They have never recovered the blow given them by the invidious heaviness of the Puritans. But to make amends, we have refined on some of their pleasures; have multiplied others, as in the case of the theatres; and we possess an overflow of their own favourite reading, such as their poets might have envied us. If the great and good Pope now reigning for such he seems to be, in spite of some official drawbacks has goodness enough to feel the wish, and could ever find greatness enough in him to dare to venture the act, of summoning a new Council of the Church, that should set on its altar this pure and unadulterated attraction of all hearts, instead of the unseemly manufactures of Councils of Trent and Priests of St.
Januarius, he would give St. But to return from these altitudes. The story of [Pg 13] King Robert, we beg leave to say, is an especial delight of our soul, and gave us some exquisite moments in the writing. How came Shakspeare to let such a subject escape him? It was extant in manuscript; it abounded, under another name, in print; it presented the most striking dramatic points; extremes of passion were in the characters; pride and its punishment were in it; humility and its reward; a court, a chapel, an angel; pomp, music, satire, buffoonery, sublimity, tears.
O Fate! There is not, we will venture to say, a single portion of our Jar, which does not contain appropriate reading for Christmas. The first chapter concerns the Arabian Nights ; and every little boy knows that the Arabian Nights are reading for all seasons, particularly holidays. The second chapter is full of the Fairy Tales of Antiquity; things which people used to relate round their fires during the ancient Saturnalia, just as our ancestors used to do at Christmas, and as boys read them still.
And the Saturnalia were not only, to the ancients, what the Christmas holidays are to us, but [Pg 14] the veritable parents and progenitors of those holidays, as every antiquary knows. Such was the pastime, he tells us, at that season, of the best-informed circles at Rome. Our third chapter contains, among other Saturnalian subjects, the story of the truly Christmas-like personage, Gellias, one of the wittiest and most hospitable of entertainers, a noble-hearted merchant-prince, who kept seven hundred gallons of wine in his house, and was famous for making his workmen happy.
Our fourth and fifth chapters, besides some Saturnalian stories, include an account of an ancient holiday, full of gossip, and show, and leafy boughs, together with a vast deal of Pastoral,—a summer recollection, to which Christmas has always been fond of reverting, at least in books and among the poets; probably on the principle of extremes meeting, and by a happy rule of contraries. The seventh brings us, through Italian Pastoral, to the Christmas poetical entertainments of our ancestors.
In the eighth and ninth we are in the Old English Poetical Works. In the eleventh with the Bees. In the twelfth with the musical services of the Church, with cheerful pieties of all sorts, and with the jovial Sicilian poet, Meli, one of the most universal of men. Some persons have fancied that our book would be too learned!
The most unlearned of such readers as we hope to possess will see what a notion this is, and to what plain English all our Greek and Latin has turned. We have the greatest contempt for learning, merely so called; together with the greatest respect for it when it sees through the dead letter of time and words into the spirit that concerns all ages and all descriptions of men.
Every clever unlearned man in England, rich and poor, if we had the magic to do it, should be gifted to-morrow with all the learning that would adorn and endear his commerce to him, his agriculture, and the poorest flower-pot at his window. It would satisfy the longings that are born with such a man, and are natural to his powers; and would enable him, while he no longer envied such right parliamentary quoters of [Pg 16] Virgil as the Minister, or Macaulay, or Sir Robert, or Brougham, or Lord Ellesmere, or Lord Morpeth, or Fox, to laugh at such educated ignoramuses as A, B, and C, who, though the classics were beaten into their heads at school, have no more real taste for what they quote, than the wall has for the pictures that are hung upon it with nail and hammer.
Spirit is everything, and letter is nothing; except inasmuch as it is a vehicle for spirit. What would the best claret be to one that could not perceive the odour of it?
May we take, by the way, a Saturnalian liberty, and ask Members of Parliament why they quote no language but Latin, and in Latin no writers but Virgil and Horace? Also, two passages from Ovid, one in praise of the Fine Arts, and another about preferring wrong pursuits to right perceptions. But French has lately been thought worthy of cultivation, even at public schools; almost every man of rank speaks it, and Italian is an ordinary accomplishment.
