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or a tablet on which it writes; clearly and sublimely if the wax be smooth and the strings true, grotesquely and wildly if they are stained and broken. And thus the “Iliad,” the “Inferno,” the “Pilgrim's Progress,” the “Faërie Queen,” are all of them true dreams; only the sleep of the men to whom they came was the deep, living sleep which God sends, with a sacredness in it as of death, the revealer of secrets. Now observe in this matter, carefully, the difference between a dim mirror and a distorted one; and do not blame me for pressing the analogy too far, for it will enable me to explain my meaning every way more clearly. Most men's minds are dim mirrors, in which all truth is seen, as St. Paul tells us, darkly: this is the fault most common and most fatal; dulness of the heart and mistiness of sight, increasing to utter hardness and blindness; Satan breathing upon the glass, so that, if we do not sweep the mist laboriously away, it will take no image. But, even so far as we are able to do this, we have still the distortion to fear, yet not to the same extent, for we can in some sort allow for the distortion of an image, if only we can see it clearly. And the fallen human soul, at its best, must be as a diminishing glass, and that a broken one, to the mighty truths of the universe around it; and the wider the scope of its glance, and the vaster the truths into which it obtains an insight, the more fantastic their distortion is likely to be, as the winds and the vapors trouble the field of the telescope most when it reaches farthest. It is not, however, in every symbolical subject that the fearful grotesque becomes embodied to the full. The element of distortion which affects the intellect when dealing with subjects above its proper capacity, is as nothing compared with that which it sustains from the direct impressions of terror. It is the trembling of the human soul in the presence
of death which most of all disturbs the images on the intellectual mirror, and invests them with the fitfulness and ghastliness of dreams. And from the contemplation of death, and of the pangs which follow his footsteps, arise in men's hearts the troop of strange and irresistible superstitions, which, more or less melancholy or majestic according to the dignity of the mind they impress, are yet never without a certain grotesqueness, following on the paralysis of the reason and over-excitement of the fancy. I do not mean to deny the actual existence of spiritual manifestations; I have never weighed the evidence upon the subject; but with these, if such exist, we are not here concerned. The grotesque which we are examining arises out of that condition of mind which appears to follow naturally upon the contemplation of death, and in which the fancy is brought into morbid action by terror, accompanied by the belief in spiritual presence, and in the possibility of spiritual apparition. Hence are developed its most sublime, because its least voluntary, creations, aided by the fearfulness of the phenomena of nature which are in any wise the ministers of death, and primarily directed by the peculiar ghastliness of expression in the skeleton, itself a species of terrible grotesque in its relation to the perfect human frame. Thus, first born from the dusty and dreadful whiteness of the charnel house, but softened in their forms by the holiest of human affections, went forth the troop of wild and wonderful images, seen through tears, that had the mastery over our Northern hearts for so many ages. The powers of sudden de struction lurking in the woods and waters, in the rocks and clouds;—kelpie and gnome, Lurlei and Hartz spirits; the wraith and foreboding phantom; the spectra of second sight; the various conceptions of avenging or tormented ghost, haunting the perpetrator of crime, or expiating its commis. sion; and the half fictitious and contemplative, half visionary and believed images of the presence of death itself, doing its daily work in the chambers of sickness and sin, and waiting for its hour in the fortalices of strength and the high places of pleasure;—these, partly degrading us by the instinctive and paralysing terror with which they are attended, and partly ennobling us by leading our thoughts to dwell in the eternal world, fill the last and the most important circle in that great kingdom of dark and distorted power, of which we all must be in some sort the subjects until mortality shall be swallowed up of life; until the waters of the last fordless river cease to roll their untransparent volume between us and the light of heaven, and neither death stand between us and our brethren, nor symbols between us and our God.
