Page images
PDF
EPUB

knowledge of the classics, and imbued ful night after she was committed to it with the deepest admiration of their the tomb, are too sacred to my remembeauties; but he did not apply him- brance, to be even now unravelled. self to correct the wild tissue of absurd I shortly after came of age, and one and superstitions notions, which an of the first acts of my majority was a accurate observer must have detected visit to Paris, during the short interin my bosom, or the greedy taste for val of war afforded by the peace of fiction, and nervous sensibility, of Amiens, in the hopes of alleviating which I myself perceived and lament- my anguish. Here indeed I saw some ed the excess. Ever since I could thing of life; but I was too reserved walk, I had been under the superin- to enter into intimacy with any of those tendence of an old nurse attached to to whose acquaintance my guardians the family, whose memory, like that introduced me. Proud, shy, and senof most of her countrywomen, was sitive, I was fearful of their penetratwell stored with legend and tradition, ing into the weaknesses of my characand who had secretly acquired an ab- ter, which I felt were far from harsolute authority over me. While I monizing with the general opinions of was a mere child, she used to frighten mankind; and I fancy they perceived me into obedience, if refractory, by something unfashionably cold and threats of supernatural interference, sombre about me, which mutually and sometimes by devices of so hor- prevented our knowledge of each rible and extraordinary a nature, that other. To the value of even your I can hardly now recollect them with friendship, my dear S , I was then out a shudder. The earnestness and insensible, but you cannot say I have emphasis, moreover, with which she remained so. told me tales in which she more than In one of my lonely rambles about half believed, gave her gradually an the wonderful and interesting capital entire dominion over my fears and I was now visiting, I joined a crowd fancy, which she could rouse and re- of twenty or thirty persons, waiting at gulate at will. Even after I had the outer door that leads to the upper emerged from the nursery, it used to entrance of the Catacombs. I had be my great delight to steal to her heard of these extraordinary vaults, apartment in the evening, and sit listbut not having passed before the Barening for hours to her ghostly narra- riere d'Enfer, I had not inspected tives, till my knees shook, and every them in person. Though I could not nerve in my body trembled, in the help conjecturing that a subterraneous agitation and over-excitement she pro- cemetery, where the relics of ten cenduced. It was then almost too much turies reposed, must be a sight too for my courage to hurry through the congenial with the morbid temper of long passage, lighted by a single cen- my mind, I had no notion of the actral lamp, to the library in our gothic tual horrors of that mansion for the mansion; and there, when I entered dead, or in my then distempered state breathless and with a beating heart, I of feeling, I should not have trusted used to find my mother alone, weep- my nerves with the spectacle to be exing over the correspondence of my pected. How will the curious tourist poor father in silence, and yielding to of the present day smile as he peruses the sorrow that finally bowed her to this confession, if you give my story the grave. My sole amusement every to the public!-but a few perhaps will night, while thus sitting in the room understand and pity what were my with her (for we saw no company at follies. As it was, I provided myself, all), was in poring with a perpetually- like the rest, with a waxen taper, and increasing interest, over all that could we waited with impatience for the apmost tend to nourish the deleterious pearance of the guide from below, passion of my soul. My mother was with the party that had preceded us. too much absorbed in her own recol- It was about three o'clock of a sultry lections to pay much attention to my afternoon, and we were detained so employments or my studies; and her long, that when the door opened at own mind was too much weakened by last, we all rushed in, and hurried old affliction to have suggested any salu. Jerome to the task of conducting us, tary restoratives for mine.

without giving him time for the neThe agonies I felt at my beloved cessary precaution of counting our parent's death, and for many a wake number. I was an utter stranger to all present, and felt at first, as if I in my ears, and I thought myself alone, should have wished to view the sight, already with the dead. The guide towards which we hurried our con- thrust the light he carried into a huge ductor, with him alone, or at least skull that was lying separate in a with fewer and less vociferous com- niche; but I marked not the action or panions : but when we had descended the man, but only the fearful glimmany steps into the bowels of the mering of the transparent bone, which earth, and the cold air from the I thought a smile of triumphant madwellings of mortality smote my brow, lice from the presiding spectre of the I owned a sensible relief from the place, while imagined accents whisperpresence of the living around me, and ed, in my hearing, “ Welcome to our was cheered by the sound of their va charnel-house, for THIS shall be your rious exclamations. Even with these chamber !” Dizzy with indescribable accompaniments, however, it was with emotions, I felt nothing but a painful more than astonishment that I gazed sense of oppression from the presence upon the opening scene, and ever and of others, as if I could not breathe for anon, wrapped up in my thoughts, I the black shapes that were crowding anticipated with secret forebodings, near me; and turning unperceived, the horrors I was doomed to undergo down a long and gloomy passage of the

