligibility, and even of profound analysis, while in fact not a shadow of meaning existed, except in insulated sentences. The key to the whole was found in leaving out every second and third word alternately, when there appeared a series of ludicrous quizzes upon single combat as practised in modern times.
The Baron afterwards informed me that he had purposely thrown the treatise in Hermann's way two or three weeks before the adventure, and that he was satisfied from the general tenor of his conversation that he had studied it with the deepest attention, and firmly believed it to be a work of unusual profundity. Upon this hint he proceeded. Hermann would have died a thousand deaths rather than acknowledge his inability to understand any and everything in the universe that had ever been written about the duello.
O breathe not, etc. --Moore's Melodies.
The most notorious ill-fortune must, in the end, yield to the untiring courage of philosophy--as the most stubborn city to the ceaseless vigilance of an enemy. Salmanezer, as we have it in the holy writings, lay three year before Samaria; yet it fell. Sardanapalus--see Diodorus--maintained himself seven in Nineveh; but to no purpose. Troy expired at the close of the second lustrum; and Azoth, as Aristæus declares upon his honor as a gentleman, opened at last her gates to Psammitticus, after having barred them for the fifth part of a century.
"Thou wretch!--thou vixen!--thou shrew!"--said I to my wife on the morning after our wedding--"thou witch!--thou hag!--thou whippersnapper!--thou sink of iniquity!--thou fiery-faced quintessence of all that is abominable!--thou--thou--" here standing upon tiptoe, seizing her by the throat, and placing my mouth close to her ear, I was preparing to launch forth a new and more decided epithet of opprobrium, which should not fail, if ejaculated, to convince her of her insignificance, when, to my extreme horror and astonishment, I discovered that I had lost my breath.
The phrases "I am out of breath," "I have lost my breath," etc., are often enough repeated in common conversation; but it had never occurred to me that the terrible accident of which I speak could bonâ fide and actually happen! Imagine--that is if you have a fanciful turn--imagine I say, my wonder--my consternation--my despair!
There is a good genius, however, which has never, at any time, entirely deserted me. In my most ungovernable moods I still retain a sense of propriety, et le chemin des passions me conduit--as Rousseau says it did him--à la philosophie veritable.
Although I could not at first precisely ascertain to what degree the occurrence had affected me, I unhesitatingly determined to conceal at all events the matter from my wife until farther experience should discover to me the extent of this my unheard of calamity. Altering my countenance, therefore, in a moment, from its bepuffed and distorted appearance, to an expression of arch and coquettish benignity, I gave my lady a pat on the one cheek, and a kiss on the other, and without saying one syllable, (Furies! I could not,) left her astonished at my drollery, as I pirouetted out of the room in a Pas de Zephyr.
Behold me then safely ensconced in my private boudoir, a fearful instance of the ill consequences attending upon irascibility--alive with the qualifications of the dead--dead with the propensities of the living--an anomaly on the face of the earth--being very calm, yet breathless.
Yes! breathless. I am serious in asserting that my breath was entirely gone. I could not have stirred with it a feather if my life had been at issue, or sullied even the delicacy of a mirror. Hard fate!--yet there was some alleviation to the first overwhelming paroxysm of my sorrow. I found upon trial that the powers of utterance which, upon my inability to proceed in the conversation with my wife, I then concluded to be totally destroyed, were in fact only partially impeded, and I discovered that had I, at that interesting crisis, dropped my voice to a singularly deep guttural, I might still have continued to her the communication of my sentiments; this pitch of voice (the guttural) depending, I find, not upon the current of the breath, but upon a certain spasmodic action of the muscles of the throat.
Throwing myself upon a chair, I remained for some time absorbed in meditation. My reflections, be sure, were of no consolatory kind. A thousand vague and lachrymatory fancies took possession of my soul-- and even the phantom suicide flitted across my brain; but it is a trait in the perversity of human nature to reject the obvious and the ready, for the far-distant and equivocal. Thus I shuddered at selfmurder as the most decided of atrocities, while the tabby cat purred strenuously upon the rug, and the very water-dog wheezed assiduously under the table, each taking to itself much merit for the strength of its lungs, and all obviously done in derision of my own pulmonary incapacity.
Oppressed with a tumult of vague hopes and fears, I at length heard the footstep of my wife descending the staircase. Being now assured of her absence, I returned with a palpitating heart to the scene of my disaster.
Carefully locking the door on the inside, I commenced a vigorous search. It was possible, I thought, that concealed in some obscure corner, or lurking in some closet or drawer, might be found the lost object of my inquiry. It might have a vapory--it might even have a tangible form. Most philosophers, upon many points of philosophy, are still very unphilosophical. William Godwin, however, says in his "Mandeville," that "invisible things are the only realities." This, all will allow, is a case in point. I would have the judicious reader pause before accusing such asseverations of an undue quantum of absurdity. Anaxagoras--it will be remembered--maintained that snow is black. This I have since found to be the case.
Long and earnestly did I continue the investigation: but the contemptible reward of my industry and perseverance proved to be only a set of false teeth, two pair of hips, an eye, and a bundle of billetsdoux from Mr. Windenough to my wife. I might as well here observe that this confirmation of my lady's partiality for Mr. W. occasioned me little uneasiness. That Mrs. Lack-o'Breath should admire any thing so dissimilar to myself was a natural and necessary evil. I am, it is well known, of a robust and corpulent appearance, and at the same time somewhat diminutive in stature. What wonder then that the lath-like tenuity of my acquaintance, and his altitude which has grown into a proverb, should have met with all due estimation in the eyes of Mrs. Lack-o'Breath? It is by logic similar to this that true philosophy is enabled to set misfortune at defiance. But to return.
My exertions, as I have before said, proved fruitless. Closet after closet--drawer after drawer--corner after corner--were scrutinized to no purpose. At one time, however, I thought myself sure of my prize, having, in rummaging a dressing-case, accidentally demolished a bottle (I had a remarkably sweet breath) of Hewitt's "Seraphic and Highly- Scented Extract of Heaven or Oil of Archangels"--which, as an agreeable perfume, I here take the liberty of recommending.
With a heavy heart I returned to my boudoir--there to ponder upon some method of eluding my wife's penetration, until I could make arrangements prior to my leaving the country, for to this I had already made up my mind. In a foreign climate, being unknown, I might, with some probability of success, endeavor to conceal my unhappy calamity--a calamity calculated, even more than beggary, to estrange the affections of the multitude, and to draw down upon the wretch the well-merited indignation of the virtuous and the happy. I was not long in hesitation. Being naturally quick, I committed to memory the entire tragedies of--, and--. I had the good fortune to recollect that in the accentuation of these dramas, or at least of such portion of them as is allotted to their heroes, the tones of voice in which I found myself deficient were altogether unnecessary, and that the deep guttural was expected to reign monotonously throughout.
I practised for some time by the borders of a wellfrequented marsh-- herein, however, having no reference to a similar proceeding of Demosthenes, but from a design peculiarly and conscientiously my own. Thus armed at all points, I determined to make my wife believe that I was suddenly smitten with a passion for the stage. In this I succeeded to a miracle; and to every question or suggestion found myself at liberty to reply in my most frog-like and sepulchral tones with some passage from the tragedies--any portion of which, as I soon took great pleasure in observing, would apply equally well to any particular subject. It is not to be supposed, however, that in the delivery of such passages I was found at all deficient in the looking asquint--the showing my teeth--the working my knees--the shuffling my feet--or in any of those unmentionable graces which are now justly considered the characteristics of a popular performer. To be sure they spoke of confining me in a straight-jacket--but, good God! they never suspected me of having lost my breath.
Having at length put my affairs in order, I took my seat very early one morning in the mail stage for--, giving it to be understood among my acquaintances that business of the last importance required my immediate personal attendance in that city.
The coach was crammed to repletion--but in the uncertain twilight the features of my companions could not be distinguished. Without making any effectual resistance I suffered myself to be placed between two gentlemen of colossal dimensions; while a third, of a size larger, requesting pardon for the liberty he was about to take, threw himself upon my body at full length, and falling asleep in an instant, drowned all my guttural ejaculations for relief, in a snore which would have put to the blush the roarings of a Phalarian bull. Happily the state of my respiratory faculties rendered suffocation an accident entirely out of the question.
As, however, the day broke more distinctly in our approach to the outskirts of the city, my tormentor arising and adjusting his shirt- collar, thanked me in a very friendly manner for my civility. Seeing that I remained motionless, (all my limbs were dislocated, and my head twisted on one side,) his apprehensions began to be excited; and, arousing the rest of the passengers, he communicated, in a very decided manner, his opinion that a dead man had been palmed upon them during the night for a living and responsible fellow-traveller--here giving me a thump on the right eye, by way of evidencing the truth of his suggestion.
Thereupon all, one after another, (there were nine in company) believed it their duty to pull me by the ear. A young practising physician, too, having applied a pocket-mirror to my mouth, and found me without breath, the assertion of my persecutor was pronounced a true bill; and the whole party expressed their determination to endure tamely no such impositions for the future, and to proceed no farther with any such carcases for the present.
I was here accordingly thrown out at the sign of the "Crow," (by which tavern the coach happened to be passing) without meeting with any farther accident than the breaking of both my arms under the left hind-wheel of the vehicle. I must besides do the driver the justice to state that he did not forget to throw after me the largest of my trunks, which, unfortunately falling on my head, fractured my skull in a manner at once interesting and extraordinary.
The landlord of the "Crow," who is a hospitable man, finding that my trunk contained sufficient to indemnify him for any little trouble he might take in my behalf, sent forthwith for a surgeon of his acquaintance, and delivered me to his care with a bill and receipt for five-and-twenty dollars.
The purchaser took me to his apartments and commenced operations immediately. Having, however, cut off my ears, he discovered signs of animation. He now rang the bell, and sent for a neighboring apothecary with whom to consult in the emergency. In case, however, of his suspicions with regard to my existence proving ultimately correct, he, in the meantime, made an incision in my stomach, and removed several of my viscera for private dissection.
The apothecary had an idea that I was actually dead. This idea I endeavored to confute, kicking and plunging with all my might, and making the most furious contortions--for the operations of the surgeon had, in a measure, restored me to the possession of my faculties. All, however, was attributed to the effects of a new galvanic battery, wherewith the apothecary, who is really a man of information, performed several curious experiments, in which, from my personal share in their fulfilment, I could not help feeling deeply interested. It was a source of mortification to me nevertheless, that although I made several attempts at conversation, my powers of speech were so entirely in abeyance, that I could not even open my mouth; much less then make reply to some ingenious but fanciful theories of which, under other circumstances, my minute acquaintance with the Hippocratian pathology would have afforded me a ready confutation.
Not being able to arrive at a conclusion, the practitioners remanded me for further examination. I was taken up into a garret; and the surgeon's lady having accommodated me with drawers and stockings, the surgeon himself fastened my hands, and tied up my jaws with a pocket handkerchief--then bolted the door on the outside as he hurried to his dinner, leaving me alone to silence and to meditation.
I now discovered to my extreme delight that I could have spoken had not my mouth been tied up by the pocket-handkerchief. Consoling myself with this reflection, I was mentally repeating some passages of the--, as is my custom before resigning myself to sleep, when two cats, of a greedy and vituperative turn, entering at a hole in the wall, leaped up with a flourish à la Catalani, and alighting opposite one another on my visage, betook themselves to unseemly and indecorous contention for the paltry consideration of my nose.
But, as the loss of his ears proved the means of elevating to the throne of Cyrus, the Magian or Mige-Gush of Persia, and as the cutting off his nose gave Zopyrus possession of Babylon, so the loss of a few ounces of my countenance proved the salvation of my body. Aroused by the pain, and burning with indignation, I burst, at a single effort, the fastenings and the bandage. Stalking across the room I cast a glance of contempt at the belligerents, and throwing open the sash to their extreme horror and disappointment, precipitated myself--very dexterously--from the window.
The mail-robber W--, to whom I bore a singular resemblance, was at this moment passing from the city jail to the scaffold erected for his execution in the suburbs. His extreme infirmity, and long-continued ill health, had obtained him the privilege of remaining unmanacled; and habited in his gallows costume--a dress very similar to my own--he lay at full length in the bottom of the hangman's cart (which happened to be under the windows of the surgeon at the moment of my precipitation) without any other guard than the driver who was asleep, and two recruits of the sixth infantry, who were drunk.
As ill-luck would have it, I alit upon my feet within the vehicle. W-- , who was an acute fellow, perceived his opportunity. Leaping up immediately, he bolted out behind, and turning down an alley, was out of sight in the twinkling of an eye. The recruits, aroused by the bustle, could not exactly comprehend the merits of the transaction. Seeing, however, a man, the precise counterpart of the felon, standing upright in the cart before their eyes, they were of opinion that the rascal (meaning W--) was after making his escape, (so they expressed themselves,) and, having communicated this opinion to one another, they took each a dram and then knocked me down with the butt-ends of their muskets.
It was not long ere we arrived at the place of destination. Of course nothing could be said in my defence. Hanging was my inevitable fate. I resigned myself thereto with a feeling half stupid, half acrimonious. Being little of a cynic, I had all the sentiments of a dog. The hangman, however, adjusted the noose about my neck. The drop fell. My convulsions were said to be extraordinary. Several gentlemen swooned, and some ladies were carried home in hysterics. Pinxit, too, availed himself of the opportunity to retouch, from a sketch taken upon the spot, his admirable painting of the "Marsyas flayed alive."
I will endeavor to depict my sensations upon the gallows. To write upon such a theme it is necessary to have been hanged. Every author should confine himself to matters of experience. Thus Mark Antony wrote a treatise upon drunkenness.
Die I certainly did not. The sudden jerk given to my neck upon the falling of the drop, merely proved a corrective to the unfortunate twist afforded me by the gentleman in the coach. Although my body certainly was, I had, alas! no breath to be suspended; and but for the chafing of the rope, the pressure of the knot under my ear, and the rapid determination of blood to the brain, I should, I dare say, have experienced very little inconvenience.
The latter feeling, however, grew momently more painful. I heard my heart beating with violence--the veins in my hands and wrists swelled nearly to bursting--my temples throbbed tempestuously--and I felt that my eyes were starting from their sockets. Yet when I say that in spite of all this my sensations were not absolutely intolerable, I will not be believed.
There were noises in my ears--first like the tolling of huge bells-- then like the beating of a thousand drums--then, lastly, like the low, sullen murmurs of the sea. But these noises were very far from disagreeable.
