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which appears in the Greek nik-ros (ve/cpos, dead),
nSk-us (ve/cvs, a corpse), Lat noc-ere (to hurt),
nec-are (to kill), nec-s (nex, death), per-nic-ies
(destruction), and perhaps ve-ne(c)-num (poison).
Thus the season of darkness carries involved in its
name the associated ideas of hurtfulness and un-
wholesomeness, as it were noct-s quod nocet ; nuit
parcequ *elle nuit ; i night ' because it noieth (to use
an Old English verb), or, as Spenser words it, is
the ' mother of anoyance.' * Nearly related to it,
therefore, in English are the words nox-ious,
noisome, per-me-ious, and venomous ; so that Mr
Coventry Patmore is etymologic ally correct in
speaking of i the midnight's noxious mystery,'
' night's evil sanctity.' We may compare the Sans-
krit vasati, vdsura (night, lit. c the dead season '),
from the root vas or vast (to kill), whence also come
vasra (death), vasu (barren, 'waste'). — Pictet.

Now it certainly seems an impressive and
solemn discovery, in more respects than one, that
' night,' when traced to its ultimate origin, im-
ports ' the season of death.' 2 One reason, no
doubt, and the simplest, why it was called so, is

1 Thus it seems that nox a noccndo is one of the few etymologies
advanced by the old Latin philologers which has a substratum of
truth (Servius, Isidore, Papias, &c.) Catullus, according to Varro,
had made the statement, ' Quod omnia nisi interveniat sol prima
obriguerint, quod nocet nox ' (Vossius, Etymologicon, s.v.)

2 Horace sometimes uses nox in the sense of death, e.g., ' Omnes
una manet nox' (Odes, I. xxviii. 15).

NIGHT. 261

"because it is the time when * daylight dies ' 1 —
when the setting sun, like a giant returned from
his course, but vanquished, sinks down amid blood
and fire upon his funeral pile in the west, till he
altogether perishes from view. The chill and
gloom and stillness which rapidly succeed, con-
trasted with the cheerful bustle and warmth and
splendours of the day, were felt by the saddened
spirit to be a very death of nature.

The approach of darkness presented itself to the
imagination of the ancient Greeks as of an implac-
able enemy following the footsteps of the sun in
swift pursuit, as of a warrior pressing on inces-
santly and irresistibly, and seizing immediately
upon everything as the sun abandoned it. 2 To
the modern Greeks basileuei, 'he is kingly,' ex-
presses the pomp and state of the sinking luminary.
What is with us a sunset, was to men in the
myth-making ages the sun growing old, decaying,
or dying. When he touched the horizon, he was
conceived to cross the threshold of death, and to
end his solitary life, struck by the powers of dark-

1 The Basque ilhun, * twilight,' is from hill, dead, and egun, day
(Morris, English Accidence, p. 2).

Compare these words of Bishop Pearson's — ' The day dies into
night, and is buried in silence and in darkness ; in the next morn-
ing it appeareth again and reviveth, opening the grave of darkness,
rising from the dead of night : this is a diurnal resurrection.' —
' God has appointed the continual returns of night in order that He
may so recall, and admonish us, every night, of the solitude and still-
ness and darkness of the grave' (Williams, On the Passion, p. 437).

2 Buttmann, Lexilogus, s.v. 6oos.


ness ; l and it is this tragedy ' (remarks Max
Muller), ' the tragedy of nature, which is the life-
spring of all the tragedies of the ancient world.' 1
So Shakspere speaks of night —

1 Whose black contagious breath
Already smokes around the burning crest
Of the old, feeble, and day-wearied sun.' 2

This, then, is one ohvious reason why * night '
was called the ' dead ' or c deadly season,' because
it was the destroyer of the brilliant sun-god, and
seemed to send forth a chilling breath over the
whole realm of nature, which stilled all life and
quenched all joy. 8 The prophet Amos very sub-
limely describes c night ' as being ' the shadow of
death,' and our own poets in their night-pieces
have not failed to dwell upon this aspect of it.

