HotFreeBooks.com
Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 9, No. 55, May, 1862
Author: Various
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

When the Coral has become in this way permeated with lime, all parts of the body are rigid, with the exception of the upper margin, the stomach, and the tentacles. The tentacles are soft and waving, projected or drawn in at will, and they retain their flexible character through life, and decompose when the animal dies. For this reason the dried specimens of Corals preserved in museums do not give us the least idea of the living Corals, in which every one of the millions of beings composing such a community is crowned by a waving wreath of white or green or rose-colored tentacles.

As soon as the little Coral is fairly established and solidly attached to the ground, it begins to bud. This may take place in a variety of ways, dividing at the top or budding from the base or from the sides, till the primitive animal is surrounded by a number of individuals like itself, of which it forms the nucleus, and which now begin to bud in their turn, each one surrounding itself with a numerous progeny, all remaining, however, attached to the parent. Such a community increases till its individuals are numbered by millions; and I have myself counted no less than fourteen millions of individuals in a Coral mass measuring not more than twelve feet in diameter. These are the so-called Coral heads which form the foundation of a Coral wall, and their massive character and regular form seem to be especially adapted to give a strong, solid base to the whole structure. They are known in our classifications as the Astraeans, so named on account of the star-shaped form of the little pits that are crowded upon the surface, each one marking the place of a single individual in such a community.

Thus firmly and strongly is the foundation of the reef laid by the Astraeans; but we have seen that for their prosperous growth they require a certain depth and pressure of water, and when they have brought the wall so high that they have not more than six fathoms of water above them, this kind of Coral ceases to grow. They have, however, prepared a fitting surface for different kinds of Corals that could not live in the depths from which the Astraeans have come, but find their genial home nearer the surface; such a home being made ready for them by their predecessors, they now establish themselves on the top of the Coral wall and continue its growth for a certain time. These are the Mandrinas, or the so-called Brain-Corals, and the Porites. The Mandrinas differ from the Astraeans by their less compact and definite pits. In the Astraeans the place occupied by the animal in the community is marked by a little star-shaped spot, in the centre of which all the partition-walls meet. But in the Mandrinas, although all the partitions converge toward the central opening, as in the Astraeans, these central openings elongate, run into each other, and form waving furrows all over the surface, instead of the small round pits so characteristic of the Astraeans. The Porites resemble the Astraeans, but the pits are smaller, with fewer partitions and fewer tentacles, and their whole substance is more porous.

But these also have their bounds within the sea: they in their turn reach the limit beyond which they are forbidden by the laws of their nature to pass, and there they also pause. But the Coral wall continues its steady progress; for here the lighter kinds set in,—the Madrepores, the Millepores, and a great variety of Sea-Fans and Corallines, and the reef is crowned at last with a many-colored shrubbery of low feathery growth. These are all branching in form, and many of them are simple calciferous plants, though most of them are true animals, resembling, however, delicate Algae more than any marine animals; but, on examination of the latter, one finds them to be covered with myriads of minute dots, each representing one of the little beings out of which the whole is built.

I would add here one word on the true nature of the Millepores, long misunderstood by naturalists, because it throws light not only on some interesting facts respecting Coral Reefs, especially the ancient ones, but also because it tells us something of the early inhabitants of the globe, and shows us that a class of Radiates supposed to be missing in that primitive creation had its representatives then as now. In the diagram of the geological periods introduced in a previous article, I have represented all the three classes of Radiates, Polyps, Acalephs, and Echinoderms, as present on the first floor of our globe that was inhabited at all. But it is only recently that positive proofs have been found of the existence of Acalephs or Jelly-Fishes, as they are called, at that early period. Their very name indicates their delicate structure; and were there no remains preserved in the rocks of these soft, transparent creatures, it would yet be no evidence that they did not exist. Fragile as they are, however, they have left here and there some faint record of themselves, and in the Museum at Carlsruhe, on a slab from Solenhofen, I have seen a very perfect outline of one which remains undescribed to this day. This, however, does not carry them farther back than the Jurassic period, and it is only lately that I have satisfied myself that they not only existed, but were among the most numerous animals in the first representation of organic life.

The earliest Corals correspond in certain features of their structure to the Millepores. They differ from them as all early animals differ from the succeeding ones, every geological period having its special set of representatives. But still they are always true to their class, and have a certain general correspondence with animals of like kind that follow them in later periods. In this sense the Millepores are in our epoch the representatives of those early Corals called by naturalists Tabulata and Rugosa,—distinguished from the Polyp Corals by the horizontal floors, waving in some, straight in others, which divide the body transversely at successive heights through its whole length, and also by the absence of the vertical partitions, extending from top to bottom of each animal, so characteristic of the true Polyps. As I have said, they were for a long time supposed, notwithstanding these differences, to be Polyps, and I had shared in this opinion, till, during the winter of 1857, while pursuing my investigations on the Coral Reefs of Florida, one of these Millepores revealed itself to me in its true character of Acaleph. It is by its soft parts alone—those parts which are seen only in its living state, and when the animal is fully open—that its Acalephian character can be perceived, and this accounts for its being so long accepted as a Polyp, when studied in the dry Coral stock. Nothing could exceed my astonishment when for the first time I saw such an animal fully expanded, and found it to be a true Acaleph. It is exceedingly difficult to obtain a view of them in this state, for, at any approach, they draw themselves in, and remain closed to all investigation. Only once, for a short hour, I had this opportunity; during that time one of these little creatures revealed to me its whole structure, as if to tell me, once for all, the story of its existence through all the successive epochs from the dawn of Creation till now, and then withdrew. With my most patient watching, I have never been able to see one of them open again. But to establish the fact that one of the Corals represented from the earliest period till now, and indeed far more numerous in the beginning than any other, was in truth no Polyp, but an Acaleph, the glimpse I had was all-sufficient. It came out as if to bear witness of its class,—as if to say, "We, too, were among the hosts of living beings with which God first peopled His earth."

With these branching Corals the reef reaches the level of high-water, beyond which, as I have said, there can be no further growth, for want of the action of the fresh sea-water. This dependence upon the vivifying influence of the sea accounts for one unfailing feature in the Coral walls. They are always abrupt and steep on the seaward side, but have a gentle slope towards the land. This is accounted for by the circumstance that the Corals on the outer side of the reef are in immediate contact with the pure ocean-water, while by their growth they partially exclude the inner ones from the same influence,—the rapid growth of the latter being also impeded by any impurity or foreign material washed away from the neighboring shore and mingling with the water that fills the channel between the main-land and the reef. Thus the Coral Reefs, whether built around an island, or concentric to a rounding shore, or along a straight line of coast, are always shelving toward the land, while they are comparatively abrupt and steep toward the sea. This should be remembered, for, as we shall see hereafter, it has an important bearing on the question of time as illustrated by Coral Reefs.

I have spoken of the budding of Corals, by which each one becomes the centre of a cluster; but this is not the only way in which they multiply their kind. They give birth to eggs also, which are carried on the inner edge of their partition-walls, till they drop into the sea, where they float about, little, soft, transparent, pear-shaped bodies, as unlike as possible to the rigid stony structure they are to assume hereafter. In this condition they are covered with vibratile cilia or fringes, that are always in rapid, uninterrupted motion, and keep them swimming about in the water. It is by means of these little germs of the Corals, swimming freely about during their earliest stages of growth, that the reef is continued, at the various heights where special kinds die out, by those that prosper at shallower depths; otherwise it would be impossible to understand how this variety of building material, as it were, is introduced wherever it is needed. This point, formerly a puzzle to naturalists, has become quite clear since it has been found that myriads of these little germs are poured into the water surrounding a reef. There they swim about till they find a genial spot on which to establish themselves, when they become attached to the ground by one end, while a depression takes place at the opposite end, which gradually deepens to form the mouth and inner cavity, while the edges expand to form the tentacles, and the productive life of the little Coral begins: it buds from every side, and becomes the foundation of a new community.

I should add, that, beside the Polyps and the Acalephs, Mollusks also have their representatives among the Corals. There is a group of small Mollusks called Bryozoa, allied to the Clams by their structure, but excessively minute when compared to the other members of their class, which, like the other Corals, harden in consequence of an absorption of solid materials, and contribute to the formation of the reef. Besides these, there are certain plants, limestone Algae,—Corallines, as they are called,—which have their share also in the work.

I had intended to give some account of the Coral Reefs of Florida, and to show what bearing they have upon the question of time and the permanence of Species; but this cursory sketch of Coral Reefs in general has grown to such dimensions that I must reserve a more particular account of the Florida Reefs and Keys for a future article.

* * * * *

SPIRITS.

"Did you ever see a ghost?" said a gentleman to his friend.

"No, but I once came very nigh seeing one," was the facetious reply.

The writer of this article has had still better luck,—having twice come very nigh seeing a ghost. In other words, two friends, in whose veracity and healthy clearness of vision I have perfect confidence, have assured me that they have distinctly seen a disembodied spirit.