Although, too, the powers of my mind were confused and distorted, yet I was--strange to say!--well aware of such confusion and distortion. I could, with unerring promptitude determine at will in what particulars my sensations were correct--and in what particulars I wandered from the path. I could even feel with accuracy how far--to what very point, such wanderings had misguided me, but still without the power of correcting my deviations. I took besides, at the same time, a wild delight in analyzing my conceptions.*
Memory, which, of all other faculties, should have first taken its departure, seemed on the contrary to have been endowed with quadrupled power. Each incident of my past life flitted before me like a shadow. There was not a brick in the building where I was born--not a dog-leaf in the primer I had thumbed over when a child--not a tree in the forest where I hunted when a boy--not a street in the cities I had traversed when a man--that I did not at that time most palpably behold. I could repeat to myself entire lines, passages, chapters, books, from the studies of my earlier days; and while, I dare say, the crowd around me were blind with horror, or aghast with awe, I was alternately with Æschylus, a demi-god, or with Aristophanes, a frog.
A dreamy delight now took hold upon my spirit, and I imagined that I had been eating opium, or feasting upon the hashish of the old assassins. But glimpses of pure, unadulterated reason--during which I was still buoyed up by the hope of finally escaping that death which hovered like a vulture above me--were still caught occasionally by my soul.
By some unusual pressure of the rope against my face, a portion of the cap was chafed away, and I found to my astonishment that my powers of vision were not altogether destroyed. A sea of waving heads rolled around me. In the intensity of my delight I eyed them with feelings of the deepest commiseration, and blessed, as I looked upon the haggard assembly, the superior benignity of my proper stars.
I now reasoned, rapidly I believe--profoundly I am sure--upon principles of common law--propriety of that law especially, for which I hung--absurdities in political economy which till then I had never been able to acknowledge--dogmas in the old Aristotelians now generally denied, but not the less intrinsically true--detestable school formulæ in Bourdon, in Garnier, in Lacroix--synonymes in Crabbe--lunar-lunatic theories in St. Pierre--falsities in the Pelham novels--beauties in Vivian Grey--more than beauties in Vivian Grey-- profundity in Vivian Grey--genius in Vivian Grey--everything in Vivian Grey.
Then came like a flood, Coleridge, Kant, Fitche, and Pantheism--then like a deluge, the Academie, Pergola, La Scala, San Carlo, Paul, Albert, Noblet, Ronzi Vestris, Fanny Bias, and Taglioni.
A rapid change was now taking place in my sensations. The last shadows of connection flitted away from my meditations. A storm--a tempest of ideas, vast, novel, and soul-stirring, bore my spirit like a feather afar off. Confusion crowded upon confusion like a wave upon a wave. In a very short time Schelling himself would have been satisfied with my entire loss of self-identity. The crowd became a mass of mere abstraction.
About this period I became aware of a heavy fall and shock--but, although the concussion jarred throughout my frame, I had not the slightest idea of its having been sustained in my own proper person; and thought of it as of an incident peculiar to some other existence-- an idiosyncrasy belonging to some other Ens.
It was at this moment--as I afterwards discovered--that having been suspended for the full term of execution, it was thought proper to remove my body from the gallows--this the more especially as the real culprit had now been retaken and recognised.
Much sympathy was now exercised in my behalf--and as no one in the city appeared to identify my body, it was ordered that I should be interred in the public sepulchre early in the following morning. I lay, in the meantime, without sign of life--although from the moment, I suppose, when the rope was loosened from my neck, a dim consciousness of my situation oppressed me like the night-mare.
I was laid out in a chamber sufficiently small, and very much encumbered with furniture--yet to me it appeared of a size to contain the universe. I have never before or since, in body or in mind, suffered half so much agony as from that single idea. Strange! that the simple conception of abstract magnitude--of infinity--should have been accompanied with pain. Yet so it was. "With how vast a difference," said I, "in life and in death--in time and in eternity-- here and hereafter, shall our merest sensations be imbodied!"
The day died away, and I was aware that it was growing dark--yet the same terrible conceit still overwhelmed me. Nor was it confined to the boundaries of the apartment--it extended, although in a more definite manner, to all objects, and, perhaps I will not be understood in saying that it extended also to all sentiments. My fingers as they lay cold, clammy, stiff, and pressing helplessly one against another, were, in my imagination, swelled to a size according with the proportions of the Antoeus. Every portion of my frame betook of their enormity. The pieces of money--I well remember--which being placed upon my eyelids, failed to keep them effectually closed, seemed huge, interminable chariot-wheels of the Olympia, or of the Sun.
Yet it is very singular that I experienced no sense of weight--of gravity. On the contrary I was put to much inconvenience by that buoyancy--that tantalizing difficulty of keeping down, which is felt by the swimmer in deep water. Amid the tumult of my terrors I laughed with a hearty internal laugh to think what incongruity there would be--could I arise and walk--between the elasticity of my motion, and the mountain of my form.
The night came--and with it a new crowd of horrors. The consciousness of my approaching interment began to assume new distinctness, and consistency--yet never for one moment did I imagine that I was not actually dead.
"This then"--I mentally ejaculated--"this darkness which is palpable, and oppresses with a sense of suffocation--this--this--is indeed death. This is death--this is death the terrible--death the holy. This is the death undergone by Regulus--and equally by Seneca. Thus--thus, too, shall I always remain--always--always remain. Reason is folly, and philosophy a lie. No one will know my sensations, my horror--my despair. Yet will men still persist in reasoning, and philosophizing, and making themselves fools. There is, I find, no hereafter but this. This--this--this--is the only eternity!--and what, O Baalzebub!--what an eternity!--to lie in this vast--this awful void--a hideous, vague, and unmeaning anomaly--motionless, yet wishing for motion--powerless, yet longing for power--forever, forever, and forever!"
But the morning broke at length--and with its misty and gloomy dawn arrived in triple horror the paraphernalia of the grave. Then--and not till then--was I fully sensible of the fearful fate hanging over me. The phantasms of the night had faded away with its shadows, and the actual terrors of the yawning tomb left me no heart for the bug-bear speculations of transcendentalism.
I have before mentioned that my eyes were but imperfectly closed--yet as I could not move them in any degree, those objects alone which crossed the direct line of vision were within the sphere of my comprehension. But across that line of vision spectral and stealthy figures were continually flitting, like the ghosts of Banquo. They were making hurried preparations for my interment. First came the coffin which they placed quietly by my side. Then the undertaker with attendants and a screw-driver. Then a stout man whom I could distinctly see and who took hold of my feet--while one whom I could only feel lifted me by the head and shoulders. Together they placed me in the coffin, and drawing the shroud up over my face proceeded to fasten down the lid. One of the screws, missing its proper direction, was screwed by the carelessness of the undertaker deep--deep--down into my shoulder. A convulsive shudder ran throughout my frame. With what horror, with what sickening of heart did I reflect that one minute sooner a similar manifestation of life, would, in all probability, have prevented my inhumation. But alas! it was now too late, and hope died away within my bosom as I felt myself lifted upon the shoulders of men--carried down the stairway--and thrust within the hearse.
During the brief passage to the cemetery my sensations, which for some time had been lethargic and dull, assumed, all at once, a degree of intense and unnatural vivacity for which I can in no manner account. I could distinctly hear the restling of the plumes--the whispers of the attendants--the solemn breathings of the horses of death. Confined as I was in that narrow and strict embrace, I could feel the quicker or slower movement of the procession--the restlessness of the driver--the windings of the road as it led us to the right or to the left. I could distinguish the peculiar odor of the coffin--the sharp acid smell of the steel screws. I could see the texture of the shroud as it lay close against my face; and was even conscious of the rapid variations in light and shade which the flapping to and fro of the sable hangings occasioned within the body of the vehicle.
In a short time, however, we arrived at the place of sepulture, and I felt myself deposited within the tomb. The entrance was secured--they departed--and I was left alone. A line of Marston's "Malcontent," "Death's a good fellow and keeps open house," struck me at that moment as a palpable lie. Sullenly I lay at lengh, the quick among the dead-- Anacharsis inter Scythas.
From what I overheard early in the morning, I was led to believe that the occasions when the vault was made use of were of very rare occurrence. It was probable that many months might elapse before the doors of the tomb would be again unbarred--and even should I survive until that period, what means could I have more than at present, of making known my situation or of escaping from the coffin? I resigned myself, therefore, with much tranquillity to my fate, and fell, after many hours, into a deep and deathlike sleep.
How long I remained thus is to me a mystery. When I awoke my limbs were no longer cramped with the cramp of death--I was no longer without the power of motion. A very slight exertion was sufficient to force off the lid of my prison--for the dampness of the atmosphere had already occasioned decay in the wood-work around the screws.
My steps as I groped around the sides of my habitation were, however, feeble and uncertain, and I felt all the gnawings of hunger with the pains of intolerable thirst. Yet, as time passed away, it is strange that I experienced little uneasiness from these scourges of the earth, in comparisons with the more terrible visitations of the fiend Ennui. Stranger still were the resources by which I endeavored to banish him from my presence.
The sepulchre was large and subdivided into many compartments, and I busied myself in examining the peculiarities of their construction. I determined the length and breadth of my abode. I counted and recounted the stones of the masonry. But there were other methods by which I endeavored to lighten the tedium of my hours. Feeling my way among the numerous coffins ranged in order around, I lifted them down, one by one, and breaking open their lids, busied myself in speculations about the mortality within.
"This," I reflected, tumbling over a carcass, puffy, bloated, and rotund--"this has been, no doubt, in every sense of the word, an unhappy--an unfortunate man. It has been his terrible lot not to walk, but to waddle--to pass through life not like a human being, but like an elephant--not like a man, but like a rhinoceros.
"His attempts at getting on have been mere abortions--and his circumgyratory proceedings a palpable failure. Taking a step forward, it has been his misfortune to take two towards the right, and three towards the left. His studies have been confined to the poetry of Crabbe. He can have had no idea of the wonders of a pirouette. To him a pas de papillon has been an abstract conception. He has never ascended the summit of a hill. He has never viewed from any steeple the glories of a metropolis. Heat has been his mortal enemy. In the dog-days his days have been the days of a dog. Therein, he has dreamed of flames and suffocation--of mountains upon mountains--of Pelion upon Ossa. He was short of breath--to say all in a word--he was short of breath. He thought it extravagant to play upon wind instruments. He was the inventor of self-moving fans--wind-sails--and ventilators. He patronized Du Pont the bellowsmaker--and died miserably in attempting to smoke a cigar. His was a case in which I feel deep interest--a lot in which I sincerely sympathize."
"But here," said I--"here"--and I dragged spitefully from its receptacle a gaunt, tall, and peculiar-looking form, whose remarkable appearance struck me with a sense of unwelcome familiarity--"here," said I--"here is a wretch entitled to no earthly commiseration." Thus saying, in order to obtain a more distinct view of my subject, I applied my thumb and fore-finger to his nose, and, causing him to assume a sitting position upon the ground, held, him thus, at the length of my arm, while I continued my soliloquy.
--"Entitled," I repeated, "to no earthly commiseration. Who indeed would think of compassionating a shadow? Besides--has he not had his full share of the blessings of mortality? He was the originator of tall monuments--shot-towers--lightning-rods--lombardy-poplars. His treatise upon 'Shades and Shadows' has immortalized him. He went early to college and studied pneumatics. He then came home--talked eternally--and played upon the French-horn. He patronized the bag- pipes. Captain Barclay, who walked against Time, would not walk against him. Windham and Allbreath were his favorite writers. He died gloriously while inhaling gas--levique flatu corrumpitur, like the fama pudicitiae in Hieronymus.6 He was indubitably a"--
"How can you?--how--can--you?"--interrupted the object of my animadversions, gasping for breath, and tearing off, with a desperate exertion, the bandage around his jaws--"how can you, Mr. Lack- o'Breath, be so infernally cruel as to pinch me in that manner by the nose? Did you not see how they had fastened up my mouth--and you must know--if you know anything--whata vast superfluity of breath I have to dispose of! If you do not know, however, sit down and you shall see. In my situation it is really a great relief to be able to open one's mouth--to be able to expatiate--to be able to communicate with a person like yourself who do not think yourself called upon at every period to interrupt the thread of a gentleman's discourse. Interruptions are annoying and should undoubtedly be abolished--don't you think so?--no reply, I beg you,--one person is enough to be speaking at a time. I shall be done by-and-by, and then you may begin. How the devil, sir, did you get into this place?--not a word I beseech you--been here some time myself--terrible accident!--heard of it, I suppose--awful calamity!--walking under your windows--some short while ago--about the time you were stagestruck--horrible occurrence! heard of 'catching one's breath,' eh?--hold your tongue I tell you!--I caught somebody else's!--had always too much of my own--met Blab at the corner of the street--would'nt give me a chance for a word-- could'nt get in a syllable edgeways--attacked, consequently, with epilepsis--Blab made his escape--damn all fools!--they took me up for dead, and put me in this place--pretty doings all of them!--heard all you said about me--every word a lie--horrible!--wonderful!-- outrageous!--hideous!--incomprehensible!--et cetera--et cetera--et cetera--et cetera"--
It is impossible to conceive my astonishment at so unexpected a discourse; or the extravagant joy with which I became gradually convinced that the breath so fortunately caught by the gentleman--whom I soon recognised as my neighbor Windenough--was, in fact, the identical expiration mislaid by myself in the conversation with my wife. Time--place--and incidental circumstances rendered it a matter beyond question. I did not, however, immediately release my hold upon Mr. W.'s proboscis--not at least during the long period in which the inventor of lombardy poplars continued to favor me with his explanations. In this respect I was actuated by that habitual prudence which has ever been my predominating trait.
I reflected that many difficulties might still lie in the path of my preservation which only extreme exertion on my part would be able to surmount. Many persons, I considered, are prone to estimate commodities in their possession--however valueless to the then proprietor--however troublesome, or distressing--in precise ratio with the advantages to be derived by others from their attainment--or by themselves from their abandonment. Might not this be the case with Mr. Windenough? In displaying anxiety for the breath of which he was at present so willing to get rid, might I not lay myself open to the exactions of his avarice? There are scoundrels in this world--I remembered with a sigh--who will not scruple to take unfair opportunities with even a next door neighbor--and (this remark is from Epictetus) it is precisely at that time when men are most anxious to throw off the burden of their own calamities that they feel the least desirous of relieving them in others.
