صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

POLITICAL TRACTS.

MARMOR NORFOLCIENSE;

OR,

An Essay on an Ancient Prophetical Inscription, in Monkish Rhyme, lately discovered near Lynn, in Norfolk, by Probus Britannicus.

FIRST PRINTED IN THE YEAR 1739.

IN Norfolk, near the town of Lynn, in a field which an ancient tradition of the country affirms to have been once a deep lake or meer, and which appears from authentic records to have been called, about two hundred years ago, Palus, or the Marsh, was discovered not long since a large square stone, which is found upon an exact inspection to be a kind of coarse marble, of a substance not firm enough to admit of being polished, yet harder than our common quarries afford, and not easily susceptible of injuries from weather or outward accidents.

It was brought to light by a farmer, who observing his plough obstructed by something, through which the share could not make its way, ordered his servants to remove it. This was not effected without some difficulty, the stone being three feet four inches deep, and four feet square in the superficies, and consequently of a weight not easily manageable. However, by the application of levers, it was at length raised, and conveyed to a corner of the field, where it lay for some months entirely unregarded: nor perhaps had we ever been made acquainted with this venerable relique of antiquity, had not our good fortune been greater than our curiosity.

A gentleman, well known to the learned world, and distinguished by the patronage of the Macenas of Norfolk, whose name, were I permitted to mention it, would excite the attention of my reader, and add no small authority to my conjectures, observing, as he was walking that way, that the clouds began to gather and threaten him with a shower, had recourse for shelter to the trees under which this stone happened to lie, and sat down upon it in expectation of fair weather. At length he began to amuse himself in his confinement, by clearing the earth from his seat with the point of his cane: and had continued this employment some time, when he observed several traces of letters antique and irregular, which by being very deeply engraven were still easily distinguishable.

This discovery so far raised his curiosity, that going home immediately, he procured an instrument proper for cutting out the clay, that filled

up the spaces of the letters, and with very little labour made the inscription legible, which is here exhibited to the public:

POST-GENITIS.

Cum lapidem hunc, magni
Qui nunc jacet incola stagni,
Vel pede equus tanget,
Vel arator vomere franget,
Sentiet ægra metus,
Effundet patria fletus,
Littoraque ut fluctu,
Resonabunt oppida luctu:
Nam fœcunda rubri
Serpent per prata colubri
Gramina vastantes,
Flores fructusque vorantes,
Omnia fædantes,
Vitiantes, et spoliantes;
Quanquam haud pugnaces,
Ilmunt per cuncta minaces,
Fures absque timore,

Et pingues absque labore.
Horrida dementes
Rapiet discordia gentes,
Plurima tunc leges
Mutabit, plurima reges
Natio, conversâ

In rabiem tunc contremet urså
Cynthia, tunc latis,
Florebunt lilia pratis,
Nec fremere audebit
Leo, sed violare timebit,
Omnia consuetus
Populari pascua lætus.
Ante oculos natos
Calceatos et cruciatos
Jam feret ignavus,
Vetitaque libidine pravus.
En quoque quod mirum,
Quod dicas denique dirum,
Sanguinem equus sugit,
Neque bellua victa remugit.

These lines he carefully copied, accompanied, in his letter of July 19, with the following trans

lation.

TO POSTERITY.

Whene'er this stone, now hid beneath the lake,
The horse shall trample or the plough shall break,
Then, O my country! shalt thou groan distrest,
Grief swell thine eyes, and terror chill thy breast.
Thy streets with violence of wo shall sound,
Loud as the billows bursting on the ground.
Then through thy fields shall scarlet reptiles stray,
And rapine and pollution mark their way.
Their hungry swarms the peaceful vale shall fright,
Still fierce to threaten, still afraid to fight:
The teeming year's whole product shall devour,
Insatiate pluck the fruit, and crop the flow'r:
Shall glutton on the industrious peasants' spoil,
Rob without fear, and fatten without toil;
Then o'er the world shall discord stretch her wings:
Kings change their laws, and kingdoms change their
kings.

