Honore de Balzac
Part 1 out of 3
Etext prepared by John Bickers, email@example.com
and Dagny, firstname.lastname@example.org
HONORE DE BALZAC
Katharine Prescott Wormeley
To Madame Eveline de Hanska, nee Comtesse Rzewuska.
Madame,--Here is the work which you asked of me. I am happy, in
thus dedicating it, to offer you a proof of the respectful
affection you allow me to bear you. If I am reproached for
impotence in this attempt to draw from the depths of mysticism a
book which seeks to give, in the lucid transparency of our
beautiful language, the luminous poesy of the Orient, to you the
blame! Did you not command this struggle (resembling that of
Jacob) by telling me that the most imperfect sketch of this
Figure, dreamed of by you, as it has been by me since childhood,
would still be something to you?
Here, then, it is,--that something. Would that this book could
belong exclusively to noble spirits, preserved like yours from
worldly pettiness by solitude! THEY would know how to give to it
the melodious rhythm that it lacks, which might have made it, in
the hands of a poet, the glorious epic that France still awaits.
But from me they must accept it as one of those sculptured
balustrades, carved by a hand of faith, on which the pilgrims
lean, in the choir of some glorious church, to think upon the end
I am, madame, with respect,
Your devoted servant,
As the eye glances over a map of the coasts of Norway, can the
imagination fail to marvel at their fantastic indentations and
serrated edges, like a granite lace, against which the surges of the
North Sea roar incessantly? Who has not dreamed of the majestic sights
to be seen on those beachless shores, of that multitude of creeks and
inlets and little bays, no two of them alike, yet all trackless
abysses? We may almost fancy that Nature took pleasure in recording by
ineffaceable hieroglyphics the symbol of Norwegian life, bestowing on
these coasts the conformation of a fish's spine, fishery being the
staple commerce of the country, and well-nigh the only means of living
of the hardy men who cling like tufts of lichen to the arid cliffs.
Here, through fourteen degrees of longitude, barely seven hundred
thousand souls maintain existence. Thanks to perils devoid of glory,
to year-long snows which clothe the Norway peaks and guard them from
profaning foot of traveller, these sublime beauties are virgin still;
they will be seen to harmonize with human phenomena, also virgin--at
least to poetry--which here took place, the history of which it is our
purpose to relate.
If one of these inlets, mere fissures to the eyes of the eider-ducks,
is wide enough for the sea not to freeze between the prison-walls of
rock against which it surges, the country-people call the little bay a
"fiord,"--a word which geographers of every nation have adopted into
their respective languages. Though a certain resemblance exists among
all these fiords, each has its own characteristics. The sea has
everywhere forced its way as through a breach, yet the rocks about
each fissure are diversely rent, and their tumultuous precipices defy
the rules of geometric law. Here the scarp is dentelled like a saw;
there the narrow ledges barely allow the snow to lodge or the noble
crests of the Northern pines to spread themselves; farther on, some
convulsion of Nature may have rounded a coquettish curve into a lovely
valley flanked in rising terraces with black-plumed pines. Truly we
are tempted to call this land the Switzerland of Ocean.
Midway between Trondhjem and Christiansand lies an inlet called the
Strom-fiord. If the Strom-fiord is not the loveliest of these rocky
landscapes, it has the merit of displaying the terrestrial grandeurs
of Norway, and of enshrining the scenes of a history that is indeed
The general outline of the Strom-fiord seems at first sight to be that
of a funnel washed out by the sea. The passage which the waves have
forced present to the eye an image of the eternal struggle between old
Ocean and the granite rock,--two creations of equal power, one through
inertia, the other by ceaseless motion. Reefs of fantastic shape run
out on either side, and bar the way of ships and forbid their
entrance. The intrepid sons of Norway cross these reefs on foot,
springing from rock to rock, undismayed at the abyss--a hundred
fathoms deep and only six feet wide--which yawns beneath them. Here a
tottering block of gneiss falling athwart two rocks gives an uncertain
footway; there the hunters or the fishermen, carrying their loads,
have flung the stems of fir-trees in guise of bridges, to join the
projecting reefs, around and beneath which the surges roar
incessantly. This dangerous entrance to the little bay bears obliquely
to the right with a serpentine movement, and there encounters a
mountain rising some twenty-five hundred feet above sea-level, the
base of which is a vertical palisade of solid rock more than a mile
and a half long, the inflexible granite nowhere yielding to clefts or
undulations until it reaches a height of two hundred feet above the
water. Rushing violently in, the sea is driven back with equal
violence by the inert force of the mountain to the opposite shore,
gently curved by the spent force of the retreating waves.
The fiord is closed at the upper end by a vast gneiss formation
crowned with forests, down which a river plunges in cascades, becomes
a torrent when the snows are melting, spreads into a sheet of waters,
and then falls with a roar into the bay,--vomiting as it does so the
hoary pines and the aged larches washed down from the forests and
scarce seen amid the foam. These trees plunge headlong into the fiord
and reappear after a time on the surface, clinging together and
forming islets which float ashore on the beaches, where the
inhabitants of a village on the left bank of the Strom-fiord gather
them up, split, broken (though sometimes whole), and always stripped
of bark and branches. The mountain which receives at its base the
assaults of Ocean, and at its summit the buffeting of the wild North
wind, is called the Falberg. Its crest, wrapped at all seasons in a
mantle of snow and ice, is the sharpest peak of Norway; its proximity
to the pole produces, at the height of eighteen hundred feet, a degree
of cold equal to that of the highest mountains of the globe. The
summit of this rocky mass, rising sheer from the fiord on one side,
slopes gradually downward to the east, where it joins the declivities
of the Sieg and forms a series of terraced valleys, the chilly
temperature of which allows no growth but that of shrubs and stunted
The upper end of the fiord, where the waters enter it as they come
down from the forest, is called the Siegdahlen,--a word which may be
held to mean "the shedding of the Sieg,"--the river itself receiving
that name. The curving shore opposite to the face of the Falberg is
the valley of Jarvis,--a smiling scene overlooked by hills clothed
with firs, birch-trees, and larches, mingled with a few oaks and
beeches, the richest coloring of all the varied tapestries which
Nature in these northern regions spreads upon the surface of her
rugged rocks. The eye can readily mark the line where the soil, warmed
by the rays of the sun, bears cultivation and shows the native growth
of the Norwegian flora. Here the expanse of the fiord is broad enough
to allow the sea, dashed back by the Falberg, to spend its expiring
force in gentle murmurs upon the lower slope of these hills,--a shore
bordered with finest sand, strewn with mica and sparkling pebbles,
porphyry, and marbles of a thousand tints, brought from Sweden by the
river floods, together with ocean waifs, shells, and flowers of the
sea driven in by tempests, whether of the Pole or Tropics.
At the foot of the hills of Jarvis lies a village of some two hundred
wooden houses, where an isolated population lives like a swarm of bees
in a forest, without increasing or diminishing; vegetating happily,
while wringing their means of living from the breast of a stern
Nature. The almost unknown existence of the little hamlet is readily
accounted for. Few of its inhabitants were bold enough to risk their
lives among the reefs to reach the deep-sea fishing,--the staple
industry of Norwegians on the least dangerous portions of their coast.
The fish of the fiord were numerous enough to suffice, in part at
least, for the sustenance of the inhabitants; the valley pastures
provided milk and butter; a certain amount of fruitful, well-tilled
soil yielded rye and hemp and vegetables, which necessity taught the
people to protect against the severity of the cold and the fleeting
but terrible heat of the sun with the shrewd ability which Norwegians
display in the two-fold struggle. The difficulty of communication with
the outer world, either by land where the roads are impassable, or by
sea where none but tiny boats can thread their way through the
maritime defiles that guard the entrance to the bay, hinder these
people from growing rich by the sale of their timber. It would cost
enormous sums to either blast a channel out to sea or construct a way
to the interior. The roads from Christiana to Trondhjem all turn
toward the Strom-fiord, and cross the Sieg by a bridge some score of
miles above its fall into the bay. The country to the north, between
Jarvis and Trondhjem, is covered with impenetrable forests, while to
the south the Falberg is nearly as much separated from Christiana by
inaccessible precipices. The village of Jarvis might perhaps have
communicated with the interior of Norway and Sweden by the river Sieg;
but to do this and to be thus brought into contact with civilization,
the Strom-fiord needed the presence of a man of genius. Such a man did
actually appear there,--a poet, a Swede of great religious fervor, who
died admiring, even reverencing this region as one of the noblest
works of the Creator.
Minds endowed by study with an inward sight, and whose quick
perceptions bring before the soul, as though painted on a canvas, the
contrasting scenery of this universe, will now apprehend the general
features of the Strom-fiord. They alone, perhaps, can thread their way
through the tortuous channels of the reef, or flee with the battling
waves to the everlasting rebuff of the Falberg whose white peaks
mingle with the vaporous clouds of the pearl-gray sky, or watch with
delight the curving sheet of waters, or hear the rushing of the Sieg
as it hangs for an instant in long fillets and then falls over a
picturesque abatis of noble trees toppled confusedly together,
sometimes upright, sometimes half-sunken beneath the rocks. It may be
that such minds alone can dwell upon the smiling scenes nestling among
the lower hills of Jarvis; where the luscious Northern vegetables
spring up in families, in myriads, where the white birches bend,
graceful as maidens, where colonnades of beeches rear their boles
mossy with the growth of centuries, where shades of green contrast,
and white clouds float amid the blackness of the distant pines, and
tracts of many-tinted crimson and purple shrubs are shaded endlessly;
in short, where blend all colors, all perfumes of a flora whose
wonders are still ignored. Widen the boundaries of this limited
ampitheatre, spring upward to the clouds, lose yourself among the
rocks where the seals are lying and even then your thought cannot
compass the wealth of beauty nor the poetry of this Norwegian coast.
Can your thought be as vast as the ocean that bounds it? as weird as
the fantastic forms drawn by these forests, these clouds, these
shadows, these changeful lights?
Do you see above the meadows on that lowest slope which undulates
around the higher hills of Jarvis two or three hundred houses roofed
with "noever," a sort of thatch made of birch-bark,--frail houses,
long and low, looking like silk-worms on a mulberry-leaf tossed hither
by the winds? Above these humble, peaceful dwellings stands the
church, built with a simplicity in keeping with the poverty of the
villagers. A graveyard surrounds the chancel, and a little farther on
you see the parsonage. Higher up, on a projection of the mountain is a
dwelling-house, the only one of stone; for which reason the
inhabitants of the village call it "the Swedish Castle." In fact, a
wealthy Swede settled in Jarvis about thirty years before this history
begins, and did his best to ameliorate its condition. This little
house, certainly not a castle, built with the intention of leading the
inhabitants to build others like it, was noticeable for its solidity
and for the wall that inclosed it, a rare thing in Norway where,
notwithstanding the abundance of stone, wood alone is used for all
fences, even those of fields. This Swedish house, thus protected
against the climate, stood on rising ground in the centre of an
immense courtyard. The windows were sheltered by those projecting
pent-house roofs supported by squared trunks of trees which give so
patriarchal an air to Northern dwellings. From beneath them the eye
could see the savage nudity of the Falberg, or compare the infinitude
of the open sea with the tiny drop of water in the foaming fiord; the
ear could hear the flowing of the Sieg, whose white sheet far away
looked motionless as it fell into its granite cup edged for miles
around with glaciers,--in short, from this vantage ground the whole
landscape whereon our simple yet superhuman drama was about to be
enacted could be seen and noted.
