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A LETTER TO THE TRAN SLATOR, FROM
, Esq. Cairo, June 19, 1800. Mr DEAR Sin, Durisg a visit lately paid by me to the monastery of St. Macarius—which is situated, as you know, in the Vallev of the Lakes of Natron—I was lucky enough to obtain possession of a curious Greek manuscript, which, in the hope that you may be induced to translate it, I herewith transmit to you. Observing one of the monks very busily occupied in tearing op into a variety of fantastic shapes some papers which had the appearance of being the leaves of old books, I inquired of him the meaning of his task, and received the following explanation:The Arabs, it seems, who are as fond of pigeons as the ancient Egyptians, have a superstitious notion that, if they place in their pigeon-houses small scraps of paper, written over with learned characters, the birds are always sure to thrive the better for the charm; and the monks, who are never slow in profiting by superstition, have, at all times, a supply of such amulets for purchasers. In general, the fathers of the monastery have been in the habit of scribbling these fragments themselves; but a discovery lately made by them, saves all this trouble. Having dug up (as my informant stated) a chest of old manuscripts, which, being chiefly on the subject of alchemy, must have been buried in the time of Dioclesian, “we thought,” added the monk, “that we could not employ such rubbish more properly, than in tearing it up, as you see, for the pigeon-houses of the Arabs.” On my expressing a wish to rescue some part of these treasures from the fate to which his indolent fraternity had consigned them, he produced the manuscript which I have now the pleasure of sending you—the only one, he said, remaining entire—and I very readily paid the price which he demanded for it. You will find the story, I think, not altogether uninteresting; and the coincidence, in many respects, of the curious details in Chapter VI., with the description of the same ceremonies in the Romance of Sethos, will, I have no doubt,
strike you. Hoping that you may be induced to give a translation of this Tale to the world,
I am, my dear Sir, very truly yours,
It was in the fourth year of the reign of the late Emperor Walerian, that the followers of Epicurus, who were at that time mumerous in Athens, proceeded to the election of a person to fill the vacant Chair of their sect;-and, by the unanimous voice of the School, I was the individual chosen for their Chief. I was just then entering on my twenty-fourth year, and no instance had ever before occurred, of a person so young being selected for that high office. Youth, however, and the personal advantages that adorn it, could not but rank among the most agreeable recommendations to a sect that included within its circle all the beauty as well as the wit of Athens, and which, though dignifying its pursuits with the name of philoso hy, was little else than a plausible pretext for the more refined cultivation of pleasure.
The character of the sect had, indeed, much changed since the time of its wise and virtuous founder, who, while he asserted that Pleasure is the only Good, inculcated also that Good is the only source of Pleasure. The purer part of this doctrine had long evaporated, and the temperate Epicurus would have ss little recognised his own sect in the assemblage of refined voluptuories who now usurped its name, as he would have knownhis own quiet Garden in the luxurious groves and bowers among which the meetings of the School were now held.
Miny causes concurred, at this period, besides the attractiveness of its doctrines, to render our School by far the most popular of any that still survived the glory of Greece. It may generally be observed, that the prevalence, in one half of a community, of very rigid notions on the subject of religion, produces the opposite extreme of laxity and infidelity in the other; and this kind of re-action it was that now mainly contributed to render the doctrines of the Garden the most fashionable philosophy of the day. The rapid progress of the Christian faith had alarmed all those, who, either from piety or worldliness, were interested in the continuance of the old estabfished creed—all who believed in the Deities of Olympus, and all who lived by then. The natural consequence was, a con
siderable increase of zeal and activity, throughout the constituted authorities and priesthood of the whole Heathen world. What was wanting in sincerity of belief was made up in rigour; —the weakest parts of the Mythology were those, of course, most angrily defended, and any reflections, tending to bring Saturn, or his wife Ops, into contempt, were punished with the utmost severity of the law. In this state of affairs, between the alarmed bigotry of the declining Faith and the simple, sublime austerity of her rival. it was not wonderful that those lovers of ease and pleasure, who had no interest, reversionary or otherwise, in the old religion, and were too indolent to inquire into the sanctions of the new, should take refuge from the severities of both in the arms of a luxurious philosophy, which, leaving to others the task of disputing about the future, centred