The bear enrag'd th' affrighted moon shall dread;"
The lilies o'er the vales triumphant spread;
Nor shall the lion, wont of old to reign
Despotic o'er the desolated plain,

Henceforth th' inviolable bloom invade,
Or dare to murmur in the flow'ry glade;
His tortur'd sons shall die before his face,
While he lies melting in a lewd embrace;
And, yet more strange! his veins a horse shall drain,
Nor shall the passive coward once complain.

I make not the least doubt, but that this learned person has given us, as an antiquary, a true and uncontrovertible representation of the writer's meaning, and am sure he can confirm it by innumerable quotations from the authors of the middle age, should he be publicly called upon by any man of eminent rank in the republic of letters; nor will he deny the world that satisfaction, provided the animadverter proceeds with that sobriety and modesty, with which it becomes every learned man to treat a subject of such importance.

in all ages, foreigners have affected to call England their country, even when, like the Saxons of old, they came only to plunder it.

An argument in favour of the Britons, may indeed be drawn from the tenderness with which the author seems to lament his country, and the compassion he shows for its approaching calamities. I, who am a descendant from the Saxons, and therefore unwilling to say any thing derogatory from the reputation of my forefathers, must yet allow this argument its full force: for it has been rarely, very rarely, known that foreigners, however well treated, caressed, enriched, flattered, or exalted, have regarded this country with the least gratitude or affection, till the race has, by long continuance, after many generations, been naturalized and assimilated.

They have been ready upon all occasions to prefer the petty interests of their own country, though perhaps only some desolate and worthless corner of the world. They have employed the wealth of England, in paying troops to defend mud-wall towns, and uninhabitable rocks, and in purchasing barriers for territories, of which the natural sterility secured them from

Yet with all proper deference to a name so justly celebrated, I will take the freedom of ob serving that he has succeeded better as a scholar than a poet; having fallen below the strength, the conciseness, and at the same time below the perspicuity of his author. I shall not point out the particular passages in which this disparity is remarkable, but content myself with saying in general that the criticisms, which there is room for on this translation, may be almost an incite-invasion. ment to some lawyer, studious of antiquity, to learn Latin.

The inscription, which I now proceed to consider, wants no arguments to prove its antiquity to those among the learned who are versed in the writers of the darker ages, and know that the Latin poetry of those times was of a peculiar cast and air, not easy to be understood, and very difficult to be imitated; nor can it be conceived that any man would lay out his abilities on a way of writing, which though attained with much study, could gain him no reputation, and engrave his chimeras on a stone to astonish posterity.

This argument, which wants no particular instances to confirm it, is, I confess, of the greatest weight in this question, and inclines me strongly to believe, that the benevolent author of this prediction must have been BORN a BRITON.

The learned discoverer of the inscription was pleased to insist with great warmth upon the etymology of the word Patria, which signifying, says he, the land of my father, could be made use of by none, but such whose ancestors had resided here: but in answer to this demonstration, as he called it, I only desired him to take notice, how common it is for intruders of yesterday to Its antiquity therefore is out of dispute; but pretend the same title with the ancient propriehow high a degree of antiquity is to be assigned tors, and having just received an estate by volunit, there is more ground for inquiry than deter-tary grant, to erect a claim of hereditary right. mination. How early Latin rhymes made their appearance in the world is yet undecided by the critics. Verses of this kind were called Leonine; but whence they derived that appellation the learned Camden confesses himself ignorant, so that the style carries no certain marks of its age. I shall only observe farther on this head, that the characters are nearly of the same form with those on King Arthur's coffin; but whether from their similitude we may venture to pronounce them of the same date, I must refer to the decision of better judges.

Our inability to fix the age of this inscription necessarily infers our ignorance of its author, with relation to whom many controversies may be started worthy of the most profound learning, and most indefatigable diligence.

Nor is it less difficult to form any satisfactory conjecture, concerning the rank or condition of the writer, who, contented with a consciousness of having done his duty, in leaving this solemn warning to his country, seems studiously to have avoided that veneration, to which his knowledge of futurity undoubtedly entitled him, and those honours which his memory might justly claim from the gratitude of posterity, and has therefore left no trace by which the most sagacious and diligent inquirer can hope to discover him.