If I had permission to do so, I would record the street in Boston, and the number of the house, where the first of these two apparitions was seen; but that would be unpleasant to parties concerned. Years ago, the lady who witnessed it told me the particulars, and I have recently heard her repeat them. A cousin, with whom her relations were as intimate as with a brother, was in the last stages of consumption. One morning, when she carried him her customary offering of fruit or flowers, she found him unusually bright, his cheeks flushed, his eyes brilliant, and his state of mind exceedingly cheerful. He talked of his recovery and future plans in life with hopefulness almost amounting to certainty. This made her somewhat sad, for she regarded it as a delusion of his flattering disease, a flaring up of the life-candle before it sank in the socket. She thus reported the case, when she returned home. In the afternoon she was sewing as usual, surrounded by her mother and sisters, and listening to one who was reading aloud. While thus occupied, she chanced to raise her eyes from her work and glance to the opposite corner of the room. Her mother, seeing her give a sudden start, exclaimed, "What is the matter?" She pointed to the corner of the room and replied, "There is Cousin ———!" They all told her she had been dreaming, and was only half wakened. She assured them she had not even been drowsy; and she repeated with great earnestness, "There is Cousin ———, just as I saw him this morning. Don't you see him?" She could not measure the time that the vision remained; but it was long enough for several questions and answers to pass rapidly between herself and other members of the family. In reply to their persistent incredulity, she said, "It is very strange that you don't see him; for I see him as plainly as I do any of you." She was so obviously awake and in her right mind, that the incident naturally made an impression on those who listened to her. Her mother looked at her watch, and despatched a messenger to inquire how Cousin ——— did. Word was soon brought that he died at the same moment he had appeared in the house of his relatives. The lady who had this singular experience is too sensible and well-informed to be superstitious. She was not afflicted with any disorder of the nerves, and was in good health at the time.

To my other story I can give "a local habitation and a name" well known. When Harriet Hosmer, the sculptor, visited her native country a few years ago, I had an interview with her, during which our conversation happened to turn upon dreams and visions.

"I have had some experience in that way," said she. "Let me tell you a singular circumstance that happened to me in Rome. An Italian girl named Rosa was in my employ for a long time, but was finally obliged to return to her mother, on account of confirmed ill-health. We were mutually sorry to part, for we liked each other. When I took my customary exercise on horseback, I frequently called to see her. On one of these occasions, I found her brighter than I had seen her for some time past. I had long relinquished hopes of her recovery, but there was nothing in her appearance that gave me the impression of immediate danger. I left her with the expectation of calling to see her again many times. During the remainder of the day I was busy in my studio, and I do not recollect that Rosa was in my thoughts after I parted from her. I retired to rest in good health and in a quiet frame of mind. But I woke from a sound sleep with an oppressive feeling that some one was in the room. I wondered at the sensation, for it was entirely new to me; but in vain I tried to dispel it. I peered beyond the curtain of my bed, but could distinguish no objects in the darkness. Trying to gather up my thoughts, I soon reflected that the door was locked, and that I had put the key under my bolster. I felt for it, and found it where I had placed it. I said to myself that I had probably had some ugly dream, and had waked with a vague impression of it still on my mind. Reasoning thus, I arranged myself comfortably for another nap. I am habitually a good sleeper, and a stranger to fear; but, do what I would, the idea still haunted me that some one was in the room. Finding it impossible to sleep, I longed for daylight to dawn, that I might rise and pursue my customary avocations. It was not long before I was able dimly to distinguish the furniture in my room, and soon after I heard, in the apartments below, familiar noises of servants opening windows and doors. An old clock, with ringing vibrations, proclaimed the hour. I counted one, two, three, four, five, and resolved to rise immediately. My bed was partially screened by a long curtain looped up at one side. As I raised my head from the pillow, Rosa looked inside the curtain, and smiled at me. The idea of anything supernatural did not occur to me. I was simply surprised, and exclaimed, 'Why, Rosa! How came you here, when you are so ill?' In the old familiar tones, to which I was so much accustomed, a voice replied, 'I am well, now.' With no other thought than that of greeting her joyfully, I sprang out of bed. There was no Rosa there! I moved the curtain, thinking she might perhaps have playfully hidden herself behind its folds. The same feeling induced me to look into the closet. The sight of her had come so suddenly, that, in the first moment of surprise and bewilderment, I did not reflect that the door was locked. When I became convinced there was no one in the room but myself, I recollected that fact, and thought I must have seen a vision.

"At the breakfast-table, I said to the old lady with whom I boarded, 'Rosa is dead.' 'What do you mean by that?' she inquired. 'You told me she seemed better than common when you called to see her yesterday.' I related the occurrences of the morning, and told her I had a strong impression Rosa was dead. She laughed, and said I had dreamed it all. I assured her I was thoroughly awake, and in proof thereof told her I had heard all the customary household noises, and had counted the clock when it struck five. She replied, 'All that is very possible, my dear. The clock struck into your dream. Real sounds often mix with the illusions of sleep. I am surprised that a dream should make such an impression on a young lady so free from superstition as you are.' She continued to jest on the subject, and slightly annoyed me by her persistence in believing it a dream, when I was perfectly sure of having been wide awake. To settle the question, I summoned a messenger and sent him to inquire how Rosa did. He returned with the answer that she died that morning at five o'clock."

I wrote the story as Miss Hosmer told it to me, and after I had shown it to her, I asked if she had any objection, to its being published, without suppression of names. She replied, "You have reported the story of Rosa correctly. Make what use you please of it. You cannot think it more interesting, or unaccountable, than I do myself."

A remarkable instance of communication between spirits at the moment of death is recorded in the Life of the Rev. Joseph S. Buckminster, written by his sister. When he was dying in Boston, their father was dying in Vermont, ignorant of his son's illness. Early in the morning, he said to his wife, "My son Joseph is dead." She told him he had been dreaming. He calmly replied, "I have not slept, nor dreamed. He is dead." When letters arrived from Boston, they announced that the spirit of the son had departed from his body the same night that the father received an impression of it.

Such incidents suggest curious psychological inquiries, which I think have attracted less attention than they deserve. It is common to explain all such phenomena as "optical illusions" produced by "disordered nerves." But is that any explanation? How do certain states of the nerves produce visions as distinct as material forms? In the two cases I have mentioned, there was no disorder of the nerves, no derangement of health, no disquietude of mind. Similar accounts come to us from all nations, and from the remotest periods of time; and I doubt whether there ever was a universal superstition that had not some great, unchangeable truth for its basis. Some secret laws of our being are wrapt up in these occasional mysteries, and in the course of the world's progress we may perhaps become familiar with the explanation, and find genuine philosophy under the mask of superstition. When any well-authenticated incidents of this kind are related, it is a very common inquiry, "What are such visions sent for?" The question implies a supposition of miraculous power, exerted for a temporary and special purpose. But would it not be more rational to believe that all appearances, whether spiritual or material, are caused by the operation of universal laws, manifested under varying circumstances? In the infancy of the world, it was the general tendency of the human mind to consider all occasional phenomena as direct interventions of the gods, for some special purpose at the time. Thus, the rainbow was supposed to be a celestial road, made to accommodate the swift messenger of the gods, when she was sent on an errand, and withdrawn as soon as she had done with it. We now know that the laws of the refraction and reflection of light produce the radiant iris, and that it will always appear whenever drops of water in the air present themselves to the sun's rays in a suitable position. Knowing this, we have ceased to ask what the rainbow appears for.

That a spiritual form is contained within the material body is a very ancient and almost universal belief. Hindoo books of the remotest antiquity describe man as a triune being, consisting of the soul, the spiritual body, and the material body. This form within the outer body was variously named by Grecian poets and philosophers. They called it "the soul's image," "the invisible body," "the aerial body," "the shade." Sometimes they called it "the sensuous soul," and described it as "all eye and all ear,"—expressions which cannot fail to suggest the phenomena of clairvoyance. The "shade" of Hercules is described by poets as dwelling in the Elysian Fields, while his body was converted to ashes on the earth, and his soul was dwelling on Olympus with the gods. Swedenborg speaks of himself as having been a visible form to angels in the spiritual world; and members of his household, observing him at such times, describe the eyes of his body on earth as having the expression of one walking in his sleep. He tells us, that, when his thoughts turned toward earthly things, the angels would say to him, "Now we are losing sight of you": and he himself felt that he was returning to his material body. For several years of his life, he was in the habit of seeing and conversing familiarly with visitors unseen by those around him. The deceased brother of the Queen of Sweden repeated to him a secret conversation, known only to himself and his sister. The Queen had asked for this, as a test of Swedenborg's veracity; and she became pale with astonishment when every minute particular of her interview with her brother was reported to her. Swedenborg was a sedate man, apparently devoid of any wish to excite a sensation, engrossed in scientific pursuits, and remarkable for the orderly habits of his mind. The intelligent and enlightened German, Nicolai, in the later years of his life, was accustomed to find himself in the midst of persons whom he knew perfectly well, but who were invisible to others. He reasoned very calmly about it, but arrived at no solution more satisfactory than the old one of "optical illusion," which is certainly a very inadequate explanation. Instances are recorded, and some of them apparently well authenticated, of persons still living in this world, and unconscious of disease, who have seen themselves in a distinct visible form, without the aid of a mirror. It would seem as if such experiences had not been confined to any particular part of the world; for they have given birth to a general superstition that such apparitions are a forerunner of death,—or, in other words, of the complete separation of the spiritual body from the natural body. A friend related to me the particulars of a fainting-fit, during which her body remained senseless an unusually long time. When she was restored to consciousness, she told her attendant friends that she had been standing near the sofa all the time, watching her own lifeless body, and seeing what they did to resuscitate it. In proof thereof she correctly repeated to them all they had said and done while her body remained insensible. Those present at the time corroborated her statement, so far as her accurate knowledge of all their words, looks, and proceedings was concerned.

