Romance of Memory
THERE be those who would destroy memory for the sake of greater originality. It is as though one should insist on removing the glittering fragments, cubes and angles, from a kaleidoscope, after each representation of the minute architectural glories therein contained, and should do this on the ground that a further agitation of these particles could but repeat the same pageant of figures already presented; and yet we know that new combinations and recombinations are infinite in variety, many of them startlingly unlike the first picture glimpsed through the triple slides of glass. A better illustration of infinitude in combination, with a narrower basis of primitives, can be found in music, composed as it is of seven notes. For centuries the world has been flooded with harmonies, melodies, rhythms, expressing every shade of thought, every mood of passion or emotion, and the characteristics of every nationality, from its devotions to its dancing; yet there are but seven notes indefinitely repeated, and all that is offered to us in the most original music, from the Gotterdilmmerung to Dixie, — which last, in its day, was original, — is almost wholly the recombination of old forms and the recoining of old phrases. Given any musical theme, it would be impossible to trace this theme back to its fountain-head. It is much the same, necessarily, with nearly all that is noblest and best in literature and art. The man who said that the Bible and Euclid were the only original books ever written merely meant that it would be impossible to disentangle and isolate any book from all sources of inspiration in that which had gone before. To refer once more to music: however new the melodies may seem, the harmonies must be old ; and even if new harmonies could be introduced, old melodies, or combinations of old melodies, would have to play their part.
The first letters of children, written in staggering capitals, are admitted to have great interest for those to whom they are addressed ; but, read by others than the fond parents, they present considerable sameness ; and it is by general consent that the authors of this primitive literature are subjected to a long and tedious course of study, feeding on the ideas of others, and storing the memory with what the world before their time has done and said. This, which we call education, is an absolutely necessary precursor to all attempts at originality ; and if further proof were required, I need only cite the fact that the two men, both poets, whose claims on that ground are now never disputed were men of vast information and scholarship, and possessed of astonishing memories. I mean Robert Browning and Walter Savage Landor.
There is nothing in the way of a man’s equipment for the battle of life so redolent of the sweet mystery that heralds genius as the faculty called intuition. Without denying its existence in its highest form, I fear that in any degree it is far less frequent than some counterparts which are little better than meclianical. I well remember looking into the case of an eminent physician whose success was scarcely to be accounted for by his scholarship, which was somewhat meagre, or by his industry, which did not exist. This man possessed a wonderfully retentive memory ; not the memory which is so magical in enabling its possessor to pass competitive examinations, to hoard volumes of stuff between inverted commas, to lay hold of foreign languages, dead or alive: it was the more homely recollection which has been attributed to many of our successful politicians. This physician, who was also a professor, never forgot a face. Taking leave of his class at close of term, he was accustomed, in the course of the “neat and appropriate remarks” which furnished his farewell, to urge the young men to visit him, saying, “ 1 shall always remember your faces; your names I cannot hope to remember.” Having thus secured himself against any inconvenient test of his infallibility, it goes without saying that this astute tactician had a large and lucrative consultation practice. When this shrewd observer entered the sick-room, and saw upon the sick man’s face a certain look which, in his professional experience, had been associated with coffins and funerals, he said confidently, “ That man will die,” and a trusting clientele applauded his marvelous intuition when this — shall we call it threat? — was fulfilled. This was an act of unconscious recording, and it is probable that many who boast of intuitions might similarly account for them without the imputation of magic or of any occult powers.
