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one was not spun from the thin air of imagination. Music has a real influence on animals; in spite of theories to the contrary, it is probable that the sweet flute-playing of the snakecharmer-his "sweet charming" in Biblical phrase is no mere piece of theatrical business, but a veritable aid in obtaining the desired results. I myself could once attract field-mice by playing on the violin, and only the other day, on the road near my house at Salô, I noticed that a goat manifested signs of wishing to stop before a grind-organ; its master pulled the string by which it was led, but it tugged at it so persistently that, at last, he stopped, and the goat, turning round its head, listened with evident attention. Independently of the pleasure music may give to animals, it excites their curiosity, a faculty which is extremely alive in them, as may be seen by the way in which small birds are attracted by the pretty antics of the little Italian owl; they cannot resist going near to have a better view, and so they rush to their doom upon the limed sticks.
Legends have an inner and an outer meaning; the allegory of Apollo, Lord of Harmony, would have been incomplete had it lacked the beautiful incident of a nature-peace, partial indeed, but still a fairer triumph to the god than his Olympian honors. For nine years he watched the sheep of Admetus, as Euripides describes:
Pythian Apollo, master of the lyre, Who deigned to be a herdsman and among
Thy flocks on hills his hymns celestial sung;
And his delightful melodies to hear Would spotted lynx and lions fierce
They came from Othrys' immemorial shade,
By charm of music tame and harmless
And the swift, dappled fawns would there resort,
From the tall pine woods and about him sport.
When Apollo gave Orpheus his lyre, he gave him his gift "to soothe the savage breast." In the splendid Pompeian fresco showing a nature-peace, the bay-crowned, central figure is said to be Orpheus, though its god-like proportions suggest the divinity himself. At any rate, nothing can be finer as the conception of an inspired musician; the whole body sings, not only the mouth. A lion and a tiger sit on either side; below, a stag and a wild boar listen attentively, and a little hare capers near the stream. In the upper section there are other wild boars sporting round an elephant, while oxen play with a tiger; an anticipation of the ox and tiger in Rembrandt's "Garden of Eden."
The power of Orpheus to subdue wild beasts was one reason why the early Christians took him as a type of Christ. Of all the prophecies which were believed to refer to the Messiah none so captivated the popular mind as those which could be interpreted as referring to his recognition by animals. The four Gospels which became the canon of the Church threw no light on the subject, but the gap was filled up by the uncanonical books; one might think that they were written principally for the purpose of dwelling on this theme, so frequently do they return to it. In the first place, they bring upon the scene those dear objects of our childhood's affection, the ass and the ox of the stable of Bethlehem. Surely many of us cherish the impression that ass and ox rest on most orthodox testimony; an idea which is certainly general in Catholic countries, though, the other day, I heard of a French priest who was heartless enough to declare that they
were purely imaginary. "Alas," as Voltaire said, "people run after truth!" As a matter of fact, it appears evident that the ass and the ox were intro duced to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah: "The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master's manger, but Israel knoweth me not." But there arose what was thought a difficulty; the apocryphal Gospels in harmony with the earliest traditions place the birth of Christ, not in a stable, but in the grotto which is still shown to travellers. To reconcile this with the legend of the ass and ox and also with the narrative of St. Luke, it was supposed that the Holy Family moved from the grotto to a stable a few days after the Child was born. This is a curious case of finding a difficulty where there was none, for it is very likely that the caves near the great Khan of Bethlehem were used as stables. In every primitive country shepherds shelter themselves and their flocks in holes in rocks; I remember the “uncanny" effect of a light flickering in the depths of a Phoenician tomb near Cagliari; it was almost disappointing to hear that it was only a shepherd's fire.
Thomas, "the Israelite philosopher," as he called himself, author of the "Pseudo-Thomas" which is said to date from the second century, appears to have been a Jewish convert belonging to one of the innumerable "heretical" sects of the earliest times. It may be guessed, therefore, that the "Pseudo-Thomas" was first written in Syriac, though the text we possess is in Greek. It is considered the model on which all the other Gospels of the Infancy were founded, but the Arabic variant contains so much divergent matter as to make it probable that the writer drew on some other early source which has not been preserved. Mahomet was acquainted with this Arabie gospel and Mahometans have not
ceased to venerate the sycamore-tree at Matarea (rather dilapidated now) under which the Arabic evangelist states that the Virgin and Child rested. The "Pseudo-Thomas" contains some vindictive stories, which were modified or omitted in the other versions; probably they are all to be traced to Elisha and his she-bears; a theory which I offer to those who cannot imagine how they arose. A curious feature in these writings is the scarcity of anything actually original; the most original story to be found in them is that of how, when the boys of Nazareth made clay sparrows, little Jesus clapped his hands and caused his sparrows to fly away. This pretty legend penetrated into the folk-lore even of remote Iceland. Notwithstanding the fulminations of Councils, the apocryphal Gospels were never suppressed; they enjoyed an enormous popularity during the Middle Ages, and many details derived solely from these condemned books have crept into the "Aurea Legenda" and other strictly orthodox works.
