« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
believed to be the kúvelov of the ancient Greek authors, and the cicuta of the Romans. If this opinion be correct, and it is supported by the names of Linnæus and Lamarck, it was the juice of this plant which constituted the state poison of Athens, and which proved fatal, therefore, to Socrates, Phocion, and Theamenes. Haller, however, has awarded this honour to the cicuta virosa, or cowþane ; whilst others have adopted the ænanthe philiandrium, or fine-leaved water-drop; and others, again, the æthusa cynapium, or fools' parsley ; whilst Guersant considers that the deadly potion was composed of the expressed juices of several poisonous herbs. Now, it is remarkable that none of these last-mentioned are found in any part of Greece, whilst as regards the habitats of conium, Dr. Šibthorp makes the following note in his Flore Grece Prodromus : “In enderatis circa Byzantium; in Peloponneso haud infrequens, copiosissime inter Athenas et Megaram :”--to which latter locality especial reference is made by Dioscorides, when alluding to kúvalov. The description given by this ancient medical botanist is certainly insufficient to distinguish it from several other umbelliferæ, the natural order to which it belongs; but the characters, so far as they are pointed out, agree with those presented by hemlock. In fact, the chief argument, if not the only real one that has yet been urged against the validity of the ancient title of this important and interesting member of the vegetable kingdom, is the account of the death of Socrates as given by Plato in his Phædon. This is well worthy of quotation ; but if, whilst pursuing the narrative, we make all due allowance for the absence of medical education in the historian,-for all that is added for the sake of embellishment,--for the various modes in which the same poison affects different individuals, and for the influence exerted by climate upon the development of the active principles of plants,* it will not require much reasoning to dispose of this source of difficulty.
" Good friend,” said Socrates, addressing the executioner, " come hither, you are experienced in these affairs. What is to be done?” “Nothing,” replied the man,“ only when you have drunk the poison, you are to walk about until heaviness takes place in your legs; then lie down. This is all you have to do." At the same time he presented him the cup. Socrates received it from him with great calmness, and regarding the man with his usual stern aspect, he asked," What say you of this potion!
* On this point, Dr. A. T. Thompson observes :-“Its narcotic principle varies greatly, according to the season and localities of the plant. Thus, it is much more virulent in Greece, Italy, and Spain, than in England ; in other places it is so inert, that we are informed by M. Steven, a Russian botanist, that the Russian peasants eat it with impunity, after it has been boiled in several waters.''-Elements of Materia Medica and Therapeutics.
Is it lawful to sprinkle any portion of it on the earth, as a libation, or not?” “We only bruise," said the man, “ as much as is barely sufficient for the purpose.” “I understand you,” said Socrates, “ but it is certainly lawful and proper to pray the gods that my departure from hence may be prosperous and happy, which I, indeed, beseech them to grant.” So saying, he carried the cup to his mouth, and drank it with great promptness and facility. . . . . Socrates, after walking about, now told us that his legs were beginning to grow heavy, and immediately lay down ; for so he had been ordered. At the same time the man who had given him the poison, examined his feet and legs, touching them at intervals. At length he pressed violently on his foot, and asked him if he felt it. To which Socrates replied that he did not. The man then pressed his legs, and so on, showing us that he was becoming cold and stiff. And Socrates, feeling of himself, assured us, that when the effects had ascended to his heart, he should then be gone. And now the middle of his body growing cold, he threw aside his clothes, and spoke for the last time. “ Crito, we owe the sacrifice of a cock to Æsculapius. Discharge this, and neglect it not.” “ It shall be done,” said Crito;" have you anything else to say?" He made no reply, but a moment after moved, and his eyes became fixed. And Crito, seeing this, closed his eyelids and mouth.
Thus, the death of Socrates appears to have been of the most easy nature possible, and not one calculated to put his philosophic endurance to any great test,-a fact which is borne out by the account given by Ælian, of the suicidal banquets at Ceos, where, in consequence of the existence of a law, the old men, when they had become useless to the state, and tired of the infirmities of life, invited each other to a repast, and having crowned themselves as in the celebration of a joyous festival, drank conium, and terminated their existences together.
Hemlock is common throughout almost every climate, and is a frequent inhabitant of our road-sides and waste places. It is so well known, that we may safely permit old Gerande to describe it. “ The first kind of hemlocke," says he,“ hath a long staike, five or six foot high, great and hollow, full of joints like the stalks of fennel, of an herby colour, poudered with small red spots almost like the stems of dragons; the leaues are great, thick, and smal cut or jagged, like the leaues of chervill, but much greater, and of a very strong, unpleasant sauor ; the flowers are white, growing by tufts or spoky tops, which do change and turne into a white flat seed; the root is short and somewhat hollow within."*
· The Herball, or Generall Historie of Plants, gathered by John Gerande, of London, Master in Chirurgerie.- London, 1636.
