NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE.
No. IV.—SEPTEMBER, 1850.—Vol. I.
[From the London Art Journal.]
MEMORIES OF MISS JANE PORTER.
BY MRS S. C. HALL.
The frequent observation of foreigners is, that in England we have few "celebrated women." Perhaps they mean that we have few who are "notorious;" but let us admit that in either case they are right; and may we not express our belief in its being better for women and for the community that such is the case: "celebrity" rarely adds to the happiness of a woman, and almost as rarely increases her usefulness. The time and attention required to attain "celebrity," must, except under very peculiar circumstances, interfere with the faithful discharge of those feminine duties upon which the well-doing of society depends, and which shed so pure a halo around our English homes. Within these "homes" our heroes—statesmen—philosophers—men of letters—men of genius—receive their first impressions, and the impetus to a faithful discharge of their after callings as Christian subjects of the State.
There are few of such men who do not trace back their resolution, their patriotism, their wisdom, their learning—the nourishment of all their higher aspirations—to a wise, hopeful, loving-hearted and faith-inspired mother; one who believed in a son's destiny to be great; it may be, impelled by such belief rather by instinct than by reason; who cherished (we can find no better word), the "Hero-feeling" of devotion to what was right, though it might have been unworldly; and whose deep heart welled up perpetual love and patience, toward the over-boiling faults and frequent stumblings of a hot youth, which she felt would mellow into a fruitful manhood.
The strength and glory of England are in the keeping of the wives and mothers of its men; and when we are questioned touching our "celebrated women," we may in general terms refer to those who have watched over, moulded, and inspired our "celebrated" men.
Happy is the country where the laws of God and nature are held in reverence—where each sex fulfills its peculiar duties, and renders its sphere a sanctuary! and surely such harmony is blessed by the Almighty—for while other nations writhe in anarchy and poverty, our own spreads wide her arms to receive all who seek protection or need repose.
But if we have few "celebrated" women, few, who impelled either by circumstances or the irrepressible restlessness of genius, go forth amid the pitfalls of publicity, and battle with the world, either as poets—or dramatists—or moralists—or mere tale-tellers in simple prose—or, more dangerous still, "hold the mirror up to nature" on the stage that mimics life—if we have but few, we have, and have had some, of whom we are justly proud; women of such well-balanced minds, that toil they ever so laboriously in their public and perilous paths, their domestic and social duties have been fulfilled with as diligent and faithful love as though the world had never been purified and enriched by the treasures of their feminine wisdom; yet this does not shake our belief, that, despite the spotless and well-earned reputations they enjoyed, the homage they received (and it has its charm), and even the blessed consciousness of having contributed to the healthful recreation, the improved morality, the diffusion of the best sort of knowledge—the woman would have been happier had she continued enshrined in the privacy of domestic love and domestic duty. She may not think this at the commencement of her career; and at its termination, if she has lived sufficiently long to have descended, even gracefully from her pedestal, she may often recall the homage of the past to make up for its lack in the present. But so perfectly is woman constituted for the cares, the affections, the duties—the blessed duties of un-public life—that if she give nature way it will whisper to her a text that "celebrity never added to the happiness of a true woman." She must look for her happiness to HOME. We would have young women ponder over this, and watch carefully, ere the vail is lifted, and the hard cruel eye of public criticism fixed upon them. No profession is pastime; still less so now than ever, when so many people are "clever," though so few are great. We would pray those especially who direct their thoughts to literature, to think of what they have to say, and why they wish to say it; and above all, to weigh what they may expect from a capricious public, against the blessed shelter and pure harmonies of private life.[A]
But we have had some—and still have some—"celebrated" women of whom we have said "we may be justly proud." We have done pilgrimage to the shrine of Lady Rachel Russell, who was so thoroughly "domestic" that the Corinthian beauty of her character would never have been matter of history, but for the wickedness of a bad king. We have recorded the hours spent with Hannah More; the happy days passed with, and the years invigorated by Maria Edgeworth. We might recall the stern and faithful puritanism of Maria Jane Jewsbury; and the Old World devotion of the true and high-souled daughter of Israel—Grace Aguilar. The mellow tones of Felicia Heman's poetry linger still among all who appreciate the holy sympathies of religion and virtue. We could dwell long and profitably on the enduring patience and life-long labor of Barbara Hofland, and steep a diamond in tears to record the memories of L.E.L. We could—alas, alas! barely five-and-twenty years' acquaintance with literature and its ornaments, and the brilliant catalogue is but a Momento Mori! Perhaps of all this list, Maria Edgworth's life was the happiest; simply because she was the most retired, the least exposed to the gaze and observation of the world, the most occupied by loving duties toward the most united circle of old and young we ever saw assembled in one happy home.
The very young have never, perhaps read one of the tales of a lady whose reputation, as a novelist, was in its zenith when Walter Scott published his first novel. We desire to place a chaplet upon the grave of a woman once "celebrated" all over the known world; yet who drew all her happiness from the lovingness of home and friends, while her life was as pure as her renown was extensive.
In our own childhood romance reading was prohibited, but earnest entreaty procured an exception in favor of the "Scottish Chiefs." It was the bright summer, and we read it by moonlight, only disturbed by the murmur of the distant ocean. We read it, crouched in the deep recess of the nursery window; we read it until moonlight and morning met, and the breakfast bell ringing out into the soft air from the old gable, found us at the end of the fourth volume. Dear old times! when it would have been deemed little less than sacrilege to crush a respectable romance into a shilling volume, and our mammas considered only a five volume story curtailed of its just proportions.
Sir William Wallace has never lost his heroic ascendency over us, and we have steadily resisted every temptation to open the "popular edition" of the long-loved romance, lest what people will call "the improved state of the human mind," might displace the sweet memory of the mingled admiration and indignation that chased each other, while we read and wept, without ever questioning the truth of the absorbing narrative.
Yet, the "Scottish Chiefs" scarcely achieved the popularity of "Thaddeus of Warsaw," the first romance originated by the active brain and singularly constructive power of Jane Porter, produced at an almost girlish age.
The hero of "Thaddeus of Warsaw" was really Kosciuszko, the beloved pupil of George Washington, the grandest and purest patriot the Modern World has known. The enthusiastic girl was moved to its composition by the stirring times in which she lived; and a personal observation of, and acquaintance with some of those brave men whose struggles for liberty only ceased with their exile, or their existence.
Miss Porter placed her standard of excellence on high ground, and—all gentle-spirited as was her nature—it was firm and unflinching toward what she believed the right and true. We must not, therefore, judge her by the depressed state of "feeling" in these times, when its demonstration is looked upon as artificial or affected. Toward the termination of the last and the commencement of the present century, the world was roused into an interest and enthusiasm, which now we can scarcely appreciate or account for; the sympathies of England were awakened by the terrible revolutions of France, and the desolation of Poland; as a principle, we hated Napoleon, though he had neither act nor part in the doings of the democrats; and the sea-songs of Dibdin, which our youth now would call uncouth and ungraceful rhymes, were key-notes to public feeling; the English of that time were thoroughly "awake," the British Lion had not slumbered through a thirty years' peace. We were a nation of soldiers and sailors, and patriots; not of mingled cotton-spinners and railway speculators and angry protectionists; we do not say which state of things is best or worst, we desire merely to account for what may be called the taste for heroic literature at that time, and the taste for—we really hardly know what to call it—literature of the present, made up, as it too generally is, of shreds and patches—bits of gold and bits of tinsel—things written in a hurry to be read in a hurry, and never thought of afterward—suggestive rather than reflective, at the best; and we must plead guilty to a too great proneness to underrate what our fathers probably overrated.
At all events we must bear in mind, while reading or thinking over Miss Porter's novels, that, in her day, even the exaggeration of enthusiasm was considered good tone and good taste. How this enthusiasm was fostered, not subdued, can be gathered by the author's ingenious preface to the, we believe, tenth edition of "Thaddeus of Warsaw."
This story brought her abundant honors, and rendered her society, as well as the society of her sister and brother, sought for by all who aimed at a reputation for taste and talent. Mrs. Porter, on her husband's death (he was the younger son of a well-connected Irish family, born in Ireland, in or near Coleraine, we believe, and a major in the Enniskillen dragoons), sought a residence for her family in Edinburgh, where education and good society are attainable to persons of moderate fortunes, if they are "well born;" but the extraordinary artistic skill of her son Robert required a wider field, and she brought her children to London sooner than she had intended, that his promising talents might be cultivated. We believe the greater part of "Thaddeus of Warsaw" was written in London, either in St. Martin's-lane, Newport-street, or Gerard-street, Soho (for in these three streets the family lived after their arrival in the metropolis); though as soon as Robert Ker Porter's abilities floated him on the stream, his mother and sisters retired, in the brightness of their fame and beauty, to the village of Thames Ditton, a residence they loved to speak of as their "home." The actual labor of "Thaddeus"—her first novel—must have been considerable; for testimony was frequently borne to the fidelity of its localities, and Poles refused to believe that the author had not visited Poland; indeed, she had a happy power in describing localities.
