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Chambers, William / Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 449 Volume 18, New Series, August 7, 1852


No. 449. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, AUGUST 7, 1852. PRICE 1-1/2_d._


The sultan being one day rather out of sorts, sent for his Jewish
physician, a man very eminent for skill in his profession, and not
less distinguished by his love of his own nation and his desperate
enmity to the Christians. Finding that his patient had not really much
the matter with him, and thinking a little gossip would not only be
more agreeable, but more likely to do him good, than any medicine
which could be prescribed, the doctor began to discourse on the very
familiar topic of his highness's favourite bear, which was lying at
his feet, and whose virtues and abilities he was never tired of

'You would wonder,' said the sultan, 'not only at the natural sagacity
of the creature, and the tact which he shews in a thousand different
ways, but at the amount of knowledge he has collected, and the logical
correctness with which he uses it. He is really a very knowing beast.'
The Jew politely acquiesced in all this and much more; but at length
added: 'It is well that such a clever animal is in such good hands. If
his extraordinary talents are not developed to the utmost, they are at
least not perverted and made a bad use of.'

'I hope not, indeed,' said the sultan. 'But what do you mean by his
talents not being developed? or in what way would they be likely to be
perverted in bad hands?'

'Pardon me,' said the Jew; 'I have spoken rashly before your sublime
highness--such things should not be talked of; but it is natural that,
although I know very little about them, I should consider the practice
and the purpose bad, when they belong to what I consider a bad people:
at the same time, if your sublime highness thinks fit to tolerate
them, it is not for your faithful slave to say a word about it. I
should be sorry that your sublime highness should not extend to your
Christian subjects the same toleration and paternal kindness my own
people enjoy.'

'What in the world do you mean?' said the sultan. 'What have the
Christians to do with my bear?'

'Nothing at all,' replied the Jew with great earnestness; and he
added, with a sigh, 'that is the very thing I am thankful for. It is
such a remarkable creature, that there is no saying what might come of

'Come of what?' said the sultan.

'Why,' said the Jew, in a humble and very confidential tone, 'your
sublime highness is of course aware, that among the many curious
secrets the Christians possess, they have one which enables them to
teach bears to read.'

'You don't say so?' exclaimed the sultan. 'How do they contrive it?'

'Ah,' replied the Jew with an internal shudder, 'that is more than I
can tell your sublime highness. I don't suppose that half-a-dozen of
your subjects, except themselves, are aware of the fact; and few even
among the Christians know the secret. I only obtained the little
knowledge I have by accidental circumstances, which put me upon the
inquiry; and I was a long while before I could feel perfectly certain
that they actually did the thing. _How_ they did it, and _why_, I have
never been able to learn. It is one of their greatest secrets, one of
their deepest, and therefore, I suspect, one of their most pernicious
mysteries. I do not suppose that any man among them would confess it
to save his life--not even the old patriarch, if he were put to the

'It is very strange,' said the sultan, after a pause.

'It is wonderful,' said the physician with much emphasis.

'What is the harm of it?' exclaimed the sultan abruptly after a pause.
'Why should not bears read as well as men, if they are capable of

'Most true and most wisely said,' replied the Jew. 'If they were
taught to read good books, it would probably mend their manners. But
if that were all, why should there be so much mystery about it? why
should these people do it so secretly, and deny it so stoutly?' and
again he shook his head, and shuddered. But being fully persuaded that
he had gained his point, he thought it safest to change the subject;
and accordingly he did so as soon as he had emphatically and earnestly
entreated the sultan not to say a word of the secret he had been led
to impart, or, at all events, not to let it be known that _he_ had
given any information on the subject.

When the doctor was gone, the sultan fell into a reverie on the
advantages and disadvantages of his bear learning to read. When he
went to bed, the same train of thought kept him awake; and after a
sleepless night, he sent early in the morning for the patriarch. The
venerable Mar Yusef lost no time in obeying the summons. Taking his
patriarchal staff in his hand, and followed by his two deacons with
their heads bare, and their hands crossed on their bosoms, he silently
bent his way towards the palace, pondering in his mind on all the
various things he could think of as possible causes for his being
wanted by the sultan. The sultan dismissed all his attendants; and as
soon as he and the patriarch were alone, he beckoned him to approach,
and when the aged ecclesiastic had come quite close, and again bowed,
not only out of respect, but instinctively, as one does who expects a
whisper, the sultan said in a low, earnest tone: 'You know my bear?'