The plot is simple, and the characters are few; but the first is interesting, and the latter are drawn with that exquisite knowledge of human nature, which makes Mr. Dickens the most popular of our writers. John Peerybingle, a rough spoken but warm-hearted car. rier, is married to a girl, greatly his inferior in point of years, but still devotedly attached to him. They have one child, a baby, which, though of course a mute character, contributes greatly to the interest of the tale. They have one female servant, Tilly Slowboy, whose amusing oddities of manner, and semi-human state of civilisation, keep us in a constant state of mirth. The other characters are, Mr. Tackleton, of the firm of Grubb and Tackleton, toy merchants; Caleb Plummer, shopman to the firm, and his blind daughter Bertha; Mrs. Fielding and her daughter May; and a mysterious stranger, who first appears to us as a deaf old man. Mr. Tackleton, a cold, heartless man of the Scrooge order, is to be married to May Fielding, whose first lover, the son of old Caleb Plummer, is thought to have died in South America. Caleb Plummer's whole study is to persuade his blind daughter that the hovel, in which she dwells, is a palace, that he him. self is not poor, and that their stern master is only an eccentric philanthropist. To such an extent does he practise this deception, that the poor girl actually falls in love with Tackleton. The mysterious stranger is first brought to John Peerybingle's home, having asked for a lift in that worthy's cart. He then expresses a desire to take up his quarters in the house, much to John's annoyance, whose suspicions have been aroused by some words let fall by Tilly Slowboy. These suspicions are afterwards confirmed by Tackleton, who shows to the carrier his wife in the stranger's arms. John meditates a whole night long by his fireside, revolving plans of vengeance in his breast. Happily the Cricket on the Hearth, that is, the soothing influence of the domestic fireside, turns him from his purpose. He bethinks him of the difference of years between himself and his wife, and resolves to treat her kindly. And with the morning light comes an ample explanation. The mysterious stranger is only Caleb Plummer's long lost son, returned to claim his bride. He carries her off from the disagreeable Tackleton, who is, however, suddenly converted into an amiable man. A plot so simple, would not, perhaps, have power to fascinate the reader, if it were not assisted by the mingled vein of humour and pathos which runs through the whole book, Of these we we purpose to give some specimens.
This is part of the opening chapter :
“It appeared as if there were a sort of match, or trial of skill, you must understand, between the kettle and the cricket. And this is what led to it, and how it came about. Mrs. Peerybingle going out into the raw twilight, and clicking over the wet stones in a pair of pattens that worked innùmerable rough impressions of the first proposition in Euclid, all about the yard.-Mrs. Peerybingle filled the kettle at the water butt. Presently returning, less the pattens-and a good deal less, for they were tall, and Mrs. Peerybingle was but short, she set the kettle on the fire. In doing which she lost her temper, or mislaid it for an instant; for the water being uncomfortably cold, and in that slippy, slushy, sleety sort of state, wherein it seems to penetrate through every kind of substance, patten-rings included-had laid hold of Mrs. Peerybingle's toes, and even splashed her legs. And when we rather
plume ourselves (with reason too,) upon our legs, and keep ourselves particularly neat in point of stockings, we find this, for the moment, hard to bear ?
"But Mrs. Peerybingle, with restored good humour, dusted her chubby Little hands against each other, and sat down before the kettle, laughing. Meanwhile the jolly blaze uprose and fell, flashing and gleaming on the little haymaker at the top of the Dutch clock, until one might have thought he stood still before the Moorish palace, and nothing was in motion but the iame. He was on the move, however, and had his spasms two to the second, all right and regular. But his sufferings when the clock was going to strike Fere frightful to behold; and when a cuckoo looked out of a trap-door in the palace, and gave note six times, it shook him each time, like a spectral Foice-or like a something wiry, plucking at his legs. Nor was it until a violent commotion and whirring voice among the weights and ropes below him had quite subsided, that this terrified haymaker became himself again.
* Yrs. Peerybingle went running to the door, where, what with the wheels of a cart, the tramp of a horse, the voice of a man, the tearing in and out of 21 excited dog, and the surprising and mysterious appearance of a baby, there was soon the very what's-his-name to pay. Where the baby came from, or bow Mrs. Peerybingle got hold of it in that flash of time, I don't know. But
live baby there was in Mrs. Peerybingle's arms; and a pretty tolerable amount of pride 'she seemed to have in it, when she was drawn gently to the fre, by a sturdy figure of a man, much taller and much older than her
; who had to stoop a long way down to kiss her. But she was worth the brable. Six-foot-six, with the lumbago, might have done it.
