13 FEBRUARY 1869, Page 10


STRONOMERS have of ten pointed out how different physically 11 life must be, if there be life at all, on worlds like our moon, which do not possess any atmosphere. It is not only that there would be no lungs and no breath, and, therefore, totally different arrangements for nourishing the body, but it is difficult to conceive even of diffused fluids in a world where there is no atmospheric pressure to prevent such diffused fluids from passing immediately into vapour. Put a vessel of water under the receiver of an air-pump, and as the air is exhausted, the water rises at once in a cloud of vapour. There could certainly be no clouds in a world without an atmosphere, no refracted and few reflected lights ; no flying shadows, few natural effects such as our earthly poets most love, no glories of sunset and of dawn, assuredly no Claudes if there were artists of any sort ; no rivers, no ocean, no wind, no vegetable life of the kind that needs air and moisture, clearly no "leafy springs." Again, there could be no language like ours, and still less music,—we do not mean merely wind-instruments,—for all articulate speech depends upon the air, both as a partial cause, and as the conducting medium, of sound ; and all hearing depends upon the vibrations of the waves of sound, which the air transmits, on the membrane of the ear. It would be possible, indeed, to conceive of a party in such a world communicating with each other by lying on the ground with the ear in close contiguity to the earth, and communicating by vibrations struck on, and transmitted through, the solid substance of the earth itself ; but that is a process which bears extremely little analogy to that of human language or music. In a word, conceive any world of life without an atmosphere, and you conceive one whose whole literature would be scarcely intelligible to US, a literature into which half the conceptions of our poets would be untranslatable, which would know nothing of wings and flight, nothing of birds, or trees, or flowers, nothing of winds or waves,—except, perhaps, the solid waves of earthquake,— nothing of ships, nothing of flute, or harp, or song, or minstrelsy, nothing of clouds, and rain, and tempest, — nothing of "the breath of life," and finally, nothing of "aspiration," or "inspiration," or the Holy "Spirit,"—at least, the same realities, if they were apprehended, would necessarily find some other metaphorical origin. It is curious enough to think that the invisible envelope of our planet should enter so deeply into the very essence of our intellectual, moral, and spiritual life, that it is very much easier for us to conceive of future intercourse with the creatures of the most distant world containing an atmosphere, than with the creatures of the nearest by far in the whole universe because it has none.

The wind, naturally enough, as the most active and marked of atmospheric agencies, and the most obvious to the old, unscientific world, which knew nothing of the constitution of the atmosphere, or of its weight, or of its limitation to a given height above the surface of the earth, has impressed itself more deeply upon the imagination than any other power due to the atmosphere. As an unseen and yet most appalling power, it has obtained itself a directly religious significance. The American-Indian mytholo gies all attribute to the winds the ultimate creative force ; even our Lord takes the wind which " bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth " as the natural symbol of the power of 'the Spirit ;'—and the descent of the Spirit, on the first day of corporate

Christian life, is said to have been accompanied by "a sound from heaven as of a rushing, mighty wind,"—whence, naturally enough, the whole range of theological controversies on 'inspiration.' Yet, on the whole, the wind cannot be said to have had a solely spiritualizing effect on either the literatures or national characters of the people most exposed to it. The Hebrews were no sailors, and had an evident horror of great winds. It was God who made 'the storm a calm,' and brought the affrighted Hebrew passengers on Phcenician ships to "the haven where they would be ;" and though the stormy wind' fulfilled God's word as a messenger, it was never thought of as being his word. Elijah was taught that "God was not in the tempest," and was in the "still small voice." Isaiah spoke of his promised deliverer as a "hiding-place from the wind." Christ's greatest sign of power over nature is, that "even the winds and the seas obey Him." There has always been a disposition to attribute caprice and fickleness to the wind from our complete ignorance of its laws,—a caprice and fickleness which God overrules, but which does not so much reveal Him as add to the terrors which require a revelation of Him. The great sea-borne nations have usually regarded the wind in a very mixed light, as an object both of friendship and hostility,

and considered their work quite as much in the light of a struggle with the winds as in that of a grateful use of them. Neither has the character of the Northmen and their descendants been so much moulded by the mystery and invisibility of the wind, as it has by the resistance and courage and enterprise it has provoked. Something of deference for its invisible mystic spirit-like power, no doubt, there is in all the great sailor nations ; but there is more of hardiness and readiness for risk and pain and danger. It has done more to train the spirit which

boldly encounters it as a practical adversary, than the spirit which bends awestruck before its shapeless and invisible might. We suspect that the mystic influence of the wind has been exerted far more through the sounds it causes, than through the forces it exerts, —in other words, much more through the intellectual impressions

it produces in those who have leisure to attend to it, than through those who are engaged in using or fighting it, or both using

and fighting it at once. Wordsworth has well described the effect of constant encounters with the wind in Peter Bell :— "There was a hardness in his cheek, There was a hardness in his eye, As though the man had fixed his face In many a solitary place,

Against the wind and open sky."