all its wisdom in the full enjoyment of the present. The sectaries of the Garden had, ever since the death of their founder, been accustomed to dedicate to his memory the twentieth day of every month. To these monthly rites had, for some time, been added a grand annual Festival, in commemoration of his birth. The feasts given on this occasion by my predecessors in the Chair, had been invariably distinguished for their taste and splendour; and it was my ambition, not merely to imitate this example, but even to render the anniversary, now celebrated under my auspices, so lively and brilliant as to efface the recollection of all that had preceded it. Seldom, indeed, had Athens witnessed so bright a scene. The grounds that formed the original site of the Garden had received, from time to time, considerable additions; and the whole extent was now laid out with that perfect taste, which understands how to wed Nature with Art, without sacrificing any of her simplicity to the alliance. Walks, leading through wildernesses of shade and fragrance—glades, opening, as if to afford a play-ground for the sunshine—temples, rising on the very spots where Imagination herself would have called them up, and fountains and lakes, in alternate motion and repose, either wantonly courting the verdure, or calmly sleeping in its embrace—such was the variety of feature that liversified these
fair gardens; and, animated as they were on this occasion, by
all the living wit and loveliness of Athens, it afforded a scene
such as my own youthful fancy, rich as it was then in images of luxury and beauty, could hardly heve anticipated. The ceremonies of the day began wrh the very dawn, when, according to the form of simpler and better times, those among the disci.les who had apartments within the Garden, bore the image of our Founder in procession from chamber to chamber, chanting verses in praise of what had long ceased to be objects of our imitation—his frugality and temperance. Round a beautiful lake, in the centre of the Garden, stood four white Doric temples, in one of which was collected a library containing all the flowers of Grecian literature; while, in the remaining three, Conversation, the Song, and the Dance, held, uninterrupted by each other, their respective rites. In the Library stood busts of all the most illustrious Epicureans, both of Rome and Greece–Horace, Atticus, Pliny the elder, the poet Lucretius, Lucian, and the lamented biographer of the Philosophers, lately lost to us, Diogenes Laertius. There were also the portraits, in marble, of all the eminent female votaries of the School–Leontium and her fair daughter Danae, Themista, Philienis, and others. It was here that, in my capacity of Heresiarch, on the morning of the Festival, I received the felicitations of the day from some of the fairest lips of Athens; and, in pronouncing the customary oration to the memory of our Master (in which it was usual to dwell upon the doctrines he had inculcated,) en deavoured to attain that art, so useful before such an audience, of lending to the gravest subjects a charm, which secures them iisteners even among the simplest and most volatile. Though study, as may be supposed, engrossed but little the nights or mornings of the Garden, yet all the lighter parts of learning—that portion of its attic honey, for which the bee is not compelled to go very deep into the flower—was somewhat zealously cultivated by us. Even here, however, the young student had to encounter that kind of distraction, which is, of all others, the least favourable to composure of thought; and, with more than one of my fair disciples there used to occur such scenes as the following, which a poet of the Garden, taking his picture from the life, thus described:–
*As o'er the lake, in evening's glow,
But it was for the evening of that day, that the richest of our luxuries were reserved. Every part of the Garden was illuminated, with the most skilful variety of lustre; while over the Lake of the Temples were scattered wreaths of flowers, through which boats, filled with beautiful children, floated, as throughaa liquid parterre.
Between two of these boats a mock combat was perpetually carried on;—their respective commanders, two blooming youths, being habited to represent Eros and Anteros: the for mer, the Celestial Love of the Platonists, and the latter, that more earthly spirit, which usurps the name of Love among the F'picureans. Throughout the whole evening their conflict was unaintained with various success; the timid distance at which Eros kept uloof from his lively antagonist being his only safe£uard against those darts of fire, with showers of which the other assailed him, but which, falling short of their mark upon the lake, only scorched the few flowers on which they fell, and were extinguished.
In another part of the gardens, on a wide glade, illuminated only by the moon, was performed an imitation of the torch-race of the Panathenaea by young boys chosen for their flectness, and arrayed with wings, like Cupids; while, not far off, a group of seven nymphs, with each a star on her forehead, represented the movements of the planetary choir, and embodied the dream of Pythagoras into real motion and song.
