Project Canterbury

The Unseen World; Communications with It, Real or Imaginary

By John Mason Neale

London: Joseph Masters, 1853.

Night I. The subject proposed. The symbolism of external nature.

Sophron. The wind has shifted to the north. It will be a bitter night.

Eusebia. It is almost a pity to shut out the sight of such a sky, so intensely blue and solemn.

Eupeithes. It is solemn: the winter night has a moral character of its own, if I may use the expression; a beauty differing from that of all other seasons, and, as I think, surpassing them.

Eusebia. Yet what can be more beautiful than a summer night? At the time, I mean, when the west has lost its more gaudy hues, and the only trace of the departed sun is the calm still belt of green that reposes above the distant hills, as if they were the barriers of this world, and that quiet ocean of light the gulf which parts us from the realm of spirits. Then there is the soft scent of the sleeping flowers, the dewiness of the air, the few bright stars that peep through the still faintly illuminated sky, the joyous song, it may be, of the nightingale, the merry chirp, that seems, wherever you go, to be equally close to you, of the grasshopper. It is repose in its truest sense,--life enough to banish the idea that nature, as people [1/2] talk, can ever sleep;--rest enough to lead on the mind to a more perfect, even an eternal repose.

Theodora. For my part, I think the most perfect repose is that of a still autumn sunset, sad though it be: such, Eusebia, as we used to watch two months ago, when we stood on the brow of our hill, and the whole wide landscape, right round the horizon, was glowing--was imbued I might say--with a kind of purple haze, much like the bloom on summer fruit: nothing concealed by it; nothing made indistinct; a perfect veil of beauty spread over the autumn Ledges, and quiet fields, and cottages sending up their smoke in the calm distance, and cattle feeding lazily in the valley. Then our two elms, the beacons of the whole country side, were lighted up into a bright vivid yellow, as if some mysterious fire were kindling within them: and the setting sun brought out the western and northern hills with such exquisite clearness, that they seemed a fit track for his departing splendour.

Eusebia. It was a beautiful scene indeed. But do you think, dear Theodora, that one is justified in speaking of any time or scene as in itself sad? Surely, He Who made all things very good, created the autumn sunset as well as the spring morning and summer twilight. I would rather say with the wise man, "All the works of the LORD are good:" so that a man cannot say, This is worse than that, for in time they shall all be well approved."

Sophron. "Well: you have Coleridge on your side

"A melancholy bird? Oh, idle thought!
In nature there is nothing melancholy."

But there is another consideration. As in man sickness and pain and sorrow are not in themselves very good, but certainly very ill, however much overruled to good and wise ends; so may not a time and scene, like that of which you are speaking--may not, in fact, autumn itself, be the sickness of the year, not essentially therefore good, though paving the way for the Resurrection of the year, which is spring?

Eupeithes. In other words, was there an autumn in the Garden of Eden?

Eusebia. And would you not say, supposing there to have been everlasting spring in Paradise, that Paradise lost much of its beauty? Who can walk, on a still autumn day, [2/3] in such woods as ours, where the ground is broken up into abrupt glades and jutting knolls, with peeps between into the calm distance; who can see the pale gold of the elm, the redder glow of the oak, the hectic flush of the filbert, the lamp-like hue of the poplar, the burntochre tint of the birch; who can notice the inimitable mixing and shifting of these hues, as they stand out in contrast with the grey rock or deep green yew, or the red necklace berries of the honeysuckle, or the withered autumn grass, without feeling that spring has nothing to compare with such prodigality of loveliness?

Theodora. Nay; how like is spring itself to autumn! The yellow tinge of the young grass, the fresh golden shoots, the clouds, the dewy freshness of the air. It would be difficult, in looking from the top of a down, where all the foliage is distant, to tell a late morning in September from an early one in May.

Sophron. Still, do not make perfection where there is none. Autumn beauty is good out of evil; it is the loveliness of disease; it bears its own death-warrant on its face. However, it is beautiful; if decay can be so enchanting, what must undecayingness be?

Eusebia. Might one not, with reverence, allude to the text, "If the ministration of death be glorious------?"

Sophron. Undoubtedly; as a type. No, Eusebia: whatever loveliness there be in those days, it is fleeting and earthly: there can be no autumn, and no approach to autumn, in Heaven.

Eupeithes. Do you remember those lovely verses of S. Peter Damian on Paradise?

"Winter braming, summer flaming,
There relax their blustering;
And sweet roses, gaily blooming,
Make an everlasting spring:
Lily blanching, crocus blushing,
And the balsam perfuming.