How much of what passes for fine wit and wisdom is merely an adroit use of the stores of memory is frequently shown in journalism. One of the most extraordinary characters who in our time have graced the newspaper business in New York city is known to possess in a remarkable degree an alert memory, and his unconscious record of impressions is multiform. One night, after a performance of unusual power by Rachel, this man, returning to his revels among boon companions, wrote out a criticism for his journal. Many were present who have since become famous both in journalism and literature, and these were unanimous in the opinion that this article was, without exception, the most able, the most brilliant, the most trenchant, within their ken ; whereupon, with that air of comfortable insouciance which characterized this literary prodigal, he took his work to pieces, from beginning to end, and showed how Théophile Gautier had contributed the opening sentence, how the second paragraph was Edgar A. Poe inverted, and in fact demonstrated that a very wide range of authors, from Bacon to Baudelaire, had been laid under contribution. Yet was the work so deftly done that the style seemed all his own ; so just in dealing with the subject that the criticism appeared to be inspired by that night’s performance ; so homogeneous, so consistent, that — well, the oldest newspaper man present turned around and said, “ With Mr. H. memory is genius.”
I pass over without much comment the numerous instances, ancient as well as modern, of men who, as the jester says, are indebted to their memory for their wit. Yet, to refer once more to the province of Calliope, the statement is gravely made that the divine work of Mendelssohn, Italian in its melody, ultra-German in its harmony, is but a most ingenious mosaic of sweet sound. This on the authority of a critic usually so acute and just as Julius Schubert. The like charge of a seeming want of originality has been made, and I think proved, concerning Paul Morphy, the chess-player, who could and did conquer the world, — his world, — yet could not invent a gambit. But why multiply proofs ? One need only open any volume of popular quotations, to see how much of what is now deemed new and strange has been said before, for better or for worse. Therefore may we not quote with submission the line in which Pope defines poetry as
There is a kind of memory, a modification of that already referred to, which, in the blunt language of country people, is called circus-tent memory. The phrase has its origin in a well-known phenomenon, which is, in its way, as marvelous as are the flying - trapeze performances which are exhibited within the arena. Many traveling “combinations” give a double show when they come to what is called a one-night stand ; that is, both an afternoon and an evening performance. A ticket at twenty-five cents will suffice for both, and in many cases no checks for readmission are issued, as the tickettaker easily distinguishes those persons who have paid from those who have not. Politicians, or men who expect to succeed in politics, often have this memory of faces — with character attachment — remarkably developed. Henry Clay would shake hands with two thousand people at a race-course, and if he did not, as was claimed, remember them all for the rest of his life, he certainly remembered a sufficient number to make him seem as one possessed of miraculous powers. I will relate a, case in point, with the details of which I am personally conversant. When Francis G. Shaw was in charge of the New York department of the Freed men’s Bureau, he had occasion to make a journey to the James River to visit the headquarters of General Grant. He was accompanied by General Howard, and his purpose was. among other things, to enter complaint against certain officers of the regular array who, through some misdemeanor, had become obnoxious to the bureau. Howard said to Grant, mentioning by name one of the delinquent officers, who was personally known to him, “Do you not think it strange, general, that such a fellow as Blank, who when with us at West Point bore so good a reputation for truthfulness, should be guilty of charges so ignominious ? ”
“ You are mistaken,” said Grant; “ he is not the man you mean. That was another Blank ; he died some years ago, on the Wabash. This is the son of an unfrocked Methodist preacher in western New York, and the proverbial minister’s son is strong in him,” General Grant then proceeded to sketch briefly the career of every member of his class, even to minute particulars ; and, whirling around on his pivotal chair, he wrote out directions for the management of the case in hand, — the whole exhibiting an attention to detail and an accuracy in noting facts that were truly remarkable.
“ Well,” said Howard, as the complainants took their departure, “ I am reputed to know personally ten thousand men of our army, — all about them; but you see Grant knows more than I do.” And indeed, among the harshest criticisms passed upon the administration of Ulysses Grant was the statement that, like an Indian, he never forgot an in jury nor failed to remember a kindness.