At every turning some new enchantment broke unexpectedly on the rye or ear; and now, from the depth of a dark grove, from which a fountain at the same time issued, there came a strain of sweet music, which, mingling with the murmur of the water, seemed like the voice of the spirit that presided over its flow; while, at other times, the same strain appeared to come breathing from amorg flowers, or was heard suddenly from under ground, as if the foot had just touched some spring tuat set its melody in motion.
It may seem strange that I should now dwell upon all these trifling details; but they were to me full of the future; and every thing connected with that memorable night—even ita long-repented follies—must for ever live fondly and sacredly in my memory. The festival concluded with a banquet, at which, as master of the Sect, I presided; and being, myself. in every sense, the ascendant spirit of the whole scene, gave life to all around me, and saw my own happiness reflected in that of others.
The festiva was over:-the sounds of the song and dance had ceased, and I was now left in those luxurious gardens, alre. Though so ardent and active a votary of I leasure, I had by nature, a disposition full of melancholy;-an imagina. tion taat, even in the midst of mirth and happiness, presented saddening thoughts, and threw the shadow of the future over the gayest illusions of the present. Melancholy was, indeed, twin-born in my soul with Passion; and not even in the fullest fervour of the latter were they ever separated. From the first moment that I was conscious of thought and feeling, the same dark thread had run across the web; and images of death and annihilation came to mingle themselves with even the mosa smiling scenes through which love and enjoyment led me. My very passion for pleasure but deepened these gloomy thoughts. For, shut out, as I was by my creed, from a future life, and having no hope beyond the narrow horizon of this, every minute of earthly delight assumed, in my cyes a mourn. ful preciousness; and pleasure, like the flower of the cemetery, grew but more luxuriant from the neighbourhood of death.
This very night my triumph, my happiness, had seemed complete. I had been the presiding genius of that voluptuous scene. Both my ambition and my love of pleasure had drunk deep of the rich cup for which they thirsted. Looked up to as I was by the learned, and admired and loved by the beautiful and the young, I had seen, in every eye that mes mine, either the acknowledgment of bright triumphs arcady won, or the promise of others, still brighter, that awaited me. Yet, even in the midst of all this, the same dark thoughts had presented themselves;—the perishableness of myself and all around me had recurred every instant to my mind. Those hands I had prest—those eyes, in which I had seen sparkling a spirit of light and life that ought never to die—those voices, *. had spoken of eternal love—all, all I felt, were but a mockery of the moment, and would leave nothing eterna. but the silence of their dust!
Oh, were it not for this sad voice,
Such was the description I gave of my own feelings in one of those wild, passionate songs, to which this mixture of mirth and melancholy, in a spirit so buoyant, naturally gave birth. And seldom had my heart so fully surrendered itself to this sort of vague sadness as at that very moment, when as I paced thoughtfully among the fading lights and flowers of the banquet, the echo of my own step was all that now sounded, where so many gay forms had lately been revelling. The moon was still up, the morning had not yet glimmered, and the calm glories of the night still rested on all around. Unconscious whither my pathway led, I continued to wander along, till I, at length, found myself before that fair statue of Venus, with which the chisel of Alcamenes had embellished our Garden;–that image of deified woman, the only idol to which I had ever yet bent the knee. Leaning against the pedestal of the statue, I raised my eyes to heaven, and fixing them sadly and intently on the ever-brrning stars, as if seeking to read the mournful secret in their light, asked, wherefore was it that Man alone must fade and perish, while they so much less wonderful, less godlike than he, thus still lived on in radiance unchangeable and for ever! “Oh, that there were some spell, sometalisman,” I exclaimed, “to make the spirit that burns within us deathless as those stars, and opes