It was on the publication of Miss Porter's two first works in the German language that their author was honored by being made a Lady of the Chapter of St. Joachim, and received the gold cross of the order from Wurtemberg; but "The Scottish Chiefs" was never so popular on the continent as "Thaddeus of Warsaw," although Napoleon honored it with an interdict, to prevent its circulation in France. If Jane Porter owed her Polish inspirations so peculiarly to the tone of the times in which she lived, she traces back, in her introduction to the latest edition of "The Scottish Chiefs," her enthusiasm in the cause of Sir William Wallace to the influence of an old "Scotch wife's" tales and ballads produced upon her mind while in early childhood. She wandered amid what she describes as "beautiful green banks," which rose in natural terraces behind her mother's house, and where a cow and a few sheep occasionally fed. This house stood alone, at the head of a little square, near the high school; the distinguished Lord Elchies formerly lived in the house, which was very ancient, and from those green banks it commanded a fine view of the Firth of Forth. While gathering "gowans" or other wild flowers for her infant sister (whom she loved more dearly than her life, during the years they lived in most tender and affectionate companionship), she frequently encountered this aged woman with her knitting in her hand; and she would speak to the eager and intelligent child of the blessed quiet of the land, where the cattle were browsing without fear of an enemy; and then she would talk of the awful times of the brave Sir William Wallace, when he fought for Scotland "against a cruel tyrant; like unto them whom Abraham overcame when he recovered Lot, with all his herds and flocks, from the proud foray of the robber kings of the South," who, she never failed to add, "were all rightly punished for oppressing the stranger in a foreign land! for the Lord careth for the stranger." Miss Porter says that this woman never omitted mingling pious allusions with her narrative, "Yet she was a person of low degree, dressed in a coarse woolen gown, and a plain Mutch cap clasped under the chin with a silver brooch, which her father had worn at the battle of Culloden." Of course she filled with tales of Sir William Wallace and the Bruce, the listening ears of the lovely Saxon child who treasured them in her heart and brain, until they fructified in after years into the "Scottish Chiefs." To these two were added "The Pastor's Fireside," and a number of other tales and romances; she contributed to several annuals and magazines, and always took pains to keep up the reputation she had won, achieving a large share of the popularity, to which, as an author, she never looked for happiness. No one could be more alive to praise or more grateful for attention, but the heart of a genuine, pure, loving woman, beat within Jane Porter's bosom, and she was never drawn out of her domestic circle by the flattery that has spoiled so many, men as well as women. Her mind was admirably balanced by her home affections, which remained unsullied and unshaken to the end of her days. She had, in common with her three brothers and her charming sister, the advantage of a wise and loving mother—a woman pious without cant, and worldly-wise without being worldly. Mrs. Porter was born at Durham, and when very young bestowed her hand and heart on Major Porter; an old friend of the family assures us that two or three of their children were born in Ireland, and that certainly Jane was among the number;[B] although she left Ireland when in early youth, perhaps almost an infant, she certainly must be considered "Irish," as her father was so both by birth and descent, and esteemed during his brief life as a brave and generous gentleman; he died young, leaving his lovely widow in straightened circumstances, having only her widow's pension to depend on. The eldest son—afterward Colonel Porter—was sent to school by his grandfather.
We have glanced briefly at Sir Robert Ker Porter's wonderful talents, and Anna Maria, when in her twelfth year, rushed, as Jane acknowledged, "prematurely into print." Of Anna Maria we knew personally but very little; enough, however, to recall with a pleasant memory her readiness in conversation, and her bland and cheerful manners. No two sisters could have been more different in bearing and appearance: Maria was a delicate blonde, with a riant face, and an animated manner—we had said almost peculiarly Irish—rushing at conclusions, where her more thoughtful and careful sister paused to consider and calculate. The beauty of Jane was statuesque, her deportment serious yet cheerful, a seriousness quite as natural as her younger sister's gayety; they both labored diligently, but Anna Maria's labor was sport when compared to her elder sister's careful toil; Jane's mind was of a more lofty order, she was intense, and felt more than she said, while Anna Maria often said more than she felt; they were a delightful contrast, and yet the harmony between them was complete; and one of the happiest days we ever spent, while trembling on the threshold of literature, was with them at their pretty road-side cottage, in the village of Esher, before the death of their venerable and dearly-beloved mother, whose rectitude and prudence had both guided and sheltered their youth, and who lived to reap with them the harvest of their industry and exertion. We remember the drive there, and the anxiety as to how those very "clever ladies" would look, and what they would say; we talked over the various letters we had received from Jane, and thought of the cordial invitation to their cottage—their "mother's cottage"—as they always called it. We remember the old white friendly spaniel who looked at us with blinking eyes, and preceded us up-stairs; we remember the formal, old-fashioned courtesy of the venerable old lady, who was then nearly eighty—the blue ribbons and good-natured frankness of Anna Maria, and the noble courtesy of Jane, who received visitors as if she granted an audience; this manner was natural to her; it was only the manner of one whose thoughts have dwelt more on heroic deeds, and lived more with heroes than with actual living men and women; the effect of this, however, soon passed away, but not so the fascination which was in all she said and did. Her voice was soft and musical, and her conversation addressed to one person rather than to the company at large, while Maria talked rapidly to every one, or for every one who chose to listen. How happily the hours passed! we were shown some of those extraordinary drawings of Sir Robert, who gained an artist's reputation before he was twenty, and attracted the attention of West and Shee[C] in his mere boyhood. We heard all the interesting particulars of his panoramic picture of the Storming of Seringapatam, which, the first of its class, was known half over the world. We must not, however, be misunderstood—there was neither personal nor family egotism in the Porters; they invariably spoke of each other with the tenderest affection—but unless the conversation was forced by their friends, they never mentioned their own, or each other's works, while they were most ready to praise what was excellent in the works of others; they spoke with pleasure of their sojourns in London; while their mother said, it was much wiser and better for young ladies who were not rich, to live quietly in the country, and escape the temptations of luxury and display. At that time the "young ladies" seemed to us certainly not young; that was about two-and-twenty years ago, and Jane Porter was seventy-five when she died. They talked much of their previous dwelling at Thames Ditton, of the pleasant neighborhood they enjoyed there, though their mother's health and their own had much improved since their residence on Esher-hill; their little garden was bounded at the back by the beautiful park of Claremont, and the front of the house overlooked the leading roads, broken as they are by the village green, and some noble elms. The view is crowned by the high trees of Esher-place, opening from the village on that side of the brow of the hill. Jane pointed out the locale of the proud Cardinal Wolsey's domain, inhabited during the days of his power over Henry VIII., and in their cloudy evening, when that capricious monarch's favor changed to bitterest hate. It was the very spot to foster her high romance, while she could at the same time enjoy the sweets of that domestic converse she loved best of all. We were prevented by the occupations and heart-beatings of our own literary labors from repeating this visit; and in 1831, four years after these well-remembered hours, the venerable mother of a family so distinguished in literature and art, rendering their names known and honored wherever art and letters flourish, was called HOME. The sisters, who had resided ten years at Esher, left it, intending to sojourn for a time with their second brother, Doctor Porter, (who commenced his career as a surgeon in the navy) in Bristol; but within a year the youngest, the light-spirited, bright-hearted Anna Maria died: her sister was dreadfully shaken by her loss, and the letters we received from her after this bereavement, though containing the outpourings of a sorrowing spirit, were full of the certainty of that reunion hereafter which became the hope of her life. She soon resigned her cottage home at Esher, and found the affectionate welcome she so well deserved in many homes, where friends vied with each other to fill the void in her sensitive heart. She was of too wise a nature, and too sympathizing a habit, to shut out new interests and affections, but her old ones never withered, nor were they ever replaced; were the love of such a sister-friend—the watchful tenderness and uncompromising love of a mother—ever "replaced," to a lonely sister or a bereaved daughter! Miss Porter's pen had been laid aside for some time, when suddenly she came before the world as the editor of "Sir Edward Seward's Narrative," and set people hunting over old atlases to find out the island where he resided. The whole was a clever fiction; yet Miss Porter never confided its authorship, we believe, beyond her family circle; perhaps the correspondence and documents, which are in the hands of one of her kindest friends (her executor), Mr. Shepherd, may throw some light upon a subject which the "Quarterly" honored by an article. We think the editor certainly used her pen, as well as her judgment, in the work, and we have imagined that it might have been written by the family circle, more in sport than in earnest, and then produced to serve a double purpose.
After her sister's death Miss Jane Porter was afflicted with so severe an illness, that we, in common with her other friends, thought it impossible she could carry out her plan of journeying to St. Petersburgh to visit her brother, Sir Robert Ker Porter, who had been long united to a Russian princess, and was then a widower; her strength was fearfully reduced; her once round figure become almost spectral, and little beyond the placid and dignified expression of her noble countenance remained to tell of her former beauty; but her resolve was taken; she wished, she said, to see once more her youngest and most beloved brother, so distinguished in several careers, almost deemed incompatible—as a painter, an author, a soldier, and a diplomatist, and nothing could turn her from her purpose: she reached St. Petersburgh in safety, and with apparently improved health, found her brother as much courted and beloved there as in his own land, and his daughter married to a Russian of high distinction. Sir Robert longed to return to England. He did not complain of any illness, and every thing was arranged for their departure; his final visits were paid, all but one to the Emperor, who had ever treated him as a friend; the day before his intended journey he went to the palace, was graciously received, and then drove home, but when the servant opened the carriage-door at his own residence he was dead! One sorrow after another pressed heavily upon her, yet she was still the same sweet, gentle, holy-minded woman she had ever been, bending with Christian faith to the will of the Almighty—"biding her time."
