THE RING OF ANIASIS.*
THIS is a kind of baby "Strange Story,"—like it in style, method, theme, philosophical pretension, ostentation of pro-
found analysis, everything but bulk, in which it is fortunately in- ferior, and a certain vigour which Sir Bulvrer Lytton manages to impress even on his most gaudy nonsense. Perhaps, as a slight compensation, this tale is a shade less turbid and confused in the fantastic medley of its colours. But the two stories are so completely similar in plan and aim, and written so entirely in the same meretricious style of debased art, that they suggest a competitive trial of skill on a common field between artists of' similar capacity, taste, and tendency. Indeed, though it would be misleading to compare the rival performances of Mr. Owen Meredith and Sir Bulwer Lytton to a race between two men with their bodies tied up in sacks, because that suggests grotesque village fun instead of the shambling mag- nificence of philosophical art,—yet the hampered shuffle of the thought ie very much of that class, and really resembles the difficult progression of feet embarrassed by the flapping pallium of philosophic costume, and yet striving to compete with each 'other in dignity as well as force.
The Ring of Amasis, like the " Strange Story," is an elaborate attempt to conquer a new field for art out of the borderland between reason and superstition. Like that, it is a story told by a physician, incredulous in temper, and yet fascinated by the study of the morbid phenomena of the nervous system. In place of the semi-magic wand of that tale is substituted the semi- magic ring of this. In neither story are we ever fairly certain on which aide of the line between the natural and the preter- natural we are standing. In both tales there is a sort of semi- serious attempt to indicate explanations of the marvels, which still remain, however, as narrated, inexplicable. In both, the marvellous element is derived • from Oriental spells ; but in the "Strange Story" the instrument used is more purely of the me;meric, in this, apparently more purely of the morbid psychological, kind. Finally, in both there are large stores of grandiloquent pseudo-analysis, rich crops of abstract nouns be- ginning with capital letters, ninny common-places inflating them- selves in this atmosphere of very rarified intelligence into some- thing that resembles wisdom, like shrivelled apples taking, under an exhausted receiver, the form and hue of ripe beauty ; and, finally, much pedantic vapour condensed in the same rarified region into particles with almost the solidity of sense.
The Ring of Amasis professes to analyze the morbid phenomena of a proud speculative mind too early laden with responsibility, and untrained in boyhood by the collision and sympathy of equals.
The Count Edmond it— is supposed to illustrate for us how a false theoretical analysis may take full possession of a powerful mind, rob it of all true faith, and distort it into sheer childish superstition. There are, however, two great objections to the lesson inculcated— one that the theoretic view which is supposed to have thus taken hold of a strong and spacious mind is either quite unmeaning, or a very unimportant conjecture ; the other, that the superstitious fancy, so far from being merely fanciful or morbid, is, according to the story, based upon facts to which two
other independent witne,stes bear independent evidence. The Ger-
man Count Edmond, who is the hero of the tale, after a self-involved and premature youth, travels in Egypt, where he employs hinteelf eagerly in decyphering hieroglyphics and unwrapping mummies. "Andes the skilful botanist instinctively recognizesin the withered flower which he examines all the once flourishing beauty of it, so Edmond, from long familiarity with these dry human speci-
• The Ring of Amasis. From the Papers of a:German Physician. Edited by Owen Meredith. Two Vole. Chapman and Hall:
mem, had by degrees acquired a strange faculty of mind which enabled him, if not to bring them back to life, yet to transport himself back into the life which once was theirs ; and thus by concentrating the force and intensity of a vivid imagination, to mingle, as though he were the ghost and they the real crea- tures, amongst those generations who, in times indefinitely
remote, transmitted front age to age, as we to-day transmit, as others will transmit to-morrow, the warm and beating pulse of
life." We need scarcely remark on the curious character of this imaginative faculty of the Count's, which enabled a man who had never seen the life of the ancient Eygptians, or anything at all like it, to reconstruct it for himself by merely gazing at mummies ; but it is only fair to observe that the botanist, who is used as an illustration, does not even profess to picture to him- self the living flower from any such imaginative resources, but - rather from having seen plenty of living flowers before he had dried them. If Count Edmond had been in the habit of drying ancient Egyptians in the age of Ramescs, the sight of dried Egyptians of that age might, perhaps, have suggested to him what their life had been while it lasted ; without that experience the gazing into the face of dried mummies can have furnished his intuitive faculties with extraordinarily little help. How- ever, one evening, on unrolling a princely mummy, he found a scroll with it, into the meaning of which be penetrated in this marvellous manner. The mummy had a splendid amethyst ring on its finger, and the scroll suggested to Count Edmond a vision, in which the life of this young Prince Amasis was mirrored. The amethyst ring was an amulet, with characters engraved on it. The father, Thuoris, bad promised his kingdom to whichever of his two sons, Sethos and Amasis, could read the legend on the ring. Amasis, the younger brother, succeeded, and rendered these im- portant hieroglyphics thus :—
" Behold the fatal words of Seb Kronos, the Indestructible De- stroyer' MINE IS THE WORLD, AND TO ME MUST ALL THINGS COKE. I, SOLE HAVE CREATED: AND I, SOLE, DESTROY. I WILL WHAT I WILL. I GIVE AND I TAKE AWAY. ON MORTALS I BESTOW, AND FROM MORTALS I WITHHOLD, HAPPINESS. MAN, THAT ART MADE OF THE DUST OF THE EARTH, DISTURB NOT THE HAND OF DESTINY. TOUCH NOT WITH EARTHLY FINGER THE WORK OF Fare."