'I do, please your sublime highness,' replied Mar Yusef; 'and a very
fine bear he is.'

'I know that,' answered the sultan; 'but the matter is this,' and he
lowered his voice, and increased the earnestness of his tone: 'You
must teach him to read.'

'To read!' exclaimed the patriarch, thunderstruck. 'To read! the thing
is impossible.'

'Of course, I knew you would say that,' said the sultan; 'you must do
it, however, or it will be the worse for you and for all your people.'

'Most willingly would I do that, or anything lawful, to shew my
respect for your sublime highness,' said the astonished patriarch;
'but, as I have already had the honour to observe, the thing is

'Don't tell me,' said the sultan. 'I know more about the matter than
you imagine. There is no use in trying to conceal it. I know upon
undoubted authority, that you have taught bears, and many of them, I
daresay, of less capacity than mine. I shall send him to you this
evening, and if you do not bring him back in six weeks able to read,
it will be as I have already told you--at your peril, and to the ruin
of all that belong to you. So, now, do not waste time, for I am quite
in earnest about it; but go and make preparations to receive him, for
he has been used to courteous treatment.'

This speech was accompanied by a wave of the hand, which precluded all
reply, and the troubled patriarch silently and slowly withdrew.

'My children,' said the patriarch on his way home, addressing the two
young men who were supporting him, 'the sultan has resolved to destroy
us, and all the Christians in his dominions. He is seeking occasion
against us. He does not make open war upon us; but he secretly
commands us to do what is impossible, in order that he may have a
pretext for our destruction. He requires that in six weeks we should
teach his bear to read!'

'The old brute!' exclaimed the deacon Timothy.

'My father,' said the other deacon, Titus, 'suffer me to speak.'

'Speak, my son,' replied the aged man, in a voice scarcely articulate,
while he gently withdrew his hand, and laid it on the deacon's head;
'what wouldst thou say?'

'Under favour, most dear and reverend father,' replied Titus, 'I would
say that, whatever the sultan's design may be, you should not be
discouraged; and that if you will only do one thing, which I earnestly
entreat you to do, I will cheerfully undertake all the rest, and I
doubt not that we may get clear through this difficulty.'

'What would you have me do, my son?' said the patriarch.

'Just this,' replied the deacon, 'if I may be permitted to advise: go
back to the sultan as quickly as possible, and say that, on
consideration, you are sorry that you hesitated--that you will be
happy to receive his bear--that you will do your best, and hope to
give him satisfaction in the matter.'

'What! my son,' said the patriarch, 'would you have me go to the
sultan, and undertake to teach his bear _to read_? You do not know how
difficult it is even to teach young children.' But the deacon pleaded
so earnestly, that his superior at length consented; and returning to
the palace, the patriarch signified to the sultan, that he had thought
better of the subject, and was willing to do anything in his power to
give his sublime highness satisfaction.

'No doubt you can, if you will,' said the sultan hastily, but not in
ill-humour; 'and I expect you to do it--you might as well have agreed
to it at once.'

When the patriarch was at home, seated in his armchair, with his
deacons standing on each side, and a little recovered from the fatigue
of the walk, he turned to Titus, and said: 'Well, my son, and what am
I to do now?'

'Nothing, my father,' replied the deacon cheerfully. 'You have done
all I asked you to do, and what remains I will readily undertake.'

So he made his bow, and set off to make his arrangements. He chose a
little square room up one pair of stairs in the north turret, and
parted off about a third of it with strong horizontal bars, six inches
apart. The two lowest bars were movable, and the spaces between them
left open, to admit air and light, as well as to allow the inmate to
go in and be brought out at the pleasure of his keepers; but all above
them were boarded over, except that one which was of such a height as
would be about even with the bear's head when he should stand on his
hind legs. This space was left open along the whole length of the den,
so that, in any part of it, he could very conveniently put forth his
nose far enough to look about him.