The winter of 1799-1800 was one of the most severe ever known to
Europeans. The Norwegian sea was frozen in all the fiords, where, as a
usual thing, the violence of the surf kept the ice from forming. A
wind, whose effects were like those of the Spanish levanter, swept the
ice of the Strom-fiord, driving the snow to the upper end of the gulf.
Seldom indeed could the people of Jarvis see the mirror of frozen
waters reflecting the colors of the sky; a wondrous site in the bosom
of these mountains when all other aspects of nature are levelled
beneath successive sheets of snow, and crests and valleys are alike
mere folds of the vast mantle flung by winter across a landscape at
once so mournfully dazzling and so monotonous. The falling volume of
the Sieg, suddenly frozen, formed an immense arcade beneath which the
inhabitants might have crossed under shelter from the blast had any
dared to risk themselves inland. But the dangers of every step away
from their own surroundings kept even the boldest hunters in their
homes, afraid lest the narrow paths along the precipices, the clefts
and fissures among the rocks, might be unrecognizable beneath the
Thus it was that no human creature gave life to the white desert where
Boreas reigned, his voice alone resounding at distant intervals. The
sky, nearly always gray, gave tones of polished steel to the ice of
the fiord. Perchance some ancient eider-duck crossed the expanse,
trusting to the warm down beneath which dream, in other lands, the
luxurious rich, little knowing of the dangers through which their
luxury has come to them. Like the Bedouin of the desert who darts
alone across the sands of Africa, the bird is neither seen nor heard;
the torpid atmosphere, deprived of its electrical conditions, echoes
neither the whirr of its wings nor its joyous notes. Besides, what
human eye was strong enough to bear the glitter of those pinnacles
adorned with sparkling crystals, or the sharp reflections of the snow,
iridescent on the summits in the rays of a pallid sun which
infrequently appeared, like a dying man seeking to make known that he
still lives. Often, when the flocks of gray clouds, driven in
squadrons athwart the mountains and among the tree-tops, hid the sky
with their triple veils Earth, lacking the celestial lights, lit
herself by herself.
Here, then, we meet the majesty of Cold, seated eternally at the pole
in that regal silence which is the attribute of all absolute monarchy.
Every extreme principle carries with it an appearance of negation and
the symptoms of death; for is not life the struggle of two forces?
Here in this Northern nature nothing lived. One sole power--the
unproductive power of ice--reigned unchallenged. The roar of the open
sea no longer reached the deaf, dumb inlet, where during one short
season of the year Nature made haste to produce the slender harvests
necessary for the food of the patient people. A few tall pine-trees
lifted their black pyramids garlanded with snow, and the form of their
long branches and depending shoots completed the mourning garments of
those solemn heights.
Each household gathered in its chimney-corner, in houses carefully
closed from the outer air, and well supplied with biscuit, melted
butter, dried fish, and other provisions laid in for the seven-months
winter. The very smoke of these dwellings was hardly seen, half-hidden
as they were beneath the snow, against the weight of which they were
protected by long planks reaching from the roof and fastened at some
distance to solid blocks on the ground, forming a covered way around
During these terrible winter months the women spun and dyed the
woollen stuffs and the linen fabrics with which they clothed their
families, while the men read, or fell into those endless meditations
which have given birth to so many profound theories, to the mystic
dreams of the North, to its beliefs, to its studies (so full and so
complete in one science, at least, sounded as with a plummet), to its
manners and its morals, half-monastic, which force the soul to react
and feed upon itself and make the Norwegian peasant a being apart
among the peoples of Europe.
Such was the condition of the Strom-fiord in the first year of the
nineteenth century and about the middle of the month of May.
On a morning when the sun burst forth upon this landscape, lighting
the fires of the ephemeral diamonds produced by crystallizations of
the snow and ice, two beings crossed the fiord and flew along the base
of the Falberg, rising thence from ledge to ledge toward the summit.
What were they? human creatures, or two arrows? They might have been
taken for eider-ducks sailing in consort before the wind. Not the
boldest hunter nor the most superstitious fisherman would have
attributed to human beings the power to move safely along the slender
lines traced beneath the snow by the granite ledges, where yet this
couple glided with the terrifying dexterity of somnambulists who,
forgetting their own weight and the dangers of the slightest
deviation, hurry along a ridge-pole and keep their equilibrium by the
power of some mysterious force.
"Stop me, Seraphitus," said a pale young girl, "and let me breathe. I
look at you, you only, while scaling these walls of the gulf;
otherwise, what would become of me? I am such a feeble creature. Do I
"No," said the being on whose arm she leaned. "But let us go on,
Minna; the place where we are is not firm enough to stand on."
Once more the snow creaked sharply beneath the long boards fastened to
their feet, and soon they reached the upper terrace of the first
ledge, clearly defined upon the flank of the precipice. The person
whom Minna had addressed as Seraphitus threw his weight upon his right
heel, arresting the plank--six and a half feet long and narrow as the
foot of a child--which was fastened to his boot by a double thong of
leather. This plank, two inches thick, was covered with reindeer skin,
which bristled against the snow when the foot was raised, and served
to stop the wearer. Seraphitus drew in his left foot, furnished with
another "skee," which was only two feet long, turned swiftly where he
stood, caught his timid companion in his arms, lifted her in spite of
the long boards on her feet, and placed her on a projecting rock from
which he brushed the snow with his pelisse.
"You are safe there, Minna; you can tremble at your ease."
"We are a third of the way up the Ice-Cap," she said, looking at the
peak to which she gave the popular name by which it is known in
Norway; "I can hardly believe it."
Too much out of breath to say more, she smiled at Seraphitus, who,
without answering, laid his hand upon her heart and listened to its
sounding throbs, rapid as those of a frightened bird.
"It often beats as fast when I run," she said.
Seraphitus inclined his head with a gesture that was neither coldness
nor indifference, and yet, despite the grace which made the movement
almost tender, it none the less bespoke a certain negation, which in a
woman would have seemed an exquisite coquetry. Seraphitus clasped the
young girl in his arms. Minna accepted the caress as an answer to her
words, continuing to gaze at him. As he raised his head, and threw
back with impatient gesture the golden masses of his hair to free his
brow, he saw an expression of joy in the eyes of his companion.
"Yes, Minna," he said in a voice whose paternal accents were charming
from the lips of a being who was still adolescent, "Keep your eyes on
me; do not look below you."
"Why not?" she asked.
"You wish to know why? then look!"
Minna glanced quickly at her feet and cried out suddenly like a child
who sees a tiger. The awful sensation of abysses seized her; one
glance sufficed to communicate its contagion. The fiord, eager for
food, bewildered her with its loud voice ringing in her ears,
interposing between herself and life as though to devour her more
surely. From the crown of her head to her feet and along her spine an
icy shudder ran; then suddenly intolerable heat suffused her nerves,
beat in her veins and overpowered her extremities with electric shocks
like those of the torpedo. Too feeble to resist, she felt herself
drawn by a mysterious power to the depths below, wherein she fancied
that she saw some monster belching its venom, a monster whose magnetic
eyes were charming her, whose open jaws appeared to craunch their prey
before they seized it.
"I die, my Seraphitus, loving none but thee," she said, making a
mechanical movement to fling herself into the abyss.
Seraphitus breathed softly on her forehead and eyes. Suddenly, like a
traveller relaxed after a bath, Minna forgot these keen emotions,
already dissipated by that caressing breath which penetrated her body
and filled it with balsamic essences as quickly as the breath itself
had crossed the air.
"Who art thou?" she said, with a feeling of gentle terror. "Ah, but I
know! thou art my life. How canst thou look into that gulf and not
die?" she added presently.
Seraphitus left her clinging to the granite rock and placed himself at
the edge of the narrow platform on which they stood, whence his eyes
plunged to the depths of the fiord, defying its dazzling invitation.
His body did not tremble, his brow was white and calm as that of a
marble statue,--an abyss facing an abyss.
"Seraphitus! dost thou not love me? come back!" she cried. "Thy danger
renews my terror. Who art thou to have such superhuman power at thy
age?" she asked as she felt his arms inclosing her once more.
"But, Minna," answered Seraphitus, "you look fearlessly at greater
spaces far than that."
Then with raised finger, this strange being pointed upward to the blue
dome, which parting clouds left clear above their heads, where stars
could be seen in open day by virtue of atmospheric laws as yet
"But what a difference!" she answered smiling.
"You are right," he said; "we are born to stretch upward to the skies.
Our native land, like the face of a mother, cannot terrify her
His voice vibrated through the being of his companion, who made no
"Come! let us go on," he said.
The pair darted forward along the narrow paths traced back and forth
upon the mountain, skimming from terrace to terrace, from line to
line, with the rapidity of a barb, that bird of the desert. Presently
they reached an open space, carpeted with turf and moss and flowers,
where no foot had ever trod.
"Oh, the pretty saeter!" cried Minna, giving to the upland meadow its
Norwegian name. "But how comes it here, at such a height?"
"Vegetation ceases here, it is true," said Seraphitus. "These few
plants and flowers are due to that sheltering rock which protects the
meadow from the polar winds. Put that tuft in your bosom, Minna," he
added, gathering a flower,--"that balmy creation which no eye has ever
seen; keep the solitary matchless flower in memory of this one
matchless morning of your life. You will find no other guide to lead
you again to this saeter."
So saying, he gave her the hybrid plant his falcon eye had seen amid
the tufts of gentian acaulis and saxifrages,--a marvel, brought to
bloom by the breath of angels. With girlish eagerness Minna seized the
tufted plant of transparent green, vivid as emerald, which was formed
of little leaves rolled trumpet-wise, brown at the smaller end but
changing tint by tint to their delicately notched edges, which were
green. These leaves were so tightly pressed together that they seemed
to blend and form a mat or cluster of rosettes. Here and there from
this green ground rose pure white stars edged with a line of gold, and
from their throats came crimson anthers but no pistils. A fragrance,
blended of roses and of orange blossoms, yet ethereal and fugitive,
gave something as it were celestial to that mysterious flower, which
Seraphitus sadly contemplated, as though it uttered plaintive thoughts
which he alone could understand. But to Minna this mysterious
phenomenon seemed a mere caprice of nature giving to stone the
freshness, softness, and perfume of plants.
"Why do you call it matchless? can it not reproduce itself?" she
asked, looking at Seraphitus, who colored and turned away.
"Let us sit down," he said presently; "look below you, Minna. See! At
this height you will have no fear. The abyss is so far beneath us that
we no longer have a sense of its depths; it acquires the perspective
uniformity of ocean, the vagueness of clouds, the soft coloring of the
sky. See, the ice of the fiord is a turquoise, the dark pine forests
are mere threads of brown; for us all abysses should be thus adorned."
Seraphitus said the words with that fervor of tone and gesture seen
and known only by those who have ascended the highest mountains of the
globe,--a fervor so involuntarily acquired that the haughtiest of men
is forced to regard his guide as a brother, forgetting his own
superior station till he descends to the valleys and the abodes of his
kind. Seraphitus unfastened the skees from Minna's feet, kneeling
before her. The girl did not notice him, so absorbed was she in the
marvellous view now offered of her native land, whose rocky outlines
could here be seen at a glance. She felt, with deep emotion, the
solemn permanence of those frozen summits, to which words could give
no adequate utterance.