The most numerous class of phenomena concerning the "spiritual body" relate to its visible appearance to others at the moment of dissolution. There is so much testimony on this subject, from widely separated witnesses, that an unprejudiced mind, equally removed from superstition and skepticism, inclines to believe that they must be manifestations of some hidden law of our mysterious being. Plato says that everything in this world is merely the material form of some model previously existing in a higher world of ethereal spiritual forms; and Swedenborg's beautiful doctrine of Correspondences is a reappearance of the same idea. If their theory be true, may not the antecedent type of that strange force which in the material world we call electricity be a spiritual magnetism. As yet, we know extremely little of the laws of electricity, and we know nothing of those laws of spiritual attraction and repulsion which are perhaps the cause of electricity. There may be subtile and as yet unexplained causes, connected with the state of the nervous system, the state of the mind, the accord of two souls under peculiar circumstances, etc., which may sometimes enable a person who is in a material body to see another who is in a spiritual body. That such visions are not of daily occurrence may be owing to the fact that it requires an unusual combination of many favorable circumstances to produce them; and when they do occur, they seem to us miraculous simply because we are ignorant of the laws of which they are transient manifestations.

Lord Bacon says,—"The relations touching the force of imagination and the secret instincts of Nature are so uncertain, as they require a great deal of examination ere we conclude upon them. I would have it first thoroughly inquired whether there be any secret passages of sympathy between persons of near blood,—as parents, children, brothers, sisters, nurse-children, husbands, wives, etc. There be many reports in history, that, upon the death of persons of such nearness, men have had an inward feeling of it. I myself remember, that, being in Paris, and my father dying in London, two or three days before my father's death I had a dream, which I told to divers English gentlemen, that my father's house in the country was plastered all over with black mortar. Next to those that are near in blood, there may be the like passage and instincts of Nature between great friends and great enemies. Some trial also would be made whether pact or agreement do anything: as, if two friends should agree, that, such a day in every week, they, being in far distant places, should pray one for another, or should put on a ring or tablet one for another's sake, whether, if one of them should break their vow and promise, the other should have any feeling of it in absence."

This query of Lord Bacon, whether an agreement between two distant persons to think of each other at a particular time may not produce an actual nearness between their spirits, is suggestive. People partially drowned and resuscitated have often described their last moments of consciousness as flooded with memories, so that they seemed to be surrounded by the voices and countenances of those they loved. If this is common when soul and body are approaching dissolution, may not such concentration of loving thoughts produce an actual nearness, filling the person thought of with "a feeling as if somebody were in the room"? And if the feeling thus induced is very powerful, may not the presence thus felt become objective, or, in other words, a vision?

The feeling of the nearness of spirits to when the thoughts are busily occupied with them may have led to the almost universal belief among ancient nations that the souls of the dead came back on the anniversary of their death to the places where their bodies were deposited. This belief invested their tombs with peculiar sacredness, and led the wealthy to great expense in their construction. Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans built them with upper apartments, more or less spacious. These chambers were adorned with vases, sculptures, and paintings on the walls, varying in costliness and style according to the means or taste of the builder. The tomb of Cestius in Rome contained a chamber much ornamented with paintings. Ancient Egyptian tombs abound with sculptures and paintings, probably representative of the character of the deceased. Thus, on the walls of one a man is pictured throwing seed into the ground, followed by a troop of laborers; farther on, the same individual is represented as gathering in the harvest; then he is seen in procession with wife, children, friends, and followers, carrying sheaves to the temple, a thank-offering to the gods. This seems to be a painted epitaph, signifying that the deceased was industrious, prosperous, and pious. It was common to deposit in these tombs various articles of use or ornament, such as the departed ones had been familiar with and attached to, while on earth. Many things in the ancient sculptures indicate that Egyptian women were very fond of flowers. It is a curious fact, that little china boxes with Chinese letters on them, like those in which the Chinese now sell flower-seeds, have been discovered in some of these tombs. Probably the ladies buried there were partial to exotics from China; and perhaps friends placed them there with the tender thought that the spirit of the deceased would be pleased to see them, when it came on its annual visit. Sometimes these paintings and sculptures embodied ideas reaching beyond the earthly existence, and "the aerial body" was represented floating among stars, escorted by what we should call angels, but which they named "Spirits of the Sun." Families and friends visited these consecrated chambers on the anniversary of the death of those whose bodies were placed in the room below. They carried with them music and flowers, cakes and wine. Religious ceremonies were performed, with the idea that the "invisible body" was present with them and took part in the prayers and offerings. The visitors talked together of past scenes, and doubtless their conversation abounded with touching allusions to the character and habits of the unseen friend supposed to be listening. It was, in fact, an annual family-gathering, scarcely sadder in its memories than is our Thanksgiving festival to those who have travelled far on the pilgrimage of life.

St. Paul teaches that "there is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body." The early Christians had a very vivid faith, that, when the soul dropped its outer envelope of flesh, it continued to exist in a spiritual form. When any of their number died, they observed the anniversary of his departure by placing on the altar an offering to the church, in his name. On such occasions, they partook of the sacrament, with the full belief that his unseen form was present with them, and shared in the sacred rite, as he had done while in the material body. On the anniversary of the death of martyrs, there were such commemorations in all the churches; and that their spirits were believed to be present is evident from the fact that numerous petitions were addressed to them. In the Roman Catacombs, where many of the early Christians were buried, are apartments containing sculptures and paintings of apostles and martyrs. They are few and rude, because the Christians of that period were poor, and used such worldly goods as they had more for benevolence than for show. But these memorials, in such a place, indicate the same feeling that adorned the magnificent tombs of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. These subterranean apartments were used for religious meetings in the first centuries of our era, and it is generally supposed that they were chosen as safe hiding-places from persecution. Very likely it was so; but it is not improbable that the spot had peculiar attractions to worshippers, from the feeling that they were in the midst of an unseen congregation, whose bodies were buried there. If it was so, it would be but one of many proofs that the early Christians mixed with their new religion many of the traditions and ceremonies of their forefathers, who had been educated in other forms of faith. Even in our own time, threads of these ancient traditions are more or less visible through the whole warp and woof of our literature and our customs. Many of the tombs in the Cemetery of Pere la Chaise have pretty upper apartments. On the anniversary of the death of those buried beneath, friends and relatives carry thither flowers and garlands. Women often spend the entire day there, and parties of friends assemble to partake of a picnic repast.

Most of the ancient nations annually observed a day in honor of the Souls of Ancestors. This naturally grew out of the custom of meeting in tombs to commemorate the death of relatives. As generations passed away, it was unavoidable that many of the very old sepulchres should be seldom or never visited. Still it was believed that the "shades" even of remote ancestors hovered about their descendants and were cognizant of their doings. It was impossible to observe separately the anniversaries of departed millions, and therefore a day was set apart for religious ceremonies in honor of all ancestors. Hindoo and Chinese families have from time immemorial consecrated such days; and the Romans observed a similar anniversary under the name of Parentalia.

Christians retained this ancient custom, but it took a new coloring from their peculiar circumstances. The ties of the church were substituted for ties of kindred. Its members were considered spiritual fathers and brothers, and there was an annual festival in honor of spiritual ancestors. The forms greatly resembled those of the Roman Parentalia. The gathering-place was usually at the tomb of some celebrated martyr, or in some chapel consecrated to his memory. Crowds of people came from all quarters to implore the spirits of the martyrs to send them favorable seasons, good crops, healthy children, etc., just as the old Romans had been accustomed to invoke the names of their ancestors for similar blessings. Prayers were repeated, hymns sung, and offerings presented to the church, as aforetime to the gods. A great banquet was prepared, and wine was drunk to the souls of the martyrs so freely that complete intoxication was common. In view of this and other excesses, the pious among the bishops exerted their influence to abolish the custom. But it was so intertwined with the traditional faith of the populace, and so gratifying to their social propensities, that it was a long time before it could be suppressed. A vestige of the old anniversaries in honor of the Souls of Ancestors remains in the Catholic Church under the name of All-Souls' Day.

In France, the Parentalia of the ancient Romans is annually observed under the name of "Le Jour des Morts." All Paris flock to the cemeteries, bearing bouquets, crosses, and garlands to decorate the tombs of departed ancestors, relatives, and friends. The gay population is, for that day, sobered by tender and solemn memories. Many a tear glistens on the wreaths, and the passing traveller notices many a one whose trembling lips and swollen eyelids indicate that the soul is immersed in recollections of departed loved ones. The "cities of the dead" bloom with fresh flowers, in multifarious forms of crosses, crowns, and hearts. From all the churches prayers ascend for those who have dropped their earthly garment of flesh, and who live henceforth in the "spiritual body," which becomes more and more beautiful with the progress of the soul,—it being, as the ancients called it, "the soul's image."