Speaking of Indians, the red man of the forest, and the redder man of the prairies, have shown a reverence for this gift of memory, which is inherent in those who have no printed page either of history or literature. The preservation of their traditions is entrusted to a wise man of the woods, who usually bears upon his brow what is known as the Line of Memory,—a deep indentation passing from temple to temple. This indication so far agrees with the conclusion of phrenology as to give an appearance of remarkable development to the organs of eventuality and causality. This philosopher, or medicine - man, as just mentioned, is the depositary of the dogmas, the traditions, the archives, so to speak, of all manner of folk lore; the healer of the body, who also shrives the soul; the inciter to the ghost dance, and the central figure of that picturesque and primitive high carnival.
We are all conscious of entertaining a romantic interest in Indians, Arabs. Hindoos, and other barbarians or semibarbarians who may he said to represent the perennial childhood of the human race, governed as they are by a few simple rules, and almost always excelling in a few cardinal virtues. The Indian of our romantic prepossessions is brave and devoted ; yet in fact, like some of his congeners, he prizes truth in the abstract, while he practices lying in the concrete, and all with equal simplicity and good faith. He turns in, at the call of the Great Father, with cheerful resignation, all the useless and worn - out weapons in his possession, and clamors for new, — to be used, if necessary, upon his benefactors ! There is much that is primitive and alluring, forgivable in the misdeeds of the wards of the family as in those of the wards of the nation ; but it is of the virtues that we would speak.
Children have long memories, collectively speaking. The impressions made upon youthful minds are so few, so far between, so fraught with wonder and mystery, that it. is no marvel these impressions should endure. There are few men in middle life who cannot say, with hand upon heart, that they remember the things of boy life as they do not remember recent events.
We ne’er forget, though there we are forgot.”
We are informed by experts in folk lore that the most enduring traditions, the most unfading formulae for little plays and infant dramas, have been preserved by the wee folk for generations upon generations. Considering this, we need hardly marvel at the accuracy with which the poems of Ossian have been passed from mouth to mouth through “everringing avenues of song.” And this has been done by the children, without record. without purposeful organization ; yet are the archaeologists who treat of that mimic lore amazed fit the fidelity of its transmission.
The most wonderfully retentive memories in the world are those of the Germans. Certainly, in no country except Germany do we find people possessed of that endurance of mental impression which is the basis of an intellectual superiority, — no people who carry around with them snch an assortment of encyclopiedise in so many different languages. Their very slang may be said to be polyglot. I knew a student in Heidelberg who was not by us regarded as a studious or thoughtful person, and who, moreover, did not speak English. Yet scarcely a play of Shakespeare’s could be mentioned by any of our young men that he was not ready to recite in full, with hardly an error. — a feat which has given a national reputation to the very few English or American professional readers by whom it has been accomplished. And yet this German was only a medical student, whose fame was limited to his own Mensm” and Fwhtboden, and whose sole renown was that of the best right-hand Schldger in Germany. Extraordinary performances of this kind were so common in university towns that they excited little comment. A German will display the infinitesimal patience of the ant, in his ticketing of plants and minerals, in his watching of retorts and crucibles, in order that his memory mav be stored with facts the collation of which will proclaim him a scientist. On the other hand, the French will occasionally treat us to a dramatic surprise such as befell the Academy of Sciences when engaged in discussing the priority of some recent views on the subject of color. This learned body was interrupted by the late centenarian, Professor Chevreul, who remarked that he had had the honor of presenting those views to his colleagues — for rejection — some sixty years before ! He was, however, talking to Ihe grandsons of the rejectors.
But these prodigies of memory are recounted in every land and in every tongue. All the world has heard of the achievement of Mozart, who carried back in his head to Germany the unwritten sacred music of the Sistine Chapel, there performed during Holy Week. Such perfection has the cultivation of musical memory attained that even the music of court entertainments, written for the purpose, is no longer inviolate, since there are plenty of men who, from a single hearing, can carry off the whole of it. This faculty must proceed almost wholly from vividness of impression, as in such cases reviewing would seem to be impossible.