New paths of quotation are due to railroads and Free Trade. There would be a sort of extension of Parliament itself into Paris and Rome, if we occasionally spoke the languages of those illustrious cities. France and Italy would be pleased; books benefited; politics smoothed; intercourse gladdened and enlarged. Even a bit of Greek might be ventured upon, if short and sweet; and Mr. The reverend maxim we have quoted respecting spirit and letter reminds us of a little Christmas story which has never been in print, and which, in accordance with [Pg 18] the season, we shall take this opportunity of relating.
It was brought to our recollection by meeting with the following exquisite passage from Bacon:—.
Of the other two sides, the one from Lilybaeum to Pachynus is longer than the other, and the one next to the strait and Italy, from Pelorias to Pachynus, is shortest, being about one thousand one hundred and thirty stadia long. Thus the English canon of directs preachers "to take heed that they do not teach anything in their sermons as though they would have it completely held and believed by the people, save what is agreeable to the doctrine of the Old and New Testaments, and what the Catholic Fathers and ancient Bishops have gathered from that doctrine. Celtic and Christian artworks often depict three arcs linked into a simple knot design. The plump woman nodded and hurried away, like everyone save her father did around her. Dr Ola Brown Orekunrin. In fact, after some fruitless attempts to save his brother, variously related by his biographers, Joseph became aware that Andre's only chance of safety lay in being forgotten by the authorities, and that ill-advised intervention would only hasten the end. So far Poles and Russians have featured heavy in our listing.
But to drop this collateral reminiscence, and come to our story. It is entitled. Once on a time there was a dispute respecting the possession of a certain elixir, called by some Flower of [Pg 19] Thorn, by others Spirit of Lily, by others Spirit of Love, and by others various other names not necessary to mention, but agreed by all to produce the most wonderful effects on the mind, of peace and benevolence. The parties who laid claim to the glory and emoluments of this possession, said it was kept in a particular kind of vial distinguishable from every other, and belonging exclusively to one single proprietor; and each claimant declared, nay swore, that he was that one.
Indeed, it was remarkable, that for persons valuing themselves on the possession of an essence, or spirit, producing such gentle effects, they were, most of them, wonderfully given to swearing, not hesitating to use the most extraordinary oaths, both in assertion of their own claims, and in condemnation of those of the rest. One of these gentlemen, holding up his vial, which was a very pretty thing to look at, exclaimed that every man might be,——nay, was—— we do not like to repeat the word , who did not see plainly that that was the only spirit.
Another uttered the very same threats, though he held up a vial of a totally different appearance. The case was the same with a third, a fourth, and a fifth, nay, with a fiftieth. There was nothing to be seen but a flourishing of vials, and nothing to be heard but a storm of voices. At length, from words as might be expected of such words they proceeded to blows; and what was [Pg 20] very astonishing, they were so moved and provoked out of their wits as to convert their respective vials into weapons of offence, and so absolutely endeavour to fight it out with the fragile materials.
The consequences may be guessed.
Not only were heads broken, but the vials also; and not only did the spirit in the vials evaporate, but by the fury of the combatants, both before and after the breakage, it became manifest that no such thing as a spirit producing the effects they pretended, had been in the vials at all. The scene ended with the laughter of the spectators; and worse consequences might have ensued, but for the appearance of a third set of persons bringing forward another vial. It was totally unlike all the former, except in one part of it; and this part, which was of the real crystal which the others only pretended to be, was said to contain, and did absolutely contain, the veritable peace-making elixir, as was proved by a very simple but incontrovertible circumstance; namely, the peace-making itself.
The proprietors neither swore, nor threatened, nor fought, nor tried to identify the vial with its contents. They proved the effect of those contents upon themselves by the friendliest behaviour towards all parties present; and though they had a long and difficult task to induce their rivals to taste it, yet no sooner had they done so, than the whole place became a scene of the most [Pg 21] enchanting reasonableness and serenity.
