תמונות בעמוד

During this period he became a sectary. His whole conversation abounded with scriptural allusions. His air became sedate and mournful. All levities of speech and behaviour were proscribed. He arduously cultivated a sentiment of fear, and a belief in the awfulness of the Deity. He became, at length, impressed with the notion, that it was his duty to propagate the Gospel among the heathen nations. On the expiration of his term of service, he embarked for this country, in order to preach Christianity to the Indians. He landed at Philadelphia with a sum of money, to which he had become entitled by the will of his grandfather, the Hamburgher. Being naturally timid, he became terrified at the danger of visiting the savages for the irritating purpose of overturning their religion. For a while, therefore, he relinquished his design, and set himself down to the cultivation of a farm which he purchased on the Schuylkill, a few miles from the city. Here he married a woman of a quiet disposition, but, like himself, of slender capacity.

This good man formed a peculiar system of worship for himself. He built a kind of temple on a rock, which overlooked the Schuylkill, to which he retired, every morning and evening, to pay his devotions in solitude, permitting his wife to indulge in her own mode of worship, which was of a more social description. It was in this temple that he met with a disaster of a mysterious and awful nature, which terminated his life. His son, the principal subject of this extraordinary work, inherited all the religious peculiarity of his father's temperament. He was particularly impressed with an awful sense of the obedience which he owed to the will of the Supreme Being. This feeling operated on him so intensely, that it might be said to form the reigning passion of his life. It was, at least, the chief object he had in view in all his actions; and from an unfortunate and irrational direction given to this intense piety, sprung the terrible calamities which overpowered and destroyed both his family and himself.

Wieland, at an early age, married a beautiful and virtuous woman, to whom he was devotedly attached. At the time his unparalleled calamities so suddenly assailed him, he was the father of four charming children. His only sister, the narrator, an amiable and high-minded girl, occupied a residence of her own, at a short distance from his. The brother of his wife, an intelligent young man, named Pleyel, also resided in the neighbourhood. This young man was attached to Wieland's sister, and became, in consequence, their frequent visiter. These are the names, and such were the situations, of the principal personages in this extraordinary history. Mutually attached, affluent, respected, virtuous, nothing seemed in prospect for either of them, but a long life of as perfect happiness as this world can afford. The only other conspicuous character in the work, is a mysterious being, of singular appearance and manners, named Carwin, who cherished a remarkable predilection for prowling about their neighbourhood. As he was a man of great sagacity and much information, he was sometimes admitted into their society ; but his uncouth habits, and sceptical opinions on preternatural subjects, prevented their indulging him in any great degree of intimacy.

Shortly after the appearance of Carwin in their neighbourhood, Wieland and his sister began to be disturbed by unaccountable voices, sometimes proceeding from invisible sources, and sometimes accompanied by the sudden and momentary appearance of strange faces. These, by Wieland, were uniformly ascribed to a supernatural agency. Pleyel endeavoured, but always unsatisfactorily, to account for them by natural causes, or delusions of the senses. Clara, Wieland's sister, was perplexed, and could bring herself to form no definite opinion. At length, the operation of these voices upon the credulous mind of Wieland, produced the most terrible effects. They imposed upon him commands of the most dreadful nature, which he believed to proceed immediately from Heaven, for the purpose of trying

, the extent of his submission to the Divine will. In obedience to these awful mandates, he murders his wife and children, and his sister only escapes from him by accident. He is brought to the bar of justice. He is tried—he is convicted—for he denies not the commission of the deeds, although he insists that they are not crimes, but acts of duty, and demonstrations of his implicit obedience to the commands of God.

We extract a portion of his address to the court, on being called

upon for his defence. It will throw light on the character and history of the unfortunate Wieland, and at the same time, furnish the reader with a fair specimen of Brown's literary style.

“Who are they whom I have devoted to death? My wife-the little ones that drew their being from me

Think ye that malice could have urged me to this deed? Hide your audacious fronts from the scrutiny of Heaven. Take refuge in some cavern, unvisited by human eyes. Ye may deplore your wickedness or folly, but ye cannot expiate it.

“ Think not that I speak for your sakes. Hug to your hearts this detestable infatuation. Deem me still a murderer, and drag me to untimely death. I make no effort to dispel your illusion; I utter not a word to cure you of your sanguinary folly; but there are probably some in this assembly, who have come from far ; for their sakes, whose distance has disabled from knowing me, I will tell what I have done, and why.

“ It is needless to say, that God is the object of my supreme passion. I have cherished, in his presence, a single and upright heart. I have thirsted for the knowledge of his will. I have burnt with ardour to approve my faith and my obedience.