Numerous and various have been the devices contrived for the purpose of strengthening whatever organ it be that presides over the function of remembrance. from the mnemoteehnics of the Germans, in the early part of the present century, to contemporaneous Loisettu, who teaches the art of never forgetting. It is doubtful if these devices have conferred upon the student any material advantage, although the later systems claim to be founded upon strict physiological principles. It was the fashion at one of the schools which ornamented School Street, in Boston, a third of a century ago. to increase the task already imposed upon those “ dumb patient camels,” the schoolboys of that clay, by adding an occasional straw : we were expected not alone to remember and to recite the text which was allotted for our absorption, but to recall the number of the page on which was to be found any given rule, or even any exception. This procedure certainly cultivated the memory in an irksome and undesirable manner, as to this very hour I can never think of the name of my worthy preceptor without feeling like Browning’s Italian in England: —
I felt his red wet throat, distil
In blood through these two hands.”
The good man has been in his grave a full generation, and it is to he hoped that the earth rests lightlier upon him than would have been our wish could we have had the happiness to anticipate his taking-off.
That venerable authority the Rev. John Todd inquires in his Students’ Manual: “Why do you find it so difficult to remember certain words of Greek or Latin that you are obliged to look them out in your lexicon a dozen times ? It is because you have never formed the habit of fixing the attention.” My experience goes somewhat further. First fix the attention accurately, keenly ; then freshen the impression by frequent reviewing. Cautious British litigants, recognizing this fact, have established the following rule: Imprimis, a liberal retainer should be paid to secure the attention and interest of eminent counsel; later on, an additional fee, picturesquely known as a “ refresher,” is no less urgent.
Coleridge compares experience to the stern-lights of a ship, which enables us to estimate the future by a process of analogy-reasoning on the past. In experience memory must be the basic principle ; but what if this foundation prove to he lacking or ineffective ? The ability to record impressions correctly has long been held by prominent alienists to be one of the most decisive tests of sanity. Recent investigations appear to show that the lawless class is singularly deficient in memory. This might readily be inferred from the fact that criminals are always making the same mistakes and suffering the same penalties without any moral result; in brief, their history repeats itself. A celebrated detective, speaking of the malignity of evil doers, was asked if the officers of the law were not sometimes deterred from the full exercise of their duty by fear of revenge from the reckless lawbreaker, should he come to be set free. “ No, no,” said he. “ These fellows have short memories ; when they ’re ‘lagged’ they bluster and threaten, but it never comes to anything.”
To dismiss the tragedy of serious crime, and take up the comedy of gentle lying, may we not affirm that even the faculty of telling the truth is not a mere moral quality ? Many persons, possessed of the soundest principles, with the sincerest intention to do right, are wholly incapable of telling the truth, because they do not see it. Such lack accuracy of perception and precision in recording, especially as to details, and, furthermore, are deficient in the use of language and the habit of exact expression, and so are liable to find themselves in a position analogous to that of a railroad switchman who happens to be color-blind. Of course it is impossible to extract from the distorted images vouchsafed by an ill-trained observation and an imperfect memory any reliable picture of the past.
In one of his novels, probably the last, Theodore Winthrop unroofs the head of one of his characters, and discloses sundry dusty archives in the dusky crannies of his brain, which are filled with carefully folded papers containing reminiscence. These memoranda are kept on hand in order that they can be referred to whenever it is desirable to confirm an impression or adjust a date, or otherwise to establish a proper sequence of events. The idea is an ingenious one, and, could it be realized, would prove eminently satisfactory to the commercial mind. But our mnemonic records are not pigeon-holed and ticketed for future reference. On the contrary, they more nearly resemble a series of panoramic views whose presentment is not always under control of the will. Nor is it, by pictures alone that we “ repeople with the past,” although to the visual faculty is accredited the more vivid play of memory. The part enacted in reproducing events or scenes of the past by what might be termed the lesser senses is subtler, more delicate, more redolent of sentiment, of pathos, and of poetry.