to it a career like theirs, as bright and inextinguishable throughout all time!” While thus indulging in wild and melancholy fancies, I felt that lassitude which earthly pleasure, however sweet, still leaves behind, coine insensibly over me, and at length sunk at the base of the statue to sleep. But even in sleep, the same fancies continued to haunt me; and a dream, so instinct and vivid, as to leave behind ... the impression of reality, thus presented itself to my mind. I found myself suddenly transported to a wide and desolate plain, where nothing appeared to breathe, or move, or live. The very sky that hung above it looked pale and extinct, giving the idea, not of darkness, but of light that had become dead;—and had that whole region been the remains of some older world, left broken up and sunless, it could not have presented an aspect more quenched and desolate. The only thing that bespoke life, throughout this melancholy vaste, was a small spark of light, that at first glimmered in the distance, but, at length, slowly approached the bleak spot where I stood. As it drew nearer, I could see that its small but steady gleam came from a taper in the hand of an ancient and venerable man, who now stood, like a pale messenger from the grave, before me. After a few moments of awful silence, during which he looked at me with a sadness that thrilled my very soul, he said “Thou, who seekest eternal life, go unto the shores of the dark Nile—go unto the shores of the dark Nile, and thou wilt find the eternal life thou seekest!” No sooner had he uttered these words than the death-like hue of his cheek at once brightened into a smile of more than earthly promise; while the small torch he held in his hand sent forth a glow of radiance, by which suddenly the whole surface of the desert was illuminated;—the light spreading even to the distant horizon's edge, along whose tine I could now see gardens, palaces, and spires, all as 2Eisht as the rich architecture of the clouds at sunset. Sweet music, too, came floating in every direction through the air, and, from all sides, such varieties of enchantment broke upon me, that, with the excess alike of harmony and of radiance, I awoke. That infidels should be superstitious is an anomaly neither wnusual nor strange. A belief in superhuman agency seems natural and necessary to the mind; and, if not suffered to flow in the obvious channels, it will find a vent in some other. Hence, many who have doubted the existence of a God, have yet implicitly placed themselves under the patronage of Fate or the stars. Much the same inconsistency I was conscious cf in my own feelings. Though rejecting all belief in a Divine Providence, I had yet a faith in dreams, that all my philosophy could not conquer. Nor was experience wanting to confirm me in my delusion; for, by some of those accidental cotecidences, which make the fortune of soothsayers and prophets, dreams, more than once, had been to me—
Oracles, truer far than oak,
It was not wonderful, therefore, that the vision of that night -touching, as it did, a chord so ready to vibrate—should have affected me with more than ordinary power, and even sunk deeper into my memory with every effort I made to for. get it. In vain did I mock at my own weakness; such self. derision is seldom sincere. In vain did I pursue my accustomed pleasures. Their zest was, as usual, for ever new ; but still, in the midst of all my enjoyment, came the cold and saddening consciousness of mortality, and, with it, the recol*c ion of that visionary promise, to which my fancy, in defiance of reason, still continued to cling. At times indulging in reveries, that were little else than a continuation of my dream, I even contemplated the possible existence of some mighty secret, by which youth, if not perpetuated, might be at least prolonged, and that dreadful vicinity of death, within whose circle love pines and pleasure sickens, might be for a while averted. “Who knows,” I would ask, “but that in Egypt, that region of wonders, where Mystery hath yet unfolded but half her treasures—when still remain, undeciphered, upon the pillars of Seth, so many written se! crets of the antediluvian world—who can tell but that some powerful charm, some amulet, may there lie hid, whose disemery, as this phantom hath promised, but awaits my com it-g-some compound of the same pure atoms, that form the *ence of the Tiving stars, and whose infusion into the frame of man might render him also unfading and immortal!"
Thus fondly did I sometimes speculate, in those vague moods of mind, when the life of excitement in which I was engaged, acting upon a warm heart and vivid fancy, produced an intoxication of spirit, during which I was not wholly my self. This bewilderment, too, was not a little increased by the constant struggle I experienced between my own natural feelings, and the cold, mortal creed of my sect—in endeavouring to escape from whose deadening bondage I but broke loose into the realms of fantasy and romance.