Hardness ' is, in general, the effect which blustering winds produce on those who habitually encounter them, but it is not hardness' which represents the influence of the wind on the imaginative literature of nations. In some sense, it may be truly said that the wind has a greater imaginative influence on those who dwell

-on land and in towns than on those who are practically concerned with it every moment of their lives. The voice of the wind, like the voice of the sea, is heard much more impressively by those who live on land than by sailors. It is those who live by "a melancholy ocean," as Mr. Disraeli says, not those who live on it, who enter most into the sad music which it makes. It is

which know "the ocean for a mighty harmouist," for it is necessarily where winds and seas meet with most resistance that they speak most plainly. The sobbing of the wind in the pines, its shriek round the old gables of country houses, its minute guns against the windows of warm rooms, these enter far more deeply into the imagination of nations than the tempests which threaten shipwreck at sea. The latter is a practical danger, like the collision of railway trains, or the striking down of a tree or house by lightning, terrible to encounter or to recollect, but not of the sort to affect the imagination of the mass of men in the ordinary intervals of life. Action of any kind is a sort of antidote to imaginative influences. But the sound of the wind has, we venture to say, affected the contemplative side of men, almost as much as its physical force has affected his practical life by driving away stagnant vapours and bearing ships over the sea. That an envelope of nitrogen, oxygen, and a little carbonic acid gas should have this strange power over men, that when introduced into a particular cavity of the body, where it does nothing towards our physical well-being, it insinuates a thousand -dreamy thoughts of the past and future, of possibilities that are possibilities no more, of yearning to rise above the dreary level -of monotonous habit, of remorse, of hope, of infinite desire, is as strange as anything we can put our finger on in human life. Surely as long as there are wind and pine trees, or even wind with-out pine trees,—nothing but chimneys,—for it to enter, there will be no need of a protest against materialism ? What external -observer of our planet could think that its gaseous envelope was the spring not only of almost half its commerce, but of almost half its art and poetry as well ? Yet you cannot only trace the influence of the atmosphere on art, but of the very sound of the sea and wind on the poet's rhythms. If the recurring hexameter is a partial imitation of a slowly washing wave, the ode would seem to be an attempt to recover the half-regular irregularity of the wind's cadences. This is, we suspect, why the ode is so often

resorted to by poets in any attempt to touch the chord of infinite -desires, as by Wordsworth in the ode on the Intimations of Immortality ' and The Power of Sound' (to which last it is

evidently specially appropriate), or Gray when he is trying to body forth that half-sob of memory with which men are apt to look back on the defined and vivid joys and sorrows of childhood, an his ode to Eton College ; or Lowell when he is attempting to connect the vague ideals of a young and buoyant people with the fiery trials of civil war, in the fine Commemoration Ode of which we gave some sample last week. We have heard the moaning of the

wind in the chimneys of old, and not unfrequently new, houses spoken of as sounding like the voice of "a thousand years ago"; and something, no doubt, there really is in the sound peculiarly calculated to express the sense of loss, and of oblivion, and of desolation, without any particle of immediate power, though the cause of that sound is one of the most potent of forces, in full action at the very moment. Nothing is more curious than the effect produced upon the mind by the wash of the waves and the blowing of the wind in hollow places. It cannot be association which gives both sounds their air of mystic dreaminess, of vain lamentation, or of melancholy desire. Both sea and wind are potent enough and practical enough to make the men who specially devote themselves to using and breasting their power hard, keen, daring, rugged. Yet the sound of the sea on the shore and the wind roaring through the house suggests anything but daring and enterprise. If it suggests danger and shipwreck,—that is by association, and because we know that shipwrecks come of waves and winds ; directly it does not suggest danger or struggle, but rather

—and this can only be because there are certain sounds adapted of themselves to recall certain moods of thought, and which have not gained their power to do so by association. This is true of all music. But the special expressive power of a high moaning wind seems to be to blend an immense variety of subdued notes, —notes melancholy in themselves,—into a volume of sound so great as to seem like the voice of a great past-away world complaining of its fate or its oblivion. If it is strange enough—as it is—that solid food growing out of the earth should supply human organizations with nervous power to perceive and feel, it is at least as strange that a few gases ranged round the earth, the more immediate object of which seems to be to oxidize our food in the lungs, and to provide currents which ventilate our planet's surface, should in addition have the extraordinary power of supplying us with a medium for speech, a natural music, and an inarticulate language of emotion.