Page images

would admit us' to the secrets of Pope Leo and the troubles of Florence. This poem is full of morality and philosophy. It ends with the very rational reflections of a large hog, which addresses man in nearly the following terms :

Ye paked bipeds, without beaks or claws,

Hairless, and featherless, and tender-bided,
Weeping ye come into the world--because

Ye feel your evil destiny decided :
Nature has given you industrious paws;

You, like the parrots, are with speech provided :
But bave ye honest hearts?-Alas !"alas !
In this we swine your bipedships surpass !
Man is far worse than we-more fierce, more wild

Coward or madman, sioning every minute ;
By freozy and by fear in turn beguiled,

He dreads the grave, yet plunges headlong in it:
If pigs fall out, they soon are reconciled;

Their quarrel's ended ere they well begin it.
If crime with manhoud always must combine,

Good Lord! let me for ever be a swine.
This is the original of Boileau's Satire on Man, and
La Fontaine's fable of the Companions of Ulysses;
but it is very likely that neither La Fontaine nor
Boileau had ever heard of Machiavel's Ass.

[ocr errors][merged small]

The Ass of Verona. I must speak the truth, and not deceive my readers. ? I do not very clearly know whether the Ass of Verona & still exists in all his splendour; but the travellers who

saw him forty or fifty years ago agree in saying, that the relics were enclosed in the body of an artificial ass made on purpose, which was in the keeping of forty monks of Our Lady of the Organ, at Verona, and was carried in procession twice a-year. This was one of the most ancient relics of the town. According to the

tradition,* this ass, having carried our Lord in his ! entry into Jerusalem, did not choose to abide any

longer in that city, but trotted over the sea—which for that purpose became as hard as his hoof-by way of Cyprus, Rhodes, Candia, Malta, and Sicily. There he went to sojourn at Aquilea; and at last he settled at Verona, where he lived a long while.

* See Misson, tome i. pp. 201—2.

This fable originated in the circumstance, that most asses have a sort of black cross on their backs. There possibly might be an old ass in the neighbourhood of Verona, on whose back the populace remarked a finer cross than his brethren could boast of: some good old woman would be at hand to say, that this was the ass on which Christ rode into Jerusalem ; and the ass would be honoured with a magnificent funeral. The feast established at Verona passed into other countries, and was especially celebrated in France. In the mass was sung

Orientis partibus
Adventabit asinus,

Pulcher et fortissimus. There was a long procession, headed by a young woman with a child in her arms mounted on an ass, representing the Virgin Mary going into Egypt. At the end of the mass 'the priest, instead of saying Ite missa est, brayed three times with all his might, and the people answered in chorus.*

We have books on the feast of the Ass, and the feast of Fools: they furnish materials towards a universal history of the human mind.



A Name corrupted from the word Ehissessin. Nothing is more common to those who go into a distant country than to writé, repeat, and understand incorrectly in their own language what they have misunderstood in a language entirely foreign to them, and afterwards to deceive their countrymen as well as themselves. Error flies from mouth to mouth, from pen to pen, and to destroy it requires ages.

In the time of the crusades, there was a wretched little people of mountaineers inhabiting the caverns

* See Du Cange, and the Essay on the Manners and Spirit of Nations,

[ocr errors]

near the road to Damascus. These brigands elected a chief, whom they named Cheik Elchassissin. It is said that this honorific title of cheik originally signified old, as with us the title of seigneur comes from senior, elder, and the word graf, a count, signifies old,

among the Germans; for, in ancient times, almost into every people conferred the civil command upon the en old men. Afterwards, the command having become * hereditary, the title of cheik, graf, seigneur, or count,

has been given to children; and the Germans call a little master of four years old, the Countthat is, the old gentleman.

The crusaders named the old man of the Arabian mountains, the Old Man of the Hill, and imagined him to be a great prince, because he had caused a Count of Montserrat and some other crusading nobles

to be robbed and murdered on the highway. These bri people were called the assassins, and their cheik the

king of the vast country of the assassins. This vast territory is five or six leagues long by two or three broad, being part of Anti-Libanus, a horrible country, full of rocks, like almost all Palestine, but intersected by pleasant meadow-lands, which feed numerous flocks, as is attested by all who have made the journey from Aleppo to Damascus.