“My days have been spent in searching for the revelation of that will; but my days have been mournful, because my search failed. I solicited direction. I

turned on every side where glimmerings of light could be discovered. I have not been wholly uninformed: but my knowledge has always stopped short of certainty. Dissatisfaction has insinuated itself into all my thoughts. My purposes have been pure ; my wishes indefatigable; but not till lately were these purposes accomplished, and these wishes fully gratified.

" I thank thee, my Father, for thy bounty; that thou didst not ask a less sacrifice than this ; that thou placedst me in a condition to testify my submission to thy will! What have I withheld which it was thy pleasure to exact ? Now may I, with a dauntless and erect eye, claim my reward, since I have given the treasure of my soul.

“ I was at my own house ; it was late in the evening, my sister had gone to the city, but proposed to return.

Recent events, not easily explained, had suggested the existence of some danger;

but this danger was without a distinct form in my imagination, and scarcely ruffled my tranquillity.

“ Time passed, and my sister did not arrive ; her house is at some distance from mine, and though her arrangements had been made with a view to residing with us, it was possible, that through forgetfulness, or the occurrence of unforeseen emergencies, she had returned to her own dwelling.

“ Hence it was conceived proper, that I should ascertain the truth by going thither. I went. On my way, my mind was full of those ideas that related to my intellectual condition. In the torrent of fervid conceptions, I lost sight of my purpose. Sometimes I stood still ; sometimes I wandered from my path, and experienced some difficulty, on recovering from my fit of musing, to regain it.

“ The series of my thoughts is easily traced. At first, every vein beat with raptures known only to the man whose parental and conjugal love is without limits, and the cup of whose desires, immense as it is, overflows with gratification.

The Author of my being was likewise the dispenser of every gift with which that being was embellished. The service to which a bene. factor like this was entitled, could not be circumscribed.

“For a time, my contemplations soared above earth and its inhabitants. I stretched forth my hands; I lifted my eyes, and exclaimed, O! that I might be admitted to thy presence ; that mine were the supreme delight of knowing thy will, and of performing it! The blissful privilege of direct communication with thee, and of listening to the audible enunciation of thy pleasure! What task would I not undertake, what privation would I not cheerfully endure, to testify my love for thee? '“ In this mood I entered the house of my sister. It was vacant.

I had no light, and might have known by external observation, that the house was without any inhabitant. With this, however, I was not satisfied, and the object of my search not appearing, I prepared to return.

“ The darkness required some caution in descending the stairs. I stretched my hand to seize the balustrade, by which I might regulate my steps. How shall I describe the lustre, which, at that moment, burst upon my vision !

“ I was dazzled. My organs were bereaved of their activity. My eyelids were half closed, and my hands withdrawn from the balustrade. A nameless fear chilled all my veins, and I stood motionless. It seemed as if some powerful effulgence covered me, like a mantle. I opened my eyes, and found all about me luminous and glowing. It was the element of heaven that flowed around. Nothing but a fiery stream was at first visible ; but, anon, a shrill voice from behind called upon me to attend.

“ I turned. It is forbidden to describe what I saw ; words, indeed, would be wanting to the task. The lineaments of that being whose veil was now lifted, and whose visage beamed upon my sight, no hues of pencil or of language can display.

* As it spoke, the accents thrilled to my heart. • Thy prayers are heard. In proof of thy faith, render me thy wife. This is the victim I choose. Call her hither, and here let her fall.'— The sound, and visage, and light, vanished at

“My wife, I exclaimed! Oh God ! substitute some other victim. Make me not the butcher of my wife. My own blood is cheap. This will I pour out before



thee with a willing heart ; but spare, I beseech thee, this precious life, or commission some other than her husband to perform the bloody deed.

“ In vain. The conditions were prescribed. The decree had gone forth, and nothing remained but to execute it."

And the unhappy man did execute it. He hastened to his residence, persuaded his wife to accompany him to his sister's. When he had her on the destined spot, “ I brought thee hither," said he, “ to fulfil a divine command. I am appointed thy destroyer, and destroy thee I must." An appalling scene follows. She pleaded, she struggled for life; but in vain. He succeeded, after many efforts, in strangling her.

“ Her eyeballs started from their sockets. Grimness and distortion,” said he, “ took place of all that used to bewitch me into transport, and subdue me into reverence. I was commissioned to kill thee, but not to torment thee, and prolong thy death. Haggard, pale, and lifeless, at length, thou ceasedst to contend with thy destiny. This was a moment of triumph. Thus had I successfully subdued the stubbornness of human passions.