A tone of music — summer’s eve — or spring —
A flower — or wind — the ocean — which shall wound,
Striking’ the electric chain wherewith we ’re darkly bound.”
Perhaps more tender emotions are excited by certain odors which recall some scene whose lights are fled, whose garlands dead, than by all our sturdy memories of heroic occasions witnessed or imagined by us. The suggestiveness of odor as a reminiscent agent has often been remarked. One of the most poetic of the dead kings of melody was wont to say that when he heard the chord of the diminished seventh he plainly perceived the fragrance of heliotrope; and that when, in the garden, fresh heliotrope passed in odorous review he heard, as though the horns of elfland were blowing, the chord of the diminished seventh ! Another chord (about whose dimensions I feel less secure, probably the diminished ninth) is said to have suggested to a brother musician the distinct flavor of pineapple. Perhaps those were fantasies, which, having once been entertained by individuals of a highly imaginative organization, had by frequent repetition come to he regarded by them as realities. Such correlated impressions, however, are not confined to those whose province is the ideal. On a troopship passing from Cadiz to Ceuta I met an old Spanish soldier, who belonged to that order of devotional natures with whom religion is more than a sentiment, — is a passion. I had seen him before, and had noticed the reckless abandonment with which he had flung himself on the marble floor of the cathedral at the ringing of the bell that announced the elevation of the Host. A spasm of wild rapture tranced his being when the Angelas descended upon us. On making his acquaintance, later on, he confided to me one of the secrets of the living faith that was in him. It was this: he always carried, wherever he went, a small quantity of the modern frankincense and myrrh which animate the sacred censer ; for the odor of the censer, however faintly conveyed, opened to his mind all the glories of that cathedral in his native city, where he had first prostrated himself. The pungent fumes not only conjured up the darkness, the glimmering candles, the “ sculptured dead.”
“ Knights, ladies, praying in dumb orat’ries.” but for him the mass was being said to the solemn vntsono of the grand cathedral organ which came pealing in upon his prayers : this for the seventeen minutes required for the service of low mass.
There was a Scotchman, a prominent figure in the circle which was my own. who professed a frank and ingenuous abhorrence of music. To his untutored Caledonian ear the music of Wagner was a “ weltering and formless mass of sound,” while the simple and sweeter melodies found him not a whit, more appreciative : there was no charm for him in Donizetti, no pathos in Bellini, no passion in Gounod ; he was bored with English ballads, and stunned by German Lieder. Yet should any one perform — though upon the rudest instrument — a Scottish jig or a morceav for the bagpipe. he would leap from his seat, anti dance in ecstatic time to this uncouth and barbaric music. And why? Not because he liked Scottish music for itself. I have tried him with those melodies of his native land with which he was unfamiliar ; the Gotterdaimnermig itself could scarcely have appealed to him less. With him music had become a metaphor. The uncanny rhapsodies which so delighted him recalled the scenes of his youth. — the smoky rafters, the earth floor, the fragrant peat fire, and above all his own joyous youthfulness, which was a part of the picture, and at the thought of which he was readily moved to tears, to laughter, or to jigs.