The "Little Child" of Isaiah's proph ecy was the cause of troops of wild beasts being convoked to attend the Infant Christ. Lions acted as guides for the flight into Egypt; it is mentioned that not only did they respect the Holy Family but also the asses and oxen which carried their baggage. Besides, the lions, leopards and other creatures "wagged their tails with great reverence" (though all these animals are not of the dog species, but of the cat, in which wagging the tail signifies the reverse of content).
This is the subject of an old English ballad:
And when they came to Egypt's land.. Amongst those fierce wild beasts, Mary, she being weary,
Must needs sit down and rest. "Come, sit thee down," said Jesus, "Come, sit thee down by me,
And thou shalt see how these wild beasts
Do come and worship me."
First to come was the "lovely lion," king of all wild beasts and for our instruction the moral is added: "We'll choose our virtuous princes of birth and high degree." Sad rhymes they are, uor, it will be said, is the sense much better; yet, hundreds of years ago in English villages, where, perhaps, only one man knew how to read, this doggerel served the end of the highest poetry; it transported the mind into an ideal region; it threw into the English landscape deserts, lions, a Heavenly Child; it stirred the heart with the romance of the unknown; it whispered to the soul:
The pseudo-gospel of Matthew relates an incident which refers to a later period in the Holy Childhood. According to this narrative, when Jesus was eight years old he went into the den of a lioness which frightened travellers on the road by the Jordan. The little cubs played round his feet while the older lions bowed their heads and fawned on him. The Jews who saw it from a distance, said that Jesus or his parents must have committed mortal sin for him to go into the lion's den. But coming forth, he told them that these lions were better behaved than they; and then he led the wild beasts across the Jordan and commanded them to go their way, hurting no one, neither should any one hurt them till they had returned to their own country. So they bade him farewell with gentle roars and gestures of respect.
These stories are innocent and they are even pretty, for all stories of great, strong animals and little children are
pretty. But they fail to reveal the slightest apprehension of the deeper significance of a peace between all creatures. Turn from them to the wonderful lines of William Blake:
And there the lion's ruddy eyes
And walking round the fold
From our immortal day.
And now beside thee, bleating lamb,
My bright mane for ever
As I guard o'er the fold.
No one but Blake would have written this, and few things that he wrote are so characteristic of his genius. The eye of the painter seizes what the mind of the mystic conceives, and the poet surcharges with emotion words which, like the Vedic hymns, infuse thought rather than express it.
A single passage in the New Testament connects Christ with wild animals; in St. Mark's Gospel we are told that after his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, where "He was with the wild beasts, and the angels ministered unto Him." In the East the idea of the anchorite who leaves the haunts of men for the haunts of beasts was already fabulously old. In the Western world of the Roman empire it was a new idea, and perhaps on that account, while it excited the horror of those who were faithful to the former order of things, it awoke an extraordinary enthusiasm among the more ardent votaries of the new faith. It led to the discovery of the inebriation of solitude, the powerful stimulus of a
life with wild nature. Many tired brain-workers have recourse to mountain ascents as a restorative, but these can rarely be performed alone, and high mountains with their immense horizons tend to overwhelm rather than to collect the mind. But to wander alone in a forest, day after day, without particular aim, drinking in the pungent odors of growing things, fording the ice-cold streams, meeting no one but a bird or a hare this will leave a memory as of another existence in some enchanted sphere. have tasted an ecstasy that cities cannot give. We have tasted it and we have come back into the crowded 'places, and it may be well for us that we have come back, for not to all is given to walk in safety alone with their souls.
Of one of the earliest Christian anchorites in Egypt it is related that for fifty years he spoke to no one; he roamed in a state of nature, flying from the monks who attempted to approach him. At last he consented to answer some questions put by a recluse whose extreme piety caused him to be better received than the others. To the question of why he avoided mankind, he replied that those who dwelt with men could not be visited by angels. After saying this, he vanished again into the desert. I have observed that the idea of renouncing the world was not a Western idea; yet, at the point where it touches madness, it had already penetrated into the West-we know where to find its tragic record:
weak human creatures that came among them, and who were ready to give that responsive sympathy which is the sustaining ichor of life.
