Imatges de pÓgina
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tery at Lisbon, I saw on a marble slab, which the weather or accident had already partly defaced, the epitaph of Maria. The remainder of my own story is but a tissue of aimless and objectless wanderings and moody meditations, under the anguish of the inherited curse-But all will soon be over :-a tedious hectic that has long been consuming me, reluctantly and slowly, hath at last, within these few days, so augmented its fires, that I am conscious, from a sentiment within, I cannot survive another month ; I have, indeed, had my warning. Twice hath a sound like the voice of my sister, startled my unrefreshing sleep; when it rouses me for the third time, then I shall awake to die.”

The objection readily occurs to this tale, that the events are improbable, and slightly tacked together : but in these respects authors demand, and must receive, some indulgence. It is not perhaps possible, at the same time, to preserve consistency and probability, and attain the interest of novelty. The reader must make the same allowances for such deficiency, as are granted to the scenist, or decorator of the drama. We see the towers which are described as being so solid in their structure, tremble as they are advanced or withdrawn, and we know the massy and earth-fast rocks of the theatre are of no stronger material than painted pasteboard. But we grant to the dramatist that which must be granted, if we mean to allow ourselves the enjoyment of his art ; and a similar convention must be made with the authors of fictitious narratives, and forgiving the want of solidity in the story, the reader must be good-natured enough to look only at the beauty of the painting.

It is perhaps a greater objection, that the nature of the interest and of the catastrophe is changed in the course of the narration. We are first led to expect that the author had subjected the interest of his hero to that gloomy and inexorable deity, or principle, in whom the ancients believed, under the name of Destiny, or Fate, and that, like Orestes or Hamlet, he was to be the destined avenger of his father's injuries, or of his mother's guilt. Such was the persuasion of the victim himself, as expressed in several passages, some of which we have quoted. But the course of the action, the point upon which our imagination had been fixed, at the expense of some art, is altogether departed from. No more mention is made of Mr Oakdale, and though a fatal influence continues to impel the destined sufferer into most horrible danger, yet it is of a kind different from that which the omens presaged, and which the hero himself, and the reader, on his account, was induced to expect. For example, he meets on his road to Harwich with the funeral of a man who had been murdered, much in the same circumstances as those which attended the death of his own father, and which, while they indicate a bloody catastrophe to the story, bear no reference to that which really attends it.

But although these objections may be started, they affect, in a slight degree, the real merits of the work, which consist in the beauty of its language, and the truth of the descriptions introduced. Yet, even these are kept in subordination to the main interest of the piece, which arises from the melancholy picture of an amiable young man, who has received a superstitious bias, imposed by original temperament, as well as by the sorrowful events of his childhood.

In this point of view, it is of little consequence whether the presages on which his mind dwells, concur with the event; for the author is not refuting the correctness of such auguries, but illustrating the character of one who believed in them.

The tendency to such belief is, we believe, common to most men. There are circumstances, and animals, and places, and sounds, which we are naturally led to connect with melancholy ideas, and thus far to consider as being of evil augury. Funerals, churchyards, the howling of dogs, the sounds of the passing bell, which are all of a gloomy character, and, calamitous, or at least unpleasing themselves, must lead, we are apt to suppose, to consequences equally unpleasing. He would be a stout sceptic who would choose, like the hero of our tale, to tack his wedding to the conclusion of a funeral, or even to place the representation of a death's-head on a marriage-ring; and yet the marriage might be a happy one in either case, were there not the risk that the evil omen might work its own accomplishment by its effect on the minds of the parties.

But besides the omens which arise out of natural associations, there are superstitions of this kind which we have from tradition, and which affect those who believe in them merely because others believed before. We have all the nurse has taught us of presages by sparkles from the fire, and signs from accidental circumstances, which, however they

have obtained the character originally, have been at least generally received as matters of ominous presage; and it is wonderful in how many, and how distant countries, the common sense, or rather the common nonsense, of mankind, has attached the same ideas of mishap to circumstances which appear to have little relation to it; and not Jess extraordinary to discover some ancient Roman superstition existing in some obscure village, and surprising the antiquary as much as when he has the good luck to detect an antique piece of sculpture or inscription on the crumbling walls of a decayed Scottish church.

Day-fatalism, which has been so much illustrated by the learned and credulous Aubrey, or that recurring coincidence which makes men connect their good and evil fortunes with particular days, months, and years, is another of the baits by which Superstition angles for her vassals. These fatalities, which seem to baffle calculation, resemble, in fact, what is commonly called a run of luck, or an extraordinary succession of good or evil, beyond hope or expectation. Such irregularities in the current of events are necessary to prevent human beings from lifting the veil of futurity. If the ordinary chances of fortune were not occasionally deranged, or set aside by those unexpected caprices of her power, Demoivre and his pupils might approach nearly to the rank of prophets.

In a third species of presage, our own mind, as we have hinted, becomes our oracle, and either from the dreams of the night, or the recollections of the

day, we feel impressed with the belief that good or evil is about to befall us. We are far from absolutely scorning this species of divination, since we are convinced that in sleep, or even in profound abstraction, the mind may arrive at conclusions which are just in themselves, without our being able to perceive the process of thought which produced them. The singular stories told about dreams corresponding to the future event, are usually instances and illustrations of our meaning. A gentleman, for instance, is sued for a ruinous debt, with the accumulation of interest since his father's time. He is persuaded the claim had been long settled, but he cannot, after the utmost search, recover the document which should establish the payment. He was about to set out for the capital, in order to place himself at the mercy of his creditor, when, on the eve of his journey, he dreams a dream. His father, he thought, came to him and asked the cause of his melancholy, and of the preparations which he was making for his journey; and as the appearance of the dead excites no surprise in a dream, the visionary told the phantom the cause of his distress, and mentioned his conviction that this ruinous debt had been already settled. “ You are right, my son,” was the answer of the vision, “ the money was paid by me in my lifetime. Go to such a person, formerly a practitioner of the law, now retired from business, and remind him that the papers are in his hands. If he has forgotten the circumstance of his having been employed by me on that occasion, for he was not my ordinary agent,

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