Imatges de pÓgina

any great stress upon these coincidences, they are sufficiently remarkable. The discoveries of modern science seem almost to enable us to lift up the ancient veil of allegory and fable.

The scenes presented by the arctic world are such as tend to exalt the fancy and nourish the superstitions of untutored man. In the thirteenth century the wonders of Greenland, its monsters of the deep, and its floating icy mountains, drew many a Norwegian thither, anxious to verify the strange tales of the wayfarer who had returned from this distant region. Their rude philosophy was exercised in contemplation, and the solutions which they attempted of these marvels form an entertaining portion of their descriptions. The north pole, said they, is the extremity of the world, and the northern aurora flashes from the sphere of fire which surrounds the globe. The wonders of the polar ice are detailed at length in the Speculum Regale, in which the inquirer is told that there is more there than in all the world besides. When that work was compiled, and it appears to have been written in the early part of the thirteenth century, the barrier had already begun to accumulate round the eastern coast. It (the ice) lies more towards the north or north-east than towards the south or south-west or west;' and many ships had then perished by being entangled in it.

The ice offers many strange phenomena, which deserve to be investigated by a philosophical observer. As recounted by the navigator, with all their terrors yet fresh in his recollection, they evidently formed the foundation of many a romantic tale of the middle ages. According to Saabye, the ice-islands possess an attractive power, so that large ships are driven against them, if they do not take the precaution of remaining at a proper distance. Others may calculate whether it is probable that a ship can gravitate towards an insulated mass of ice: but be that as it may, it must be recollected that there is generally a current setting in towards the ice, which at least produces the appearance of attraction. These translucent and attractive islands remind us at once of the mountains of adamant of Sinbad the Sailor, and of Huon of Bourdeaux, and of Duke Ernest of Bavaria. The fantastic shapes and brilliant colours assumed by the ice are well known; from these we have the fables of palaces of gems and diamonds. The mountain of glass upon which Brynhilda was placed by her father, and from which her suitor Sivard the Swift brought her down, was probably modelled in the lay of the minstrel from an arctic ice-island. The mouth of the bay Witte Blink' is even crossed by a tremendous glassy bridge, reaching from shore to shore; the largest ships might sail through its huge arches. This fairy structure gleams like the aurora, and the ice blink' is reflected afar into the air. Sound is conducted and multiplied in a remarkable manner by the

ice. Unfrozen water is an excellent conductor of the acoustic vibrations; does it retain that property when frozen, Whilst rowing by the foot of an ice-island, the boatman speaks, and his words return to him re-echoed in distinctness from the lofty summit of the floating crystal. But this echo is a voice of danger; if the ice be porous or 'rotten,' it is so shaken by the vibration that large masses are brought down by the sound; and the fragments often sink the boat of the unfortunate mariner. For this reason the Greenlanders observe a strict silence when they are in the immediate vicinity of the ice-islands. Saabye enumerates several fatal accidents which took place during his stay in Greenland, when this caution was neglected. Our readers will recollect that the Swiss guides are said to prohibit the traveller from speaking in the Alpine passes, lest the sound of his voice should dislodge the over-beetling avalanche.

If Thorgill and his surviving companions, brooding over their misfortunes amidst the solitude and desolation of Greenland, enfeebled by hunger and disease, saw the dead men rising and swarming round them, the apparitions in one point of view are not destitute of credibility. It is evident, however, that Jostein and the others did not become ghosts but vampires; endued with a portentous and demoniacal vitality, like her who haunted Thalaba the Destroyer.

'Oneiza stood before them. It was she.
Her very lineaments, and such as death
Had changed them, livid cheeks and lips of blue.
But in her eyes there dwelt
Brightness more terrible

Than all the loathsomeness of death.'

Whether it be an indigenous superstition, or the introduction of the old Scandinavian settlers, the belief in vampires is yet very prevalent in Greenland. Captain Martin Jansen, who was wrecked 'on the coast of Greenland in 1777, tells us that the natives were dreadfully terrified by the neighbourhood of the body of Boje Henricson, who was buried amongst the rocks. They scarcely dared to go out of doors, and they feared that many of them would die. When the Greenlanders kill a witch they tear out the heart of the victim and cut it in small pieces. If this ceremony is neg lected they fear that she will rise again and avenge herself; and when an augekok is buried, certain ceremonies are performed to prevent the rising of the corpse. Amongst the Icelanders the vampire was as often seen as an incorporeal ghost, and a series of adventures very similar to those told in the life of Thorgill Orrabeen may be found in the abridgment of the Eyrbiggin Saga.

In Europe the terrors excited by these horrid visitants seem to be now almost peculiar to the nations of Sclavonian race, or to such as are in immediate contact with them. The history of superstition will always be an important chapter in the great history of the human mind, and it would be well to inquire into the grounds of this most wild and absurd belief. We know not, whether it has been noticed that spectral visitations generally accompany a plague or pestilence. The vampires of Iceland and of Greenland preceded an epidemy. Equally ominous were the spirits which in the time of Justinian were seen in human shape to intrude into the society of men, after which a most fearful pestilence followed, and whosoever was touched by any of them most assuredly died.' During the great plague in the sixth year of Constantine Copronymus many imagined that they saw hideous shapes mixing in human converse,' or entering houses and striking those who were destined to depart. It was believed at Constantinople in the seventeenth century, and perhaps it still is an article of popular belief there, that a gigantic female spectre stalks through the streets before the commencement of a plague; and the chariot of death rolls, at midnight, before the dwelling of the Breton peasant, who knows his fate is fixed when he hears its mournful sound.

In England vampires seem to have been long forgotten; but in the time of William of Newburgh they were well known; and here again they were found in connection with a pestilential disease. Such was the corpse which, as William learnt from Archdeacon Stephen, rose in the town of Buckingham, to the great annoyance of the townsmen, whom he assaulted in noon-day. At the same time, says the monk, an event of a like nature, and equally prodigious, took place in the northern parts of England, at Berwick upon Tweed. A dead miser, into whose corpse Satan had entered, rambled through the town at night, but laid himself quietly down again before break-of-day: his vagaries were stopped, as in other cases of this sort, by cutting the body in pieces, and consigning it to the flames. And the rising of these vampires was immediately followed by a dreadful plague, which raged with unprecedented violence throughout every part of England. In the same manner the epidemy at Trantenavia in Bohemia was ascribed to the malignant influence of one Stephanus Hubnerius, who in his life-time had heaped together innumerable riches. Presently after his decease, which, as John Heywood tells us, was observed with the celebration of a most costly funeral, his spectre or shadow, in the saine habit which he was known to wear, being alive, was seen to walke in the streetes of the city, and so many of his acquaintance, or others, as he met and offered in the way of salutation to embrace, so many either died or fell into some grievous or dangerous disease immediately after.'

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Examples of this nature might be easily multiplied; but we have given more than enough to shew that previously to the attack of the plague, or other epidemical diseases, a temporary delirium generally affects those in whom the malady is lurking, or who are predisposed to receive the contagion. Whilst this hallucination lasts it conjures up the spectres of the dead before them.

Our scientific readers will receive with indulgence the observations which we have added in attempting to elucidate the wonders of Thorgill's Saga. They know that the miracles of the monk, or the tales of the village fireside, are not to be wholly or hastily rejected by the philosophical inquirer. They now command the electric aura which gleamed with portentous lustre on the point of the lance, or burnt round the helmet-crest, the omen of defeat or the harbinger of victory. By them is traced the eccentric path of the stone which fell from heaven itself in the days of the awe-stricken chronicler. Truth is often to be learnt from the liar, and wisdom from the fool. Superstition may give a false colouring to facts, ignorance may distort them; but on the whole, pyrrhonism and scepticism oppose greater obstacles to the knowledge of nature than credulity. We may not be able to unlock the casket at our first attempt, but because we are so foiled at first, should we therefore cast the key despitefully into the deep?

ART. XII.-Investigation of the Cause of Easter, 1818, being appointed to be celebrated on a Wrong Day, &c. &c. By a Member of the University of Oxford.

Y the definition given in the Tables and Rules prefixed to the 'Book of Common Prayer,' Easter-day is always the first Sunday after the full moon which happens upon, or next after, the 21st day of March; and, if the full moon happens on a Sunday, Easter-day is the Sunday after.' This full moon is given in the tables on the 21st of March; according to which Sunday the 22d is Easter-day; but, as appears by the Nautical Almanack, the real full moon happened on Sunday, March 22d, and therefore, according to the above definition, Easter-day should have been fixed for the 29th.

From the well-known accuracy of astronomical observations, the occasion of this inconsistency is, of course, attributed to some error in the ecclesiastical method of computation. Without any attempt to point out the precise nature of the error, it has been supposed that the Tables and Rules for finding Easter' were originally constructed on a false principle, and have at length failed in the object for which they were intended.

Anxious to obtain some more satisfactory account of a fact so generally interesting, we took up the pamphlet before us, hoping,


from its title, and the respectable source whence it professedly comes, to see the matter at once set at rest, and the public instructed in the true state of the case. Great, however, was our disappointment when, instead of a correct statement, we found a mere repetition of the imputed false principle in the original construction of the Tables-rendered indeed more intricate and confused by the introduction of another fact which has no connexion whatever with the subject, namely, the disagreement between our computed year and the true periodic time of the sun.

[ocr errors]

Leaving these misrepresentations, (from the consideration of which our readers could derive no benefit whatever,) we shall proceed to an examination of the method on which the Rules for finding Easter' are constructed; from which it will appear that in their nature they are, and always were known to be, liable to the inaccuracy of giving the full moon on a day different from that determined by astronomical observation; and that this inaccuracy, with the accidental concurrence of another fact, namely, that the latter of the two days, thus differently determined, falls on a Sunday, has occasioned the incorrect appointment of Easter in the present year.

It was discovered by Meton, an Athenian astronomer, that, after nineteen years, the moon completes two hundred and thirty-five lunations, and returns again to its changes on the same day of the month; which term of nineteen years is therefore called the Metonic or lunar cycle. If, in the first year of this cycle, all the days on which the full moons happen be marked throughout the calendar with the number 1, in the second year with the number 2, and so on progressively to the nineteenth, or last year, with the number 19, the days on which the full moons happen, for any given year of a succeeding cycle, will be found by looking to what days in the calendar the number of such year is prefixed. These nineteen numbers, thus pointing out the days of all the full moons in the year, and especially that full moon on which Easter depends, having been printed in characters of gold, are denominated' Golden Numbers.'

In process of time it appeared that the cycle of the moon, or the term of two hundred and thirty-five lunations, is less than nineteen average Julian years of three hundred and sixty-five days six hours by about an hour and a half; and when this progressively increasing disagreement amounts to a day, the Golden Numbers would of course cease to give the true day of the full moon, unless they were

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]
« AnteriorContinua »