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-the Giver of all Good makes you a present ofy most agonizing epidemic, and you fall into a great rage with the impiety of those who venture to hint that the Benevolent One ought not to be accused of so cruel a gift! You appoint a day for solemnly assuring God that the disease came immediately from his mercy-and you attribute to him that evil which, according to your religion, properly emanates from the Devil! The Devil is infinitely obliged to you!"
Ay, we are often called upon to exclaim, Is this the 19th century? Now I venture to predict that many shallow-skulled persons hearing of our adventures, will suppose them incredible-as if a ride with yourself and a supper with Witches were half so monstrous an outrage on common sense as the fearful exhibitions of Mr. Spencer Perceval, and the appointing a General Fast for a disease for which good living is the best preventive. Thank Heaven, however, the miserable superstition was not general! There was a time when the People were fooled, and the Government foolers-but that time is gone. The People now ask for cheap bread, and their Rulers appoint a day for a General Fast-which are the wisest? But a truce with these subjects we near the spot of our destination."
By the cliffs of the West of England are the ruins of a certain old Abbey, which no lover of the Picturesque willingly leaves unvisited. And proud in its melancholy grandeur looked those ruins now, as borne on the vast wings which Asmodeus had conjured to our aid, we sailed above the woods towards them. Part was hid, not only by the luxuriant lichens and moss that clung to the grey stones, but also by many a tree that drooped mournfully over the fallen columns and the shattered arch. But through one high and oriel window the moon shone with a deep and settled ray-and below, the midnight ocean broke into unnumbered sparkles of living light. You might see the yellow sands, far and wide, curving around the cliffs; but, save these ruins, there was not house or cottage within the horizon. A little to the left of the abbey lies an old churchyard, with the bones of some score monks-merry dogs in their day !-rotting below. So the dead seemed our only welcomers. But not so; for now, as I turned to another part of the abbey, where the main tower yet stood, I beheld, brightly cresting that tower, and issuing from a long, low casement, half hid by the rank foliage, that pale and mystic light that we had seen afar. And now, too, out broke a chorus of laughter-and just as it ceased, a sweet, soft voice commenced a song, in some language unfamiliar to me, but which the Devil-wiping his eyes and declaring it was very affecting, for it came from his native landassured me was the purest Scotch.
The song ceased; and music of a thousand sorts followed. can bear it no longer," cried Asmodeus-and he went bang through the window, and I after him.
"Ho! ho!-what alarms you? Stay! -Kosem Kesamim - all hail! Stay, ladies, can you not?—what a pother! Frightened at an old friend?-it is only Asmodeus. And look you, ladies, he hath brought you a man, a young man—at once courageous and discreetfor a visitor."
While Asmodeus was thus speaking, I had seized the hand of a most buxom-looking Witch of about thirty-five, very well shaped, but
clad in the dress sa Anne's time; and while I endeavoured to reassure her fears, I stuie a glance round the chamber and its scattered circle.
It was a low, oblong apartment; from some vast pine-logs in the hearth broke the light I have before described, serving the party at once for warmth and lustre. In the centre of the room was a table, covered with provisions of a most goodly aspect; neither were wines wanting, for Witches are not a bit less careful of themselves than any other ladies of respectability. There might be around this table some eighteen women assembled, of all ages, from twenty to-eternity, for aught I could tell, from their seeming; for some three or four, to use Wordsworth's phrase, looked "immeasurably old." Centuries seemed buried in their furrowed brows, and glassy but most meaning eyes. These were dressed in no garb, and after no fashion, of which any history or legend, that I know of, gives a distinct description. It was fold after fold of serge-like drapery-in colour, either black or the coldest white-and falling down without outline or intelligible shape, like some dream-like and undefined shadow. Each of these elder women wore on her breast a crescent of burning red; it seemed as if the stones were of a fixed fire-this was their only ornament.
These women, I noted, were not the least disturbed at our approach; they remained in their former postures, turning only their passionless and unutterable aspect towards us, and each signing a grave and silent welcome to Asmodeus. But the younger ones, who, perhaps, were so inexperienced that they had never seen a Devil before-all uttering the prettiest shrieks imaginable, started from their places, and half-flying, half-arrested by Asmodeus's address, made a tableau that would cut the Rent Day off with a sixpence, if some generous manager could but bribe Asmodeus or myself to embody it. But my chief object-as I know that in all female societies the value of gentlemen, like that of strawberries at Christmas, is in proportion to their scarceness-in taking a coup-d'œil of the room, was to ascertain if any young wizards were of the party. At first I detected nothing male whatsoever except the new comers, till my eye fell suddenly on a figure that sat at the head of the table enveloped in a mass of shade from which even the bright steady light of the hearth shrank as if either in loathing or in dismay. Whether male or female, human or preter-human, I knew not at that moment, till, as it rose, I could, through the dense thickness of air that encircled the figure, behold the shape and outline of a man. "Kosem Kesamim," quoth Asmodeus, turning very respectfully to this figure, as he now saw general order about to be returned, "all hail! a young aspirant after the dim, the shadowy, the afar, comes with me to visit thee and thy servants on this their appointed meeting. Judge him not wholly, O Kosem, by the company he keeps,-for I am a great deal too good for him."