"We have not come here by human power alone," she said, clasping her
hands. "But perhaps I dream."
"You think that facts the causes of which you cannot perceive are
supernatural," replied her companion.
"Your replies," she said, "always bear the stamp of some deep thought.
When I am near you I understand all things without an effort. Ah, I am
"If so, you will not need your skees," he answered.
"Oh!" she said; "I who would fain unfasten yours and kiss your feet!"
"Keep such words for Wilfrid," said Seraphitus, gently.
"Wilfrid!" cried Minna angrily; then, softening as she glanced at her
companion's face and trying, but in vain, to take his hand, she added,
"You are never angry, never; you are so hopelessly perfect in all
"From which you conclude that I am unfeeling."
Minna was startled at this lucid interpretation of her thought.
"You prove to me, at any rate, that we understand each other," she
said, with the grace of a loving woman.
Seraphitus softly shook his head and looked sadly and gently at her.
"You, who know all things," said Minna, "tell me why it is that the
timidity I felt below is over now that I have mounted higher. Why do I
dare to look at you for the first time face to face, while lower down
I scarcely dared to give a furtive glance?"
"Perhaps because we are withdrawn from the pettiness of earth," he
answered, unfastening his pelisse.
"Never, never have I seen you so beautiful!" cried Minna, sitting down
on a mossy rock and losing herself in contemplation of the being who
had now guided her to a part of the peak hitherto supposed to be
Never, in truth, had Seraphitus shone with so bright a radiance,--the
only word which can render the illumination of his face and the aspect
of his whole person. Was this splendor due to the lustre which the
pure air of mountains and the reflections of the snow give to the
complexion? Was it produced by the inward impulse which excites the
body at the instant when exertion is arrested? Did it come from the
sudden contrast between the glory of the sun and the darkness of the
clouds, from whose shadow the charming couple had just emerged?
Perhaps to all these causes we may add the effect of a phenomenon, one
of the noblest which human nature has to offer. If some able
physiologist had studied this being (who, judging by the pride on his
brow and the lightning in his eyes seemed a youth of about seventeen
years of age), and if the student had sought for the springs of that
beaming life beneath the whitest skin that ever the North bestowed
upon her offspring, he would undoubtedly have believed either in some
phosphoric fluid of the nerves shining beneath the cuticle, or in the
constant presence of an inward luminary, whose rays issued through the
being of Seraphitus like a light through an alabaster vase. Soft and
slender as were his hands, ungloved to remove his companion's snow-
boots, they seemed possessed of a strength equal to that which the
Creator gave to the diaphanous tentacles of the crab. The fire darting
from his vivid glance seemed to struggle with the beams of the sun,
not to take but to give them light. His body, slim and delicate as
that of a woman, gave evidence of one of those natures which are
feeble apparently, but whose strength equals their will, rendering
them at times powerful. Of medium height, Seraphitus appeared to grow
in stature as he turned fully round and seemed about to spring upward.
His hair, curled by a fairy's hand and waving to the breeze, increased
the illusion produced by this aerial attitude; yet his bearing, wholly
without conscious effort, was the result far more of a moral
phenomenon than of a corporal habit.
Minna's imagination seconded this illusion, under the dominion of
which all persons would assuredly have fallen,--an illusion which gave
to Seraphitus the appearance of a vision dreamed of in happy sleep. No
known type conveys an image of that form so majestically made to
Minna, but which to the eyes of a man would have eclipsed in womanly
grace the fairest of Raphael's creations. That painter of heaven has
ever put a tranquil joy, a loving sweetness, into the lines of his
angelic conceptions; but what soul, unless it contemplated Seraphitus
himself, could have conceived the ineffable emotions imprinted on his
face? Who would have divined, even in the dreams of artists, where all
things become possible, the shadow cast by some mysterious awe upon
that brow, shining with intellect, which seemed to question Heaven and
to pity Earth? The head hovered awhile disdainfully, as some majestic
bird whose cries reverberate on the atmosphere, then bowed itself
resignedly, like the turtledove uttering soft notes of tenderness in
the depths of the silent woods. His complexion was of marvellous
whiteness, which brought out vividly the coral lips, the brown
eyebrows, and the silken lashes, the only colors that trenched upon
the paleness of that face, whose perfect regularity did not detract
from the grandeur of the sentiments expressed in it; nay, thought and
emotion were reflected there, without hindrance or violence, with the
majestic and natural gravity which we delight in attributing to
superior beings. That face of purest marble expressed in all things
strength and peace.
Minna rose to take the hand of Seraphitus, hoping thus to draw him to
her, and to lay on that seductive brow a kiss given more from
admiration than from love; but a glance at the young man's eyes, which
pierced her as a ray of sunlight penetrates a prism, paralyzed the
young girl. She felt, but without comprehending, a gulf between them;
then she turned away her head and wept. Suddenly a strong hand seized
her by the waist, and a soft voice said to her: "Come!" She obeyed,
resting her head, suddenly revived, upon the heart of her companion,
who, regulating his step to hers with gentle and attentive conformity,
led her to a spot whence they could see the radiant glories of the
"Before I look, before I listen to you, tell me, Seraphitus, why you
repulse me. Have I displeased you? and how? tell me! I want nothing
for myself; I would that all my earthly goods were yours, for the
riches of my heart are yours already. I would that light came to my
eyes only though your eyes just as my thought is born of your thought.
I should not then fear to offend you, for I should give you back the
echoes of your soul, the words of your heart, day by day,--as we
render to God the meditations with which his spirit nourishes our
minds. I would be thine alone."
"Minna, a constant desire is that which shapes our future. Hope on!
But if you would be pure in heart mingle the idea of the All-Powerful
with your affections here below; then you will love all creatures, and
your heart will rise to heights indeed."
"I will do all you tell me," she answered, lifting her eyes to his
with a timid movement.
"I cannot be your companion," said Seraphitus sadly.
He seemed to repress some thoughts, then stretched his arms towards
Christiana, just visible like a speck on the horizon and said:--
"We are very small," she said.
"Yes, but we become great through feeling and through intellect,"
answered Seraphitus. "With us, and us alone, Minna, begins the
knowledge of things; the little that we learn of the laws of the
visible world enables us to apprehend the immensity of the worlds
invisible. I know not if the time has come to speak thus to you, but I
would, ah, I would communicate to you the flame of my hopes! Perhaps
we may one day be together in the world where Love never dies."
"Why not here and now?" she said, murmuring.
"Nothing is stable here," he said, disdainfully. "The passing joys of
earthly love are gleams which reveal to certain souls the coming of
joys more durable; just as the discovery of a single law of nature
leads certain privileged beings to a conception of the system of the
universe. Our fleeting happiness here below is the forerunning proof
of another and a perfect happiness, just as the earth, a fragment of
the world, attests the universe. We cannot measure the vast orbit of
the Divine thought of which we are but an atom as small as God is
great; but we can feel its vastness, we can kneel, adore, and wait.
Men ever mislead themselves in science by not perceiving that all
things on their globe are related and co-ordinated to the general
evolution, to a constant movement and production which bring with
them, necessarily, both advancement and an End. Man himself is not a
finished creation; if he were, God would not Be."
"How is it that in thy short life thou hast found the time to learn so
many things?" said the young girl.
"I remember," he replied.
"Thou art nobler than all else I see."
"We are the noblest of God's greatest works. Has He not given us the
faculty of reflecting on Nature; of gathering it within us by thought;
of making it a footstool and stepping-stone from and by which to rise
to Him? We love according to the greater or the lesser portion of
heaven our souls contain. But do not be unjust, Minna; behold the
magnificence spread before you. Ocean expands at your feet like a
carpet; the mountains resemble ampitheatres; heaven's ether is above
them like the arching folds of a stage curtain. Here we may breathe
the thoughts of God, as it were like a perfume. See! the angry billows
which engulf the ships laden with men seem to us, where we are, mere
bubbles; and if we raise our eyes and look above, all there is blue.
Behold that diadem of stars! Here the tints of earthly impressions
disappear; standing on this nature rarefied by space do you not feel
within you something deeper far than mind, grander than enthusiasm, of
greater energy than will? Are you not conscious of emotions whose
interpretation is no longer in us? Do you not feel your pinions? Let
Seraphitus knelt down and crossed his hands upon his breast, while
Minna fell, weeping, on her knees. Thus they remained for a time,
while the azure dome above their heads grew larger and strong rays of
light enveloped them without their knowledge.
"Why dost thou not weep when I weep?" said Minna, in a broken voice.
"They who are all spirit do not weep," replied Seraphitus rising; "Why
should I weep? I see no longer human wretchedness. Here, Good appears
in all its majesty. There, beneath us, I hear the supplications and
the wailings of that harp of sorrows which vibrates in the hands of
captive souls. Here, I listen to the choir of harps harmonious. There,
below, is hope, the glorious inception of faith; but here is faith--it
reigns, hope realized!"
"You will never love me; I am too imperfect; you disdain me," said the
"Minna, the violet hidden at the feet of the oak whispers to itself:
'The sun does not love me; he comes not.' The sun says: 'If my rays
shine upon her she will perish, poor flower.' Friend of the flower, he
sends his beams through the oak leaves, he veils, he tempers them, and
thus they color the petals of his beloved. I have not veils enough, I
fear lest you see me too closely; you would tremble if you knew me
better. Listen: I have no taste for earthly fruits. Your joys, I know
them all too well, and, like the sated emperors of pagan Rome, I have
reached disgust of all things; I have received the gift of vision.
Leave me! abandon me!" he murmured, sorrowfully.
Seraphitus turned and seated himself on a projecting rock, dropping
his head upon his breast.
"Why do you drive me to despair?" said Minna.
"Go, go!" cried Seraphitus, "I have nothing that you want of me. Your
love is too earthly for my love. Why do you not love Wilfrid? Wilfrid
is a man, tested by passions; he would clasp you in his vigorous arms
and make you feel a hand both broad and strong. His hair is black, his
eyes are full of human thoughts, his heart pours lava in every word he
utters; he could kill you with caresses. Let him be your beloved, your
husband! Yes, thine be Wilfrid!"
Minna wept aloud.
"Dare you say that you do not love him?" he went on, in a voice which
pierced her like a dagger.
"Have mercy, have mercy, my Seraphitus!"
"Love him, poor child of Earth to which thy destiny has indissolubly
bound thee," said the strange being, beckoning Minna by a gesture, and
forcing her to the edge of the saeter, whence he pointed downward to a
scene that might well inspire a young girl full of enthusiasm with the
fancy that she stood above this earth.
"I longed for a companion to the kingdom of Light; I wished to show
you that morsel of mud, I find you bound to it. Farewell. Remain on
earth; enjoy through the senses; obey your nature; turn pale with
pallid men; blush with women; sport with children; pray with the
guilty; raise your eyes to heaven when sorrows overtake you; tremble,
hope, throb in all your pulses; you will have a companion; you can
laugh and weep, and give and receive. I,--I am an exile, far from
heaven; a monster, far from earth. I live of myself and by myself. I
feel by the spirit; I breathe through my brow; I see by thought; I die
of impatience and of longing. No one here below can fulfil my desires
or calm my griefs. I have forgotten how to weep. I am alone. I resign
myself, and I wait."
