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The origin of superstition is a mystery alike to the historian and the philosopher. The former, after vain attempts to trace it out, is obliged to resort to a species of philosophy, and to conjecture that a symbolical mode of writing led the ancients by degrees from the worship of God through various representations, to the worship of the representations themselves as of a multiform Being ; while the latter seeks for it in the human mind, independent of outward circumstances. On this point however, we must be content to remain in ignorance ; and the truth if known might be far from complimentary to human nature. We have before us the general fact that the world was long involved in the night of superstition; and that the faint glimmering light of that philosophy which hinted at the existence of the true God and the immortality of the soul, was soon extinguished, while those who had enkindled or who nourished the flame were persecuted unto death. During this time codes of morality, equally with the superstitions on which they were based, were subject to continual change. Yet often as system followed system among the nations of the East, the result showed that each differed from its predecessor in little more than name, and that all were alike degrading.
Book after book was written, from the Zendavesta of the Egyptians to the mythologies of the Greeks and Romans; yet none of these “sacred records” exerted a salutary influence upon morals. There is however, even in the black volumes of heathenism, here and there a page illumined with almost inspired light, containing much that is beautiful and entertaining, though little that proved beneficial to mankind. This fact has led many to believe “that in the beginning, all religious truth was made known to man by direct revelation, but that this gradually faded away, leaving a few traces only to be preserved by tradition.” We shall not attempt to discuss this theory, as it would be impossible for us ever to arrive at the truth.
There were, as has been said, many superstitious notions among the ancients both beautiful and instructive. Not a few of these obtained in Egypt, and as the newly discovered key to hieroglyphics has unlocked her arcana, we need not scruple to profane her “holy things.” The writer recently met with various medals, &c. bearing Egyptian, oriental, and other devices, the descriptions of which he has ventured to translate from the Latin, aiming rather at correctness than beauty in his translation.
wOL. I. I. 39
“This remarkable statue of the goddess Isis, wrought in the
purest crystal, rests upon a superb column of black and white porphyry. Cuperus, Pignorius and others, make mention of Isis. In her and Osiris, who was either her brother, husband, or son, (for authors are in doubt on this point,) almost the entire religious belief of the Eyptians and the oriental nations is centered. We have a complete history of these two divinities in the works of Julius Firmius,” Plutarcht and L. Diodorus, unless their narratives be considered fabulous. Many of the ancient divinities were made subordinate to Isis: among whom were Minerva, Proserpina, Diana, Lucina, Juno, Ceres and Terra. Hence a pillar was erected at Capua bearing this appropriate inscription,
TE • TIBI
VNA - QVAE
ES - OMNIA
This agrees with what according to Plutarch, was inscribed on her temple. "Eyð Étus träy to yeyovos, zów Św, xà égéueror. Ego Sunn Oinne quod extitit, est et erit. In like manner on another pillar she is called Myrionyma, (mille habens nomina,) et Fructisera, et Salutaris et Invicta. Fabrettus numbers her also among the most illustrious divinities of the Greeks. An interesting account of Isis may be found in the writings of Matthaeus.”
It is evident that much more is meant than is expressed in the inscription first quoted, and the reader may exercise his ingenuity in explaining the periods. The second and third inscriptions cannot fail to remind one of the scriptural character and attributes of the great I AM.
Cupidines navigantes in conchá.-(In cameo.)
