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restored by calling in fresh candles, and declaring that the whole was nothing but a pantomime hoax, got up by the ingenious Mr Farley, of Covent Garden, from hints which his Royal Highness himself had furnished ! Then imagine the infinite applause that followed, the mutual rallyings, the declarations that they were not much frightened,” of the assembled galaxy.
The point of time in the picture exactly answers to the appearance of the transparency in the anecdote. The huddle, the flutter, the bustle, the escape, the alarm, and the mock alarm ; the prettinesses heightened by consternation; the courtier's fear which was flattery, and the lady's which was affectation ; all that we may conceive to have taken place in a mob of Brighton courtiers, sympathising with the well-acted surprise of their sovereign ; all this, and no more, is exhibited by the well-dressed lords and ladies in the Hall of Belus. Just this sort of consternation we have seen among a flock of disquieted wild geese at the report only of a gun having gone off!
But is this vulgar fright, this mere animal anxiety for the preservation of their persons,—such as we have witnessed at a theatre, when a slight alarm of fire has been given—an adequate exponent of a supernatural terror ? the way in which the finger of God, writing judgments, would have been met by the withered conscience? There is a human fear, and a divine fear. The one is disturbed, restless, and bent upon escape. The other is bowed down, effortless, passive. When the spirit appeared before Eliphaz in the visions of the night, and the hair of his flesh stood up, was it in the thoughts of the Temanite to ring the bell of his chamber, or to call up the servants ? But let us see in the text what there is to justify all this huddle of vulgar consternation,
From the words of Daniel it appears that Belshazzar had made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. The golden and silver vessels are gorgeously enumerated, with the princes, the king's concubines, and his wives. Then follows
“In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king's palace; and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king's countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosened, and his knees smote one against another.”
This is the plain text. By no hint can it be otherwise inferred, but that the appearance was solely confined to the fancy of Belshazzar, that his single brain was troubled. Not a word is spoken of its being seen by any else there present, not even by the queen · herself, who merely undertakes for the interpretation of the phenomenon, as related to her, doubtless, by her husband. The lords are simply said to be astonished ; i.e., at the trouble and the change of countenance in their sovereign. Even the prophet does not appear to have seen the scroll, which the king saw. He recals it only, as Joseph did the Dream to the King of Egypt. “Then was the part of the hand sent from him [the Lord], and this writing was written.” He speaks of the phantasm as past.
Then what becomes of this needless multiplication of the miracle? this message to a royal conscience, singly expressed—for it was said, “ thy kingdom is divided,” — simultaneously impressed upon the fancies of a thousand courtiers, who were implied in it neither directly nor grammatically?
But admitting the artist's own version of the story, and that the sight was seen also by the thousand courtiers -let it have been visible to all Babylon-as the knees of Belshazzar were shaken, and his countenance troubled, even so would the knees of every man in Babylon, and their countenances, as of an individual man, have been troubled ; bowed, bent down, so would they have remained, stupor-fixed, with no thought of struggling with that inevitable judgment.
Not all that is optically possible to be seen, is to be shown in every picture. The eye delightedly dwells upon the brilliant individualities in a “ Marriage at Cana,” by Veronese, or Titian, to the very texture and colour of the wedding garments, the ring glittering upon the bride's fingers, the metal and fashion of the wine-pots ; for at such seasons there is leisure and luxury to be curious. But in a “day of judgment,” or in a “day of lesser horrors, yet divine,” as at the impious feast of Belshazzar, the eye should see, as the actual eye of an agent or patient in the immediate scene would see, only in masses and indistinction. Not only the female attire and jewelry exposed to the critical eye of fashion, as minutely as the dresses in a lady's magazine, in the criticised picture,—but perhaps the curiosities of anatomical science, and studied diversities of posture in the falling angels and sinners of Michael Angelo,—have no business in their great subjects. There was no leisure for them.
By a wise falsification, the great masters of painting got at their true conclusions ; by not showing the actual appearances, that is, all that was to be seen at any given moment by an indifferent eye, but only what the eye might be supposed to see in the doing or suffering of some portentous action. Suppose the moment of the swallowing up of Pompeii. There they were to be seen-houses, columns, architectural proportions, differ