The same causes produce the same effects; man may offer surprises but Wherever there are solitaries, there are friendships between the recluse and the wild beast. All sorts of stories of lions and other animals that were on friendly terms with the monks of the desert have come down to us in the legends of the Saints, and as soon as the hermit appears in Europe, his four-footed friends appear with him. For intance, there was the holy Karileff who tamed a buffalo. Karileff was a man of noble lineage who took up his abode with two companions in a clearing in the woods on the Marne, where he was soon surrounded by all sorts of wild things. Amongst these was a buffalo, one of the most intractable of beasts in its wild state, but this buffalo became perfectly tame, and it was a charming sight to see the aged saint stroking it softly between its horns. Now it happened that the king, who was Childebert, son of Clovis, came to know that there was a buffalo in the neighborhood, and forthwith he ordered a grand hunt. The buffalo, seeing itself lost, fled to the hut of its holy protector, and when the huntsmen approached they found the monk standing in front of the animal. The king was furious, and swore that Karileff and his brethren should leave the place forever; then he turned to go, but his horse would not move one step.
Ego vitam agam sub altis Phygiae This filled him with what was more
Ubi cerva silvicultrix, ubi aper nemorivagus?
The point of madness would have been reached more often but for the charity of the stag and the wild boar and the lion and the buffalo, who felt à sort of compassion for the harmless,
likely panic fear than compunction-he lost no time in asking the saint for his blessing, and he presented him with the whole domain, in which an abbey was built and ultimately a town, the present Saint-Calais. On another occasion, the same Childebert was hunting a hare, which took refuge under
the habit of St. Marculphe; the king's huntsman rudely expostulated, and the monk surrendered the hare, but, lo and behold, the dogs would not continue the pursuit and the huntsman fell off his horse!
Evidently there is only a slight element of the miraculous in these legends, and none at all in others, such as the story of Walaric, who fed little birds and bade the monks not to approach or frighten his "little friends" while they were picking up the crumbs which he threw to them. Passing by many examples of the same kind, we come to St. Francis of Assisi, who, in some respects, stands alone.
How St. Francis tamed the wolf of Gubbio is the most famous, if not altogether the most credible, of the animal stories related of him. That wolf was a quadruped without morals; not only had he eaten kids, but also men. All attempts to kill him failed, and the townsfolk were afraid of venturing outside the walls even in broad daylight. One day St. Francis, against the advice of all, went out to have a serious talk with the wolf. He soon found him, and "Brother Wolf," he said, "you have eaten not only animals but men made in the image of God, and certainly you deserve the gallows; nevertheless, I wish to make peace between you and these people, brother Wolf, so that you may offend them no more, and neither they nor their dogs shall attack you." The wolf seemed to agree, but the saint wished to have a distinct proof of his solemn engagement to fulfil his part in the peace, whereupon the wolf stood up on his hind legs and laid his paw on the saint's hand. Francis then promised that the wolf should be properly fed for the rest of his days, "for well I know," he said, kindly, "that all your evil deeds were caused by hunger"upon which text several sermons might be preached, for truly many a sinner
may be reformed by a good dinner and by nothing else. The contract was kept on both sides, and the wolf lived happily for two years, "nutricato cortese, mente dalla gente," at the end of which he died of old age, sincerely mourned by all the inhabitants.
If any one decline to believe in the wolf of Gubbio, why he must be left to his invincible ignorance. But there are other tales in the "Fioretti" and in the "Legenda Aurea" which are no wise hard to believe. What more likely than that Francis, on meeting a youth who had wood-doves to sell, looked at the birds "con l'occhio pietoso," and begged the youth not to give them into the cruel hands that would kill them? The young man, "inspired by God," gave the doves to the saint, who held them against his breast, saying, "O, my sisters, innocent doves, why did you let yourselves be caught? Now will I save you from death and make nests for you, so that you may increase and multiply according to the commandment of our Creator." Schopenhauer mentions, with emphatic approval, the Indian merchant at the fair of Astrachan who, when he has a turn of good luck, goes to the market-place and buys birds, which he sets at liberty. The holy Francis not only set his doves free, but thought about their future, a refinement of benevolence which might "almost have persuaded" the humane though crusty old philosopher to put on the Franciscan habit.
(At this point I chance to see from my window a kitten in the act of annoying a rather large snake. It is a coiled-up snake; probably an Itongo. It requires a good five minutes to induce the kitten to abandon its quarry and to convey the snake to a safe place under the myrtles. This being done, I resume my pen.)
I have remarked that in some re spects the Saint of Assisi stands apart