"Pasture glowing, meadows blowing,
Honey streams in rivers fair;
While with aromatic perfume
Grateful glows the balmy air:
Luscious fruits that never wither,
Hang on every thicket there.

[4] "There they live in endless being:
There they bloom, they thrive, they flourish
For decayed is all decay;
Lasting energy hath swallowed
Darkling death's malignant sway."

Theodora. Perhaps it is the contrast of the heavenly with the earthly, of corruption with incorruption, of mortality with immortality, that makes autumn so beautiful. Consider this: the trees and hedgerows in their summer glory are vested in the colour of earth, namely, green: the green fearth, you know, is an epithet as old as poetry. But when autumn begins to touch them, and they are sinking into day, ihen they take to themselves the colours of the sky: the crimson, and orange, and purple of the heavenly sunset.

Eupeithes. Well. But do you not see how much of this world there is mixed up in our ideas of the autumn sunset and the summer night? Flowers, and birds, and dew, and the brightness over the western hills. It is beautiful, but still it is earthly: we view it through our own medium, and it takes its colour from that. It is not so now. The sky, and the sky alone, so glorious, yet so awful, so spangled with brightness, so mysterious in its depth, that is all. There is nothing that can remind any sense of earth; nay, the very cold seems to enhance the solitude, to tear away all connection between yourself and external nature, to make you feel more utterly lonely. And you stand and gaze on those bright worlds, till you seem as if you were banished into the desolate regions of space; and there, without any orb near you, looked forth into the perfect blackness around, and watched the motions of the worlds that above, beneath, and on every side, were moving along in their mysterious path. It is the time when you feel, if ever, that there must be a world of spirits; when the mind seems almost brought into contact with that invisible universe; and when, more than at any other period, it longs to know somewhat of its future home, and to hear some of those "unspeakable things which it is not lawful for a man to utter."

Sophron. There can be no subject more interesting,--perhaps, also, more perilous,--than the union and sympathy of the seen with the unseen world. Certainly none more [4/5] interesting; for who would not wish to know somewhat of those beings by whom he is daily, hourly, acted upon? who seem to have the power of suggesting thoughts or plans, constantly and as a matter of every-day occurrence, and occasionally of interfering for our physical safety in a, perhaps not strictly supernatural, but still most marvellous, manner: beings, too, whom we hope hereafter to possess as our associates for ever; and who, actually at this time, are the associates of many whom we have loved and lost. And perilous also; for much to pry into the concerns of that world is to attempt to raise the curtain which God has drawn, and which death only is appointed to rend for ever. We are somewhat like men who by night are treading some dangerous path, a precipice on each side: while all is dark, they can proceed safely; show them the light, and with, light comes certain destruction.

Eupeithes. And yet it is curious that, care as little as they may for it in other ways, all present intercourse with the unseen world will be a subject to interest every one; variously indeed, according to the various character of the mind, but still really. And why not? It is an article in the Church's Creed; it is a main point of her teaching. Common minds will feel and express it in vulgar ways; and tales of witchcraft, apparitions, prophetic dreams, and the like, will never want hearers and believers. Others, while not rejecting these things, will rather fix their thoughts on that communion which, at this very moment, they are holding with the departed faithful of all ages; on the illapses of thought which have no natural origin; on all those mysterious proofs,--the more mysterious, the more real,--that we are knit together in one fellowship with the inhabitants of a better country, that is, a heavenly.

Eusebia. The Japanese belief, that birds of Paradise are the souls of doves, is a good type of that feeling.

"In the bright fables of an eastern land,
Where song and moral travel hand in hand,
They say, the dove laments not as alone,
That lingers here, her sweet companions gone:
She knows that, denizen'd in brighter skies,
They shine as glorious birds of Paradise:
And though she may not see their sportive rings,
Nor the fleet glancing of their rainbow wings,
[6] (For earthlier vision clogs her earthlier eye,)
To know and feel them near is ecstasy.
And so, methinks, comes such a season, fraught
With heav'nlier communing and purer thought,
What time we linger o'er the quiet rest
Of those, the lovely once, and now the blest!"

Eupeithes. A very pretty fable, and most true in its anti-type. In a thousand ways, clogged and shackled though it be by its mate, the mind will assert its native powers, and will communicate without the aid of its grosser companion. Undoubtedly it does so towards the living; and to my mind undoubtedly also towards the departed. What is more common, for instance, than to feel all one's affection awakened, for no assignable cause, in a moment, for some absent person whom we love, but of whom we have neither been speaking nor hearing? Again: it has passed into a proverb that, if a totally unexpected visitor arrives, those to whom he presents himself have been at that moment talking of him. And so, if two friends are in conversation on a given topic, and an entirely different train of thoughts suggests itself to one, it is almost certain to present itself also to the other, even though no common external object should have given rise to it.