Even in my sober st moments, however, that strange vision for ever haunted me; and every effort I made to chase it from my recollection was unavailing. The deliberate conclusion, therefore, to which I at last came, was, that to visit Egypt was now my only resource; that without seeing that land of wonders, I could not rest, nor until convinced of my folly by disappointment, be reasonable. Without delay, accordingly, I announced to my friends of the Garden, the intention I had formed to pay a visit to the land of Pyramids. To none of them, however, did I dare to confess the vague, visionary impulse that actuated me;—knowledge being the object that I alleged, while Pleasure was that for which they gave me credit. The interests of the School, it was feared, might suffer by my absence; and there were some tenderer ties, which had still more to fear from separation. But for the former inconvenience a temporary remedy was provided; while the latter a skilful distribution of vows and sighs asleviated. Being furnished with recommendatory letters to all parts of Egypt, I set sail in the summer of the year 257, A. D., for Alexandria.
To one, who so well knew how to extract pleasure from every moment on land, a sea-voyage, however smooth and favourable, appeared the least agreeable mode of losing time that could be devised. Often, indeed, did my imagination, in passing some isle of those seas, people it with fair forms and loving hearts, to which most willingly would I have paused to offer homage. But the wind blew direct towards the land of Mystery; and, still more, I heard a voice within me, whispering for ever, “On.” As we approached the coast of Egypt, our course became less prosperous; and we a specimen of the benevolence of the divinities of the Nile, in the shape of a storm, or rather whirlwind, which had nearly sunk our vessel, and which the Egyptians on board declared to be the work of their deity, Typhon. After a day and night of danger, during which we were driven out of our course to the eastward, some benigner influence prevailed above; and, at length, as the morning freshly broke, we saw the beautiful city of Alexandria rising from the sea, with its proud Palace of Kings, its portico of four hundred columns, and the fair Pillar of Pillars, towering in the midst to heaven. After passing in review this splendid vision, we shot rapidly round the Rock of Pharos, and, in a few minutes, found our selves in the harbour of Eunostus. The sun had risen, but the light on the Great Tower of the Rock was still burning; and there was a languor in the first waking movements of that voluptuous city—whose houses and temples lay shining in silence around the harbour—that sufficiently attested the festivities of the preceding night. We were soon landed on the quay; and, as I walked through a line of palaces and shrines, up the street which leads from the sea to the Gate of Canopus, fresh as I was from the contemplation of my own lovely Athens, I yet felt a glow of admiration at the scene around me, which its novelty, even more than its magnificence, inspired. Nor were the luxuries and delights, which such a city promised, among the least of the considerations upon which my fancy dwelt. On the contrary, every thing around me seemed prophetic of love and pleasure. The very forms of the architecture, to my Epicurean imagination, appeared to call up images of living grace; and even the dim seclusion of the temples and groves spoke only of tender mysteries to my mind. As the whole bright scene grew animated around me, I felt that though Egypt might not enable me to lengthen life, she could teach the next best art—that of multiplying its enjoyments. The population of Alexandria, at this period, consisted of the most motley miscellany of nations, religions and sects
that had ever been brought together in one city. Beside, the school of the Grecian Platonist was seen the oratory of the cabalistic Jew; while the church of the Christian stood, andisturbed, over the crypts of the Egyptian Hierophunt. Here, the adoler of Fire, from the East, laughed at the wess elegant superstition of the worshipper of cats, from the West. Here Christianity, too, had learned to emulate the ious vagaries of Paganism; and while, on one side, her 5. professor was seen bending his knee gravely before a serpent, on the other, a Nicosian Christian was heard contending, with no less gravity, that there could be no chance whatever of salvation out of the pale of the Greek alphabet. Still worse, the uncharitableness of Christian schism was already, with equal vigour, distinguishing itself; and I heard every where, on my arrival, of the fierce rancour and hite, with which the Greek and Latin churchmen were then persecuting each other, because, forsooth, the one fasted on the seventh day of the week, and the others fasted upon the fourth and sixth ! To none, however, of these different creeds and sects, except in as far as they furnished food for ridicule, had I time to pay much attention. I was now in the most luxurious city of the universe, and