Ignis Fatuus

— Bayard Taylor relates that, in crossing the square inm Frankfort, he encountered a man who was singing softly to himself. Our American abroad might not have noticed the appearance of this stranger, although the latter was young and handsome, except for a striking peculiarity of the eyes. These were large, expressive, and extraordinarily luminous, — luminous with the phosphorescent light which had been observed in the wild beasts of the forest or of the desert, and which, as in the case of this famous musician, Mr. Taylor remarks, is rarely absent in men of great genius. Additional testimony to this effect is furnished by Vincent Nolte in his Fifty Years in Both Hemispheres, in which one finds the following picture of Napoleon alighting from a carriage in Leghorn : “ A man of small stature, pallid complexion, hair long and straight as that of a Florida Indian ; the countenance wearing the perpetual smile of the man of affairs ; the eyes dull with introspection, and actually dim with a phosphorescent glare.” It may be remarked that this description refers to a date shortly before Marengo, and at a period in which the energies of the great captain were at their highest ; for, prodigious as were his later achievements in wielding vast armies and vast nations, it was at this very time of which Nolte writes that he performed his most extraordinary miracles of creating armies and of dallying with thrones.

In our own immediate times, “ Bull Run” Russell, the famous war correspondent and word-painter of the London Times, lays stress upon this same characteristic as to the eyes in his description of Wigfall, of Texas : “ A man of prepossessing appearance, of genial manner, of great originality in expression, but bearing ever in his eyes the phosphorescent glare of the wild beast.” Another instance of this mysterious light in the window of the soul is to be found in the case of a most amiable and lovely lady of our own day, who was believed by partial friends to have been the original of Zonobia in Hawthorne’s portraiture. So noticeable was this peculiarity that many poetic compliments and not a few fugitive verses were inspired by the glow which the darkness always revealed in her eyes. More than once, in reference to this subject, were quoted the lines from Lalla Rookh about

“ Gems in darkness issuing rays
They’ve treasured from the sun that’s set.”

On the other hand, some feminine commentators referred the matter back to natural history, and talked about cats.

True, this so-accredited signal-fire of genius becomes a baleful light when found in the eyes of maniacs, just as the stars, in Hiawatha, grew to look like the eyes of wolves to the starving Indians. Indeed, this glow which sometimes illumines the human orb of sight may be either a blessing or a curse, for it denotes preternatural activity of the nervous centres. Phosphorus plays a mysterious rôle in the nouriture and chemistry of the brain ; and the cerebral perturbation which might make this irradiation manifest in the struggles of genius might also, if still further increased, light up a noble wreck.