Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

was afterwards executed. There is reason, however, to suppose) that like many other sorcerers of the middle ages, his punishment was not wholly unmerited, and that, though he may have been innocent of magic, he understood too well the art of poisoning.

It is not difficult to understand, that in a credulous age, the tricks which now amuse the countryman at a fair, would assume the most portentous colouring. The stages of similar mystifications may be often guessed, and sometimes discovered. The following instance is rather remarkable. When Charles the Fifth entered Nuremburg, the celebrated Regiomontanus exhibited the automata which he had constructed:—an eagle of wood, placed on the gate of the city, rose up and flapped its wings, whilst the emperor was passing below; and a fly, made of steel, walked round a table: all this is sufficiently credible. A few years afterwards, we find the chroniclers relating that the wooden eagle sprang from the tower and soared in the air; and that the steel fly flew three times round the emperor, and then alighted buzzing on his hand.

We here obtain an exemplification of the manner in which all matters interesting to the imagination are affected by the imagination. One little circumstance is forgotten, another receives a slight tinge of a more decided colouring. The narrator is rather glad to excite amazement, the listener is not displeased to be filled with astonishment, and adventures and incidents, neither very strange, nor very inexplicable, become imperceptibly and unanswerably invested with the attributes of wonder.

Baptista Porta, Cardan, and other writers of that class, have given us copious treatises on secrets, but they do not elucidate the processes of the old jongleurs. Many of their tricks appear to have been performed by the mere vulgar processes of dexterity and confederacy. There are instances, however, in which marvels seem to have been effected by physical science, by those who really and truly claimed the honours of magic and wonder-working. Amongst the Pagan Teutons and Sclavonians, steam assisted in causing the votary to tremble before the god Puster, who, in England, in aftertimes, acquired the homely name of Jack of Hilton; that is to say, a metal idol was constructed on the principle of the iElopile, which puffed and roared tremendously as soon as the fire was lighted beneath it. Many a fiery dragon was evidently a firework. Gunpowder was known to a chosen few, long before it was applied to the art of war. In the treatise De Mirabilibus Mundi, falsely ascribed to Albert the Great, but which belongs to his era, the mode of making rockets is described. And, indeed, the process could scarcely fail to be imparted to some of the merchants and pilgrims who, either directly or indirectly, had intercourse with India, although they might not chuse to make a public disclosure of the secret.

In the middle ages the Philosopher was not ignorant of the power of the uncombined lens. Perhaps the telescope was also known, and refraction and reflection would often call the ghost from the tomb, and raise the sheeted dead. That the 'Phantasmagoria' was really applied for such purposes, even when knowledge acquired more popularity, is satisfactorily evinced by one of the ' relations' in Richard Bovet's 'Pandemonium, or the Devil's Cloisters,' a work inscribed by the learned author to Dr. Henry Moore, in a dedication which vouches for the veracity of all the particulars in this collection. Bovet published his book in 1684, and it appears that about sixty years before, Mr. Edmund Ansty of South Petherton, had occasion to return home by night from Woodbury Hill Fair, a mart well known in the west country. Coming to a place not far from Yeovil, noted by the name of Outhedge, his horse rushed very violently with him against one side of the bank, snorting and trembling very much, so that he could by no means put him on his way, but he still pressed nearer to the bushes. At length Mr. Ansty heard the hedges crack with a dismal noise, and perceived coming towards him in the road, which is there pretty wide, a large circle of a duskish light, about the bigness of a very large wheel, and in it he perfectly saw the proportion cf a huge bear, as clearly as if it hod been by day light!—(The italics are not ours, they are Bovet's, and mark his horror.)—-The spectre passed near him, and as it came just over against the place where he was, the monster looked very gashfully at him, showing a pair of very large flaming eyes; as soon as ever it was gone by, his horse sprung into the road and made homeward with so much haste that he could not possibly rein him in, and had much ado to keep the saddle,—' The old gentleman,' Bovet continues, ' is lately dead, but there are many of the neighbours, of good reputation, that have often heard him relate this passage, and, upon inquiry, can witness the truth of it.' Yea, and it also witnesses, that about the year 16'20 some mischievous English scholar was well acquainted with the construction of the magic lantern; so that the story may be considered as a contribution towards the ' History of Inventions.'

Some profitable knowledge might possibly be derived from a scientific investigation of the feats even of the juggler. It is not unimportant to the metaphysical inquirer to study the extent of the empire gained by the mind over the muscles and organs, which, in ordinary cases, are not obedient to the will. It is useful to ascertain how much may be effected by mere slight of hand and dexterity, and to consider the wonderful quickness and suppleness to which the

YOl. xxix. No. Lviii. H H human human body can be made to attain by dint of early practice, of perseverance and of labour. Many of the common tricks which make the vulgar stare, are not always clearly comprehensible to the philosopher. Science is founded upon experiment; and the experiment in the booth may be turned to as good account as if it were performed in the lecture room. We have often wondered that these inquiries have no.t excited more attention, and that so few endeavours should have been made for the purpose of solving the riddles which are daily propounded to us. Without multiplying examples, it will be sufficient to notice the faculty of Ventriloquism. This art, trick, cheat, or by whatever other name we may chuse to call it, is acquired apparently with facility, by very illiterate men. The deceptions which arise from it are so perfect as to baffle the ear and the understanding. The Ob is heard amongst us season after season, and yet there is no one of the learned men of this great city who can give any satisfactory explanation of the witchery. :"•• - • '• • . • - 1