How differently would she have "watched and waited" had she been tainted by vanity, or fixed her soul on the mere triumphs of "literary reputation." While firm to her own creed, she fully enjoyed the success of those who scramble up—where she bore the standard to the heights—of Parnassus; she was never more happy than when introducing some literary "Tyro" to those who could aid or advise a future career. We can speak from experience of the warm interest she took in the Hospital for the cure of Consumption, and the Governesses' Benevolent Institution; during the progress of the latter, her health was painfully feeble, yet she used personal influence for its success, and worked with her own hands for its bazaars. She was ever aiding those who could not aid themselves; and all her thoughts, words, and deeds, were evidence of her clear, powerful mind, and kindly loving heart; her appearance in the London coteries was always hailed with interest and pleasure; to the young she was especially affectionate; but it was in the quiet mornings, or in the long twilight evenings of summer, when visiting her cherished friends at Shirley Park, in Kensington-square, or wherever she might be located for the time—it was then that her former spirit revived and she poured forth anecdote and illustration, and the store of many years' observation, filtered by experience and purified by that delightful faith to which she held—that "all things work together for good to them that love the Lord." She held this in practice, even more than in theory: you saw her chastened yet hopeful spirit beaming forth from her gentle eyes, and her sweet smile can never be forgotten. The last time we saw her, was about two years ago—in Bristol—at her brother, Dr. Porter's house in Portland-square: then she could hardly stand without assistance, yet she never complained of her own suffering or feebleness—all her anxiety was about the brother—then dangerously ill, and now the last of "his race." Major Porter, it will be remembered, left five children, and these have left only one descendant—the daughter of Sir Robert Ker Porter and the Russian Princess whom he married, a young Russian lady, whose present name we do not even know.
We did not think at our last leave-taking that Miss Porter's fragile frame could have so long withstood the Power that takes away all we hold most dear; but her spirit was at length summoned, after a few days' total insensibility, on the 24th of May.
We were haunted by the idea that the pretty cottage at Esher, where we spent those happy hours, had been treated even as "Mrs. Porter's Arcadia" at Thames Ditton—now altogether removed; and it was with a melancholy pleasure we found it the other morning in nothing changed; it was almost impossible to believe that so many years had passed since our last visit. While Mr. Fairholt was sketching the cottage, we knocked at the door, and were kindly permitted by two gentle sisters, who now inhabit it, to enter the little drawing-room and walk round the garden; except that the drawing-room has been re-papered and painted, and that there were no drawings and no flowers, the room was not in the least altered; yet to us it seemed like a sepulchre, and we rejoiced to breathe the sweet air of the little garden, and listen to a nightingale, whose melancholy cadence harmonized with our feelings.
"Whenever you are at Esher," said the devoted daughter, the last time we conversed with her, "do visit my mother's tomb." We did so. A cypress flourishes at the head of the grave; and the following touching inscription is carved on the stone:
HERE SLEEPS IN JESUS A CHRISTIAN WIDOW
JANE PORTER OBIIT JUNE 18TH, 1831, AETAT. 86;
THE BELOVED MOTHER OF W. PORTER, M.D., OF SIR ROBERT KER PORTER, AND OF JANE AND ANNA MARIA PORTER, WHO MOURN IN HOPE, HUMBLY TRUSTING TO BE BORN AGAIN WITH HER UNTO THE BLESSED KINGDOM OF THEIR LORD AND SAVIOUR. RESPECT HER GRAVE, FOR SHE MINISTERED TO THE POOR
[A] In support of this opinion, which we know is opposed to the popular feeling of many in the present day, we venture to quote what Miss Porter herself repeats, as said to her by Madame de Stael: "She frequently praised my revered mother for the retired manner in which she maintained her little domestic establishment, yielding her daughters to society, but not to the world." We pray those we love, to mark the delicate and most true distinction, between "society" and the "world." "I was set on a stage," continued De Stael, "I was set on a stage, at a child's age, to be listened to as a wit and worshiped for my premature judgment. I drank adulation as my soul's nourishment, and I cannot now live without its poison; it has been my bane, never an aliment. My heart ever sighed for happiness, and I ever lost it, when I thought it approaching my grasp. I was admired, made an idol, but never beloved. I do not accuse my parents for having made this mistake, but I have not repeated it in my Albertine" (her daughter.) "She shall not
'Seek for love, and fill her arms with bays.'
I bring her up in the best society, yet in the shade."
[B] Miss Porter never told me she was an Irishwoman, but once she questioned me concerning my own parentage and place of birth; and upon my explaining that my mother was an English woman, my father Irish, and that I was born in Ireland, which I quitted early in life, she observed her own circumstances were very similar to mine. For my own part, I have no doubt that she was Irish by birth and by descent on the father's side, but it will be no difficult matter to obtain direct evidence of the facts; and we hope that some Irish patriotic friend will make due inquiries on the subject. During her life, I had no idea of her connection with Ireland, or I should certainly have ascertained if my own country had a claim of which it may be justly proud.
[C] In his early days the President of the Royal Academy painted a very striking portrait of Jane Porter, as "Miranda," and Harlowe painted her in the canoness dress of the order of St. Joachim.
[From the Gallery of Nature.]
SHOOTING STARS AND METEORIC SHOWERS.
From every region of the globe and in all ages of time within the range of history, exhibitions of apparent instability in the heavens have been observed, when the curtains of the evening have been drawn. Suddenly, a line of light arrests the eye, darting like an arrow through a varying extent of space, and in a moment the firmament is as sombre as before. The appearance is exactly that of a star falling from its sphere, and hence the popular title of shooting star applied to it. The apparent magnitudes of these meteorites are widely different, and also their brilliancy. Occasionally, they are far more resplendent than the brightest of the planets, and throw a very perceptible illumination upon the path of the observer. A second or two commonly suffices for the individual display, but in some instances it has lasted several minutes. In every climate it is witnessed, and at all times of the year, but most frequently in the autumnal months. As far back as records go, we meet with allusions to these swift and evanescent luminous travelers. Minerva's hasty flight from the peaks of Olympus to break the truce between the Greeks and Trojans, is compared by Homer to the emission of a brilliant star. Virgil, in the first book of the Georgics, mentions the shooting stars as prognosticating weather changes:
"And on, before tempestuous winds arise, The seeming stars fall headlong from the skies, And, shooting through the darkness, gild the night With sweeping glories and long trains of light."
Various hypotheses have been framed to explain the nature and origin of these remarkable appearances. When electricity began to be understood, this was thought to afford a satisfactory explanation, and the shooting stars were regarded by Beccaria and Vassali as merely electrical sparks. When the inflammable nature of the gases became known, Lavosier and Volta supposed an accumulation of hydrogen in the higher regions of the atmosphere, because of its inferior density, giving rise by ignition to the meteoric exhibitions. While these theories of the older philosophers have been shown to be untenable, there is still great obscurity resting upon the question, though we have reason to refer the phenomena to a cause exterior to the bounds of our atmosphere. Upon this ground, the subject assumes a strictly astronomical aspect, and claims a place in a treatise on the economy of the solar system.
The first attempt accurately to investigate these elegant meteors was made by two university students, afterward Professors Brandes of Leipsic, and Benzenberg of Dusseldorf, in the year 1798. They selected a base line of 46,200 feet, somewhat less than nine English miles, and placed themselves at its extremities on appointed nights, for the purpose of ascertaining their average altitude and velocity. Out of twenty-two appearances identified as the same, they found,
7 under 45 miles 9 between 45 and 90 miles 5 above 90 miles 1 above 140 miles.
The greatest observed velocity gave twenty-five miles in a second. A more extensive plan was organized by Brandes in the year 1823, and carried into effect in the neighborhood of Breslaw. Out of ninety-eight appearances, the computed heights were,
4 under 15 miles 15 from 15 to 30 miles 22 from 30 to 45 miles 33 from 45 to 70 miles 13 from 70 to 90 miles 6 above 90 miles 5 from 140 to 460 miles.
The velocities were between eighteen and thirty-six miles in a second, an average velocity far greater than that of the earth in its orbit.
