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But, as it appears to the writer of the present article, it has belonged to the acquirements and penetration of a countryman of our own, the ingenious and philosophical Darwin, to find the true meaning of the objects represented on this vase. Dr. Darwin published his Loves of the Plants about the year 1788, and in 1792 he added, to that fantastic poem, the poem of the Economy of Vegetation, counting both under the single title of the Bo. tanic Garden. In the second canto of the Economy of Vegetation, the poet has given a description of the Portland Vase, superadding to his verse an extensive note. The subject is introduced by a philosophical theory of the production of clay earths, in. cluding a view of the manufacture of porcelain in China and Italy, and a deserved compliment to Mr. Wedgwood :
Gnomes ! as you pass'd beneath the labouring soil,
Hence ductile Clays in wide expansion spread,
First China's sons, with early art elate,
ETRURIA! next teneath thy magic hands
GNOMES! as you now dissect with hammers fine
· Charm'd by your touch, the flint liquescent pours
Through finer sieves, and falls in whiter show'rs : ;
To call the pearly Drops from Pity's eye,
Or bid Mortality rejoice and mourn
Here by fall’n columns and disjoind arcades,' .
... Economy OP VEGETATION, Canto 11. 1. 340. In the note, this interpretation is dwelt on at length :- The celebrated funeral vase, long in the possession of the Barberini family, and lately purchased by the Duke of Portland før, a thousand guineas,' is about ten inches high and six in diameter in the broadest part. The figures are of most exquisite workmanship in bas-relief of white opake glass, raised on a ground of deep blue glass, which appears black, except when held against the light.
* This is the same story with that of the purchase by the Duke of Marlborough, an explanation of which has been given above. GEN, CHRON. VOL. IV. NO, XIV. Pc
Mr. Wedgwood is of opinion from many circumstances that the figures have been made by cutting away the external crust of white opake glass, in the manner the finest cameos have been produced, and that it must thence have been the labour of a great many years. Some antiquarians have placed the time of its production many centuries hefore the Christian æra; as sculpture was said to have been declining in respect to its excellence in the time of Alexander the Great. See an account of the Barberini or Portland vase by M. D'Hancarville, and by Mr. Wedgwood.
Many opinions and conjectures have been published concering the figures on this celebrated vase. Having carefully ex. amined one of Mr. Wedgwood's beautiful copies of this wonderful production of art, I shall add one more conjecture to the number.
* Mr. Wedgwood has well observed that it does not seem probable that the Portland vase was purposely made for the ashes of any particular deceased, because many years must have been necessary for its production. Hence it may be concluded, that the subject of its embellishments is not private history, but of a general nature. This subject appears to me to be well chosen, and the story to be finely told, and that it represents - what in ancient times engaged the attention of philosophers, poets, and heroes, I mean a part of the Eleusinian mysteries.
· These mysteries were invented in Ægypt, and afterwards ! transferred to Greece, and flourished more particularly at Athens, which was at the same time the seat of the fine arts. They consisted of scenical exhibitions representing and inculcating the expectation of a future life after death, and on this account were encouraged by the government, insomuch that the Athenian laws punished a discovery of their secrets with death. Dr. Warburton has with great learning and ingenuity shewn that the descent of Æneas into hell, described in the Sixth Book of Virgil, is a poetical account of the representations of the future state in the Eleusinian mysteries. Divine Legation, Vol. 1. p. 210.
And though some writers have differed in opinion from Dr. Warburton on this subject, because Virgil has introduced some of his own heroes into the Elysian fields, as Deiphobus, Palinurus, and Dido, in the same manner as Homer had done before him, yet it is agreed, that the received notions about a future state were -exhibited in these mysteries, and as these poets described those teceived notions, they may be said, as far as these religious doctrines were concerned, to have described the mysteries. - Now as these were emblematic exhibitions, they must have been as well adapted to the purposes of sculpture as of poetry, which indeed does not seein to have been uncommon, since one
compartment of figures in the shield of Æneas represented the regions of Tartarus. Æn. Lib. x. The procession of torches which according to M. De St. Croix was exhibited in these mysteries, is still to be seen in basso relievo, discovered by Spon and Wheeler. Mémoires sur les Mystères par de St. Croix, 1784. And it is very probable that the beautiful gem representing the marriage of Cupid and Psyche, as he described by Apuleius, was originally descriptive of another part of the exhibitions in these mysteries, though afterwards it became a common subject of ancient art. See Divine Legat. Vol. 1. p. 323. What subject could have been imagined so sublime for the ornaments of a funeral urn as the mortality of all things and their resuscitation ? Where could the designer be supplied with emblems for this purpose, before the Christian æra, but from the Eleusinian mysteries ?
