« PreviousContinue »
going through, not the same, but a similar process to that which I actually pursued, translating, in fact, the original language into the vernacular.] Of names likely to be found in the writing, whatever it might be, I had: Allah, Kalif, Mahommad, and two or three others. Under the historical supposition, I took Bagdat, Cairo, Cordova, Spain, Morocco, Grenada, Abdalrhaman, Ommiyah, Almamun, Abbas and its generic, Fatimites, Guadalquiver, Abdallah, Asturia, Seville, etc. Under the medical and alchemical hypothesis, I chose Hermes Trismegistus, (as the grand master of the Alchemists) Averrhoes, Avicenna, Alchemy, Gebir, and many long names of medicines, simples, etc. These words I arranged in columns, according to the number of letters they contained. Now in Allah'there are five letters, in Hermes Trismegistus eighteen, in Abdallah eight, in Kalif five, etc. I looked carefully through the manuscript, and culling out every word of the corresponding number of letters, arranged them in columns also. I had in the column of eights, whose principal word was Abdallah, one hundred and five words, under Allah and Kalif three hundred and eighty-seven, and under Hermes Trismegistus thirteen, and so on.
Here was a promised enormousness of work. Each of these words might have to be compared with all the others, and even then, I was by no means certain of a satisfactory result. A great source of trouble was the constant triplication of the letters, making a sure progress very slow, on account of the care necessary to the avoidance of error. However, I was resolved, and fate had predetermined.
Upon farther reflection, I found that I could simplify my operations considerably by excluding from my syllabic list such words as, under the foregone premises, could not be those required. Thus, under Abdallah, I rejected all such as did not contain the first letter three times repeated, and a double letter between the second and third reproduction. This process gave me a result scarce hoped for. Of the particular combination, Abdallah, there were only twelve recurrences, and in these were only four individual words, one being six times repeated, one three times, one twice, and one only once. Hermes Trismegistus gave me only one word three times repeated, and I half-flattered myself that in this way I had secured eighteen letters. Abdallah I took to be the word six times recurring, since its last five letters coïncided with a word frequently appearing in the column Allah. Here, then, provided my hypotheses were all correct, I had secured five letters, a, b, d, h, 1, out of twenty-eight. I tried these in comparison with other words: first, one that might be Bagdat. I had Ba. da. : this was not sufficient. Then I essayed Abdalrhaman, as a frequent Arabian name : it gave me Abdal.ha.a.: I was pretty certain of this, and considered three more letters secured, namely, m, n, r. With the assistance of these I tried to verify Hermes Trismegistus. To this end I had H.
ri., but the m failed, and of course I threw it aside. (The reason was, that he is spoken of almost universally as the Master,' and not often named. He is a sort of
Demogorgon of the adepts, whose name even is reverently to be circumlocuted.) I now, to be secure, verified my eight letters, by using them in connection with words that had no other letters. They spelt genuine Arabic words in every instance. Here, then, was positive evidence that my conjectural processes had been established as facts, and that so far as I had gone, I had pursued the right path. In a very short time I had completed my alphabet. Almamun gave me u, etc., and in the course of two hours, I had completed my knowledge of the problem so far as to read the first few sentences with but slight difficulty. I now found that there was a definite arrangement of the alphabet; the eighth heading being the initial letter, then the ninth, next the seventh, then the tenthi, and so on.
The reader may perchance inquire why it is that I have been so particular in the recital of the method employed in effecting the solution of this cryptograph. A reason I have most undoubtedly had, and it is this: that he may recognize how completely I was guided by destiny, (deus fatorum,) or what he will be more likely to call chance, in the whole matter; and that thus, the manner in which I discuss what is to follow, may not procure me his reprobation. In not one circumstance of the whole affair did I seem to myself to be pursuing an ordinary course. I resorted to no science: I offended every probability in the whole calculus; blindly stumbling, my feet ever trod the only possible path. Whatever I vaguely conjectured became essential to the solution to be effected. I dreamed, and it was so ; I fancied a result, and it came forth as if from a syllogistic process. It was fatality.
But I did not then pause to think. Here was the mystery solved, and the secrets of the wondrous manuscript open before me. Eagerly I seized it in my hands, translated the text into plain Arabic, and that again into plain English. In a week I was the master of the palimpsest. Nay, it was master of me.
Yes, it was done. Oh! I must pause an instant, an instant close my eyes to the dark gulf that gapes before me. As the bereaved lingers by the shrouded dust ere it is dismissed to its kind, so would I look one little moment upon the past, with its rose-hued bloom, before I step into the dark rayless night that followed; and yet:
Why linger, why turn back, why shrink, my heart ?
Thus went the narrative :
"'I BPEAK NOT PIOTION, BUT WHAT IS CERTAIN
AND MOST TRUE.'
My hand trembles, as I commence this my history. O thou, mine heir and successor, thou who art fated to discover and to
suffer; to know, to wither, and to become more perfect by reason of thine own wreck, as the prophet Adam was the greater man after he had gone out from Paradise ! do not find fault with me for this thing; do not curse me, but pardon; remembering the irrevocable pronouncement of the fates. For, in the book of the mighty master, the first and greatest in our art, the compasser of the three greatest things - that grand trinity possible to every man, but grasped by him only* — in his book, which is a vial sealed, save only to the pure and reverent adept, it is thus written: • The words of fate through the stars. Not to be cancelled, but to be revered. There shall hereafter come one who will of many elements compound a strange drug unparalleled, which shall put into his hands the lives of princes and of men, without suspicion, but to his profit and honor among men; for it is not to be detected, nor shall it have any antidote. And the possessors of this secret shall be two only: he that shall make the drug, and he that shall come after him, being his heir, though many shall vainly strive to compass it; for so decree the fates. The former, being carnal, shall in the end reap no profit, but mortify his flesh that led him into ungodly error. The arrow of a sinful act shall return upon the second, so that he shall cry aloud : God punisheth me miserable. For the fates have said it; because he shall pry curiously and without reverence into the inner crypt, which is wrong. And after this shall the sacrifice be complete, and the terrible thing perish before men, forever and forever. Now God be praised. Which is ordained, and must be, for the stars have said it.
'I, therefore, the first, with a weary, sad heart, according to the decree, consign to thee, the second, my secret, locking it up, so that perchance a long time may pass ere thou comest. But when thou dost come, pray for the soul of thy wretched father, and curse him not, for his days drink bitterness.
'I am named Abdallah of Bagdat. My father before me was a physician, learned in the arts, and wise in knowledge of the planets. He was a bad man, unscrupulous, who knew the evil Kalif, and was ever a caterer to his vices. Me he acquainted in his art, and taught all that his books had given him of knowledge. And when, a gray-beard, he was called, behold, my youth was as learned as, his age,
in all the wisdom of the children of the most mighty master.
* Know, O mine heir ! that my father (whose name was Mansur of Bagdat) called me to his bed-side before he died, and bound me by a solemn oath to accomplish what thing he should require of me:
* ALLUDING, I suppose, to the twelfth one of the thirteen mysterious formulæ propounded by the founder of Alchemy: 'Therefore am I called HERMES TRISMEGISTUS, possessing the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world.' What these three megista were, the master does not deiga to inform us; but probably they were those of Mr BAILEY's Mystic:
-The initiate of the light,
The adopted of the water and the sun,' who was gifted in this style, from
· WISDOM her adamantine seal, and TRUTH
else would men defile me, my children, and children's children forever, and cast spittle upon their beards and mine, for that I did not reverence him who begat me. And when I had sworn, he showed to me the passage I have written for thee from the book of the master; and when I had read it, he spoke thus: “Thou hast read, O my son! Know, also, that thou art chosen by the stars to do this thing which is written. Thou hast sworn, and canst not refuse. Thou shalt perfect the discovery which I have begun, and thou shalt build up the faith of thy prophet, and thine own honor and name with its help. For so it is meet, and so Allah will be pleased, and Mohammed his prophet. Make thy secret known to no one, only lock it up where thy decreed heir can some time get into its possession.' And he gave me certain papers, containing a recital of that which he had done; and then, turning his face to the wall, died.
' Five years constantly employed in close thought, experiment, and manipulation, finally enabled me to complete my father's design, and made me master of the drug, to which thou, ( fated one! art heir. Here thou wilt find it accurately set forth.'