THE TITMOUSE.

You shall not be over-bold When you deal with arctic cold, As late I found my lukewarm blood Chilled wading in the snow-choked wood. How should I fight? my foeman fine Has million arms to one of mine. East, west, for aid I looked in vain; East, west, north, south, are his domain. Miles off, three dangerous miles, is home; Must borrow his winds who there would come. Up and away for life! be fleet! The frost-king ties my fumbling feet, Sings in my ears, my hands are stones, Curdles the blood to the marble bones, Tugs at the heartstrings, numbs the sense, Hems in the life with narrowing fence.

Well, in this broad bed lie and sleep, The punctual stars will vigil keep, Embalmed by purifying cold, The winds shall sing their dead-march old, The snow is no ignoble shroud, The moon thy mourner, and the cloud. Softly,—but this way fate was pointing, 'Twas coming fast to such anointing, When piped a tiny voice hard by, Gay and polite, a cheerful cry, "Chic-chic-a-dee-dee!" saucy note, Out of sound heart and merry throat, As if it said, "Good day, good Sir! Fine afternoon, old passenger! Happy to meet you in these places, Where January brings few men's faces."

This poet, though he live apart, Moved by a hospitable heart, Sped, when I passed his sylvan fort, To do the honors of his court, As fits a feathered lord of land, Flew near, with soft wing grazed my hand, Hopped on the bough, then, darting low, Prints his small impress on the snow, Shows feats of his gymnastic play, Head downward, clinging to the spray. Here was this atom in full breath Hurling defiance at vast death, This scrap of valor just for play Fronts the north-wind in waistcoat gray, As if to shame my weak behavior. I greeted loud my little saviour: "Thou pet! what dost here? and what for? In these woods, thy small Labrador, At this pinch, wee San Salvador! What fire burns in that little chest, So frolic, stout, and self-possest? Didst steal the glow that lights the West? Henceforth I wear no stripe but thine: Ashes and black all hues outshine. Why are not diamonds black and gray, To ape thy dare-devil array? And I affirm the spacious North Exists to draw thy virtue forth. I think no virtue goes with size: The reason of all cowardice Is, that men are overgrown, And, to be valiant, must come down To the titmouse dimension."

'Tis good-will makes intelligence, And I began to catch the sense Of my bird's song: "Live out of doors, In the great woods, and prairie floors. I dine in the sun; when he sinks in the sea, I, too, have a hole in a hollow tree. And I like less when summer beats With stifling beams on these retreats Than noontide twilights which snow makes With tempest of the blinding flakes: For well the soul, if stout within, Can arm impregnably the skin; And polar frost my frame defied, Made of the air that blows outside."

With glad remembrance of my debt, I homeward turn. Farewell, my pet! When here again thy pilgrim comes, He shall bring store of seeds and crumbs. Henceforth I prize thy wiry chant O'er all that mass and minster vaunt: For men mishear thy call in spring, As 'twould accost some frivolous wing, Crying out of the hazel copse, "Phe—be!" And in winter, "Chic-a-dee-dee!" I think old Caesar must have heard In Northern Gaul my dauntless bird, And, echoed in some frosty wold, Borrowed thy battle-numbers bold. And I shall write our annals new,

And thank thee for a better clew: I, who dreamed not, when I came here, To find the antidote of fear, Now hear thee say in Roman key, "Paean! Ve-ni, Vi-di, Vi-ci."

* * * * *

SALTPETRE AS A SOURCE OF POWER.

Every element of strength in a civilized community demands special notice. The present material progress of nations brings us every day in contact with the application of power under various conditions, and the most thoughtless person is to some extent influenced mentally by the improvements, taking the places of older means and ways of adaptation, in the arts of life.

We travel by the aid of steam-power, and we think and speak of a locomotive or a steamboat as we once thought and spoke of a horse or a man; and no little feeling of self-sufficiency is engendered by the conclusion that this new source of power has been brought under control and put to work in our day.

It is also true that we do not always entertain the most correct view of what we term the new power of locomotive and steamboat; and as it may aid us in some further steps connected with the subject of my remarks, a familiar object, such as a steamboat, may be taken as illustrative of the application of power, and we may thus obtain some simple ideas of what power truly is, in Nature.

My travelled friend considers a steamboat as a ship propelled by wheels, the shaft to which they are attached being moved by the machinery. He follows back to the piston of the engine and finds the motor there,—satisfied that he has discovered in the transference of rectilinear to rotatory motion the reason for the progress of the boat. A more inquisitive friend does not rest here, but assumes that the power of the steam flowing through the machine sets in action its parts; and he rests from farther pursuit of the power, where the larger number of those who give any observation to the application of steam are found,—gratified with the knowledge accumulated, and the readiness with which an explanation of the motion of the boat can be traced to the power of steam as its source.

We must proceed a little farther on our backward course from the point where the power is applied, and in our analysis consider the steam as only the vehicle or carrier of the power; and examining the conditions, we find that water acted on by fire, while contained in a suitable vessel, after some time takes up certain properties which enable it to go forward and move the ponderous machinery of the boat. The water evidently here derives its new character of steam from the fire, and we have now reached the source of the movement of steam, and traced it to the fire. In fact, we have found the source of power, in this most mechanical of all mechanical machines, to be removed from the department of knowledge which treats of machines!

But we need not pause here, although we must now enter a little way into chemical, instead of mechanical science. The fire prepares the water to act as a carrier of power; it must contain power, therefore; and what is it which we call fire? In placing on the grate coal or wood, and providing for the contact of a continuous current of air, we intend to bring about certain chemical actions as consequent on a disposition which we know coal and wood to possess. When we apply fire, the chemical actions commence and the usual effects follow. Now, if we for a moment dismiss the consideration of the means adopted, it becomes apparent to every one, that, as the fire will continue to increase with successive additions of fuel, or as it will continue indefinitely with a regular supply, there must be something else than mere motor action here. We cannot call it chemical action, and dismiss the thought, and neglect further inquiry, unless we would place ourselves with those who regard the movement of the steamboat as being due to the machinery.

Our farther progress in this analysis will soon open a wide field of knowledge and inquiry; but it is sufficient for our present purpose, if, by a careful study of the composition and chemical disposition of the proximate compounds of the coal and the wood fuel, we arrive at the conclusion that both are the result of forces which, very slight in themselves at any moment, yet when acting through long periods of time become laid up in the form of coal and wood. All that effort which the tree has exhibited during its growth from the germ of the seed to its state of maturity, when taken as fuel, is pent up in its substance, ready, when fire is applied, to escape slowly and continuously. In the case of the coal, after the growth of the plant from which it was formed, the material underwent changes which enabled it to conserve more forces, and to exhibit more energy when fire is applied to its mass; and hence the distinction between wood and coal.

Our analysis thus far has developed the source of the power moving the steamboat as existing in the gradual action of forces influencing vegetation, concentrated and locked up in the fuel. For the purpose of illustrating the subject of this essay, we require no farther progress in this direction. A moment of thought at this point and we shall cease to consider steam-power as new; for, long before man appeared on this earth, the vegetation was collecting and condensing those ordinary natural powers which we find in fuel. In our time, too, the rains and dews, heat, motion, and gaseous food, are being stored up in a wondrous manner, to serve as elements of power which may be used and applied now or hereafter.

In this view, too, we may include the winds, the falling of rain, the ascent and descent of sap, the condensation of gases,—in short, the natural powers, exerted before,—as the cause of motion in the steamboat.

Passing from these considerations not unconnected with the subject, let us inquire what saltpetre is, and how it is formed.

The term Saltpetre is applied to a variety of bodies, distinguished, however, by their bases, as potash saltpetre, soda saltpetre, lime saltpetre, etc., which occur naturally. They are all compounds of nitric acid and bases, or the gases nitrogen and oxygen united to bases, and are found in all soils which have not been recently washed by rains, and which are protected from excessive moisture.

The decomposition of animal and of some vegetable bodies in the soil causes the production of one constituent of saltpetre, while the earth and the animal remains supply the other. Evaporation of pure water from the surface of the earth causes the moisture which rises from below to bring to the surface the salt dissolved in it; and as this salt is not volatile, the escape of the moisture leaves it at or near the surface. Hence, under buildings, especially habitations of men and animals, the salt accumulates, and in times of scarcity it may be collected. In all cases of its extraction from the earth several kinds of saltpetre are obtained, and the usual course is to decompose these by the addition of salts of potash, so as to form from them potash saltpetre, the kind most generally consumed.

In this decomposition of animal remains and the formation of saltpetre the air performs an important part, and the changes it effects are worthy of our attention.

Let us consider the aerial ocean surrounding our earth and resting upon it, greatly larger in mass and extent than the more familiar aqueous ocean below it, and more closely and momentarily affecting our well-being.