'And now,' said Titus to his comrade Timothy, when he had completed
these preparations, 'I must go to seek for a book and a desk; and if
they bring the bear before I come back, will you be so good as to see
him put in, and also to mind that the other end of the chain, which I
have padlocked to the staple in the wall, is fastened to his collar,
and is long enough to allow of his lying down comfortably in the
straw, and taking a little turn backwards and forwards, if he likes?
and don't let them give him anything to eat, and take care not to be
out of the way--that is a good fellow.'

'You may depend upon me,' said Timothy; and Titus went off to the
church, to see about a lectionary, for the bear to study, though, to
say the truth, not entirely, or even principally, with that intention;
for he did not mean that his pupil should commence that day, or the
next; and he was in no doubt which to choose among many old
lectionaries that had been laid aside. There was an immense one, with
great brass knobs and corners, out of which he had himself learned to
chant long before he could lift it, and indeed, now that he was come
to man's estate, it was as much as he could carry. This book he meant
to use; but for the present he contented himself with observing from
the window the bear coming to school in procession; and when he was
satisfied that his pupil was in safe custody, he descended from the
church-tower, and went to see after him. When he came to the door of
the apartment, he waited a moment to listen to what seemed an
interchange of anything but civilities between Timothy and his charge.
Titus called out his colleague; and, without going in himself, locked
the door, and put the key in his pocket.

'Won't you go in and look at him?' said Timothy, as they went down the
staircase together.

'Time enough,' said Titus; 'he will be better by himself just at
present. Had you much trouble in getting him in? How did he behave?'

'Rather restive,' replied Timothy; 'but we managed it among us. Should
not he have something to eat?'

'No,' said Titus; 'he has got plenty of water; he will do very well.
But now come and help me down with the old lectionary from the upper
vestry, for I don't think I can get it down that staircase myself.'
Between them the lectionary was safely brought down, and deposited,
not in the apartment, which we may now call the school-room, but in
the chamber of Titus, on a massy oak desk or lectern, which turned
upon its pedestal, and which they brought out from the patriarch's
library for the purpose.

It was well that the school-room was rather remote, and had thick
walls; for, missing his supper, the bear naturally became not only
hungry, but savage, growled in the most ferocious manner, and rampaged
about his cage like a fury. But he got nothing by it; and when he had
drunk up the water, and exhausted his powers of growling and raging,
he went to sleep. In the morning, Titus brought him merely some fresh
water and a cake of barley-bread; but in the afternoon, thinking it
was now time for his pupil--who was tolerably tame after his unwonted
exercise and fasting--to begin his studies, he brought with him the
great book he had prepared for his use, and placed it open on the
desk, which now stood before the horizontal opening between the bars
already described. All the morning had been employed in preparing the
desk and the book; and the former was now so contrived that, by means
of a screw, the latter could be raised or lowered at pleasure. The
book was no sooner placed before the opening, at the distance of a few
inches, than the bear, which was on the look-out to see what was going
forward, began to snuff and poke, and shewed a most eager desire to
reach it. In fact, all along the lines of large letters, which were
widely divided by the musical staves, the tutor, well knowing the
taste of his pupil, had stuck little figs, dates, raisins, almonds,
morsels of cake, comfits, and dried fruits; in short, all such little
sweet things as bears so particularly delight in. The book was placed
at such a height and distance, that the pupil could only reach the top
line; and the eager manner in which he cleared it, gave promise that
he would prove an apt scholar in that branch of learning. One page
only was thus prepared for him; for at that period of his education it
would have been impossible, without harsher measures than his tutor
wished to adopt, to prevent him from cross-readings, which would
greatly have blemished his scholarship. Some minor offences, such, for
instance, as inordinate efforts to begin upon a second line before he
had regularly perused the first, were punished by switching him on the
nose, turning the double desk round--in which case it presented him
with a mirror, that frightened him dreadfully--or even, in case of
perverseness, leaving him to himself, without giving him the
substantial honey-cake, which always rewarded a well-said lesson. In a
short time the parties began to understand one another, and as Titus
had prudently taken care to be known to his pupil only as a
benefactor, he soon gained his confidence. The bear who, like all his
race, had an ardent love for such dainties, found that he was welcome
to eat all he could get, if he did but do it in a decent methodical
manner. He soon learned, therefore, to take each line as it came; and,
indeed, after a short time, his instructor not only ventured to cover
the lines of the two open pages at the same time, but by enlarging the
opening in front of his cell, he put it in his pupil's power to go on
from one line to another without the book being raised; and after the
tutor had for a week or two turned the leaf when necessary, the pupil
began to shew that, if it was not done for him, he could do it for