' All things are hush'd, as nature's self lay dead.' 4

' Now o'er the one half world
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtain'd sleep.' 5

1 M. Muller, Oxford Essays, 1856, pp. 40, 65, QQ. Vide also
Lectures on Science of Language, 2d Series.

2 King John, v. 4.

3 Tertullian, in his treatise ' On the Resurrection/ has an eloquent
passage on the interchange of darkness and light, of which the
following is a part : — Dies moritur in noctem, et tenebris usque-
quaque sepelitur. Funestatur mundi honor ; omnis substantia
denigratur. Sordent, silent, stupent cuncta ; ubique justititium
est, quies rerum. Ita lux amissa lugetur : et tamen rursus . . .
reviviscit ; interficiens mortem suam, noctem ; rescindens sepul-
turam suam, tenebras' (De Eesur. Carnis, cap. xii.) Cf. Thomson,
Seasons (Autumn), 11. 1136-1145.

4 Dryden, Conquest of Mexico.

5 Macbeth, ii. 1.

NIGHT. 263

1 Darkness does the face of earth entomb
When living light should kiss it.' x

' Night, sable goddess, from her ebon throne,
In ray less majesty now stretches forth
Her leaden sceptre o'er a slumbering world.
Silence how dead ! and darkness how profound !
Nor eye nor listening ear an object finds ;
Creation sleeps : — 'tis as the general pulse
Of life stood still, and nature made a pause,
An awful pause ! prophetic of her end.' 2

It is interesting to observe that the epithet of
c dead ' is frequently also applied to ' night ' itself
when its primitive meaning had been long forgot-
ten. Thus Beaumont and Fletcher sing of

' The dead night from underground,
At whose rising mists unsound,
Damps and vapours fly apace,
Hovering o'er the wanton face
Of these pastures, where they come
Striking dead both bud and bloom.' 3

Compare also the following : —

' 'Tis yet dead night : yet all the earth is cloutcht
In the dull, leaden hand of snoring sleep.
No breath disturbs the quiet of the air,
No spirit moves upon the breast of earth,
Save howling dogs, night-crows, and screeching owls ;
Save meagre ghosts, Piero, and black thoughts.'

Marston, Antonio's Revenge, i. 1.

1 Macbeth, ii. 4.

2 Young, Night Thoughts. The same thought is found in Victor
Hugo's Toilers of the Deep — ' It was that solemn and peaceful
moment when the slumber of external things mingles with the
sleep of living creatures, and night seems to listen to the beating
of Nature's heart.'

3 Faithful Shepherdess, ii. 1.


' 'Tis night, dead night, and weary nature lies
So fast, as if she never were to rise ;
No breath of wind now whispers thro' the trees,
No noise at land, nor murmur in the seas :
Lean wolves forget to howl at night's pale noon,
No wakeful dogs bark at the silent moon,
Nor bay the ghosts that glide with horror by,
To view the caverns where their bodies lie.'

Zee, Theodosius.

* Those damp, black, dead
Nights in the Tower ; dead — with the fear of death —
Too dead ev'n for a death-watch ! '

Tennyson, Queen Mary, iii. 5.

Shakspere speaks of i the dead vast and middle
of the night, ' elsewhere styling it ' the tragic
melancholy night.' 1 But not only is the season
of darkness death-like, it is really deadly, and
tends towards death. Accordingly Night (JSTux)
is personified by the Greek poet Hesiod to be the
mother of a direful brood, of Fate (Moros), of
dark Destruction (Ker), Woe (Oizus), and Death
(Tkanatos) ; and Spenser credits her with an off-
spring not less horrible.

Everywhere we can trace a widespread feeling
that night is an unfriendly and hostile power to
man. * The night is no man's friend,' says an
ancient German proverb. 2 The poetical name for
it in Icelandic is Grima, apparently ' the grim '

1 2d Pt. Henry VI., iv. 1.