accordingly gave way, without reserve, to the various seductions that surrounded me. My reputation, both as a philosopher and a man of pleasure, had preceded my coming; and Alexandria, the second Athens of the world, welcomed me as her own. I found my celebrity, indeed, act as a talisman, that opened all hearts and doors at my approach. The usual novitiate of acquaintance was dispensed with in my favour, and not only intimacies, but loves and friendships, ripened as rapidly in my path, as vegetation springs up where the Nile has slowed. The dark beauty of the Egyptian women possessed a novelty in my eyes that enhanced its other charins; and the hue left by the surn on their rounded cheeks seem 'd but an earnest of the genial ardou. he onust have kindled in their hearts
Th’ imbrowning of the fruit, that tehs,
Some weeks had now passed in such constant an everchanging pleasures, that even the melancholy voice deep within my heart, though it still spoke, was but seldom listened to, and soon died away in the sound of the siren songs that surrounded me. At length. as the novelty of these gay scenes wore off, the same vague and gloomy bodings began to mingle with all my joys; and an incident that occurred, at this time, during one of my gayest revels, conduced still more to deepen their gloom. The celebration of the annual festival of Serapis happened to take place during my stay, and I was, more than once, induced to mingle with the gay multitudes that flocked to the shrine at Canopus on the occasion. Day and night, as long as this festival lasted, the great canal, which led from Alexandria to Canopus, was covered with bouts full of pilgrims of both sexes, all hastening to avail themselves of this pious liconse, which lent the zest of a religious sanction to pleasure, and gave a holyday to the follies and passions of earth, in horour of heaven. I was returning, one lovely night, to Alexandria. The north wind, that welcome visiter, had cooled and freshened the air, while the banks, on either side of the stream, sent forth, from groves of orange and henna, the most delicious od ours. As l had left all the crowd behind me at Canopus, to “re was not a bornt to be seen on the canal but my own; a d I was just yielding to the thoughts which splitude at such an hour inspires, when my reveries were suddenly broken by the sound of some female voices, coming mingled with to rooter and screams, from the garden of a pavilion, that stood, brilliantly illuminated, upon the bank of the canal. On rowing nearer, I perceived that both the mirth and the norm had been caused by the efforts of some playful girls to reach a hedge of jasmine which grew near the water, and in l, on ling towards which they had nearly fallen into the stream. firstening to proffer my assistance, I soon recognised the voice of one of my fair Alexandrian friends; and, springing on the bank, was surrounded by the whole group, who insisted on my joining their party in the pavilion: and, having sin g around me, as fetters, the tet drils of jasmine, which to y had Just plucked, conducted me, no unwilling captive, to the banquet-room. I found here an assemblage of the very flower of Alexandrian society. The unexpectedness of the meeting added new zest to it on both sides; and seldom had I ever felt
more enlivened myself, or succeeded better in infusing life and gaiety into others. Among the company were some Greek women, who according to the fashion of their country, wore veils; but, as tisual, rather to set off than to conceal their beauty, some bright gleams of which were constantly escaping from under the cloud. There was, however, one female, who particularly attracted my attention, on whose head was a chaple" of dark-coloured flowers, and who sat veiled and silent duling the whole of the banquet. She took no share, I observed, in what was passing around: the viands and the wine wer by her untouched, nor did a word that was spoken seem ad dressed to her ear. This abstraction from a scene so spark ling with gaiety, though apparently unnoticed by any one but myself, struck me as mysterious and strange. I inquire” of my fair neighbour the cause of it, but she looked grave. and was silent. In the mean time, the lyre and the cup went round; and a young maid from Athens, as if inspired by the presence of her countryman, took her lute, and sung to it some of the songs of Greece, with a warmth of feeling that bore me back to the banks of the Ilissus, and, even in the boson of present plea sure, drew a sigh from my heart for that which had passed away. It was day-break ere our delighted party rose, and most unwillingly re-embarked to return to the city. We were scarce afloat, when it was discovered that the lute of the young Athenian had been left behind; and, with a heart still full of its sweet sounds, I most readily sprung on shore to seek it. I hastened at once to the banquet-room. which was now dim and solitary, except that—there, to my utter astonishment, was still seated that silent figure, which, had awakened so much my curiosity during the