Sivut kuvina

“Come and behold the most moving spectacle which the world can exhibit- the death of the faithful. The dying Christian is no longer a man of this world; he belongs no farther to his country; all his relations with society have ceased. For him the calculations of time are closed, and the great era of eternity has commenced. A priest seated beside his bed pours the consolations of religion into his dying ear: the holy minister converses with the expiring penitent on the immortality of the soul; and that sublime scene which antiquity presented but once in the death of the greatest of her philosophers, is renewed every day at the couch where the humblest Christian expires.

“At length the supreme moment arrives : one sacrament has opened the gates of the world, another is about to close them ; religion rocked the cradle of existence; its sweet strains and its maternal hand will lull it to sleep in the arms of death. It prepares the baptism of a second existence; but it is no longer with water, but oil, the emblem of celestial incorruption. The liberating sacrament dissolves, one by one, the chords which attach the faithful to this world: the soul, half escaped from its earthly prison, is almost visible to the senses, in the smile which plays around his lips. Already he hears the music of the seraphim ; already he longs to fly to those regions, where hope divine, daughter of virtue and death, beckons him to approach. At length the angel of peace, descending from the heavens, touches with his golden sceptre his wearied eyelids, and closes them in delicious repose to the light. He dies; and so sweet has been his departure, that no one has heard his last sigh ; and his friends, long after he is no more, preserve silence round his couch, still thinking that he slept : so like the sleep of infancy is the death of the just."— Vol. i. 69, 71.

It is against pride, as every one knows, that the chief efforts of the Catholic Church have always been directed, because they consider it as the source of all other crime. Whether this is a just view may, perhaps, be doubted, to the extent at least to which they carry it; but there can be but one opinion as to the eloquence of the apology which Chateaubriand makes for this selection.

“In the virtues preferred by Christianity, we perceive the same knowledge of buman nature. Before the coming of Christ, the soul of man was a chaos; but no sooner was the Word heard, than all the elements arranged themselves in the moral world, as, at the same divine inspiration they had produced the marvels of material creation. The virtues ascended like pure fires into the heavens; some, like brilliant suns, attracted the regards by their resplendent light; others, more modest, sought the shade, where nevertheless their lustre could not be concealed. From that moment an admirable balance was established between the forces and the weaknesses of existence. Religion directed its thunders against pride, the vice which is nourished by the virtues; it discovers it in the inmost recesses of the heart, and follows it out in all its metamorphoses; the sacraments in a lioly legion march against it, while humility, clothed in sackcloth and ashes, its eyes downcast and bathed in tears, becomes one of the chief virtues of the faithful.”. Vol. i. 74.

On the tendency of all the fables concerning creation to remount to one general and eternal truth, our author presents the following reflections :

“After this exposition of the dreams of philosophy, it may seem useless to speak of the fancy of the poets. Who does not know Deucalion and Pyrrha, the age of gold and of_iron? What innumerable traditions are scattered through the earth! In India, an elephant sustains the globe; the sun in Peru has brought forth all the marvels of existence; in Canada, the Great Spirit is the father of the world ; in Greenland, man has emerged from an egg; in fine, Scandinavia has beheld the birth of Askur and Emla; Odin has poured in the breath of life, Hænerus reason, and Loedur blood and beauty.

* Askum et Emlam omni conatu destitutos
Animam nec possidebant, rationem nec habebant
Nec sanguinem, nec sermonem, nec faciem venustam.
Animam dedit Odinus, rationem dedit Hænerus,

Loedur sanguinem addidit et faciem venustam.' “ In these various traditions, we find ourselves placed between the stories of children and the abstractions of philosophers ; if we were obliged to choose, it were better to take the first.

“But to discover the original of the picture in the midst of so many copies, we must recur to that which, by its unity and the perfection of its parts, unfolds the genius of a master. It is that which we find in Genesis, ihe original of all those pictures which we see reproduced in so many different traditions. What can be at once more natural and more magnificent-more easy to conceive, and more in unison with human reason, than the Creator descending amidst the night of ages to create light by a word ? In an instant, the sun is seen suspended in the heavens, in the midst of an immense azure vault; with invisible bonds he envelops the planets, and whirls them round his burning axle; the sea and the forests appear on the globe, and their earliest voices arise to announce to the universe that great marriage, of which God is the priest, the earth the nuptial couch, and the human race the posterity.”—Vol. i. 97, 98.