Sophron. Very true. It is by noticing apparently trivial details like these that we must arrive, if ever there should be such a science, at some insight into psychology. But the difficulty of "Know thyself" is as great to us as it was to Chilon of old. What are those lines, Theodora, you were repeating the other day on the subject of communion with the invisible world? They would be much to the point.

Theodora. I will repeat them to you.

"As touching this same union, I have read
A tale, that teacheth this,--how far apart
Wisdom and knowledge, many a time, abide,
How'er the vulgar deem. There dwelt in France
A maiden, who was wont to sing their wild
And wondrous legends at the shut of eve,
And to her lover's wed her voice and lute.
Her lover died;--and 'twas her mournful use
In the same chamber, at the self-same time,
To sing the self-same strains; and as his harp,
Neglected now, responsive echo gave,
[7] She deem'd his spirit breath'd amidst its chords.
Thus pass'd she every eve, and in the thought
Found sweetest consolation: till at length
One of those same philosophising fools
Who, knowing all, feel nought,--who pluck a flower,
Give it a name, and tread it under foot,
And call that wisdom, told, and truly told,
How nature's laws ordain'd that when the hand
Pass'd o'er one harp, the self-same chord then struck
Should vibrate in its fellow. She, the while,
Lost the sweet type to gain the useless truth;
And so her harp was silenced and she pined
Until she join'd the parted one again."

Eupeithes. To inquire into all the methods in which this intercommunion of the visible with the invisible is carried on would be a task not ill-suited to these long winter nights, and perhaps not unprofitable to us. What say you? Shall we enter on the inquiry, bringing to it what separate information we may each of us possess, and making our common remarks on every thing that is related?

Sophron. Content. Any thing which helps us to realize our connexion with the unseen world is useful; and we will boldly enter on the subject you propose. And in listening to any details which the wisdom of the world would reject as improbable or impossible, we shall, I hope, be guided by a wiser feeling. We will weigh them on their evidence only: if that is sufficient to convince a man in his every-day conduct, it shall be sufficient for us; if not, while we stigmatize nothing as impossible, because it is 'unusual, we shall return a verdict of "not proven."

Theodora. I shall be most glad to listen to such a discussion. We have, I think, nine nights before we separate: will it not be better to observe some kind of order in the treatment of our subject? else we shall surely be quite overwhelmed with its magnitude.

Sophron. We must not cramp ourselves too logically; as well because the nature of the inquiry does not well admit of it, as because its various branches run so naturally one into the other. Still some such kind of arrangement is undoubtedly desirable, and we shall do well to determine on it previously.

Eusebia. So I think; and then we shall come better prepared to the consideration of the question.

[8] Eupeithes. We shall begin, I presume, with generals, and descend to particulars.

Sophron. Let us commence by considering the various ways in which it has pleased God to ordain that external nature shall sympathize with revealed religion; for I would rather use the term sympathy than that of symbolism. We will see if we cannot find such evident types of, or agreement with, the great mysteries of the faith in the face of things around us as to make another kind of argument from analogy applicable also to them. That is the lowest branch of our subject, because, strictly speaking, it cannot be said to involve anything supernatural: but still it is a branch, as coming quite within that communion of the two worlds on which we have been dwelling.

Eupeithes. So many events seem to border on the confines of both the natural and supernatural, and to have a share of each, that perhaps a very strict or logical line cannot be drawn. One might divide the whole series of God's dealings with mankind into three classes: the natural, or according to nature;--the supernatural, or above nature:--the miraculous, or contrary to nature.

Theodora. And take three instances, one of each, from the Old Testament, The cure of Hezekiah's disease by the lump of figs was natural; the opening of the young man's eyes, so that he saw the mountain full of chariots of fire and horses of fire, was supernatural; the causing the axe head to swim was miraculous.

Sophron. I agree with you; and the next branch of our subject will be equally divided between the two last heads. For we must proceed to consider those instances in which it has pleased God to make great aerial phenomena attend, or predict, great disturbances on earth. This will involve a consideration of armies fighting in the air, fiery crosses, comets, and meteors; and will lead us to refer incidentally to the "famines, and earthquakes, and pestilences in divers places," which are the "beginning of sorrows."