The pure air, consisting of 20.96 volumes of oxygen gas and 79.04 volumes of nitrogen gas, preserves, under all the variations of climate and height above the surface of the earth, a remarkable constancy of composition,—the variation of one one-hundredth part never having been observed. But additions and subtractions are being constantly made, and the atmosphere, as distinguished from the pure air, is mixed with exhalations from countless sources on the land and the sea. Wherever man moves, his fire, his food, the materials of his dwellings, the soil he disturbs, all add their volatile parts to the atmosphere. Vegetation, death, and decay pour into it copiously substances foreign to the composition of pure air. The combustion of one ton of coal adds at least sixteen tons of impurity to the atmosphere; and when we estimate on the daily consumption of coal the addition from this source alone, the amount becomes enormous.

Experiments have been made for the purpose of estimating these additions, and the results of those most carefully conducted show how very slightly the combined causes affect the general composition of our atmosphere; and although the present refined methods of chemists enable them to detect the presence of an abnormal amount of some substances, no research has yet been successful in determining how far this varies from the natural quantity at all times necessarily present in the atmosphere.

It is, however, the comparatively minute portions of nitrogenous matter in the atmosphere that we are to consider as the source of the nitrous acids formed there, and of part of that found in the earth. From some experiments made during the day and night it has been found, that, under the most favorable circumstances, six millions six hundred and seventy thousand parts of air afford one part of nitrogenous bodies, if the whole quantity be abstracted! A portion only of this quantity can be withdrawn in natural operations, such as the falling of rain and the deposition of dew,—the larger part always remaining behind.

When the oxygen of our atmosphere is exposed, while in its usual hygrometric state, to the influence of bodies attracting a portion of it, such as decomposing substances, or when it forms the medium of electrical discharges, it suddenly assumes new powers, acquires a greatly increased activity, affects our organs of smell, dissolves in fluids, and has been mistaken for a new substance, and even named "ozone." Among the new characters thus conferred on it is the power of uniting with or burning many substances. This ozonized oxygen, when brought into mixture with many nitrogenized bodies, forms with them nitrous acids, completely destroying their former condition and composition; hence, in the atmosphere, this part of the oxygen becomes a purifier of the whole mass, from which it removes putrescent exhalations, miasmatic vapors, and the effluvia from every source of sea or land. Very curious are the effects of this active oxygen, which is ever present in some portion of the atmosphere. Moved by the wind, mixed with the impure upward currents rising from cities, it seizes on and changes rapidly all foulness, and if the currents are not too voluminous, the impure air becomes changed to pure. As ozonized oxygen can be easily detected, we may pass from the city, where (overpowered by the exhalations) it does not exist, and find it in the air of the vicinity; and moving away several miles, ascertain that a normal amount there prevails, and that step by step, on our return to abodes of a dense population, the quantity diminishes and finally all disappears.

We are now prepared to answer the second part of the question which was suggested, and to find that nitrous acids formed in the atmosphere by direct oxidation of nitrogenous matter may unite with the ammonia present to produce one kind of saltpetre; and when the rains or the dews carry this to the earth, the salts of lime, potash, and soda there found will decompose this ammoniacal saltpetre, and set the ammonia free, to act over again its part. So in regard to decomposing organic matters in the soil: ozonized oxygen changes them in the same way. The earth and calcareous rocks of caves, penetrated by the air, slowly produce saltpetre, and before the theory of the action was understood, artificial imitation of natural conditions enabled us to manufacture saltpetre. Animal remains, stratified with porous earth or the sweepings of cities, and disposed in long heaps or walls, protected from rain, but exposed to the prevailing winds, soon form nitrous salts, and a large space covered with these deposits carefully tended forms a saltpetre plantation. France, Prussia, Sweden, Switzerland, and other countries, have been supplied with saltpetre from similar artificial arrangements.

But the atmosphere is washed most thoroughly by the rains falling in and near tropical countries, and the changes there are most rapid, so that the production of saltpetre, favored by moisture and hot winds, attains its highest limit in parts of India and the bordering countries.

During the prevalence of dry winds, the earth in many districts of India becomes frosted over with nitrous efflorescences, and the great quantity shipped from the commercial ports, and that consumed in China, is thus a natural production of that region. The increased amount due to tropical influences will be seen in the instances here given of the produce from the rich earths of different countries:—

Natural.

France, Church of Mousseau, 5-3/8 per cent. " Cavern of Fouquieres, 3-1/2 " U. States, Tennessee, dirt of caves, 0.86 " Ceylon, Cave of Memoora, 3-1/10 " Upper Bengal, Tirhoot, earth simply, 1-6/10 " Patree in Guzerat, best sweepings, 8-7/10 "

In each case the salt is mixed saltpetres.

Artificial.

France, 100 lbs. earth from plantations afford 8 to 9 oz. Hungary and Sweden, from the same, 1/2 to 2-3/10 per cent.

It may be calculated that the flesh of animals, free from bone, carefully decomposed, will afford ninety-five pounds of saltpetre for one thousand pounds thus consumed.

In the manufacture of saltpetre, the earths, whether naturally or artificially impregnated, are mixed with the ashes from burnt wood, or salts of potash, so that this base may take the place of all others, and produce long prisms of potash saltpetre.

In this country there are numerous caves of great extent in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri, from which saltpetre has been manufactured. Under the most favorable conditions of abundance of labor, obtainable at a low price, potash saltpetre can be made at a cost about one-fourth greater than the average price of India saltpetre, and those sources of supply are the best natural deposits known on this side of the Rocky Mountains. Where there is an insufficient supply of manure in a country, resort to the artificial production of saltpetre is simply a robbery committed on the resources of the agriculturists, and it is only during the pressure of a great struggle like that of the wars of Napoleon, that the conversion into saltpetre of materials which can become food for the community would be permitted.

Hitherto, in peaceful times, our supply of saltpetre has come from India through commercial channels; but twice within a few years this course of trade has been interrupted by the British Government, and the price of a necessary article has been greatly enhanced,—leading reflecting minds to the inquiry after other sources whence to draw the quantity required for an increasing consumption. On the boundary between Peru and Chili, in South Peru, about forty miles from the ports of Conception and Iquique, is a depression in the general surface of a saline desert, where a bed of soda saltpetre, about two and a half feet thick and one hundred and fifty miles long, exists. The salt is massive, and, occurring in a rainless climate, it is dry, and contains about sixty per cent. of pure soda saltpetre. In Brazil, on the San Francisco, the same salt is found extending sixty or seventy miles,—and again near the town of Pilao Arcado, the beds being about two hundred and forty miles from Bahia, but at present inaccessible for want of roads. The Peruvian native saltpetre is rudely refined in the desert, and then transported on the backs of mules to the shipping-port. As found in commerce, it is less impure than India saltpetre; and it might be usefully substituted for the latter in the manufacture of gunpowder, were it less deliquescent in damp atmospheres. For chemical purposes it now replaces India saltpetre, but the larger consumption is perhaps as a fertilizer of land, in the cool and humid climate of England, the low price it bears in the market permitting this consumption.

We have found that the various saltpetres of natural production, or those obtained in artificial arrangements, are converted by the use of potash salts into potash saltpetre, and among the products so changed is natural soda saltpetre. Now to us in this country, so near the sources of abundant supply of soda saltpetre, this substitution becomes a matter of great interest. We possess and can produce the alkaline salt of potash in almost unlimited quantity, and, excepting for some special purposes, it is consumed for its alkaline energy alone. When soda saltpetre in proper proportion is dissolved and thus mixed with potash salt, an exchange of bases takes place, and no loss of alkaline energy follows. The soda in a quite pure state is eliminated from the soda saltpetre, and will serve for the manufactures of glass and soap; while the potash, taking the oxygen compound of the soda saltpetre, produces, as a final result, a pure and beautiful prismatic saltpetre, most economically and abundantly.

Instead of working on a hundred pounds of earth to obtain at most eight or nine pounds of saltpetre, a hundred pounds of soda saltpetre will afford more than one hundred and nine pounds of potash saltpetre, when skilfully treated. Here, then, we have, by simple chemical treatment of an imported, but very cheap salt, a result constituting a source of abundant supply of potash saltpetre, without the loss of the agent concerned in the transformation.

We have traced slightly in outline the formation of saltpetre to the action of ozonized oxygen on nitrogen compounds, in the atmosphere, or in the earth,—the conditions being the same in both cases. If we pursue the study of this action of ozonized oxygen farther, we shall not restrict its combining disposition to these compounds, but prove that it has the power of uniting directly with the nitrogen naturally forming part of the pure air. While nitrogenized bodies are present, however, in the atmosphere, or in the humid artificial heaps of saltpetre plantations, the action of ozonized oxygen is on these, and the nitrous compounds formed unite with the bases lime, soda, and potash, also present, to form saltpetre.

Under all the conditions necessary, we see the permanent gases, oxygen and nitrogen, leaving the atmosphere and changing from their gaseous to a solid dry state, when they become chemically combined with potash, and there are 53-46/100 parts of the gaseous matter and 46-54/100 parts of the potash in 100 parts of the saltpetre by weight.

Having now found what saltpetre is and how it is formed, let us advance to the consideration of it as a source of power.

Through the exertion of chemical attraction the gaseous elements of the atmosphere have become solid in the saltpetre; and as we know the weight of this part in a cubic inch of saltpetre, the volume of the gases combined is easily ascertained to be about eight hundred times that of the saltpetre. Hence, as every cubic inch of condensation represents an atmosphere as large as the cubic inch of saltpetre formed, we may roughly estimate that the condensing force arising from chemical attraction in this case is 800 times 15 lbs., or 12,000 lbs.!