The rush of luminous bodies through the sky of a more extraordinary kind, though a rare occurrence, has repeatedly been observed. They are usually discriminated from shooting stars, and known by the vulgar as fire-balls; but probably both proceed from the same cause, and are identical phenomena. They have sometimes been seen of large volume, giving an intense light, a hissing noise accompanying their progress, and a loud explosion attending their termination. In the year 1676, a meteor passed over Italy about two hours after sunset, upon which Montanari wrote a treatise. It came over the Adriatic Sea as if from Dalmatia, crossed the country in the direction of Rimini and Leghorn, a loud report being heard at the latter place, and disappeared upon the sea toward Corsica. A similar visitor was witnessed all over England, in 1718, and forms the subject of one of Halley's papers to the Royal Society. Sir Hans Sloane was one of its spectators. Being abroad at the time of its appearance, at a quarter past eight at night, in the streets of London, his path was suddenly and intensely illuminated. This, he apprehended at first, might arise from a discharge of rockets; but found a fiery object in the heavens, moving after the manner of a falling star, in a direct line from the Pleiades to below the girdle of Orion. Its brightness was so vivid, that several times he was obliged to turn away his eyes from it. The stars disappeared, and the moon, then nine days old, and high near the meridian, the sky being very clear, was so effaced by the lustre of the meteor as to be scarcely seen. It was computed to have passed over three hundred geographical miles in a minute, at the distance of sixty miles above the surface, and was observed at different extremities of the kingdom. The sound of an explosion was heard through Devon and Cornwall, and along the opposite coast of Bretagne. Halley conjectured this and similar displays to proceed from combustible vapors aggregated on the outskirts of the atmosphere, and suddenly set on fire by some unknown cause. But since his time, the fact has been established, of the actual fall of heavy bodies to the earth from surrounding space, which requires another hypothesis. To these bodies the term aerolites is applied, signifying atmospheric stones, from [Greek: aer], the atmosphere, and [Greek: lithos], a stone. While many meteoric appearances may simply arise from electricity, or from the inflammable gases, it is now certain, from the proved descent of aerolites, that such bodies are of extra-terrestrial origin.
Antiquity refers us to several objects as having descended from the skies, the gifts of the immortal gods. Such was the Palladium of Troy, the image of the goddess of Ephesus, and the sacred shield of Numa. The folly of the ancients in believing such narrations has often been the subject of remark; but, however fabulous the particular cases referred to, the moderns have been compelled to renounce their skepticism respecting the fact itself, of the actual transition of substances from celestial space to terrestrial regions; and no doubt the ancient faith upon this subject was founded on observed events. The following table, taken from the work of M. Izarn, Des Pierres tombees du Ciel, exhibits a collection of instances of the fall of aerolites, together with the eras of their descent, and the persons on whose evidence the facts rest; but the list might be largely extended.
+ + + -+ -+ Substance. Place. Period. Authority. + + + -+ -+ Shower of stones At Rome Under Tullus Livy. Hostilius Shower of stones At Rome Consuls C. Martius J. Obsequens. and M. Torquatus Shower of iron In Lucania Year before the Pliny. defeat of Crassus Shower of mercury In Italy Dion. Large stone Near the river Second year of the Pliny. Negos, Thrace 78th Olympiad Three large stones In Thrace Year before J. C. Ch. of Count 452 Marcellin. Shower of fire At Quesnoy January 4, 1717 Geoffroy le Cadet. Stone of 72lbs. Near Larissa, January 1706 Paul Lucas. Macedonia About 1200 stones } one of 120lbs.} Near Padua in In 1510 Carden, Varcit. Another of 60lbs. } Italy Another of 59lbs. On Mount Vasier, November 27, 1627 Gassendi. Provence Shower of sand for In the Atlantic April 6, 1719 Pere la Fuillee. 15 hours Shower of sulphur Sodom and Gomorra Moses. Sulphurous rain In the Duchy of In 1658 Spangenburgh. Mansfield The same Copenhagen In 1646 Olaus Wormius. Shower of sulphur Brunswick October 1721 Siegesbaer. Shower of unknown Ireland In 1695 Muschenbroeck. matter Two large stones, Liponas, in September 1753 Lalande. weighing 20lbs. Bresse A stony mass Niort, Normandy In 1750 Lalande. A stone of At Luce, in Le September 13, 1768 Bachelay. 7-1/2lbs. Maine A stone At Aire, in In 1768 Gursonde de Artois Boyaval. A stone In Le Cotentin In 1768 Morand. Extensive shower Environs of Agen July 24, 1790 St. Amand, of stones Baudin, &c. About twelve stones Sienna, Tuscany July 1794 Earl of Bristol. A large stone of Wold Cottage, December 13, 1795 Captain Topham. 56lbs. Yorkshire A stone of about Sale, Department March 17, 1798 Lelievre and De 20lbs. of the Rhone Dree. A stone of 10lbs. In Portugal February 19, 1796 Southey. Shower of stones Benares, East December 19, 1798 J. Lloyd Indies Williams, Esq. Shower of stones At Plaun, near July 3, 1753 B. de Born. Tabor, Bohemia Mass of iron, America April 5, 1800 Philosophical 70 cubic feet Mag. Mass of iron, Abakauk, Siberia Very old Pallas, Chladni, 14 quintals &c. Shower of stones Barboutan, near July 1789 Darcet Jun., Roquefort Lomet, &c. Large stone of Ensisheim, Upper November 7, 1492 Butenschoen. 260lbs. Rhine Two stones, 200 Near Verona In 1762 Acad. de Bourd. and 300lbs. A stone of 20lbs. Sules, near Ville March 12, 1798 De Dree. Franche Several stones from Near L'Aigle, April 26, 1803 Fourcroy. 10 to 17lbs. Normandy + + + -+ -+
Some of the instances in the table are of sufficient interest to deserve a notice.
A singular relation respecting the stone of Ensisheim on the Rhine, at which philosophy once smiled incredulously, regarding it as one of the romances of the middle ages, may now be admitted to sober attention as a piece of authentic history. A homely narrative of its fall was drawn up at the time by order of the Emperor Maximilian, and deposited with the stone in the church. It may thus be rendered: "In the year of the Lord 1492, on Wednesday, which was Martinmas eve, the 7th of November, a singular miracle occurred; for, between eleven o'clock and noon, there was a loud clap of thunder, and a prolonged confused noise, which was heard at a great distance; and a stone fell from the air, in the jurisdiction of Ensisheim, which weighed two hundred and sixty pounds, and the confused noise was, besides, much louder than here. Then a child saw it strike on a field in the upper jurisdiction, toward the Rhine and Inn, near the district of Giscano, which was sown with wheat, and it did it no harm, except that it made a hole there: and then they conveyed it from that spot; and many pieces were broken from it; which the landvogt forbade. They, therefore, caused it to be placed in the church, with the intention of suspending it as a miracle: and there came here many people to see this stone. So there were remarkable conversations about this stone: but the learned said that they knew not what it was; for it was beyond the ordinary course of nature that such a large stone should smite the earth from the height of the air; but that it was really a miracle of God; for, before that time, never any thing was heard like it, nor seen, nor described. When they found that stone, it had entered into the earth to the depth of a man's stature, which every body explained to be the will of God that it should be found; and the noise of it was heard at Lucerne, at Vitting, and in many other places, so loud that it was believed that houses had been overturned: and as the King Maximilian was here the Monday after St. Catharine's day of the same year, his royal excellency ordered the stone which had fallen to be brought to the castle, and, after having conversed a long time about it with the noblemen, he said that the people of Ensisheim should take it, and order it to be hung up in the church, and not to allow any body to take any thing from it. His excellency, however, took two pieces of it; of which he kept one, and sent the other to the Duke Sigismund of Austria: and they spoke a great deal about this stone, which they suspended in the choir, where it still is; and a great many people came to see it." Contemporary writers confirm the substance of this narration, and the evidence of the fact exists; the aerolite is precisely identical in its chemical composition with that of other meteoric stones. It remained for three centuries suspended in the church, was carried off to Colmar during the French revolution; but has since been restored to its former site, and Ensisheim rejoices in the possession of the relic. A piece broken from it is in the Museum of the Jardin des Plantes at Paris.
The celebrated Gassendi was an eye-witness of a similar event. In the year 1627, on the 27th of November, the sky being quite clear, he saw a burning stone fall in the neighborhood of Nice, and examined the mass. While in the air it appeared to be about four feet in diameter, was surrounded by a luminous circle of colors like a rainbow, and its fall was accompanied by a noise like the discharge of artillery. Upon inspecting the substance, he found it weighed 59 lbs., was extremely hard, of a dull, metallic color, and of a specific gravity considerably greater than that of common marble. Having only this solitary instance of such an occurrence, Gassendi concluded that the mass came from some of the mountains of Provence, which had been in a transient state of volcanic activity. Instances of the same phenomenon occurred in the years 1672, 1756, and 1768; but the facts were generally doubted by naturalists, and considered as electrical appearances, magnified by popular ignorance and timidity. A remarkable example took place in France in the year 1790. Between nine and ten o'clock at night, on the 24th of July, a luminous ball was seen traversing the atmosphere with great rapidity, and leaving behind it a train of light; a loud explosion was then heard, accompanied with sparks which flew off in all directions; this was followed by a shower of stones over a considerable extent of ground, at various distances from each other, and of different sizes. A proces verbal was drawn up, attesting the circumstance, signed by the magistrates of the municipality, and by several hundreds of persons inhabiting the district. This curious document is literally as follows: "In the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety, and the thirtieth day of the month of August, we, the Lieut. Jean Duby, mayor, and Louis Massillon, procurator of the commune of the municipality of La Grange-de-Juillac, and Jean Darmite, resident in the parish of La Grange-de-Juillac, certify in truth and verity, that on Saturday, the 24th of July last, between nine and ten o'clock, there passed a great fire, and after it we heard in the air a very loud and extraordinary noise; and about two minutes after there fell stones from heaven; but fortunately there fell only a very few, and they fell about ten paces from one another in some places, and in others nearer, and, finally, in some other places farther; and falling, most of them, of the weight of about half a quarter of a pound each, some others of about half a pound, like that found in our parish of La Grange; and on the borders of the parish of Creon, they were found of a pound weight; and in falling, they seemed not to be inflamed, but very hard and black without, and within of the color of steel: and, thank God, they occasioned no harm to the people, nor to the trees, but only to some tiles which were broken on the houses; and most of them fell gently, and others fell quickly, with a hissing noise; and some were found which had entered into the earth, but very few. In witness thereof, we have written and signed these presents. Duby, mayor. Darmite." Though such a document as this, coming from the unlearned of the district where the phenomenon occurred, was not calculated to win acceptance with the savans of the French capital, yet it was corroborated by a host of intelligent witnesses at Bayonne, Thoulouse, and Bordeaux, and by transmitted specimens containing the substances usually found in atmospheric stones, and in nearly the same proportions. A few years afterward, an undoubted instance of the fall of an aerolite occurred in England, which largely excited public curiosity. This was in the neighborhood of Wold Cottage, the house of Captain Topham, in Yorkshire. Several persons heard the report of an explosion in the air, followed by a hissing sound; and afterward felt a shock, as if a heavy body had fallen to the ground at a little distance from them. One of these, a plowman, saw a huge stone falling toward the earth, eight or nine yards from the place where he stood. It threw up the mould on every side, and after penetrating through the soil, lodged some inches deep in solid chalk rock. Upon being raised, the stone was found to weigh fifty-six pounds. It fell in the afternoon of a mild but hazy day, during which there was no thunder or lightning; and the noise of the explosion was heard through a considerable district. It deserves remark, that in most recorded cases of the descent of projectiles, the weather has been settled, and the sky clear; a fact which plainly places them apart from the causes which operate to produce the tempest, and shows the popular term thunder-bolt to be an entire misnomer.
