John Greenleaf Whittier.
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Alas for man when he turns from the light of reason and from the simple and clearly defined duties
of the present life, and undertakes to pry into the mysteries of the future, bewildering himself with
uncertain and vague prophecies, Oriental imagery, and obscure Hebrew texts! Simple cheerful
faith in God as our great and good Father, and love of His children as our brethren, acted out in
all relations and duties, is certainly best for this world, and we believe also the best preparation for
that to come . Once possessed by the falsity that God's design is that man should be wretched and
gloomy here in order to obtain rest and happiness hereafter; that the mental agonies and bodily
tortures of His creatures are pleasant to Him; that, after bestowing upon us reason for our
guidance, He makes it of no avail by interposing contradictory revelations and arbitrary
commands, --there is nothing to prevent one of a melancholie and excitable temperament from
excesses so horrible as almost to justify the old beli ef in demonic obsession.
Charles Brockden Brown, a writer whose merits have not yet beensufficiently acknowledged, has
given a powerful and philosophical analysis of this morbid state of mind - --this diseased
conscientiousness, obeying the mad suggestions of a disordered brain as the injunctions of
Divinity --in his remarkable story of Wieland. The hero of this strange and solemn romance,
inheriting a melancholy and superstitious mental constitution, becomes in middle age the victim of
a deep, and tranquil because deep, fanaticism. A demon in human form, perceiving his state of
mind, wantonly experiments upon it, deepening and intensefying it by a fearful series of illusions
of sight and sound. Tricks of jugglery and ventriloquism seem to his feverish fancies miracles and
omens-- - the eye and the voice of the Almighty piercing the atmosphere of supernatural mystery
in which he has long dwelt. He believes that he is called upon to sacrifice the beloved wife of his
bosom as a testimony of the entire subjugation of his carnal reason and earthly affections to the
Divine will. In the entire range of English literature there is no more thrilling passage than that
which describes the execution of this baleful suggestion. The coloring of the picture is an
intermingling of t he lights of heaven and hell,- soft shades of tenderest pity and warm tints of
unextinguishable love contrasting with the terrible outlines of an insane and cruel purpose, traced
with the blood of murder. The masters of the old Greek tragedy have scarcel y exceeded the
sublime horror of this scene from the American novelist. The murderer confronted with his gentle
and loving victim in her chamber; her anxious solicitude for his health and quiet; her affectionate
caress of welcome; his own relentings and natural shrinking from his dreadful purpose; and the
terrible strength which he supposes is lent him of Heaven, by which he puts down the promptings
and yearnings of his human heart, and is enabled to execute the mandate of an inexorable Being,
---are de scribed with an intensity which almost stops the heart of the reader. When the deed is
done a frightful conflict of passions takes place, which can only be told in the words of the author:
"I lifted the corpse in my arms and laid it on the bed. I gazed upon it with delight. Such was my
elation that I even broke out into laughter. I clapped my hands, and exclaimed, 'It is done ! My
sacred duty is fulfilled ! To that I have sacrificed,' O Go d, Thy last and best gift, my wife !'
"For a while I thus soared above frailty. I imagined I had set myself forever beyond the reach of
selfishness. But my imaginations were false. This rapture quickly subsided. I looked again at my
wife. My joyous ebullitions vanished. I asked myself who it was whom I saw. Methought it could
not be my Catharine; it could not be the woman who had lodged for years in my heart; who had
slept nightly in my bosom; who had borne in her womb and fostered at her breast the beings who
called me father; whom I had w atched over with delight and cherished with a fondness ever new
and perpetually growing. It could not be the same !
"The breath of heaven that sustained 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 torment
and pain. Eternal fire and the bickerings of hell, compared wi th what I felt, were music and a bed
"I thank my God that this was transient; that He designed 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
although this source of human consolation was closed, other s were still open. If the transports of
the husband were no more, the feelings of the father had still scope for exercise. When
remerabrance of their mother should excite too keen a pang, I would look upon my children and
"While I revolved these things new warmth flowed in 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 light and a new mandate were necessary.
"From these thoughts I was recalled by a ray which was shot into the room. A voice spoke like
that 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 mothe r !'"
The misguided man obeys the voice; his children are destroyed in their bloom and innocent
beauty. He is arrested, tried for murder, and acquitted as insane. The light breaks in upon him at
last; he discovers the imposture which has controlled him; and, made desperate by the full
consciousness of his folly and crime, ends the terrible drama by suicide.
Wieland is not a pleasant book. In one respect it resembles the modern tale of Wuthering Hieghts: it has great strength and power, but no beauty. Unlike that, however, it has an important and salutary moral. It is a warning, to all who tamp er with the mind and rashly experiment upon its religious element. As such, its perusal by the sectarian zealots of all classes would perhaps be quite as profitable as much of their present studies.