This conduct alone ought to convince us, that the prediction is of no small importance to mankind, since the author of it appears not to have been influenced by any other motive than that noble and exalted philanthropy, which is above the narrow views of recompense or applause.

That interest had no share in this inscription, is evident beyond dispute, since the age in which he lived received neither pleasure nor instruction from it. Nor is it less apparent from the suppression of his name, that he was equally a stranger to that wild desire of fame, which has sometimes infatuated the noblest minds.

The first question that naturally arises is, Whether he was a Briton or a Saxon? I had at first conceived some hope, that in this question, in which not only the idle curiosity of virtuosoes, but the honour of two mighty nations, is concerned, some information might be drawn from the word Patria [my country] in the third line; England being not in propriety of speech the His modesty, however, has not been able country of the Saxons; at least not at their first wholly to extinguish that curiosity, which so arrival. But upon farther reflection this argu-naturally leads us, when we admire a performinent appeared not conclusive, since we find that ance, to inquire after the author. Those whom

I have consulted on this occasion, and my zeal | of this venerable man. I have seldom in any of for the honour of this benefactor of my country the gracious speeches delivered from the throne, has not suffered me to forget a single antiquary and received with the highest gratitude and satisof reputation, have almost unanimously deter-faction by both Houses of Parliament, discovered mined, that it was written by a king. For where any other concern than for the current year, for else, said they, are we to expect that greatness of which supplies are generally demanded in very mind, and that dignity of expression, so emi-pressing terms, and sometimes such as imply no nently conspicuous in this inscription? remarkable solicitude for posterity.

It is with a proper sense of the weakness of my own abilities, that I venture to lay before the public, the reasons which hinder me from concurring with this opinion, which I am not only inclined to favour by my respect for the authors of it, but by a natural affection for monarchy, and a prevailing inclination to believe, that every excellence is inherent in a king.

Nothing indeed can be more unreasonable and absurd, than to require that a monarch, distracted with cares and surrounded with enemies, should involve himself in superfluous anxieties, by an unnecessary concern about future generations. Are not pretenders, mock-patriots, masquerades, operas, birth-nights, treaties, conventions, reviews, drawing-rooms, the births of heirs, and the deaths of queens, sufficient to overwhelm any capacity but that of a king? Surely he that acquits himself successfully of such affairs, may content himself with the glory he acquires, and

To condemn an opinion so agreeable to the reverence due to the regal dignity, and countenanced by so great authorities, without a long and accurate discussion, would be a temerity justly liable to the severest censures. A super-leave posterity to his successors. cilious and arrogant determination of a controversy of such importance, would doubtless be treated by the impartial and candid with the utmost indignation.

But as I have too high an idea of the learning of my contemporaries, to obtrude any crude, hasty, or indigested notions on the public, I have proceeded with the utmost degree of diffidence and caution; I have frequently reviewed all my arguments, traced them backwards to their first principles, and used every method of examination to discover whether all the deductions were natural and just, and whether I was not imposed on by some specious fallacy; but the farther I carried my inquiries, and the longer I dwelt upon this great point, the more was I convinced, in spite of all my prejudices, that this wonderful prediction was not written by a king.

That this has been the conduct of most princes, is evident from the accounts of all ages and nations; and therefore I hope it will not be thought that I have without just reasons deprived this inscription of the veneration it might demand as the work of a king.

With what laborious struggles against prejudice and inclination, with what efforts of reasoning, and pertinacity of self-denial, I have prevailed upon myself to sacrifice the honour of this monument to the love of truth, none who are unacquainted with the fondness of a commentator will be able to conceive. But this instance will be, I hope, sufficient to convince the public that I write with sincerity, and that, whatever my success may be, my intentions are good.

Where we are to look for our author, it still remains to be considered; whether in the high road of public employments, or the by-paths of private life.