While this train of circumstances was preparing the philosophic mind of Europe to admit as a truth what had hitherto been deemed a vulgar error, and acknowledge the appearance of masses of ignited matter in the atmosphere occasionally descending to the earth, an account of a phenomenon of this kind was received from India, vouched by an authority calculated to secure it general respect. It came from Mr. Williams, F.R.S., a resident in Bengal. It stated that on December 19th, 1798, at eight o'clock in the evening, a large, luminous meteor was seen at Benares and other parts of the country. It was attended with a loud, rumbling noise, like an ill-discharged platoon of musketry; and about the same time, the inhabitants of Krakhut, fourteen miles from Benares, saw the light, heard an explosion, and immediately after the noise of heavy bodies falling in the neighborhood. The sky had previously been serene, and not the smallest vestige of a cloud had appeared for many days. Next morning, the mould in the fields was found to have been turned up in many spots; and unusual stones, of various sizes, but of the same substance, were picked out from the moist soil, generally from a depth of six inches. As the occurrence took place in the night, after the people had retired to rest, the explosion and the actual fall of the stones were not observed; but the watchman of an English gentleman, near Krakhut, brought him a stone the next morning, which had fallen through the top of his hut, and buried itself in the earthen floor. This event in India was followed, in the year 1803, by a convincing demonstration in France, which compelled the eminent men of the capital to believe, though much against their will. On Tuesday, April 26th, about one in the afternoon, the weather being serene, there was observed in a part of Normandy, including Caen, Falaise, Alencon, and a large number of villages, a fiery globe of great brilliancy moving in the atmosphere with great rapidity. Some moments after, there was heard in L'Aigle and in the environs, to the extent of more than thirty leagues in every direction, a violent explosion, which lasted five or six minutes. At first there were three or four reports, like those of a cannon, followed by a kind of discharge which resembled the firing of musketry; after which there was heard a rumbling like the beating of a drum. The air was calm, and the sky serene, except a few clouds, such as are frequently observed. The noise proceeded from a small cloud which had a rectangular form, and appeared motionless all the time that the phenomenon lasted. The vapor of which it was composed was projected in all directions at the successive explosions. The cloud seemed about half a league to the northeast of the town of L'Aigle, and must have been at a great elevation in the atmosphere, for the inhabitants of two hamlets, a league distant from each other, saw it at the same time above their heads. In the whole canton over which it hovered, a hissing noise like that of a stone discharged from a sling was heard, and a multitude of mineral masses were seen to fall to the ground. The largest that fell weighed 17-1/2 pounds; and the gross number amounted to nearly three thousand. By the direction of the Academy of Sciences, all the circumstances of this event were minutely examined by a commission of inquiry, with the celebrated M. Biot at its head. They were found in harmony with the preceding relation, and reported to the French minister of the interior. Upon analyzing the stones, they were found identical with those of Benares.
The following are the principal facts with reference to the aerolites, upon which general dependence may be placed. Immediately after their descent they are always intensely hot. They are covered with a fused black incrustation, consisting chiefly of oxide of iron; and, what is most remarkable, their chemical analysis develops the same substances in nearly the same proportions, though one may have reached the earth in India and another in England. Their specific gravities are about the same; considering 1000 as the proportionate number for the specific gravity of water, that of some of the aerolites has been found to be,
Ensisheim stone 3233 Benares 3352 Sienna 3418 Gassendi's 3456 Yorkshire 3508 Bachelay's 3535 Bohemia 4281.
The greater specific gravity of the Bohemian stone arose from its containing a greater proportion of iron. An analysis of one of the stones that fell at L'Aigle gives:
Silica 46 per cent Magnesia 10 " Iron 45 " Nickel 2 " Sulphur 5 " Zinc 1 "
Iron is found in all these bodies, and in a considerable quantity, with the rare metal nickel. It is a singular fact, that though a chemical examination of their composition has not discovered any substance with which we were not previously acquainted, yet no other bodies have yet been found, native to the earth, which contain the same ingredients combined. Neither products of the volcanoes, whether extinct or in action, nor the stratified or unstratified rocks, have exhibited a sample of that combination of metallic and earthy substances which the meteoric stones present. During the era that science has admitted their path to the earth as a physical truth, scarcely amounting to half a century, few years have elapsed without a known instance of descent occurring in some region of the globe. To Izarn's list, previously given, upward of seventy cases might be added, which have transpired during the last forty years. A report relating to one of the most recent, which fell in a valley near the Cape of Good Hope, with the affidavits of the witnesses, was communicated to the Royal Society, by Sir John Herschel, in March, 1840. Previously to the descent of the aerolites, the usual sound of explosion was heard, and some of the fragments falling upon grass, caused it instantly to smoke, and were too hot to admit of being touched. When, however, we consider the wide range of the ocean, and the vast unoccupied regions of the globe, its mountains, deserts, and forests, we can hardly fail to admit that the observed cases of descent must form but a small proportion of the actual number; and obviously in countries upon which the human race are thickly planted many may escape notice through descending in the night, and will lie imbedded in the soil till some accidental circumstance exposes their existence. Some, too, are no doubt completely fused and dissipated in the atmosphere, while others move by us horizontally, as brilliant lights, and pass into the depths of space. The volume of some of these passing bodies is very great. One which traveled within twenty-five miles of the surface, and cast down a fragment, was suppose to weigh upward of half a million of tons. But for its great velocity, the whole mass would have been precipitated to the earth. Two aerolites fell at Braunau, in Bohemia, July 14, 1847.
In addition to aerolites, properly so called, or bodies known to have come to us from outlying space, large metallic masses exist in various parts of the world, lying in insulated situations, far remote from the abodes of civilization, whose chemical composition is closely analogous to that of the substances the descent of which has been witnessed. These circumstances leave no doubt as to their common origin. Pallas discovered an immense mass of malleable iron, mixed with nickel, at a considerable elevation on a mountain of slate in Siberia, a site plainly irreconcilable with the supposition of art having been there with its forges, even had it possessed the character of the common iron. In one of the rooms of the British Museum there is a specimen of a large mass which was found, and still remains, on the plain of Otumba, in the district of Buenos Ayres. The specimen alone weighs 1400 lbs., and the weight of the whole mass, which lies half buried in the ground, is computed to be thirteen tons. In the province of Bahia, in Brazil, another block has been discovered weighing upward of six tons. Considering the situation of these masses, with the details of their chemical analysis, the presumption is clearly warranted that they owe their origin to the same causes that have formed and projected the aerolites to the surface. With reference to the Siberian iron a general tradition prevails among the Tartars that it formerly descended from the heavens. A curious extract, translated from the Emperor Tchangire's memoirs of his own reign is given in a paper communicated to the Royal Society, which speaks of the fall of a metallic mass in India. The prince relates, that in the year 1620 (of our era) a violent explosion was heard at a village in the Punjaub, and at the same time a luminous body fell through the air on the earth. The officer of the district immediately repaired to the spot where it was said the body fell, and having found the place to be still hot, he caused it to be dug. He found that the heat kept increasing till they reached a lump of iron violently hot. This was afterward sent to court, where the emperor had it weighed in his presence, and ordered it to be forged into a sabre, a knife, and a dagger. After a trial the workmen reported that it was not malleable, but shivered under the hammer; and it required to be mixed with one third part of common iron, after which the mass was found to make excellent blades. The royal historian adds, that on the incident of this iron of lightning being manufactured, a poet presented him with a distich that, "during his reign the earth attained order and regularity; that raw iron fell from lightning, which was, by his world-subduing authority, converted into a dagger, a knife, and two sabres."