'1. The exhibitions of the mysteries were of two kinds, those which the people were permitted to see, and those which were only shown to the initiated. Concerning the latter, Aristides calls them “ the most shocking and most ravishing representations." And Stobæus asserts that the initiation into the grand mysteries exactly resembles death. Divine Legat. Vol. 1. p. 280, and p. 272. And Virgil, in his entrance to the shades below, amongst other things of terrible form, meutions death. Æn. vi. This part of the exhibition seems to be represented in one of the compartments of the Portland Vase. "
* Three figures of exquisite workmanship are placed by the side of a ruined column whose capital is fallen off, and lies at their feet with other disjointed stones ; they sit on loose piles of stone beneath a tree, which has not the leaves of an evergreen of this climate, but may be supposed to be an elm, which Virgil places near the entrance of the infernal regions, and adds, that a dream was believed to dwell under every leaf of it. Æn. vi. 1. 281. In the midst of this group reclines a female figure in a dying attitude, in which extreme languor is beautifully represented : in her hand is an inverted torch, an ancient emblem of extinguished life; the elbow of the same arm, resting on a stone, supports ber as she sinks, while the other hand is raised and thrown over her drooping head, in some measure sustaining it, and gives with great art the idea of fainting lassitude. On the right of her sits a man, and on the left a woman, both supporting themselves on their arms, as people are liable to do when they are thinking intensely. They have their back towards the dying figure, yet with their faces turned towards her, as if seriously contemplating her situation, but without stretching out their hands to assist her. 16 This central figure then appears to me to be an hieroglyphic,
or Eleusinian emblem, of MORTAL LIFE, that is, the lethum, or death, mentioned by Virgil amongst the terrible things exhibited at the beginning of the mysteries. The inverted torch shows the figure to be emblematic; if it had been designed to represent a real person in the act of dying, there had been no necessity for the expiring torch, as the dying figure alone would have been sufficiently intelligible ;-it would have been as absurd as to have put an inverted torch into the hand of a real person at the time of his expiring. Besides, if this figure had represented a real dying person, would not the other figures, or one of them at least, have stretched out a hand to support her, to have eased her fall among loose stones, or to have smoothed her pillow? These circumstances evince that the figure is an emblem, and therefore could not be a representation of the private history of any particular family or event. • The man and woman on each side of the dying figure must be considered as emblems, both from their similarity of situation and dress to the middle figure, and their being grouped along with it. These, I think, are hieroglyphic or Eleusinian emblenıs of HUMAN KIND, with the hacks towards the dying figure of MORTAL Life, unwilling to associate with her, yet turning their serious and attentive countenances, curious indeed to behold, yet sorry to contemplate, their latter end. These figures bring strongly to one's mind the Adam and Eve of sacred writ, whom some have sup posed to have been allegorical or hieroglyphic persons of Ægyp tian origin, but of more ancient date, amongst whom I think is Dr. Warburton. According to this opinion, Adam and Eve were the names of two hieroglyphic figures representing the early state of mankind; Abel was the name of an hieroglyphic figure representing the age of pasturage, and Cain the name of another hieroglyphic symbol representing the age of agriculture, at which
time the uses of iron were discovered. And as the people who · cultivated the earth and built houses would increase in numbers much faster by their greater production of food, they would readily conquer or destroy the people who were sustained by pasturage, which was typified by Cain slaying Abel.
62. On the other compartment of this celebrated vase is exhibited an emblem of immortality, the representation of which was well known to constitute a very principal part of the shows at the Eleusinian mysteries, as Dr. Warburton has proved by variety of authority. The habitation of spirits or ghosts after death was supposed by the ancients to be placed beneath the earth, where i Pluto reigned, and dispensed rewards or punisliments. Hence the first figure in this group is of the MANES or Ghost, who having passed through an open portal is indescending into a