As the time drew on, the patriarch was most anxious to know, but did
not venture to ask, how matters were going on. At length he summoned
courage, and put the question, somewhat indirectly, to Titus; and
although he received no particulars, yet he could not help feeling
comforted by the cheerful manner in which his affectionate deacon
assured him that everything was going on rightly, and that he need
have no fear for the result.

In the meantime, the sultan, though less anxious, was intensely
curious to see what would come of the matter, and frequently entered
into conversation on the subject with his physician, who was, on
somewhat different grounds, still more curious than himself. His
sublime highness, however, who could not expect from a Jew much
information respecting the secrets and mysteries of the Christians,
rather confined the discourse between them to the physiological part
of the subject, expressing his wonder--first, that bears should be
able to learn to read; and, secondly, that such a capacity was not
more frequently cultivated, asking him, withal, whether he had ever
himself heard a bear read? The doctor, in parliamentary fashion,
blinked the question; observing that as it was done by secret
practices, and no doubt for wicked purposes, it was best to say as
little as possible about it. His sublime highness was not altogether
satisfied, but comforted himself with thinking that time would soon
throw light on the matter.

At length the day arrived when the bear's proficiency was to be put to
the test. The sultan was seated on a divan in his hall of audience;
his ministers and officers of state stood on either side; and behind
him knelt his Jewish physician, who assumed that position, because,
although he would not have failed, even at the hazard of his life, to
be present, yet he had no strict right to be there; and, moreover, he
did not particularly wish to be seen in the business. All were in
breathless expectation when the Christian procession entered. The
patriarch walked first, with his crosier in his hand; next came Titus,
the tutor, bowed down under the huge lectionary, which he bore upon
his back, secured by leathern straps over his shoulders; then followed
Timothy, leading by a chain the carefully-muzzled pupil. This
precaution was quite necessary; for, having been kept fasting
four-and-twenty hours, the animal was in no good-humour, and would not
have been so quietly brought in, if it had not been closely following
the favourite book. But, in fact, the only trouble which Timothy had,
was to prevent his eager charge from leaping at the volume while it
was yet on his tutor's back. The procession was closed by a porter,
bearing the desk, who, under the direction of Titus, placed it before
the sultan, at such a distance as would conveniently enable the reader
to stand between it and his sublime highness, who might thus see the
book over his favourite's shoulder. Titus himself, thus relieved of
his burden by its transfer to the desk, went round into the reader's
place, and opened the ample leaves of the lectionary; while, to the
great amusement of the sultan, Timothy was exerting his energies to
the utmost to keep back the eager pupil.

'He seems fond of his book, however,' said the sultan; 'that looks
well.' And all the circle bowed assent.

At length, having arranged the volume to his satisfaction, Titus
received his pupil from the hands of his colleague. The bear stood up
manfully to his task; but it need scarcely be said, he was sadly
disappointed when he found that, unlike itself, the beloved book
contained no sweets; not a morsel, though the often-travelled,
much-licked, and still-besmeared lines retained the well-known scent
and savour. He ran his nose over one line after another, all down the
first page, then down the second, and then somewhat impatiently turned
the leaf.

'Well,' cried the sultan, 'he certainly seems to take a great interest
in it himself; and he may understand it perfectly, for aught I know;
but I wish he would read aloud. I should like to hear him. Will you be
so good as to tell him so?' he added, addressing the patriarch.

The venerable Mar Yusef was puzzled, and, as people often do when they
are puzzled, he made a bow, but could think of nothing to say. Titus,
however, promptly dropped on his knees between the bear and the
sultan; and addressing the latter, he said: 'Your sublime highness
will hear him presently; be pleased to give him a little time. Let him
not be harshly judged, if he is a little timid and shy. This is his
first attempt in public.'