Such was the elation of my thoughts, that I even broke into laughter. I clapped my hands, and exclaimed, It is done! My sacred duty is fulfilled ! To that I have sacrificed, O my God! thy last and best gift, my wife !

This rapture quickly subsided. I looked again at my wife.

Where was her bloom! These deadly and blood-suffused orbs but ill resembled the azure and ecstatic tenderness of her eyes. The lucid stream that meandered over that bosom, the glow of love that was wont to set upon that cheek, are much unlike these livid stains and this hideous deformity. Alas ! these were the traces of agony ; the grip of the assassin had been there!

“I will not dwell upon my lapse into desperate and outrageous sorrow. The breath of Heaven that supported me was withdrawn, and I sunk into mere man. I leaped from the floor; I dashed my head against the wall; I uttered screams of horror. I panted after torments and pain. Eternal fire, and the bickerings of hell, compared with what I felt, were music and a bed of roses.

“ I thank my God that this degeneracy was transient, that he deigned once more to raise me aloft. I thought upon what I had done as a sacrifice to duty, and was calm. My wife was dead; but I reflected, that though this source of consolation was closed, yet others were still open. If the transports of a husband were no more, the feelings of a father had still scope for exercise. When remembrance of their mother would excite too keen a pang, I would look upon them, and be comforted.

“ While I revolved these ideas, new warmth flowed upon my heart-I was wrong. These feelings were the growth of selfishness. Of this I was not aware, and to dispel the mist that obscured my perceptions, a new effulgence and a new mandate were necessary.

“ From these thoughts I was recalled by a ray that shot into the room. A voice spake, like that which I had before heard - Thou hast done well ; but all is not done-the sacrifice is incomplete-thy children must be offered—they must perish with their mother!!”

This second mandate was obeyed, and the innocents were sacrificed. Still the terrible injunctions did not cease. The sister of the unhappy victim of delusion, and her lover, Pleyel, were next ordered to slaughter. The arrest of Wieland, however, prevented this extension of his murderous career. The laws regarded him as a lưnatic. To prevent further mischief, rather than for the purpose of punishment, he was confined with chains, and secured in a cell. By some accident, however, he escaped. He hastened to his sister's dwelling, in order to perform the mandate in relation to her. He found Carwin present. She begged of Carwin to save her. He left the apartment without reply ; and just as Wieland was aiming at her a blow, a voice burst from the ceiling, ordering him to desist. Wieland recognised the sound, and joyfully obeyed. Carwin returned to the apartment. He had, just before the arrival of Wieland, in a moment of remorse, acknowledged to Clara, that from him had proceeded the mysterious voices which had occasioned such calamities among her friends; that he was possessed of the gift of ventriloquism, and that he had used it from no malicious motive, but merely in order to sport with the superstitious feelings and fears of her brother and herself--for she is also represented in the work as having been duped and terrified by unaccountable sounds. In the presence of her brother, she accuses Carwin as having been the author of the evils that had befallen him. Wieland fiercely catechises him on the subject. The confession of the latter, removes from Wieland the delusion that he had been acting in obedience to the divine command. The unfortunate victim of deception, having thus lost the support of his fancied obedience to the God whom he adored, sees at once the horrible extent of his guilt and of his bereavement. He sinks into despair, and with a penknife which he finds on the floor, suddenly puts an end to his own existence.

Such is the termination of the horrors of this extraordinary tale. It is a production which no human being can read without feeling deep interest; and no one of ordinary sensibility, without sympathizing almost to agony with the sufferers. Nor is there any adequate judge of the intellectual powers of man, but will admire their extraordinary display in the vivid conceptions and forcible delineations of incidents and characters contained in this work. Yet let us not be hyperbolical in our praise. Let not our admiration of the powers exhibited, render us blind to the faults that exist. This work has one great blemish, which notwithstanding its innumerable and unique beauties, must strike the most superficial reader. The explanation of the mysterious occurrences is altogether unsatisfactory. The faculty of ventriloquism possessed by Carwin, is insufficient to account for the visual deceptions—the luminous appearances, and apparition of faces-not to mention the explosion in the temple, and the violent blow inflicted on the elder Wieland, which occasioned his death.

Moreover, the character of Carwin is not only too improbable, but is utterly inconsistent with itself. Had he been repre

. sented as a perfectly malicious demon, delighting in the bloodshed and horrors which he occasioned, we might have overlooked or forgiven the improbability of such a sheer fiend, as he would then have been, existing in human shape. But he is represented

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