Seraphitus looked at the flowery mound on which he had seated Minna;
then he turned and faced the frowning heights, whose pinnacles were
wrapped in clouds; to them he cast, unspoken, the remainder of his
"Minna, do you hear those delightful strains?" he said after a pause,
with the voice of a dove, for the eagle's cry was hushed; "it is like
the music of those Eolian harps your poets hang in forests and on the
mountains. Do you see the shadowy figures passing among the clouds,
the winged feet of those who are making ready the gifts of heaven?
They bring refreshment to the soul; the skies are about to open and
shed the flowers of spring upon the earth. See, a gleam is darting
from the pole. Let us fly, let us fly! It is time we go!"
In a moment their skees were refastened, and the pair descended the
Falberg by the steep slopes which join the mountain to the valleys of
the Sieg. Miraculous perception guided their course, or, to speak more
properly, their flight. When fissures covered with snow intercepted
them, Seraphitus caught Minna in his arms and darted with rapid
motion, lightly as a bird, over the crumbling causeways of the abyss.
Sometimes, while propelling his companion, he deviated to the right or
left to avoid a precipice, a tree, a projecting rock, which he seemed
to see beneath the snow, as an old sailor, familiar with the ocean,
discerns the hidden reefs by the color, the trend, or the eddying of
the water. When they reached the paths of the Siegdahlen, where they
could fearlessly follow a straight line to regain the ice of the
fiord, Seraphitus stopped Minna.
"You have nothing to say to me?" he asked.
"I thought you would rather think alone," she answered respectfully.
"Let us hasten, Minette; it is almost night," he said.
Minna quivered as she heard the voice, now so changed, of her guide,--
a pure voice, like that of a young girl, which dissolved the fantastic
dream through which she had been passing. Seraphitus seemed to be
laying aside his male force and the too keen intellect that flames
from his eyes. Presently the charming pair glided across the fiord and
reached the snow-field which divides the shore from the first range of
houses; then, hurrying forward as daylight faded, they sprang up the
hill toward the parsonage, as though they were mounting the steps of a
"My father must be anxious," said Minna.
"No," answered Seraphitus.
As he spoke the couple reached the porch of the humble dwelling where
Monsieur Becker, the pastor of Jarvis, sat reading while awaiting his
daughter for the evening meal.
"Dear Monsieur Becker," said Seraphitus, "I have brought Minna back to
you safe and sound."
"Thank you, mademoiselle," said the old man, laying his spectacles on
his book; "you must be very tired."
"Oh, no," said Minna, and as she spoke she felt the soft breath of her
companion on her brow.
"Dear heart, will you come day after to-morrow evening and take tea
"Monsieur Becker, you will bring her, will you not?"
Seraphitus inclined his head with a pretty gesture, and bowed to the
old pastor as he left the house. A few moments later he reached the
great courtyard of the Swedish villa. An old servant, over eighty
years of age, appeared in the portico bearing a lantern. Seraphitus
slipped off his snow-shoes with the graceful dexterity of a woman,
then darting into the salon he fell exhausted and motionless on a wide
divan covered with furs.
"What will you take?" asked the old man, lighting the immensely tall
wax-candles that are used in Norway.
"Nothing, David, I am too weary."
Seraphitus unfastened his pelisse lined with sable, threw it over him,
and fell asleep. The old servant stood for several minutes gazing with
loving eyes at the singular being before him, whose sex it would have
been difficult for any one at that moment to determine. Wrapped as he
was in a formless garment, which resembled equally a woman's robe and
a man's mantle, it was impossible not to fancy that the slender feet
which hung at the side of the couch were those of a woman, and equally
impossible not to note how the forehead and the outlines of the head
gave evidence of power brought to its highest pitch.
"She suffers, and she will not tell me," thought the old man. "She is
dying, like a flower wilted by the burning sun."
And the old man wept.
Later in the evening David re-entered the salon.
"I know who it is you have come to announce," said Seraphita in a
sleepy voice. "Wilfrid may enter."
Hearing these words a man suddenly presented himself, crossed the room
and sat down beside her.
"My dear Seraphita, are you ill?" he said. "You look paler than
She turned slowly towards him, tossing back her hair like a pretty
woman whose aching head leaves her no strength even for complaint.
"I was foolish enough to cross the fiord with Minna," she said. "We
ascended the Falberg."
"Do you mean to kill yourself?" he said with a lover's terror.
"No, my good Wilfrid; I took the greatest care of your Minna."
Wilfrid struck his hand violently on a table, rose hastily, and made
several steps towards the door with an exclamation full of pain; then
he returned and seemed about to remonstrate.
"Why this disturbance if you think me ill?" she said.
"Forgive me, have mercy!" he cried, kneeling beside her. "Speak to me
harshly if you will; exact all that the cruel fancies of a woman lead
you to imagine I least can bear; but oh, my beloved, do not doubt my
love. You take Minna like an axe to hew me down. Have mercy!"
"Why do you say these things, my friend, when you know that they are
useless?" she replied, with a look which grew in the end so soft that
Wilfrid ceased to behold her eyes, but saw in their place a fluid
light, the shimmer of which was like the last vibrations of an Italian
"Ah! no man dies of anguish!" he murmured.
"You are suffering?" she said in a voice whose intonations produced
upon his heart the same effect as that of her look. "Would I could
"Love me as I love you."
"Poor Minna!" she replied.
"Why am I unarmed!" exclaimed Wilfrid, violently.
"You are out of temper," said Seraphita, smiling. "Come, have I not
spoken to you like those Parisian women whose loves you tell of?"
Wilfrid sat down, crossed his arms, and looked gloomily at Seraphita.
"I forgive you," he said; "for you know not what you do."
"You mistake," she replied; "every woman from the days of Eve does
good and evil knowingly."
"I believe it"; he said.
"I am sure of it, Wilfrid. Our instinct is precisely that which makes
us perfect. What you men learn, we feel."
"Why, then, do you not feel how much I love you?"
"Because you do not love me."
"If you did, would you complain of your own sufferings?"
"You are terrible to-night, Seraphita. You are a demon."
"No, but I am gifted with the faculty of comprehending, and it is
awful. Wilfrid, sorrow is a lamp which illumines life."
"Why did you ascend the Falberg?"
"Minna will tell you. I am too weary to talk. You must talk to me,--
you who know so much, who have learned all things and forgotten
nothing; you who have passed through every social test. Talk to me,
amuse me, I am listening."
"What can I tell you that you do not know? Besides, the request is
ironical. You allow yourself no intercourse with social life; you
trample on its conventions, its laws, its customs, sentiments, and
sciences; you reduce them all to the proportions such things take when
viewed by you beyond this universe."
"Therefore you see, my friend, that I am not a woman. You do wrong to
love me. What! am I to leave the ethereal regions of my pretended
strength, make myself humbly small, cringe like the hapless female of
all species, that you may lift me up? and then, when I, helpless and
broken, ask you for help, when I need your arm, you will repulse me!
No, we can never come to terms."
"You are more maliciously unkind to-night than I have ever known you."
"Unkind!" she said, with a look which seemed to blend all feelings
into one celestial emotion, "no, I am ill, I suffer, that is all.
Leave me, my friend; it is your manly right. We women should ever
please you, entertain you, be gay in your presence and have no whims
save those that amuse you. Come, what shall I do for you, friend?
Shall I sing, shall I dance, though weariness deprives me of the use
of voice and limbs?--Ah! gentlemen, be we on our deathbeds, we yet
must smile to please you; you call that, methinks, your right. Poor
women! I pity them. Tell me, you who abandon them when they grow old,
is it because they have neither hearts nor souls? Wilfrid, I am a
hundred years old; leave me! leave me! go to Minna!"
"Oh, my eternal love!"
"Do you know the meaning of eternity? Be silent, Wilfrid. You desire
me, but you do not love me. Tell me, do I not seem to you like those
coquettish Parisian women?"
"Certainly I no longer find you the pure celestial maiden I first saw
in the church of Jarvis."
At these words Seraphita passed her hands across her brow, and when
she removed them Wilfrid was amazed at the saintly expression that
overspread her face.
"You are right, my friend," she said; "I do wrong whenever I set my
feet upon your earth."
"Oh, Seraphita, be my star! stay where you can ever bless me with that
As he spoke, he stretched forth his hand to take that of the young
girl, but she withdrew it, neither disdainfully nor in anger. Wilfrid
rose abruptly and walked to the window that she might not see the
tears that rose to his eyes.
"Why do you weep?" she said. "You are not a child, Wilfrid. Come back
to me. I wish it. You are annoyed if I show just displeasure. You see
that I am fatigued and ill, yet you force me to think and speak, and
listen to persuasions and ideas that weary me. If you had any real
perception of my nature, you would have made some music, you would
have lulled my feelings--but no, you love me for yourself and not for
The storm which convulsed the young man's heart calmed down at these
words. He slowly approached her, letting his eyes take in the
seductive creature who lay exhausted before him, her head resting in
her hand and her elbow on the couch.
"You think that I do not love you," she resumed. "You are mistaken.
Listen to me, Wilfrid. You are beginning to know much; you have
suffered much. Let me explain your thoughts to you. You wished to take
my hand just now"; she rose to a sitting posture, and her graceful
motions seemed to emit light. "When a young girl allows her hand to be
taken it is as though she made a promise, is it not? and ought she not
to fulfil it? You well know that I cannot be yours. Two sentiments
divide and inspire the love of all the women of the earth. Either they
devote themselves to suffering, degraded, and criminal beings whom
they desire to console, uplift, redeem; or they give themselves to
superior men, sublime and strong, whom they adore and seek to
comprehend, and by whom they are often annihilated. You have been
degraded, though now you are purified by the fires of repentance, and
to-day you are once more noble; but I know myself too feeble to be
your equal, and too religious to bow before any power but that On
High. I may refer thus to your life, my friend, for we are in the
North, among the clouds, where all things are abstractions."
"You stab me, Seraphita, when you speak like this. It wounds me to
hear you apply the dreadful knowledge with which you strip from all
things human the properties that time and space and form have given
them, and consider them mathematically in the abstract, as geometry
treats substances from which it extracts solidity."
"Well, I will respect your wishes, Wilfrid. Let the subject drop. Tell
me what you think of this bearskin rug which my poor David has spread
"It is very handsome."
"Did you ever see me wear this 'doucha greka'?"
She pointed to a pelisse made of cashmere and lined with the skin of
the black fox,--the name she gave it signifying "warm to the soul."
"Do you believe that any sovereign has a fur that can equal it?" she
"It is worthy of her who wears it."
"And whom you think beautiful?"
"Human words do not apply to her. Heart to heart is the only language
I can use."
"Wilfrid, you are kind to soothe my griefs with such sweet words--
which you have said to others."
"Stay. I love both you and Minna, believe me. To me you two are as one
being. United thus you can be my brother or, if you will, my sister.
Marry her; let me see you both happy before I leave this world of
trial and of pain. My God! the simplest of women obtain what they ask
of a lover; they whisper 'Hush!' and he is silent; 'Die' and he dies;
'Love me afar' and he stays at a distance, like courtiers before a
king! All I desire is to see you happy, and you refuse me! Am I then
powerless?--Wilfrid, listen, come nearer to me. Yes, I should grieve
to see you marry Minna but--when I am here no longer, then--promise me
to marry her; heaven destined you for each other."
"I listen to you with fascination, Seraphita. Your words are
incomprehensible, but they charm me. What is it you mean to say?"
"You are right; I forget to be foolish,--to be the poor creature whose
weaknesses gratify you. I torment you, Wilfrid. You came to these
Northern lands for rest, you, worn-out by the impetuous struggle of
genius unrecognized, you, weary with the patient toils of science,
you, who well-nigh dyed your hands in crime and wore the fetters of
Wilfrid dropped speechless on the carpet. Seraphita breathed softly on
his forehead, and in a moment he fell asleep at her feet.
"Sleep! rest!" she said, rising.
She passed her hands over Wilfrid's brow; then the following sentences
escaped her lips, one by one,--all different in tone and accent, but
all melodious, full of a Goodness that seemed to emanate from her head
in vaporous waves, like the gleams the goddess chastely lays upon
"I cannot show myself such as I am to thee, dear Wilfrid,--to thee who
"The hour is come; the hour when the effulgent lights of the future
cast their reflections backward on the soul; the hour when the soul
awakes into freedom.
"Now am I permitted to tell thee how I love thee. Dost thou not see
the nature of my love, a love without self-interest; a sentiment full
of thee, thee only; a love which follows thee into the future to light
that future for thee--for it is the one True Light. Canst thou now
conceive with what ardor I would have thee leave this life which
weighs thee down, and behold thee nearer than thou art to that world
where Love is never-failing? Can it be aught but suffering to love for
one life only? Hast thou not felt a thirst for the eternal love? Dost
thou not feel the bliss to which a creature rises when, with twin-
soul, it loves the Being who betrays not love, Him before whom we
kneel in adoration?
"Would I had wings to cover thee, Wilfrid; power to give thee strength
to enter now into that world where all the purest joys of purest
earthly attachments are but shadows in the Light that shines,
unceasing, to illumine and rejoice all hearts.
"Forgive a friendly soul for showing thee the picture of thy sins, in
the charitable hope of soothing the sharp pangs of thy remorse. Listen
to the pardoning choir; refresh thy soul in the dawn now rising for
thee beyond the night of death. Yes, thy life, thy true life is there!
"May my words now reach thee clothed in the glorious forms of dreams;
may they deck themselves with images glowing and radiant as they hover
round you. Rise, rise, to the height where men can see themselves
distinctly, pressed together though they be like grains of sand upon a
sea-shore. Humanity rolls out like a many-colored ribbon. See the
diverse shades of that flower of the celestial gardens. Behold the
beings who lack intelligence, those who begin to receive it, those who
have passed through trials, those who love, those who follow wisdom
and aspire to the regions of Light!
"Canst thou comprehend, through this thought made visible, the destiny
of humanity?--whence it came, whither to goeth? Continue steadfast in
the Path. Reaching the end of thy journey thou shalt hear the clarions
of omnipotence sounding the cries of victory in chords of which a
single one would shake the earth, but which are lost in the spaces of
a world that hath neither east nor west.
"Canst thou comprehend, my poor beloved Tried-one, that unless the
torpor and the veils of sleep had wrapped thee, such sights would rend
and bear away thy mind as the whirlwinds rend and carry into space the
feeble sails, depriving thee forever of thy reason? Dost thou
understand that the Soul itself, raised to its utmost power can
scarcely endure in dreams the burning communications of the Spirit?
"Speed thy way through the luminous spheres; behold, admire, hasten!
Flying thus thou canst pause or advance without weariness. Like other
men, thou wouldst fain be plunged forever in these spheres of light
and perfume where now thou art, free of thy swooning body, and where
thy thought alone has utterance. Fly! enjoy for a fleeting moment the
wings thou shalt surely win when Love has grown so perfect in thee
that thou hast no senses left; when thy whole being is all mind, all
love. The higher thy flight the less canst thou see the abysses. There
are none in heaven. Look at the friend who speaks to thee; she who
holds thee above this earth in which are all abysses. Look, behold,
contemplate me yet a moment longer, for never again wilt thou see me,
save imperfectly as the pale twilight of this world may show me to
Seraphita stood erect, her head with floating hair inclining gently
forward, in that aerial attitude which great painters give to
messengers from heaven; the folds of her raiment fell with the same
unspeakable grace which holds an artist--the man who translates all
things into sentiment--before the exquisite well-known lines of
Polyhymnia's veil. Then she stretched forth her hand. Wilfrid rose.
When he looked at Seraphita she was lying on the bear's-skin, her head
resting on her hand, her face calm, her eyes brilliant. Wilfrid gazed
at her silently; but his face betrayed a deferential fear in its
almost timid expression.
"Yes, dear," he said at last, as though he were answering some
question; "we are separated by worlds. I resign myself; I can only
adore you. But what will become of me, poor and alone!"
"Wilfrid, you have Minna."
He shook his head.
"Do not be so disdainful; woman understands all things through love;
what she does not understand she feels; what she does not feel she
sees; when she neither sees, nor feels, nor understands, this angel of
earth divines to protect you, and hides her protection beneath the
grace of love."
"Seraphita, am I worthy to belong to a woman?"
"Ah, now," she said, smiling, "you are suddenly very modest; is it a
snare? A woman is always so touched to see her weakness glorified.
Well, come and take tea with me the day after to-morrow evening; good
Monsieur Becker will be here, and Minna, the purest and most artless
creature I have known on earth. Leave me now, my friend; I need to
make long prayers and expiate my sins."
"You, can you commit sin?"
"Poor friend! if we abuse our power, is not that the sin of pride? I
have been very proud to-day. Now leave me, till to-morrow."
"Till to-morrow," said Wilfrid faintly, casting a long glance at the
being of whom he desired to carry with him an ineffaceable memory.
Though he wished to go far away, he was held, as it were, outside the
house for some moments, watching the light which shone from all the
windows of the Swedish dwelling.
"What is the matter with me?" he asked himself. "No, she is not a mere
creature, but a whole creation. Of her world, even through veils and
clouds, I have caught echoes like the memory of sufferings healed,
like the dazzling vertigo of dreams in which we hear the plaints of
generations mingling with the harmonies of some higher sphere where
all is Light and all is Love. Am I awake? Do I still sleep? Are these
the eyes before which the luminous space retreated further and further
indefinitely while the eyes followed it? The night is cold, yet my
head is on fire. I will go to the parsonage. With the pastor and his
daughter I shall recover the balance of my mind."
But still he did not leave the spot whence his eyes could plunge into
Seraphita's salon. The mysterious creature seemed to him the radiating
centre of a luminous circle which formed an atmosphere about her wider
than that of other beings; whoever entered it felt the compelling
influence of, as it were, a vortex of dazzling light and all consuming
thoughts. Forced to struggle against this inexplicable power, Wilfrid
only prevailed after strong efforts; but when he reached and passed
the inclosing wall of the courtyard, he regained his freedom of will,
walked rapidly towards the parsonage, and was soon beneath the high
wooden arch which formed a sort of peristyle to Monsieur Becker's
dwelling. He opened the first door, against which the wind had driven
the snow, and knocked on the inner one, saying:--
"Will you let me spend the evening with you, Monsieur Becker?"
"Yes," cried two voices, mingling their intonations.
Entering the parlor, Wilfrid returned by degrees to real life. He
bowed affectionately to Minna, shook hands with Monsieur Becker, and
looked about at the picture of a home which calmed the convulsions of
his physical nature, in which a phenomenon was taking place analogous
to that which sometimes seizes upon men who have given themselves up
to protracted contemplations. If some strong thought bears upward on
phantasmal wing a man of learning or a poet, isolates him from the
external circumstances which environ him here below, and leads him
forward through illimitable regions where vast arrays of facts become
abstractions, where the greatest works of Nature are but images, then
woe betide him if a sudden noise strikes sharply on his senses and
calls his errant soul back to its prison-house of flesh and bones. The
shock of the reunion of these two powers, body and mind,--one of which
partakes of the unseen qualities of a thunderbolt, while the other
shares with sentient nature that soft resistant force which deifies
destruction,--this shock, this struggle, or, rather let us say, this
painful meeting and co-mingling, gives rise to frightful sufferings.
The body receives back the flame that consumes it; the flame has once
more grasped its prey. This fusion, however, does not take place
without convulsions, explosions, tortures; analogous and visible signs
of which may be seen in chemistry, when two antagonistic substances
which science has united separate.
For the last few days whenever Wilfrid entered Seraphita's presence
his body seemed to fall away from him into nothingness. With a single
glance this strange being led him in spirit through the spheres where
meditation leads the learned man, prayer the pious heart, where vision
transports the artist, and sleep the souls of men,--each and all have
their own path to the Height, their own guide to reach it, their own
individual sufferings in the dire return. In that sphere alone all
veils are rent away, and the revelation, the awful flaming certainty
of an unknown world, of which the soul brings back mere fragments to
this lower sphere, stands revealed. To Wilfrid one hour passed with
Seraphita was like the sought-for dreams of Theriakis, in which each
knot of nerves becomes the centre of a radiating delight. But he left
her bruised and wearied as some young girl endeavoring to keep step
with a giant.
The cold air, with its stinging flagellations, had begun to still the
nervous tremors which followed the reunion of his two natures, so
powerfully disunited for a time; he was drawn towards the parsonage,
then towards Minna, by the sight of the every-day home life for which
he thirsted as the wandering European thirsts for his native land when
nostalgia seizes him amid the fairy scenes of Orient that have seduced
his senses. More weary than he had ever yet been, Wilfrid dropped into
a chair and looked about him for a time, like a man who awakens from
sleep. Monsieur Becker and his daughter accustomed, perhaps, to the
apparent eccentricity of their guest, continued the employments in
which they were engaged.
The parlor was ornamented with a collection of the shells and insects
of Norway. These curiosities, admirably arranged on a background of
the yellow pine which panelled the room, formed, as it were, a rich
tapestry to which the fumes of tobacco had imparted a mellow tone. At
the further end of the room, opposite to the door, was an immense
wrought-iron stove, carefully polished by the serving-woman till it
shone like burnished steel. Seated in a large tapestried armchair near
the stove, before a table, with his feet in a species of muff,
Monsieur Becker was reading a folio volume which was propped against a
pile of other books as on a desk. At his left stood a jug of beer and
a glass, at his right burned a smoky lamp fed by some species of fish-
oil. The pastor seemed about sixty years of age. His face belonged to
a type often painted by Rembrandt; the same small bright eyes, set in
wrinkles and surmounted by thick gray eyebrows; the same white hair
escaping in snowy flakes from a black velvet cap; the same broad, bald
brow, and a contour of face which the ample chin made almost square;
and lastly, the same calm tranquillity, which, to an observer, denoted
the possession of some inward power, be it the supremacy bestowed by
money, or the magisterial influence of the burgomaster, or the
consciousness of art, or the cubic force of blissful ignorance. This
fine old man, whose stout body proclaimed his vigorous health, was
wrapped in a dressing-gown of rough gray cloth plainly bound. Between
his lips was a meerschaum pipe, from which, at regular intervals, he
blew the smoke, following with abstracted vision its fantastic
wreathings,--his mind employed, no doubt, in assimilating through some
meditative process the thoughts of the author whose works he was
On the other side of the stove and near a door which communicated with
the kitchen Minna was indistinctly visible in the haze of the good
man's smoke, to which she was apparently accustomed. Beside her on a
little table were the implements of household work, a pile of napkins,
and another of socks waiting to be mended, also a lamp like that which
shone on the white page of the book in which the pastor was absorbed.