On the appearance of age on the globe, and its first aspect when fresh from the hands of the Creator, the author presents an hypothesis more in unison with the imagination of a poet than the observations of a philosopher, on the gradual formation of all objects destined for a long endurance. He supposes that everything was at once created as we now see it.

"It is probable that the Author of nature planted at once aged forests and their youthful progeny; that animals arose at the same time, some full of years, others buoyant with the vigour and adorned with the grace of youth. The oaks, while they pierced with their roots the fruitful earth, without doubt bore at once the old nests of rooks, and the young progeny of doves. At once grew a chrysalis and a butterfly; the insect bounded on the grass, suspended its golden egg in the forests, or trembled in the undulations of the air. The bee, which had not yet lived a morning, already counted the generations of flowers by its ambrosia—the sheep was not without its lamb, the doe without its fawns. The thicket already contained the nightingales, astonished at the melody of their first airs, as they poured forth the new-born effusion of their infant loves.

" Had the world not arisen at once young and old, the grand, the serious, the impressive would have disappeared from nature ; for all these sentiments depend for their very essence on ancient things. The marvels of existence would have been unknown. The ruined rock would not have hung over the abyss beneath ; the woods would not have exhibited that splendid variety of trunks bending under the weight of years, of trees hanging over the bed of streams. The inspired thoughts, the venerated sounds, the magic voices, the sacred horror of the forests, would have vanished with the vaults which serve for their retreats ; and the solitudes of earth and heaven would have remained naked and disenchanted in losing the columns of oaks which united them. On the first day when the ocean dashed against the shore, he bathed, be assured, sands bearing all the marks of the action of his waves for ages ; cliffs strewed with the eggs of innumerable sea-fowl, and rugged capes which sustained against the waters the crumbling shores of the earth.

“Without that primeval age, there would have been neither pomp nor majesty in the work of the Most High; and, contrary to all our conceptions, nature in the innocence of man would have been less beautiful than it is now in the days of his corruption. An insipid childhood of plants, of animals, of elements, would have covered the earth, without the poetical feelings which now constitute its principal charm. But God was not so feeble a designer of the grove of Eden as the incredulous would lead us to believe. Man, the sovereign of nature, was born at thirty years of age, in order that his powers should correspond with the full-grown magnificence of his new empire,while his consort, doubtless, had already passed her sixteenth spring, though yet in the slumber of nonentity, that she might be in harmony with the flowers, the birds, the innocence, the love, the beauty of the youthful part of the universe.”—Vol. i. 137, 138.

In the rhythm of prose, these are the colours of poetry; but still this was not to all appearance the order of creation. And here, as in many other instances, it will be found that the deductions of experience present conclusions more sublime than the most fervid imagination has been able to conceive. Everything announces that the great works of nature are carried on by slow and insensible gradations ; continents, the abode of millions, are formed by the confluence of innumerable rills ; vegetation, commencing with the lichen and the moss, rises at length into the riches and magnificence of the forest. Patient analysis, philosophical discovery, have now taught us that it was by the same slow progress that the great work of creation was accomplished. The fossil remains of antediluvian ages have laid open the primeval works of nature ; the long period which elapsed before the creation of man, the vegetables which then covered the earth, the animals which sported amidst its watery wastes, the life which first succeeded to chaos, all stand revealed. To the astonishment of mankind, the order of creation, unfolded in Genesis, is proved by the contents of the earth beneath every part of its surface to be precisely that which has actually been followed; the days of the Creator's workmanship turn out to be the days of the Most High, not of His uncreated subjects, and to correspond to ages of our ephemeral existence ; and the great sabbath of the earth took place, not, as we imagined, when the sixth sun bad set after the first morning had beamed, but when the sixth period had expired, devoted by Omnipotence to the mighty undertaking. God then rested from his labours, because the great changes of matter, and the successive production and annihilation of different kinds of animated existence, ceased ; creation assumed a settled form, and laws came into operation destined for indefinite endurance. Chateaubriand said truly, that to man, when he first opened his eyes on paradise, nature appeared with all the majesty of age as well as all the freshness of youth ; but it was not in a week, but during a series of ages, that the magnificent spectacle had been assembled ; and for the undying delight of his progeny, in all future years, the powers of nature for countless time had been already exerted.

