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PANTIKA, OR TRADITIONS OF THE MOST ANCIENT TIMES.
By WILLIAM HOWITT.-London: Whittaker & Co. On opening this work and perceiving the plan of it as developed in the preface, we were struck with the adventurous spirit therein displayed. However beautiful and grand our conceptions of the world's young days, they probably owe very much of their beauty and grandeur to the indistinctness of those pictures which we have of them in the sacred writings. It has been said that Milton is a poet to whom no painter can render justice; and notwithstanding the productions of Fuseli, Lawrence, and Martin, we cannot but agree in this opinion. Our ideas of the poet's representations have always been lowered when we have seen them in the detail of canvass; the Lucifer of our mind was so much more vast, more utterly lost and despairing, than the outlined and well-defined painting. We did not like to reduce our imagination to a set form, but would fain have continued to picture the fallen archangel as a mighty and magnificent shape of mist and gloom. A similar feeling has been excited by the perusal of Pantika. We could not be satisfied to have our imagination confined, like the vapoury genius of the Arabian Nights in his copper urn, to the fabrications of Mr. Howitt, but would rather that the earth's childhood should still have remained bosomed in that dim and shadowy grandeur from which he has sought to withdraw it.
There is, however, much in the work that is poetical and beautiful; and much that will give pleasure to the reader, if he have but patience to wade through a rather tiresomely-prolonged introduction, in which Pantika describes his cravings after a purer and holier religion than that prevailing in his native Tarshish, and relates his travels far and wide in search of a more ennobling worship. In this part there are one or two striking descriptions; and the closing incident, which brings him acquainted with the peculiar people of God, is touchingly imagined. He does not see them in their pomp and pride of place, where their possession of exclusive privileges would have rendered them perhaps repulsive rather than otherwise to the heathen ; but where, in a stranger land and the yoke of bondage, their hearts were subdued and softened.
It is always trying to an author to come in contact with Scripture. The extreme simplicity and poetry of the expressions of the Holy Book—the charm which lies in passages which have perchance been read to us in our childhood with the solemn music of the voice we have loved best in the world, these have associations which cling round the heart, to make us almost resent any attempt to give us their sense in any other language
than their own. At least this has been our feeling when reading Pope's famous paraphrase of Isaiah, Parnell's of I Cor. xiii. &c. And it was with something of this in our mind that we glanced our eye over the coming page, and saw that the captive Israelites whom Pantika met by the waters of the mighty Euphrates, were made to utter forth a song. We thought of the splendidly pathetic Psalm, By the rivers of Babylon there we sat downyea, we wept when we remembered Sion;' and we half deter, mined not to be pleased with the poem before us.
But as a punishment for such hasty judgment, we found ourselves compelled to admire :Low! low! in our darkness, low! Low! low! in our darkness, low! By the alien-river's side,
By the alien-river's side, Where blow the weeping lilies,
Where blow the weeping lilies, Our tears how can we hide!
Our tears how can we hide ! Father! how hast thou cast us
In thy pleasant land all planted From thy loving arms away,
Beneath the palm and vine, Where once, like happy infants,
Where the rocks o'erflowd with honey, All fearlessly we lay.
What race was like to thine! Pather ! how hast thou changed
But we knew not all our blessing,
Our feeble spirits fell !
And a l again was well !
But now, thus peeled and banished, Thy arm that once was bare,
The prophet-voice is o'er; When the giant nations trembled, And thy love, and thy loving-kindness, And melted in despair.
Return, return no more ! Thy banner then was o'er us;
Low! low! in our darkness, low! Thy pillar and thy light
By the alien-river's side, Went on with us, thy children,
Where blow the weeping lilies, Rejoicing in thy sight.
Our tears how can we lide! Pantika is deeply affected by the religion which thus could teach men to look up to God, as their living fostering Father,' and eagerly enquires about their worship, their nation, their history. Sojourning near Babylon in order to carry on his researches, there comes a rumour that the king has seized Jerusalem, plundered the holy shrine, and put all to the sword. While the Hebrews are struck to the ground by this intelligence, a messenger arrives in breathless haste, and tells that God hath not forgotten Israel that his death-angel hath passed over the host of the Assyrian, and they all lie distorted and pale. Curious to ascertain the truth of these tidings, Pantika visits Judea, converses with the sages of Israel, hears from them the Traa ditions of the most Ancient Times,' and rich with treasures of knowledge, returns to Tarshish.