As he said this, the deacon saw the twinkle of the Jew's eye over the
sultan's shoulder. It was only for a moment, and nobody but Titus
himself knew that he had seen it at all, so intently did he seem to be
occupied in comforting and encouraging--perhaps we should say
exciting, his pupil. The bear, however, being disappointed line after
line, and page after page, and only stimulated and irritated by the
scent and the slight taste which he could get by thrusting the tip of
his tongue through his muzzle, began to growl most awfully, as he
still went on mechanically, line after line, and turned the leaves
with increased rapidity and vehemence. This continued for some time,
until the pupil was evidently getting into a passion, and the tutor
was growing rather nervous, when the sultan shewed a disposition to
speak, which Titus most thankfully interpreted as an intimation that
the experiment had been carried far enough. He instantly quieted his
pupil, not so much by the order which he gave, as by shewing him a
honey-cake, which nobody else saw, handed the chain to Timothy, and
prepared to listen.

'As I observed before,' said the sultan, 'he certainly does seem to
take a vast interest in it himself; and I daresay he understands it:
but as to his elocution, I must say that it seems to me somewhat
inarticulate.' The patriarch was puzzled again, and again he bowed,
lower than before. The Jew chuckled, and whispered something in the
sultan's ear. But Titus was not disconcerted. Falling again on his
knees, he exclaimed: 'Pardon me, your sublime highness, we consider
him a remarkably good reader, an animal of excellent parts, and a
pupil who does us great credit. It is true, as your sublime highness's
discrimination has observed, that his enunciation, even to those who
know the language, may have some appearance of indistinctness, because
he is defective in the vowel-points; but we cannot help it, for all
our books are unpointed. In this, which, indeed, we consider a matter
of little importance, we do not pretend to compete with the Jews, who
teach theirs from pointed books. If your sublime highness ever heard a
bear read more articulately than this one, it must have been one of
theirs; and if you would have your own perfected in that particular,
you must put it into their hands.' The sultan stared at the deacon;
and the Jew eyed him over the sultan's shoulder with fierce alarm. But
the hands of Titus were folded on his breast, and his head was bowed
down on his hands.

'Well,' said the sultan to the patriarch, after a pause, during which
it was obvious that some things were passing through his mind, of
which he said nothing, 'I thank you for the pains you have taken; and
although I cannot say that I quite understand the matter now, yet if I
had known six weeks ago as much as I do at present, I would not have
troubled you. If you are ever in want of any help or protection,
remember, as I shall, that you have obliged me.'

The patriarch bowed. The sultan rose and retired, resolved that his
first business should be to come to a full explanation with his
doctor; and accordingly, a summons for the Israelite was instantly
issued. Very long it seemed to the sultan--although, in fact, it was
only half an hour--before the vizier came to report, that the doctor
was nowhere to be found.

'Well,' said the sultan, 'I do not much wonder at that. I always
thought him a wise man, and he is certainly no fool to get out of the
way now. But, at the same time, let strict search be made; and also
bring me the chief rabbi.'

In the confusion occasioned by the breaking up of the company, the
tutor and his pupil--the latter of whom had naturally dropped into the
less ostentatious posture of a quadruped--were forgotten, or at least
overlooked, by the crowd of courtiers, who rushed to congratulate Mar
Yusef, or laid their heads together, to whisper their surprise or
their suspicions. Titus, therefore, having briefly given directions to
Timothy to take care that the book was removed, and to see the
patriarch home, and make an excuse for his staying behind, slipped
with his amiable charge through a side-door into the garden, where he
seated himself on a bench, while his companion stood opposite to him
on his hind legs, looking wistfully, he almost thought reproachfully,
in his face. In truth, Titus was conscious that he had tried the
temper of his pupil, and was afraid to let him loose before company,
or, indeed, to let him go into company at all, until he should have
brought him into good-humour. He had provided himself with ample means
of doing this; and having produced more than one honey-cake, and
several other good things, and laid them on the bench beside him, he
did not hesitate to unmuzzle his friend, and a merry meal they made

If the master was rendered happy by the issue of an experiment which
had been matter of such great and long anxiety, the pupil was also
raised to a state of the highest possible good-humour, by being at
once relieved from restraint and hunger. He looked cheerily about him;
seemed as if for the first time he recognised his old haunts; gamboled
through the now deserted hall and passages; and, before he had been
missed by anybody, found his way, by a short cut, to his own rug in
the sultan's apartment.