Eupeithes. The arrangement, I think, is good. Then let us proceed to aerial apparitions or signs, whether natural or supernatural, such as whirlwinds and sudden tempests, as connected with the death of great men, stationary lights, corpse lights, S. Elmo's lights, firedrakes, and Will-of-the-Wisp.

[9] Sophron. Prom that we shall advance in our investigation to an inquiry on what principle, and with what reason, ancient lore peopled solitary places with supernatural beings, whether demons, or an inferior kind of divinities; and why the same belief has descended to our own times; whether connected with water, as Naiads; with woods and hills, as Fauns, Satyrs, Dryads, Hamadryads, the Brown Man of the Moors, Fairies, the Good People, Trolls, Telchens, Pixies, and Pixycolts; or with houses, as the old Lar and our own Robin Good-fellow. Then it will be time for us to debate the grand question, if the spirits of the departed have ever been permitted to visit the living in a visible form. And here we shall do well to turn our attention to those instances where, at the moment of a person's death, he has been believed to appear to friends at a distance; to those where the spirit of a departed man has forewarned of death, averted danger, or revealed a secret; and 'to those manifestations where such visit has apparently been without use.

Eupeithes. Let us also go into the subject of family apparitions: those cases, I mean, where the head of a house is asserted to receive intimation of the approaching decease of any member of it by a known signal, which is perfectly intelligible to himself. Dreams will naturally next occupy our attention: and this will as naturally be connected with the subject of second sight.

Sophron. We shall then only have to discuss the grounds on which ancient belief in astrology and witchcraft rested, to bring our inquiry to an end.

Theodora. It is a most comprehensive one; and, if discussed with an unprejudiced mind, almost fresh ground.

Eupeithes. I think so. But, in my opinion, we are also bound to notice any instances of imposture, or innocent mistake, which may have given rise to the belief in a supernatural interference, when in reality none such existed.

Sophron. We are: and that branch of our subject, though less novel, will also be profitable.

Eupeithes. It is, I think, a proof of our fallen nature, that the whole subject of apparitions should be invested with I such terror. Why we should not rejoice in the visitations f the inhabitants of a brighter and better world than our [9/10] own, on any other hypothesis seems unintelligible. And even supposing the apparition to be permitted to come from the place of the lost, still it is strange that one does not reason with Hamlet,--

"---------for my soul, what can it do to that,
Being a thing immortal as itself!"

What harm such apparitions could possibly do us it is hard to say: we are all that they are, and something more; and that something bearing at least an approximation to that which they will be. In one sense we are more perfect beings than they are: we have the body, debased, it is true, and sinful, to which they will one day be rejoined, and without which they will not, and cannot, be complete. Physical harm they cannot do us; that were contrary, not only to experience, but almost to possibility. If it were not for sin, I believe that we should feel no fear.

Sophron. Do you think so? Well, I am not quite of your opinion. I believe that the sight of a spirit, divested of the body, is so perfectly unnatural to persons existing in a compound nature, brings so painfully to mind the great struggle which must take place when the two are dissolved, and sets forward so prominently the idea of duality in a single being, that, had we never fallen, we yet should have felt a revulsion at it. That Adam conversed familiarly with angels may be very possible; but if those angels assumed a material form, as was undoubtedly the case in most of such instances as are recorded in the Old Testament, the cause for terror I have stated disappears.

Eupeithes. According to you, it would follow that the act of death would be terrible, were the supposition possible, to a perfect man; that it would have been so to Adam had he never fallen, and had yet been removed to the more immediate presence of God in the same manner that has been appointed to his descendants, only without physical pain.

Sophron. So I think it would. If the separation from an intimate friend of twenty years is so excessively painful, where yet the degree of intimacy is nothing to that which connects soul and body, what must be the severing of the spirit from its earthly attendant? What must it be fop the soul to lose the command of the organ it has so long [10/11] employed, and informed, and governed; through which it has received the greater part of the impressions it has obtained, and which it is now about to leave to corruption, and dust, and the worm? What the tie is which unites the one to the other, none, of course, can say; whether moral, or physical, or composed of both, it must be broken: and do you imagine that so strong a link can be shattered without pain of some kind?

Eupeithes. How then will you account for the serenity and beauty which the face of a corpse will often assume in the moment of death? We know, for example, that in death from a gunshot wound, the countenance is generally very peaceful; in that from a sword, or such like instrument, distressingly convulsed. Does not this seem to show that there is no pain but physical pain, and that when this is felt it leaves its impression, and that when no impression is left, it is because there is no pain?

Sophron. I grant you that there is far more suffering attendant on death in some cases than in others. But that which is involved in the very act of death is, I am inclined to think, the same. The placidity which usually accompanies death from a gunshot may arise only from the shortness of the physical pain which accompanies it; for two equally, to all appearance, sudden deaths may involve very unequally prolonged periods of bodily suffering. It is believed by many physicians that death, considered as the annihilation of physical sensations, does not instantly accompany decapitation; and there have not been wanting eminent men who assert that feeling exists for many minutes after the stroke has been given. This would well answer your objections. But you say that the face assumes that serene expression in death. I should rather say, after it; for the shadow, or convulsion, or by whatever name you choose to designate it, that passes over the face in the very article of death is always awful.

Theodora. I do not comprehend what you said just now, of its being unnatural and painful to see a duality of operation in one being.

Sophron. I can explain it to you by a very familiar t instance. Did you ever see the metamorphosis by which t.the pupa of the dragon-fly assumes its perfect state?

[12] Theodora. No.

Sophron. Thus it is: the pupa, which is provided with legs, climbs some way up a flag, or other water plant, which it grasps tightly, and then stretches and strains itself in every direction: presently the head bursts, and the antennas and head of the fly protrude; also its two front legs. The pupa holds on with its legs: the fly endeavours to extricate itself from the pupa with its own, and finally succeeds, leaving the lifeless husk on the plant which it ascended. But the sight of an apparent struggle between two animals possessing the same body is very unpleasant.

Theodora. We were to speak, in the first place, of the manner in which external nature symbolizes revealed, truth. Is it not strange that such an age as the last could produce a book like "Butler's Analogy?'"

Sophron. It is indeed. His is a method of argument, which, till tried, must have been thought of very slight weight; but, once made proof of, and proved by such a hand, it possesses a force perfectly overwhelming and crushing. He, of course, did not exhaust it; nay, he probably did not carry it on so far as he would have done in a more believing age. Perhaps, also, the fact that his was not a poetical mind, might have in some cases rendered his details less perfect than his design. But, had he chosen, there are two remarkable instances of analogy in the symbolism of external nature, as compared with revealed mystery, which, to any unprejudiced person, must be quite convincing.

Eusebia. You refer, of course, to the mystery of the Most Holy TRINITY, and of the Sign of the Cross.

Sophron. I do. Let us begin with the former;--the instances of which are, perhaps, less obvious, and probably less striking.

Eupeithes. The whole of science, taken in whatever point of view, seems to depend on three original principles. In colour, we have three neutrals, black, white, and grey. In acoustics, three primitive sounds,--the medient, tonic, and dominant. Form can address itself to the eye but in three ways,--in architecture, painting, and sculpture: the kind of lines which produce form are three, and each-of these has three subdivisions; the straight line has three positions,--horizontal, perpendicular, and oblique; the crooked has three, [12/13]--as presenting either a right, acute, or obtuse angle; and the curved has three,--for it may be a portion of a circle, a volute, or an ellipse. Again, every one knows the remarkable properties of the figure three--properties which no other number has, or could have.

Sophron. And even in simpler matters than these, the same trinal arrangement is visible. All time must be past, present, and future: every deed must have a beginning, a middle, and an. end. Now it is all very well to say that there is an absolute necessity for this, so that even Omnipotence could not have ordered it otherwise: granting this necessity, whence does it arise? Do we not gain the more abundant confirmation of our position? But it surely is incumbent on others to prove this necessity. It is quite possible to conceive a state of things in which it should not be the case; it is quite within the range of imagination that time should have a fourfold division, or that the progress of any event might be capable of being divided into two stages1 besides the beginning and the end. There is no essential impossibility in this. If it be possible to conceive a thing which has neither beginning nor end, as eternity; if it be possible to conceive a thing which has beginning, but no end, as the soul of man; we may safely assert the possibility of the conception of something that has four, five, or even more separate stages of existence, intrinsically and essentially. But if this conception be possible with regard to one thing, it is certain that it might be so with regard to every thing; which is enough for us.

Eupeithes. Look, again, at what has so often been brought forward as an illustration of the same mystery,--a luminous body like the sun. Prom the substance itself, light and heat are inseparable. Take, again, the threefold division of the mind, which so naturally suggests itself; the will, the understanding, the imagination. It is a world, so to speak, of triplicity; and so even heathens seem to have, felt, and to have shaped their myths accordingly.

Sophron. And the wonderful advances which are made daily in natural science reveal this to us more and more. The analogy of a luminous body is, as you say, striking enough; but how much more so that of the three great agents which philosophy now recognizes in all nature,--electricity, [13/14] light, and heat! Light and heat, we all know, are the chosen types in Holy Scripture of the Second and Third Persons m the Ever-blessed TRINITY. And these are evolved from electricity, each in their own way, and are manifested to men, while electricity neither is, nor can be seen. Had the ancient philosophers been acquainted with this, they might have come even nearer to the truth than they did. And yet some of their guesses were marvellously near.

Eupeithes. Why, it even descended to a proverb,--Every three is perfect. "The better nature consists of three," says Plutarch. "They assign the number three to the highest God," says Servius. So Jupiter has his triple thunderbolt, Neptune his trident, Pluto his three-headed dog: there were three fates, three furies, thrice three muses: even primeval nature had its Triad, Aegaeon, Briareus, and Gyges: and whole volumes have been written on the various trinities which the Greeks and Egyptians adored. So also in India: so, in fact, wherever there has been a system of religious worship at all.

Theodora. From whence, I suppose, you would gather that the impress of external nature is found in these trinities; the great mystery of the One Ever-blessed TRINITY having moulded and informed them: which is the point of our consideration.

Sophron. Just so; yet I confess that to myself the Cross is more wonderfully set forth in nature--and the difference of the manifestations of these two mysteries is in itself most striking. Things, as considered in their essence, present the former; things as manifesting themselves, and taken in reference to us, the latter. It is extraordinary how almost all human arts set forth this form strikingly, and how new inventions are every day bringing it out in new ways.

Eusebia. And also, I think, in many of these instances, the idea of resistance and self-denial,--that is, the very doctrine of the Cross,--is exhibited. A bird, for example, while perched on the bough, represents no particular figure;--but he cannot rise from the earth and struggle up through the air, except by making the sign of the Cross.

Eupeithes. It is the same thing with swimming: make [14/15] an effort against the water, and you must do it in the form of the Cross. The same thing also in rowing. Let a boat fall down the stream, and you may steer her onward: make her ascend against it, or struggle with the sea, and again you represent the Cross.

Sophron. And, of course, every one knows that the masts of a ship are most striking figures of the same thing. I never saw this more wonderfully exemplified, than once in walking from Queenborough to Sheerness. It is a low, marshy tract of country; and on that day a haze hung over the landscape, and seemed completely to blot out every feature of interest that the scene might otherwise have presented. But to the left, a low embankment ran along the Bide of the Medway; and above that rose the bare lower masts of six or eight men of war laid up in ordinary in the river. Without sails, cordage, or upper yards, the central mast on each rising above the mizen and fore-mast, they looked exactly like a series of those Calvaries which you see in foreign lands;--three black Crosses, standing out against the white mist of a hot August sky.

Eupeithes. I remember that, on a still autumn afternoon, I was hurrying homewards through one of the pleasant valleys of Surrey. The grass was beginning to grow crisp; the shadows, half an hour before so well denned, to melt into a grey confusion; a frosty purple hue to steal over the sky; a solemn, yet not melancholy, stillness to draw in over the scene. Before me was the west, kindled into such a fiery redness, that you wondered how such tints could look so deadly cold; half the sun's orb was below the horizon; half, dilated to twice its natural size, was cradled among the distant hills; but between me and that scene of splendour, and cresting the top of a low knoll, the sails of an old windmill seemed to impress the sign of the Cross on the whole landscape, and to tell, as with an audible voice, by what means only we can attain those bright worlds of which the western sky is a type and a promise.

Eusebia. And it is strange that the very means of procuring earthly food should be in the figure of that which has procured us all our spiritual sustenance.

Theodora. So, again, a barn is almost of necessity built in the form of a Cross, as if it would set forth the means by [15/16] which the faithful shall be gathered up into the everlasting garner hereafter.

Eusebia. A curious illustration connected with sound has not, that I am aware of, been ever noticed in this point of view. If on a thin metal plate you sprinkle sand, and then strike, on a stringed instrument that note which is the fundamental sound,--the key-note, if we may use the expression, of the plate,--the sand will immediately arrange itself in the form of a Gross: as if the metal could not bear to be impressed with any other sign.

Sophron. Look at crystallization, again. Into what exquisite crosses do congealing substances form themselves! He that should desire some new idea for the gable crosses of his church, could hardly do better than study a book of crystallography.

