« السابقةمتابعة »
brain which first conceived their uses is peacefully mingling with the dust. He first declared that the human mind and character were faithfully pourtrayed in the human head as in a map : not long since, in the little town where his wanderings ended for ever, a phrenologist—a learned man too-lectured to crowded audiences on the new science. The sage--the philosopher-the devoted follower of science—has passed away and left no memory-no, not even a poor name written on a church-yard stone. Yet what matters it? The great men of earth are those who have done most good to that world which may never know or utter their names. But
“ The seeds of truth they sow are sacred seeds,
DINAH MARIA MULOCK.
EVERY individual who has had a moderate experience of life can recognise the fact, although he may not actually have felt it, that there are mental occasions which, in the words of Byron,
“ Curdle a long life into one hour." Such must have been the emotion of Cortez on his first sight of the Pacific, so beautifully commemorated by the Poet Keats in his noble sonnet,—of the Hottentot watched by the lion, as described by the African missionary, Moffat,—or of Napoleon, in the last hour of Waterloo. Dreams do the same every night, and drowning men have thus seen the whole of their life, with its minutest actions, pass before their memories between their first bubble of the water and its final bubble. Such epochs of the character teach us incalculable truths before we hear the clock chime again ; and watching the still face of the dead, or meeting the disappointment of a project, or even hearing the refusal of a love-suit, we find that we have ceased to be something that we were and never can be. The hair grows grey, or the heart old, in little more than that trifling space, thus assuring us how disproportionate are material succession and spiritual progress.
But a more frequent case, still analogous, though comparatively unimportant to our general history, is that of unusually thrilling
moments of feeling, brief flashes of consciousness that arise merely from some rare and unexpected object, or the rarer combination of objects with sensations. The whole result is either to startle one, or to give us a sort of new insight, by sudden reflection, into the movements of the soul within. Sometimes it appears to take place without an adequate external cause, at least that we can clearly trace it to : the writer himself has experienced an unaccountable degree of delight, wonder, or obscure awe, from only beginning to notice the surrounding scene when earnestly bent on a purpose quite apart from it. Or when a boy, in the midst of some impetuous race, some out-gush of animal spirits, all in an instant the disregarded landscape-trees, ground, water, hills, and sky-would seem to pierce into his very brain with a sudden shock of wild surprise. * The mental law of contrast, making one feeling produce its opposite, and two emotions more perceptible at their confluence, explains this. One or two instances of a different kind, stronger and perhaps more complicated, at any rate more externally describable, and therefore more generally interesting, recur to us at present in illustration of our title for the fact. The writer and a relative were passing over the side of Arthur's Seat near Edinburgh towards Duddingstone ; the air clear and frosty, everything beneath quietly and firmly wrapped in a veil of snow. First, beyond the brow of the hill, appeared the distant slopes and hollows, swathed in that fair white winding-sheet ; Craigruillas, its trees and ruin, transformed into the beautiful monotone ; here and there a point of the half-disguised landscape glittering like the corner of a spar ; there again like a silver coral, betwixt the eye and that azure air which seemed to have made earth in its embrace grow purer than itself.
You could not have fancied it fit for anything but peace ; for movements tranquil, and emotions happy as a vision. Next minute the cottage-tops of Duddingstone village, the church tower with snow hung from above it, and spread on the upheld palms of the old tree-branches ; the wall and sexton's tool-house edging to the water. One's eye took them in at a moment, but did not note them ; the glauce of that little leadenhued loch, so dark in its sedgy fringe amidst the unbroken fluency of white, itself startled you. At first glimpse, however, of the scene before us, an additional sensation thrilled both observers ; with one mutual look that superseded words, both stood transfixed
* See a passage in Wcrdsworth which will recur at once to his readers.
on the hill-side, gazing on the patch of ice below. All was silent as the snowy hill-top; but not another sign, attitude, or gesture was needed to inform one of the truth. Some by the edge, some on the deep-grey surface, all were huddled towards one another in a dark group,
that searched for something in the space between. Minute after minute passed, still and solemn as if the strokes were counted by tinkling, tingling whispers of the frosty landscape ; until at last the common murmur escaped that was heard distinctly upon the hill. Two dripping, rigid bodies, dead beyond the means of recovery, as it proved, were borne up into the village ; and the dull-grey loch, with a black and ragged pool broken near its miry edge, was left solitary ; like the fixed eye of a scene that had become death-like in a moment. Or like the ghostly ear it lay, listening after the steps of those whom the grasp of Nature had bereaved and then given them back their clay. Another time we were standing fixed at the lower end of a vast multitude, that thronged, and heaved, and steadied each other up the reach of Edinburgh High Street to its top. They were waiting an execution, and we would fain have got away from it; although from that spot nothing could have been seen of the lethal signs or issues, except the faces of the crowd far up, clear of the shadows from the tall old houses, who would be spectators of his coming forth. At eight of that bright April morning he was to die, a man of fearful crime, brought from the inner darkness of a jail, to stand a little quarter of an hour in the full glare of open day and public sight, then pass into the deeper darkness of the future world. As we looked up for air, held perforce betwixt the swarming sweltering masses of human life, we suddenly perceived a small arc of St. Giles's dial, shining in the early sun over the house-tops, with the upper figures only in sight, above the chimneys of a building now removed. The fingers of the clock were hidden in the space below ; one would have thought them vanished by a miracle of grace, or in mercy refraining to denote the time appointed in man's stern sentence. The highest number in the horologe stood fixed midway above those smokeless chimney-cans : when its longest finger should reach that awful Twelve, would the criminal be led out into the air ; when it should touch the quarter, then would he be launched into the unseen.