2 Die Nacht ist keines Menschen Freund (Archbishop Trench,
Proverbs and their Lessons, p. 54, 6th ed.). In Sanskrit druh, mis-
chief, is used as a name of darkness, or the night (M. Muller, vol.
ii. p. 454).

NIGHT. 265

and terrible one. 1 Its constant epithets in Homer
are ' the evil/ 'the destructive,' 'the fearful;' 2
and the greatest of our own poets has not hesi-
tated to style it —

' Horrid night, the child of Hell.' 3

It is an unwholesome time, that seems to hold
antipathy with all the powers of life and health.
Then ' planets strike and fairy takes ' — then blast-
ing, blight, and mildew do their mysterious and
deadly work. 4 Under the depressing effect of its

1 Unless, indeed, the word Grlma may be connected, not immedi-
ately with grimmr, 'grim,' but with grom, 'grime,' Dan. grim,
soot, in which case the name would signify 'the grimy one,' like
Shakspere's ' collied night ' (Midsummer Night's Dream, i. 1), i.e.,
the sooty, coal-black night.

2 NiJ£ Kauri, 6\oi], 6ot], diejdhe Nacht (Buttmann). A common
euphemistic phrase in the Greek poets is ' the kindly or cheerful
season ' (evcppovn).

3 Shakespere, Henry V. Cf. —

'Darkness, which ever was
The dam of Horror, who does stand accursed
Of many mortal millions.' Two Noble Kinsmen, v. 5.

Spenser, in his fine description of 'griesly Night with visage
deadly sad,' depicts her as ' in a foule blacke pitchy mantle clad,'
and drawn by ' cole blacke steedes yborne of hellish brood ' (Faerie
Queene, Bk. I. c. v. 20).

In the curious old comedy of ' Lingua, or the Combate of the
Tongue and the Five Sences for Superiorities (my copy is the quarto
of 1632), there is a very pretty and poetical passage descriptive of
the morning light, which

1 At his first appearance puts to flight
The ut-most Reliques of the hel-bome night.' Sig. F, recto.

4 It is well known that microscopic forms of fungoid vegetation
are intimately connected with the ravages of decay and death. Not
only the destruction of timber by dry-rot, and of plants by blight
and mould, but even many forms of cutaneous eruptions and zymo-
tic diseases in the human subject, are attributable to the same
morbid growth. Now ' light, indispensable to the well-being of all
other plants, is hostile to the growth of fungi. Wherever the sun
shines brightly, mould will not appear, or, at all events, flourish.
It is essentially one of the unfruitful works of darkness ' (Macmillan,
Ministry cf Nature, p. 63),


vast overhanging pall the sick man tosses on
his feverish bed, and longs for the dawning of
the day. Many diseases first make themselves
felt in the ' dead of night ; ' * pains and aches grow
worse at the midnight hour ; and dying men, who
have maintained the unequal struggle for breath
during the cheerful hours of light, now sink and
pass (Job xxvii. 20 ; xxxvi. 20). 2 We feel our-
selves in a measure paralysed, our powers fettered,
and our joys diminished, as the darkness gathers
round us. We dread

' Night's sepulchre, the universal home,
"Where weakness, strength, vice, virtue, sunk supine,
Alike in naked helplessness recline.' Byron.

Jewish traditions tell with what intense dismay
our first parents beheld the sun withdraw itself,
and the shades of evening steal over the fallen
earth. In Paradise, it was believed, they had
never known the gloom of night. It was only on
the day that they were driven forth into exile that
they for the first time experienced the loss of
the light and the curse of darkness. The guilty
pair, utterly disconsolate, lay on the ground all

1 The Greek word for 'disease,' nostis (pocros), comes from the
same root as ' night,' viz., nag . The Zend daosha = night, and evil,
mischievous (Pictet, vol. i. p. 468).

8 Sir Thomas Browne, in a letter on the death of a friend, 1690,
remarks : — ' He died in the dead and deep part of the night, when
Nox might be most apprehensibly said to be the daughter of Chaos,
the mother of sleep and death, according to old genealogy ; and so
went out of this world about that hour when our blessed Saviour
entered it, and about what time many conceive he will return again
into it' (Works, vol. iii. p. 68, ed. Wilkin).

