Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

that we might hear his dying words: we kissed him, and endeavoured to imbibe his latest breath into our mouths.

I had heard, for the last time, the sound of a voice which had never addressed me but in the language of kindness-the lustre of those eyes which had ever beamed with the refulgent sparkles of mirth became dim, and, after a faint struggle he sought the shades of Elysium! He retained his senses so as to be able to depart in a decent posture. As soon as we found that he had expired, his eyes and mouth were closed, and before the body was cold, it was stretched; and soon afterwards it was washed by the females of the household. After it had been rubbed with fragrant oil and other costly ointments, it was clad in a splendid white robe, by which colour was indicated the pure spirit of the deceased. It was then covered with green boughs and flowers, the liveliness and brilliancy of whose hues denoted the felicity which was to be enjoyed after this life. Being placed upon a bier it was carried to the entrance of the door. Here it was exposed to public view in order to prevent any suspicion of his death having been occasioned by a wound. The feet were turned to the door to signify that he would never return, and the corpse was constantly watched, to prevent the pollution of flies or the violence of rude curiosity. The mouth was filled with cake composed of flour, honey, and water, to appease the fury of Cerberus, and a piece of money was placed upon it as a bribe to the surly ferryman of the Styx. His hair was cut off and hung upon the door to indicate the house of sorrow to the heart of sensibility; and, while the corpse remained there, a vessel of water stood nigh, that those who touched it might purify themselves. After it had been preserved seventeen days and nights we prepared for the solemn ceremony of interment.

But it was supposed the spirit of our departed friend would be better satisfied if his ashes were deposited in his natal soil, and we therefore determined to burn the body. In the dead of the night, when the silence of nature accorded with the sadness of our souls and the awfulness of the ceremony, we lighted our torches, to preserve us from the evil spirits which then ventured abroad. When the sun arose, we took our last farewell and conveyed the body from the house. As we moved along, with a slow pace, our uncovered heads bent down and supported by our hands, attested our respect, and the serious notes of the Carian and the Phrygian flutes bewailed the loss of our friend. Some persons sprinkled their heads with ashes and muttered the funereal interjection,,, while others rolled their bodies in the dust. When we arrived at the pile the body was placed in the middle of it, with a quantity of precious aintments and perfumes, and also the fat of beasts to

increase the force of the flames. The garments of the deceased being thrown in, the sad office of communicating fire to the pile devolved upon me, as none of the relations of the deceased were present. Having prayed and offered vows to the winds to assist the flames, I applied the torch. His immediate friends stood nigh to the pile, cutting off their hair and casting it into the flames, and also pouring out libations of wine. The pile being burned down, the embers were extinguished by wine. We collected the ashes and enclosed them in an urn, which was soon after sent to his relations at Athens.

Grecians! his hallowed ashes are covered by a monument which is erected near the altar of the Muses on the margin of Illysus. When the mellow tints of the evening sun shall sleep on the waters, and ye assemble on its banks, tread lightly on the sod that embraces the silent urn. Violets shall bloom around the sacred spot; there the lotus shall spread its embowering branches, and the roses of spring shall impart their sweetest fragrance to the breeze that lingers around his tomb. There the chords of the plaintive lyre shall often respire the sad and solemn notes of wo, and the virgins, who dwell at the foot of the double mountain, shall chant his mournful dirge.

1

As the winds of the declining year assail the green-clad trees and strew the ground with their foliage, and the approaching spring bids them revive with renovated splendor, so is one generation of man called from the joys of life and another succeeds. But long shall Ilyssus roll his inspiring flood, and many olympiads shall ye walk in the porticos of Athens, or stray by the side of the silver Strymon, before your ears shall be gladdened by such sounds as ye heard from the lyre of Anacreon: for the Graces presided at his birth, and the Muses delighted to inspire his meditations.

[ocr errors]

VENTRILOQUISM OF THE CELEBRATED MR. FITZ JAMES.

The busy indolence' of London has often, of late, been much engaged by the marvellous feats of Mr. Fitz James, one of the most astonishing performers that has ever confounded the ignorant, or edified the philosopher. For the following account of his wonderful talents we are indebted to Mr. W. Nicholson, the scientific Editor of the Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chymistry, and the Arts. What gives to this

article the greatest weight and interest is, that Mr. Nicholson, a philosophical remarker, was an eye witness of the prodigies, which he describes.

I have now the satisfaction to give some account of the performance of Mr. Fitz James, one of the first masters of the art of ventriloquism; who, in addition to his very striking powers as a speaker and an actor, has the candor and liberality to explain the nature of his performance to his auditors. I was present a few evenings ago at a public exhibition, which continues to be repeated at Dulaw's in Soho Square; and though my account of what I saw and heard cannot but be very imperfect, and far from exciting the surprise, which the actual performance produces, it may, nevertheless, be of utility to establish a few principles, and remove some errors respecting this art.