A multitude of theories have been devised to account for the origin of these remarkable bodies. The idea is completely inadmissible that they are concretions formed within the limits of the atmosphere. The ingredients that enter into their composition have never been discovered in it, and the air has been analyzed at the sea level and on the tops of high mountains. Even supposing that to have been the case, the enormous volume of atmospheric air so charged required to furnish the particles of a mass of several tons, not to say many masses, is, alone, sufficient to refute the notion. They can not, either, be projectiles from terrestrial volcanoes, because coincident volcanic activity has not been observed, and aerolites descend thousands of miles apart from the nearest volcano, and their substances are discordant with any known volcanic product. Laplace suggested their projection from lunar volcanoes. It has been calculated that a projectile leaving the lunar surface, where there is no atmospheric resistance, with a velocity of 7771 feet in the first second, would be carried beyond the point where the forces of the earth and the moon are equal, would be detached, therefore, from the satellite, and come so far within the sphere of the earth's attraction as necessarily to fall to it. But the enormous number of ignited bodies that have been visible, the shooting stars of all ages, and the periodical meteoric showers that have astonished the moderns, render this hypothesis untenable, for the moon, ere this, would have undergone such a waste as must have sensibly diminished her orb, and almost blotted her from the heavens. Olbers, was the first to prove the possibility of a projectile reaching us from the moon, but at the same he deemed the event highly improbable, regarding the satellite as a very peaceable neighbor, not capable now of strong explosions from the want of water and an atmosphere. The theory of Chladni will account generally for all the phenomena, be attended with the fewest difficulties, and, with some modifications to meet circumstances not known in his day, it is now widely embraced. He conceived the system to include an immense number of small bodies, either the scattered fragments of a larger mass, or original accumulations of matter, which, circulating round the sun, encounter the earth in its orbit, and are drawn toward it by attraction, become ignited upon entering the atmosphere, in consequence of their velocity, and constitute the shooting stars, aerolites, and meteoric appearances that are observed. Sir Humphry Davy, in a paper which contains his researches on flame, strongly expresses an opinion that the meteorites are solid bodies moving in space, and that the heat produced by the compression of the most rarefied air from the velocity of their motion must be sufficient to ignite their mass so that they are fused on entering the atmosphere. It is estimated that a body moving through our atmosphere with the velocity of one mile in a second, would extricate heat equal to 30,000 deg. of Fahrenheit—a heat more intense than that of the fiercest artificial furnace that ever glowed. The chief modification given to the Chladnian theory has arisen from the observed periodical occurrence of meteoric showers—a brilliant and astonishing exhibition—to some notices of which we proceed.
The writers of the middle ages report the occurrence of the stars falling from heaven in resplendent showers among the physical appearances of their time. The experience of modern days establishes the substantial truth of such relations, however once rejected as the inventions of men delighting in the marvelous. Conde, in his history of the dominion of the Arabs, states, referring to the month of October in the year 902 of our era, that on the night of the death of King Ibrahim ben Ahmed, an infinite number of falling stars were seen to spread themselves like rain over the heavens from right to left, and this year was afterward called the year of stars. In some Eastern annals of Cairo, it is related that "In this year (1029 of our era) in the month Redjeb (August) many stars passed, with a great noise, and brilliant light;" and in another place the same document states: "In the year 599, on Saturday night, in the last Moharrem (1202 of our era, and on the 19th of October), the stars appeared like waves upon the sky, toward the east and west; they flew about like grasshoppers, and were dispersed from left to right; this lasted till day-break; the people were alarmed." The researches of the Orientalist, M. Von Hammer, have brought these singular accounts to light. Theophanes, one of the Byzantine historians, records, that in November of the year 472 the sky appeared to be on fire over the city of Constantinople with the coruscations of flying meteors. The chronicles of the West agree with those of the East in reporting such phenomena. A remarkable display was observed on the 4th of April, 1095, both in France and England. The stars seemed, says one, "falling like a shower of rain from heaven upon the earth;" and in another case, a bystander, having noted the spot where an aerolite fell, "cast water upon it, which was raised in steam, with a great noise of boiling." The chronicle of Rheims describes the appearance, as if all the stars in heaven were driven like dust before the wind. "By the reporte of the common people, in this kynge's time (William Rufus)," says Rastel, "divers great wonders were sene—and therefore the king was told by divers of his familiars, that God was not content with his lyvyng, but he was so wilful and proude of minde, that he regarded little their saying." There can be no hesitation now in giving credence to such narrations as these, since similar facts have passed under the notice of the present generation.
The first grand phenomena of a meteoric shower which attracted attention in modern times was witnessed by the Moravian Missionaries at their settlements in Greenland. For several hours the hemisphere presented a magnificent and astonishing spectacle, that of fiery particles, thick as hail, crowding the concave of the sky, as though some magazine of combustion in celestial space was discharging its contents toward the earth. This was observed over a wide extent of territory. Humboldt, then traveling in South America, accompanied by M. Bonpland, thus speaks of it: "Toward the morning of the 13th November, 1799, we witnessed a most extraordinary scene of shooting meteors. Thousands of bodies and falling stars succeeded each other during four hours. Their direction was very regular from north to south. From the beginning of the phenomenon there was not a space in the firmament equal in extent to three diameters of the moon which was not filled every instant with bodies of falling stars. All the meteors left luminous traces or phosphorescent bands behind them, which lasted seven or eight seconds." An agent of the United States, Mr. Ellicott, at that time at sea between Cape Florida and the West India Islands, was another spectator, and thus describes the scene: "I was called up about three o'clock in the morning, to see the shooting stars, as they are called. The phenomenon was grand and awful The whole heavens appeared as if illuminated with sky-rockets, which disappeared only by the light of the sun after daybreak. The meteors, which at any one instant of time appeared as numerous as the stars, flew in all possible directions, except from the earth, toward which they all inclined more or less; and some of them descended perpendicularly over the vessel we were in, so that I was in constant expectation of their falling on us." The same individual states that his thermometer, which had been at 80 deg. Fahr. for four days preceding, fell to 56 deg., and, at the same time, the wind changed from the south to the northwest, from whence it blew with great violence for three days without intermission. The Capuchin missionary at San Fernando, a village amid the savannahs of the province of Varinas, and the Franciscan monks stationed near the entrance of the Oronoco, also observed this shower of asteroids, which appears to have been visible, more or less, over an area of several thousand miles, from Greenland to the equator, and from the lonely deserts of South America to Weimar in Germany. About thirty years previous, at the city of Quito, a similar event occurred. So great a number of falling stars were seen in a part of the sky above the volcano of Cayambaro, that the mountain itself was thought at first to be on fire. The sight lasted more than an hour. The people assembled in the plain of Exida, where a magnificent view presented itself of the highest summits of the Cordilleras. A procession was already on the point of setting out from the convent of Saint Francis, when it was perceived that the blaze on the horizon was caused by fiery meteors, which ran along the sky in all directions, at the altitude of twelve or thirteen degrees. In Canada, in the years 1814 and 1819, the stellar showers were noticed, and in the autumn of 1818 on the North Sea, when, in the language of one of the observers, the surrounding atmosphere seemed enveloped in one expansive ocean of fire, exhibiting the appearance of another Moscow in flames. In the former cases, a residiuum of dust was deposited upon the surface of the waters, on the roofs of buildings, and on other objects. The deposition of particles of matter of a ruddy color has frequently followed the descent of aerolites—the origin of the popular stories of the sky having rained blood. The next exhibition upon a great scale of the falling stars occurred on the 13th of November, 1831, and was seen off the coasts of Spain and in the Ohio country. This was followed by another in the ensuing year at exactly the same time. Captain Hammond, then in the Red Sea, off Mocha, in the ship Restitution, gives the following account of it; "From one o'clock A.M. till after daylight, there was a very unusual phenomenon in the heavens. It appeared like meteors bursting in every direction. The sky at the time was clear, and the stars and moon bright, with streaks of light and thin white clouds interspersed in the sky. On landing in the morning, I inquired of the Arabs if they had noticed the above. They said they had been observing it most of the night. I asked them if ever the like had appeared before? The oldest of them replied it had not." The shower was witnessed from the Red Sea westward to the Atlantic, and from Switzerland to the Mauritius.
We now come to by far the most splendid display on record; which, as it was the third in successive years, and on the same day of the month as the two preceding, seemed to invest the meteoric showers with a periodical character; and hence originated the title of the November meteors. The chief scene of the exhibition was included within the limits of the longitude of 61 deg. in the Atlantic Ocean, and that of 100 deg. in Central Mexico, and from the North American lakes to the West Indies. Over this wide area, an appearance presented itself, far surpassing in grandeur the most imposing artificial fire-works. An incessant play of dazzlingly brilliant luminosities was kept up in the heavens for several hours. Some of these were of considerable magnitude and peculiar form. One of large size remained for some time almost stationary in the zenith, over the Falls of Niagara, emitting streams of light. The wild dash of the waters, as contrasted with the fiery uproar above them, formed a scene of unequaled sublimity. In many districts, the mass of the population were terror-struck, and the more enlightened were awed at contemplating so vivid a picture of the Apocalyptic image—that of the stars of heaven falling to the earth, even as a fig-tree casting her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. A planter of South Carolina, thus describes the effect of the scene upon the ignorant blacks: "I was suddenly awakened by the most distressing cries that ever fell on my ears. Shrieks of horror and cries for mercy I could hear from most of the negroes of three plantations, amounting in all to about six or eight hundred. While earnestly listening for the cause, I heard a faint voice near the door calling my name. I arose, and taking my sword, stood at the door. At this moment, I heard the same voice still beseeching me to rise, and saying, 'O my God, the world is on fire!' I then opened the door, and it is difficult to say which excited me most —the awfulness of the scene, or the distressed cries of the negroes. Upward of one hundred lay prostrate on the ground—some speechless, and some with the bitterest cries, but with their hands raised, imploring God to save the world and them. The scene was truly awful; for never did rain fall much thicker than the meteors fell toward the earth; east, west, north, and south, it was the same."