For after a laborious and attentive perusal of histories, memoirs, chronicles, lives, characters, vindications, panegyrics, and epitaphs, I could find no sufficient authority for ascribing to any It has always been observed of those that freof our English monarchs, however gracious or quent a court, that they soon, by a kind of conglorious, any prophetical knowledge or pre-tagion, catch the regal spirit of neglecting futuscience of futurity; which, when we consider rity. The minister forms an expedient to sushow rarely regal virtues are forgotten, how soon pend or perplex an inquiry into his measures for they are discovered, and how loudly they are a few months, and applauds and triumphs in his celebrated, affords a probable argument at least, own dexterity. The peer puts off his creditor that none of them have laid any claim to this for the present day, and forgets that he is ever to character. For why should historians have see him more. The frown of a prince, and the omitted to embellish their accounts with such a loss of a pension, have indeed been found of striking circumstance? or if the histories of that wonderful efficacy, to abstract men's thoughts age are lost by length of time, why was not so from the present time, and fill them with zeal for uncommon an excellence transmitted to posterity the liberty and welfare of ages to come. But I in the more lasting colours of poetry? Was that am inclined to think more favourably of the au unhappy age without a Laureat? Was there thor of this prediction, than that he was made a then no Young or Philips? no Ward or Mitchel, patriot by disappointment or disgust. If he ever to snatch such wonders from oblivion, and im-saw a court, I would willingly believe, that he mortalize a prince of such capacities? If this was really the case, let us congratulate ourselves upon being reserved for better days: days so fruitful of happy writers, that no princely virtue can shine in vain. Our monarchs are surrounded with refined spirits, so penetrating that they frequently discover in their masters great qualities invisible to vulgar eyes, and which, did not they publish them to mankind, would be unobserved for ever.

Nor is it easy to find in the lives of our monarchs many instances of that regard for posterity, which seems to have been the prevailing temper

did not owe his concern for posterity to his ill reception there, but his ill reception there to his concern for posterity.

However, since truth is the same in the mouth of a hermit or a prince, since it is not reason, but weakness, that makes us rate counsel by our esteem for the counsellor, let us at length desist from this inquiry, so useless in itself, in which we have room to hope for so little satisfaction. Let us show our gratitude to the author, by answering his intentions, by considering minutely the lines which he has left us, and examining their import without heat, precipitancy, or party pre

judices; let us endeavour to keep the just mean, between searching ambitiously for far-fetched interpretations, and admitting such low meaning, and obvious and low sense, as is inconsistent with those great and extensive views, which it is reasonable to ascribe to this excellent man.

It may be yet farther asked, whether this inscription, which appears in the stone, be an original, and not rather a version of a traditional prediction in the old British tongue, which the zeal of some learned man prompted him to translate and engrave in a more known language for the instruction of future ages: but as the lines carry at the first view a reference both to the stone itself, and very remarkably to the place where it was found, I cannot see any foundation for such a suspicion.

It remains now that we examine the sense and import of the inscription, which, after having long dwelt upon it with the closest and most laborious attention, I must confess myself not yet able fully to comprehend. The following explications, therefore, are by no means laid down as certain and indubitable truths, but as conjectures not always wholly satisfactory even to myself, and which I had not dared to propose to so enlightened an age, an age which abounds with those great ornaments of human nature, skeptics, anti-moralists, and infidels, but with hopes that they would excite some person of greater abilities to penetrate further into the oraculous obscurity of this wonderful prediction. Not even the four first lines are without their difficulties, in which the time of the discovery of the stone seems to be the time assigned for the events foretold by it.

Cum lapidem hunc, magni
Qui nunc jacet incola stagni,
Vel pede equus tanget,
Vel arator vomere franget,

Sentiet agra metus,

Effundet patria fletus,

Littoraque ut fluctu,

Resonabunt oppida luctu.

Nam fœcunda rubri
Serpent per pra'a colubri,
Gramina vastantes,
Flores fructusque vorantes,
Omnia fadantes,
Vitiantes, et spoliantes;
Quanquam haud pugnaces,
Ibunt per cuncta minaces,
Fures absque timore,

Et pingues absque labore.

Then through thy fields shall scarlet reptiles stray,
And rapine and pollution mark their way,
Their hungry swarms the peaceful vale shall fright,
Still fierce to threaten, still afraid to fight;
The teeming year's whole product shall devour,
Insatiate pluck the fruit, and crop the flow'r :
Shall glutton on the indu-trious easant's spoil,
Rob without fear, and fatten without toil.