Everybody embraced his neighbour with the kindest words, and the combatants themselves did not scruple to wonder how they could have missed perceiving the presence of an odour so sweet, so unadulterated, so unquestionable, so tranquillizing, and so divine. This story is not so good as Robert of Sicily, or as one that we shall relate presently; but it is not inferior to either in the conclusions that may be drawn from it; and assuredly except from the edification to be drawn from scandals themselves it is better than the histories of all the controversies that have agitated the schools of East and West.
As to that of the Sicilian King, we are so fond of it that we cannot help taking the opportunity it affords us of thanking the young artist who has illustrated it, and who, after distinguishing himself with the public for his humour, has shown in these pages so much promise of a more serious order. He has not chosen to give his angel much bodily substance; perhaps the better to intimate the spiritual nature of the being, and give the more supernatural solemnity to his departure. But nobody can doubt the solidity which accompanies the grace of King Robert; and the royal penitent has been judiciously reinvested with the garb of his rank, the moment he resumes his personal identity.
We must [Pg 22] be allowed also to express our sense of the Poussin-like figure of Polyphemus at page 88, with his lumpish but not ungraceful shoulders fit symbols of the heaviness of his mind ; nor can we omit noticing the truly pastoral grace and simplicity of the Shepherdess at page 71, who is leading a flock full of nature and movement; and we are particularly thankful for the fidelity with which the artist has transferred to paper the sensitive and benignant profile of the Sicilian poet Meli, a cast of a medallion of whose likeness we have the good fortune to possess.
Doyle, throughout his drawings, has shown great attention to costume and other such proprieties; one of the evidences of that regard for truth, without which no art of any kind can ever come to perfection. We shall conclude this article with a brief Christmas story to which there is an allusion in the one above mentioned, and which we hold to be worth, at least, some nine hundred and forty thousand sermons.
Who ever heard of an eleventh commandment? Depart, or you shall be put in the stocks. Passing one day by the shop of Messrs. Perhaps it might have been worth, as a piece of ware, about [Pg 26] threepence; and, contents and all, its price did not exceed eighteenpence. On the other hand, it might have reminded a Cavendish or a Gower of his Titians and Correggios; and a Rogers would surely have looked twice at it, for the sake of his Stothard and his Italy.
And the poet and the noble dukes would have been right, not only in the spirit of their recollections, but to the very letter; for the deep beautiful blue was the same identical blue, the result of the same mineral, by which such an effect is retained in old pictures; and the shape of the jar was as classical as that of many a vase from the antique. Antiquity, indeed, possessed an abundance of precisely such jars. Furthermore, when you held the jar in the sun, a spot of insufferable radiance came in the middle of its cheek, like a very laugh of light. To introduce it, however, even to them, in a manner befitting their judgment, it is proper that we call to their recollection the history of a previous jar of their acquaintance, to which the foregoing paragraph contains an allusion.
They will be pleased to call to mind that eighteen hundred years after the death of Solomon, and during the reign of the King of the Black Isles, who was literally half petrified by the conduct of his wife, a certain fisherman, after throwing his nets to no purpose, and beginning to be in despair, succeeded in catching a jar of brass.
The brass, to be sure, seemed the only valuable thing about the jar; but the fisherman thought he could, at least, sell it for old metal. Finding, however, that it was very heavy, and furthermore closed with a seal, he wisely resolved to open it first, and see what could be got out of it. Then he shook the jar, to tumble out whatever might be in it, and found in it not a thing. So he marvelled with extreme amazement. But presently there came out of the jar a vapour, and it rose up towards the heavens, and reached along the face of the earth; and after this, the vapour reached its height, and condensed, and became compact, and waved tremulously, and became an Ufreet evil spirit , his head in the clouds, and his foot on the soil, his head like a dome , his hand like a harrow , his two legs like pillars, his mouth like a pit, his teeth like large stones , and his nostrils like basins , and his eyes were two lamps, austere and louring.