Upon considerations similar to these, and still retaining my grasp upon the nose of Mr. W., I accordingly thought proper to model my reply.
"Monster!"--I began in a tone of the deepest indignation--"monster! and double-winded idiot!--dost thou whom, for thine iniquities, it has pleased heaven to accurse with a two-fold respiration--dost thou, I say, presume to address me in the familiar language of an old acquaintance?--'I lie,' forsooth!--and 'hold my tongue,' to be sure-- pretty conversation, indeed, to a gentleman with a single breath!--all this, too, when I have it in my power to relieve the calamity under which thou dost so justly suffer--to curtail the superfluities of thine unhappy respiration." Like Brutus I paused for a reply--with which, like a tornado, Mr. Windenough immediately overwhelmed me. Protestation followed upon protestation, and apology upon apology. There were no terms with which he was unwilling to comply, and there were none of which I failed to take the fullest advantage.
Preliminaries being at length arranged, my acquaintance delivered me the respiration--for which--having carefully examined it--I gave him afterwards a receipt.
I am aware that by many I shall be held to blame for speaking in a manner so cursory of a transaction so impalpable. It will be thought that I should have entered more minutely into the details of an occurrence by which--and all this is very true--much new light might be thrown upon a highly interesting branch of physical philosophy.
To all this I am sorry that I cannot reply. A hint is the only answer which I am permitted to make. There were circumstances--but I think it much safer upon consideration to say as little as possible about an affair so delicate--so delicate, I repeat, and at the same time involving the interests of a third party whose resentment I have not the least desire, at this moment, of incurring.
We were not long after this necessary arrangement in effecting an escape from the dungeons of the sepulchre. The united strength of our resuscitated voices was soon efficiently apparent. Scissors, the Whig Editor, republished a treatise upon "the nature and origin of subterranean noises." A reply--rejoinder--confutation--and justification--followed in the columns of an ultra Gazette. It was not until the opening of the vault to decide the controversy, that the appearance of Mr. Windenough and myself proved both parties to have been decidedly in the wrong.
I cannot conclude these details of some very singular passages in a life at all times sufficiently eventful, without again recalling to the attention of the reader the merits of that indiscriminate philosophy which is a sure and ready shield against those shafts of calamity which can be neither seen, felt, nor fully understood. It was in the spirit of this wisdom that, among the ancient Hebrews, it was believed the gates of heaven would be inevitably opened to that sinner, or saint, who, with good lungs and implicit confidence, should vociferate the word "Amen!" It was in the spirit of this wisdom that, when a great plague raged at Athens, and every means had been in vain attempted for its removal, Epimenides--as Laertius relates in his second book of the life of that philosopher--advised the erection of a shrine and temple--"to the proper God."
6. The general reader will, I dare say, recognise, in these sensations of Mr. Lack-o'Breath, much of the absurd metaphysicianism of the redoubted Schelling.
Tenera res in feminis fama pudicitiae et quasi flos pulcherrimus, cito ad levem marcessit auram, levique flatu corrumpitur--maxime, etc.-- Hieronymus ad Salvinam.
Pestis eram vivus--moriens tua mors ero. --Martin Luther.
Horror and fatality have been stalking abroad in all ages. Why then give a date to the story I have to tell? Let it suffice to say, that at the period of which I speak, there existed, in the interior of Hungary, a settled although hidden belief in the doctrines of the Metempsychosis. Of the doctrines themselves--that is, of their falsity, or of their probability--I say nothing. I assert, however, that much of our incredulity--as La Bruyére says of all our unhappiness--"vient de ne puvoir etre seuls."
But there were some points in the Hungarian superstition which were fast verging to absurdity. They--the Hungarians--differed very essentially from their Eastern authorities. For example. "The soul," said the former--I give the words of an acute and intelligent Parisian--"ne demeure qu'un seul fois dans un corps sensible: au reste--un cheval, un chien, un homme même, n'est que la ressemblance peu tangible de ces animaux."
The families of Berlifitzing and Metzengerstein had been at variance for centuries. Never before were two houses so illustrious mutually embittered by hostility so deadly. Indeed, at the era of this history, it was observed by an old crone of haggard and sinister appearance, that "fire and water might sooner mingle than a Berlifitzing clasp the hand of a Metzengerstein." The origin of this enmity seems to be found in the words of an ancient prophecy--"A lofty name shall have a fearful fall when, like the rider over his horse, the mortality of Metzengerstein shall triumph over the immortality of Berlifitzing."
To be sure the words themselves had little or no meaning. But more trivial causes have given rise--and that no long while ago--to consequences equally eventful. Besides, the estates, which were contiguous, had long exercised a rival influence in the affairs of a busy government. Moreover, near neighbors are seldom friends--and the inhabitants of the Castle Berlifitizing [sic] might look, from their lofty buttresses, into the very windows of the Chateau Metzengerstein. Least of all was the more than feudal magnificence thus discovered calculated to allay the irritable feelings of the less ancient and less wealthy Berlifitzings. What wonder, then, that the words, however silly, of that prediction, should have succeeded in setting and keeping at variance two families already predisposed to quarrel by every instigation of hereditary jealousy? The prophecy seemed to imply--if it implied anything--a final triumph on the part of the already more powerful house; and was of course remembered with the more bitter animosity on the side of the weaker and less influential.
Wilhelm, Count Berlifitzing, although honorably and loftily descended, was, at the epoch of this narrative, an infirm and doting old man, remarkable for nothing but an inordinate and inveterate personal antipathy to the family of his rival, and so passionate a love of horses, and of hunting, that neither bodily infirmity, great age, nor mental incapacity, prevented his daily participation in the dangers of the chase.
Frederick, Baron Metzengerstein, was, on the other hand, not yet of age. His father, the Minister G--, died young. His mother, the Lady Mary, followed quickly after. Frederick was, at that time, in his fifteenth year. In a city fifteen years are no long period--a child may be still a child in his third lustrum: but in a wilderness--in so magnificent a wilderness as that old principality, fifteen years have a far deeper meaning.
The beautiful Lady Mary! How could she die?--and of consumption! But it is a path I have prayed to follow. I would wish all I love to perish of that gentle disease. How glorious! to depart in the heyday of the young blood--the heart all passion--the imagination all fire-- amid the remembrances of happier days--in the fall of the year--and so be buried up forever in the gorgeous autumnal leaves!
Thus died the Lady Mary. The young Baron Frederick stood without a living relative by the coffin of his dead mother. He placed his hand upon her placid forehead. No shudder came over his delicate frame--no sigh from his flinty bosom. Heartless, self-willed and impetuous from his childhood, he had reached the age of which I speak through a career of unfeeling, wanton, and reckless dissipation; and a barrier had long since arisen in the channel of all holy thoughts and gentle recollections.
From some peculiar circumstances attending the administration of his father, the young Baron, at the decease of the former, entered immediately upon his vast possessions. Such estates were seldom held before by a nobleman of Hungary. His castles were without number--of these the chief in point of splendor and extent was the "Chateau Metzengerstein." The boundary line of his dominions was never clearly defined--but his principal park embraced a circuit of fifty miles.
Upon the succession of a proprietor so young--with a character so well known--to a fortune so unparalleled--little speculation was afloat in regard to his probable course of conduct. And, indeed, for the space of three days the behavior of the heir outheroded Herod, and fairly surpassed the expectations of his most enthusiastic admirers. Shameful debaucheries--flagrant treacheries--unheard-of atrocities--gave his trembling vassals quickly to understand that no servile submission on their part--no punctilios of conscience on his own--were thenceforward to prove any security against the remorseless and bloody fangs of a petty Caligula. On the night of the fourth day, the stables of the castle Berlifitzing were discovered to be on fire: and the unanimous opinion of the neighborhood instantaneously added the crime of the incendiary to the already hideous list of the Baron's misdemeanors and enormities.
But during the tumult occasioned by this occurrence, the young nobleman himself sat, apparently buried in meditation, in a vast and desolate upper apartment of the family palace of Metzengerstein. The rich although faded tapestry-hangings which swung gloomily upon the walls, represented the shadowy and majestic forms of a thousand illustrious ancestors. Here, rich-ermined priests, and pontifical dignitaties, familiarly seated with the autocrat and the sovereign, put a veto on the wishes of a temporal king--or restrained with the fiat of papal supremacy the rebellious sceptre of the Arch-enemy. There, the dark, tall statures of the Princess Metzengerstein--their muscular war-coursers plunging over the carcass of a fallen foe-- startled the steadiest nerves with their vigorous expression: and here, again, the voluptuous and swan-like figures of the dames of days gone by, floated away in the mazes of an unreal dance to the strains of imaginary melody.
But as the Baron listened, or affected to listen, to the gradually increasing uproar in the stables of Berlifitzing--or perhaps pondered upon some more novel--some more decided act of audacity--his eyes became unwittingly rivetted to the figure of an enormous, and unnaturally colored horse, represented in the tapestry as belonging to a Saracen ancestor of the family of his rival. The horse itself, in the foreground of the design, stood motionless and statue-like--while farther back its discomfited rider perished by the dagger of a Metzengerstein.
On Frederick's lip arose a fiendish expression, as he became aware of the direction his glance had, without his consciousness, assumed. Yet he did not remove it. On the contrary he could by no means account for the overwhelming anxiety which appeared falling like a shroud upon his senses. It was with difficulty that he reconciled his dreamy and incoherent feelings with the certainty of being awake. The longer he gazed, the more absorbing became the spell--the more impossible did it appear that he could ever withdraw his glance from the fascination of that tapestry. But the tumult without becoming suddenly more violent, with a kind of compulsory and desperate exertion he diverted his attention to the glare of ruddy light thrown full by the flaming stables upon the windows of the apartment.
The action, however, was but momentary--his gaze returned mechanically to the wall. To his extreme horror and astonishment the head of the gigantic steed had, in the meantime, altered its position. The neck of the animal, before arched, as if in compassion, over the prostrate body of its lord, was now extended, at full length, in the direction of the Baron. The eyes, before invisible, now wore an energetic and human expression, while they gleamed with a fiery and unusual red: and the distended lips of the apparently enraged horse left in full view his gigantic and disgusting teeth.
Stupified with terror the young nobleman tottered to the door. As he threw it open, a flash of red light streaming far into the chamber, flung his shadow with a clear outline against the quivering tapestry; and he shuddered to perceive that shadow--as he staggered awhile upon the threshold--assuming the exact position, and precisely filling up the contour, of the relentless and triumphant murderer of the Saracen Berlifitzing.
To lighten the depression of his spirits the Baron hurried into the open air. At the principal gate of the chateau he encountered three equerries. With much difficulty, and at the imminent peril of their lives, they were restraining the unnatural and convulsive plunges of a gigantic and fiery-colored horse.
"Whose horse? Where did you get him?" demanded the youth in a querulous and husky tone of voice, as he became instantly aware that the mysterious steed in the tapestried chamber was the very counterpart of the furious animal before his eyes.
"He is your own property, sire"--replied one of the equerries--"at least he is claimed by no other owner. We caught him flying, all smoking and foaming with rage, from the burning stables of the Castle Berlifitzing. Supposing him to have belonged to the old Count's stud of foreign horses, we led him back as an estray. But the grooms there disclaim any title to the creature--which is strange, since he bears evident marks of having made a narrow escape from the flames."
"The letters W. V. B. are also branded very distinctly on his forehead"--interrupted a second equerry--"I supposed them, of course, to be the initials of Wilhelm Von Berlifitzing--but all at the castle are positive in denying any knowledge of the horse."
"Extremely singular!" said the young Baron, with a musing air, and apparently unconscious of the meaning of his words--"He is, as you say, a remarkable horse--a prodigious horse! although, as you very justly observe, of a suspicious and untractable character--let him be mine, however," he added, after a pause--"perhaps a rider like Frederick of Metzengerstein, may tame even the devil from the stables of Berlifitzing."
"You are mistaken, my lord--the horse, as I think we mentioned, is not from the stables of the Count. If such were the case, we know our duty better than to bring him into the presence of a noble of your family."
"True!" observed the Baron drily--and at that instant a page of the bed-chamber came from the chateau with a heightened color, and precipitate step. He whispered into his master's ear an account of the miraculous and sudden disappearance of a small portion of the tapestry, in an apartment which he designated; entering, at the same time, into particulars of a minute and circumstantial character--but from the low tone of voice in which these latter were communicated, nothing escaped to gratify the excited curiosity of the equerries.
The young Frederick, during the conference, seemed agitated by a variety of emotions. He soon, however, recovered his composure, and an expression of determined malignancy settled upon his countenance, as he gave peremptory orders that a certain chamber should be immediately locked up, and the key placed in his own possession.
"Have you heard of the unhappy death of the old hunter Berlifitzing?" said one of his vassals to the Baron, as, after the affair of the page, the huge and mysterious steed which that nobleman had adopted as his own, plunged and curvetted, with redoubled and supernatural fury, down the long avenue which extended from the chateau to the stables of Metzengerstein.
"No!"--said the Baron, turning abruptly towards the speaker--"dead! say you?"
"It is indeed true, my lord--and, to a noble of your name, will be, I imagine, no unwelcome intelligence."
A rapid smile of a peculiar and unintelligible meaning shot over the beautiful countenance of the listener--"How died he?"
"In his rash exertions to rescue a favorite portion of his hunting stud, he has himself perished miserably in the flames."
"I--n--d--e--e--d--!" ejaculated the Baron, as if slowly and deliberately impressed with the truth of some exciting idea.
"Indeed"--repeated the vassal.
"Shocking!" said the youth calmly, and turned quietly into the chateau.
From this date a marked alteration took place in the outward demeanor of the dissolute young Baron Frederick Von Metzengerstein. Indeed his behavior disappointed every expectation, and proved little in accordance with the views of many a manoeuvring mamma--while his habits and manners, still less than formerly, offered anything congenial with those of the neighboring aristocracy. He was never to be seen beyond the limits of his own domain, and, in this wide and social world, was utterly companionless--unless, indeed, that unnatural, impetuous, and fiery-colored horse, which he henceforward continually bestrode, had any mysterious right to the title of his friend.
Numerous invitations on the part of the neighborhood for a long time, however, periodically came in--"Will the Baron honor our festivals with his presence?" "Will the Baron join us in a hunting of the boar?" "Metzengerstein does not hunt"--"Metzengerstein will not attend"--were the haughty and laconic answers.