The cheik or senior of these assassins could be nothing more than a chief of banditti; for there was at that time a soldan of Damascus, who was very powerful.

Our romance-writers of that day, as fond of chimeras as the crusaders, thought proper to relate that, in 1236, this great prince of the assassins, fearing that Louis IX. of whom he had never heard, would put himself at the head of a crusade, and come and take from him his territory, sent two great men of his court from the caverns of Anti-Libanus to Paris, to assassinate that king; but that having the next day heard how

generous and amiable a prince Louis was, he immediately sent out to sea two more great men to countermand the assassination :-I say, out to sea; for neither the two emissaries sent to kill Louis, nor the two others sent to save him, could make the voyage without

embarking at Joppa, which was then in the power of the crusaders, which renders the enterprise doubly marvellous. The two first must have found a crusaders' vessel ready to convey them in an amicable manner, and the two last must have found another.

However, a hundred authors, one after another, have related this adventure, though Joinville, a contemporary, who was on the spot, says nothing about it.

Et voilà justement comme on écrit l'histoire. The Jesuit Maimbourg, the Jesuit Daniel, twenty other Jesuits, and Mézerai—though he was not a Jesuit-have repeated this absurdity. The Abbé Véli, in his History of France, tells it over again with perfect complaisance, without any discussion, without any examination, and on the word of one William of Nangis, who wrote about sixty years after this fine affair is said to have happened, at a time when history was composed from nothing but town-talk.

If none but true and useful things were recorded, our immense historical libraries would be reduced to a very narrow compass; but we should know more, and know it better.

For six hundred years, the story has been told over and over again, of the Old Man of the Hill (le vieur de la inontagne) who, in his delightful gardens, intoxicated his young elect with voluptuous pleasures, made them believe that they were in paradise, and sent them to the ends of the earth to assassinate kings in order to merit an eternal paradise.-

Near the Levantine shores there dwelt of old
An aged ruler, feared in every land;
Not that he owned enormous heaps of gold,
Not that vast armies marched at his command,
But on his people's minds be things impressed,
Which filled with desperate courage every breast.

The boldest of his subjects first he took,
Of paradise to give them a foretaste-
The paradise his lawgiver bad painted :
With every joy the lying prophet's book
Within his falsely-pictured heaven had placed,
They thought their senses had become acquainted.

And how was this effected ? 'Twas by wine :
Of this they drank till every sense gave way,”

And, while in drunken lethargy they lay,
Were borne, according to their chief's design,
To spots of pleasantness—to sunshine glades,
Delightful gardens and inviting shades.
Young tender beauties were abundant there,
lo earliest bloom, and exquisitely fair :
These gaily thronged around the sleeping men,
Who, when at length they were awake again,
Wondering to see the beauteous objects round,
Believed that some way they'd already found
Those fields of bliss, in every beauty decked,
The false Mahomet promised his elect.
Acquaintance quickly made, the Turks advance;
The maidens join them in a sprightly dance ;
Sweet music charms them as they trip along;
And every feathered warbler adds his song.
The joys that could for every sense suffice,
Were found within this earthly paradise.
Wine, too, was there--and its effects the same:
These people drank, till they could drink no more,
But sinking down as senseless as before,
Were carried to the place from whence they came.

And what resulted from this trickery?-
These men believed that they should surely be
Again transported to that place of pleasure,
If, without fear of suffering or of death,
They showed devotion to Mahomet's faith,
And to their prince obedience without measure.
Thụs might their sovereign with reason say,
His subjects were determined to obey,
And that, now his device had made them so,

His was the mightiest empire here below, &c. All this might be very well in one of La Fontaine's tales--setting apart the weakness of the verse; and there are a hundred historical anecdotes which could be tolerated only there.


Assassination being, next to poisoning, the crime most cowardly and most deserving of punishment, it is not astonishing that it has found an apologist in a man whose singular reasoning is, in some things, at variance with the reason of the rest of mankind.

In a romance entitled Emilius, he imagines that he is the guardian of a young man, to whom he is very careful to give an education such as is received in the military school-teaching him languages, geometry,

2 A


« EelmineJätka »