He seems, in these verses, to descend to a parti cular account of this dreadful calamity; but his description is capable of very different senses, with almost equal probability.

Red serpents, says he, (rubri colubri are the Latin words, which the poetical translator has rendered scarlet reptiles, using a general term for a particular in my opinion too licentiously,) "Red serpents shall wander o'er her meadows, and pillage and pollute," &c. The particular mention of the colour of this destructive viper may be some guide to us in this labyrinth, through which, I must acknowledge, I cannot yet have any certain path. I confess that when a few days after my perusal of this passage, I heard of the multitude of lady-birds, seen in Kent, I began to imagine that these were the fatal insects by which the island was to be laid waste, and therefore looked over all accounts of them with uncommon concern. But when my first terrors began to subside, I soon recollected that these creatures, having both wings and feet, would scarcely have been called serpents; and was quickly convinced by their leaving the country without doing any hurt, that they had no quality but the colour, in common with the ravagers

here described.

courage, robs without fear, and is pampered without labour, they may know that the prediction is completed. Let me only remark farther, that if the style of this, as of all other predictions, is figurative, the serpent, a wretched animal that crawls upon the earth, is a proper emblem of low views, self-interest, and base submission, as well as of cruelty, mischief, and malevolence.

As I am not able to determine any thing on this Whene'er this stone, now hid beneath the lake, question, I shall content myself with collecting, The horse shall trample, or the plough shall break, into one view, the several properties of this pes Then, O my country! shalt thou groan distrest, Grief in thine eyes, and terror in thy breast. tiferous brood, with which we are threatened, as Thy streets with violence of wo shall sound, hints to more sagacious and fortunate readers, Loud as the billows bursting on the ground. who, when they shall find any red animal that "When this stone," says he, "which now lies ranges uncontrolled over the country, and dehid beneath the waters of a deep lake, shall be vours the labours of the trader and the husbandstruck upon by the horse, or broken by the man; that carries with it corruption, rapine, polplough, then shalt thou, my country, be asto-lution, and devastation; that threatens without nished with terrors, and drowned in tears; then shall thy towns sound with lamentations, as thy shores with the roarings of the waves." These are the words literally rendered, but how are they verified? The lake is dry, the stone is turned up, but there is no appearance of this dismal scene. Is not all at home satisfaction and tranquillity? all abroad submission and compliance? Is it the interest or inclination of any prince or state to draw a sword against us? and are we not nevertheless secured by a numerous standing army, and a king who is himself an army? Have our troops any other employment than to march to a review? Have our fleets encountered any thing but winds and worms? To me the present state of the nation seems so far from any resemblance to the noise and agitation of a tempestuous sea, that it may be much more properly compared to the dead stillness of the waves before a storm.

I cannot forbear to observe in this place, that as it is of no advantage to mankind to be forewarned of inevitable and insurmountable misfortunes, the author probably intended to hint to his countrymen the proper remedies for the evils he describes. In this calamity, on which he dwells longest, and which he seems to deplore with the deepest sorrow, he points out one circumstance, which may be of great use to disperse our appre hensions, and awaken us from that panic which the reader must necessarily feel at the first transient view of this dreadful description. These

serpents, says the original, are HAUD PUGNACES, of no fighting race: they will threaten, indeed, and hiss, and terrify the weak, and timorous, and thoughtless, but have no real courage or strength. So that the mischief done by them, their ravages, devastations, and robberies, must be only the consequences of cowardice in the sufferers, who are harassed and oppressed only because they suffer it without resistance. We are therefore to remember whenever the pest here threatened shall invade us, that submission and tameness will be certain ruin, and that nothing but spirit, vigilance, activity, and opposition, can preserve us from the most hateful and reproachful misery, that of being plundered, starved, and devoured by vermin and by reptiles.

[blocks in formation]

Then o'er the world shal! discord stretch her wings, Kings change their laws, and kingdoms change their kings.