[Not that pen shall ever more write it, nor ever lip again give utterance to it, reader. In me was the prediction of the potent master made perfect, and the fell sacrifice carried to its end. No one shall share what was mine alone: the secret so oppressive, the endless, consuming woe. If thou wouldst seek it, ask of the vaporous air that was burdened with the smoke of the consumption of its every record; of the earth whereon were strewed its
pernicious ashes. What was it, dost thou ask? In the euphemistic phraseology of my master, it is called what scarce eight English words can convey, and that inadequately, 'The Death-bringer by Consumption of the lungs.' Ay, that was it. A very demander of charnel-houses, and enricher of grave-diggers; able to kiss all unsuspecting beautiful ones with its 'cancerous kisses,' even unto death - death inevitable! Able perniciously to linger, or sternly to work with fearful rapidity in the cause of the unmitigable reaper, whose name is Death. A terror, and a horror of horrors, than which never man conceived aught more horrible. O thou hooded, unseen cobra! whose poison-fang, once exasperate, none can avoid, how would physicians stare to see their utmost wisdom so far behind thy death-shade, their knowledge yet comprehending so much beyond it! How would doctoring old women cast. away their vials and herb-bags in horror, to think that in them was cherished thy might and thy misery!]
* This, O mine heir!' continued Abdallah, after a full explanation of the method of concocting the poison, and also of the different doses which would produce different effects, (which, for convenience, he numbered One, Two, and Three. This is the
, ) “ fruit of my toil, and the ghastly changeling procreated of my unholy study. My long experience in its uses, my anatomical researches — which I, who was above the prejudices of my time and my people, sedulously and unscrupulously pursued - have taught
me its peculiar effects; and so carefully did I study its operation upon men of different humors, and different frames, that I could predict its every period and climax with exact certainty, and thus gained for myself the additional reputation of a necromancer.'
[Here followed a description of the manner in which the poison worked, elaborately wrought out, and with such surprising accuracy that, malgré, the obscure terminology, it would not do discredit to any modern professor, were he to avow it his own composition. I have never seen any pathological exegesis at once so terse, brief, clear, and comprehensive. Mixed with much error were truths that out-ran any medical inductions prior to the last twenty years. In fact, he traced out the connection, or rather the identity between consumption and scrofula, showing them to be simply different manifestations of the same strumous habit. This he found by direct experiment: the poison, which in the parent developed its fatal power by means of tubercle, being accustomed to manifest itself in the child by means of scrofular affections of the surface. I do not mean, of course, that he generalized upon his facts with the broad-based wisdom of some modern writers, but he proved himself an unprejudiced and accurate observer, and demonstrated his facts clearly, with a not ordinary appreciation of their connection and tendencies. He seemed to know the office of the lungs, and that tuberculosis was dependent upon some disorganization of the blood; for,' says he, the effect of the poison is in this wise. It entereth into the stomach by the natural entrance, and is there mixed up and blended with the humors and fluids that have sway in that region. But, by reason of its wondrous subtlety, it doth not permit itself to be rejected therefrom like other injurious substances, by the way which nature hath provided, but doth treacherously court and persuade the blood of its grand and superior knowledge and excellence, (as did the serpent deceive our great mother into evil,) so that the foolish blood, by means of its many fine channels and passages, doth draw it up into itself, thus purchasing inevitable ruin to the whole fabric that it doth permeate and keep moist. For, being once established in the blood, (which is a mixed substance, as if one should mingle wine and water, it straightway proceeds to cause dissension between these formerly harmonious partners. It then joineth itself, as it were, to one party, and aideth it to expel the other, persuading it that thereby it shall become the perfectést of things. And this is the cause of the ruin that follows. For the place into which the expelled element (which is, I think, the grosser portion of the blood, since after the expulsion, the blood groweth thin and weak,) is upon the surface of the lungs,* and being of a resentful nature, it straightway setteth to work to reïnstate itself, and for this purpose, eateth like gangrene into the substance of the lung, trying to reach the heart, which was formerly its citadel. But this it never
* He makes an exception afterward, in the case of children not arrived at puberty; but, perhaps because few of these had been experimented upon, he is here very obscure, and errs exceedingly.