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melancholy, abstracted disposition, is a superstition as connected with an anxious and feverish apprehension of futurity—a feeling which, though ridiculed at one time, reasoned down at another, and stubbornly denied upon all, has, in one shape or other, greater weight with most men than any is willing to admit of himself, or ready to believe in another. Men of the most different habits and characters in other respects, resemble each other in the practice of nursing in secret some pet superstition, the belief of which, though often painful to them, they cherish the more fondly in secret, that they dare not for shame avow it in public ; so that many more people than the world in general is aware of, hold similar opinions with that of a distinguished sea-officer of our acquaintance, who, having expressed his general disbelief of all the legends of Davy Jones, Flying Dutchmen, and other mystic terrors of the deep, summed up his general infidelity on the subject with these qualifying words,“one would not, to be sure, whistle in a gale of wind.” The reader will easily imagine that we do not allude to the superstition of the olden time, which believed in spectres, fairies, and other supernatural apparitions. These airy squadrons have been long routed, and are banished to the cottage and the nursery. But there exists more than one species of superstition entirely distinct from that which sees phantoms, a disease or weakness of the mind— not to be cured by Dr Alderson, or analyzed by VOL. XVIII. Y
Dr Hibbert—amongst which is pre-eminent that which supposes our mind receives secret intimations of futurity by accidents which appear mysteriously indicative of coming events, by impulses to which the mind seems involuntarily subjected, and which seem less to arise from its own reflections, than to be stamped and impressed on the thoughts by the agency of some separate being ;-this constitutes the peculiar superstition of the hero of the Omen. The events which he meets are all of a natural and ordinary character in themselves; it is the sensations of the augur by whom they are interpreted, which give them an ominous character. This tendency to gaze beyond the curtain which divides us from futurity, has been the weakness of many distinguished names. Buonaparte secretly believed in the influence of his star—Byron had more than one point of superstitious faith—Sheridan had that horror of doing any thing on a Friday, which is yet common among the vulgar; and he took his late son Tom away from Dr Parr's school, because he had dreamed he had fallen from a tree and broken his neck. Other instances might be produced; some are no doubt affected, because to entertain a strange and peculiar belief on particular subjects, looks like originality of thinking, or, at least, attracts attention, like the wearing a new and whimsical dress in order to engage public notice. But those whom we have named were too proud, and stood too high to have recourse to such arts; they are the genuine disciples, to a certain
extent, of the mystic philosophy which the author
of the Omen thus describes. “Why are we so averse to confess to one another, how much we in secret acknowledge to ourselves, that we believe the mind to be endowed with other faculties of perception than those of the corporeal senses? We deride with worldly laughter the fine enthusiasm of the conscious spirit that gives heed and credence to the metaphorical intimations of prophetic reverie, and we condemn as superstition the faith which consults the omens and oracles of dreams; and yet, who is it that has not in the inscrutable abysses of his own bosom an awful worshipper, bowing the head, and covering the countenance, as the dark harbingers of destiny, like the mute and slow precursors of the hearse, marshal the advent of a coming woe 2 “It may be that the soul never sleeps, and what we call dreams, are but the endeavours which it makes during the trance of the senses, to reason by the ideas of things associated with the forms and qualities of those whereof it then thinks. Are not, indeed, the visions of our impressive dreams often but the metaphors with which the eloquence of the poet would invest the cares and anxieties of our waking circumstances and rational fears 2 But still the spirit sometimes receives marvellous warnings; and have we not experienced an unaccountable persuasion, that something of good or of evil follows the visits of certain persons, who, when the thing comes to pass, are found to have had neither affinity with the circumstances, nor influence on the event 2 The hand of the horologe indexes the movements of the planetary universe; but where is the reciprocal enginery between them 2 “These reflections into which I am perhaps too prone to fall, partake somewhat of distemperature and disease, but they are not therefore the less deserving of solemn consideration.—The hectical flush, the palsied hand, and the frenzy of delirium, are as valid, and as efficacious in nature, to the fulfilment of providential intents, as the glow of health, in the masculine arm, and the sober inductions of philosophy.—Nor is it wise, in considering the state and frame of man, to overlook how much the universal element of disease affects the evolutions of fortune. Madness often babbles truths which make wisdom wonder.”
The facts by which this theory is illustrated are few and simple. The author is one of those whose “sense of being is derived from the past;" who
do not look forward to form splendid pictures of the future, but dote, with the constancy of infatuation, on those which exist in the gallery of memory. He does not form his conjectures of the future by comparing it with that which is present, but by auguries derived from events long passed, and deeply engraved upon the tablets of recollection.
These are of a solemn mystic air and tragic character. His infant years recall a vision of a splendid mansion, disturbed by signs of wo and violence, and the joyous remembrances of his childish play are interrupted by recollection of a wounded gentleman, and a lady distracted by sorrow. There are traces of a journey—the travellers, says the author,
“arrive at the curious portal of a turreted manorial edifice: I feel myself lifted from beside my companion, and fondly pressed to the bosom of a venerable matron, who is weeping in the dusky twilight of an ancient chamber, adorned with the portraits of warriors. A breach in my remembrance ensues; and then the same sad lady is seen reclining on a bed, feeble, pale, and wasted, while sorrowful damsels are whispering and walking softly around.”
The author then finds himself residing by the sea-side, under charge of an old lady. Here he meets a solitary stranger who resides in the neighbourhood, and notices the child with much and mixed emotion; but being apparently recognised by Mrs Oswald, he disappears from the neighbourhood, and Mrs Oswald, finding the boy retained deeper impressions concerning his infantine years than she thought desirable, sets out with the purpose of placing him at school. In their journey they met a magnificent but deserted mansion; and the manner in which the author describes the reflections thus
awakened, forms a good specimen of the style and tone of the whole work.
“In seeking my way alone back to the vestibule, I happened to enter a large saloon, adorned with pictures and mirrors of a princely magnitude. Finding myself in error, I was on the point of retiring, when my eye caught a marble table, on which stood a French clock between two gilded Cupids. The supporters of the table were curiously carved into such chimerical forms as belong only to heraldry and romance. As I looked around at the splendid furniture with wonder and curiosity, something in the ornaments of that gorgeous table arrested my attention, and made a chilly fear vibrate through my whole frame. I trembled as if a spectre of the past had been before me, claiming the renovation of an intimacy and communion which we had held together in some pre-Adamite state of being. Every object in that chamber I had assuredly seen in another time; but the reminiscence which the sight of them recalled fluttered my innocent imagination with fear.
“A door, opposite to that by which I had entered, led to the foot of a painted marble staircase. I moved tremblingly towards it, filled with an unknown apprehension and awe. I could no longer doubt I was in the same house where, in infancy, I had witnessed such dismay and sorrow; but all was dim and vague; much of the record was faded, and its import could not be read. The talisman of memory was shattered, and but distorted lineaments could be seen of the solemn geni who, in that moment, rose at the summons of the charm, and showed me the distracted lady and the wounded gentleman, whose blood still stained the alabaster purityof the pavement on which I was again standing.”
He makes no stay at this mansion, but is placed at a private school, where he forms an acquaintance with Sydenham, the natural son of a person of high rank, and goes down to his father's house with him to spend the holidays. Here occurs one of those touches of scenery and description, well drawn and not overcharged, which we consider as evincing the author's taste as well as his powers.