The Northern necromancy is by no means of a spiritual description. In Scandinavia they know of no ghosts but vampires. The apparition of a dead man is termed a Gieriganger, that is to say, a revenant, one who 'gangs again.' In consequence of this idea, the Scandinavian assailed these unwelcome visitants by charms which are equally terrific to the living, by process according to due form of law. In the Eyrbiggia Saga there is an account of a troop of vampires who take possession of a house, and sit every evening by the fire. An action of ejectment is brought, witnesses are examined, and a verdict given against the dead, who severally depart when judgment of ouster is pronounced against them. A practice wholly similar prevailed in Germany: the vampire was quelled either by driving a stake through the corpse, or by burning it to ashes; but it was necessary to apply to the magistrate for a decree authorizing such operations, which he pronounced, after hearing witnesses. In our late barbarous laws of suicide, we trace the same ideas; and a perusal of the vampire stories will leave no doubt that the practice of driving a stake through the corpse, and burying it in the highway, a practice which rests wholly upon tradition, inasmuch as there is no ancient written legal authority to support it, has been adopted solely for the purpose of preventing the body from rising again. It is a mere superstitious observance, quite unsupported by any proper voucher.

Natural magic, as another branch of occult science was termed, found patrons amongst those who shunned pursuits apparently more unreal, but not in fact more fanciful and unfounded. The root and the herb, the bird and the beast, the fruit and the flower, were supposed to be endued with powers and virtues never verified by experiment, but never disproved or marked as falsehoods. Gather the herb which the Latins call Salvia, but which, in the Chaldee tongue, bears the name of Colerican, and bury it in a vessel of glass, and a wonderful serpent, Albertus assures us, will be generated by the decaying herb. If the reptile is cast into the fire, the loudest thunder will be hoard to roll: place its ashes in the lamp, and the delusive light will fill the dwelling with more monsters than ever crawled in the Libyan desert. Petaphylon, the herb of Mercury, heals wounds, and calms all agony of mind. But it possesses other virtues. He who bears it about him when he seeks a favour of a king or. an emperor, will never be refused; for it will bestow all the persuasion of the Deity of Eloquence. It is not alone the lustre which gives value to the diamond. Let it be placed beneath the pillow of the sleeping woman, and she reveals her love or her infidelity. But these effects are only to be produced by attending to the planetary hour, when the star and the sign coincide in calling forth the energy of the material form, placed in the nether world, but corresponding and obeying its influential cause in the sky.

Pliny affirms that magic was wholly derived from medicine. There might be more truth in the converse of the proposition; but it matters little in what manner it be received, so close was the affinity between either science. In the ancient world, as yet amongst uncivilized nations, the physician acted as the magician. Thus they prospered. They had a cheap, perhaps a salutary materia medica. We speak with respect and submission, but perhaps it might be. a good time both for the physician and the sick man, when the place of pills and potions was supplied by spells and charms. The mysterious prescription was applied to the outside of the patient, instead of finding its way within. Ananuzipta, scrawled upon parchment, cooled the fever; Abracadabra, chased away the ague. An hexameter from the Iliad allayed the agony of the gout, and the rheumatism yielded to a verse of the Lamentations. :. . . ">

Such vestiges of the magic of the Anglo-Saxons as have been

{ireserved in our days, are almost wholly pharmaceutical. The ungadle, or consumption, the pock, the gout, the dropsy, all were ordered to yield to the roots and plants of the field, assisted by verse and song, and spell. And in the witch verse which excited the indignation of Reginald Scott, we think that the rhythm and echo of the oldest time may yet be recognized :-r

Hail to thee, holy herb!

Growing in the ground, On the mount of Calvarie . . First wert thou found.

n H 2 Thou

Thou art good for many a grief And healest many a wound. , , In the name of sweet Jesu

I lift thee from the ground.

Medicaments of this class would possess peculiar aptitude when administered to complaints attributed to the direct intervention of evil demons. How was the Elf, the nightmare, who oppressed the troubled dreamer, to be chased away? Holy verses, the gospel, and the psalm, were to be written on the sacred patina. Water was to be brought by the purest hands from the running stream, but in deadlike silence. Thyme and valerian, and dodder, and fennel were to be infused, and, with the decoction, the words were to be washed off from the hallowed dish. Hallowed wine being added thereto, the mixture was to be borne to church. Penitential psalms and masses were to be sung, and the potion was then to be administered. Here, again, we have the remedies of the heathen blended with the doctrines of Christianity.

Astrological physic effected a species of compact between these fancies and sober reason, or at least with as much reason as was then compatible with therapeutics. A decent and decorous protection was thereby afforded to the dignity of medical science. The draught failed to relieve the sufferer, and he was quieted by the great soother of all evils. The patient died, but the Doctor lost no credit. He looked wise, and proved that, had the leaf been pulled upwards, according to his command, in the quartile of the reigning planet, the malady would have been quelled; whereas the careless apothecary plucked it downwards, and in sextile. Neither he nor any body else understood much of what he meant, so that it answered nearly as well as talking about idiosyncrasy and contagion. Friar Bacon wished to teach his contemporaries that the true regimen of health consisted in attending to meat and drink, to sleeping and waking, to rest and exercise, to the quality of the air, and lastly, to the affections of the mind: but the multitude who wished to be healed, no less than those who wished to heal, despised those vulgar and intelligible precepts. A physician of the Baconian school would seldom have touched a fee. In one shape or another, the physician still has continued to pour drugs, of which he knows little, into a body of which he knows less. Whilome, the apothecary filled his boxes and his jars with the specifics of Busso rah and Alkahira. These are forgotten. An hundred pestles striking in an hundred mortars in terrific and deadly concert, no longer astound the bystanders whilst the theriuke is preparing. Vipers are not seethed to restore the health of the fading beauty. The bezoar has lost its reputation; and magisteries of pearls and rubies have become worthless and despised. Medicine, from its

« AnteriorContinuar »