These repeated insults were not to be endured by an imperious nobility. Such invitations became less cordial--less frequent--in time they ceased altogether. The widow of the unfortunate Count Berlifitzing was even heard to express a hope--"that the Baron might be at home when he did not wish to be at home, since he disdained the company of his equals; and ride when he did not wish to ride, since he preferred the society of a horse." This to be sure was a very silly explosion of hereditary pique; and merely proved how singularly unmeaning our sayings are apt to become, when we desire to be unusually energetic.
The charitable, nevertheless, attributed the alteration in the conduct of the young nobleman to the natural sorrow of a son for the untimely loss of his parents--forgetting, however, his atrocious and reckless behavior during the short period immediately succeeding that bereavement. Some there were, indeed, who suggested a too haughty idea of selfconsequence and dignity. Others again--among whom may be mentioned the family physician--did not hesitate in speaking of morbid melancholy, and hereditary ill-health: while dark hints, of a more equivocal nature, were current among the multitude.
Indeed the Baron's perverse attachment to his lately-acquired charger--an attachment which seemed to attain new strength from every fresh example of the animal's ferocious and demon-like propensities-- at length became, in the eyes of all reasonable men, a hideous and unnatural fervor. In the glare of noon--at the dead hour of night--in sickness or in health--in calm or in tempest--in moonlight or in shadow--the young Metzengerstein seemed rivetted to the saddle of that colossal horse, whose intractable audacities so well accorded with the spirit of his own.
There were circumstances, moreover, which, coupled with late events, gave an unearthly and portentous character to the mania of the rider, and to the capabilities of the steed. The space passed over in a single leap had been accurately measured, and was found to exceed by an astounding difference, the wildest expectations of the most imaginative. The Baron, besides, had no particular name for the animal, although all the rest in his extensive collection were distinguished by characteristic appellations. His stable, too, was appointed at a distance from the rest; and with regard to grooming and other necessary offices, none but the owner in person had ventured to officiate, or even to enter the enclosure of that particular stall. It was also to be observed, that although the three grooms, who had caught the horse as he fled from the conflagration at Berlifitzing, had succeeded in arresting his course, by means of a chain-bridle and noose--yet no one of the three could with any certainty affirm that he had, during that dangerous struggle, or at any period thereafter, actually placed his hand upon the body of the beast. Instances of peculiar intelligence in the demeanor of a noble and high spirited steed are not to be supposed capable of exciting unreasonable attention--especially among men who, daily trained to the labors of the chase, might appear well acquainted with the sagacity of a horse-- but there were certain circumstances which intruded themselves per force, upon the most skeptical and phlegmatic--and it is said there were times when the animal caused the gaping crowd who stood around to recoil in silent horror from the deep and impressive meaning of his terrible stamp--times when the young Metzengerstein turned pale and shrunk away from the rapid and searching expression of his earnest and humanlooking eye.
Among all the retinue of the Baron, however, none were found to doubt the ardor of that extraordinary affection which existed on the part of the young nobleman for the fiery qualities of his horse--at least, none but an insignificant and misshapen little page, whose deformities were in every body's way, and whose opinions were of the least possible importance. He--if his ideas are worth mentioning at all--had the effrontery to assert that his master never vaulted into the saddle, without an unaccountable and almost imperceptible shudder--and that, upon his return from every long-continued and habitual ride, an expression of triumphant malignity distorted every muscle in his countenance.
One tempestuous night, Metzengerstein, awaking from a heavy and oppressive slumber, descended like a maniac from his chamber, and mounting in great haste, bounded away into the mazes of the forest. An occurrence so common attracted no particular attention--but his return was looked for with intense anxiety on the part of his domestics, when, after some hour's absence, the stupendous and magnificent battlements of the Chateau Metzengerstein, were discovered crackling and rocking to their very foundation, under the influence of a dense and livid mass of ungovernable fire.
As the flames, when first seen, had already made so terrible a progress that all efforts to save any portion of the building were evidently futile, the astonished neighborhood stood idly around in silent and apathetic wonder. But a new and fearful object soon rivetted the attention of the multitude, and proved how much more intense is the excitement wrought in the feelings of a crowd by the contemplation of human agony, than that brought about by the most appalling spectacles of inanimate matter.
Up the long avenue of aged oaks which led from the forest to the main entrance of the Chateau Metzengerstein, a steed, bearing an unbonneted and disordered rider, was seen leaping with an impetuosity which out- stripped the very Demon of the Tempest, and extorted from every stupified beholder the ejaculation--"horrible!"
The career of the horseman was indisputably, on his own part, uncontrollable. The agony of his countenance--the convulsive struggle of his frame--gave evidence of superhuman exertion: but no sound, save a solitary shriek, escaped from his lacerated lips, which were bitten through and through in the intensity of terror. One instant, and the clattering of hoofs resounded sharply and shrilly above the roaring of the flames and the shrieking of the winds--another, and, clearing at a single plunge the gate-way and the moat, the steed bounded far up the tottering stair-cases of the palace, and, with its rider, disappeared amid the whirlwind of chaotic fire.
The fury of the tempest immediately died away, and a dead calm sullenly succeeded. A white flame still enveloped the building like a shroud, and, streaming far away into the quiet atmosphere, shot forth a glare of preternatural light; while a cloud of smoke settled heavily over the battlements in the distinct colossal figure of--a horse.
Misery is manifold. The wretchedness of earth is multiform. Overreaching the wide horizon like the rainbow, its hues are as various as the hues of that arch, as distinct too, yet as intimately blended. Overreaching the wide horizon like the rainbow! How is it that from beauty I have derived a type of unloveliness?--from the covenant of peace a simile of sorrow? But as, in ethics, evil is a consequence of good, so, in fact, out of joy is sorrow born. Either the memory of past bliss is the anguish of to-day, or the agonies which are have their origin in the ecstasies which might have been. I have a tale to tell in its own essence rife with horror--I would suppress it were it not a record more of feelings than of facts.
My baptismal name is Egæus--that of my family I will not mention. Yet there are no towers in the land more time-honored than my gloomy, gray hereditary halls. Our line has been called a race of visionaries: and in many striking particulars--in the character of the family mansion-- in the frescos of the chief saloon--in the tapestries of the dormitories--in the chiseling of some buttresses in the armory--but more especially in the gallery of antique paintings--in the fashion of the library chamber--and, lastly, in the very peculiar nature of the library's contents, there is more than sufficient evidence to warrant the belief.
The recollections of my earliest years are connected with that chamber, and with its volumes--of which latter I will say no more. Here died my mother. Herein was I born. But it is mere idleness to say that I had not lived before--that the soul has no previous existence. You deny it--let us not argue the matter. Convinced myself I seek not to convince. There is, however, a remembrance of aërial forms--of spiritual and meaning eyes--of sounds, musical yet sad--a remembrance which will not be excluded: a memory like a shadow, vague, variable, indefinite, unsteady--and like a shadow too in the impossibility of my getting rid of it, while the sunlight of my reason shall exist.
In that chamber was I born. Thus awaking from the long night of what seemed, but was not, nonentity, at once into the very regions of fairy land--into a palace of imagination--into the wild dominions of monastic thought and erudition--it is not singular that I gazed around me with a startled and ardent eye--that I loitered away my boyhood in books, and dissipated my youth in reverie--but it is singular that as years rolled away, and the noon of manhood found me still in the mansion of my fathers--it is wonderful what stagnation there fell upon the springs of my life--wonderful how total an inversion took place in the character of my common thoughts. The realities of the world affected me as visions, and as visions only, while the wild ideas of the land of dreams became, in turn,--not the material of my every-day existence--but in very deed that existence utterly and solely in itself.
Berenice and I were cousins, and we grew up together in my paternal halls--yet differently we grew. I ill of health and buried in gloom-- she agile, graceful, and overflowing with energy. Hers the ramble on the hill-side--mine the studies of the cloister. I living within my own heart, and addicted body and soul to the most intense and painful meditation--she roaming carelessly through life with no thought of the shadows in her path, or the silent flight of the raven-winged hours. Berenice!--I call upon her name--Berenice!--and from the gray ruins of memory a thousand tumultuous recollections are startled at the sound! Ah! vividly is her image before me now, as in the early days of her light-heartedness and joy! Oh! gorgeous yet fantastic beauty! Oh! sylph amid the shrubberies of Arnheim!--Oh! Naiad among her fountains!--and then--then all is mystery and terror, and a tale which should not be told. Disease--a fatal disease--fell like the simoon upon her frame, and, even while I gazed upon her, the spirit of change swept over her, pervading her mind, her habits, and her character, and, in a manner the most subtle and terrible, disturbing even the identity of her person! Alas! the destroyer came and went, and the victim--where was she? I knew her not--or knew her no longer as Berenice.
Among the numerous train of maladies, superinduced by that fatal and primary one which effected a revolution of so horrible a kind in the moral and physical being of my cousin, may be mentioned as the most distressing and obstinate in its nature, a species of epilepsy not unfrequently terminating in trance itself--trance very nearly resembling positive dissolution, and from which her manner of recovery was, in most instances, startlingly abrupt. In the meantime my own disease--for I have been told that I should call it by no other appellation--my own disease, then, grew rapidly upon me, and, aggravated in its symptoms by the immoderate use of opium, assumed finally a monomaniac character of a novel and extraordinary form-- hourly and momently gaining vigor--and at length obtaining over me the most singular and incomprehensible ascendency. This monomania--if I must so term it--consisted in a morbid irritability of the nerves immediately affecting those properties of the mind in metaphysical science termed the attentive. It is more than probable that I am not understood--but I fear that it is indeed in no manner possible to convey to the mind of the merely general reader, an adequate idea of that nervous intensity of interest with which, in my case, the powers of meditation (not to speak technically) busied and, as it were, buried themselves, in the contemplation of even the most common objects of the universe.
To muse for long unwearied hours with my attention rivetted to some frivolous device upon the margin, or in the typography of a book--to become absorbed for the better part of a summer's day in a quaint shadow falling aslant upon the tapestry, or upon the floor--to lose myself for an entire night in watching the steady flame of a lamp, or the embers of a fire--to dream away whole days over the perfume of a flower--to repeat monotonously some common word, until the sound, by dint of frequent repetition, ceased to convey any idea whatever to the mind--to lose all sense of motion or physical existence in a state of absolute bodily quiescence long and obstinately persevered in--such were a few of the most common and least pernicious vagaries induced by a condition of the mental faculties, not, indeed, altogether unparalleled, but certainly bidding defiance to anything like analysis or explanation.
Yet let me not be misapprehended. The undue, earnest, and morbid attention thus excited by objects in their own nature frivolous, must not be confounded in character with that ruminating propensity common to all mankind, and more especially indulged in by persons of ardent imagination. It was not even, as might be at first supposed, an extreme condition, or exaggeration of such propensity, but primarily and essentially distinct and different. In the one instance the dreamer, or enthusiast, being interested by an object usually not frivolous, imperceptibly loses sight of this object in a wilderness of deductions and suggestions issuing therefrom, until, at the conclusion of a day-dream often replete with luxury, he finds the incitamentum or first cause of his musings entirely vanished and forgotten. In my case the primary object was invariably frivolous, although assuming, through the medium of my distempered vision, a refracted and unreal importance. Few deductions--if any--were made; and those few pertinaciously returning in, so to speak, upon the original object as a centre. The meditations were never pleasurable; and, at the termination of the reverie, the first cause, so far from being out of sight, had attained that supernaturally exaggerated interest which was the prevailing feature of the disease. In a word, the powers of mind more particularly exercised were, with me, as I have said before, the attentive, and are, with the day-dreamer, the speculative.
My books, at this epoch, if they did not actually serve to irritate the disorder, partook, it will be perceived, largely, in their imaginative, and inconsequential nature, of the characteristic qualities of the disorder itself. I well remember, among others, the treatise of the noble Italian Coelius Secundus Curio "de amplitudine beati regni Dei"--St. Austin's great work, the "City of God"--and Tertullian "de Carne Christi," in which the unintelligible sentence "Mortuus est Dei filius; credibile est quia ineptum est: et sepultus resurrexit; certum est quia impossibile est" occupied my undivided time, for many weeks of laborious and fruitless investigation.
Thus it will appear that, shaken from its balance only by trivial things, my reason bore resemblance to that ocean-crag spoken of by Ptolemy Hephestion, which, steadily resisting the attacks of human violence, and the fiercer fury of the waters and the winds, trembled only to the touch of the flower called Asphodel. And although, to a careless thinker, it might appear a matter beyond doubt, that the fearful alteration produced by her unhappy malady, in the moral condition of Berenice, would afford me many objects for the exercise of that intense and morbid meditation whose nature I have been at some trouble in explaining, yet such was not by any means the case. In the lucid intervals of my infirmity, her calamity indeed gave me pain, and, taking deeply to heart that total wreck of her fair and gentle life, I did not fail to ponder frequently and bitterly upon the wonder-working means by which so strange a revolution had been so suddenly brought to pass. But these reflections partook not of the idiosyncrasy of my disease, and were such as would have occurred, under similar circumstances, to the ordinary mass of mankind. True to its own character, my disorder revelled in the less important but more startling changes wrought in the physical frame of Berenice, and in the singular and most appalling distortion of her personal identity.
During the brightest days of her unparalleled beauty, most surely I had never loved her. In the strange anomaly of my existence, feelings, with me, had never been of the heart, and my passions always were of the mind. Through the gray of the early morning--among the trellissed shadows of the forest at noon-day--and in the silence of my library at night, she had flitted by my eyes, and I had seen her--not as the living and breathing Berenice, but as the Berenice of a dream--not as a being of the earth--earthly--but as the abstraction of such a being--not as a thing to admire, but to analyze--not as an object of love, but as the theme of the most abstruse although desultory speculation. And now--now I shuddered in her presence, and grew pale at her approach; yet, bitterly lamenting her fallen and desolate condition, I knew that she had loved me long, and, in an evil moment, I spoke to her of marriage.
And at length the period of our nuptials was approaching, when, upon an afternoon in the winter of the year, one of those unseasonably warm, calm, and misty days which are the nurse of the beautiful Halcyon,(*) I sat, and sat, as I thought, alone, in the inner apartment of the library. But uplifting my eyes Berenice stood before me.
[* For as Jove, during the winter season, gives twice seven days of warmth, men have called this clement and temperate time the nurse of the beautiful Halcyon. --Simonides.]