Mr. Owen Meredith has printed the words in small capitals, but they scarcely do much credit to the wisdom of the Egyptians. How any one is to disturb the hand of Destiny is not at all clear, seeing that whatever happens is Destiny and whatever does not happen is not Destiny ; and if you jog the hand of Destiny, it must have been destined that you should jog it, and the jog is a part of Destiny. And why Sethos is said to have accom- modated himself to the legend by not saving his drowning broth( r Amasis, when the hand of tire latter was stretched out to him from the Nile, does not seem deer, since, if he bad acted otherwise, he would equally hare obeyed the legend. Bur, however, the amethyst is supposed to have some active part in the matter, as is explained in the vision to Count Edmond R--, in which, apparently,the ghost of Sethos, the elder brother, becomes the interpreter. The Count unfortunately takes the ring back with him to Germany, under an impression that it is magical, and also under some vague delusion that its legend lends support to the doctrine of necessity, which he !me embraced. This inscription, which "flattered the natural tendencies of his mind." also feil in, it seems, with a very transcendental theory of the German physician who relates the story, which theory we are told Count Edmond had anticipated. This wonderful theory dis- proves, as far as we understand it, the possibility of sensuous apparitions of entirely new scenes or persons. The theory is, that if a man has gazed at the sun, the image of the sini may dance before his senses in the dark ; and so, if he had murdered another, the bloody dagger may remain on his retina and recur to it at intervals. But Macbeth's dagger, which pre- ceded the murder, must have been a mere fiction—cannot have been a genuine sensuous apparition. Such appears to be the meaning (if there is any) in the following transcendental bit of psychological nonsense :—
" I assume a strong affection of the mind, either as cause or effect, in its relation to the action of a man. For example, of a criminal. Let us suppose some passion to have taken possession of this man's mind. That passion henceforward determines the course of his actions to the exclusion of all normal manifestations of the man's free will. It be- comes to him, so to speak, a /alum or destiny. A human life obstructs the path of this passion. Passion marches straight to its object, and tolerates no obstacle by the way. Assassination has become a necessary step on the path prescribed to the man by the passion to which he has abdicated his will. The man avoids with horror the thought of this, which in tarn, pursues, and never quits him till it has made him familiar with its presence. Occasion puts the knife into his hand. The victim falls. From the series of criminal thought" ' - ,
act ; from the abstract, the concrete. The murderer awakes from his long dream of murder with the bloody knife in his hand. The series of criminal thoughts belonged to the domain of one man's imagination ; the bloody knife belongs to the domain of reality for all men.
"Here the line is indicated which unites two points whereof each is stationed in a different world.
"Let A be the ideal world, and B the real world.
"A has conducted to B.
"Therefore B conducts to A.
"That is to say, reality conducts to imagination; action to vision. But as, in the parallelogram of forces, the action here is the resultant of the various activities contained in the imagination (i.e., the series of criminal thoughts) so the imagination, when acted on in turn, can take no other form than that which it has itself determined. And, either permanently or periodically, the murderer (supposing, of course, the case, as previously assumed, to be one of hallucination), renews the action in the vision ; which shows him the bloody knife, and the victim's corpse, &c. The vision exists for the actor, but for him only. Consequently, without preceding action, no permanent or periodical vision is possible. The series of criminal thoughts alone, without result of any kind hi action (an A without a B) cannot produce permanent or periodical spectres. At least, I know of no such case. The blot upon the brain becomes palpable to the bodily eye only when the dark- ness of khan passed into the deed which stains a life."
This is certainly a very difficult way of putting a simple but very arbitrary hypothesis. That you can't have a haunting appa- rition unless your senses have once been thrown into the attitude in which they actually perceived the subj ect of it, seems to be a rather idle conjecture ; but it is impossible to express the idea worse, or wrap it up more obscurely in grandiloquent language, than is done above. And even after it has been expressed, it is impossible to understand what particular bearing this piece of transcendental psychology has on the tale. Count Edmond takes ardently to the magic amethyst, is led on by the ideas it suggests to him to let his brother drown before his eyes with the ring on his finger, and afterwards is dreadfully taunted by the ring. "The spectral amethyst," we are told, "still smote him with its violet rays." But after leading him to something like fratri- cide, it appears to have devoted itself to keeping him alive and safe from all physical risks, increasing his wealth, and making him miserable. It turns aside Circassian cannon-balls ; it warns him back from falling rocks ; it pushes his stakes to the winning colour at gaming-tables ; it appears at his marriage on the hand of his dead brother, which clasps hisbride's hand (for- merly promised to that brother) instead of his own, and so all but drives him mad. It appears to be one great additional flavour of bitterness in all this that it in some way refutes the very elaborate and foolish piece of analysis given above. But a man must take a psychological guess very much indeed to heart if this be so. We cannot even sea that the theory in question would either -support superstition or interfere with faith, and are quite at a loss to account for the importance attached to it. The amulet might have had magic properties, even though the theory was true.