Strictly speaking, only about four-tenths of a cubic inch of potash holds this enormous power in connection with it so as to form a cubic inch of saltpetre, which we may handle and bruise, may melt and cool, dissolve and crystallize, without explosion or change. It contains conserved a force which represents the aggregate result of innumerable minute actions, taking place among portions of matter which escape our senses from their minuteness and excite our wonder by their transformation. Closely similar are these actions to the agencies in vegetation which build up the wood of the tree or the material of the coal destined to serve for the production of fire in all the applications of steam which we have briefly noticed in illustration.

In availing ourselves of the concentrated power accumulated in saltpetre, we resort to bodies which easily kindle when fire is applied, such as sulphur and finely powdered charcoal: these substances are most intimately mixed with the saltpetre in a powdered state, and the dampened mass subjected to great pressure is afterwards broken into grains of varied size, constituting gunpowder.

The substances thus added to the saltpetre have both the disposition and the power of burning with and decomposing the nitrous element of the saltpetre, and in so doing they do not simply open the way for the energetic action of the gases escaping, but, owing to the high temperature produced, a new force is added.

If the gases escaped from combination simply, they would exert for every cubic inch of saltpetre, as we have here considered it, the direct power of 12,000 lbs.; but under the new conditions, the volume of escaping gas has a temperature above 2,000 deg. Fahrenheit, and consequently its force in overcoming resistance is more than four times as great, or at least 48,000 lbs.

Such, then, is the power which can be obtained from a cubic inch of saltpetre, when it is so compounded as to form some of the kinds of gunpowder; and the fact of greatest importance in this connection is the control we have over the amount of the force exerted and the time in which the energy can be expended, by variations in the proportions of the eliminating agents employed.

We have used the well-known term Gunpowder to express the compound by which we easily obtain the power latent in saltpetre; and the use of the term suggests the employment of guns, which is secondary to the main point we are illustrating. As the enormous consumption of power takes place during peaceful times, so the consumption of saltpetre during a state of war is much lessened, because the prosecution of public and private works is then nearly suspended.

The value and importance of saltpetre as a source of power is seen in the adaptation of its explosive force to special purposes. It performs that work well which we cannot carry on so perfectly by means of any other agent, and the great mining and engineering works of a country are dependent on this source for their success, and for overcoming obstacles where other forces fail. With positive certainty the engineer can remove a portion of a cliff or rock without breaking it into many parts, and can displace masses to convenient distances, under all the varying demands which arise in the process of mining, tunnelling, or cutting into the earth.

In all these cases of application we see that the powder contains within itself both the material for producing force and the means by which that force is applied, no other motor being necessary in its application.

Modern warfare has become in its simplest expression the intelligent application of force, and that side will successfully overcome or resist the other which can in the shortest time so direct the greater force. In artillery as well as infantry practice, the control over the time necessary in the decomposition of the powder has been obtained through the refinements already made in the manufacture, and the best results of the latest trials confirm in full the conclusion that saltpetre is a source of great and easily controlled power, which can act through short or extended space.

Under the view here presented, it is evident that saltpetre is indispensable to progress in the arts of civilization and peace, as well as in military operations, and that no nation can advance in material interests, or even maintain strict independence, without possessing within its boundaries either saltpetre or the sources from which it can be drawn at all times. In its use for protecting the property of a nation from the attacks of an enemy, and as the means of insuring respect, we may consider saltpetre as an element of strength in a State, and as such deserving a high place in the consideration of those who direct the counsels or form the policy of a country.

Has the subject of having an exhaustless supply of this important product or the means of producing it been duly considered?

* * * * *

WEATHER IN WAR.

It is not very flattering to that glory-loving, battle-seeking creature, Man, that his best-arranged schemes for the destruction of his fellows should often be made to fail by the condition of the weather. More or less have the greatest of generals been "servile to all the skyey influences." Upon the state of the atmosphere frequently depends the ability of men to fight, and military hopes rise and fall with the rising and falling of the metal in the thermometer's tube. Mercury governs Mars. A hero is stripped of his plumes by a tempest, and his laurels fly away on the invisible wings of the wind, and are seen no more forever. Empires fall because of a heavy fall of snow. Storms of rain have more than once caused monarchs to cease to reign. A hard frost, a sudden thaw, a "hot spell," a "cold snap," a contrary wind, a long drought, a storm of sand,—all these things have had their part in deciding the destinies of dynasties, the fortunes of races, and the fate of nations. Leave the weather out of history, and it is as if night were left out of the day, and winter out of the year. Americans have fretted a little because their "Grand Army" could not advance through mud that came up to the horses' shoulders, and in which even the seven-league boots would have stuck, though they had been worn as deftly as Ariel could have worn them. They talked as if no such thing had ever before been known to stay the march of armies; whereas all military operations have, to a greater or a lesser extent, depended for their issue upon the softening or the hardening of the earth, or upon the clearing or the clouding of the sky. The elements have fought against this or that conqueror, or would-be conqueror, as the stars in their courses fought against Sisera; and the Kishon is not the only river that has through its rise put an end to the hopes of a tyrant. The condition of rivers, which must be owing to the condition of the weather, has often colored events for ages, perhaps forever. The melting of the snows of the Pyrenees, causing a great rise of the rivers of Northern Spain, came nigh bringing ruin upon Julius Caesar himself; and nothing but the feeble character of the opposing general saved him from destruction.

The preservation of Greece, with all its incalculable consequences, must be credited to the weather. The first attempt to conquer that country, made by the Persians, failed because of a storm that disabled their fleet. Mardonius crossed the Hellespont twelve or thirteen years before that feat was accomplished by Xerxes, and he purposed marching as far as Athens. His army was not unsuccessful, but off Mount Athos the Persian fleet was overtaken by a storm, which destroyed three hundred ships and twenty thousand men. This compelled him to retreat, and the Greeks gained time to prepare for the coming of their enemy. But for that storm, Athens would have been taken and destroyed, the Persians having an especial grudge against the Athenians because of their part in the taking and burning of Sardis; and Athens was destined to become Greece for all after-time, so that her as yet dim light could not have been quenched without darkening the whole world. When Xerxes himself entered Europe, and was apparently about to convert Hellas into a satrapy, it was a storm, or a brace of storms, that saved that country from so sad a fate, and preserved it for the welfare of all after generations of men. The Great King, in the hope of escaping "the unseen atmospheric enemies which howl around that formidable promontory," had caused Mount Athos to be cut through, but, as the historian observes, "the work of destruction to his fleet was only transferred to the opposite side of the intervening Thracian sea." That fleet was anchored on the Magnesian coast, when a hurricane came upon it, known to the people of the country as the Hellespontias, and which blew right upon the shore. For three days this wind continued to blow, and the Persians lost four hundred warships, many transports and provision craft, myriads of men, and an enormous amount of materiel. The Grecian fleet, which had fled before that of Persia, now retraced its course, believing that the latter was destroyed, and would have fled again but for the arts and influence of Themistocles. The sea-fights of Artemisium followed, in which the advantage was, though not decisively, with the Greeks; and that they finally retreated was owing to the success of the Persians at Thermopylae. Between the first and second battle of Artemisium the Persians suffered from another storm, which inflicted great losses upon them. These disasters to the enemy greatly encouraged the Greeks, who believed that they came directly from the gods; and they made it possible for them to fight the naval battle of Salamis, and to win it. So great was the alarm of Xerxes, who thought that the victors would sail to the Hellespont, and destroy the bridge he had thrown over that strait, that he ordered his still powerful fleet to hasten to its protection. He himself fled by land, but on his arrival at the Hellespont he found that the bridge had been destroyed by a storm; and he must have been impressed as deeply as Napoleon was in this century, that the elements had leagued themselves with his mortal enemies. After his flight, and the withdrawal of his fleet from the war, the Persians had not a chance left, and the defeat of his lieutenant Mardonius, at Plataea, was of the nature of a foregone conclusion.

It is not possible to exaggerate the importance of the assistance which the Greeks received from the storms mentioned, and it is not strange that they were lavish in their thanks and offerings to Poseidon the Saviour, or that they continued piously to express their gratitude in later days. Mankind at large have reason to be thankful for the occurrence of those storms; for if they had not happened, Greece must have been conquered, and all that she has been to the world would have been that world's loss. It was not until after the overthrow of the Persians that Athens became the home of science, literature, art, and commerce; and if Athens had been removed from Greece, there would have been little of Hellenic genius left for the delight of future days. Not only was most of that which is known as Greek literature the production of the years that followed the failure of Xerxes, but the success of the Greeks was the means of preserving all of their earlier literature. The Persians were not barbarians, and, had they achieved their purpose, they might have promoted civilisation in Europe; but that civilization would have been Asiatic in its character, and it might have been as fleeting as the labors of the Carthaginians in Europe and Africa. Nor would they have felt any interest in the preservation of the works of those Greeks who wrote before the Marathonian time, which they would have regarded with that contempt with which most conquerors look upon the labors of those whom they have enslaved. That most brilliant of ages, the age of Pericles, could never have come to pass under the dominion of Persia; and the Greeks of Europe, when ruled by satraps from Susa, would have been of as little weight in the ancient world as, under that kind of rule, were the Greeks of Ionia. All future history was involved in the decision of the Persian contest, and we may well feel grateful that the event was not left for the hands of men to decide, but that the winds and the waves of the Grecian seas so far equalized the power of the combatants as to enable the Greeks, who fought for us as well as for themselves, to roll back the tide of Oriental conquest. We might not have had even the Secession War, if there had been no storms in the Thracian seas in a summer the roses of which perished more than two thousand three hundred years ago.[A]

[Footnote A: When the Athenian patriots under Thrasybulus occupied Phyle, they would have been destroyed by the forces of the Thirty Tyrants, had not a violent snow-storm happened, which compelled the besiegers to retreat. The patriots characterized this storm as Providential. Had the weather remained fair, the patriots would have been beaten, the democracy would not have been restored, and we should never have had the orations of Demosthenes; and perhaps even Plato might not have written and thought for all after time.]