After a comic piece had been read by Mons. Volange, Mr. Fitz James, who was sitting among the audience, went forward, and expressed his suspicion that the ventriloquism was to be performed by the voices of persons concealed under a platform, which was covered with green cloth. Replies were given to his observations, apparently from beneath that stage; and he followed the voices with the action and manner of a person, whose curiosity was much excited, making remarks in his own voice, and answering rapidly and immediately, in a voice which no one would have ascribed to him. He then addressed a bust, which appeared to answer his questions in character, and after conversing with another bust in the same manner, he turned round, and in a neat and perspicuous speech, explained the nature of the subject of our attention; and from what he stated and exhibited before us, it appeared that by long practice he had acquired the faculty of speaking during the inspiration of the breath, with nearly the same articulation, though not so loud, nor so variously modulated, as the ordinary voice, formed by expiration of the air. The unusual voice, being formed in the cavity of the lungs, is very different, in effect, from the other. Perhaps it may issue in a great measure through the trunk of the individual. We should scarcely be disposed to ascribe any definite direction to it; and consequently are readily led to suppose it to come from the place best adapted to what was said. So that when he went to the door, and asked, “Are you there ?” to a person, supposed to be in the passage, the answer in the unusual voice was immediately ascribed by the audience to a person actually in the passage; and upon shutting the door, and withdrawing from it, when he turned round, directing his voice to the door, and said, ‹ Stay there till I call you.' The answer, which was lower, and well adapted to the supposed distance and obstacle interposed, appeared still more strikingly to be out of the room. He then looked up to the ceiling, and called out in his own voice, 'What are you doing above?' to which an immediate answer was given, which seemed to be in the room above, I am coming down directly.' The same deception was practised on the supposition of a person being under the floor, who answered in the unusual, but a very dif

[ocr errors]

1

ferent voice from the other, that he was down in the cellar putting away some wine. An excellent deception of the watchman crying the hour in the street and approaching nearer the house, till he came opposite the window was practised. Our attention was directed to the street, by the marked attention which Fitz James himself appeared to pay to the sound. He threw up the sash and asked the hour, which was immediately answered in the same tone, but clearer and louder; but upon his shutting the window down again, the watchman proceeded less audibly, and all at once the voice became very faint, and Fitz James, in his natural voice said, "He has turned the corner." In all these instances, as well as others, which were exhibited to the very great entertainment and surprise of the spectators, the acute observer will perceive that the direction of the sound was imaginary, and arose entirely from the well-studied and skilful combinations of the performer. Other scenes, which were to follow, required the imagination to be too completely misled, to admit of the actor being seen. He went behind a folding screen in one corner of the room, when he counterfeited the knocking at a door. One person called from within, and was answered by a person from without, who was admitted, and we found, from the conversation of the parties, that the latter was in pain, and desirous of having a tooth extracted. The dialogue and all the particulars of the operation that followed would require a long discourse if I were to attempt to describe them to the reader. The imitations of the natural and modulated voice of the operator, encouraging, soothing, and talking with his patient; the confusion, terror, and apprehension of the sufferer; the inarticulate noises produced by the chairs and apparatus, upon the whole, constituted a mass of sound, which produced a strange, but comic effect. Loose observers would not have hesitated to assert that they heard more than one voice at the time; and though this certainly could not be the case, and it did not appear so to me, yet the transitions were so instantaneous, without the least pause between them, that the notion might very easily be generated. The removal of the screen satisfied the spectators that one performer had effected the whole.

The actor then proceeded to show us specimens of his art as a mimic; and here the power he had acquired over the muscles of his face was full. as strange as the modulations of his voice. In several instances, he caused the opposite muscles to act differently from each other; so that while one side of his face expressed mirth and laughter, the other side appeared to be weeping. About eight or ten faces were shown to us in succession as he came from behind the screen, which, together with the general habits and gait of the individual, totally altered him. In one instance he was tall, thin, and melancholy; and the instant afterwards, with no greater interval of time than to pass round behind the screen, he appeared bloated with obesity and stag. gering with fulness. The same man another time exhibited his face simple, unaffected, and void of character, and the next moment it was covered with wrinkles expressing slyness, mirth, and whim of different descriptions. How

far this discipline may be easy or difficult, I know not, but he certainly appeared to me to be far superior to the most practised masters of the counte nance I have ever seen.

During this exhibition, he imitated the sound of an organ, the ringing of a bell, the noises produced by the great hydraulic machine of Marle, and the opening and shutting of a snuff-box.

·

His principal performance, however, consisted in the debates at Nauterre, in which there were twenty, different speakers, as is asserted in his advertisement; and certainly the number of different voices was very great. Much entertainment was afforded by the subject, which was taken from the late times of anarchy and convulsion in France; when the lowest, the most ignorant part of society was called upon to decide the fate of a whole people, by the energies of Folly and brutal violence. The same remark may be applied to this debate, as to other scenes, respecting tooth drawing; namely, that the quick and sudden transitions, and the great difference in the voices gave the audience various notions, as well with regard to the number of speakers, as to their positions and the direction of their voices.

FOR THE PORT FOLIO.

ANECDOTES OF AMERICAN PAINTERS.

WEST.

"Such wond'rous force the magic colours boast."-Young.

Ar the head of the present English school of painters stands Benjamin West. He was born in the year 1738, at Springfield, Chester County in the state of Pennsylvania. Several of his ancestors came to America with Penn in 1699, and were joined by his father John West in 1714. We know not what were the motives which induced Mr. West to remove to America, but presume it must have been from the general encouragement held out to Quakers by Penn, and to which sect he belonged. Of a large family of children Benjamin West was the youngest son, and at an early period his love of painting showed itself with such uncommon proofs of genius, that at the age of sixteen his father and friends consented to his making it his profession. He was

« ForrigeFortsæt »