For a moment, indeed, while occupied in anticipating the explanation
which he had resolved to extort from his doctor, the sultan, like his
courtiers, had forgotten his favourite; but now the meeting was most
cordial on both sides. The sultan seemed determined to make up for his
neglect; and the favourite to shew, that neither scholarship, nor the
discipline requisite for obtaining it, had diminished his social
affections or companionable qualities.

At length the rabbi arrived. He had, indeed, been a little longer than
was necessary on the way, because he had found some means of
persuading the messenger to let him call on two or three friends as he
came along. He did not lose much time by this, however; his only
object being to ask them, to what extent they could help him in case
the loan should be very large. Satisfied on this point, and
preoccupied by the thoughts which had suggested the inquiry, he stood
before the sultan. Great, therefore, was his surprise, when his
sublime highness, instead of saying a word about money-matters,
briefly, but clearly, explained to him the nature of the business in
which his service was required.

'Your sublime highness is pleased to jest with your servant,' said the
rabbi, as soon as he could command breath enough to utter the words.

'Not at all,' replied the sultan; 'you will find me quite in earnest,
I assure you. He reads, and, I am told, reads as well as can be
expected _without_ the points; now you must teach him to read _with_

The rabbi was utterly confounded. He could only bow down his head,
wondering what the sultan could mean, and what he would say next, and
whether it would throw any light on what he had said already. So his
sublime highness continued, with some asperity: 'Do not think to
deceive me. I know all about the matter. You _can_ do it, and you had
better not hesitate; for I am in no humour to be trifled with. I gave
the Christians six weeks, and I'll give you the same. Don't answer,
but go, and he shall be sent to you.'

The unhappy rabbi returned home in a state of bewilderment. He sent
for some of his friends to consult with, most of whom were as much
surprised as he had been, when they learned the nature of the business
which had produced the summons. Only one of them, who happened to be a
friend of the missing doctor, seemed to know anything about the
matter; and he could not throw much light upon it. He could only tell
them, for their comfort, that it was a very serious affair, and they
must mind what they were about.

It would be only tiresome, if it were possible, to particularise all
the suggestions and discussions which ensued. They were still going on
when the bear arrived, and was duly installed in an apartment which
had been prepared for him, as well as it could be on such short
notice; for all agreed, that he must be treated with great care and
attention, not only in order to propitiate him, but because it might
be dangerous to let him return in worse condition than he came. So
neither trouble nor cost was spared to make him comfortable; and very
comfortable he was: supplied with every luxury, crammed with dainties,
and petted in every conceivable way. But whatever progress he might
make in the study of mankind, and in other branches of useful
knowledge, it was plain that he was making none in that particular
branch of learning for which he had been sent to school. His
instructors did not know how to deal with him. He was on easy terms
with all about him, would play with anybody, and quarrelled with
nobody; but learn he would not. When they held a book before him, he
thrust his nose into the cream-bowl; when they spoke of Pathach and
Segol, he shut one eye, and munched figs; and when, 'as a bird each
fond endearment tries,' they set up a stave which might have made the
very learned the Masorites to dance for joy, in the hope that
instinctively, or by mere love of imitation, he might be led to join
in the chorus, he only threw himself on his back, and fairly roared
them down.

Sensible of all this, and of its probable consequences, the
instructors had not been idle in another direction. They had used
their utmost endeavours to learn how the pupil had been dealt with by
his former tutor. But all their inquiries were fruitless. Titus had
kept his secret so effectually, that even Timothy knew little, if
anything, more than other people; or, in other words, more than had
been transacted before the sultan and his court. But in collecting all
such information as could be gleaned, they were indefatigable, and
were scrupulously careful to imitate everything which had been done,
not knowing what hidden virtue there might be in things apparently
trivial. They provided a great book and a desk; and did, and were
prepared to do, all that, so far as they could learn, had been done
before. And so matters went on, until the time came for them to
produce their pupil.