The Traditions are six in number. In our opinion Mr. Howitt has succeeded best in those in which he has not employed supernatural agency
A truly pious mind will ever shrink from imagining the blasphemous murmurings of rebellious spirits ; and we know many tenderly-devout persons who would rather avoid those passages in Milton (although so reverently touched) where Satan is made to upbraid the Almighty. In · Nichar, or the Exile of Heaven,' there are parts in which the evil and banished ones give vent to their repinings in words which are offensive to our feelings, and which we should have admired Mr. Howitt more if he could not have written. We shall pass on from Nichar to The Avenger of Blood,' which we admire most of all, though perhaps the former may be the more popular, from its fulness of the marvellous and supernatural. Of the latter we shall endeavour to give a slight sketch, in order to introduce a few extracts more intelligibly. It opens with a glowing description of the glories of the youthful Solomon, in whose time the occurrences of the story are supposed to have taken place. From the contemplation of its splendour, we pass by a beautiful contrast to the peaceful dwelling of Jathniel on the quiet plains of Engeddi. Jathniel is an aged man of substance, once a friend of David, and at the opening of the narrative he and his wife are living together in tranquil happiness with their two daughters. The characters of these Jewish maidens are very delicately defined in their differences and similitudes the stately Hamutal,' and the sweet Iene,' with her warm and passionate heart, full of enthusiasm and graceful talents
. There is a son Dalphon, and a kinsman Ahlab, to complete this happy family. Dalphon is the spirited masculine of his younger sister lene, and Ahlab, betrothed to Hamutal, is one of those placid, well-judging characters, who are the centres of so much happiness in real life, but who make but little figure in a stirring tale. Dalphon goes to the wars, and returns with an all-fascinating friend Talmai, who soon becomes attached and engaged to Iene. She loves with all the fervour and devotedness of a character like her's; but alas ! for true love, Talmai is proved to be a libertine and an idolater by indisputable facts, and the heart of the tender and pure lene is broken. This discovery is made during Dalphon's absence. When he returns and sees the wreck of peace which he accuses himself of causing by his introduction of the specious Talmai, he sets forth in quest of the deceiver, accompanied by his faithful dependent Shallum. They trace him to Zidon, the stirring mart of the world :
• The city rose eastward, steep above steep, terrace above terrace, covering a vast extent of receding hills, and showing, the higher it reached, more ample and splendid abodes, gardens and temples. Below, a dense and vast mass of houses exhibited a population numerous as the locusts of the desert. As they approached the quays, wide cellars and store-rooms received and gave out ponderous bales and casks, urged to and fro, and raised by men of stature and bulk, gigantic in comparison of the rest of the population, as if a remnant of the children of Anakim had been preserved for this labour; and the quays themselves struck them with silent astonishment. Far westward they saw the mighty sea rolling onward, its billows heaving and swelling beneath the bright sun, as if only to send thither wealth from the whole world. They saw ships going out and coming in, and innumerable small vessels glancing to and fro on every side ; while along the tall and massy sides of the harbour, built of ponderous stones, as for everlasting endurance, were drawn up, as it appeared to them, the fleets of the universe. Endless masts reared themselves far as the eye could reach; and every fashion and size of vessel lay before them: some savagely showy, with their uncouth gods, or animals which symbolized them, at their prows. Their sides and sterns painted with vermillion, blue and black, and glittering with gold. Some Aapping their light pennons to the breeze, extending their ranks of oars like wings of many plumes; and looking, with their decks covered with Egyptian carpet, as fitted to sail on the seas of heaven: while others, heavy and vast and dark, seemed like the slaves of the ocean, made to go slowly from shore to shore, with laborious crews and ponderous freightage. Here they beheld some crowded with, or disembarking, bands of those mercenary troops-swarth Ethiopians, to whom the Zidonians committed the defence of their city, or ihose grotesque and malicious Nubian pigmies, who acted as archers on the walls. Here sate grave captains and merchants, watching with placid eyes the labours of their people; and in others huge, black, and shining Africans, with white skirts and jewelled ears, basking in the sun, still as statues, and as if they could not drink in enow of those beams in which they had been nurtured. All around floated strange odours, and incessant cries; and along those wide pavements, they moved amid heaps of merchandise. Those cedar chests wreathed round with cords, which contained the precious silks of the East;—jars of wine; stores of wheat from their own hills, going forth to far countries; myrrh, aloes, bundles of cinnamon, and other costly spices from Indian shores and islands; with gold and brass, and curious woods for the cunning artificers of the place; horses, cattle, and bleating sheep; apes and peacocks; birds of Africa and Paradise ; the tusks of the elephant in huge piles, and all the wondrous and glittering works of Zidonian and Tyrian toil; knives and swords, arms and armour, countless utensils for domestic use, and baubles, for the luxurious and gay.Every nation had there of its children. It was a multitude endless in its varieties of costume, stature, complexion ; clad in every mode, and in every colour under heaven. Some with faces dark as the fiercest suns could dye them, with eyes flashing like their own jewels as they turned in the sun; others yellow; others, especially the natives of the west, fair ; and with countenances of such a lively nobility, that the two strangers beheld them not without admiration.'