Eupeithes. That the same holy form is marked on the petals of one class of flowers, all botanists know. I remember once, in an African mountain, that jutted out into the calm tropical sea, I was wandering on with a friend in the heat of the day, and exploring the various crags and ravines by which it descended to the shore. There was a burning sky,--not a single cloud tempered the rays of the sun,--the barren soil, volcanic in its origin, and every where shooting up its red crumbling rocks through the thin layers and patches of mould that were scattered upon them, produced neither trees nor grass,--nothing but dwarf thistles, that on all sides were sending out their downy little seed vessels on the bosom of the wind. We longed for water,--we longed for some cooling fruit; and to all appearance we might as well have longed for ice and snow. At length we discovered, loosely anchoring itself among the hot and detached rocks, a pleasant little plant, with leaves and berries not unlike those of the mallow. "We may, however," said my friend, "eat these with safety: it is a cruciferous plant." "Why so?" said I, who am no botanist, and could not see the connection between his statement and his reason. "Are you not aware," returned he, "that all i cruciferous plants bear fruit which may be eaten, to say the least, with impunity, and which is often singularly nutritious and wholesome?" "Is it not wonderful," answered I, "that the sign of the Cross impressed on the leaves of a [16/17] plant should proclaim to man that it will not hurt him? Is it not as if there went forth such virtue out of the bare form, that no evil thing had power to endure its presence?"

Eusebia. Nor is this the case only where the hand of God has immediately impressed the sign, but also where the hand of man has done so; as if Providence would have him, choose he or not, make use of the same form by which he was saved from perdition.

Sophron. It is proved in many modern inventions and contrivances; in none more so than, where you would least expect to find it,--in railways. Is it not curious that in the best managed of them the signals should be made by this form? Most conspicuous, on a high embankment, is the tall Cross that stretches forth its arms to warn of danger; hallowing, as it were, those long lines of traffic, and seeming to promise security in the whirl and hurry of almost inconceivable speed.

Theodora. Certainly a meaning which never entered the minds of those who contrived that system of signals.

Eupeithes. It is a singular thine, too, though known to every one, that if, in looking at any bright light, the eye be almost closed, the rays will, to all appearance, put themselves in the form of a Cross.

Sophron. The Passion Flower, when first discovered, seems to have created quite a sensation in the Catholic world. The first Granadilla was brought from Peru to Rome in 1609, and presented to Paul V. Thenceforward it was known as the Fiore della Passione, and the Calvinists forthwith got up a cry that it was a fictitious flower. Gretser, the indefatigable defender of the Cross, published a treatise with the title--"That the Granadilla is a true, and not a false flower;" and added to the essay a variety of ingenious epigrams, by different authors, on the new flower. This is rather a pretty thought.

"Why doth the Lord recall His Passion Hour
In the sweet image of a glorious flower?
Why instruments of agony express
In brightest hues and perfect loveliness?
That thou might'st learn to follow CHRIST in pain:
Thy pangs shall pass--their deathless flow'r remain."

Theodora. And as true as it is pretty. But it is rather [17/18] hard that such a flower should have been made the subject of a polemical discussion.

Sophron. It was a tradition in Mexico, before the arrival of the Spaniards, that when that form (which is found engraved in their ancient monuments) should be victorious, the old religion should disappear. The same sign is also said to have been discovered on the destruction of the Temple of Serapis at Alexandria, and the same tradition to have been attached to it. One can hardly imagine this prophecy to have been current in more ways than two;--either by a supernatural intimation, or by a continuous tradition. It could hardly have been by the force of analogy, and by observation that the whole of nature was signed with the Cross.

Eupeithes. The constellation so named is one of the most striking that glorify the southern sky; very beautiful it is when beheld from the deck of a ship, as she flies westward before the trade winds. And still more majestic, perhaps, in crossing a mountain range by night, when the dark peaks tower up before you, and the golden Cross surmounts them still, and seems to beckon from another world beyond them.

Sophron. This celestial Cross naturally brings to mind the instances in which the appearance of such a sign has been strictly supernatural. Of the Cross seen by Constantine, enough has been already written to satisfy, and more than to satisfy, every common inquirer that such a phenomenon did really exist. And that which appeared at Jerusalem during the Bishopric of S. Cyril is equally remarkable, and at least as certain.

Eusebia. Of what kind was that?

Sophron. You shall have it in the saint's own words. Beach me down his works, Eupeithes;--that folio immediately behind you. Here is his account written to Constantius. "In these holy days of the holy Pentecost, on the seventh of May,"--the year was 351,--"about nine o'clock, appeared in the heaven an enormous Cross, composed of light, over the height of holy Golgotha, and reaching to the holy Mount of Olives. Nor was it seen by one or two, but, most manifestly, by the whole multitude of the city. Nor,'--as it might be natural to suppose,--was it a thing which like a mere phantom passed away rapidly, but was [18/19] visible above the earth for many hours, exceeding in glory the rays of the sun."--And he proceeds to tell how young and old crowded to the churches; and even the very heathens adored the Gob That had done this great wonder. [S. Cyril, Hierosol. Opp. p. 247. Ed. Par. 1640.] And this does not depend on Cyril's testimony alone, amply sufficient as that would be to any right-minded person: a crowd of witnesses, heretical as well as catholic, bare testimony to the notoriety of the fact.