This extraordinary spectacle commenced a little before midnight, and reached its height between four and six o'clock in the morning. The night was remarkably fine. Not a cloud obscured the firmament. Upon attentive observation, the materials of the shower were found to exhibit three distinct varieties:—1. Phosphoric lines formed one class apparently described by a point. These were the most abundant. They passed along the sky with immense velocity, as numerous as the flakes of a sharp snow-storm. 2. Large fire-balls formed another constituency of the scene. These darted forth at intervals along the arch of the sky, describing an arc of 30 deg. or 40 deg. in a few seconds. Luminous trains marked their path, which remained in view for a number of minutes, and in some cases for half an hour or more. The trains were commonly white, but the various prismatic colors occasionally appeared, vividly and beautifully displayed. Some of these fire-balls, or shooting-stars, were of enormous size. Dr. Smith of North Carolina observed one which appeared larger than the full moon at the horizon. "I was startled," he remarks, "by the splendid light in which the surrounding scene was exhibited, rendering even small objects quite visible." The same, or a similar luminous body, seen at New Haven, passed off in a northwest direction, and exploded near the star Capella. 3. Another class consisted of luminosities of irregular form, which remained nearly stationary for a considerable time, like the one that gleamed aloft over the Niagara Falls. The remarkable circumstance is testified by every witness, that all the luminous bodies, without a single exception, moved in lines, which converged in one and the same point of the heavens; a little to the southeast of the zenith. They none of them started from this point, but their direction, to whatever part of the horizon it might be, when traced backward, led to a common focus. Conceive the centre of the diagram to be nearly overhead, and a proximate idea may be formed of the character of the scene, and the uniform radiation of the meteors from the same source. The position of this radiant point among the stars was near [Greek: g] Leonis. It remained stationary with respect to the stars during the whole of the exhibition. Instead of accompanying the earth in its diurnal motion eastward, it attended the stars in their apparent movement westward. The source of the meteoric shower was thus independent of the earth's rotation, and this shows its position to have been in the regions of space exterior to our atmosphere. According to the American Professor, Dr. Olmsted, it could not have been less than 2238 miles above the earth's surface.
The attention of astronomers in Europe, and all over the world, was, as may be imagined, strongly roused by intelligence of this celestial display on the western continent; and as the occurrence of a meteoric shower had now been observed for three years successively, at a coincident era, it was inferred that a return of this fiery hail-storm might be expected in succeeding Novembers. Arrangements were therefore made to watch the heavens on the nights of the 12th and 13th in the following years at the principal observatories; and though no such imposing spectacle as that of 1833 has been witnessed, yet extraordinary flights of shooting stars have been observed in various places at the periodic time, tending also from a fixed point in the constellation Leo. They were seen in Europe and America on November 13th, 1834. The following results of simultaneous observation were obtained by Arago from different parts of France on the nights of November 12th and 13th, 1830:
Paris, at the Observatory 170 Dieppe 36 Arras 27 Strasburg 85 Von Altimarl 75 Angou 49 Rochefort 23 Havre 300
On November 12th, 1837, at eight o'clock in the evening, the attention of observers in various parts of Great Britain was directed to a bright, luminous body, apparently proceeding from the north, which, after making a rapid descent, in the manner of a rocket, suddenly burst, and scattering its particles into various beautiful forms, vanished in the atmosphere. This was succeeded by others all similar to the first, both in shape and the manner of its ultimate disappearance. The whole display terminated at ten o'clock, when dark clouds which continued up to a late hour, overspread the earth, preventing any further observation. In the November of 1838, at the same date, the falling stars were abundant at Vienna: and one of remarkable brilliancy and size, as large as the full moon in the zenith, was seen on the 13th by M. Verusmor, off Cherburg, passing in the direction of Cape La Hogue, a long, luminous train marking its course through the sky. The same year, the non-commissioned officers in the island of Ceylon were instructed to look out for the falling stars. Only a few appeared at the usual time; but on the 5th of December, from nine o'clock till midnight, the shower was incessant, and the number defied all attempts at counting them.
Professor Olmsted, an eminent man of science, himself an eye-witness of the great meteoric shower on the American continent, after carefully collecting and comparing facts, proposed the following theory: The meteors of November 13th, 1833, emanated from a nebulous body which was then pursuing its way along with the earth around the sun; that this body continues to revolve around the sun in an elliptical orbit, but little inclined to the plane of the ecliptic, and having its aphelion near the orbit of the earth; and finally, that the body has a period of nearly six months, and that its perihelion is a little within the orbit of Mercury. The diagram represents the ellipse supposed to be described, E being the orbit of the earth, M that of Mercury, and N that of the assumed nebula, its aphelion distance being about 95 millions of miles, and the perihelion 24 millions. Thus, when in aphelion, the body is close to the orbit of the earth, and this occurring periodically, when the earth is at the same time in that part of its orbit, nebulous particles are attracted toward it by its gravity, and then, entering the atmosphere, are consumed in it by their concurrent velocities, causing the appearance of a meteoric shower. The parent body is inferred to be nebular, because, though the meteors fall toward the earth with prodigious velocity, few, if any, appear to have reached the surface. They were stopped by the resistance of the air and dissipated in it, whereas, if they had possessed any considerable quantity of matter, the momentum would have been sufficient to have brought them down in some instances to the earth. Arago has suggested a similar theory, that of a stream or group of innumerable bodies, comparatively small, but of various dimensions, sweeping round the solar focus in an orbit which periodically cuts that of the earth. These two theories are in substance the Chladnian hypothesis, first started to explain the observed actual descent of aerolites. Though great obscurity rests upon the subject, the fact may be deemed certain that independently of the great planets and satellites of the system, there are vast numbers of bodies circling round the sun, both singly and in groups, and probably an extensive nebula, contact with which causes the phenomena of shooting stars, aerolites, and meteoric showers. But admitting the existence of such bodies to be placed beyond all doubt, the question of their origin, whether original accumulations of matter, old as the planetary orbs, or the dispersed trains of comets, or the remains of a ruined world, is a point beyond the power of the human understanding to reach.
A FIVE DAYS' TOUR IN THE ODENWALD.
A SKETCH OF GERMAN LIFE.
BY WILLIAM HOWITT.
The Odenwald, or Forest of Odin, is one of the most primitive districts of Germany. It consists of a hilly, rather than a mountainous district, of some forty miles in one direction, and thirty in another. The beautiful Neckar bounds it on the south; on the west it is terminated by the sudden descent of its hills into the great Rhine plain. This boundary is well known by the name of the Bergstrasse, or mountain road; which road, however, was at the foot of the mountains, and not over them, as the name would seem to imply. To English travelers, the beauty of this Bergstrasse is familiar. The hills, continually broken into by openings into romantic valleys, slope rapidly down to the plain, covered with picturesque vineyards; and at their feet lie antique villages, and the richly-cultivated plains of the Rhine, here thirty or forty miles wide. On almost every steep and projecting hill, or precipitous cliff, stands a ruined castle, each, as throughout Germany, with its wild history, its wilder traditions, and local associations of a hundred kinds. The railroad from Frankfort to Heidelberg now runs along the Bergstrasse, and will ever present to the eyes of travelers the charming aspect of these old legendary hills; till the enchanting valley of the Neckar, with Heidelberg reposing amid its lovely scenery at its mouth, terminates the Bergstrasse, and the hills which stretch onward, on the way toward Carlsruhe, assume another name.
Every one ascending the Rhine from Mayence to Mannheim has been struck with the beauty of these Odenwald hills, and has stood watching that tall white tower on the summit of one of them, which, with windings of the river, seem now brought near, and then again thrown very far off; seemed to watch and haunt you, and, for many hours, to take short cuts to meet you, till, at length, like a giant disappointed of his prey, it glided away into the gray distance, and was lost in the clouds. This is the tower of Melibocus, above the village of Auerbach, to which we shall presently ascend, in order to take our first survey of this old and secluded haunt of Odin.
This quiet region of hidden valleys and deep forests extends from the borders of the Black Forest, which commences on the other side of the Neckar, to the Spessart, another old German forest; and in the other direction, from Heidelberg and Darmstadt, toward Heilbronn. It is full of ancient castles, and a world of legends. In it stands, besides the Melibocus, another tower, on a still loftier point, called the Katzenbuckel, which overlooks a vast extent of these forest hills. Near this lies Eberbach, a castle of the descendants of Charlemagne, which we shall visit; the scenes of the legend of the Wild Huntsman; the castles of Goetz von Berlichingen, and many another spot familiar by its fame to our minds from childhood. But besides this, the inhabitants are a people living in a world of their own; retaining all the simplicity of their abodes and habits; and it is only in such a region that you now recognize the pictures of German life such as you find them in the Haus Maerchen of the brothers Grimm.