* John went out to see that the boy with the lantern, which had been dancing to and fro before the door and window, like a Will of the wisp, took care of the horse; who was fatter than you would quite believe, if I gave you his measure, and so old that his birth-day was lost in the mists of antiquity. Boxer, feeling that his attentions were due to the family in general, and must be impartially distributed, dashed in and out with bewildering inconstancy; now describing a circle of short barks round the horse, where he was being rubbed down at the stable door; now feigning to make savage rushes at his mistress, and facetiously bringing himself to sudden stops; now eliciting a shriek from Tilly Slowboy in the low nursing chair near the fire, by the unexpected application of his moist nose to her countenance ; now exhibiting an obtrusive interest in the baby; now going round and round upon the hearth, and lying down as if he had established himself for the night; now getting up again, and taking that nothing of a fag-end of a tail of his out into the weather, as if he had just remembered an appointment, and was off at a round trot to keep it.
Tackleton, the toy merchant, pretty generally known as Gruff and Tackleton-for that was the firm, though Gruff had been bought out long ago ; learing only his name, and, as some said, his nature, according to its dictionary meaning, in the business. Tackleton, the toy merchant, was a man whose vocation had been quite misunderstood by his parents and guardians. If they had made him a money lender, or a sharp lawyer, or a sheriff's officer, or a broker, he might have sown his discontented oats in his youth, and after having had the full run of himself in ill-natured transactions, might have turned out amiable at last, for the sake of a little freshness and novelty, But, cramped and chafing in the peaceable pursuit of toy-making, he was a domestic Ogre, who had been living on children all his life, and was their implacable enemy. He despised all toys, would not have bought one for the world; delighted in his malice to insinuate grim expressions into the faces of brown paper farmers who drove pigs to market, bellmen who advertised lost lawyers consciences, moveable old ladies who darned stockings, or carved
LOL man faces
pies, and other like samples of his stock in trade. He had even lost money (and he took to that toy very kindly) by getting up goblin slides for magic lanterns, whereon the powers of darkness were depicted as a sort of supernatural shell fish with human faces.
Caleb Plummer and his blind daughter were all alone by themselves, in a little cracked nutshell of a wooden house, which was, in truth, no better than a pimple on the great red brick nose of Gruff and Tackleton. The premises of Grubb and Tackleton were the great feature of the street; but you might have knocked down Caleb Plummer's dwelling with a hammer or two, and carried away the pieces in a cart. But it was the germ from which the full grown trunk of Gruff and Tackleton had sprung; and under its crazy roof, the Gruff before last had, in a small way, made toys for a generation of old boys and girls, who had played with them, and found them out, and broken them, and gone to sleep. I have said that Caleb and his poor blind daughter lived here ; but I should have said that Caleb lived here, and his poor blind daughter somewhere else; in an enchanted home of Caleb's furnishing, where scarcity and shabbiness were not, and trouble never entered. Caleb was no sorcerer, but in the only magic art that still remains to us, the magic of devoted, deathless love. Nature had been the mistress of his teaching, and from her study all the wonder came. The blind girl never knew that ceilings were discoloured ; walls blotched, and bare of plaster here and there ; high crevices unstopped, and widening every day; beams mouldering and tending downward. The blind girl never knew that iron was rusting, wood rotsing, the paper peeling off, the very size, and shape, and true proportions of the dwelling, withering away. The blind girl never knew that ugly shapes of delf and earthenware were on the boards; that sorrow and faint-heartedness were in the house; that Caleb's scanty hairs were turning greyer and more grey before her sightless face. The blind girl never knew they had a master, cold, exacting, and uninterested; never knew that Tackleton was Tackleton, in short; but lived in the belief of an eccentric humourist who loved to have his jest with them; and while he was the guardian angel of their lives, disdained to hear one word of thankfulness. And all was Caleb's doing; all the doing of her simple father. But he, too, had a cricket on the hearth; and listening sadly to its music when the motherless blind girl was very young, that spirit had inspired him with the thought that even her great deprivation might be turned into a blessing, and the girl made happy by these little means. For all the cricket tribe are potent spirits, even though the people who hold converse with them do not know it (which is frequently the case); and there are not in the unseen world, voices more gentle, and more true, that may be so implicitly relied on, or that are so certain to give none but tenderest counsel, as the voices in which the spirits of the fireside and thc hearth address themselves to human kind.”
But we must bring our extracts to a close; let us conclude with the last scene of all, the characters being all assembled in the carrier's cottage.
“ There was a dance in the evening. It was formed in an odd way, in this way: Edward, that sailor fellow-a good, free, dashing sort of fellow he was-bad been telling them various marvels concerning parrots, and mines, and Mexicans, and gold dust, when all at once he took it in his head to jump up, and propose a dance; for Bertha's harp was there, and she had such a hand upon it as you seldom hear. Dot (sly little piece of affectation when she chose) said her dancing days were over; I think because the carrier was smoking his pipe, and she liked' sitting by him best. Mrs. Fielding had no choicc, of course, but to say her dancing days were over, after that, and everybody said the same, except May; May was ready. So Edward and May got up amid