The fifth book of the Génie du Christianisme treats of the proofs of the existence of God, derived from the wonders of material nature ; in other words, of the splendid subject of natural theology. On such a subject, the observations of a mind so stored with knowledge, and gifted with such powers of eloquence, may be expected to be something of extraordinary excellence. Though the part of his work, accordingly, which treats of this subject, is necessarily circumscribed, from the multitude of others with which it is overwhelmed, it is of surpassing beauty, and superior in point of description to anything which has been produced on the same subject by the genius of Britain.

“ There is a God! The herbs of the valley, the cedars of the mountain, bless Him, the insect sports in His beams—the elephant salutes Him with the rising orb of the day--the bird sings Him in the foliage—the thunder proclaims Him in the heavens—the ocean declares His immensity-man alone has said, “There is no God!'

" Unite in thought, at the same instant, the most beautiful objects in nature; suppose that you see at once all the hours of the day, and all the seasons of the year; a morning of spring and a morning of autumn; a night bespangled with stars, and a night covered with clouds; meadows enamelled with flowers, forests hoary with snow ; fields gilded by the tints of autumn; then alone you will have a just conception of the universe. While you are gazing on that sun which is plunging under the vault of the west, another observer admires him emerging from the gilded gates of the East. By what unconceivable magic does that aged star, which is sinking fatigued and burning in the shades of the evening, reappear at the same instant fresh and humid with the rosy dew of the morning? At every instant of the day the glorious orb is at once rising-resplendent at noonday, and setting in the west; or rather our senses deceive us, and there is, properly speaking, no east, or south, or west in the world. Everything reduces itself to one single point, from whence the King of Day sends forth at once a triple light in one single substance. The bright splendour is perhaps that which nature can present that is most beautiful; for while it gives us an idea of the perpetual magnificence and resistless power of God, it exhibits, at the same time, a shining image of the glorious Trinity."

The instincts of animals, and their adaptation to the wants of their existence, have long furnished one of the most interesting subjects of study to the naturalist, and of meditation to the devout observer of creation. Chateaubriand has painted, with his usual descriptive powers, one of the most familiar of these examples-

" What ingenious springs move the feet of a bird ? It is not by a contraction of muscles dependent on his will that he maintains himself firm upon a branch ; his foot is constructed in such a way that when it is pressed in the centre, the toes close of their own accord upon the body which supports it. It results from this mechanism, that the talons of the bird grasp more or less firmly the object on which it has alighted, in proportion to the agitation, more or less violent, which it has received. Thus, when we see at the approach of night, during winter, the crows perched on the scathed summit of an aged oak, we suppose that, watchful and attentive, they maintain their place with pain during the rocking of the winds; and yet, heedless of danger, and mocking the tempest, the winds only bring them profounder slumber. The blasts of the north attach them more firmly to the branch, from whence we every instant expect to see them precipitated; and like the old seaman, whose hammock is suspended to the roof of his vessel, the more he is tossed by the winds, the more profound is his repose.”— Vol. i. 147, 148.

“Amidst the different instincts which the Sovereign of the universe bas implanted in nature, one of the most wonderful is that which every year brings the fish of the Pole to our temperate region. They come, without once mistaking their way, through the solitude of the ocean, to reach, on a fixed day, the stream where their hymen is to be celebrated. The spring prepares on our shores their nuptial pomp; it covers the billows with verdure, it spreads beds of moss in the waves to serve for curtains to its crystal couches. Hardly are these preparations completed when the enamelled legions appear; the animated navigators enliven our coasts; some spring aloft from the surface of the waters, others balance themselves on the waves, or diverge from a common centre like innumerable flashes of gold; these dart obliquely their shining bodies athwart the azure fluid, while others sleep in the rays of the sun, which penetrates beneath the dancing surface of the waves. All, sporting in the joys of existence, meander, return, wheel about, dash across, form in squadron, separate, and reunite; and the inhabitant of the seas, inspired by a breath of existence, pursues with bounding movements its mate, by the line of fire which is reflected from her in the stream." - Vol. i. 152, 153.

Chateaubriand's mind is full not only of the images, but the sounds, which attest the reign of animated nature.

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