In order to make ourselves somewhat acquainted with this interesting district, Mrs. Howitt and myself, with knapsack on back, set out at the end of August, 1841, to make a few days' ramble on foot through it. The weather, however, proved so intensely hot, and the electrical sultriness of the woods so oppressive, that we only footed it one day, when we were compelled to make use of a carriage, much to our regret.
On the last day in August we drove with a party of friends, and our children, to Weinheim; rambled through its vineyards, ascended to its ancient castle, and then went on to Birkenau Thal, a charming valley, celebrated, as its name denotes, for its lovely hanging birches, under which, with much happy mirth, we dined.
Scrambling among the hills, and winding up the dry footpaths, among the vineyards of this neighborhood, we were yet more delighted with the general beauty of the scenery, and with the wild-flowers which every where adorned the hanging cliffs and warm waysides. The marjorum stood in ruddy and fragrant masses; harebells and campanulas of several kinds, that are cultivated in our gardens, with bells large and clear; crimson pinks; the Michaelmas daisy; a plant with a thin, radiated yellow flower, of the character of an aster; a centaurea of a light purple, handsomer than any English one; a thistle in the dryest places, resembling an eryngo, with a thick, bushy top; mulleins, yellow and white; the wild mignonnette, and the white convolvulus; and clematis festooning the bushes, recalled the flowery fields and lanes of England, and yet told us that we were not there. The meadows had also their moist emerald sward scattered with the grass of Parnassus, and an autumnal crocus of a particularly delicate lilac.
At the inn, at the mouth of Birkenau Thal, we proposed to take the eilwagen as far as Auerbach, but that not arriving, we availed ourselves of a peasant's light wicker wagon. The owner was a merry fellow, and had a particularly spirited black horse; and taking leave of our friends, after a delightful day, we had a most charming drive to Auerbach, and one equally amusing, from the conversation of our driver.
After tea we ascended to Auerbach Castle, which occupies a hill above the town, still far overtopped, however, by the height of Melibocus. The view was glorious. The sunset across the great Rhine plain was magnificent. It diffused over the whole western sky an atmosphere of intense crimson light, with scattered golden clouds, and surrounded by a deep violet splendor. The extremities of the plain, from the eye being dazzled with this central effulgence, lay in a solemn and nearly impenetrable gloom. The castle in ruins, seen by this light, looked peculiarly beautiful and impressive. In the court on the wall was an inscription, purporting that a society in honor of the military career of the Grand Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt, in whose territory and in that of Baden the Odenwald chiefly lies, had here celebrated his birthday in the preceding July. Round the inscription hung oaken garlands, within each of which was written the name and date of the battles in which he had been engaged against the French. An altar of moss and stones stood at a few yards' distance in front of these memorials, at which a peasant living in the tower told us, the field-preacher had delivered an oration on the occasion.
In the morning, at five o'clock, we began to ascend the neighboring heights of Melibocus. It took us an hour and a quarter. The guide carried my knapsack; and as we went, men came up through different footpaths in the woods, with hoes on their shoulders. When we arrived on the top, we found others, and among them some women, accompanied by a policeman. They were peasants who had been convicted of cutting wood for fuel in the hills, and were adjudged to pay a penalty, or in default, to work it out in hoeing and clearing the young plantations for a proportionate time—a much wiser way than shutting them up in a prison, where they are of no use either to themselves or the state.
The view from the tower, eighty feet in height, over the great Rhine plain, is immense and splendid, including two hundred villages, towns, and cities. The windings of the magnificent Rhine lie mapped out below you, and on its banks are seen, as objects of peculiar interest, the cathedral of Speier, the lofty dome of the Jesuits' church at Mannheim, and the four towers of the noble cathedral of Worms. In the remote distance, as a fitting termination to this noble landscape, are seen the heights of the Donnersberg, the Vosges, and the Schwarzwald.
The policeman, who followed us up into the tower, mentioned the time when the inhabitants of that district had hastened thither to watch the approach of the French armies, and pointed out the spot where they were first seen, and described their approach, and the terrors and anxieties of the people, in the most lively and touching manner.
The wind was strong on this lofty height, and the rattling of the shutters in the look-out windows in the tower, and of their fastenings, would have been dismal enough on a stormy night, and gave quite a wildness to it even then. The view over the Odenwald was beautiful. Half covered with wood, as far as you could see, with green, winding straths between them, distant castles, and glimpses of the white walls of low-lying dorfs or villages, it gave you an idea of a region at once solitary and attractive. The whole was filled with the cheerful light of morning, and the wooded hills looked of the most brilliant green. We descended, and pursued our way through the forest glades with that feeling of enjoyment which the entrance into an unknown region, pleasant companionship, and fine weather, inspire. When we issued from the woods which clothe the sides of Melibocus, we sate down on the heathy turf, and gazed with a feeling of ever-youthful delight on the scene around us. Above us, and over its woods, rose the square white tower of Melibocus; below, lay green valleys, from among whose orchards issued the smoke of peaceful cottages; and beyond, rose hills covered with other woods, with shrouded spots, the legends of which had reached us in England, and had excited the wonder of our early days—the castle of the Wild Huntsman—the traditions of the followers of Odin—and the strongholds of many an iron-clad knight, as free to seize the goods of his neighbors as he was strong to take and keep them. Now all was peaceful and Arcadian. We met, as we descended into the valley, young women coming up with their cows, and a shepherd with a mixed flock of sheep and swine. He had a belt around him, to which hung a chain, probably to fasten a cow to, as we afterward saw cows so secured.
We found the cottages, in the depths of the valleys, among their orchards, just those heavy, old-fashioned sort of things that we see in German engravings; buildings of wood-framing, the plaster panels of which were painted in various ways, and the windows of those circular and octagon panes which, from old association, always seem to belong to German cottages, just such as that in which the old witch lived in Grimm's Kinder und Haus Maerchen; and in the Folk Sagor of Sweden and Norway. There were, too, the large ovens built out of doors and roofed over, such as the old giantess, Kaeringen som vardt stekt i ugnen, was put into, according to German and Scandinavian legends. The people were of the simplest character and appearance. We seemed at once to have stepped out of modern times into the far-past ages. We saw several children sitting on a bench in the open air, near a school-house, learning their lessons, and writing on their slates; and we wept into the school.
The schoolmaster was a man befitting the place; simple, rustic, and devout. He told us that the boys and girls, of which his school was full, came, some of them, from a considerable distance. They came in at six o'clock in the morning and staid till eight, had an hour's rest, and then came in till eleven, when they went home, and did not return again till the next morning, being employed the rest of the day in helping their parents; in going into the woods for fuel; into the fields to glean, tend cattle, cut grass, or do what was wanted. All the barefooted children of every village, how ever remote, thus acquire a tolerable education, learning singing as a regular part of it. They have what they call their Sing-Stunde, singing lesson, every day. On a black board the Lied, song, or hymn for the day, was written in German character in chalk; and the master, who was naturally anxious to exhibit the proficiency of his scholars, gave them their singing lesson while we were there. The scene was very interesting in itself; but there was something humiliating to our English minds, to think that in the Odenwald, a portion of the great Hyrcanian forest, a region associating itself with all that is wild and obscure, every child of every hamlet and cottage, however secluded, was provided with that instruction which the villages of England are in a great measure yet destitute of. But here the peasants are not, as with us, totally cut off from property in the soil which they cultivate; totally dependent on the labor afforded by others; on the contrary, they are themselves the possessors. This country is, in fact, in the hands of the people. It is all parceled out among the multitude; and, wherever you go, instead of the great halls, vast parks, and broad lands of the few, you see perpetual evidences of an agrarian system. Except the woods, the whole land is thrown into small allotments, and upon them the people are laboring busily for themselves.
Here, in the Odenwald, the harvest, which in the great Rhine plain was over in July, was now, in great measure, cut. Men, women, and children, were all engaged in cutting it, getting it in, or in tending the cattle. Everywhere stood the simple wagons of the country with their pair of yoked cows. Women were doing all sorts of work; reaping, and mowing, and threshing with the men. They were without shoes and stockings, clad in a simple, dark-blue petticoat; a body of the same, leaving the white chemise sleeves as a pleasing contrast; and their hair, in some instances, turned up under their little black or white caps; in others hanging wild and sunburnt on their shoulders. The women, old and young, work as hard as the men, at all kinds of work, and yet with right good-will, for they work for themselves. They often take their dinners with them to the fields, frequently giving the lesser children a piece of bread each, and locking them up in their cottages till they return. This would be thought a hard life in England; but hard as it is, it is better than the degradation of agricultural laborers, in a dear country like England, with six or eight shillings a week, and no cow, no pig, no fruit for the market, no house, garden, or field of their own; but, on the contrary, constant anxiety, the fear of a master on whom they are constantly dependent, and the desolate prospect of ending their days in a union work-house.