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under hieroglyphical characters, intelligible only
to the initiated. To all but the learned, therefore, the wisdom of the sages was involved in obscurity and mystery: they alone were masters of the supernatural knowledge that it taught. But so abstruse was the subject, and so difficult of comprehension and interpretation were the mysticism and symbols under which it was charactered, that unremitting assiduity was indispensable to the success of the student who aspired to the exercise of super-human powers. We have here the complete theory, and obtain some insight into the practice also, of the use of a book in magical operations. Thrice does Caliban urge on Stephano and Trinculo the necessity of depriving Prospero of his books:
""Tis a custom with him
I'the afternoon to sleep: there thou may'st brain him,
Burn but his books.
First to possess his books; for without them
Demons are perpetually evoked, and the souls of the dead compelled to speak, both in eastern
Act III. sc. 2.
and western romance, by reading from a magical book. Prospero absolves all his attendant spirits from their allegiance to him, at the same time abjuring magic, and expressing his determination to "drown his book."*
The characters of priest, philosopher, and magician were identified by the heathens; but Christianity disclaimed the disgraceful union; and at the first dawn of enlightened philosophy, its professors denied the possibility of the ministers of the true God holding communion with the devil. The grossness of popular perception, however, persisted in entertaining many ideas in common of each, long after the characters of conjurer and divine had been separated. Purity, both moral and personal, was always justly deemed essential in the life of the philosopher and priest; who frequently withdrew from intimate commerce with the world; and, immured in the obscurity of cells, or secluded in spots far removed from the habitation of man, dedicated their time to the acquisition of knowledge and the cultivation of the few virtues that can be nourished in solitude. Hence the magician's power was estimated by the extent of his virtue, as well as of his mental attainments.
Than the life of Prospero, nothing can be
* Act V. sc. 1.
more pure, simple, and secluded. A desert island is his domain; his residence, a cell; his sole associate, his daughter; and in instructing her consists his recreation. Every circumstance in his existence is favourable to his acquisition of proficiency in magic.
That the magician was distinguished by some imposing peculiarity of apparel, is, perhaps, likewise to be attributed to the original identification of his character with that of philosopher and priest. To those who have remarked how perpetually power and its symbols are confounded by the vulgar, it will not be thought extraordinary that the mantle and the wand were indispensable to the magician. When Prospero lays aside his art, to enter on the narrative of his misfortunes, he directs Miranda to "pluck his magic garment from him* ;" and when he abjures the practice of magic altogether, he resolves to "break his staff, and bury it certain fathoms in the earth."+
Commensurate with the depth of his science was the power of the magician over the world of spirits. A master of his art had under authority seventy-nine principal and princely spirits (all named by the historians of magic) who
had under them, as their ministers, multitudes of legions of inferior devils.
Prospero was reputed "for the liberal arts; without a parallel; those being all his study;" and, as a consequence of his extensive knowedge, his art was in the highest degree potent, as appears by his authoritative address to his various spiritual agents.*
By the most skilful magician alone could the devil be compelled to exhibit visionary castles, forts, illuminated saloons, sumptuous festivals, troops of gallant knights, and beauteous dames, and splendid armies, both of horse and foot; and such a deference, we find, is paid to Prospero. In the third scene of the third act is described the entrance of, amidst "solemn and strange music, several strange shapes, bringing in a banquet ;" and, in a subsequent part of the scene, the stage direction is, "thunder and lightning. Enter Ariel like a harpy; claps his wings upon the table, and, with a quaint device, the banquet vanishes." Again, in the first scene of the fourth act, a visionary masque is exhibited, in which Iris, Ceres, Juno, and certain nymphs, are the principal performers; then "enter certain reapers, properly habited:
"Ye elves of hills, brooks," &c. Act V. sc. 1.
they join with the nymphs in a graceful
Sycorax was a witch of such extensive ability, that she
"Could control the moon, make floods and ebbs, And deal in her command without her power," Yet, with all her potency, though renowned
"For mischiefs manifold, and sorceries terrible,"
she was feeble in comparison with Prospero; he could control her very god, great Setebos, "and make a vassal of him."+ In "most unmitigable rage" Sycorax imprisoned Ariel in the rift of a cloven pine; but it was by an exertion of the art of Prospero, only, that he was released.‡
But the most decisive instance of the preeminence of Prospero, as a magician, is the obedience of Ariel. The necromancer of ordinary acquirements domineered over inferior spirits; the more skilful, over invisible beings of a more exalted nature; but that artist, alone, whose powerful genius had led him triumphant through the whole range of human science, could aspire to the control of spirits resident in