It would be superfluous to describe catacombs, I rushed as far as I could what has been described so often, yet penetrate, to feed in solitude the grownone can have received, from a survey ing appetite for horror, that had quelof the catacombs, such impressions as led for the moment, in my bosom, the my mind was prepared to admit ; and sense of fear, and even the feeling of few can have retained so vivid and dis- identity. To the rapid whirl of various tinct a picture of their appearance, as sensations that had bewildered me has been branded on my soul in char- ever since I left the light of day, a seaacters not to be effaced. Alas! I en- son of intense abstraction now succeedtered them with little of that fine ex. ed. I held my burning eyeballs full alting spirit so divinely eulogized by upon the skulls in front, till they ala Virgil, in the motto that is inscribed most seemed to answer my fixed reupon their walls :

gard, and claim a dreadful fellowship “ Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas, with the being that beheld them. How Atque metus omnes, et inexorabile fatum long I stood motionless in this condiSubjecit pedibus, strepitumque Acherontis tion I know not-my taper was calavari !"

culated to last a considerable time, and The interminable rows of bare and I was wakened from my trance by the blackening skulls the masses inter- scorching heat of it's expiring in my posed of gaunt and rotting bones, that hand. Still insensible of what I was once gave strength and symmetry to about, I threw it to the ground; and the young, the beautiful, the brave, gleaming once more, as if to shew the now mildewed by the damp of the darkness and solitude to which I was cavern, and heaped together in in- consigned, it was speedily extinguishdiscriminate arrangement-the faint ed. But, by the strong impression on mouldering and deathlike smell that my brain, the whole scene remained pervaded these gloomy labyrinths, and distinct; and it was not for some time the long recesses in the low-roofed that my fit of abstraction passed away, rock, to which I dared not turn my and the horrific conviction came upeyes except by short and fitful glances, on me, that I was left deserted, as I as it expecting something terrible and fancied in my first confusion, by faithghastly to start from the indistinctness less friends, and abandoned to the merof their distance,-all had associations cy of a thousand demons. All the for my thoughts very different from ideal terrors I had cherished from my the solemn and edifying sentiments childhood, exalted to temporary madthey must rouse in a well regulated ness by the sense and certainty of the breast, and, by degrees, I yielded up horrid objects that surrounded me, every faculty to the influence of an rushed at once upon my soul; and in ill-defined and mysterious alarm. My an agony of impatient consternation, I eyesight waxed gradually dull to all screamed and shouted, loud and long, but the fleshless skulls that were glar- for assistance. Not an answer was reing in the yellow light of the tapers- turned, but the dreary echoes of this the hum of human voices was stifled dreadful tomb. I saw that my cries for succour were hopeless and in vain, ing-sheet, or a grave-flannel animate and my voice failed me for very fear with worms. I buried my head in my jaws were tixed and open, my palate the skirts of my coat and prayed for dry—a cold sweat distilled from every slumber ; but a fearful train of images pore, and my limbs were chill and forced me again to rise and stumble powerless as death. Their vigour at on, shivering in frame with unearthly length revived, and I rushed in a de- cold, and yet internally fevered with a lirium through the passages, strug. tumult of agonizing thoughts. Any gling through their various windings one must have suffered somewhat in to retrace my path, and plunged at such a situation ; but no one's sufferevery step in more inextricable error, ings could resemble mine, unless he till, running with the speed of light- carried to the scene a mind so hideousning along one of the longest corridors, ly prepared. Part of these awful exI came with violence in full and cavations are said to have been once loathsome contact with the skeleton haunted by banditti; but I had no relics at the end. The shock was like fears of them, and should have swoonfire to my brain-I wept tears of rage ed with transport to have come upon and despair ; and thrusting my fingers their fires at one of the turnings in the in the sockets of the empty skulls, to rock, though my appearance had been wrench them from the wall, I clutched the instant signal for their daggers. their bony edges till the blood sprung In my wanderings I recovered for a from my lacerated hand. In short, I moment the path taken by the guides, cannot paint to you the extravagancies and found myself in a sort of cell I acted, or the wild alternation of my within the rock, where particular spefeelings that endured for many hours. cimens of mortality were preserved. Sometimes excited to phrenzy, I ima- My arm rested on the table, where gined I know not what of horrid and two or three loosened skulls, and a appalling, and saw, with preternatural thigh-bone of extravagant dimensions, acuteness, through the darkness as were lying, and a new fit of madness clear as noon, while grisly visages seized me. My heart beat with reseemed glaring on me near, and a red doubled violence, while I brandished and bloody haze enveloped the more the enormous bone, and hoarsely callfearful distance. Then, when reasoned for its original possessor to come in was on the point of going, an interval all the terrors of the grave, and there of terrible collection would succeed. would I wrestle with him for the relic I felt in my very soul how I was left of his own miserable carcase. I struck alone-perhaps not to be discovered, repeatedly, and hard, the hollowat any rate for what appeared to me an sounding sides of the cell, shouting endless period, in which I should per- my defiance; then throwing myself haps expire of terror, and I longed for with violence towards the opening, I deep deep sleep, or to be as cold and missed my balance, and, snatching at insensate as the things around me. I the wall round the corner to save mytried to recollect the courage, that on- self, I jammed my hand in an aperly on one point had ever failed me, ture among the bones, and fancied but judgment missed her stays, and that the grisly adversary I invoked had the whispers of the subterraneous wind, grasped my arm in answer to my chalor the stealthy noises I seemed to hear lenge. My shrieks of agony rang in concert with the audible beatings of through the caverns, and, stagggering my heart, overcame me irresistibly. back into the cell, I fell upon my Sometimes I thought I could feel si- face, hardly daring to respire, and exlence palpable, like a soft mantle on pecting unimagined horrors or speedy my ear-I figured dreadful hands dissolution. within a hair-breadth of my body, How my feelings varied for a space ready to tear me if I stirred, and in of time, I know not; but sleep insendesperation flung myself upon the sibly fell upon me. In my dream, I ground. Then would I creep close to did not seem to change the scene, but the mouldering fragments at the bote still reclining in the cell, I fancied the tom of the wall, and try to dig with skulls upon the wall the same in nummy nails, from the hard rock, some- ber, but magnified to a terrific size, thing to cover me. Oh ! how I long- with black jetty eyes imbedded in their ed for a cloak to wrap and hide me, naked sockets, and rivetted with malithough it had been my mother's wind, cious earnestness on me. A dim re