Was it my own excited imagination--or the misty influence of the atmosphere--or the uncertain twilight of the chamber--or the gray draperies which fell around her figure--that caused it to loom up in so unnatural a degree? I could not tell. She spoke no word, and I--not for worlds could I have uttered a syllable. An icy chill ran through my frame; a sense of insufferable anxiety oppressed me; a consuming curiosity pervaded my soul; and, sinking back upon the chair, I remained for some time breathless, and motionless, and with my eyes rivetted upon her person. Alas! its emaciation was excessive, and not one vestige of the former being lurked in any single line of the contour. My burning glances at length fell upon the face.
The forehead was high, and very pale, and singularly placid; and the once golden hair fell partially over it, and overshadowed the hollow temples with ringlets now black as the raven's wing, and jarring discordantly, in their fantastic character, with the reigning melancholy of the countenance. The eyes were lifeless, and lustreless, and I shrunk involuntarily from their glassy stare to the contemplation of the thin and shrunken lips. They parted: and in a smile of peculiar meaning, the teeth of the changed Berenice disclosed themselves slowly to my view. Would to God that I had never beheld them, or that, having done so, I had died!
The shutting of a door disturbed me, and, looking up, I found my cousin had departed from the chamber. But from the disordered chamber of my brain, had not, alas! departed, and would not be driven away, the white and ghastly spectrum of the teeth. Not a speck upon their surface--not a shade on their enamel--not a line in their configuration--not an indenture in their edges--but what that brief period of her smile had sufficed to brand in upon my memory. I saw them now even more unequivocally than I beheld them then. The teeth!-- the teeth!--they were here, and there, and every where, and visibly, and palpably before me, long, narrow, and excessively white, with the pale lips writhing about them, as in the very moment of their first terrible development. Then came the full fury of my monomania, and I struggled in vain against its strange and irresistible influence. In the multiplied objects of the external world I had no thoughts but for the teeth. All other matters and all different interests became absorbed in their single contemplation. They--they alone were present to the mental eye, and they, in their sole individuality, became the essence of my mental life. I held them in every light--I turned them in every attitude. I surveyed their characteristics--I dwelt upon their peculiarities--I pondered upon their conformation--I mused upon the alteration in their nature--and shuddered as I assigned to them in imagination a sensitive and sentient power, and even when unassisted by the lips, a capability of moral expression. Of Mad'selle Sallé it has been said, "que tous ses pas etaient des sentiments," and of Berenice I more seriously believed que tous ses dents etaient des idées.
And the evening closed in upon me thus--and then the darkness came, and tarried, and went--and the day again dawned--and the mists of a second night were now gathering around--and still I sat motionless in that solitary room, and still I sat buried in meditation, and still the phantasma of the teeth maintained its terrible ascendency as, with the most vivid and hideous distinctness, it floated about amid the changing lights and shadows of the chamber. At length there broke forcibly in upon my dreams a wild cry as of horror and dismay; and thereunto, after a pause, succeeded the sound of troubled voices, intermingled with many low moanings of sorrow, or of pain. I arose hurriedly from my seat, and, throwing open one of the doors of the library, saw standing out in the antechamber a servant maiden, all in tears; and she told me that Berenice was--no more. Seized with an epileptic fit she had fallen dead in the early morning, and now, at the closing in of the night, the grave was ready for its tenant, and all the preparations for the burial were completed.
With a heart full of grief, yet reluctantly, and oppressed with awe, I made my way to the bed-chamber of the departed. The room was large, and very dark, and at every step within its gloomy precincts I encountered the paraphernalia of the grave. The coffin, so a menial told me, lay surrounded by the curtains of yonder bed, and in that coffin, he whisperingly assured me, was all that remained of Berenice. Who was it asked me would I not look upon the corpse? I had seen the lips of no one move, yet the question had been demanded, and the echo of the syllables still lingered in the room. It was impossible to refuse; and with a sense of suffocation I dragged myself to the side of the bed. Gently I uplifted the sable draperies of the curtains. As I let them fall they descended upon my shoulders, and shutting me thus out from the living, enclosed me in the strictest communion with the deceased. The very atmosphere was redolent of death. The peculiar smell of the coffin sickened me! and I fancied a deleterious odor was already exhaling from the body. I would have given worlds to escape-- to fly from the pernicious influence of mortality--to breathe once again the pure air of the eternal heavens. But I had no longer the power to move--my knees tottered beneath me--and I remained rooted to the spot, and gazing upon the frightful length of the rigid body as it lay outstretched in the dark coffin without a lid.
God of heaven!--was it possible? Was it my brain that reeled--or was it indeed the finger of the enshrouded dead that stirred in the white cerement that bound it? Frozen with unutterable awe I slowly raised my eyes to the countenance of the corpse. There had been a band around the jaws, but, I know not how, it was broken asunder. The livid lips were wreathed into a species of smile, and, through the enveloping gloom, once again there glared upon me in too palpable reality, the white and glistening, and ghastly teeth of Berenice. I sprang convulsively from the bed, and, uttering no word, rushed forth a maniac from that apartment of triple horror, and mystery, and death.
I found myself again sitting in the library, and again sitting there alone. It seemed that I had newly awakened from a confused and exciting dream. I knew that it was now midnight, and I was well aware that since the setting of the sun Berenice had been interred. But of that dreary period which had intervened I had no positive, at least no definite comprehension. But its memory was rife with horror--horror more horrible from being vague, and terror more terrible from ambiguity. It was a fearful page in the record of my existence, written all over with dim, and hideous, and unintelligible recollections. I strived to decypher them, but in vain--while ever and anon, like the spirit of a departed sound, the shrill and piercing shriek of a female voice seemed to be ringing in my ears. I had done a deed--what was it? And the echoes of the chamber answered me "what was it?"
On the table beside me burned a lamp, and near it lay a little box of ebony. It was a box of no remarkable character, and I had seen it frequently before, it being the property of the family physician; but how came it there upon my table, and why did I shudder in regarding it? These were things in no manner to be accounted for, and my eyes at length dropped to the open pages of a book, and to a sentence underscored therein. The words were the singular but simple words of the poet Ebn Zaiat. "Dicebant mihi sodales si sepulchrum amicae visitarem curas meas aliquantulum fore levatas." Why then, as I perused them, did the hairs of my head erect themselves on end, and the blood of my body congeal within my veins?
There came a light tap at the library door, and, pale as the tenant of a tomb, a menial entered upon tiptoe. His looks were wild with terror, and he spoke to me in a voice tremulous, husky, and very low. What said he?--some broken sentences I heard. He told of a wild cry disturbing the silence of the night--of the gathering together of the household--of a search in the direction of the sound--and then his tones grew thrillingly distinct as he whispered me of a violated grave--of a disfigured body discovered upon its margin--a body enshrouded, yet still breathing, still palpitating, still alive!
He pointed to my garments--they were muddy and clotted with gore. I spoke not, and he took me gently by the hand--but it was indented with the impress of human nails. He directed my attention to some object against the wall--I looked at it for some minutes--it was a spade. With a shriek I bounded to the table, and grasped the ebony box that lay upon it. But I could not force it open, and in my tremor it slipped from out of my hands, and fell heavily, and burst into pieces; and from it, with a rattling sound, there rolled out some instruments of dental surgery, intermingled with many white and glistening substances that were scattered to and fro about the floor.
It's on my wisiting cards sure enough (and it's them that's all o' pink satin paper) that inny gintleman that plases may behould the intheristhing words, "Sir Pathrick O'Grandison, Barronit, 39 Southampton Row, Russel Square, Parrish o' Bloomsbury." And shud ye be wanting to diskiver who is the pink of purliteness quite, and the laider of the hot tun in the houl city o'London--why it's jist meself. And faith that same is no wonder at all at all, so be plased to stop curling your nose, for every inch o' the six wakes that I've been a gintleman, and left aff wid the bogthrothing to take up wid the Barronissy, it's Pathrick that's been living like a houly imperor, and gitting the iddication and the graces. Och! and would'nt it be a blessed thing for your sperrits if ye cud lay your two peepers jist, upon Sir Pathrick O'Grandison, Barronitt, when he is all riddy drissed for the hopperer, or stipping into the Brisky for the drive into the Hyde Park. But it's the iligant big figgur that I have, for the reason o' which all the ladies fall in love wid me. Isn't it my own swate self now that'll missure the six fut, and the three inches more nor that in me stockings, and that am excadingly will proportioned all over to match? And is it really more than the three fut and a bit that there is, inny how, of the little ould furrener Frinchman that lives jist over the way, and that's a oggling and a goggling the houl day, (and bad luck to him,) at the purty widdy Misthress Tracle that's my own nixt door neighbor, (God bliss her) and most particuller frind and acquaintance? You percave the little spalpeen is summat down in the mouth, and wears his lift hand in a sling; and it's for that same thing, by yur lave, that I'm going to give you the good rason.
The thruth of the houl matter is jist simple enough; for the very first day that I com'd from Connaught, and showd my swate little silf in the strait to the widdy, who was looking through the windy, it was a gone case althegither wid the heart o' the purty Misthress Tracle. I percaved it, ye see, all at once, and no mistake, and that's God's thruth. First of all it was up wid the windy in a jiffy, and thin she threw open her two peepers to the itmost, and thin it was a little gould spy-glass that she clapped tight to one o' them, and divil may burn me if it didn't spake to me as plain as a peeper cud spake, and says it, through the spy-glass--"Och! the tip o' the mornin to ye, Sir Pathrick O'Grandison, Barronitt, mavourneen; and it's a nate gintleman that ye are, sure enough, and it's meself and me fortin jist that'll be at yur sarvice, dear, inny time o' day at all at all for the asking." And it's not meself ye wud have to be bate in the purliteness; so I made her a bow that wud have broken yur heart althegither to behould, and thin I pulled aff me hat with a flourish, and thin I winked at her hard wid both eyes, as much as to say--"Thrue for you, yer a swate little crature, Mrs. Tracle, me darlint, and I wish I may be drownthed dead in a bog, if its not meself, Sir Pathrick O'Grandison, Barronitt, that'll make a houl bushel o' the to yur leddy-ship, in the twinkling o' the eye of a Londonderry purraty."
And it was the nixt mornin, sure enough, jist as I was making up me mind whither it wouldn't be the purlite thing to sind a bit o' writing to the widdy by way of a love-litter, when up cum'd the delivery sarvant wid an illigant card, and he tould me that the name on it (for I niver cud rade the copper-plate printing on account of being lift handed) was all about Mounseer, the Count, A Goose, Look-aisy, Maiter- didauns, and that the houl o' the divilish lingo was the spalpeeny long name of the little ould furrener Frinchman as lived over the way.
And jist wid that in cum'd the little willain himself, and thin he made me a broth of a bow, and thin he said he had ounly taken the liberty of doing me the honor, of the giving me a call, and thin he went on to palaver at a great rate, and divil the bit did I comprehind what he wud be afther the tilling me at all at all, excipting and saving that he said "pully wou, woolly wou," and tould me, among a bushel o' lies, bad luck to him, that he was mad for the love o' my widdy Misthress Tracle, and that my widdy Mrs. Tracle had a puncheon for him.
At the hearin of this, ye may swear, though, I was as mad as a grasshopper, but I remimbered that I was Sir Pathrick O'Grandison, Barronitt, and that it wasn't althegither gentaal to lit the anger git the upper hand o' the purliteness, so I made light o' the matter and kipt dark, and got quite sociable wid the little chap, and afther a while what did he do but ask me to go wid him to the widdy's, saying he wud give me the feshionable introduction to her leddyship.
"Is it there ye are?" said I thin to meself--"and its thrue for you Pathrick that ye're the fortunnittest mortal in life. We'll soon see now whither its your swate silf, dear, or whither its little Mounseer Maiterdi-dauns, that Misthress Tracle is head and ears in the love wid."
Wid that we wint aff to the widdy's, next door, and ye may well say it was an illigant place--so it was. There was a carpet all over the floor, and in one corner there was a forty-pinny and a jews-harp and the divil knows what ilse, and in another corner was a sofy--the beautifullest thing in all natur--and sittin on the sofy, sure enough there was the swate little angel, Misthress Tracle.
"The tip o' the morning to ye," says I--"Mrs. Tracle"--and then I made sich an iligant obaysance that it wud ha quite althegither bewildered the brain o' ye.
"Wully woo, pully woo, plump in the mud," says the little furrenner Frinchman--"and sure enough Mrs. Tracle, says he, that he did--isn't this gintleman here jist his riverence Sir Pathrick O'Grandison, Barronitt, and isn't he althegither and entirely the most purticular frind and acquaintance that I have in the houl world?"
And wid that the widdy, she gits up from the sofy, and makes the swatest curtchy nor iver was seen; and thin down she gits agin like an angel; and thin, by the powers, it was that little spalpeen Mounseer Maiter-di-dauns that plumped his self right down by the right side of her. Och hon! I ixpicted the two eyes o' me wud ha cum'd out of my head on the spot, I was so dispirate mad! Howiver--"Bait who!" says I, after a while. "Is it there ye are, Mounseer Maiter-di-dauns?" and so down I plumped on the lift side of her leddyship, to be aven wid the willain. Botheration! it wud ha done your heart good to percave the illigant double wink that I gived her jist thin right in the face wid both eyes.
But the little ould Frinchman he niver beginned to suspict me at all at all, and disperate hard it was he made the love to her leddyship. "Woully wou" says he--"Pully wou" says he--"Plump in the mud."
"That's all to no use, Mounseer Frog, mavourneen," thinks I--and I talked as hard and as fast as I could all the while, and troth it was meself jist that divarted her leddyship complately and intirely, by rason of the illigant conversation that I kipt up wid her all about the swate bogs of Connaught. And by and by she giv'd me sich a swate smile, from one ind of her mouth to the other, that it made me as bould as a pig, and I jist took hould of the ind of her little finger in the most dillikittest manner in natur, looking at her all the while out o' the whites of my eyes.
And thin ounly to percave the cuteness of the swate angel, for no sooner did she obsarve that I was afther the squazing of her flipper, than she up wid it in a jiffy, and put it away behind her back, jist as much as to say--"Now thin, Sir Pathrick O'Grandison, there's a bitther chance for ye, mavourneen, for its not althegither the gentaal thing to be afther the squazing of my flipper right full in the sight of that little furrenner Frinchman, Mounseer Maiter-didauns."