Eupeithes. Yes; as poor Gibbon says with respect to the heretical witnesses, "they could not refuse a miracle, even at the hand of an enemy."

Sophron. Strictly supernatural, perhaps, this Cross was not; for it seems to have been encircled by a magnificent rainbow, and may in some degree have partaken of the nature of a halo. Such appearances have been observed at other times, and occasionally in connection with mock suns.

Eupeithes. The length is said to have been more than half a mile; a point, of course, which must have been a mere guess. It seems, however, to have been visible at Antioch, and, it is also said, to the armies of Constantius and Magnentius. In that case it must have been of a very different character from a halo.

Sophron. Nor have such appearances entirely ceased in our own days. In 1838, at Jerusalem, for many successive nights, a dark Cross was observed in the same quarter of the heavens, as if the stars over which it extended had been blotted out.

Eusebia. I perceive that we are somewhat trespassing on the next part of our subject.

Sophron. We are so. Did you ever hear the Greek tradition concerning the origin of the tree of which the true Cross was made?

Eusebia. No.

Sophron. Thus it is. When Adam, they say, was dying, he sent his son to the garden of Eden, to request that the angel who kept the way thereto would send him some of the fruit of the Tree of Life, that he might taste it and live. The angel denied the request, but gave to the son of. Adam three seeds. "Place them," said he, "in thy father's mouth; and when they shall have grown into trees, [19/20] he shall be freed from his sickness." The son returned, and found that Adam had already expired. Taking the three grains, he placed them in his father's mouth, and buried him thus. From these grains, in process of time, sprang three trees, of which the wood of the Cross was made. [Joan. de Monte Villa, It. Terr. Sanct. i. 17. ap. Kornman. mort. iv. 14.]

Theodora. A very beautiful fable. It is surprising how many tales there are connected with the Saviour and His Passion, which in different times and places have been invented for the purpose of accounting for the natural habits and instincts of animals and plants.

Eusebia. Like that sweet superstition, current in Brittany, which would explain the cause why the robin redbreast has always been a favourite and protégé of man. While our Saviour was bearing His Cross, one of these birds they say, took one thorn from His Crown, which dyed its breast; and ever since that time, robin redbreasts have been the friends of man.

Theodora. In like manner, the aspen is said to have been the tree which formed the Cross; and thenceforth its boughs, as filled with horror, have trembled ceaselessly.

Eupeithes. It is believed by the poor that the stripes on the shoulders of the ass represent the sign of the Cross, in commemoration that on that animal our LORD made His final entrance into Jerusalem. There is also an idea that in the leg of the pig may be found a mark as of violent pressure, occasioned by the devils that entered into the herd of swine.

Sophron. An example, which in modern times would be considered ludicrous, of the manner in which our ancestors made external nature bear witness to our LORD, occurs in what is called the Prior's Chamber in the small Augustinian house of Shulbrede, in the parish of Linchmere, in Sussex. On the wall is a fresco of the Nativity; and certain animals are made to give their testimony to that event in words which somewhat resemble, or may be supposed to resemble, their natural sounds. A cock in the act of crowing, stands at the top, and a label, issuing from his mouth, bears the words, Christus natus est. A duck inquires, Quando quando? A raven hoarsely answers, In hac nocte. A cow asks, Ubi ubi? And a lamb bleats out, Bethlehem.

[21] Eupeithes. I fear, as you say, that to modern ideas such a representation would be rather irreverent than edifying. In the same way it was, and may be still, believed, that if you enter a cowhouse at midnight on Christmas eve, you will find the animals on their knees.

Eusebia. And Shakspere will tell you that

"Some say, that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's Birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning croweth all night long."

Eupeithes. A truer symbolism than any of the above is, I think, to be found in the hatred that all ages and nations have borne to serpents. "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed," seems to have been literally as well as metaphorically fulfilled.

Sophron. The symbolism of the chrysalis and the butterfly had been discovered long before the fall of paganism, as the Greek name for the latter plainly showed. It is a marvellously true emblem; almost sufficient to prove that which it represents.

Theodora. It is growing late; we cannot enter on our next subject to-night. And we shall find it, I think, even more interesting than that of this evening. Good night.

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