Yet it seemed the machine had lost its indicator ; face and circle both, it spanned the cold grey piles between, as bare and motionless as if the wheels were working uselessly within. The suspense of watching it was insufferable,
but eye after eye of the spectators caught sight of it, till silence crept down the strect. Something like the interest which sympathises with the worst man's chance for escape, in a tragedy you know the end of, replaced the general execration, the vulgar ribaldry, in that part of the crowd. At last, with a common sob of pent-up expectation, the point of the long clock-hand was seen creeping up from behind the chimneys, Slowly, slowly, like the sure fore-finger of avenging Nemesis, it stole round to the twelve: and at length, with strokes of thunder, long and unrelenting, that crowned Cathedral-tower pealed forth the time ! Strangely enough, along with it the chimes were ringing out a shower of merry notes, that suited a spring morning ; when burghers open their windows, and milk-women hasten from door to door, and shop-boys take off the shutters to enliven the empty streets. The succeeding pause was broken by the roaring hum of the multitude above, as the doomed man came into their sight. And when the solemn token had moved down again, glittering, into the shadow, he was hanging with his covered face between the beams that crossed the sunshine on high,—the soul utterly passed from hearing of mortal sound.
Once more, on a dark evening early in the year, we had glided up the Thames with a full tide, threading the barges, ships, and steamers of that peopled river in a smack from Leith. Greenwich, Blackwall, with their stately piles and statelier floating fabrics, were passed by in the obscure ; sounds thickened on, and glimmering or moving lights, the shadows black and blacker, the fog more densely grey. All was confused, bewildered, and meaningless, but we moved with exertion and bustle, with care and nervous preparation around us, into the very heart of London unawares : till our vessel was one of the forest of masts and bulls that lay stationary on the dark bosom of its mid-stream. Then was the far-spread murmur of the city audible far and near, as if we were in the centre of some mighty sea of life ; yet it was already hushing down into longer-drawn breaths, and the throbbing peace of night. All at once, from over the broad outline of the city, from the very gloom, lurid and flickering, that hung above--came issuing an iron clang, that boomed over the countless housetops as if every several roof reflected it again. Another and another colossal stroke, each taking up the ending tone of the other, from the mile on mile it seemed to have vibrated away : and not till the startling phenomenon had ceased, did we find composure to recollect that this was St. Paul's striking nine. But in the midst of darkness and mystery, it came like a revelation : there were in it, concentrated, all the thrilling thoughts and associations of our reading, hearing, or fancy, about mighty London. London, old, new, wonderful, and world-like; London, that strange meeting-place of all extremes,—the high, the lowthe bad, the good—the fearful and the excellent ; London, merchant-mistress of the tides of commerce, was proclaimed in that great voice from the cloud. That “mighty heart” would soon be “ lying still ;" but the very pulse to which its life-blood retreated, and which in the morning would send it out again to circulate through every member, seemed now to have within it the essence of this many-sided vitality. In a moment our faëry dreams of it, our metropolitan romance and reality, rose vivid and reanimated, as by the touch of an enchanter's wand. Even then, and at last, did we feel what it was to be for the first time in London, better than if rolling in upon the swiftest wheels, from precinct to suburb, and through the growing hubbub of its streets. And who that has been there knows not what a life's emotion that is !
For a last illustration of our epithet, take the following incident, described to us by a friend:-- his grown-up elder brother “lodged in a side street of the New Town of Edinburgh, and he himself arrived late one night on an unexpected visit to him from the country. Being known to the landlady, he was admitted at the door without question, and passed into his brother's chambers unaware whether or not the latter was returned home from his professional engagements. However, on perceiving the gas let down, with open books about the table, and as it was not long past eleven, he sat down to amuse himself with a volume, and await his brother's coming. Half an hour had elapsed, still no appearance of him ; the youth was getting weary enough of the dull medical work he was obliged to peruse, when at last he fancied he heard a low breathing through the half-open door of the little bed-room. The thoughts for the first time struck him that his brother had been all the while comfortably in bed ; and half provoked at his own stupidity, half at his brother's pleasant unconsciousness, he resolved, with boyish recklessness, to play him a trick. Stealing into the bed-room, through the windowblind of which the moon shed a dim light, he all at once placed his hand forcibly on the sleeper's breast, and shouted out to him in a threatening voice to rise. With one bound the young man sprang out to the floor, and, before the other could contrive to make himself known, there was a struggle between them, in