Wid that I giv'd her a big wink jist to say--"lit Sir Pathrick alone for the likes o' them thricks"--and thin I wint aisy to work, and you'd have died wid the divarsion to behould how cliverly I slipped my right arm betwane the back o' the sofy, and the back of her leddyship, and there, sure enough, I found a swate little flipper all a waiting to say--"the tip o' the mornin to ye, Sir Pathrick O'Grandison, Barronit." And wasn't it meself, sure, that jist giv'd the laste little bit of a squaze in the world, all in the way of a commincement, and not to be too rough wid her leddyship? and och, botheration, wasn't it the gentaalest and delikittest of all the little squazes that I got in return? "Blood and thunder, Sir Pathrick, mavourneen" thinks I to meself, "faith it's jist the mother's son of you, and nobody else at all at all, that's the handsommest and the fortunittest young bogthrotter that ever cum'd out of Connaught!" And wid that I giv'd the flipper a big squaze--and a big squaze it was, by the powers, that her leddyship giv'd to me back. But it wud ha split the seven sides of you wid the laffin to behould, jist thin all at once, the concated behaviour of Mounseer Maiter-di-dauns. The likes o' rich a jabbering, and a smirking, and a parly-wouing as he begin'd wid her leddyship, niver was known before upon arth; and divil may burn me if it wasn't my own very two peepers that cotch'd him tipping her the wink out of one eye. Och hon! if it wasn't meself thin that was as mad as a Kilkenny cat I shud like to be tould who it was!
"Let me infarm you, Mounseer Maiter-di-dauns," said I, as purlit as iver ye seed, "that it's not the gintaal thing at all at all, and not for the likes o' you inny how, to be after the oggling and a goggling at her leddyship in that fashion--and jist wid that such another squaze as it was I giv'd her flipper, all as much as to say--"isn't it Sir Pathrick now, my jewel, that'll be able to the proticting o' you, my darlint?"--and thin there cum'd another squaze back, all by way of the answer--"Thrue for you, Sir Pathrick," it said as plain as iver a squaze said in the world--"Thrue for you, Sir Pathrick, mavourneen, and it's a proper nate gintleman ye are--that God's thruth"--and wid that she opened her two beautiful peepers till I belaved they wud ha com'd out of her head althegither and intirely, and she looked first as mad as a cat at Mounseer Frog, and thin as smiling as all out o' doors at meself.
"Thin," says he, the willian, "Och hon! and a woolly-wou, pully-wou," and thin wid that he shoved up his two shoulders, till the divil the bit of his head was to be diskivered, and thin he let down the two corners of his purraty-trap, and thin not the bit more of the satisfaction could I git out o' the spalpeen.
Belave me, my jewel, it was Sir Pathrick that was unrasonable mad thin, sure enough, and the more by token that he kept on wid his winking and blinking at the widdy; and the widdy she kept on wid the squazing of my flipper, as much as to say--"At him again Sir Pathrick O'Grandison, mavourneen," so I jist ripped out wid a big oath, and says I, sure enough--
"Ye little spalpeeny frog of a bog-throtting son of a bloody-noun!"-- and jist thin what d'ye think it was that her leddyship did? Troth she jumped up from the sofy as if she was bit, and made aff through the door, while I turned my head round afther her, in a complate bewilderment and botheration, and followed her wid me two peepers. You percave I had a rason of my own for the knowing that she couldn't git down the stairs althegither and intirely--for I knew very well that I had hould of her hand, for divil the bit had I iver lit it go. And says I--
"Isn't it the laste little bit of a mistake in the world that ye've been afther the making, yer leddyship? Come back now, that's a darlint, and I'll give ye yur flipper." But aff she wint down the stairs like a shot, and then I turned round to the little French furrenner. Och hon! if it wasn't his spalpeeny little flipper that I had hould of in my own--why thin--thin it was'nt--that's all.
Maybe it wasn't meself that jist died then outright wid the laffin, to behould the little chap when he found out that it wasn't the widdy at all that he had hould of, but only Sir Pathrick O'Grandison. The ould divil himself niver behild such a long face as he pet on! As for Sir Pathrick O'Grandison, Barronitt, it wasn't for the likes of his riverence to be afther the minding a thrifle of a mistake. Ye may jist say, though--for its God's thruth--that afore I lift hould of the flipper of the spalpeen, (which was not till afther her leddyship's futmen had kicked us both down the stairs,) I gived it such a nate little broth of a squaze, as made it all up into raspberry jam.
"Wouly-wou"--says he--"pully-wou"--says he--"Cot tam!"
And that's jist the thruth of the rason why he wears his lift hand in a sling.
Stay for me there! I will not fail To meet thee in that hollow vale. [Exequy on the death of his wife, by Henry King, Bishop of Chichester.]
Ill-fated and mysterious man! Bewildered in the brilliancy of thine own imagination, and fallen in the flames of thine own youth! Again in fancy I behold thee! Once more thy form hath risen before me!--not--oh not as thou art--in the cold valley and shadow--but as thou shouldst be--squandering away a life of magnificent meditation in that city of dim visions, thine own Venice--which is a star beloved elysium of the sea, and the wide windows of whose Palladian palaces look down with a deep and bitter meaning upon the secrets of her silent waters. Yes! I repeat it--as thou shouldst be. There are surely other worlds than this--other thoughts than the thoughts of the multitude--other speculations than the speculations of the sophist. Who then shall call thy conduct into question? who blame thee for thy visionary hours, or denounce those occupations as a wasting away of life, which were but the overflowings of thine everlasting energies?
It was at Venice, beneath the covered archway there called the Ponte di Sospiri, that I met for the third or fourth time the person of whom I speak. It is with a confused recollection that I bring to mind the circumstances of that meeting. Yet I remember--ah! how should I forget?--the deep midnight, the Bridge of Sighs, the beauty of woman, and the demon of romance, who stalked up and down the narrow canal.
It was a night of unusual gloom. The great clock of the piazza had sounded the fifth hour of the Italian evening. The square of the Campanile lay silent and deserted, and the lights in the old Ducal Palace were dying fast away. I was returning home from the Piazetta, by way of the Grand Canal. But as my gondola arrived opposite the mouth of the canal San Marco, a female voice from its recesses broke suddenly upon the night, in one wild, hysterical and long continued shriek. Startled at the sound, I sprang upon my feet: while the gondolier, letting slip his single oar, lost it in the pitchy darkness beyond a chance of recovery, and we were consequently left to the guidance of the current which here sets from the greater into the smaller channel. Like some huge and sable-feathered condor, we were slowly drifting down towards the Bridge of Sighs, when a thousand flambeaux flashing from the windows, and down the staircases of the Ducal Palace, turned all at once that deep gloom into a livid and supernatural day.
A child, slipping from the arms of its own mother, had fallen from an upper window of the lofty structure into the deep and dim canal. The quiet waters had closed placidly over their victim; and, although my own gondola was the only one in sight, many a stout swimmer, already in the stream, was seeking in vain upon the surface, the treasure which was to be found, alas! only within the abyss. Upon the broad black marble flagstones at the entrance of the palace, and a few steps above the water, stood a figure which none who then saw can have ever since forgotten. It was the Marchesa Aphrodite--the adoration of all Venice--the gayest of the gay--the most lovely where all were beautiful--but still the young wife of the old and intriguing Mentoni--and the mother of that fair child, her first and only one, who now deep beneath the murky water, was thinking in bitterness of heart upon her sweet caresses, and exhausting its little life in struggles to call upon her name.
She stood alone. Her small, bare, and silvery feet gleamed in the black mirror of marble beneath her. Her hair, not as yet more than half loosened for the night from its ball-room array, clustered amid a shower of diamonds, round and round her classical head, in curls like the young hyacinth. A snowywhite and gauze-like drapery seemed to be nearly the sole covering to her delicate form--but the midsummer and midnight air was hot, sullen, and still, and no motion--no shadow of motion in the statuelike form itself, stirred even the folds of that raiment of very vapor which hung around it as the heavy marble hangs around the Niobe. Yet--strange to say!--her large lustrous eyes were not turned downwards upon that grave wherein her brightest hope lay buried--but riveted in a widely different direction! The prison of the Old Republic is, I think, the stateliest building in all Venice--but how could that lady gaze so fixedly upon it, when beneath her lay stifling her only child? You dark, gloomy niche, too, yawns right opposite her chamber window--what, then, could there be in its shadows--in its architecture--in its ivy-wreathed and solemn cornices that the Marchesa di Mentoni had not wondered at a thousand times before? Nonsense! Who does not remember that, at such a time as this, the eye, like a shattered mirror, multiplies the images of its sorrow, and sees in innumerable far off places, the wo which is close at hand.
Many steps above the Marchesa, and within the arch of the water-gate, stood in full dress, the Satyrlike figure of Mentoni himself. He was occasionally occupied in thrumming a guitar, and seemed ennuied to the very death, as at intervals he gave directions for the recovery of his child. Stupified and aghast, I had myself no power to move from the upright position I had assumed upon first hearing the shriek, and must have presented to the eyes of the agitated group, a spectral and ominous appearance, as, with pale countenance and rigid limbs, I floated down among them in that funereal gondola.
All efforts proved in vain. Many of the most energetic in the search were relaxing their exertions, and yielding to a gloomy sorrow. There seemed but little hope for the child--but now, from the interior of that dark niche which has been already mentioned as forming a part of the Old Republican prison, and as fronting the lattice of the Marchesa, a figure, muffled in a cloak, stepped out within reach of the light, and, pausing a moment upon the verge of the giddy descent, plunged headlong into the canal. As, in an instant afterwards, he stood with the still living and breathing child within his grasp, upon the marble flagstones by the side of the Marchesa, his cloak, heavy with the drenching water, became unfastened, and, falling in folds about his feet, discovered to the wonder-stricken spectators, the graceful person of a very young man, with the sound of whose name the greater part of Europe was then ringing.
No word spoke the deliverer. But the Marchesa! She will now receive her child--she will press it to her heart--she will cling to its little form, and smother it with her caresses. Alas! another's arms have taken it from the stranger--another's arms have taken it away, and borne it afar off, unnoticed, into the palace! And the Marchesa! Her lip--her beautiful lip trembles: tears are gathering in her eyes-- those eyes which, like Pliny's own Acanthus, are "soft and almost liquid." Yes! tears are gathering in those eyes--and see! the entire woman thrills throughout the soul, and the statue has started into life! The pallor of the marble countenance, the swelling of the marble bosom, the very purity of the marble feet, we behold suddenly flushed over with a tide of ungovernable crimson; and a slight shudder quivers about her delicate frame, as a gentle air at Napoli about the rich silver lilies in the grass. Why should that lady blush? To this demand there is no answer--except that, having left in the eager haste and terror of a mother's heart, the privacy of her own boudoir, she has neglected to enthral her tiny feet in their slippers, and utterly forgotten to throw over her Venitian shoulders that drapery which is their due. What other possible reason could there have been for her so blushing?--for the glance of those wild appealing eyes?--for the unusual tumult of that throbbing bosom?--for the convulsive pressure of that trembling hand?--that hand which fell, as Mentoni turned into the palace, accidentally, upon the hand of the stranger. What reason could there have been for the low--the singularly low tone of those unmeaning words which the lady uttered hurriedly in bidding him adieu? "Thou hast conquered"--she said, or the murmurs of the water deceived me--"thou hast conquered--one hour after sunrise--we shall meet--so let it be."
The tumult had subsided, the lights had died away within the palace, and the stranger, whom I now recognised, stood alone upon the flags. He shook with inconceivable agitation, and his eye glanced around in search of a gondola. I could not do less than offer him the service of my own; and he accepted the civility. Having obtained an oar at the water-gate, we proceeded together to his residence, while he rapidly recovered his self-possession, and spoke of our former slight acquaintance in terms of great apparent cordiality.
There are some subjects upon which I take pleasure in being minute. The person of the stranger--let me call him by this title, who to all the world was still a stranger--the person of the stranger is one of these subjects. In height he might have been below rather than above the medium size: although there were moments of intense passion when his frame actually expanded and belied the assertion. The light, almost slender symmetry of his figure, promised more of that ready activity which he evinced at the Bridge of Sighs, than of that Herculean strength which he has been known to wield without an effort, upon occasions of more dangerous emergency. With the mouth and chin of a deity--singular, wild, full, liquid eyes, whose shadows varied from pure hazel to intense and brilliant jet--and a profusion of glossy, black hair, from which a forehead, rather low than otherwise, gleamed forth at intervals all light and ivory--his were features than which I have seen none more classically regular, except, perhaps, the marble ones of the Emperor Commodus. Yet his countenance was, nevertheless, one of those which all men have seen at some period of their lives, and have never afterwards seen again. It had no peculiar--I wish to be perfectly understood--it had no settled predominant expression to be fastened upon the memory; a countenance seen and instantly forgotten-- but forgotten with a vague and never-ceasing desire of recalling it to mind. Not that the spirit of each rapid passion failed, at any time, to throw its own distinct image upon the mirror of that face--but that the mirror, mirror-like, retained no vestige of the passion, when the passion had departed.
Upon leaving him on the night of our adventure, he solicited me, in what I thought an urgent manner, to call upon him very early the next morning. Shortly after sunrise, I found myself accordingly at his Palazzo, one of those huge piles of gloomy, yet fantastic grandeur, which tower above the waters of the Grand Canal in the vicinity of the Rialto. I was shown up a broad winding staircase of mosaics, into an apartment whose unparalleled splendor burst through the opening door with an actual glare, making me sick and dizzy with luxuriousness.
I knew my acquaintance to be wealthy. Report had spoken of his possessions in terms which I had even ventured to call terms of ridiculous exaggeration. But as I gazed about me, I could not bring myself to believe that the wealth of any subject in Europe could have supplied the far more than imperial magnificence which burned and blazed around.