The witches, the young ones I mean, laughed; and as I could not altogether gainsay the Devil, I pretended not to hear him, and went on complimenting the buxom Witch, whom I guessed to be a widow.
"All are welcome to me, for in all there is knowledge!" said a deep, a sad, a melodious voice, that thrilled through my bones, like
a voice of some dead prophet whom a Hebrew might have convoked to prophesy of misfortunes. The figure resumed its seat, and this was the signal for the general return.
"My dear Mecassephahs, or rather Mecassephim," said Asmodeus, addressing the ladies, (for that word, as I afterwards learnt, is the proper appellation of Witches,) I am most delighted once more to see you. Azna, my darling, a glass of wine. Bosniah, shall I help you from this dish? the truffles look excellent. Pray, Jesthah, take care of my young friend."
To it now we all went, and I assure you I never saw a more excellent supper-those Witches know what's what, my dear Lord Guloseton, better than any ladies I've seen for a long time. What a mistake to suppose they eat newts and murdered men's fingers!— vulgar prejudices altogether-just as philosophers are supposed to live upon water-cresses, as if knowledge, whether in witch or philosopher, did not mean us to find the best sources of enjoyment. Oh, the chatter, the clatter, the talk, the laughter, the hob-a-nobbing of glasses, the ringing of plates, (best Sévre, I give you my word, for I looked at the mark)-we grew as intimate as if we were a set of old wits at Madame du Deffand's;-always excepting the elderly ladies I have before respectfully touched upon, and Kosem Kesamim at the head of the table. These ate not, drank not, spake not; they resembled the ghastly images introduced by the Ægyptians at their feasts; and like them too did not prevent the feast from being as jovial as if they were only the figures set on a plateau. I made great progress in the good graces of Mrs. Jesthah; she was an Englishwoman as it happened, for most of those present were of other countries, and could only converse with me by the eyes.
"Do you come from London ?" said Jesthah, smiling very graciously.
"From London," I repeated; "is it long since your Ladyship has been there?"
"Ah, you have discovered my rank then?"
"Pardon me-I only guessed it."
"Humph! ay, it is some 120 years since I was in Town-is it still a very gay place? Drums every night? Do ladies still patch according to their politics? And, oh! the dear playhouse! Who is the rage now? What handsome actor? What young dramatic author? Still I suppose you have produced nothing equal to Mr. Addison's Cato-and of course it is regularly played twice a week; but, bless me !—Ah, forgive me! are you of the-of the-pardon me -the-the-Great World? the men à-la-mode?—you wear no wig, and I don't see a bit of gold lace about you."
"Madam, my pedigree is sufficiently long, and my income sufficiently easy, to make me ordinarily styled a gentleman. Other qualities to earn that title are not considered, in my time, to be more than elegant superfluities. But swords are worn only by the clerks of the Parliament Houses; and as for gold, we are a great deal too scarce in that metal to waste it upon the outside of our clothes. And you really have not been in Town since the reign of Queen Annedo you live in this Abbey? not a pleasant winter residence, I should think."
"O ciel! no," cried the Lady fanning herself coquettishly, "I should die of the vapours. I—But hold!—you are not yet privileged to know of my residence: some time or other, if you conduct yourself decently, you may have leave to visit me."
"I live in hope; but a glass of champagne? So, so! forgive me! are you really a Witch? I own the fascination; but you don't look like the Witches one sees on the stage."
"Nevertheless," returned Jesthah, laughing, as she helped herself to some lobster salad, "I am a very good Witch, and can sail over the sea in a walnut-shell as well as any old woman that ever was burned."
"Pray, Madam,” said I, after expressing my surprise at this boast, "are these all the Witches, now extant? if so, which are the three ladies who figure in Macbeth?"
"Oh, dead! dead!" returned Jesthah, lifting up her hands, "they died of rage at reading the frights William Shakspeare has made of them. Between you and me, (here my comrade sank her voice into a whisper) they were exceedingly vain old creatures; and the scandal is, (great emphasis on the last monosyllable,) that they all pulled caps for Macbeth."