ecss seemed opened beyond one side of when he heard where I had passed the the cell, and each spectral eye turning night, came down with an early party with a sidelong glance towards it, of visitors, and freed me from my dundrew mine the same direction by an geon.—There was no straggling among uncontrollable fascination. Still appear- the company for that day. ing to gaze determinedly upon them, You well know, my dear friend, I had power, as I dreamed, to obey what have been my habits and employtheir impulse simultaneously, and to ments since that night; and I could perceive a dreadful figure, black, bony, summon you with confidence, to give and skull-headed, with similar terrific your testimony, that few persons are eyes, whom they seemed to hail as now less slaves of superstitious terror their minister of cruelty, while with than myself. By a strange and singuslow and silent paces, it drew near to lar anomaly of circumstances, the wild clasp me in its hideous arms. Closer fancies I had imbibed in the free air and closer it advanced, but, thanks of my native hills, and among the and praise to the all-gracious Power cheerful scenes of romantic nature, I that stills the tempests of the soul ! unlearned in the dreary catacombs of the limit of suffering was reached, and Paris. If I still am fanciful, you will the force of terror was exhausted. My not charge me with extravagance ; if nerves, so long weak, and prone to a- I still have sensibility, I trust it does gitation, were recovered, by the over- not verge on weakness; and, as I violence of their momentum,--and, have proved my personal courage on instead of losing reason in the shock, more than a single trial, I may be alor waking in the extremity of fear,- lowed to smile, when I hear in future the vision was suddenly changed, some boisterous relater of my narrative the scenery of horror melted into light, condemn me for a coward. E. and a calm and joyful serenity took place R , Sept. 1818. possession of my bosom. My animal powers must have been nearly worn out, for long-long I slept in this SELECTIONS FROM ATHENAUS. delightful tranquillity, and when I

No lI. wakened, it was, for the first time of my life, in a peaceful and healthy state “ HOmer,” adds our author, “conof mind, unfettered, and released for sidered temperance as the virtue whiclı ever from all that had enfeebled and best becomes young men, and from debased my nature. I had passed in which they were likely to draw the that celestial sleep from death to life, greatest benefit. He therefore never from the dreams of weakness, and fails to inspire them with the love of lapses of insanity, to the full use and it, in order to rouse them to the peranimation of my faculties,--and I felt formance of great and good actions, to as if a cemented load had broken and excite a desire of excellence, and that crumbled off my soul, and left me fear. species of benevolence which leads to less and serene. I was never happy,- mutual kind and good offices. He I was never worthy the stile of Man constantly represents his heroes as satill then ; and, as I lay, I faultered out tisfied with the simplest food, dressed my thanks in ecstasy to Heaven, for in the plainest manner, knowing that all that had befallen me.