The sultan was led, by various considerations, to think that it would
be better to have the examination rather more private than the former
one had been; and, accordingly, at the time appointed, the rabbi and
his companions were brought into his private apartment. They had no
hope that the book and desk--which, however, they had taken care to
provide--would be wanted by their pupil; and indeed for some time past
their thoughts had been turned from any attempts at instruction, and
employed in framing an apology, in doing which they flattered
themselves that they had succeeded tolerably well.

The pupil, who had grown corpulent under his late course of treatment,
did not at first raise his lazy, half-shut eyes high enough from the
ground to see the desk and open book, which were clever imitations, if
not quite facsimiles of forms deeply impressed on his memory, and
calculated to produce very stimulating recollections. As soon as they
caught his eye, he seemed to be seized with sudden passion, dashed at
the book, and overthrew the whole concern. Fiercely did he thrust his
nose and paws between the leaves, and turn them, and tear them, and
trample them. At length, exhausted by his exertions--to say nothing of
his having previously had more exercise than usual--he waddled away to
his well-known rug, absolutely declined all invitations either to work
or play, and lay there watching the company through his half-shut
eyes, in a state of stupid repose, which those who had just watched
his effervescence did not care to interrupt.

'Well,' said the sultan to the rabbi and his friends, 'you are a
strange set of people. When I put my bear into your hands, he read
fluently, and _con amore_; and all you had to do, was to perfect his
articulation. Instead of that, you bring him back fat, stupid, and
savage, and so far from reading better, unable to read at all. It
would serve you right, if I were to hang the whole set of you, and
confiscate all your goods; but I am a merciful man, and will be
content with banishment.'

So an order was immediately issued for banishing the Jews from the
dominions of the sultan; and they all made off as fast as they could,
not knowing that their own countryman had been at the bottom of all,
or having any idea of the explanation which is here laid before the


[1] This is in substance a tradition still current among those Eastern
Christians who are 'dwellers in Mesopotamia.'


There is a certain degree of satisfaction to the inquiring mind in
knowing that, even in these days of aptness for discovering and
explaining everything, there yet remains something to be found out;
something to excite speculation and recompense research. Such a
subject is the zodiacal light, which, for nearly two centuries past,
has at different times occupied the attention of astronomers and other
observers of celestial phenomena, though it is only of late years that
the theories concerning it have acquired anything like a precise
character. Many ingenious hypotheses have been thrown out, which may
perhaps be accepted as steps towards a true explanation; and while
waiting the result of further inquiry, we shall endeavour to make our
readers acquainted with the interesting phenomenon.

The zodiacal light is a peculiar brightness, pyramidal or wedge-like
in form, seen at certain periods of the year in the eastern or western
sky, before sunrise and after sunset. Its direction is in the line of
the zodiac, whence its name--not perpendicular to the horizon, but at
a varying angle, being in the spring from 60 to 70 degrees. The base
of the wedge, which has a breadth generally of from 10 to 12 degrees,
is below, and the sides rise in a line, curving outwards, to the apex,
but so vague and diffuse as to be frequently indefinable. In our
latitudes, it is best seen at or just after the equinoxes; before
sunrise in autumn, and after sunset in spring; and becomes invisible
as twilight increases, or if the moon shines; the light even of Venus
and Jupiter is sufficient to render its discovery difficult. It is
brightest at the base, and grows fainter the further it stretches from
the horizon, vanishing entirely at the point. Unpractised observers
would be apt to overlook it altogether, and those accustomed to watch
the heavens are at times obliged to fix one eye on a dark space of
sky, while they search for the light with the other, and discover it
only by the contrast. A stratum of black cloud resting on the horizon
often affords a means of detection, as the light can then be seen
shooting from it with comparative distinctness. The soft, clear
atmosphere which usually precedes or follows rain, is very favourable
to a view of the light.