Her fresh young face, with its delicate outline, expressed an infinite
purity which harmonized with the candor of the white brow and the
clear blue eyes. She sat erect, turning slightly toward the lamp for
better light, unconsciously showing as she did so the beauty of her
waist and bust. She was already dressed for the night in a long robe
of white cotton; a cambric cap, without other ornament than a frill of
the same, confined her hair. Though evidently plunged in some inward
meditation, she counted without a mistake the threads of her napkins
or the meshes of her socks. Sitting thus, she presented the most
complete image, the truest type, of the woman destined for terrestrial
labor, whose glance may piece the clouds of the sanctuary while her
thought, humble and charitable, keeps her ever on the level of man.
Wilfrid had flung himself into a chair between the two tables and was
contemplating with a species of intoxication this picture full of
harmony, to which the clouds of smoke did no despite. The single
window which lighted the parlor during the fine weather was now
carefully closed. An old tapestry, used for a curtain and fastened to
a stick, hung before it in heavy folds. Nothing in the room was
picturesque, nothing brilliant; everything denoted rigorous
simplicity, true heartiness, the ease of unconventional nature, and
the habits of a domestic life which knew neither cares nor troubles.
Many a dwelling is like a dream, the sparkle of passing pleasure seems
to hide some ruin beneath the cold smile of luxury; but this parlor,
sublime in reality, harmonious in tone, diffused the patriarchal ideas
of a full and self-contained existence. The silence was unbroken save
by the movements of the servant in the kitchen engaged in preparing
the supper, and by the sizzling of the dried fish which she was frying
in salt butter according to the custom of the country.
"Will you smoke a pipe?" said the pastor, seizing a moment when he
thought that Wilfrid might listen to him.
"Thank you, no, dear Monsieur Becker," replied the visitor.
"You seem to suffer more to-day than usual," said Minna, struck by the
feeble tones of the stranger's voice.
"I am always so when I leave the chateau."
"A strange being lives there, Monsieur Becker," he continued after a
pause. "For the six months that I have been in this village I have
never yet dared to question you about her, and even now I do violence
to my feelings in speaking of her. I began by keenly regretting that
my journey in this country was arrested by the winter weather and that
I was forced to remain here. But during the last two months chains
have been forged and riveted which bind me irrevocably to Jarvis, till
now I fear to end my days here. You know how I first met Seraphita,
what impression her look and voice made upon me, and how at last I was
admitted to her home where she receives no one. From the very first
day I have longed to ask you the history of this mysterious being. On
that day began, for me, a series of enchantments."
"Enchantments!" cried the pastor shaking the ashes of his pipe into an
earthen-ware dish full of sand, "are there enchantments in these
"You, who are carefully studying at this moment that volume of the
'Incantations' of Jean Wier, will surely understand the explanation of
my sensations if I try to give it to you," replied Wilfrid. "If we
study Nature attentively in its great evolutions as in its minutest
works, we cannot fail to recognize the possibility of enchantment--
giving to that word its exact significance. Man does not create
forces; he employs the only force that exists and which includes all
others namely Motion, the breath incomprehensible of the sovereign
Maker of the universe. Species are too distinctly separated for the
human hand to mingle them. The only miracle of which man is capable is
done through the conjunction of two antagonistic substances. Gunpowder
for instance is germane to a thunderbolt. As to calling forth a
creation, and a sudden one, all creation demands time, and time
neither recedes nor advances at the word of command. So, in the world
without us, plastic nature obeys laws the order and exercise of which
cannot be interfered with by the hand of man. But after fulfilling, as
it were, the function of Matter, it would be unreasonable not to
recognize within us the existence of a gigantic power, the effects of
which are so incommensurable that the known generations of men have
never yet been able to classify them. I do not speak of man's faculty
of abstraction, of constraining Nature to confine itself within the
Word,--a gigantic act on which the common mind reflects as little as
it does on the nature of Motion, but which, nevertheless, has led the
Indian theosophists to explain creation by a word to which they give
an inverse power. The smallest atom of their subsistence, namely, the
grain of rice, from which a creation issues and in which alternately
creation again is held, presented to their minds so perfect an image
of the creative word, and of the abstractive word, that to them it was
easy to apply the same system to the creation of worlds. The majority
of men content themselves with the grain of rice sown in the first
chapter of all the Geneses. Saint John, when he said the Word was God
only complicated the difficulty. But the fructification, germination,
and efflorescence of our ideas is of little consequence if we compare
that property, shared by many men, with the wholly individual faculty
of communicating to that property, by some mysterious concentration,
forces that are more or less active, of carrying it up to a third, a
ninth, or a twenty-seventh power, of making it thus fasten upon the
masses and obtain magical results by condensing the processes of
"What I mean by enchantments," continued Wilfrid after a moment's
pause, "are those stupendous actions taking place between two
membranes in the tissue of the brain. We find in the unexplorable
nature of the Spiritual World certain beings armed with these wondrous
faculties, comparable only to the terrible power of certain gases in
the physical world, beings who combine with other beings, penetrate
them as active agents, and produce upon them witchcrafts, charms,
against which these helpless slaves are wholly defenceless; they are,
in fact, enchanted, brought under subjection, reduced to a condition
of dreadful vassalage. Such mysterious beings overpower others with
the sceptre and the glory of a superior nature,--acting upon them at
times like the torpedo which electrifies or paralyzes the fisherman,
at other times like a dose of phosphorous which stimulates life and
accelerates its propulsion; or again, like opium, which puts to sleep
corporeal nature, disengages the spirit from every bond, enables it to
float above the world and shows this earth to the spiritual eye as
through a prism, extracting from it the food most needed; or, yet
again, like catalepsy, which deadens all faculties for the sake of one
only vision. Miracles, enchantments, incantations, witchcrafts,
spells, and charms, in short, all those acts improperly termed
supernatural, are only possible and can only be explained by the
despotism with which some spirit compels us to feel the effects of a
mysterious optic which increases, or diminishes, or exalts creation,
moves within us as it pleases, deforms or embellishes all things to
our eyes, tears us from heaven, or drags us to hell,--two terms by
which men agree to express the two extremes of joy and misery.
"These phenomena are within us, not without us," Wilfrid went on. "The
being whom we call Seraphita seems to me one of those rare and
terrible spirits to whom power is given to bind men, to crush nature,
to enter into participation of the occult power of God. The course of
her enchantments over me began on that first day, when silence as to
her was imposed upon me against my will. Each time that I have wished
to question you it seemed as though I were about to reveal a secret of
which I ought to be the incorruptible guardian. Whenever I have tried
to speak, a burning seal has been laid upon my lips, and I myself have
become the involuntary minister of these mysteries. You see me here
to-night, for the hundredth time, bruised, defeated, broken, after
leaving the hallucinating sphere which surrounds that young girl, so
gentle, so fragile to both of you, but to me the cruellest of
magicians! Yes, to me she is like a sorcerer holding in her right hand
the invisible wand that moves the globe, and in her left the
thunderbolt that rends asunder all things at her will. No longer can I
look upon her brow; the light of it is insupportable. I skirt the
borders of the abyss of madness too closely to be longer silent. I
must speak. I seize this moment, when courage comes to me, to resist
the power which drags me onward without inquiring whether or not I
have the force to follow. Who is she? Did you know her young? What of
her birth? Had she father and mother, or was she born of the
conjunction of ice and sun? She burns and yet she freeze; she shows
herself and then withdraws; she attracts me and repulses me; she
brings me life, she gives me death; I love her and yet I hate her! I
cannot live thus; let me be wholly in heaven or in hell!"
Holding his refilled pipe in one hand, and in the other the cover
which he forgot to replace, Monsieur Becker listened to Wilfrid with a
mysterious expression on his face, looking occasionally at his
daughter, who seemed to understand the man's language as in harmony
with the strange being who inspired it. Wilfrid was splendid to behold
at this moment,--like Hamlet listening to the ghost of his father as
it rises for him alone in the midst of the living.
"This is certainly the language of a man in love," said the good
"In love!" cried Wilfrid, "yes, to common minds. But, dear Monsieur
Becker, no words can express the frenzy which draws me to the feet of
that unearthly being."
"Then you do love her?" said Minna, in a tone of reproach.
"Mademoiselle, I feel such extraordinary agitation when I see her, and
such deep sadness when I see her no more, that in any other man what I
feel would be called love. But that sentiment draws those who feel it
ardently together, whereas between her and me a great gulf lies, whose
icy coldness penetrates my very being in her presence; though the
feeling dies away when I see her no longer. I leave her in despair; I
return to her with ardor,--like men of science who seek a secret from
Nature only to be baffled, or like the painter who would fain put life
upon his canvas and strives with all the resources of his art in the
"Monsieur, all that you say is true," replied the young girl,
"How can you know, Minna?" asked the old pastor.
"Ah! my father, had you been with us this morning on the summit of the
Falberg, had you seen him praying, you would not ask me that question.
You would say, like Monsieur Wilfrid, that he saw his Seraphita for
the first time in our temple, 'It is the Spirit of Prayer.'"
These words were followed by a moment's silence.
"Ah, truly!" said Wilfrid, "she has nothing in common with the
creatures who grovel upon this earth."
"On the Falberg!" said the old pastor, "how could you get there?"
"I do not know," replied Minna; "the way is like a dream to me, of
which no more than a memory remains. Perhaps I should hardly believe
that I had been there were it not for this tangible proof."
She drew the flower from her bosom and showed it to them. All three
gazed at the pretty saxifrage, which was still fresh, and now shone in
the light of the two lamps like a third luminary.
"This is indeed supernatural," said the old man, astounded at the
sight of a flower blooming in winter.
"A mystery!" cried Wilfrid, intoxicated with its perfume.
"The flower makes me giddy," said Minna; "I fancy I still hear that
voice,--the music of thought; that I still see the light of that look,
which is Love."
"I implore you, my dear Monsieur Becker, tell me the history of
Seraphita,--enigmatical human flower,--whose image is before us in
this mysterious bloom."
"My dear friend," said the old man, emitting a puff of smoke, "to
explain the birth of that being it is absolutely necessary that I
disperse the clouds which envelop the most obscure of Christian
doctrines. It is not easy to make myself clear when speaking of that
incomprehensible revelation,--the last effulgence of faith that has
shone upon our lump of mud. Do you know Swedenborg?"
"By name only,--of him, of his books, and his religion I know
"Then I must relate to you the whole chronicle of Swedenborg."
After a pause, during which the pastor seemed to be gathering his
recollections, he continued in the following words:--
"Emanuel Swedenborg was born at Upsala in Sweden, in the month of
January, 1688, according to various authors,--in 1689, according to
his epitaph. His father was Bishop of Skara. Swedenborg lived eighty-
five years; his death occurred in London, March 29, 1772. I use that
term to convey the idea of a simple change of state. According to his
disciples, Swedenborg was seen at Jarvis and in Paris after that date.