NIGHT. 267

night long in an agony of grief and fear, till the
beams of returning day began to quiver in the
east, and in a measure reassured them (Avoda
Sara, ed. Edzardus, 1705, p. 56).

For my own part, I know of nothing in nature
more ineffably sad than the calmness of a summer
sunset, partly from what it recalls, still more, per-
haps, from what it portends; 1 and every one, I think,
realises in a greater or lesser degree that l horror
of great darkness ' 2 which fell upon the patriarch,
' when the sun was going down ' (Gen. xv. 12).
Accordingly there is felt a dislike to the uncon-
genial gloom of night — a natural shrinking from
it as from a chilling and repulsive presence.

1 It seems to add new pathos to a scene almost too pathetic
already, that the wise and excellent Socrates, when he had spent
the last day of his life in prison in holding that wondrous discourse
with his friends upon the immortality of the soul, and had bidden his
children farewell, is recorded to have taken the fatal cup, and
calmly drunk it off just at the moment 'when the sun was on the
mountains, and on the point of setting ' (Phsedo, ch. lxv.) He
averred that all time to come appeared to him no longer than a
single night — that death could be at worst but a profound and
dreamless sleep, and, if so, a wondrous gain (Apology, xxxii.)
Thus, in perfect harmony with his philosophical views, the gentle
Socrates closed his eyes in darkness as the sun went down.

' As the light grew more aerial on the mountain-tops, and the shadows fell
longer over the valley, some faint tone of sadness may have breathed through
the heart ; and in whispers, more or less audible, reminded every one that as
this bright day was drawing towards its close, so likewise must the Day of Man's
Existence decline into dust and darkness ; and with all its sick toilings, and
joyful and mournful noises, sink in the still Eternity.'

Carlyle, Sartor Eesartus, Bk. II. ch. v.
' It is near the closing of the day,
Near the night. Life and light

Eor ever, ever fled away.' Wm. Allingham.

Compare also the beautiful Scotch proverb, ' The e'ening brings
2 Cf.—

• Sotto il silentio de' secreti horrori.' Tasso.

Simul ipsa silentia terrent.' , Virgil,


There is something indefinably mysterious —
almost oppressive, I might say — in its brooding
stillness. Its weight lies heavy on the soul, like
a thing of awe and dread. ' An abysmal depth,
an enigma at once showing and concealing its
face, the Infinite in its mask of darkness — these
are the synonyms of night. In the presence of
night man feels his own incompleteness. He
perceives the dark void, and is sensible of infirmity.
It is like the vacancy of blindness. Almost
always he shrinks from that vague presence of the
Infinite Unknown.' 1 This, moreover, is the
season that the superstitions of mankind, with
one consent, have peopled with the fantastic
creations of their own fears and their own con-
sciences, with monstrous shapes of spectres,
ghosts, and apparitions,

1 Gorgons and hydras and chimseras dire ; ' 2

1 Victor Hugo.
2 Cf.—

' 'Tis now the very witching time of night
When churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world.' Hamlet, iii. 2.

1 Now it is the time of night

That the graves, all gaping wide,
Every one lets forth his sprite,
In the church-way paths to glide.'

Midsummer Night's Bream, v. 1.

Lilith, the nocturnal hobgoblin, with which the Jews used to scare
their children, like the Mormo and Einpusa which served the same
purpose among the Greeks, and the Lamia and Strix among
the Romans, seems to have been a personification of the horrors
of the night, the terror which darkness almost always excites in
the mind of infancy, being derived from the Hebrew word layil,
night (™V'. from '.-). Lilith is the word translated screech-owl '
in the authorised version of Isa. xxxiv. 14, marg. 'night-monster.'
The hideous three-headed Cerberus is, according to M. Miiller

NIGHT. 269

and even the inspired Psalmist speaks of < the
terror by night,' 1 as well as of l the pestilence that
walketh in darkness ' 2 (Ps. xci. 5, 6). Then it is
that the creatures most loathsome, as well as most
terrible to man, come forth boldly from their secret
places — ravening wolves, bats and owls, beetles
and foul creeping things, the whole slimy and rep-
tile brood, and all that nature shelters of hideous
and unclean (Ps. civ. 20). 3

And then it is, in like manner, that every form
of vice lifts its head, and comes forth from its
dens and lurking-places : then red-handed Murder
stalks abroad unchallenged, and i they that are
drunken are drunken in the night.' And so it is
(as Job remarked) with the thief, the house-
breaker, and the adulterer, who 'waiteth for the
twilight, saying, no man shall see me,' ' they know
not the light. For the morning is to them even
as the shadow of death.' 4 Indeed, throughout the

(vol ii. p. 478), the darkness of night. Similarly, the French lutin
(cf. Belg. nuiton), 0. Fr. luiton, seems properly to be a goblin of
night (nuit).

1 For a striking description of the terrors of darkness, see the
Book of Wisdom, ch. xvii.

2 It is noticeable that two of the most destructive pestilences
recorded in Scripture, the death of the first-born in Egypt, and of
the Assyrians before Jerusalem (Isa. xxxvii. 36), occurred at night.

3 Cf. — ' Now the hungry lion roars

And the wolf behowls the moon ;

Whilst the screech-owl, screeching loud,
Puts the wretch that lies in woe
In remembrance of a shrowd.' M. Night's Dream, v. 2.
Thomson, Seasons (Winter), 191-194.

4 Ch. xxiv. 14-17. Cf. ' KXeirrQu yap y\ w5£, rr\(jZ a\-r]deias to (pus '
(Eurip. Iphig. in Taur., 1226). ' Pernicious Night' was the mother

270 NIGHT.

Scriptures darkness is employed as the common
emblem of evil — of impurity, suffering, and misery
— just as light is synonymous with holiness and
happiness and health. And this connection be-
tween sin and darkness is not a merely notional
one, it is real and essential. Wicked doers instinc-
tively shun the accusing light of day. It is true,
literally, as well as spiritually, that such ' men
love darkness rather than light, because their
deeds are evil. For every one that doeth evil
hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest
his deeds should be reproved.' 1 i They are of those
that rebel against the light ; they know not the
ways thereof, nor abide in the paths thereof.' 2

Bearing in mind this mystical use of the word,
there appears to be something unspeakably solemn
and awful in those few little words which the
evangelist has introduced parenthetically in his ac-
count of the Last Supper, that when Judas left the
upper chamber and went forth on his terrible
mission, to consummate the darkest crime ever
committed upon earth, c it was nightS ' This is
your hour, and the power of darkness,'' exclaimed

of Fraud according to Theognis, and of Falsehood according to
Spenser (Faerie Queene, Bk. I. v. 27).

' thievish night,
Why shouldst thou, but for some felonious end,
In thy dark lantern thus close up the stars.'

Milton, Comus, 11. 195-197.

' Guilt concealing night.'

TJiomson, Au'.umn, 1. 1172.

1 John iii. 19, 20. 2 Job xxiv. 13.

NIGHT. 271

the Son of Man when He saw that He was betrayed
into the hands of sinners (Lnke xxii. 52). And so
it is recorded of Judas, ' He then, having received
the sop, went immediately out — and it was
night ' (John xiii. 30). With that impressive sen-
tence, so fearful in all that it implies, the wretched
traitor is dismissed from the presence of Christ
and the cheerful lights of the Paschal feast,
out into the chill gloom of night, out also
into the deeper and more dreadful night of de-
spair, into ' the blackness of darkness for ever,'
1 that he might go to his own place.' ' He went
out — and it was night ' /

Two other passages of Scripture there are which
seem to have something of the same subtle power
not easily analysed: the sublime dreadfulness of the
still dead time being conveyed in the most touch-
ing of the parables, that of the Ten Virgins —
1 They all slumbered and slept, and at midnight
there was a cry made ' (Matt. xxv. 6), even as the
indescribable pathos and tenderness of eventide is
suggested by the scene at Ernmaus, where the
disciples entreat the unknown wayfaring Man to be
their guest — ' Abide with us ; for it is toward even-
ing, and the day is far spent ' (Luke xxiv. 29).
When we bethink ourselves of all these things, as

< Awful Night,
Ancestral mystery of mysteries, comes down
Past all the generations of the stars/

we feel the power of its name, we recognise the

272 NIGHT.

sufficiency of the reasons why it was given. For
inasmuch as night is the time when day lies
dead, when all creation is hushed in deatk-Mke
repose, when Sleep, t the brother of Death,' reigns
supreme, and Death himself is busiest at his cease-
less task, when deadly deeds are being enacted,
and dead men walk (or are fabled to walk) amid
their earthly haunts — our earliest progenitors
summed up all these conceptions (not all of them,
perhaps, consciously, but some of them certainly)
when they called the darkness ' night,' meaning,
as it does, the nox-ious, the per-mc-ious, or the
deadly season, recognising therein a presage of
that one great undiscovered mystery into which all
men must one day be initiated, the type or fore-
shadowing of a silence yet more awful, and an
outer darkness yet more fearful.

The following fine apostrophe^ full of tragic
power, is from Lord Lytton's i Clytemnestra —

1 Come, venerable, ancient Night !
From sources of the western stars,
In darkest shade that fits this woe,
Consoler of a thousand griefs,
And likest death, unalterably calm.

Our days thou leadest home
To the great Whither which has no Again !
Impartially to pleasure and to pain
Thou sett'st the bourne. To thee shall all things

Few persons, I imagine, can have listened to
the Third Collect for evening prayer in our churches,

NIGHT. 273

so touching and comprehensive in its simplicity,
without feeling conscious how eerie and solemn a
thing the night is. Its words are, ' Lighten our
darkness, we beseech thee, Lord, and by thy
great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers
of this night,' and many will recollect how power-
fully De Quincey was affected by it. He says —
' The decaying light of the dying day suggests a
mood of pensive and sympathetic sadness,' and

' There was something that oftentimes had profoundly impressed
me in this evening liturgy, and itsspecialprayer against the perils
of darkness, . . . that darkness, which our English liturgy calls
into such symbolic grandeur, as hiding beneath its shadowy
mantle all perils that besiege our human infirmity. ... In
this prayer were the darkness and the great shadows of night
made symbolically significant : these great powers, Night and
Darkness, that belong to aboriginal Chaos, were made repre-
sentative of the perils that continually menace poor afflicted
human nature. With deepest sympathy I accompanied the
prayer against the perils of darkness — perils that I seemed to
see, in the ambush of midnight solitude, brooding around the
beds of sleeping nations ; perils from even worse forms of
darkness shrouded within the recesses of blind human hearts;
perils from temptations weaving unseen snares for our footing;
perils from the limitations of our own misleading knowledge.' *

Although therefore, we cannot go so far as to
affirm 2 that darkness is one of the consequences

1 De Quincey, Works, vol. i. pp. 83-87.

2 As Dr Maitland does, Eruvin, pp. 120-123, and, to some ex-
tent, Milton —

' Thus Adam to himself lamented loud,
Through the still night ; not now, as ere man fell,
Wholesome, and cool, and mild, but with black air
Accompanied ; with damps and dreadful gloom ;
Which to his evil conscience represented
All things with double terrour.'

Paradise Lost, Bk. x. 11. 845-350.



of the fall, and a part of the curse ; yet when we
* reflect on the dangers and evils that arise from
it, and on the facilities which it affords for crimes,
emphatically called " works of darkness," ' it ap-
pears a great and positive evil, and we gladly and
thankfully hail the assurance of St John the
divine respecting the New Jerusalem, prepared
for and promised to the faithful, that l there shall
be no night there.' x

In the third book of Spenser's Faerie Queene,
canto iv., there is a fine apostrophe to Night, in
which he breaks into a fervid invective against

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