The luminous wedge varies in length with the progress of the seasons:
sometimes but little more than its point is visible; at others, it is
seen extending over a space of 120 degrees. Astronomically speaking,
the axis of the zodiacal light is said to lie in the plane of the
solar equator, with an angle of more than 7 degrees to the ecliptic,
which it consequently intersects, the points of intersection becoming
its nodes, and these nodes are the parts through which the earth
passes in March and September. The light travels forward along the
zodiacal signs from Gemini to Cancer and Leo from August to November,
keeping pace with the sun. It grows dim towards the end of November,
and fades more and more until January; but while this decrease has
been going on in the east, and in the morning, the light has presented
itself with increasing brightness in the west, and in the evening, and
pursues its course until the end of February at about the same rate of
motion. In March, it is slow, and travels through not more than one
sign, and fades in April, and is lost in May, to reappear again at the
end of summer, and perform the same route.

Lengthened twilight is not favourable to the appearance of the
zodiacal light; it can, therefore, be observed successfully in the
temperate latitudes only by patient and long-continued watching. But
in tropical regions, the deep azure of the sky, and the brief
twilight, give it a distinctness and luminosity never witnessed
elsewhere. In Egypt, we are told it is clearly 'visible every night,
except when the light of the moon is too great, from January to June;'
and in India its appearance is described as that of 'a pyramid of
faint aurora-borealis like light' usually preceding the dawn. Humboldt
tells us, that he has seen it shine with greater brightness than the
Milky Way, from different parts of the coast of South America, and
from places on the Andes more than 13,000 feet above the sea-level.

'Those who have dwelt long,' he writes, 'in the zone of palms, must
retain a pleasing remembrance of the mild radiance of this phenomenon,
which, rising pyramidally, illumines a portion of the unvarying length
of the tropical nights.' And once, during a voyage from Lima to
Mexico, he saw it in greater magnificence than ever before. 'Long
narrow clouds, scattered over the lovely azure of the sky, appeared
low down in the horizon, as if in front of a golden curtain, while
bright varied tints played from time to time on the higher clouds: it
seemed a second sunset. Towards that side of the heavens, the light
diffused appeared almost to equal that of the moon in her first

The zodiacal light can hardly fail of having been observed by
astronomers in the past ages of the world; but the earliest known
mention of it occurs in the _Britannia Baconica_, published by
Childrey in 1661. The writer says: 'There is another thing which I
recommend to the observation of mathematical men--which is, that in
February, and for a little before and a little after that month--as I
have observed for several years together--about six in the evening,
when the twilight hath almost deserted the horizon, you shall see a
plainly discernible way of the twilight, striking up towards the
Pleiads, and seeming almost to touch them. It is so observed any clear
night, but it is best _illć nocte_. There is no such way to be
observed at any other time of the year. But what the cause of it in
nature should be, I cannot yet imagine, but leave it to further
inquiry.' The further inquiry followed soon afterwards, for Cassini,
the eminent French astronomer, having carefully observed the
phenomenon from 1683 to 1688, communicated the results to the Académie
des Sciences. Some of his views and determinations were well founded;
and from them we gather that the zodiacal light was nearly or quite
the same in his day as at present. Others also devoted considerable
attention to it, and noticed the variations in brightness in different
years, which subsequent observations have verified. Since then, it has
been made more or less a subject of investigation by modern
astronomers, and has been observed in many parts of the world; the
first observations in the southern hemisphere being those made by
Professor Smyth at the Cape of Good Hope, from 1843 to 1845. In that
latitude, the zodiacal light is best seen in spring evenings, at an
angle of 30 degrees, visible long after sunset; its opposite peak is
discernible at daybreak, but has scarcely come into view before the
rising sun overpowers it. In autumn, the reverse takes place; the best
appearance is in the morning.

To understand what is meant by the 'opposite peak,' we are to regard
the zodiacal light, of which we see only one end in our latitudes, as
a body extending all round the sun in the same form, presenting at a
distance the appearance of one of those flat elongated oval nebulć
seen in the heavens. Its direction is at right angles to that of the
sun's rotation, a straight line drawn from either pole of the great
luminary divides it in the centre.

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Library mainpage -> Chambers, William -> Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 449 Volume 18, New Series, August 7, 1852