Here they encounter the idolater with his newly-made wife, a priestess of Astarte; and the sight redoubles their wrath. The following day they assail him and his kinsman, and the latter is slain. By this they render themselves liable to the sentence of the law, blood for blood.' The nearest kinsman of the slain, Talmai, the avenger, is behind them, and they fly for their lives to the City of Refuge. It is a spirit-stirring relation, how they seek the covert ways on the lowly hills, and cower beneath the sunbeam lest it should reveal their lurking
forms. And then, the City of Refuge! We must give as long an extract here as our limits will permit.
• It was but a small city, but it was inclosed with high and strong walls. Strong guards paraded the streets, surrounded the tribunal, and were posted at the doors of the prisoners previous to trial; while some with dark and savage countenances, with souls on fire for vengeance, walked sullenly up and down, with fiercely rolling eyes, impatient of the day of trial which should give their victims to their hands. Others, who had been found guilty of manslaughter, and therefore doomed here to spend their lives till the death of the high-priesta period probably equivalent to their own existence--sauntered about or sat in the sun, objects of the most pitiable dejection; watching with vague, dreamy, eyes, the clouds, or the people in the streets, or the very sparrows that chattered and fought in the dust before them. Daily were families coming, some from the distant parts of Israel, to take up their abode with the father, the brother, the husband, who was doomed here to dwell. Women with their children might be continually seen coming down the hills with their ass laden with all their little worldly wealth-weary, yet persevering way-farers, leaving all their old abodes, and old familiar friends, to cheer the one unfortunate heart, imprisoned in the city of crime and sorrow. It was a terrible circumstance, that every high-way to the city was beset with eyes that watched for blood. The nooks and hollows, the little openings between the hills, were tenanted by liers-in-wait, who there erected rude booths of boughs and turf, and were ready at any sound of approach to peep forth. The flying wretch, who traversed these roads with his life in his hands, and beheld the guide- posts with the large words REFUGE!_REFUGE! upon them, like voices of ominous warning sounding into his soul, saw to his inexpressible terror, as he drew near the city, wild, ferocious countenances put forth—fierce glaring eyes gleam, from the black and smoky huts of many a hidden hollow. The wretch who had borne the tedium of many years in the city, smitten at length with a quenchless desire of liberty and home, and hoping, perhaps, that the flight of time, so burthensome to himself, had conquered the vengeful spirit of his adversary, would suddenly sally forth, and find that hatred was stronger than the fear of death. Here would his unweariable foe descry him, spring upon him, and stretch him in his blood. They would observe some woe-begone man, seated on the city wall for days and weeks, gazing fixedly, intensely on some point in the distant horizon, for in that direction should the friend, the succour come, to save him by a certain day: and as the day drew nearer, more eagerly and wildly would he look and look. In the earliest dawn of morning, amid the latest gleam of eve, would he be discerned; and after it came not, perhaps some eye that had noted bim, day by day, on his station, would miss him—and he would be found a battered mass at the rocky foot of the wall. Oh! how fair did the country look even to Dalphon : how fresh-scented the breeze that wandered over those hills : how did he gaze on the dark-forested sides, on the high, snow-capped summits of Hermon—and think even the days when they fled through its wild tracts with vengeance behind themhappy! What, then, was the soul of him who had borne the weight the joyless silence of a long life in that prison-house-entering in the