“Whether ancient philosophers, with their unassisted reason, acquired correct notions of a future state of rewards and punishments, is yet doubtful, since such an opinion hardly accords either with the theory that “the souls of the departed enter upon a state of forgetfulness of the past, by quaffing deep oblivious draughts at the Lethaan stream ;’ or with the Pythagorean doctrine of metempsychosis. Nevertheless, one's house is not better known to him, than are Tartarus and Elysium to the ‘sons of the Poets.” On one point however poets differ; some placing the abode of happiness, (which is supposed to adjoin the orb of the moon,) in Spain; others in the islands on this (the eastern) side of the Atlantic; but most beyond the ocean. They all boast that the souls of heroes and the genii are borne to the Elysian fields; and in this beautiful gem three genii
• De Error. Prophan. Relig. + De Iside.
are represented as being wasted thither in a shell through the ocean. The ancients delighted in making such representations upon gems and medals. In the present instance one genius is standing up to guide the sail, another is reclining with an urn of ashes in his hands, and the third, like the Tritons, has a spiral-wreathed trumpet widening from the mouth-piece. There are neither rowers nor a helmsman; a fit emblem of the pleasure and safety of the voyage. Pliny mentions the shell-formed among other pinnaces; and perhaps there is much truth in his jest about the shell in which Venus, the mother of loves, is said to have sailed to Cyprus: whence Tibullus—‘et faveas Concha, Cypria, vectā tuá.’” See also Tacitus, Hist. lib. 2.3.
The writer will not insult the reader's taste by pointing out the beauties of this superstition; he only regrets that the gems may not be seen by all.
Yes, there is one I love;—with her my heart
I love her not for beauty,+though so fair
Anon I mingled in the busy world:
It may be, reader, that as thine eye rests upon the title with which I have seen fit to honor my intellectual offspring, thou wilt remember the words of a modern author—“He who would write upon the sea must have been upon it.” Know then that these sketches are presented to thee by one to whom the sea has been no stranger;-by one who made it for many years his home, and who even now, deeply enamored as he is of “college life,” longs again to be dancing over the green billows of the ocean. They are founded upon incidents which transpired during his sea voyages between the years 182— and 183—, and are rewritten from a journal kept by him during that time. He presents to thee no fictitious tale with its labored plot and unnatural tragico-comico denouement, but simply “sketches” illustrative of a sailor's life. And here let me tell thee, reader, that, as thou wilt soon discover, he has written as a sailor ought to write—in his own language; blame him not then if thou meetest with many sea phrases to thee at first unintelligible, but con thy dictionary well and learn that which, if thou meanest to be a man, thou wilt ne'er repent having learned.
It was at an early hour on the morning of August 17th, 182—, that I was summoned to repair on board the ship Java, then lying at the end of Central wharf in the city of B . The wind which for more than a week had been from the eastward had shifted during the night to the northwest, and at this time was blowing one of those stiff exhilarating breezes which never sails to impart buoyancy to the spirits, while it casts a fresh beauty over the works of nature. The ship was to sail in an hour, and bidding farewell to my friends with mingled feelings of sorrow and delight, I hastened to the vessel. Upon my arrival I found all on board in that high state of excitement which always attends the departure from port. The ship's top-sails and main-top-gallant-sail were already sheeted home and hoisted;—the fore and mizen top-gallant-sails were loosed ready for setting;-while the beckets having been cast off from the jib and spanker, the former was slatting in the breeze like the pawing of a young race-horse eager for the start. Having stowed away my trunks in the state-room, I took my stand near the companion-way as a silent spectator of the bustling scene. My father, to whom the ship belonged and whom I shall call Mr. X., was alternately hurrying from his store to the ship and from the ship to his store, now giving his last orders to the captain and now enquiring if all the men were on board, and again urging the pilot to set all the top-gallantsails, which from the freshness of the breeze he had declined doing. Here were landlords helping on board the intoxicated sailors who had been fleeced of their last dollar;-there was a mother urging her good advice upon a son, who, weary of the farm, had shipped as a green hand about to try his fortune as a sailor. All things at length were ready for sailing.
‘What are you waiting for now—why don't you-cast off?” said Mr. X. to the pilot, who stood near the wheel watching the fore and mizen top-sails, which being braced aback, counteracted the action of the main top-sail as it filled with the gale.
‘The cook has not yet come,” said the mate.
“Those black-skinned fellows are always the last on board. Where is his landlord **