Here the author takes a general survey of the state of the world, and the changes that were to happen about the time of the discovery of this monument in many nations. As it is not likely that he intended to touch upon the affairs of other countries any farther than the advantage of his own made it necessary, we may reasonably conjecture, that he had a full and distinct view of all the negotiations, treaties, confederacies, of all the triple and quadruple alliances, and all the leagues offensive and defensive, in which we were to be engaged, either as principals, accessaries, or guarantees, whether by policy, or hope, or fear, or our concern for preserving the balance of power, or our tenderness for the liberties of Europe. He knew that our negotiators would interest us in the affairs of the whole earth, and that no state could either rise or decline in power, either extend or lose its dominions, without affecting politics and influencing our councils.

This passage will bear an easy and natural application to the present time, in which so many revolutions have happened, so many nations have changed their masters, and so many disputes and commotions are embroiling almost in every part of the world.

That almost every state in Europe and Asia, that is, almost every country then known, is comprehended in this prediction, may be easily conceived; but whether it extends to regions at that time undiscovered, and portends any alteration of government in Carolina and Georgia, let more able or more daring expositors determine.

Conversa

In rabiem tunc contremet ursa
Cynthia.

The bear enrag'd th' affrighted moon shall dread. The terror created to the moon by the anger of the bear, is a strange expression, but may perhaps relate to the apprehensions raised in the Turkish empire, of which a crescent or new moon is the imperial standard, by the increasing power of the Empress of Russia, whose dominions lie under the northern constellation called the Bear.

apt representation of that country; and their
flourishing over wide-extended valleys, seems to
regard the new increase of the French power,
wealth, and dominions, by the advancement of
their trade and the accession of Lorain. This is
at first view an obvious, but perhaps for that
very reason not the true, inscription. How can
we reconcile it with the following passage,
Nec fremere audebit
Leo, sed violare timebit,
Omnia consuetus
Populari pascua lætus,

Nor shall the lion, wont of old to reign
Despotic o'er the desolated plain,
Henceforth th' inviolable bloom invade,
Or dare to murmur in the flow ry glade;

in which the lion that used at pleasure to lay the pastures waste, is represented as not daring to touch the lilies, or murmur at their growth? The lion it is true is one of the supporters of the arms of England, and may therefore figure our countrymen, who have in ancient times made France a desert. But can it be said, that the lion dares not murmur or rage, (for fremere may import both,) when it is evident, that for many years this whole kingdom has murmured? however, it may be at present calm and secure, by its confidence in the wisdom of our politicians and the address of our negotiators.

Ante oculos natos Calceatos et cruciatos Jam feret ignavus,

Vetilaque libidine pravus.

His tortured sons shall die before his face, While he lies melting in a lewd embrace. Here are other things mentioned of the lion spoken of our nation, as that he lies sluggish, and equally unintelligible, if we suppose them to be depraved with unlawful lusts, while his offspring is trampled and tortured before his eyes. But in what place can the English be said to be trampled tice or contempt? What nation is there from pole or tortured? Where are they treated with injusto pole, that does not reverence the nod of the British King? Is not our commerce unrestrainDo not our ships sail unmolested, and our merchants traffic in perfect security? Is not the very name of England treated by foreigners in a manner never known before? Or if some slight injuries have been offered, if some of our petty traders have been stopped, our possessions threatened, our effects confiscated, our flag insulted, or our ears cropped, have we lain sluggish and unactive? Have not our fleets been seen in tritimentos, and is not Haddock now stationed at umph at Spithead? Did not Hosier visit the Bas

ed? Are not the riches of the world our own?

Port Mahon ?

En quoque quod mirum,
Quod dicas denique dirum,
Sanguinem equus sugit,
Neque bellua victa remugit.

And, yet more strange! his veins a horse shall drain,
Nor shall the passive coward once complain.

It is farther asserted in the concluding lines, that the horse shall suck the lion's blood. This is still more obscure than any of the rest; and indeed the difficulties I have met with ever since the first mention of the lion are so many and great, that I had, in utter despair of surmounting them, once desisted from my design of publishing any thing upon this subject: but was prevailed The lilies borne by the kings of France are an upon by the importunity of some friends, to whom

Tunc latis

Florebunt lilia pratis.

The lilies o'er the vales triumphant spread.

« السابقةمتابعة »