evening. A vague feeling of awe came over me, as I now slowly approached it. There was no motion, no sound of breathing in that form;—not a leaf of the dark chaplet upon its brow stirred. By the light of a dying lamp which stood on the table befor: the figure, I raised, with a hesitating hand, the veil; and saw —what my fancy had already anticipated—that the shape underneath was lifeless, was a skeleton' Startled and shocked, I hurried back with the lute to the boat, an I was minost as silent as that shape itself during the remainder of the voyage. This custom among the Egyptians of placing a mummy, or skeleton, at the banquet-table, had been for some time disused, except at particular ceremonies; and, even orn such occasiens, it had been the practice of the luxurious Alexandrians to disguise this memorial of mortality in the manner just dedescribed. But to me, who was wholly unprepared for such a spectacle, it gave a shock from which my imagination dio not speedily recover. This silent and ghastly witness of mirth. seemed to embody, as it were, the shadow in my own heart. The features of the grave were thus stamped on the iden that had long haunted me, and this picture of what I was to be now nssociated itself constantly with the sunniest aspect of what I tras. The memory of the dream now recurred to me more livelily than ever. he bright, assuring smile of that venerable Spirit, and his words, “Go to the shores of the dark Nile, and thou wilt find the eternal life thou seekest,” were for ever present to my mind. But as yet, alas, I had done nothing towards realizing the proud promise. Alexandria was no’ Egypt;-the very soil on which it now stood was not in ex istence, when already Thebes and Memphis had numbered ages of glory. “No,” I exclaimed; “it is only beneath the Pyramids of Memphis, or in the mystic Halls of the Labyrinth, those holy arcana ure to be found, of which the antediluvian world has made Egypt its heir, and among which—blest thought !—the key to eternal life may lie.” Having formed my determination, I took leave of my many Alexandrian friends, and departed for Memphis.
Egypt was, perhaps, of all others, the country most calcu lated, from that mixture of the melancholy and the voluptu. ous, which marked the chirracter of her people, her religion, and her scenery, to affect deeply a fancy md temperament like mine, and keep both for ever tremblingly alive. Whereever I turned, I beheld the desert and the garden, mincling together their desolation and bloom. I saw the love-bowct and the tomb standing side by side, as if, in that land, Plea sure and Death kept hourly watch upon each other. In the very luxury of the climate there was the same saddening inquence. The monotonous splendour of the days, the solemn radiance of the nights—all tended to cherish that ardent melanchely, the off-pring of passion and of thought, which had beex so long the familiar inmate of my soul. When I sailed from Alexandria, the inundation of the Nile was at fu full. The whole valley of Egypt lay covered by its blood; and as, looking around me, I saw in the light of the setting sur. shrines, palaces, and monuments, eucircled by the waters, I could almost fancy that I beheld the sinking island of Atalantis, on the last evening its temples were visible above the wave. Such varieties too, of animation as presented themselves on every side –
While, far as sight could reach, beneath as clear
Then, too, the scenes of pomp and joy that make
Here, where the waters wind into a bay
Enchanted with the whole scene, I lingered delightedly on my voyage, visiting all those luxurious and venerable places, whose names have been consecrated by the wonder of ages. At Sais I was present during the Festival of Lamps, and read, by the blaze of innumerable lights, those sublime words on the temple of Neitha:—“I am all that has been, that is, and that will be, and no man hath ever lifted my veil.” I wandered among the prostrate obelisks of Heliopolis, and saw, not without a sigh, the sun smiling over her ruins, as if in mockery of the mass of perishable grandeur, that had once called itself, in its pride, “The City of the Sun.” But to the Isle of the Golden Venus was, I own, my fondest pilgrimage:—and there, as I rambled through its shades, where bowers are the only temples, I felt how far more worthy to form the shrine of a Deity are the ever-living stems of the garden and the grove, than the mos: -->cious columns the inanimate quarry can supply.
Every where new pleasures, new imerests awaited me; and though Melancholy stood, as usual, for ever near, her shadow fell but half-way aver my vagrant path, leaving the rest but more welcomely brilliant from the contrast. To relate my various adventures, during this short voyage, would only detain me from events, far, far more worthy of record. Amidst all this endless variety of attractions, the great object of my journey had been forgotten:—the mysteries of this land of the sun still remained, to me, as much mysteries as ever, and as yet 1 had been initiated in nothing but its pleasures.