In this fragment from Byron,
For they remember battles, fires, and wrecks,
Or any other thing that brings regret,”
the poet implies a more profound trust in the exactness and constancy of aggregate popular memory than common experience justifies ; for “ battles, tires, and wrecks " are by no means always imaged either accurately or permanently upon the photographic field of reminiscence. Thus in the instance which I would record. One Sunday morning, thirty-one years ago, occurred the greatest battle that had ever been fought on this continent. I refer to the battle of Bull Run. Public expectation had been excited to a pitch hitherto unknown. Each section regarded the prowess of its young men as invincible. — something that would “spring forth a Pallas armed and undefiled.” The details of that engagement and the disaster that followed it have been sufficiently dwelt upon. For weeks — nay, months — the entire newspaper press of the country teemed with descriptions of the scenes therein enacted, these descriptions being rendered in terms of the most " gorgeous hifalutin ” (to borrow from their lexicon). Among the narrated incidents three features were ever conspicuous, — the masked batteries invaded by Federal valor, the charge of the black-horse cavalry, and the repulse of the latter by the tire - zouaves. Thousands had witnessed these ; and the terror inspired by the black-horse cavalry and the recklessness of the fire-zouaves had been hymned on the telegraph wires and cadenced in oratory East and West. At this juncture. one cool man came home to New England and said that he had been in the midst of all this. When asked to contribute his quota to the magnificent pageant then being enacted in words, he quietly remarked: “There were no masked batteries ; there was no blackhorse cavalry ; the fire-zouaves repulsed nothing, but ran at; the first fire.” A shout of derision went up, as was to be expected. A month later, official reports from commanders on both sides confirmed this simple statement of fact; and a few weeks later still, thousands of men had forgotten that they ever saw black-horse cavalry, masked batteries, or fighting zouaves. What shall we think of this confusion of popular testimony and belief ? Was it due to the hypnotism of cannon, to the dim vision clouded by battle-smoke, or to the distempered imagination of large masses of people under the wildest excitement, set in motion by a few newspaper reporters ? The apparition of Santiago which so cheered Cortez in his critical hour, the cross in some skies, the crescent in others (for is not the Holy Land Mohammedan to this day ?), have had their counterparts in periods yet further removed from those which we denominate the dark ages. All history is no doubt largely frescoed with pictures from the same free hand, — a distraught Mnemosyne, bewildered by the thunderings of Eris or Bellona. This errant divinity is potent not only in large collective bodies, but frequently comes to the individual, and among his genuine reminiscences interpolates a quasi-memory which has all the color and movement of reality. Nor does this happen solely in cases where we might be led to expect it from the individual’s known excitability of temperament or vivacity of imagination. A scientific man of the most unrelenting practicality, a Scotch Presbyterian, whose religious creed and all his conceptions of the supernatural sprang rather from his recognition of the demands of honor in keeping pure the hereditary faith than from any personal conviction, used to say that the most intensely vivid recollection of his life related to his childhood in the Highlands of Scotland. Going out with his nurse each evening to view the sunset from a commanding crag, the two used to stand looking down upon the fragrant and mist-laden vale far below. Thus they would watch the dimly outlined figures of shepherds calling to each other and to their flocks with pipe and voice; all this mingling with the scream of bittern and curlew, till the interwoven threads of sound seemed to match the gloom of the heather. It was then, as the twilight faded into the gloaming and the “ passion ” died almost into darkness, that he saw faint lights, as of something burning in the heather about him. Standing breathlessly still, holding the old nurse’s hand, he would look at these fairy circles (for so he heard them called), while she, in low, crooning voice, such as was probably used by Lochiel’s wizard, would describe the scene which passed before his eyes, — numberless fairies clad in mediaeval garb, the wee men in knightly attire, the wee women in kilties, with flowing hair of the most approved elfin fashion. These moved through strange fantastic dances to the measure of wild music, aided or informed by the low, monotonous crooning of the old witch and almoner of ghost stories, his nurse. Dark night fell upon his exhausted spirit, and, weary with all lie had seen, he was carried home to bed. With the cheerful materialism of science the grown man would readily explain this, which he termed a “ memoroid of childhood : ” the elfin troop and their costumes were made of the heather which “danced in the soft breeze in a fairy mass,” or were suggested by the croon of the old witch ; the music for their fantastic rounds was lent by the cadenced utterings of shepherd’s pipe, the bleatings of the sheep, and the song of the mountaineer, with an orchestra of wind-struck mountain pines. Yet, notwithstanding this explanation, the man of science, through a long life of practical and prosaic industry, always maintained the vividness and realism of the quasi-memory thus indelibly recorded on the mind of childhood.