a luxurious table led only to sensualMy limbs were numbed by the cold ity and voluptuousness, and to awaken and darnp of the floor on which I had and set in motion the rebellious pas. been lying ; but, rising from it, a new sions; whereas frugality and temperbeing in all that is essential to existe ance produced good order and modeence, I entered the passage, and walk ration in every situation of life. He ed briskly up and down, to recover the therefore furnishes all with the same play and vigour of my frame. I found kind of food, to kings and private cithe thigh-bone on the ground where I tizens, to old and young, without vahad dropped it,--and no longer tor- riation or preference, always roasted tured by the fears that were gone for meat, generally beef; at public and ever, replaced it quietly in its former private entertainments, at weddings situation. I kept near the entrance of and other festivals, still the same simthe cell, that the first guide who de ple fare.” scended might not miss me; and it “ When Ajax had fought singly a. could not be more than two hours, be gainst Hector, Agamemnon, as an hofore Jeromne, whose hair stood on end nourable reward, treats him with a

chine of beef. To old Nestor and Though in another place the poet Phænix he likewise presents plain says, that wine (taken to excess, I roasted meat. Even Alcinous, who presume) enervates and lessens the boled a voluptuous life, is supplied by dily strength." the poet with the same plain meals." “ Hecuba, in the same poet, sup.

"The suitors of Penelope, riotous posing that Hector would spend the and extravagant as they were, are not remainder of the day at Troy, invites represented by Homer as feasting up- him to drink, to unbend his mind, and on fish, or fowls, or delicate pastry. to be merry, after the usual libations.

The poet, with great art, avoids those Hector refuses ; she continues imporkind of dainties, which, according to tunate; he leaves her, to go to the Menander, serve only to excite the field of battle. After some time he unruly passions of sensuality and con- returns out of breath, she again incupiscence. Priam even reproaches vites him to make the usual libations, his sons for eating things contrary to and to refresh himself with wine : but law, as lambs and kids ; for Fhilocho- he, covered with blood, alleges, that rus reports, that lambs being scarce in it would be the height of impiety for Attica, the magistrates of Athens did him to comply with her wishes, in not allow them to be killed till they that condition." had been shorn."

“Homer well knew the good and “ Nothing can be more simple than salutary qualities of wine taken in the diet and habits of the gods, nectar moderation, but justly inveighs against and ambrosia : no incense, no per- the intemperate use of it.” fume, no crowns, and mankind only “ In the simplicity of ancient manoffer to them in sacrifice the firstlings ners, he represents the women, and of their flocks.”

even young girls, as bathing and wash“ After they had satisfied their ap- ing the guests. This was not looked petites, they rose from table, and re- upon as indecent or improper; it neitired to practise athletic games ;-such ther excited nor encouraged wanton as wrestling, throwing the disk, and or loose desires ; it was sanctioned by exercising with the lance ;-thus in usage: and thus the daughters of Cotheir very sports preparing themselves calus* wash Minos when he arrived in for more serious action. Some attend- Sicily.” ed to the minstrels who accompanied “To censure drunkenness more the harp, singing the noble deeds and pointedly, he (Homer) represents the warlike achievements of their ancient giant Cyclops, when intoxicated, as heroes. Nor is it to be wondered at, easily overcome by a very little man. that men thus educated, had both – The companions of Ulysses likewise, their minds and bodies at all times are changed into wolves and lions by ready for immediate exertion.”

Circe, because they had abandoned “ To shew that a temperate use of themselves to voluptuousness. Ulyswine contributed to health, fortified ses is preserved, as he prudently atthe body, and rendered the mind more tended to the advice of Mercury; but equal to all emergencies, Homer makes Elpenor, who had drunk to excess, Nestor come to the assistance of Ma- precipitates himself from the top of chaon, the physician of the Greeks, the palace, and is killed.”+ who was wounded in the right shoul. “When the Greeks re-embarked, der. He gives him wine, as a preser- Homer informs us, that they were invative against inflammation; Pramnian toxicated, and consequently seditious wine too, which we know to be glu- tinous and nourishing, not to allay Vide Ovid's Metam, b. viii. p. 261. thirst, but to strengthen the body. + Homer is particularly recommended He therefore advises him to use it of- for the morality of his poems, in epist. i. ten. “ Sit,” said he, “ drink, scrape book 2. epist. ad Lollium Horace. cheese made of goat's milk into the Qui, quid sit pulchrum, quid turpe, quid wine, and then eat an onion to create utile, quid non a still greater desire to drink *.” Plenius ac melius Chrysippo et Crantore dicit.

Sirením voces, et Circes pocula nosti ; * I do not see how this example illus. Quæ si cum sociis stultas cupidusque bibisset trates the position, unless it be considered Sub dominâ meretrice fuisset, turpis, et ex. that the habitual temperance of Machaon c ors: gave more efficacy to the wine taken medi, Vixisset canis immundus, vel amica luto cinally.

sus

« PreviousContinue »