Then, as to the reality of the illusion. The German doctor himself is witness to one of the magical performances of the -" Spectral Amethyst," and the young lady whom the Count was to have married to at least two others of them, so that it is rather hard on Count Edmond, after all, to treat his delusion as the mere result of a morbid mind and a bad education. He does 'naturally get exceedingly wretched after he had let his brother drown, and we have a good deal of the following kind of stuff:—
" If thou wilt destroy me, dreadful Hand,—if thou art sworn to sink use to the abyss,—why then dost thou not pluck me by the hair, or seize me by the throat, and drag me down into the deeps from which 'thou risest thus ? If thou wilt have my heart, why dost thou not pierce this long-tormented breast with but a single sharply-daggered ray of thine intolerable amethyst ? Be anything but what thou art. Rise rather on my path—not thus, cold Hand, not thus—but with fist firm- 'clenched, and arm of weightiest menace. Then will I grapple with thee hand to hand, aye even till my bones be broken in thine iron grasp. But stretch not aye, thus piteously to me those pale imploring fingers. Not thus ! I cannot seize thee thus. Thou knowest it well. For fast the devilish amethyst has fixed me with his demon eye. -Arid it burns, it burns—away !"
But we do not think that, if the German doctor be veracious, the Count can be said to have worried himself with imaginary visions. The evidence would go to prove that some spectral eland wearing the amethyst ring was actually there.
The grandeur of the book, however, is only half contained in its plot. The little aphorisms, incidentally dropped, are full of hints for the "philosopher, artist, and man." For example :—
"In the spiritual, no less than in the physical world, the maximum power resides in the infinitely little."
This is interpreted afterwards to mean that all really great powers are subdivided into infinitely small elements,—a truth w.hich we should have scarcely recognized in the original shape iu • • above. The attraction of the earth is no
doubt made up of the attraction of all its particles ; but we should have been led by Mr. Meredith's apophthegm to conceive that it resided in a single "infinitely little" particle.
Here, again, is an artistic aperfu of startling grandeur in a well-known style which, were it not palpably in the work before us, we should have attributed to the author of" Zanoni " without a shade of hesitation:—
" ' Nothing is durable but the duty to endure. Ditty is the asylum of the soul. 0 Venus Libitina! Oh, Beauty, beautifying graves ! 0 Keeper of the registers of Death ! Thou sittest among the sepulchres, yet art not sad. And "Here," thou gayest, "there is calm." I will believe thee. Yet there is a chilly pallor on thy brows, and darkness in the circles of thine eyes. Thou, too, has struggled. . . . . And to this cold goddess, that to her, also, gracefulness may not be wanting, the great Founder of the world has lent, for coy companion, Beauty's humanest handmaiden—Chaste Shame. Vex her not with words. Silence is the chastity of action. Let no cry be heard. Crash the escaping groan on the yet quivering lips of the desires thou heat strangled. Uncover not the pale faces of thy departed. Utter not their names aloud. Know thyself, and bear to be unknown. Strike down 'this beggar heart that prowls for alms, and stops men's pity in the public place. Justify the whole endeavour in the perfect deed. Slay thyself and hide the knife. Even so. And, as, in large compassion of fond eyes young graves set grieving, kind Nature makes mute haste to cast over the hillocks of the recent dead her grassy carpet of the tender green ; so silently, and for others' sakes with such a noble haste, do thou, too, hide beneath the serenity of a smiling face the sorrow of thine immortal soul!"
This magnificent use of "Venus Libitina " and her " humanest handmaiden Chaste Shame" to watch over the grave in poor Count Edmond's heart, with full license even to stimulate the growth of the grass there, for artistic purposes, is a funereal con- ception quite worthy of the elder novelist, and one which would fill any less illuminated undertaker with hopeless despair. No one could have conceived this except a writer with an imagination that knows, as Mr. Meredith says, bow "to appraise me the price of a pang made perfect." Not that belies permitted himself to disclose the latter secret,—which, perhaps, it may take a new artistic novel to reveal. In the meantime, the nearest approximation to the riddle we can discover is the pang of the man who has first purchased, and then read without anathema, the Ring of iimasis. If by the end of the second volume the pang be not made quite perfect, "Silence, the chastity of action," must have relaxed something of her austere control.