It was not till that memorable evening, when I first stood inefore the Pyramids of Memphis, and beheld them towering aloft, like the watch-towers of Time, from whose summit, when abo.t to expire, he will look his last—it was not till this moment that the great secret announced in my dream again rose, in all its inscrutable darkness upon my thoughts. There was a solemnity in the sunshine resting upon these monuments —a stillness, as of reverence, in the air that breathed around
them, which seemed to steal, like the music of past times, into my heart. I thought what myriads of the wise, the beautiful, and the brave, had sunk into dust since earth first saw those wonders; and, in the sadness of my soul. I exclaimed, -“Must man alone. then, perish 2 most minds and hearts be
annihilated, while pyramids endure? Oh, Death. Death: even upon these everlasting tablets—the only approach to immortality that kings themselves could purchase—thou hast written our doom awfully, and intelligibly, saying, “There is for man no eternal mansion, but the grave!’” My heart sunk at the thought; and, for the moment, I yielded to that desolate feeling, which overspreads the soul that hath no light from the future. But again the buoyancy of my nature prevailed, and again, the willing dupe of vain dreams, I deluded myself into the belief of all that my heart most wished, with that happy facility which enables imagina tion to stand in the place of happiness. “Yes,” I cried, “immortality most be within man's reach, and, as wisdom alone is worthy of such a blessing, to the wise alone must the secret have been revealed. It is said, that deep under yonder pyramid, has lain for ages concealed the Table of Emerald, on which the Thrice-Great Hermes, in times before the flood, engraved the secret of Alchemy, which gives gold at will. Why, then, may not the mightier, the more god-like secret, that gives life at will, be recorded there also It was by the power of gold, of endless gold, that the kings, who now repose in those massy structures, scooped earth to its very centre, and raised quarries into the air, to provide for themselves tombs that might outstand the world. Who can tell but that the gift of inmortality was also theirs? who knows but that they themselves, triumphant over decay, still live;—those mighty mansions, which we call tombs, being rich and everlasting palaces, within whose depths, concealed from this withering world, they still wander, with the few Elect who have been sharers of their gift, through a sunless, but ever illuminated, elysium of their own? Else, wherefore those structures? wherefore that subterranean realm, by which the whole valley of Egypt is undermined Why, else, those labyrinths, which none of earth hath ever beheld—which none of heaven, except that God, who stands, with finger on his hushed lip, hath ever trodden t” While thus I indulged in fond dreams, the sun, already half sunk beneath the horizon, was taking calmly and glori ously, his last look of the I’vramids—as he had done, even ing aster evening, for ages, till they had grown familiar to him as the earth itself. On the side turned to his ray they now presented a front of dazzling whiteness, while, on the other, their great shadows, lengthening away to the eastward, looked like the first steps of Night, hastening to envelope the hills of Araby in her shade. No sooner had the last gleam of the sun disappeared, than, on every house-top in Memphis, gay, gilded banners were seen waving aloft, to proclaim his setting—while, at the same moment, a full burst of harmony was heard to peal from all the temples along the shores. Startled from my musings by these sounds, I at once recol lected, that, on that very evening, the great festival of the Moon was to be celebrated. On a little island, half-way over between the gardens of Memphis and the eastern shore, s the temple of that goddess,
whose beams Bring the sweet time of night-flowers and dreams. Not the cold Pian of the North, who chains In vestal ice the current of young veins; But she, who haunts the gay, Bubastiau grove, And owns she sces, from her bright heaven above, Nothing on earth to match that heaven, but love!
Thus did I exclaim, in the words of one of their own Egyp tian poets, as, anticipating the various delights of the festival 1 cast away from my mind all gloomy thoughts; and, hasten ing to my little bark, in which I now lived the life of a Nile bird, on the waters, steered my course to the island-temple of the Moon.
The rising of the Moon, slow and majestic, as if conscious of the honours that awaited her upon earth, was welcomed with a loud acclaim from every eminence, where multitudes stood watching for her first light. And seldom had that light risen upon a more beautiful scene. The city of Mem phis—still grand, though no longer the unrivalled Memphis, that had borne away from Thebes the crown of supremacy, and worn it undisputed through ages—now, softened by the mild moonlight that harmonized with her decline, shonc forth among her lakes, her pyramids, and her shrines, like oue of