Although, as I say, the sun had arisen, yet the room was still brilliantly lighted up. I judged from this circumstance, as well as from an air of exhaustion in the countenance of my friend, that he had not retired to bed during the whole of the preceding night. In the architecture and embellishments of the chamber, the evident design had been to dazzle and astound. Little attention had been paid to the decora of what is technically called keeping, or to the proprieties of nationality. The eye wandered from object to object, and rested upon none--neither the grotesques of the Greek painters--nor the sculptures of the best Italian days--nor the huge carvings of untutored Egypt. Rich draperies in every part of the room trembled to the vibration of low, melancholy music, whose unseen origin undoubtedly lay in the recesses of the crimson trelliss work which tapestried the ceiling. The senses were oppressed by mingled and conflicting perfumes, reeking up from strange convolute censers, which seemed actually endued with a monstrous vitality, as their particolored fires writhed up and down, and around about their extravagant proportions. The rays of the newly risen sun poured in upon the whole, through windows formed each of a single pane of crimson-tinted glass. Glancing to and fro, in a thousand reflections, from curtains which rolled from their cornices like cataracts of molten silver, the beams of natural glory mingled at length fitfully with the artificial light, and lay weltering in subdued masses upon a carpet of rich, liquid looking cloth of Chili gold. Here then had the hand of genius been at work. A chaos--a wilderness of beauty lay before me. A sense of dreamy and incoherent grandeur took possession of my soul, and I remained within the door- way speechless.
Ha! ha! ha!--ha! ha! ha!--laughed the proprietor, motioning me to a seat, and throwing himself back at full length upon an ottoman. "I see," said he, perceiving that I could not immediately reconcile myself to the bienseance of so singular a welcome--"I see you are astonished at my apartment--at my statues--my pictures--my originality of conception in architecture and upholstery--absolutely drunk, eh? with my magnificence. But pardon me, my dear sir, (here his tone of voice dropped to the very spirit of cordiality,) pardon me, my dear sir, for my uncharitable laughter. You appeared so utterly astonished. Besides, some things are so completely ludicrous that a man must laugh or die. To die laughing must be the most glorious of all glorious deaths! Sir Thomas More--a very fine man was Sir Thomas More--Sir Thomas More died laughing, you remember. Also there is a long list of characters who came to the same magnificent end, in the Absurdities of Ravisius Textor. Do you know, however," continued he musingly--"that at Sparta (which is now Palæochori), at Sparta, I say, to the west of the citadel, among a chaos of scarcely visible ruins, is a kind of socle upon which are still legible the letters they are undoubtedly part of. Now at Sparta were a thousand temples and shrines to a thousand different divinities. How exceedingly strange that the altar of Laughter should have survived all the others! But in the present instance"--he resumed, with a singular alteration of voice and manner--"in the present instance I have no right to be merry at your expense. You might well have been amazed. Europe cannot produce anything so fine as this, my little regal cabinet. My other apartments are by no means of the same order--mere ultras of fashionable insipidity. This is better than fashion--is it not? Yet this has but to be seen to become the rage--that is with those who could afford it at the cost of their entire patrimony. I have guarded, however, against any such profanation. With one exception you are the only human being besides myself, who has been admitted within the mysteries of these imperial precincts."
I bowed in acknowledgment: for the overpowering sense of splendor and perfume, and music, together with the unexpected eccentricity of his address and manner, prevented me from expressing in words my appreciation of what I might have construed into a compliment.
"Here"--he resumed, arising and leaning on my arm as he sauntered around the apartment--"here are paintings from the Greeks to Cimabué, and from Cimabué to the present hour. Many are chosen, as you see, with little deference to the opinions of Virtû. They are all, however, fitting tapestry for a chamber such as this. Here too, are some chéf d'oeuvres of the unknown great--and here unfinished designs by men, celebrated in their day, whose very names the perspicacity of the academies has left to silence and to me. What think you"--said he, turning abruptly as he spoke--"what think you of this Madonna della Pietà?
"It is Guido's own!" I said, with all the enthusiasm of my nature, for I had been poring intently over its surpassing loveliness. "It is Guido's own!--how could you have obtained it?--she is undoubtedly in painting what the Venus is in sculpture."
"Ha!" said he thoughtfully, "the Venus?--the beautiful Venus?--the Venus of the Medici?--she of the gilded hair? Part of the left arm (here his voice dropped so as to be heard with difficulty), and all the right are restorations, and in the coquetry of that right arm lies, I think, the quintessence of all affectation. The Apollo, too!-- is a copy--there can be no doubt of it--blind fool that I am, who cannot behold the boasted inspiration of the Apollo! I cannot help-- pity me!--I cannot help preferring the Antinous. Was it not Socrates who said that the statuary found his statue in the block of marble?"
Then Michæl Angelo was by no means original in his couplet--
"Non ha!ottimo artista alcun concetto Chèun marmo solo in se non circunscriva."
It has been, or should be remarked, that, in the manner of the true gentleman, we are always aware of a difference from the bearing of the vulgar, without being at once precisely able to determine in what such difference consists. Allowing the remark to have applied in its full force to the outward demeanor of my acquaintance, I felt it, on that eventful morning, still more fully applicable to his moral temperament and character. Nor can I better define that peculiarity of spirit which seemed to place him so esentially apart from all other human beings, than by calling it a habit of intense and continual thought, pervading even his most trivial actions--intruding upon his moments of dalliance--and interweaving itself with his very flashes of merriment--like adders which writhe from out the eyes of the grinning masks in the cornices around the temples of Persepolis.
I could not help, however, repeatedly observing, through the mingled tone of levity and solemnity with which he rapidly descanted upon matters of little importance, a certain air of trepidation--a deree of nervous unction in action and in speech--an unquiet excitability of manner which appeared to me at all times unaccountable, and upon some occasions even filled me with alarm. Frequently, too, pausing in the middle of a sentence whose commencement he had apparently forgotten, he seemed to be listening in the deepest attention, as if either in momentary expectation of a visiter, or to sounds which must have had existence in his imagination alone.
It was during one of these reveries or pauses of apparent abstraction, that, in turning over a page of the poet and scholar Politian's beautiful tragedy "The Orfeo," (the first native Italian tragedy,) which lay near me upon an ottoman, I discovered a passage underlined in pencil. It was a passage towards the end of the third act--a passage of the most heartstirring excitement--a passage which, although tainted with impurity, no man shall read without a thrill of novel emotion--no woman without a sigh. The whole page was blotted with fresh tears, and, upon the opposite interleaf, were the following lines, written in a hand so very different from the peculiar characters of my acquaintance, that I had some difficulty in recognising it as his own.
Thou wast that all to me, love, For which my soul did pine-- A green isle in the sea, love, A fountain and a shrine, All wreathed around about with flowers; And the flowers--they all were mine. But the dream--it could not last; And the star of Hope did rise But to be overcast. A voice from out the Future cries "Onward!"--while o'er the Past (Dim gulf!) my spirit hovering lies, Mute, motionless, aghast!
For alas!--alas!--with me Ambition--all--is o'er. "No more--no more-- no more," (Such language holds the solemn sea To the sands upon the shore,) Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree, Or the stricken eagle soar! And all my hours are trances; And all my nightly dreams Are where thy dark eye glances, And where thy footstep gleams, In what ethereal dances, By what Italian streams. Alas! for that accursed time They bore thee o'er the billow, From Love to titled age and crime, And an unholy pillow--From me, and from our misty clime, Where weeps the silver willow.
That these lines were written in English--a language with which I had not believed their author acquainted--afforded me little matter for surprise. I was too well aware of the extent of his acquirements, and of the singular pleasure he took in concealing them from observation, to be astonished at any similar discovery; but the place of date, I must confess, occasioned me no little amazement. It had been originally written London, and afterwards carefully overscored--but not, however, so effectually, as to conceal the word from a scrutinizing eye. I say this occasioned me no little amazement; for I well remember that, in a former conversation with my friend, I particularly inquired if he had at any time met in London the Marchesa di Mentoni, (who for some years previous to her marriage had resided in that city,) when his answer, if I mistake not, gave me to understand that he had never visited the metropolis of Great Britain. I might as well here mention, that I have more than once heard, (without of course giving credit to a report involving so many improbabilities,) that the person of whom I speak was not only by birth, but in education an Englishman.
"There is one painting," said he, without being aware of my notice of the tragedy--"there is still one painting which you have not seen." And throwing aside a drapery, he discovered a full length porrait of the Marchesa Aphrodite.
Human art could have done no more in the delineation of her superhuman beauty. The same ethereal figure which stood before me the preceding night upon the steps of the Ducal Palace, stood before me once again. But in the expression of the countenance, which was beaming all over with smiles, there still lurked (incomprehensible anomaly!) that fitful stain of melancholy which will ever be found inseparable from the perfection of the beautiful. Her right arm lay folded over her bosom. With her left she pointed downwards to a curiously fashioned vase. One small, fairy foot, alone visible, barely touched the earth-- and, scarcely discernible in the brilliant atmosphere which seemed to encircle and enshrine her loveliness, floated a pair of the most delicately imagined wings. My glance fell from the painting to the figure of my friend, and the vigorous words of Chapman's Bussy D'Ambois quivered instinctively upon my lips--
"He is up There like a Roman statue! He will stand Till Death hath made him marble!"
"Come!" he said at length, turning towards a table of richly enamelled and massive silver, upon which were a few goblets fantastically stained, toether with two large Etruscan vases, fashioned in the same extraordinary model as that in the foreround of the portrait, and filled with what I suposed to be Johannisberger. "Come!" he said abruptly, "let us drink! It is early--but let us drink--It is indeed early," he continued thoughtfully as a cherub with a heavy golden hammer, made the apartment ring with the first hour after sunrise--"It is indeed early, but what matters it? let us drink! Let us pour out an offering to the solemn sun, which these gaudy lamps and censers are so eager to subdue!" And, having made me pledge him in a bumper, he swallowed in rapid sucession several goblets of the wine.
"To dream," he continued, resuming the tone of his desultory conversation, as he held up to the rich light of a censer one of the magnificent vases--"to dream has been the business of my life. I have therefore framed for myself, as you see, a bower of dreams. In the heart of Venice could I have erected a better? You behold around you, it is true, a medley of architectural embellishments. The chastity of Ionia is offended by antediluvian devices, and the sphynxes of Egypt are stretching upon carpets of gold. Yet the effect is incongruous to the timid alone. Prorieties of place, and especially of time, are the bugears which terrify mankind from the contemplation of the magnificent. Once I was myself a decorist: but that sublimation of folly has palled upon my soul. All this is now the fitter for my purpose. Like these arabesque censers, my spirit is writhing in fire, and the delirium of this scene is fashioning me for the wilder visions of that land of real dreams whither I am now rapidly departing." Thus saying, he conessed the power of the wine, and threw himself at full length upon an ottoman.
A quick step was now heard upon the staircase, and a loud knock at the door rapidly succeeded. I was hastening to anticipate a second disturbance, when a page of Mentoni's household burst into the room, and faltered out, in a voice choking with emotion, the incoherent words, "My mistress!--my mistress!--poisoned!--poisoned! Oh beautiful--Oh beautiful Aphrodite!"
Bewildered, I flew to the ottoman, and endeavored to arouse the sleeper to a sense of the startling intelligence. But his limbs were rigid--his lips were livid--his lately beaming eyes were riveted in death. I staggered back towards the table--my hand fell upon a cracked and blackened goblet--and a conciousness of the entire and terrible truth flashed suddenly over my soul.
Why do you call me Eiros?
So henceforward will you always be called. You must forget, too, my earthly name, and speak to me as Charmion.
This is indeed no dream!
Dreams are with us no more--but of these mysteries anon. I rejoice to see you looking life-like and rational. The film of the shadow has already passed from off your eyes. Be of heart, and fear nothing. Your allotted days of stupor have expired; and, to-morrow, I will myself induct you into the full joys and wonders of your novel existence.
True--I feel no stupor--none at all. The wild sickness and the terrible darkness have left me, and I hear no longer that mad, rushing, horrible sound, like the "voice of many waters." Yet my senses are bewildered, Charmion, with the keenness of their perception of the new.
A few days will remove all this--but I fully understand you, and feel for you. It is now ten earthly years since I underwent what you undergo--yet the remembrance of it hangs by me still. You have now suffered all of pain, however, which you will suffer in Aidenn.
Oh God!--pity me, Charmion!--I am overburthened with the majesty of all things--of the unknown now known--of the speculative Future merged in the august and certain Present.
Grapple not now with such thoughts. To-morrow we will speak of this. Your mind wavers, and its agitation will find relief in the exercise of simple memories. Look not around, nor forward--but back. I am burning with anxiety to hear the details of that stupendous event which threw you among us. Tell me of it. Let us converse of familiar things, in the old familiar language of the world which has so fearfully perished.
Most fearfully, fearfully!--this is indeed no dream.
Dreams are no more. Was I much mourned, my Eiros?
Mourned, Charmion?--oh deeply. To that last hour of all there hung a cloud of intense gloom and devout sorrow over your household.
And that last hour--speak of it. Remember that, beyond the naked fact of the catastrophe itself, I know nothing. When, coming out from among mankind, I passed into Night through the Grave--at that period, if I remember aright, the calamity which overwhelmed you was utterly unanticipated. But, indeed, I knew little of the speculative philosophy of the day.
The individual calamity was, as you say, entirely unanticipated; but analogous misfortunes had been long a subject of discussion with astronomers. I need scarce tell you, my friend, that, even when you left us, men had agreed to understand those passages in the most holy writings which speak of the final destruction of all things by fire, as having reference to the orb of the earth alone. But in regard to the immediate agency of the ruin, speculation had been at fault from that epoch in astronomical knowledge in which the comets were divested of the terrors of flame. The very moderate density of these bodies had been well established. They had been observed to pass among the satellites of Jupiter, without bringing about any sensible alteration either in the masses or in the orbits of these secondary planets. We had long regarded the wanderers as vapory creations of inconceivable tenuity, and as altogether incapable of doing injury to our substantial globe, even in the event of contact. But contact was not in any degree dreaded; for the elements of all the comets were accurately known. That among them we should look for the agency of the threatened fiery destruction had been for many years considered an inadmissible idea. But wonders and wild fancies had been, of late days, strangely rife among mankind; and, although it was only with a few of the ignorant that actual apprehension prevailed upon the announcement by astronomers of a new comet, yet this announcement was generally received with I know not what of agitation and mistrust.
The elements of the strange orb were immediately calculated, and it was at once conceded by all observers that its path, at perihelion, would bring it into very close proximity with the earth. There were two or three astronomers, and these of secondary note, who resolutely maintained that a contact was inevitable. I cannot very well express to you the effect of this intelligence upon the people. For a few short days they would not believe an assertion which their intellect, so long employed among worldly considerations, could not in any manner grasp. But the truth of a vitally important fact soon makes it way into the understanding of even the most stolid. Finally, all men saw that astronomical knowledge lied not, and they awaited the comet. Its approach was not, at first, seemingly rapid--nor was its appearance of very unusual character. It was of a dull red, and had little perceptible train. For seven or eight days we saw no material increase in its apparent diameter, and but a partial alteration in its colour. Meantime, the ordinary affairs of men were discarded, and all interests absorbed in a growing discussion, instituted by the philosophic, in respect to the cometary nature. Even the grossly ignorant aroused their sluggish capacities to such considerations. The learned now gave their intellect--their soul--to no such points as the allaying of fear, or to the sustenance of loved theory. They sought-- they panted for right views. They groaned for perfected knowledge. Truth arose in the purity of her strength and exceeding majesty, and the wise bowed down and adored.