Allow me, my dear Monsieur Wilfrid," said Monsieur Becker, making a
gesture to prevent all interruption, "I relate these facts without
either affirming or denying them. Listen; afterwards you can think and
say what you like. I will inform you when I judge, criticise, and
discuss these doctrines, so as to keep clearly in view my own
intellectual neutrality between HIM and Reason.
"The life of Swedenborg was divided into two parts," continued the
pastor. "From 1688 to 1745 Baron Emanuel Swedenborg appeared in the
world as a man of vast learning, esteemed and cherished for his
virtues, always irreproachable and constantly useful. While fulfilling
high public functions in Sweden, he published, between 1709 and 1740,
several important works on mineralogy, physics, mathematics, and
astronomy, which enlightened the world of learning. He originated a
method of building docks suitable for the reception of large vessels,
and he wrote many treatises on various important questions, such as
the rise of tides, the theory of the magnet and its qualities, the
motion and position of the earth and planets, and while Assessor in
the Royal College of Mines, on the proper system of working salt
mines. He discovered means to construct canal-locks or sluices; and he
also discovered and applied the simplest methods of extracting ore and
of working metals. In fact he studied no science without advancing it.
In youth he learned Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, also the oriental
languages, with which he became so familiar that many distinguished
scholars consulted him, and he was able to decipher the vestiges of
the oldest known books of Scripture, namely: 'The Wars of Jehovah' and
'The Enunciations,' spoken of by Moses (Numbers xxi. 14, 15, 27-30),
also by Joshua, Jeremiah, and Samuel,--'The Wars of Jehovah' being the
historical part and 'The Enunciations' the prophetical part of the
Mosaical Books anterior to Genesis. Swedenborg even affirms that 'the
Book of Jasher,' the Book of the Righteous, mentioned by Joshua, was
in existence in Eastern Tartary, together with the doctrine of
Correspondences. A Frenchman has lately, so they tell me, justified
these statements of Swedenborg, by the discovery at Bagdad of several
portions of the Bible hitherto unknown to Europe. During the
widespread discussion on animal magnetism which took its rise in
Paris, and in which most men of Western science took an active part
about the year 1785, Monsieur le Marquis de Thome vindicated the
memory of Swedenborg by calling attention to certain assertions made
by the Commission appointed by the King of France to investigate the
subject. These gentlemen declared that no theory of magnetism existed,
whereas Swedenborg had studied and promulgated it ever since the year
1720. Monsieur de Thome seizes this opportunity to show the reason why
so many men of science relegated Swedenborg to oblivion while they
delved into his treasure-house and took his facts to aid their work.
'Some of the most illustrious of these men,' said Monsieur de Thome,
alluding to the 'Theory of the Earth' by Buffon, 'have had the
meanness to wear the plumage of the noble bird and refuse him all
acknowledgment'; and he proved, by masterly quotations drawn from the
encyclopaedic works of Swedenborg, that the great prophet had
anticipated by over a century the slow march of human science. It
suffices to read his philosophical and mineralogical works to be
convinced of this. In one passage he is seen as the precursor of
modern chemistry by the announcement that the productions of organized
nature are decomposable and resolve into two simple principles; also
that water, air, and fire are NOT ELEMENTS. In another, he goes in a
few words to the heart of magnetic mysteries and deprives Mesmer of
the honors of a first knowledge of them.
"There," said Monsieur Becker, pointing to a long shelf against the
wall between the stove and the window on which were ranged books of
all sizes, "behold him! here are seventeen works from his pen, of
which one, his 'Philosophical and Mineralogical Works,' published in
1734, is in three folio volumes. These productions, which prove the
incontestable knowledge of Swedenborg, were given to me by Monsieur
Seraphitus, his cousin and the father of Seraphita.
"In 1740," continued Monsieur Becker, after a slight pause,
"Swedenborg fell into a state of absolute silence, from which he
emerged to bid farewell to all his earthly occupations; after which
his thoughts turned exclusively to the Spiritual Life. He received the
first commands of heaven in 1745, and he thus relates the nature of
the vocation to which he was called: One evening, in London, after
dining with a great appetite, a thick white mist seemed to fill his
room. When the vapor dispersed a creature in human form rose from one
corner of the apartment, and said in a stern tone, 'Do not eat so
much.' He refrained. The next night the same man returned, radiant in
light, and said to him, 'I am sent of God, who has chosen you to
explain to men the meaning of his Word and his Creation. I will tell
you what to write.' The vision lasted but a few moments. The ANGEL was
clothed in purple. During that night the eyes of his INNER MAN were
opened, and he was forced to look into the heavens, into the world of
spirits, and into hell,--three separate spheres; where he encountered
persons of his acquaintance who had departed from their human form,
some long since, others lately. Thenceforth Swedenborg lived wholly in
the spiritual life, remaining in this world only as the messenger of
God. His mission was ridiculed by the incredulous, but his conduct was
plainly that of a being superior to humanity. In the first place,
though limited in means to the bare necessaries of life, he gave away
enormous sums, and publicly, in several cities, restored the fortunes
of great commercial houses when they were on the brink of failure. No
one ever appealed to his generosity who was not immediately satisfied.
A sceptical Englishman, determined to know the truth, followed him to
Paris, and relates that there his doors stood always open. One day a
servant complained of this apparent negligence, which laid him open to
suspicion of thefts that might be committed by others. 'He need feel
no anxiety,' said Swedenborg, smiling. 'But I do not wonder at his
fear; he cannot see the guardian who protects my door.' In fact, no
matter in what country he made his abode he never closed his doors,
and nothing was ever stolen from him. At Gottenburg--a town situated
some sixty miles from Stockholm--he announced, eight days before the
news arrived by courier, the conflagration which ravaged Stockholm,
and the exact time at which it took place. The Queen of Sweden wrote
to her brother, the King, at Berlin, that one of her ladies-in-
waiting, who was ordered by the courts to pay a sum of money which she
was certain her husband had paid before his death, went to Swedenborg
and begged him to ask her husband where she could find proof of the
payment. The following day Swedenborg, having done as the lady
requested, pointed out the place where the receipt would be found. He
also begged the deceased to appear to his wife, and the latter saw her
husband in a dream, wrapped in a dressing-gown which he wore just
before his death; and he showed her the paper in the place indicated
by Swedenborg, where it had been securely put away. At another time,
embarking from London in a vessel commanded by Captain Dixon, he
overheard a lady asking if there were plenty of provisions on board.
'We do not want a great quantity,' he said; 'in eight days and two
hours we shall reach Stockholm,'--which actually happened. This
peculiar state of vision as to the things of the earth--into which
Swedenborg could put himself at will, and which astonished those about
him--was, nevertheless, but a feeble representative of his faculty of
looking into heaven.
"Not the least remarkable of his published visions is that in which he
relates his journeys through the Astral Regions; his descriptions
cannot fail to astonish the reader, partly through the crudity of
their details. A man whose scientific eminence is incontestable, and
who united in his own person powers of conception, will, and
imagination, would surely have invented better if he had invented at
all. The fantastic literature of the East offers nothing that can give
an idea of this astounding work, full of the essence of poetry, if it
is permissible to compare a work of faith with one of oriental fancy.
The transportation of Swedenborg by the Angel who served as guide to
this first journey is told with a sublimity which exceeds, by the
distance which God has placed betwixt the earth and the sun, the great
epics of Klopstock, Milton, Tasso, and Dante. This description, which
serves in fact as an introduction to his work on the Astral Regions,
has never been published; it is among the oral traditions left by
Swedenborg to the three disciples who were nearest to his heart.
Monsieur Silverichm has written them down. Monsieur Seraphitus
endeavored more than once to talk to me about them; but the
recollection of his cousin's words was so burning a memory that he
always stopped short at the first sentence and became lost in a revery
from which I could not rouse him."
The old pastor sighed as he continued: "The baron told me that the
argument by which the Angel proved to Swedenborg that these bodies are
not made to wander through space puts all human science out of sight
beneath the grandeur of a divine logic. According to the Seer, the
inhabitants of Jupiter will not cultivate the sciences, which they
call darkness; those of Mercury abhor the expression of ideas by
speech, which seems to them too material,--their language is ocular;
those of Saturn are continually tempted by evil spirits; those of the
Moon are as small as six-year-old children, their voices issue from
the abdomen, on which they crawl; those of Venus are gigantic in
height, but stupid, and live by robbery,--although a part of this
latter planet is inhabited by beings of great sweetness, who live in
the love of Good. In short, he describes the customs and morals of all
the peoples attached to the different globes, and explains the general
meaning of their existence as related to the universe in terms so
precise, giving explanations which agree so well with their visible
evolutions in the system of the world, that some day, perhaps,
scientific men will come to drink of these living waters.
"Here," said Monsieur Becker, taking down a book and opening it at a
mark, "here are the words with which he ended this work:--
"'If any man doubts that I was transported through a vast number of
Astral Regions, let him recall my observation of the distances in that
other life, namely, that they exist only in relation to the external
state of man; now, being transformed within like unto the Angelic
Spirits of those Astral Spheres, I was able to understand them.'
"The circumstances to which we of this canton owe the presence among
us of Baron Seraphitus, the beloved cousin of Swedenborg, enabled me
to know all the events of the extraordinary life of that prophet. He
has lately been accused of imposture in certain quarters of Europe,
and the public prints reported the following fact based on a letter
written by the Chevalier Baylon. Swedenborg, they said, informed by
certain senators of a secret correspondence of the late Queen of
Sweden with her brother, the Prince of Prussia, revealed his knowledge
of the secrets contained in that correspondence to the Queen, making
her believe he had obtained this knowledge by supernatural means. A
man worthy of all confidence, Monsieur Charles-Leonhard de
Stahlhammer, captain in the Royal guard and knight of the Sword,
answered the calumny with a convincing letter."
The pastor opened a drawer of his table and looked through a number of
papers until he found a gazette which he held out to Wilfrid, asking
him to read aloud the following letter:--
Stockholm, May 18, 1788.
I have read with amazement a letter which purports to relate the
interview of the famous Swedenborg with Queen Louisa-Ulrika. The
circumstances therein stated are wholly false; and I hope the
writer will excuse me for showing him by the following faithful
narration, which can be proved by the testimony of many
distinguished persons then present and still living, how
completely he has been deceived.
In 1758, shortly after the death of the Prince of Prussia
Swedenborg came to court, where he was in the habit of attending
regularly. He had scarcely entered the queen's presence before she
said to him: "Well, Mr. Assessor, have you seen my brother?"