Here the mirth round Asmodeus became quite obstreperous, and I took advantage of the general uproar to ask Jesthah, sotto voce, if the dark figure that had welcomed me-was the Prince of Evil?
"Hist, no!" returned she, in the same key; "he is human, like yourself; he is the most powerful wizard that ever existed, and none know the hour of his birth, or the country in which he was born."
I looked wistfully towards the figure, but the darkness that settled round it when in repose baffled my keenest gaze.
And now the supper was done-now the glasses circulated more rapidly-now the clamour thickened-now I and my Witch were making serious love-when once more rose the unearthly voice of Kosem Kesamim, and silence fell round us, chill and hushed, like a sudden snow. "Stranger," it said, "there are signs and types of a change in the world-are they so understood-so construed by the herd? Speak! I know all that is at work; but what you as spectator of the workings, or it may be as one of the million agents that conscious or unknowing of the ministry, minister to a solemn endwhat you feel, and believe, and prophesy of events-that-solicitous of learning what passes in the hearts of men-that would I learn.— Speak!"
"O Kosem Kesamim, (pardon me if I pronounce not your name after the true witchly fashion,) O Kosem Kesamim, I come only from that hive of London, in which I have been a bee of very indus trious habits; but as far as I have had time for observation, I should say that at this moment the great business of the swarm is a quarrel between the bees and the drones. Certainly, O Kosem, to drop metaphor, and speak plainly, certainly, however, there is much in the aspect of present things to amuse, to surprise, and to appal the human and unwizarded beholder. In the first place I see a vast number of gay, well-dressed, fine-looking persons going about to balls and soirées, as if they were living in the most peaceful times imaginable; nevertheless even among them you may notice changes
and heraldries of change; their amusements want the system which once pervaded them; they seem more broken and desultory, as if taken by snatches, rather than uninterruptedly pursued. The Opera is wretched; balls are fade and dull; Lady Patronesses are becoming like other women; and respect for Almack's is prodigiously shaken; the dynasty of Dandies is fast expiring; and in a word, the idle ones of the Silken Circle begin to feel that a time is ripening when the staple of life will not be amusement for the few and famine for the many. If the heaving of the elements in social arrangements be visible among the higher grades, it is nothing to the vast spirit that moves slowly through the heart of the multitude. Human ingenuity exercised on one point grows sharpened on others; there is not so much difference as the world would suppose between the mechanism of a steam-engine and the mechanism of a Government; in either, complicated and cumbrous are the first steps to knowledge— to progress is to simplify. Thus among the working men of our great cities, questions of deep and mighty import, which hitherto have been reserved for philosophers to discuss, are sternly and solemnly debated: the true foundations of society-the origin of ranks-the distribution of property-the two great interrogatories, what is Virtue, and what is Government?-these are the subject-matter of men thoughtful at the loom. And while the upper grades avoid such matters as dull-despise them as theoretic-and damn them as dangerous; the time and the hour are at hand when to those questions-answers will be demanded. In fact (it is in vain to disguise it) social Reform must close the vista of legislative Reforms; and if, O Kosem Kesamim! I could but live to a quarter of the age of this fair lady beside me (she owns to a hundred and twenty), I should live to see things that would petrify my little Lord John on the Treasury Bench, and take all the starch from the neck of the handsome Sir Jamie. As for the middle orders, I am apt to think we attribute a vast deal too much to their influence in times of danger. In times of quiet they are all in all; they form the solidity-the gravamen of the social order. In times of peril they shut up their houses and remain neutral; they are timid and wavering; they don't like to disoblige their customers; they are afraid of a run on the Banks; the row in the streets is no business of theirs; they hope matters will soon be amicably adjusted; and retire to read the newspapers in the back parlour. But this is the case rather in the Metropolis than in the other towns, where the middle orders have a more complete admixture with the lower, and where the system of credit has not made them so dependant on quiet times and the aristocracy! While, O Kosem, I thus rapidly run over the state of feeling amongst us, I must not forget some curious detached pictures. There is a Minister, who, with the greatest courage in the world, made up his mind to endure the hatred of half his order, and who can't make up his mind to preserve the whole-who made up his mind to risk place, power, and honour, who can't make up his mind to ensure them-who made up his mind to the excitement, the agitation, the ferment of all England, who can't make up his mind to the security-who made up his mind to peril, who can't make up his mind to triumph-who made up his mind to all the toil, obloquy, difficulty, uproar of a great enterprise, and who stands shivering with