That material injury to our globe or to its inhabitants would result from the apprehended contact, was an opinion which hourly lost ground among the wise--and the wise were now freely permitted to rule the reason and the fancy of the crowd. It was demonstrated, that the density of the comet's nucleus was far less than that of our rarest gas; and its harmless passage among the satellites of Jupiter was a point strongly insisted upon, and which served greatly to allay terror. Theologists, with an earnestness fear-enkindled, dwelt upon the biblical prophecies, and expounded them to the people with a directness and simplicity, of which no previous instance had been known. That the final destruction of the earth must be brought about by the agency of fire, was urged with a spirit that enforced every where conviction; and that the comets were of no fiery nature (as all men now knew) was a truth which relieved all, in a great measure, from the apprehension of the great calamity foretold. It is noticeable that the popular prejudices and vulgar errors in regard to pestilences and wars--errors which were wont to prevail upon every appearance of a comet--were now altogether unknown. As if by some sudden convulsive exertion, reason had at once hurled superstition from her throne. The feeblest intellect had derived vigor from excessive interest.
What minor evils might arise from the contact were points of elaborate question. The learned spoke of slight geological disturbances; of probable alterations in climate and consequently in vegetation; of possible magnetic and electric influences. Many held that no visible or perceptible effect would in any manner be produced. While such discussions were going on their subject gradually approached, growing larger in apparent diameter, and of a more brilliant lustre. Mankind grew paler as it came. All human operations were suspended.
There was an epoch in the course of the general sentiment when the comet had attained at length a size surpassing that of any previously recorded visitation. The people now, dismissing any lingering hope that the astronomers were wrong, experienced all the certainty of evil. The chimerical aspect of their terror was gone. The hearts of the stoutest of our race beat violently within their bosoms. A very few days sufficed, however, to merge even such feelings in sentiments more unendurable. We could no longer apply to the strange orb any accustomed thoughts. Its historical attributes had disappeared. It oppressed us with a hideous novelty of emotion. We saw it not as an astronomical phenomenon in the heavens--but as an incubus upon our hearts, and a shadow upon our brain. It had taken, with inconceivable rapidity, the character of a gigantic mantle of rare flame, extending from horizon to horizon.
Yet a day, and men breathed with greater freedom. It was clear that we were already within the influence of the comet--yet we lived. We even felt an unusual elasticity of frame and vivacity of mind. The exceeding tenuity of the object of our dread was apparent, all heavenly objects were plainly visible through it. Meantime, our vegetation had perceptibly altered--and we gained faith, from this predicted circumstance, in the foresight of the wise. A wild luxuriance of foliage--utterly unknown before--burst out upon every vegetable thing.
Yet another day--and the evil was not altogether upon us. It was now evident that its nucleus would first reach us. A wild change had come over all men--and the first sense of pain--was the wild signal for general lamentation and horror. This first sense of pain lay in a rigorous constriction of the breast and lungs, and an insufferable dryness of the skin. It could not be denied that our atmosphere was radically affected--the conformation of this atmosphere and the possible modifications to which it might be subjected, were now the topics of discussion. The result of investigation sent an electric thrill of the intensest terror through the universal heart of man.
It had been long known that the air which encircled us was a compound of oxygen and nitrogen gases, in the proportion of twenty-one measures of oxygen, and seventy-nine of nitrogen, in every one hundred of the atmosphere. Oxygen, which was the principle of combustion, and the vehicle of heat, was absolutely necessary to the support of animal life, and was the most powerful and energetic agent in nature. Nitrogen, on the contrary, was incapable of supporting either animal life or flame. An unnatural excess of oxygen would result, it had been ascertained, in just such an elevation of the animal spirits as we had latterly experienced. It was the pursuit, the extension of the idea, which had engendered awe. What would be the result of a total extraction of the nitrogen? A combustion irresistible, all-devouring, omni-prevalent, immediate--the entire fulfilment, in all its minute and terrible details, of the fiery and horror-inspiring denunciations of the prophecies of the Holy Book.
Why need I paint, Charmion, the now disenchained frenzy of mankind? That tenuity in the comet which had previously inspired us with hope, was now the source of the bitterness of despair. In its impalpable gaseous character we clearly perceived the consummation of Fate. Meantime a day again passed--bearing away with it the last shadow of Hope. We gasped in the rapid modification of the air. The red blood bounded tumultuously through its strict channels. A furious delirium possessed all men; and, with arms immoveably outstretched towards the threatening heavens, they trembled and shrieked aloud. But the nucleus of the destroyer was now upon us. Even here in Aidenn, I shudder while I speak. Let me be brief--brief as the ruin that overwhelmed. For a short moment there was a wild lurid light alone, visiting and penetrating all things. Then--let us bow down, Charmion, before the excessive majesty of the great God!--then, there came a great pervading sound, as if from the mouth itself of him; while the whole incumbent mass of ether in which we existed burst at once into a species of intense flame, for whose surpassing brilliancy and all- fervid heat even the angels in the great Heaven of pure knowledge have no name. Thus ended all.
In a note to the title of the story called "Hans Phaal," I made allusion to the "moon-hoax" of Mr. Locke. As a great many more persons were actually gulled by this jeu d'esprit than would be willing to acknowledge the fact, it may here afford some little amusement to show why no one should have been deceived--to point out those particulars of the story which should have been sufficient to establish its real character. Indeed, however rich the imagination displayed in this ingenious fiction, it wanted much of the force which might have been given it by a more scrupulous attention to general analogy and physical truth. That the public were misled, even for an instant, merely proves the gross ignorance which is so generally prevalent upon subjects of an astronomical nature.
The moon's distance from the earth is, in round numbers, 240,000 miles. If we desire to ascertain how near, apparently, a lens would bring the satellite, (or any distant object,) we, of course, have but to divide the distance by the magnifying power of the glass. Mr. L. makes his lens have a magnifying power of 42,000 times. By this divide 240,000 (the moon's real distance), and we have five miles and five- sevenths, as the apparent distance. No animal at all could be seen so far; much less the minute points particularised in the story. Mr. L. speaks about Sir John Herschell's perceiving flowers (the Papaver rheas, etc.), and even detecting the color and the shape of the eyes of small birds. Shortly before, too, he has himself observed that the lens would not render perceptible objects of less than eighteen inches in diameter; but even this, as I have said, is giving the glass by far too great power. It may be observed, en passant, that his prodigious glass is said to have been moulded at the glass-house of Messrs. Hartley and Grant in Dumbarton; but Messrs. H. and G.'s establishment had ceased operations for many years previous to the publication of the hoax.
On page 13, pamphlet edition, speaking of "a hairy veil" over the eyes of a species of bison, the author says--"It immediately occurred to the acute mind of Dr. Herschell that this was a providential contrivance to protect the eyes of the animal from the great extremes of light and darkness to which all the inhabitants of our side of the moon are periodically subjected." But this cannot be thought a very "acute" observation of the Doctor's. The inhabitants of our side of the moon have, evidently, no darkness at all; so there can be nothing of the "extremes" mentioned. In the absence of the sun they have a light from the earth equal to that of thirteen full moons.
The topography throughout, even when professing to accord with Blunt's Lunar Chart, is entirely at variance with that or any other lunar chart, and even grossly at variance with itself. The points of the compass, too, are in inextricable confusion--the writer appearing to be ignorant that, on a lunar map, these are not in accordance with terrestrial points; the east being to the left, etc.
Deceived, perhaps, by the vague titles, Mare Nubium, Mare Tranquillitatis, Mare Foecunditatis, etc., given to the dark spots by former astronomers, Mr. L. has entered into long details regarding oceans and other large bodies of water in the moon; whereas there is no astronomical point more positively ascertained than that no such bodies exist there. In examining the boundary between light and darkness (in a crescent or gibbous moon) where this boundary crosses any of the dark places, the line of division is found to be rough and jagged--but were these dark places liquid, it would evidently be even.
The description of the wings of the man-bat, on page 21, is but a literal copy of Peter Wilkins' account of the wings of his flying islanders. This simple fact should have induced suspicion, at least, it might be thought.
On page 23, we have the following. "What a prodigious influence must our thirteen times larger globe have exercised upon this satellite when an embryo in the womb of time, the passive subject of chemical affinity!" This is very fine--but it should be observed that no astronomer would have made such remark, especially to any Journal of Science--for the earth, in the sense intended, is not only 13, but 49 times larger than the moon. A similar objection applies to the whole of the concluding pages, where, by way of introduction to some discoveries in Saturn, the philosophical correspondent enters into a minute schoolboy account of that planet--this to the Edinburgh Journal of Science!
But there is one point, in particular, which should have discovered the fiction. Let us imagine the power actually possessed of seeing animals upon the moon's surface--what would first arrest the attention of an observer from the earth? Certainly neither their shape, size, nor any other such peculiarity, so soon as their remarkable situation. They would appear to be walking with heels up and head down, in the manner of flies on a ceiling. The real observer would have uttered an instant ejaculation of surprise (however prepared by previous knowledge) at the singularity of their position; the fictitious observer has not even mentioned the subject at all, but speaks of seeing the entire bodies of such creatures, when it is demonstrable that he could have seen only the diameter of their heads!
It might as well be remarked, in conclusion, that the size, and particularly the powers of the man-bats (for example, their ability to fly in so rare an atmosphere--if indeed the moon have any)--with most of the other fancies in regard to animal and vegetable existence, are at variance, generally, with all analogical reasoning on these themes; and that analogy here will often amount to conclusive demonstration. It is, perhaps, scarcely necessary to add, that all the suggestions attributed to Brewster and Herschell, in the beginning of the article, about "a transfusion of artificial light through the focal object of vision," etc., etc., belong to that species of figurative writing which comes, most properly, under the denomination of rigmarole.
I have lately read a singular and somewhat ingenious little book, whose title page runs thus--"L'Homme dans la lvne, ou le Voyage Chimerique fait au Monde de la Lvne, nouuellement decouuert par Dominique Gonzales, Aduanturier Espagnol, autremèt dit le Courier volant. Mis en notre langve par J. B. D. A. Paris, chez François Piot, pres la Fontaine de Saint Benoist. Et chez J. Goignard, au premier pilier de la grand' salle du Palais, proche les Consultations, MDCXLVIII." pp. 176.
The writer professes to have translated his work from the English of one Mister D'Avisson (Davidson?) although there is a terrible ambiguity in the statement. "I'en ai eu," says he, "l'original de Monsieur D'Avisson, medecin des mieux versez qui soient aujourd'huy dans la cònoissance des Belles Lettres, et sur tout de la Philosophie Naturelle. Je lui ai cette obligation entre les autres, de m'auoir non seulement mis en main ce Livre en anglois, mais encore le Manuscrit du Sieur Thomas D'Anan, gentilhomme Eccossois, recommandable pour sa vertu, sur la version duquel j'advoue que j'ay tiré le plan de la mienne."
After some irrelevant adventures, much in the manner of Gil Blas, and which occupy the first thirty pages, the author relates that, being ill during a sea-voyage, the crew abandoned him, together with a negro servant, on the island St. Helena. To increase the chances of obtaining food, the two separate, and live as far apart as possible. This brings about a training of birds, to serve the purpose of carrier-pigeons between them. By-and-by these are taught to carry parcels of some weight--and this weight is gradually increased. At length the idea is entertained of uniting the force of a great number of the birds, with a view to raising the author himself. A machine is contrived for the purpose, and we have a minute description of it, which is materially helped out by a steel engraving. Here we perceive the Signor Gonzales, with point ruffles and a huge periwig, seated astride something which resembles very closely a broomstick, and borne aloft by a multitude of wild swans (ganzas) who have strings reaching from their tails to the machine.
The main event detailed in the Signor's narrative depends upon a very important fact, of which the reader is kept in ignorance until near the end of the book. The ganzas, with whom he had become so familiar, were not really denizens of St. Helena, but of the moon. Thence it had been their custom, time out of mind, to migrate annually to some portion of the earth. In proper season, of course, they would return home; and the author happening, one day, to require their services for a short voyage, is unexpectedly carried straight up, and in a very brief period arrives at the satellite. Here he finds, among other odd things, that the people enjoy extreme happiness; that they have no law; that they die without pain; that they range from ten to thirty feet in height; that they live five thousand years; that they have an emperor called Irdonozur; and that they can jump sixty feet high, when, being out of the gravitating influence, they fly about with fans.
I cannot forbear giving a specimen of the general philosophy of the volume.
"I must now declare to you," says the Signor Gonzales, "the nature of the place in which I found myself. All the clouds were beneath my feet, or, if you please, spread between me and the earth. As to the stars, since there was no night where I was, they always had the same appearance; not brilliant, as usual, but pale, and very nearly like the moon of a morning. But few of them were visible, and these ten times larger (as well as I could judge) than they seem to the inhabitants of the earth. The moon, which wanted two days of being full, was of a terrible bigness.
"I must not forget here, that the stars appeared only on that side of the globe turned towards the moon, and that the closer they were to it the larger they seemed. I have also to inform you that, whether it was calm weather or stormy, I found myself always immediately between the moon and the earth. I was convinced of this for two reasons--because my birds always flew in a straight line; and because, whenever we attempted to rest, we were carried insensibly around the globe of the earth. For I admit the opinion of Copernicus, who maintains that it never ceases to revolve from the east to the west, not upon the poles of the Equinoctial, commonly called the poles of the world, but upon those of the Zodiac--a question of which I propose to speak more at length hereafter, when I shall have leisure to refresh my memory in regard to the astrology which I learned at Salamanca when young, and have since forgotten."
Notwithstanding the blunder italicised, which 'is no doubt a mere lapsus linguæ, the book is not without some claim to attention, as affording a näïve specimen of the current astronomical notions of the time. One of these assumed, that the "gravitating power" extended but a short distance from the earth's surface--and, accordingly, we find our voyager "carried insensibly around the globe," etc.
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