If then, ridding ourselves as far as possible of prejudices owing merely to the school-teaching which remains from the system of the Renaissance, we set ourselves to discover in what races the human soul, taken all in all, reached its highest magnificence, we shall find, I believe, two great families of men, one of the East and South, the other of the West and North: the one including the Egyptians, Jews, Arabians, Assyrians, and Persians; the other I know not whence derived, but seeming to flow forth from Scandinavia, and filling the whole of Europe with its Norman and Gothic energy. And in both these families, wherever they are seen in their ut most nobleness, there the grotesque is developed in its utmost energy; and I hardly know whether most to admire the winged bulis of Nineveh, or the winged dragons of Verona.
The charts of the world which have been drawn up by modern science have thrown into a narrow space the expres. sion of a vast amount of knowledge, but I have never yet seen any one pictorial enough to enable the spectator to imagine the kind of contrast in physical character which exists between northern and southern countries. We know the differences in detail, but we have not that broad glance and grasp which would enable us to feel them in their fulness We know that gentians grow on the Alps, and olives on the Apennines; but we do not enough conceive for ourselves that varigated mosaic of the world's surface which a bird sees in its migration, that difference between the district of the gentian and of the olive which the stork and the swallow see far off, as they lean upon the sirocco wind. Let us, for a moment, try to raise ourselves even above the level of their flight, and imagine the Mediterranean lying beneath us like an irregular lake, and all its ancient promontories sleeping in the sun; here and there an angry spot of thunder, a grey stain of storm, moving upon the burning field; and here and there a fixed wreath of white volcano smoke, surrounded by its circle of ashes; but for the most part a great peacefulness of light, Syria and Greece, Italy and Spain, laid like pieces of golden pavement into the sea-blue, chased, as we stoop near to them, with bossy beaten work of mountain chains, and glowing softly with terraced gardens, and flowers heavy with frankincense, mixed among masses of laurel, and orange, and plumy palm, that abate with their grey-green shadows the burning of the marble rocks, and of the ledges of porphyry sloping under lucent sand. Then let us pass farther towards the north, until we see the orient colors change gradually into a vast belt of rainy green, where the pastures of Switzerland, and poplar valleys of France, and dark forests of the Danube and Carpathians stretch from the mouths of the Loire to those of the Volga, seen through clefts in grey swirls of rain-cloud and flaky veils of the mist of the brooks, spreading low along the pasture lands: and then, farther north still, to see the earth heave into mighty masses of leaden rock and heathy moor, bordering with a broad waste of gloomy purple that belt of field and wood, and splintering into irregular and grisly islands amidst the north ern seas, beaten by storm, and chilled by ice-drift, and tormented by furious pulses of contending tide, until the roots of the last forests fail from among the hill ravines, and the hunger of the north wind bites their peaks into barrenness, and, at last, the wall of ice durable like iron, sets, deathlike, its white teeth against us out of the polar twilight. And, having once traversed in thought this gradation of the zoned iris of the earth in all its material vastness, let us go down nearer to it, and watch the parallel change in the belt of animal life: the multitudes of swift and brilliant creatures that glance in the air and sea, or tread the sands of the southern zone; striped zebras and spotted leopards, glistening serpents, and birds arrayed in purple and scarlet. Let us contrast their delicacy and brilliancy of color, and swiftness of motion, with the frost-cramped strength, and shaggy covering, and dusky plumage of the northern tribes; contrast the Arabian horse with the Shetland, the tiger and leopard with the wolf and bear, the antelope with the elk, the bird of paradise with the osprey; and then, submissively acknowledging the great laws by which the earth and all that it bears are ruled throughout their being, let us not condemn, but rejoice in the expression by man of his own rest in the statutes of the land that gave him birth. Let us watch him with reverence as he sets side by side the burning gems, and smooths with soft sculpture the jasper pillars, that are to reflect a ceaseless sunshine, and rise into a cloudless sky; but not with less reverence let us stand by him, when, with rough strength and hurried stroke, he smites an uncouth animation out of the rocks which he has torn from among the moss of the moorland, and heaves into the darkened air the pile of iron buttress and rugged wall, instinct with work of an imagination as wild and wayward as the northern sea, creations of ungainly shape and rigid limb,