Page images
PDF
EPUB

dicrous, and, if possible, more trivial, others more picturesque. Saint Anthony saw the Devil with his head towering above the clouds, and stretching out his hands to intercept the souls of the departed in their flight to heaven. According to our modes of thinking we should be apt to consider such representations merely as após logues. But there was an honest confidence in the actual existence of the machinery of devotional romance. The hagiologist told his tale in right earnest: he was teaching matters of faith and edification; and we may be charitable enough to believe that he was persuaded of the truth of his legends. Yet the dullest piety could not peruse them without an obscure though indelible sensation of the affinity between allegorical imagery, and these supposed approaches of the evil one. Obe. dient devotion thus struggled against the reasoning faculty, which felt the impersonality of the personification, yet without being able to attain either vivid belief in the fiction, or a clear perception of its non-entity. Just as when we dream between watchfulness and slumber; we are conscious that the sounds which we hear, and the · sights which we see, originate wholly from the brain, but our reason refuses to obey our judgment; and we cannot rouse ourselves and think, and shake off the delusion.

“ Sometimes the Devil is a thorough monkey, and his malice is merely playful. Year after year did he lie in wait for the purpose of defeating the piety of Saint Gudula. Manifold were the assaults to which her virgin frailty was exposed. But all were vain. At length be summoned up all his power for one grand effort. It was the custom of this noble and pious maiden to rise at cock-crowing, and to go to church to say her prayers, her damsel walking before her with a lantern. What did the author of all malice now do? ..... he put out the candle! The Saint set it a-light again, not by any vulgar method, but by her prayers. And this is her

the custod up all his power all were vain

cock-crower Walking beforlice now do? cain, not by any

standard miracle. The relation in the legend is a won. derful and almost unparalleled specimen of bombast and bathos... • “ The Devil also appears to be a very thoughtless devil. Once, whilst St Martin was saying mass, St Britius, whose name hath retained a place in the protestant calendar, officiated as deacon, and behind the altar he espied the Devil busily employed in writing down on a slip of parchment, as long as a proctor's bill, all the sins which the congregation were actually committing. Now St Martin's congregation were any thing but serious ; they buzzed and giggled, and the men looked upwards, and the women did not look down, and were guilty of so many transgressions, that the Devil soon filled one whole side of his parchment with shorthand notes from top to bottom, and was forced to turn it. This side was also soon covered with writing : the Devil was now in sad perplexity; he could not stomach losing a sin, he could not trust his memory, and he had no more parchment about him. He therefore clenched one end of the scroll with his claws, and took the other between his teeth, and pulled it as hard as he could, thinking that it would stretch. The unelastic material gave way and broke: he was not prepared for this; so his head flew back, and bumped against the wall. St Britius was wonderfully amused by the Devil's disaster, he laughed heartily, and incurred the momentary displeasure of St Martin, who did not at first see what was going forward. St Britius explained, and St Martin took care to improve the acident for the edification of his hearers. The moral is not to our purpose ; but we quote the anecdote as an exemplification of the stupidity involved in the popular allegory of Satan. In all his dealings he is sure to be baffled and cheated. When he sues, his bill is dismissed, or he is nonsuited and sent out of court without a day, with his ears drooping and his tail clapped betwixt his legs. After paying a fair market-price for the body and soul of the wizard, he is sure to lose his bargain from the equivocal wording of the covenant. And at the moment that he is agreeing for the first living thing which is to pass over the bridge which he has built over the yawning chasm, the freemason joyfully anticipates the disappointment of the infernal workman, when compelled to accept the worthless animal by which the literal meaning of the contract is to be satisfied. : “More familiar demons are such as are enumerated in the homely rhymes of John Heywood, who tells us that

66 In John Milesius any man may read

Of divels in Sarmatia honoured
Callid Kotri or KOBALDI, such as we
Pugs and HOBGOBLINS call; their dwellings be
In corners of old houses least frequented,
Or beneath stacks of wood; and these convented
Make fearful noise in buttries and in dairies,
Robin GOODFELLOWS some, some call them FAIRIES.
In solitarie rooms these uproars keep
And beat at doors to wake men from their sleep,
Seeming to force locks be they ne're so strong,
And keeping Christmasse gambols all night long."

CHAP. VI.

STRAY ESSAYS.

" Well, my love,” said "geria one morning to her Lord, when he returned from his custoinary walk, and found her engaged with a number of manuscripts before her,—“ I have been looking over these Stray Essays, and really they have a great deal of merit. The style is perhaps here and there a little harsh ;

but the general effect is classical, and the spirit of good sense breathes throughout the composition. The reflections on the literary character are both philosophical and highly original.”

ON THE LITERARY CHARACTER. To those who are capable of appreciating the immense improvement which the human mind derives from the study of literature, it cannot but appear surprising, that the same superiority of talents and information which qualifies a man for becoming the public instructor of his species, through the medium of the press, should yet give him little or no advantage in the ordinary intercourse of active life. Nothing in fact can be more unequal than the character of a man of letters, when considered in relation to the separate functions of the author and the private citizen. In the one view, we behold him enlarging the general stock of human knowledge, directing the opinions of whole nations, and perhaps deciding the fortunes of yet unborn millions; but in the other, we would often look in vain for the proofs of that superior acuteness and ability which he displays in his literary capacity. This inconsistency is so glar, ing, that it has not failed to strike those who are least in the habit of weighing with critical minuteness the characters of such as are subject to their observation. The vulgar, who are remarkably prone to admire learned men at a distance, are astonished to find, on a nearer acquaintance, that the scholar is only great when he has silmin in his hand; that on all other occasions he is a In the moment of trlassen en inferior in sagacity and practical wisdom to the most illiterate. Men of letters themselves look with disdain on this revolution of opinion in the vulgar, and consider their peculiar merits as too remote from common apprehension to be understood by any but those of their own class.

ed men at a distance, are astonished to find, one

May they not, however, have formed to themselves a criterion of merit, which a rational and candid view of things would not justify? The vulgar are certainly excusable in regulating their opinion of those with whom they are connected in society, by the ability which they discover on such occasions as fall within the sphere of their own judgment; more especially when the transaction is of a nature so interesting to the individual in question, as that it may be reasonably supposed to have called forth the full strength of his mind. It is too much a common feature with the literary class, that they confine all the praise of intellectual merit to their own favourite pursuits, and consider nothing as pertaining to mental exertion, but what appears in the form of a poem or a philosophical treatise. Surely, however, this is a very circumscribed mode of thinking. As much of all that belongs to genius, as much originality of conception, as great powers of argument and persuasion, knowledge as profound of human nature, may be displayed by a man of the world in the management of his private concerns, as by an author in the design and execution of a literary composition; and, perhaps, to a benevolent mind, the obscure struggles of the former will not be a less interesting object of contemplation, than the more splendid labours of the latter, but less immediately connected with human happiness or misery. It by no means appears, that mind has so little share in the government of the world as many are willing to imagine. On a close examination, it will probably be found, that every individual naturally enjoys that degree.mpf in her ence and authority in his particu.com usually composed of his equals in rank), to which the rate of his understanding entitles him, and is followed, consulted, and attended to by those around him, in exact proportion to their experience of the soundness of his judgment, and the extent of his mental resources.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »