Imatges de pàgina

which the skilful interpreted, on glass and other speculums, or on the surfaces of springs, and vessels of pure water, opposed to a glare of light. Among other pretensions of modern magicians was their ability to read the events of futurity in a magic mirror: the celebrated friar Bacon was said to be possessed of one of these invaluable articles which displayed to him all that was passing within a circuit of fifty miles. Jewels, crystals, beryls, and steel plates highly polished, were in use as well as glasses, and the method in which they were used was this: the conjurer repeated the necessary charms and adjurations, with the Litany, or an invocation peculiar to the Spirit he wished to call; and the answer forthwith appeared on the speculum in types or figures: sometimes, though rarely, the spirits themselves spoke articulately.

Macbeth might well have apprehended that the train of shadows which passed in review before him would stretch " out to the crack of doom” had the “line” been carried only down a quarter of the distance that separated Banquo and King James; but the magic speculum enabled Shakspeare to cut the exhibition short, and yet communicate the information he de. sired:

“ The eighth appears, who bears a glass,
Which shows me many more; and some I see,
That two-fold balls and treble sceptres carry;
Horrible sight! - Now, I see, 'tis true;
For the blood-bolter'd Banquo smiles upon me,
And points at them for his."

So much has been said, in Hamlet, respecting darkness, and its connection with superstition, and deeds of wickedness and horror, that allusion to it here, is only necessary for the purpose of remarking how completely as a master, Shakspeare wrote upon this subject, interweaving in the form of allusion, those parts of it which demanded not a prominence more remarkable :

“How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags?" is the prefatory address of Macbeth to his conjuration of the witches by “that which they profess.” — He advances to the chamber of his kinsman in the character of a murderer, and his horror-struck heart recoils at the reflection that

“ Now o'er the one half world
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtain’d sleep; now witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate's offerings; and wither'd murder,
Alarum'd by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy pace,
With Tarquin's ravishing strides, towards his design
Moves like a ghost.”

When the murder of Banquo is resolved on, it is announced that

66 ere the bat hath flown
His cloister'd fight; ere, to black Hecate's summons,
The shard-borne beetle, with his drowsy hums,
Hath rung night's yawning peal, there shall be done
A deed of dreadful note ;"

and as Banquo advances towards the bloody reception too carefully prepared for him,

“ light thickens; and the crow
Makes wing to the rooky wood:
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse ;
Whiles night's black agents to their preys do rouse."

Macbeth was, at all times, a manly and cou. rageous soldier: he waded through a sea of blood, and having “supp'd full with horrors" “ almost forgot the taste of fears;" but in his days of innocence, he informs us, his “senses would have cool'd to hear a night-shriek.”

The owl might almost be designated the genius of darkness and horror: Lady Macbeth is startled by a noise, as she awaits the completion of the murder :

“ It was the owl that shriek'd, the fatal bellman,

That gives the stern'st good-night;" and while “ lamentings were heard i' the air”

strange screams of death; Of dire combustion and confus'd events,


New hatch'd to the woeful time. The obscure bird
Clamour'd the livelong night."

We know that the predictions of the classic augurs were made from peculiarities in the flight of the eagle, the vulture, and other birds of prey, and from observations on the crowing of the cock, the croaking of the raven, and the chattering of pies. The raven's cry was deemed infallibly indicative of approaching death : there is much force and beauty, therefore, in the figurative description of the servant almost choked by his exertions to communicate with the utmost speed the news of the king's arrival at Inverness,

66 The raven himself is hoarse That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan Under these battlements.”

The imps supposed to be constantly attendant upon witches were mere modifications of the demons or genii, who possessed the power of metamorphosis to an unlimited extent, and this opinion was, in truth, the foundation of the classic doctrine of lycanthropy. Modern superstition condemned all spirits as infernal; and, therefore, the genius, or attendant spirit of the witch, was declared to be the devil which she worshipped, disguised under the form of a cat,

a dog, a weazel, or a rat, who fed upon her blood.

These notions, as well as the former, were plagiarisms from paganism, for the Greeks recognised the approach of evil in a black dog, snakes, toads, weazels, and other noxious reptiles; and it is notorious that the Egyptians worshipped a variety of animals, such as the ox, dog, wolf, hawk, crocodile, the ibis and the cat. Of all the attendants on a witch, though no bestial shape appears to have been exempt from possession by these familiars, a cat was most commonly assigned to her. « Thrice the brinded cat hath mewed” intimates to Macbeth's witches, that it is time to commence the celebration of their rites; in the first scene of the play, they appear to consider the summons of “ graymalkin” as imperative, as well as that of "paddock” or the frog. Witches themselves also possessed the power of transformation ; but their metamorphoses into animals were always deficient of that most essential ornament, a tail:

" And like a rat without a tail,

I'll do, I'll do, I'll do."

Only one point of witchcraft, as connected with Macbeth, remains to be noticed. All the wise and weird among the northern nations

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