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We must now bid farewell to our story-telling knight. He, who wishes to take a brief view of human existence, may, in Sir Richard Barckley, behold it under every variety of shape and accident, in its pride and glory, its weakness and credulity, its misery and decay. We have only to add, that the conclusion the author comes to is, that “to worship and glorifie God in this life, that we may be joined to him in the world to come, is our beatitude or summum bonum.”
ART. VIII. Satyrical Characters and handsome Descriptions in · Letters, written to several Persons of Quality, by Monsieur De
Cyrano Bergerac. Translated from the French, by a Person of Honor. London, 1658.,
The extraordinary productions of the intellectual as well as of the material world, engage our attention by their very eccentricity—it is as much the business of the philosopher to observe the course of the comet,'or the wandering star, as of the planet-each, in its degree, contributes to the extension of science. The speculations of the philosopher may be more grave and weighty, but the singular fabrications of the imaginative faculty are of equal use in ascertaining the essential nature of mind. Cyrano Bergerac is a marvellously strange writerhis character, too, was out of the common way. His chief passion appears to have been duelling; and, from the numerous affairs of honor in which he was concerned in the course of a very short life, and the bravery which he displayed on those occasions, he acquired the cognomen of The Intrepid. His friend and editor Le Bret, says he was engaged in no less than one hundred duels for his friends, and not one on his own account. Others however say, that, happening to have a nose somewhat awry, whoever was so unfortunate or so rash as to laugh at it, was sure to be called upon to answer its intrepid owner in the field. But however this may be, it is indisputable that Cyrano was a distinguished monomachist and a most eccentric writer. His productions abound with antithetical thoughts and corruscations of wit, pointed, angular, and sparkling, as the fragments of a broken pillar of ice when the sun shines upon them. Considering plagiarism as bad as high-way robbery, and infinitely worse than manslaughter, it is probable he made it a matter of conscience not to appropriate even his share of the ideas and sentiments common to all men, but formed a resolution of writing like nobody who had preceded him. The present collection was the offspring of his youthful years—the outpourings of his virgin fancies—the May of his intellect,
vol. I. PART II.
ng like ed offspries the
-which from her green lap throws
The yellow cowslip and the pale primrose: it is indeed pregnant with all the rank luxuriance of a rich and unturned soil. It displays prodigious vivacity of mind, which, like a burning glass, collects a thousand scattered rays to one point. Let but a thought present itself, and he straight chases it through all its possible turnings and doublings, till he fairly loses himself in the meanderings of his own fancy-his whole soul is animated with the wild spirit of joy-he actually reels with delight. He possessed a singular cast of wit, which surprises us with the most unheard of resemblances—the most novel discordances, but he mingles them, however, with the most exquisite observation of nature, and the most beautiful imaginations—The false, the affected, and the true, alternately and in such rapid succession, as scarcely to be severed, “ take the prison'd senses and lap 'em in elysium.” Such is the vigor, and such the vagaries, of Cyrano. What we shall extract may be considered as mere sports of fancy-strange things told in a strange way; and we are willing that they should be so considered.
Hear part of his description of Winter.
“Winter is a six-months' death fallen upon one whole side of the globe, which we cannot escape; 'tis a short old-age of things animated; 'tis a being that hath no action, which never comes neer us (be we
fine slender bodye, shrink up, become hard, and hasten to close its passages, to baricadoe a million of invisible dores, and to cover them with little mountaines : it is moved, contends, and blushing gives this for excuse, that its shiverings are sallies that it purposely makes to beat off the enemy from its out-works. Finally, 'tis a miracle that we resist the destiny of all living creatures. This tyrant is not content to silence our birds, to strip our trees, to cut Ceres's locks, nay, and her eares to boot, and to have left our grand-mother stark naked and bare; but that we might not fly by water to a more temperate climate, he hath enclosed them with diamant walls; and least the rivers by their motion should have caused some heat to helpe us, he hath made them fast to their beds. But he exceeds all this; for to affright us by the very image of prodigies which he invents for our destruction, he makes us mistake the ice for a hardened light, a petrified day, a solid nothing, or some horrible monster whose body is nothing but an eye. The Seine at first, affrighted at the teares of heaven, was troubled, and fearing some more sad disaster would have befallen her inhabitants, stopt her course, and kept herselfe in a readinesse upon occasion to assist us. Mankind, being likewise terrified at the prodigies of this horrible season, gather from it presages proportionable to their feares; if it snow, they presently imagine the milky way is dissolving, that the heavens foame for madnesse at the losse of it, and that the earth, out of care to her children, for feare becomes gray. They fancy likewise,
the universe to be a great tart, that this monster (winter) strowes sugar upon, intending to devoure it; that the snow is the foame of the plants that' dye mad; and conclude that the cold winds are the last sighs of languishing nature. I myselfe, that use to interpret all things for the best, and that in another season should have perswaded myselfe, that the snow was the vegetative milk, that the planets suckled the plants withall, or the crumbs that after grace fall from God Almighty's table, am now carried away with the torrent of examples. If it hail, I cry out, what punishments are reserved for us sinners, since the innocent heavens (are gravelled?] Would I describe those frozen winds, so great, that they overwhelm towers and castles, and yet so small, that they are invisible; I cannot imagine what to call them, unlesse the blustrings of some divells broke loose, which, having binne benum'd under ground, run about to catch themselves a heat. Every thing that is like winter puts me into a fright; I cannot endure a looking glasse because of its resemblance with ice, I shun physitians because they are called snowie or gray doctors, and I can convict the cold of many murders; for, in most of the howses in Paris where I have seen jelly, * there hath been a dying person.”
* gelée,-frost or jelly. And of Spring :
“Weepe no more, faire weather is returned; the sunne is reconciled to mankind, and his heat hath made winter find his leggs, as benum'd as they weré; he hath lent him onely strength enough to run away, and those long nights that seemed to goe but a step in an hour, (for being in the darke they durst not run) are as farre from us as the first that layed Adam to sleep. The aire, not long since so condens'd by the frost, that there was not room enough for the birds, seems now to be but a great imaginary space, where shrill musitians (hardly supported by our thoughts) appeare in the skye like little worlds, ballanced by their proper centre: there were no colds in the country whence they came, for here they chatter sweetly. Lord! what a noise they make! doubtlesse they are at law for those lands, Winter, at his death, made them heires of. This jealous old tyrant, not content to have rung all creatures, had frozen the very rivers, that they might not produce so much as their images; and maliciously turned the quicksilver of those running looking glasses towards them, which had so continued if the Spring at his returne had not rectified them.”
“Nature brings forth in all places, and her children as they are borne, play in their cradles. Consider the Zephyrus which dares hardly breathe in fear, how she playes and courts the corne. One would think the grasse the haire of the earth, and this wind a combe that is carefull to untangle it. I think the very sunne woes this season, for I have observed that wheresoever he retires, he still keeps close to her. Those insolent northern winds that braved us in the absence of this god of tranquillity, (surprized at his coming)unite themselves to his rayes, to obtaine his pardon by their caresses, and those that are greater offenders hide themselves in his atomes, and are quiet for feare of being discovered: all things that are not hurtfull enjoy a free life, nay our very soul wanders beyond her confines, to show she is not under restraint. I think nature's at a wedding, we see nothing but dances, feasts, and balls; and he that should seek a quarrell, would not have the contentment to find one, unlesse those that arise amongst the flowers contending for beauty; where 'tis possible you may see a bloudy pink, newly come from combat, fall with wearinesse; there a rosebud, sweld by the ill successe of his antagonist, blowes for joy; there the lilly, that collosse amongst flowers, that curded giant, proud to see his image triumph in the Loire, raises himselfe above his fellowes, looks down upon them, and makes the violet prostrate herselfe at his feet; which being jealous and angry, that she cannot rise to the same heighth, doubles her sweetnesse, that our noses may give her that precedency which our eyes deny her; there, a bunch of time humbles itself before the tulip, because she beares a chalice; in another place, the earth, vext that the trees carry the blossomes and flowers she hath crowned them withall so high and remote from her, refuses to give them any fruits till they have return'd her her flowers."
A few more of his pleasant extravagancies on Summer, and we have done with the seasons.
“For my part, I know not henceforward what posture this poor god [the sun] can put himself into to please us: he sends the birds to give us good-morrow with their musick, he hath warm'd our bathes, and doth not invite us to them, till he hath first plunged himself in to see if there be any danger. What could he adde to all these honours, unlesse to eat at our table? And judge you what he seeks when he is never neerer our houses than at noon. After all this, sir, do you complain that he dryes up the humours of our rivers ? Alas, were it not for this attraction, what would have become of us? The floods, the lakes, and the fountains, have sucked up all the water that made the earth fertile; and we are angry that, to the hazard of giving the middle region the dropsie, hee undertakes to draine 'em, and walks the clouds, those great watring-pots, over us, with which he quenches the thirst of our fields, at a season in which he is so much taken with our beauties, that he endevours to see us naked. I cannot imagine, if hee did not attract a great quantity of water to cool his raies, how he could kisse us without burning us; but whatsoever we pretend, we have alwayes water enough to spare, for when the canicular, by his heat, leaves us but precisely enough for our necessities, hath he not taken care the dogs should run mad, for feare they should drinke any from us?"
**** * * * Besides, if he intended to burn us, he would not send the dew to cool and refresh us; that blessed dew, that makes us believe, by his infinite drops of light, that the torch of the world is in the dust in our fields; that a million of little heavens are fallen upon the earth, or that it is the soul of the universe, that, knowing not what honour to render to his father, goes out to meet and receive him on the tops of odoriferous flowers. The country-fellow, he thinks they are silver-lice falne from the sun's head, which he combs in the morning; anotherwhile, he believes the sweat of the aire, corrupted by heat, hath bred these glittering wormes; or takes it for the spittle that falls from the planets' mouths as they sleep: to conclude, let it be what it will, it imports not. Were they amorous tears, her grief becomes her too well to afflict us: besides, this is a time that nature puts all her treasures into our powers; the sun in person waites on the beds of Ceres, and every eare of corne seems a bakehouse of little milky loaves which he hath taken the paines to bake. If any one complaines that his too long stay with us makes our leaves and fruits yellow, let him know that this monarque of the starres does it to make our climate the garden of the Hesperides, by giving golden leaves to the trees as well as golden fruits : notwithstanding all this, 'tis to little purpose for him to heate himselfe in his zodiak with the lyon; he cannot stay four and twenty houres with the virgin, but hee'l be enamoured ;-hee'l every day grow colder, &c. &c.
What a fantastic yet agreeable description have we of the shadow of trees in the water, upon which Cyrano seems to have gazed, until his own head swam with delight.
“ Lying on my belly upon the green banck of a river, and my back strecht under the branches of a willow that views himselfe in it, I see the history of Narcissus renued in the trees: a hundred poplars tumble a hundred other poplars into the stream, and these aquatiques were so frighted at the fall, that they tremble still every day for feare of a wind that touches them not. I imagine, that night having made all things black, the sun plunged them in the river to wash them. But what shall I say of this liquid glasse, this little world turn'd topsie-turvy, that places the oakes under the mosse, and the heavens lower then the oakes? Are they not of those virgins formerly metamorphos'd into trees, that still finding their chastity violated by the kisses of Apollo, desperatly cast themselves into the floud with their head formost; or is it not Apollo himselfe, who, offended that they durst keep the aire from him, hath thus hanged them by the feet. Now the fish walke in the woods, and whole forrests in the midst of the water without wetting themselves : there's an old elme amongst the rest would make you laugh, which doth almost loll on the other side, to the end that this image taking the same posture, he might make of his body and his shaddow an angle for the fish: the river is not ingratefull to the willowes for their visites; she hath made the universe, bor'd through, transparent, lest the down of her head should foule their branches; and not content to have made crystall with mud, she hath vaulted the heavens and the planets underneath, that it might not be said, that those that visited her were deprived of the light which they forsook for her. Now we may look downe on the heavens, and by her the light may brag, that, as weak as he is at four in the morning, he has the power to precipitate the heavens into the deep: but admire the power that the lower region of the soul exercises