Swedenborg answered no, and the queen rejoined: "If you do see
him, greet him for me." In saying this she meant no more than a
pleasant jest, and had no thought whatever of asking him for
information about her brother. Eight days later (not twenty-four
as stated, nor was the audience a private one), Swedenborg again
came to court, but so early that the queen had not left her
apartment called the White Room, where she was conversing with her
maids-of-honor and other ladies attached to the court. Swedenborg
did not wait until she came forth, but entered the said room and
whispered something in her ear. The queen, overcome with
amazement, was taken ill, and it was some time before she
recovered herself. When she did so she said to those about her:
"Only God and my brother knew the thing that he has just spoken
of." She admitted that it related to her last correspondence with
the prince on a subject which was known to them alone. I cannot
explain how Swedenborg came to know the contents of that letter,
but I can affirm on my honor, that neither Count H---- (as the
writer of the article states) nor any other person intercepted, or
read, the queen's letters. The senate allowed her to write to her
brother in perfect security, considering the correspondence as of
no interest to the State. It is evident that the author of the
said article is ignorant of the character of Count H----. This
honored gentleman, who has done many important services to his
country, unites the qualities of a noble heart to gifts of mind,
and his great age has not yet weakened these precious possessions.
During his whole administration he added the weight of scrupulous
integrity to his enlightened policy and openly declared himself
the enemy of all secret intrigues and underhand dealings, which he
regarded as unworthy means to attain an end. Neither did the
writer of that article understand the Assessor Swedenborg. The
only weakness of that essentially honest man was a belief in the
apparition of spirits; but I knew him for many years, and I can
affirm that he was as fully convinced that he met and talked with
spirits as I am that I am writing at this moment. As a citizen and
as a friend his integrity was absolute; he abhorred deception and
led the most exemplary of lives. The version which the Chevalier
Baylon gave of these facts is, therefore, entirely without
justification; the visit stated to have been made to Swedenborg in
the night-time by Count H---- and Count T---- is hereby
contradicted. In conclusion, the writer of the letter may rest
assured that I am not a follower of Swedenborg. The love of truth
alone impels me to give this faithful account of a fact which has
been so often stated with details that are entirely false. I
certify to the truth of what I have written by adding my
Charles-Leonhard de Stahlhammer.
"The proofs which Swedenborg gave of his mission to the royal families
of Sweden and Prussia were no doubt the foundation of the belief in
his doctrines which is prevalent at the two courts," said Monsieur
Becker, putting the gazette into the drawer. "However," he continued,
"I shall not tell you all the facts of his visible and material life;
indeed his habits prevented them from being fully known. He lived a
hidden life; not seeking either riches or fame. He was even noted for
a sort of repugnance to making proselytes; he opened his mind to few
persons, and never showed his external powers of second-sight to any
who were not eminent in faith, wisdom, and love. He could recognize at
a glance the state of the soul of every person who approached him, and
those whom he desired to reach with his inward language he converted
into Seers. After the year 1745, his disciples never saw him do a
single thing from any human motive. One man alone, a Swedish priest,
named Mathesius, set afloat a story that he went mad in London in
1744. But a eulogium on Swedenborg prepared with minute care as to all
the known events of his life, was pronounced after his death in 1772
on behalf of the Royal Academy of Sciences in the Hall of the Nobles
at Stockholm, by Monsieur Sandels, counsellor of the Board of Mines. A
declaration made before the Lord Mayor of London gives the details of
his last illness and death, in which he received the ministrations of
Monsieur Ferelius a Swedish priest of the highest standing, and pastor
of the Swedish Church in London, Mathesius being his assistant. All
persons present attested that so far from denying the value of his
writings Swedenborg firmly asserted their truth. 'In one hundred
years,' Monsieur Ferelius quotes him as saying, 'my doctrine will
guide the CHURCH.' He predicted the day and hour of his death. On that
day, Sunday, March 29, 1772, hearing the clock strike, he asked what
time it was. 'Five o'clock' was the answer. 'It is well,' he answered;
'thank you, God bless you.' Ten minutes later he tranquilly departed,
breathing a gentle sigh. Simplicity, moderation, and solitude were the
features of his life. When he had finished writing any of his books he
sailed either for London or for Holland, where he published them, and
never spoke of them again. He published in this way twenty-seven
different treatises, all written, he said, from the dictation of
Angels. Be it true or false, few men have been strong enough to endure
the flames of oral illumination.
"There they all are," said Monsieur Becker, pointing to a second shelf
on which were some sixty volumes. "The treatises on which the Divine
Spirit casts its most vivid gleams are seven in number, namely:
'Heaven and Hell'; 'Angelic Wisdom concerning the Divine Love and the
Divine Wisdom'; 'Angelic Wisdom concerning the Divine Providence';
'The Apocalypse Revealed'; 'Conjugial Love and its Chaste Delights';
'The True Christian Religion'; and 'An Exposition of the Internal
Sense.' Swedenborg's explanation of the Apocalypse begins with these
words," said Monsieur Becker, taking down and opening the volume
nearest to him: "'Herein I have written nothing of mine own; I speak
as I am bidden by the Lord, who said, through the same angel, to John:
"Thou shalt not seal the sayings of this Prophecy."' (Revelation xxii.
"My dear Monsieur Wilfrid," said the old man, looking at his guest, "I
often tremble in every limb as I read, during the long winter evenings
the awe-inspiring works in which this man declares with perfect
artlessness the wonders that are revealed to him. 'I have seen,' he
says, 'Heaven and the Angels. The spiritual man sees his spiritual
fellows far better than the terrestrial man sees the men of earth. In
describing the wonders of heaven and beneath the heavens I obey the
Lord's command. Others have the right to believe me or not as they
choose. I cannot put them into the state in which God has put me; it
is not in my power to enable them to converse with Angels, nor to work
miracles within their understanding; they alone can be the instrument
of their rise to angelic intercourse. It is now twenty-eight years
since I have lived in the Spiritual world with angels, and on earth
with men; for it pleased God to open the eyes of my Spirit as he did
that of Paul, and of Daniel and Elisha.'
"And yet," continued the pastor, thoughtfully, "certain persons have
had visions of the spiritual world through the complete detachment
which somnambulism produces between their external form and their
inner being. 'In this state,' says Swedenborg in his treatise on
Angelic Wisdom (No. 257) 'Man may rise into the region of celestial
light because, his corporeal senses being abolished, the influence of
heaven acts without hindrance on his inner man.' Many persons who do
not doubt that Swedenborg received celestial revelations think that
his writings are not all the result of divine inspiration. Others
insist on absolute adherence to him; while admitting his many
obscurities, they believe that the imperfection of earthly language
prevented the prophet from clearly revealing those spiritual visions
whose clouds disperse to the eyes of those whom faith regenerates;
for, to use the words of his greatest disciple, 'Flesh is but an
external propagation.' To poets and to writers his presentation of the
marvellous is amazing; to Seers it is simply reality. To some
Christians his descriptions have seemed scandalous. Certain critics
have ridiculed the celestial substance of his temples, his golden
palaces, his splendid cities where angels disport themselves; they
laugh at his groves of miraculous trees, his gardens where the flowers
speak and the air is white, and the mystical stones, the sard,
carbuncle, chrysolite, chrysoprase, jacinth, chalcedony, beryl, the
Urim and Thummim, are endowed with motion, express celestial truths,
and reply by variations of light to questions put to them ('True
Christian Religion,' 219). Many noble souls will not admit his
spiritual worlds where colors are heard in delightful concert, where
language flames and flashes, where the Word is writ in pointed spiral
letters ('True Christian Religion,' 278). Even in the North some
writers have laughed at the gates of pearl, and the diamonds which
stud the floors and walls of his New Jerusalem, where the most
ordinary utensils are made of the rarest substances of the globe.
'But,' say his disciples, 'because such things are sparsely scattered
on this earth does it follow that they are not abundant in other
worlds? On earth they are terrestrial substances, whereas in heaven
they assume celestial forms and are in keeping with angels.' In this
connection Swedenborg has used the very words of Jesus Christ, who
said, 'If I have told you earthly things and ye believe not, how shall
ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?'
"Monsieur," continued the pastor, with an emphatic gesture, "I have
read the whole of Swedenborg's works; and I say it with pride, because
I have done it and yet retained my reason. In reading him men either
miss his meaning or become Seers like him. Though I have evaded both
extremes, I have often experienced unheard-of delights, deep emotions,
inward joys, which alone can reveal to us the plenitude of truth,--the
evidence of celestial Light. All things here below seem small indeed
when the soul is lost in the perusal of these Treatises. It is
impossible not to be amazed when we think that in the short space of
thirty years this man wrote and published, on the truths of the
Spiritual World, twenty-five quarto volumes, composed in Latin, of
which the shortest has five hundred pages, all of them printed in
small type. He left, they say, twenty others in London, bequeathed to
his nephew, Monsieur Silverichm, formerly almoner to the King of
Sweden. Certainly a man who, between the ages of twenty and sixty, had
already exhausted himself in publishing a series of encyclopaedical
works, must have received supernatural assistance in composing these
later stupendous treatises, at an age, too, when human vigor is on the
wane. You will find in these writings thousands of propositions, all
numbered, none of which have been refuted. Throughout we see method
and precision; the presence of the Spirit issuing and flowing down
from a single fact,--the existence of angels. His 'True Christian
Religion,' which sums up his whole doctrine and is vigorous with
light, was conceived and written at the age of eighty-three. In fact,
his amazing vigor and omniscience are not denied by any of his
critics, not even by his enemies.
"Nevertheless," said Monsieur Becker, slowly, "though I have drunk
deep in this torrent of divine light, God has not opened the eyes of
my inner being, and I judge these writings by the reason of an
unregenerated man. I have often felt that the INSPIRED Swedenborg must
have misunderstood the Angels. I have laughed over certain visions
which, according to his disciples, I ought to have believed with
veneration. I have failed to imagine the spiral writing of the Angels
or their golden belts, on which the gold is of great or lesser
thickness. If, for example, this statement, 'Some angels are
solitary,' affected me powerfully for a time, I was, on reflection,
unable to reconcile this solitude with their marriages. I have not
understood why the Virgin Mary should continue to wear blue satin
garments in heaven. I have even dared to ask myself why those gigantic
demons, Enakim and Hephilim, came so frequently to fight the cherubim
on the apocalyptic plains of Armageddon; and I cannot explain to my
own mind how Satans can argue with Angels. Monsieur le Baron
Seraphitus assured me that those details concerned only the angels who
live on earth in human form. The visions of the prophet are often
blurred with grotesque figures. One of his spiritual tales, or
'Memorable relations,' as he called them, begins thus: 'I see the
spirits assembling, they have hats upon their heads.' In another of
these Memorabilia he receives from heaven a bit of paper, on which he
saw, he says, the hieroglyphics of the primitive peoples, which were
composed of curved lines traced from the finger-rings that are worn in
heaven. However, perhaps I am wrong; possibly the material absurdities
with which his works are strewn have spiritual significations.
Otherwise, how shall we account for the growing influence of his
religion? His church numbers to-day more than seven hundred thousand
believers,--as many in the United States of America as in England,
where there are seven thousand Swedenborgians in the city of
Manchester alone. Many men of high rank in knowledge and in social
position in Germany, in Prussia, and in the Northern kingdoms have
publicly adopted the beliefs of Swedenborg; which, I may remark, are
more comforting than those of all other Christian communions. I wish I
had the power to explain to you clearly in succinct language the
leading points of the doctrine on which Swedenborg founded his church;
but I fear such a summary, made from recollection, would be
necessarily defective. I shall, therefore, allow myself to speak only
of those 'Arcana' which concern the birth of Seraphita."
Here Monsieur Becker paused, as though composing his mind to gather up
his ideas. Presently he continued, as follows:--
"After establishing mathematically that man lives eternally in spheres
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