To a somewhat different order of impressions, bearing the forged signature of memory, belong those flashes of seeming recollection which almost all sensitive and imaginative people have experienced. Suddenly, in the midst of every-day life and occupation, there springs up in the mind a persuasion that the scene is not new. The word spoken, the very names used, the accompanying gestures or movements of the speaker, are strangely, unaccountably familiar. Like the gradual emergence of a long-forgotten dream, one detail after another passes in expected and orderly sequence under waking review. “ Yes, there it is. I certainly have witnessed all this long ago.” Whatever has been read in desultory fashion concerning vague theories of preexistence now assumes to the mind a new and startling significance ; and with the reception of these theories sometimes comes the impression that the future can be predicted by merely continuing to recall this vision of the past. A German student is said to have shown such miraculous proficiency in his studies, which he seemed scarcely to con, as to occasion no little anxiety among his friends ; the more as he declared that he “had seen and known it all before.” The system of crucial tests, so large a factor in modern scientific investigations, was not, in those days, so ruthlessly applied as now; else this phantasm of the brain, like other ghosts, might have been laid at once. But attention had been called to the subject, and a series of experiments, conducted under the auspices of the Berlin professors, resulted in proving that this phenomenon was due to a reflex action of the mind, whereby impressions of the present are duplicated, and such images thrown back on that part of the brain which ordinarily contains reminiscences. Yet many were the wild visions of an immortality in the past and of the illimitable possibilities of the future which lived, flourished, and passed before this prosaic explanation was vouchsafed ; nor even then were all satisfied. Many argued that an eternity which had no ending could not reasonably or logically lay claim to a beginning, and, thus fortified with metaphors drawn from a complacent geometry, pursued for a time this warfare of science.
That this false Mnemosyne is a cunning artist, who paints in verisimilar colors almost indistinguishable from reality, I have had proof in my own experience, as will be shown by the subjoined incident. Many years ago, during the troubled times of French occupancy of the Holy City, I came to live for a season at Rome, where, amid the usual round of excursions to innumerable places of interest, from Ostia to Tivoli, it occurred to some of my friends to make up a party for the purpose of visiting the Coliseum by moonlight. So, after due consultation of calendars and other preliminaries, our party, consisting almost entirely of Americans, mostly artists, set out shortly before midnight. The night was dark and murky, although the calendar had predicted brighter things, and the weather at sunset promised fair. We traversed without incident the dark city where lights were few, and the darker suburbs where lights there were none. On emerging into an open space through which the gigantic edifice is approached, we observed, or were conscious of a heavy mist having a strange purplish effect. I say strange because there was scarce light enough to note the color. The darkness of Egypt mentioned in Holy Writ, a darkness felt rather than seen, was the suggestion borne in by the senses to the imagination. As our party advanced towards what seemed to he an open space left by the falling of a portion of the wall, we were startled by a loud hail in the French language. “ Qui vivo ? ” came with menacing significance to the accompaniment of a clicking sound which we well knew to he the cocking of a musket. We knew enough of what army etiquette requires, the world over, to halt; whereupon one of our party — the most timid and reluctant to be shot_advanced to explain. The Yankee French of our clerical envoy and the Italianized french ot the Gallic army of occupation soon came to an understanding. Down went the musket, and up rose the Frenchman, voluble, polite, and, with the affability of his race, gave welcome and direction to our romantic mission. We entered just as the moon glided from behind the clouds to light up a scene the glory of which was far beyond our utmost expectation. This dramatic surprise vouchsafed by indulgent nature so increased the felt influences of the place that some of us actually saw a resemblance between the bushes on the ragged walls and the “ laurels on the bald first Caesar’s head” ! We walked in small parties of two or three, quoting and descanting in prose and verse; filled, so far as the human mind could be filled, with such gregarious sentiment as the scene suggested. The stern grandeur of ancient Rome, even as shown in her ruins; the influence which the records of that marvelous epoch have exerted upon our literature, art, and habits of thought; tin; very fact that, centuries upon centuries after this decay had begun, our own was yet an undiscovered country, with its Indians and its Niagara awaiting recognition, — all this was amply and exhaustively discussed; and when the lateness of the hour and the blueness of the mist admonished our return, we seemed to have lived through several of the intervening centuries. All were agreed that nothing had been wanting, in the way of “equipment,” to the imagination’s triumphal progress through this great tributary scene of the past.