The modern contest which most resembles that which was waged between the Greeks and the Persians is that war between England and Spain which came to a crisis in 1588, when the Spanish Armada was destroyed by the tempests of the Northern seas, after having been well mauled by the English fleet. The English seamen behaved well, as they always do; but the Spanish loss would not have been irreparable, if the weather had remained mild. What men had begun so well storms completed. A contrary wind prevented the Spanish Admiral from pursuing his course in a direction that would have proved favorable to his second object, which was the preservation of his fleet. He was forced to stand to the North, so that he rushed right into the jaws of destruction. He encountered in those remote and almost unknown waters tempests that were even more merciless than the fighting ships and fireships of the island heretics. Philip II. bore his loss with the same calmness that he bore the victory of Lepanto. As, on hearing of the latter, he merely said, "Don John risked a great deal," so, when tidings came to him that the Invincible Armada had been found vincible, he quietly remarked, "I sent it out against men, and not against the billows." Down to the very last year, it had been the common, and all but universal opinion, that, if the Spaniards had succeeded in landing in England, they would have been beaten, so resolute were the English in their determination to oppose them, and so extensive were their preparations for resistance. Elizabeth at Tilbury had been one of the stock pieces of history, and her words of defiance to Parma and to Spain have been ringing through the world ever since they were uttered after the Armada had ceased to threaten her throne. We now know that the common opinion on this subject, like the common opinion respecting some other crises, was all wrong, a delusion and a sham, and based on nothing but plausible lies. Mr. Motley has put men right on this point, as on some others; and it is impossible to read his brilliant and accurate narrative of the events of 1588 without coming to the conclusion that Elizabeth was in the summer of that year in the way to receive punishment for the cowardly butchery which had been perpetrated, in her name, if not by her direct orders, in the great hall of Fotheringay. She was saved by those winds which helped the Dutch to blockade Parma's army, in the first instance, and then by those Orcadian tempests which smote the Armada, and converted its haughty pride into a by-word and a scoffing. The military preparations of England were of the feeblest character; and it is not too much to say, that the only parallel case of Governmental weakness is that which is afforded by the American history of last spring, when we had not an efficient company or a seaworthy armed ship with which to fight the Secessionists, who had been openly making their preparations for war for months. The late Mr. Richard Rush mentions, in the second series of his "Residence at the Court of London," that at a dinner at the Marquis of Lansdowne's, in 1820, the conversation turned on the Spanish Armada; and he was surprised to find that most of the company, which was composed of members of Parliament and other public men, were of the opinion that the Spaniards, could they have been landed, would have been victorious. With genuine American faith in English invincibility, he wondered what the company could mean, and also what the English armies would have been about. It was not possible for any one then to have said that there were no English armies at that time to be about anything; but now we see that those armies were but imaginary bodies, having not even a paper existence. Parma, who was even an abler diplomatist than soldier,—that is, he was the most accomplished liar in an age that was made up of falsehood,—had so completely gulled the astute Elizabeth that she was living in the fools' paradise; and so little did she and most of her counsellors expect invasion, that a single Spanish regiment of infantry might, had it then been landed, have driven the whole organized force of England from Sheerness to Bristol. Those Englishmen who sneer so bitterly at the conduct of our Government but a year ago would do well to study closely the history of their own country in 1588, in which they will find much matter calculated to lessen their conceit, and to teach them charity. The Lincoln Government of the United States had been in existence but little more than thirty days when it found itself involved in war with the Rebels; the Elizabethan Government had been in existence for thirty years when the Armada came to the shores of England, to the astonishment and dismay of those "barons bold and statesmen old in bearded majesty" whom we have been content to regard as the bravest and the wisest men that have lived since David and Solomon. Elizabeth, who had a beard that vied with Burleigh's,—the evidence of her virgin innocence,—felt every hair of her head curling from terror when she learned how she had been "done" by Philip's lieutenant; and old Burleigh must have thought that his mistress was in the condition of Jockey of Norfolk's master at Bosworth,—"bought and sold." Fortunately for both old women, and for us all, the summer gales of 1588 were adverse to the Spaniards, and protected Old England. We know not whence the wind cometh nor whither it goeth, but we know that its blows have often been given with effect on human affairs; and it never blew with more usefulness, since the time when it used up the ships of Xerxes, than when it sent the ships of Philip to join "the treasures that old Ocean hoards." Had England then been conquered by Spain, though but temporarily, Protestant England would have ceased to exist, and the current of history would have been as emphatically changed as was the current of the Euphrates under the labors of the soldiers of Cyrus. We should have had no Shakspeare, or a very different Shakspeare from the one that we have; and the Elizabethan age would have presented to after centuries an appearance altogether unlike that which now so impressively strikes the mind. As that was the time out of which all that is great and good in England and America has proceeded, in letters and in arms, in religion and in politics, we can easily understand how vast must have been the change, had not the winds of the North been so unpropitious to the purposes of the King of the South.

The English are very proud of the victories of Crecy and Agincourt, as well they may be; for, though gained in the course of as unjust and unprovoked and cruel wars as ever were waged even by Englishmen, they are as splendid specimens of slaughter-work as can be found in the history of "the Devil's code of honor." But they owe them both to the weather, which favored their ancestors, and was as unfavorable to the ancestors of the French. At Crecy the Italian cross-bow men in the French army not only came into the field worn down by a long march on a hot day in August, but immediately after their arrival they were exposed to a terrible thunder-storm, in which the rain fell in absolute torrents, wetting the strings of their bows, and rendering them unserviceable. The English archers, who carried the far more useful long-bow, kept their bows in their cases until the rain ceased, and then took them out dry, and in perfect condition; besides which, even if the strings of the long-bows had been wetted, they could not have been materially injured, as they were thin and pliable, while those of the cross-bows were so thick and unpliable that they could not be tightened or slackened at pleasure. In after-days this defect in the cross-bow was removed, but it existed in full force in 1346. When the battle began, the Italian quarrel was found to be worthless, because of the strings of the arbalists having absorbed so much moisture, while the English arrows came upon the poor Genoese in frightful showers, throwing them into a panic, and inaugurating disaster to the French at the very beginning of the action. The day was lost from that moment, and there was not a leader among the French capable of restoring it.

At Agincourt the circumstances were very different, but quite as fatal to the French. That battle was fought on the 25th of October, 1415, and the French should have won it according to all the rules of war,—but they did not win it, because they had too much valor and too little sense. A cautious coward makes a better soldier than a valiant fool, and the boiling bravery of the French has lost them more battles than any other people have lost through timidity. Henry V.'s invasion of France was the most wicked attack that ever was made even by England on a neighboring nation, and it was meeting with its proper reward, when French folly ruined everything. The French overtook the English on the 24th of October, and by judicious action might have destroyed them, for they were by far the more numerous,—though most English authorities, with characteristic "unveracity," grossly exaggerate the inequality of numbers that really did exist between the two armies. On the night of the 24th the rain fell heavily, making the ground quite unfit for the operations of heavy cavalry, in which the strength of the French consisted, while the English had their incomparable archers, the worthy predecessors of the English infantry of to-day, one of whom was calculated to do more efficient service than could have been expected, as the circumstances of the field were, from ten knights cumbered with bulky mail. Sir Harris Nicolas, the most candid English historian of the battle, and who prepared a very useful, but unreadable volume concerning it, after speaking of the bad arrangements adopted by the French, proceeds to say,—"The inconveniences under which the French labored were much increased by the state of the ground, which was not only soft from heavy rains, but was broken up by their horses during the preceding night, the weather having obliged the valets and pages to keep them in motion. Thus the statement of French historians may readily be credited, that, from the ponderous armor with which the men-at-arms were enveloped, and the softness of the ground, it was with the utmost difficulty they could either move or lift their weapons, notwithstanding their lances had been shortened to enable them to fight closely,—that the horses at every step sunk so deeply into the mud, that it required great exertion to extricate them,—and that the narrowness of the place caused their archers to be so crowded as to prevent them from drawing their bows." Michelet's description of the day is the best that can be read, and he tells us, that, when the signal of battle was given by Sir Thomas Erpingham, the English shouted, but "the French army, to their great astonishment, remained motionless. Horses and knights appeared to be enchanted, or struck dead in their armor. The fact was, that their large battle-steeds, weighed down with their heavy riders and lumbering caparisons of iron, had all their feet completely sunk in the deep wet clay; they were fixed there, and could only struggle out to crawl on a few steps at a walk," Upon this mass of chivalry, all stuck in the mud, the cloth-yard shafts of the English yeomen fell like hailstones upon the summer corn. Some few of the French made mad efforts to charge, but were annihilated before they could reach the English line. The English advanced upon the "mountain of men and horses mixed together," and butchered their immovable enemies at their leisure. Plebeian hands that day poured out patrician blood in torrents. The French fell into a panic, and those of their number who could run away did so. It was the story of Poitiers over again, in one respect; for the Black Prince owed his victory to a panic that befell a body of sixteen thousand French, who scattered and fled without having struck a blow. Agincourt was fought on St. Crispin's day, and a precious strapping the French got. The English found that there was "nothing like leather." It was the last battle in which the oriflamme was displayed; and well it might be; for, red as it was, it must have blushed a deeper red over the folly of the French commanders.