Now, when the fisherman saw that Ufreet , his muscles shivered, and his teeth chattered, and his palate was dried up , and he knew not where he was. This, by the way, is a fine horrible picture, and very like an Ufreet; as anybody must know, who is intimate [Pg 29] with that delicate generation. Fancy a viscount of that description. The fright and astonishment conceived by the fisherman at the taste thus given him of this highly concentrated spirit of Jinn for such is the generic Eastern term for the order to which the Ufreet belongs were not, however, the only things he got out of his jar.
So here is an Ufreet as high as [Pg 30] the clouds, fish that would have delighted Titian, they were blue, white, yellow, and red, a lady, full-dressed, issuing out of a kitchen wall, a king half-turned to stone by his wife, a throne given to a fisherman, and half-a-dozen other phenomena, all resulting from one poor brazen jar , into which when the fisherman first looked, he saw nothing in it. Now we might have expected as little from our earthen jar, as the future monarch did from his jar of metal, had not some circumstances in our life made us acquainted with the philosophy and occult properties of jars; but such having been the case, no lover of the Arabian Nights which is another term for a reader with a tendency to the universal will be surprised at the quantity and magnitude of the things that arose before our eyes out of the little blue jar in the window of Messrs.
Fortnum and Mason. Then Mount Hybla, with its bees. Then Rucellai the Italian poet of the bees and his [Pg 31] predecessor Virgil, and Acis and Galatea, and Polyphemus, a pagan Ufreet, but mild—mitigated by love, as Theocritus has painted him. Then the Odyssey , with the giant in his fiercer days, before he had sown his wild rocks; and the Sirens; and Scylla and Charybdis; and Ovid; and Alpheus and Arethusa; and Proserpina, and the Vale of Enna—names, which bring before us whatever is blue in skies, and beautiful in flowers or in fiction.
Item, the modern Theocritus, not undeservedly so called; to wit, the Abate Giovanni Meli, possibly of Grecian stock himself—for his name is the Greek as well as Sicilian for honey. Item, earthquakes, vines, convents, palm-trees, mulberries, pomegranates, aloes, citrons, rocks, gardens, banditti, pirates, furnaces under the sea, the most romantic landscapes and vegetation above it, guitars, lovers, serenades, and the never-to-be-too-often-mentioned blue skies and blue waters, whose azure on the concentrating Solomon-seal principle appeared to be specially represented by our little blue jar.
From all this heap of things, or any portion of them, or anything which they may suggest, we propose, as from so many different flowers, to furnish our Jar of Honey, careless whether the flower be sweet or bitter, provided the result with the help of his good-will be not un-sweet to the reader. For honey itself is not gathered from sweet flowers only; neither can much of [Pg 33] it be eaten without a qualification of its dulcitude with some plainer food. It can hardly be supposed to be as sweet to the bees themselves, as it is to us. Evil is so made to wait upon good in this world—to quicken it by alarm, to brighten it by contrast, and render it sympathetic by suffering—that although there is quite enough superabundance of it to incite us to its diminution Nature herself impelling us to do so , yet tears have their delight, as well as laughter; and laughter itself is admonished by tears and pain not to be too excessive.
Laughter has occasioned death:—tears have saved more than life. The readers, therefore, will not suppose that we intend supposing even that we were able to cloy them with sweets.
We hope that they will occasionally look very grave over their honey. We should not be disconcerted, if some bright eyes even shed tears over it. As it is good to have a plan and system in everything, whatever may be the miscellaneousness of its nature, we shall treat of our subjects in chronological order, beginning with the mythological times of Sicily, and ending with its latest modern poet. Its shape is so regularly three-cornered, that Triangle or Triple-point Trinacria was one of its ancient names.
The coast is very rocky and romantic; the interior is a combination of rugged mountains and the loveliest plains; and the soil is so fertile in corn as well as other productions, that Sicily has been called the granary of Europe. The inhabitants are badly governed, and there is great poverty among them; but movements have taken place of late years that indicate advancement; and the Sicilians, meantime, have all those helps to endurance perhaps too many which result from sprightliness of character, united with complexional indolence.