Several days afterward I ventured upon a solitary excursion to the Coliseum. After looking in wonder at the Lateran and thinking of Rienzi. and after pausing at the ruins of the Forum, I made my way to the Coliseum itself. There no French sentry was watching from the walls, as it was broad daylight, and the government authorities feared no revolutionary gathering; light proving, as Emerson says, “ the most efficient police ” in those dark cities.
Being somewhat curious as to the construction of those extraordinary grottoes and cells of various kinds which line the exterior wall, I wandered about among them for some time, noticing a certain resemblance which they bore to the dressing-rooms of the actors in a modern theatre, and to the corral of wild beasts in a circus or menagerie. Then, being chilled by the cool dampness engendered in these dark places, I went out into the daylight for the purpose of crossing the arena to a crucifix which has been erected somewhere near its centre. The moment the strong daylight struck my eyes I became vividly conscious of what asserted itself as a remembrance. It was all familiar. Nothing that had ever happened in my past could be more real than this scene which followed. I distinctly remembered having crossed that place before, armed with a light poniard and dressed in a loose tunic of some dark color. A sense of impending peril, yet different from any physical fear I have ever felt, pervaded my entire being. I was conscious that a frightful struggle awaited me, and that, the chances were not in my favor. Full five minutes of this trance-like condition must, have passed before I became aware that it was not as a gladiator I had my being in that place, but rather as one thrown to the, wild beasts. I even pondered a moment us to whence this dagger, so useless in the struggle which was to ensue. I continued walking on, with a full revelation of the coming scene, and as I approached the crucifix, which by this time had grown to be a sort of goal to my distempered senses, I became cognizant of the fact that a tiger was emerging from one of those pillared caverns at the side. As I tried to shake off this impression, being somewhat uneasy as to my nervous condition, a strange odor was wafted to me, — an odor which I afterwards remembered to have noticed as pervading the vicinity of wild beasts. Could it be the odor of lnandragora? It had some such strange yet familiar suggestion. In a curious commingling of past and present impressions, I even grimly bethought me of the etymology of the word “mandragora,” — μάνδρɑ, ɑγϵίρω — that this unfragrant plant was gathered near the caverns which furnished shelter to wild beasts. Yet still the illusion went on and swallowed up the etymology: distinct, yet. vague; actual, yet so far away. Ihe impression gradually faded, leaving me bewildered and not a little alarmed, for in all my wayward boyhood I had never been given to experiences of an occult nature.
Had this scene occurred during my first visit by moonlight, when all the susceptibilities of the imagination were keenly alert, the explanation would not have been so difficult. As it was, the only fact which could be urged in favor of present “ conditions ” was that I was alone. But the readiness with which, in broad daylight, my senses had lent themselves to the impression, the number of senses involved, — that is, sight, hearing, smell, — enhanced to such a degree the mysterious character of the phenomenon that I would gladly have welcomed the fantastic explanation offered by Professor Zöllnor, that of a fourth dimension.
Many years elapsed before my “ghost story” was related even to intimate friends, and then not until, in conning over all the incidents of this weird “ possession,” I became convinced that it furnished nothing new ; no Swedenborgian visions of hell or heaven before undreamed of. Whatever the direct or exciting cause of this crise de nerfs, as the French pathologists would call it, I feel safe in relegating it, with similar unclassified phenomena, to that nebulous domain, the romance of memory.
S. R. Elliott.