The greatest battle ever fought on British ground, with the exceptions of Hastings and Bannockburn,—and greater even than Hastings, if numbers are allowed to count,—was that of Towton, the chief action in the Wars of the Roses; and its decision was due to the effect of the weather on the defeated army. It was fought on the 29th of March, 1461, which was the Palm-Sunday of that year. Edward, Earl of March, eldest son of the Duke of York, having made himself King of England, advanced to the North to meet the Lancastrian army. That army was sixty thousand strong, while Edward IV. was at the head of less than forty-nine thousand. After some preliminary fighting, battle was joined on a plain between the villages of Saxton and Towton, in Yorkshire, and raged for ten hours. Palm-Sunday was a dark and tempestuous day, with the snow falling heavily. At first the wind was favorable to the Lancastrians, but it suddenly changed, and blew the snow right into their faces. This was bad enough, but it was not the worst, for the snow slackened their bow-strings, causing their arrows to fall short of the Yorkists, who took them from the ground, and sent them back with fatal effect. The Lancastrian leaders then sought closer conflict, but the Yorkists had already achieved those advantages which, under a good general, are sure to prepare the way to victory. It was as if the snow had resolved to give success to the pale rose. That which Edward had won he was resolved to increase, and his dispositions were of the highest military excellence; but it is asserted that he would have been beaten, because of the superiority of the enemy in men, but for the coming up, at the eleventh hour, of the Duke of Norfolk, who was the Joseph Johnston of 1461, doing for Edward what the Secessionist Johnston did for Beauregard in 1861. The Lancastrians then gave way, and retreated, at first in orderly fashion, but finally falling into a panic, when they were cut down by thousands. They lost twenty-eight thousand men, and the Yorkists eight thousand. This was a fine piece of work for the beginning of Passion-Week, bloody laurels gained in civil conflict being substituted for palm-branches! No such battle was ever fought by Englishmen in foreign lands. This was the day when

"Wharfe ran red with slaughter, Gathering in its guilty flood The carnage, and the ill-spilt blood That forty thousand lives could yield. Crecy was to this but sport, Poitiers but a pageant vain, And the work of Agincourt Only like a tournament. Half the blood which there was spent Had sufficed to win again Anjou and ill-yielded Maine, Normandy and Aquitaine."

Edward IV., it should seem, was especially favored by the powers of the air; for, if he owed victory at Towton to wind and snow, he owed it to a mist at Barnet. This last action was fought on the 14th of April, 1471, and the prevalence of the mist, which was very thick, enabled Edward so to order his military work as to counterbalance the enemy's superiority in numbers. The mist was attributed to the arts of Friar Bungay, a famous and most rascally "nigromancer." The mistake made by Warwick's men, when they thought Oxford's cognizance, a star paled with rays, was that of Edward, which was a sun in full glory, (the White Rose en soleil,) and so assailed their own friends, and created a panic, was in part attributable to the mist, which prevented them from seeing clearly; and this mistake was the immediate occasion of the overthrow of the army of the Red Rose. That Edward was enabled to fight the Battle of Barnet with any hope of success was also owing to the weather. Margaret of Anjou had assembled a force in France, Louis XI. supporting her cause, and this force was ready to sail in February, and by its presence in England victory would unquestionably have been secured for the Lancastrians. But the elements opposed themselves to her purpose with so much pertinacity and consistency that it is not strange that men should have seen therein the visible hand of Providence. Three times did she embark, but only to be driven back by the wind, and to suffer loss. Some of her party sought to persuade her to abandon the enterprise, as Heaven seemed to oppose it; but Margaret was a strong-minded woman, and would not listen to the suggestions of superstitious cowards. She sailed a fourth time, and held on in the face of bad weather. Half a day of good weather was all that was necessary to reach England, but it was not until the end of almost the third week that she was able to effect a landing, and then at a point distant from Warwick. Had the King-maker been the statesman-soldier that he has had the credit of being, he never would have fought Edward until he had been joined by Margaret; and he must have known that her non-arrival was owing to contrary winds, he having been himself a naval commander. But he acted like a knight-errant, not like a general, gave battle, and was defeated and slain, "The Last of the Barons." Having triumphed at Barnet, Edward marched to meet Margaret's army, which was led by Somerset, and defeated it on the 4th of May, after a hardly-contested action at Tewkesbury. It was on that field that Prince Edward of Lancaster perished; and as his father, Henry VI., died a few days later, "of pure displeasure and melancholy," the line of Lancaster became extinct.

In justice to the memory of a monarch, to whom justice has never been done, it should be remarked, in passing, that Edward IV. deserved the favors of Fortune, if talent for war insures success in war. He was, so far as success goes, one of the greatest soldiers that ever lived. He never fought a battle that he did not win, and he never won a battle without annihilating his foe. He was not yet nineteen when he commanded at Towton, at the head of almost fifty thousand men; and two months before he had gained the Battle of Mortimer's Cross, under circumstances that showed skillful generalship. No similar instance of precocity is to be found in the military history of mankind. His victories have been attributed to Warwick, but it is noticeable that he was as successful over Warwick as he had been over the Lancastrians, against whom Warwick originally fought. Barnet was, with fewer combatants, as remarkable an action as Towton; and at Mortimer's Cross Warwick was not present, while he fought and lost the second battle of St. Alban's seventeen days after Edward had won his first victory. Warwick was not a general, but a magnificent paladin, resembling much Coeur de Lion, and most decidedly out of place in the England of the last half of the fifteenth century. What is peculiarly remarkable in Edward's case is this: he had received no military training beyond that which was common to all high-born youths in that age. The French wars had long been over, and what had happened in the early years of the Roses' quarrel was certainly not calculated to make generals out of children. In this respect Edward stands quite alone in the list of great commanders. Alexander, Hannibal, the first Scipio Africanus, Pompeius, Don John of Austria, Conde, Charles XII., Napoleon, and some other young soldiers of the highest eminence, were either all regularly instructed in the military art, or succeeded to the command of veteran armies, or were advised and assisted by old and skilful generals. Besides, they were all older than Edward when they first had independent command. Gaston de Foix approaches nearest to the Yorkist king, but he gained only one battle, was older at Ravenna than Edward was at Towton, and perished in the hour of victory. Clive, perhaps, may be considered as equalling the Plantagenet king in original genius for war, but the scene of his actions, and the materials with which he wrought, were so very different from those of other youthful commanders, that no just comparison can be made between him and any one of their number.

The English have asserted that they lost the Battle of Falkirk, in 1746, because of the severity of a snow-storm that took place when they went into action, a strong wind blowing the snow straight into their faces; and one of the causes of the defeat of the Highlanders at Culloden, three months later, was another fall of snow, which was accompanied by wind that then blew into their faces. Fortune was impartial, and made the one storm to balance the other.

That the American army was not destroyed soon after the Battle of Long Island must be attributed to the foggy weather of the 29th of August, 1776. But for the successful retreat of Washington's army from Long Island, on the night of the 29th-30th, the Declaration of Independence would have been made waste paper in "sixty days" after its adoption; and that retreat could not have been made, had there not been a dense fog under cover of which to make it, and to deter the enemy from action. Washington and his whole army would have been slain or captured, could the British forces have had clear weather in which to operate. "The fog which prevailed all this time," says Irving, "seemed almost Providential. While it hung over Long Island, and concealed the movements of the Americans, the atmosphere was clear on the New York side of the river. The adverse wind, too, died away, the river became so smooth that the rowboats could be laden almost to the gunwale; and a favoring breeze sprang up for the sail-boats. The whole embarkation of troops, ammunition, provisions, cattle, horses, and carts, was happily effected, and by daybreak the greater part had safely reached the city, thanks to the aid of Glover's Marblehead men. Scarce anything was abandoned to the enemy, excepting a few heavy pieces of artillery. At a proper time, Mifflin with his covering party left the lines, and effected a silent retreat to the ferry. Washington, though repeatedly entreated, refused to enter a boat until all the troops were embarked, and crossed the river with the last." Americans should ever regard a fog with a certain reverence, for a fog saved their country in 1776.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse