Imatges de pÓgina
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belief in the powers of a magician, who, by an additional refinement, was supposed to elicit by his art the aid of good spirits, and command the ministry of the bad. A question then arose whether magic was to be reprobated by one sweeping condemnation, or, whether it might not be admissible to draw a distinction between lawful and unlawful necromancy; distinguishing the work of good angels by the title of natural, or white magic, and the work of diabolical spirits by the adverse designation of the black art. But it was found very difficult to mark the boundary line of these branches of the science, and the practice of the black art was decidedly condemned as criminal, while the practice of the white art was pronounced dangerous in the extreme; for it was impossible to determine whether the agency

of the devil was voluntary or com. pulsory. If spontaneous, there was no doubt but that it was rendered to entrap the unwary

artist into a wickedness whence there was no escape ; for the powers of hell submit not themselves to servitude, except to obtain an absolute dominion over the soul of the necromancer.

To the philosopher the devil addressed himself by an appeal to his pride of science, his thirst for knowledge, and his love of power. By sug

gesting to him thoughts of vast mental superiority, he inspired him with pride in his own attainments, and contempt for his fellow creatures ; and, while engaged in the investigation of remote and hidden things, the evil one insidiously tempted the student, by the display of miraculous effects which appeared to place all nature at his command. Even the professor of white magic, therefore, was the dupe of the powers he aspired to command; and though unenlisted in the cause of wickedness by palpable agreement, he really acted in co-operation with the great enemy

of mankind. Between the professors of the black art and the devil a formal contract was always supposed, either written with the magician's blood, or, being merely a verbal agreement, ratified by the devil touching the magician, though the touch did not always, as in the contract between the devil and the witch, leave a mark on his person. The contract was usually made for a term of years, during which time the devil bound himself to the service of the magician, who, at the expirtion of the period, resigned his - soul to his seducer. But, at any time, the slightest deviation from, or omission in, the prescribed form of necromantic ceremonies, or error in the words

to be used, an incorrectness in the magic circle, or the displacing of the innumerable characters surrounding the circle, both within and without, subjected the soul of the magician to be instantly seized on by his malignant foe.

So commanding is the influence of mental superiority, that, the profession of magic notwithstanding its admitted unlawfulness, was never deemed dishonourable ; on the contrary, its practice was accepted as evidence of erudition and ability which demanded deference and respect from less cultivated and feebler understandings. Presuming on the popular disposition to the subject, Shakspeare adopted a magician as the hero of a drama, and invested magic with a grandeur such as it had never known. With an exalted dignity of demeanour, which commands respect while it forbids familiarity, Prospero does not disgrace the super-human powers with which he is invested. Without any other object in view in the practice of his art, but that of facilitating the march of retributive justice, his decrees are founded in, and strictly compatible with, equity. Almost unlimited in power, he is not terrific in its exercise; for judgment, not passion, is the director of his actions. - Not from sudden ebullitions of arbitrary feeling are his commands peremptory; but, habituated to sway, and

conscious of infallibility, he admits no question of obedience to, or delay in the execution of, his determinations.

Purified from the admixture of sordid motives, the character of the magician is in Prospero's person eminent and imposing. Scientific knowledge is the foundation of his practice of magic; and his high attainments in the art result from the depth of his erudition:

“ Rapt in secret studies,

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neglecting worldly ends, all dedicate
To closeness and the bettering of his mind
With that, which, but by being so retir'd,
O'er priz'd all popular rate,”

his "

library is dukedom large enough," and “prized above his dukedom :" “ for the liberal arts” he is reputed “ without a parallel ; those being all his study."*

Magic, in its best sense, was always deemed the perfection of natural philosophy; and their books and studies are, consequently, always prominent features in the histories of magicians : “ I'll to my book," says Prospero,

“ For yet, ere supper time, must I perform

Much business appertaining.”+

* Act I. sc. 2.

+ Act III. sc. 1.

The importance of a book in magical operations is inseparably connected with a superstition as remarkable for its antiquity as its universality. Almost every nation used to make pretensions to the possession of volumes of anti-diluvian antiquity, divine origin, or super-human knowledge. History, theology, ethics, astronomy, and natural philosophy were the subjects of which they treated; and they disclosed the occult secrets of nature, and taught the acquisition of supernatural power by their use.* Nor were these extravagant notions confined to the primitive ages; but a belief of perfection in every branch of human science was long liberally conceded to extraordinary mental abilities, and erudite treatises on philosophy, natural and moral, were attributed to their possessors.

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It was the fable, in many instances, that these works were irrecoverably lost; in some, that their contents were partially preserved; and in others, that whatever remained of them, whether much or little, was shadowed out in mystic doctrines, or concealed

* The vulgar faith in the efficacy of the retrograde reading of the Bible has clearly reference to the oriental languages, always supposed the repositories of much occult and mysterious knowledge, and which, being read from right to left, beginning at what is commonly considered the end of the volume, would obviously suggest to an ignorant person the idea of reading backwards.

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