William Chambers.

Chambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) online

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son — my son made away with my heritage, contracted debts
which he engaged to pay after my death, and made pretexts
without end to obtain my permission for his travelling, that he
might leave me. He was weary of his father ! My wife is dead ;
he is departed. I wished to live alone, but solitude troubles
me. In the midst of this desolation I have felt the need of
a comforter ; and I have seen with despair that in my heart,
which I thought so dried up, there is still an intense desire for
affection. Then I thought of you, Louise, whose whole life has
been self-devotion. Yes, Louise, I am sure of it — you will
bear the caprices of my strange humour, and when you see me
absorbed in amassing gold, you will not despise the miser, but
pity him."

Louise took her brother's hand and looked in his altered face
with speechless tenderness. He continued : — ■

" Pity me ! Yes, Louise, for one pities the poor wretch who
has no other resource to seek oblivion of his sufferings than the
degradation of drunkenness. I, even I, have sought this relief;
but my frame has suffered ; yet the consciousness of misery has
never left me even under such influence. It is gold alone — the
love of gold — that can warm my heart, and produce a charm
which can suspend my griefs for a time. Therefore I have
sought for gold, and relinquished everything good and noble
to gain it. I have compelled those who wished to purchase
my pictures to cover them with gold ; and I have wrought
night and day to produce those pictures. The money which
is borrowed from me I do not lend, but sell ; so that I am rich
— immensely rich. No one here knows it, or they would rob
me. No ! — but thou shalt know it, Louise, and thou shalt see
my treasures. We will go together to the place where they
are hid, and thou shalt count not one, but hundreds of tons
of gold. They think me poor here, because I wear an old
doublet, and work like the most mercenary of mankind. Think,
Louise — gold in such quantities that you may bathe your hands
in it even to the elbows; and move your feet in it, from
whence roll waves of gold, whose music is so sweet, Louise, so
sweet I And it is all mine ! Men would kill body and soul
to obtain such. I have wherewith to satisfy the caprices of a
king, and yet I will not. No, Louise ; I love better to keep
my gold."

Louise sighed.

" Thou considerest me a madman t Yes, I am mad ; but is ifc
my fault, Louise 1 I had not been thus but for that woman who
has crushed my heart — who for twenty years has made me suffer
all imaginable tortures — that woman whom I loved so passion-
ately. Louise, if thou hadst always oeen beside me, I should



Lave "been good still ; I should never have g"iven myself up
vrithout restraint to so monstrous a passion. But I have suffered
— I do suffer so much ! If thou couldst know it, thou wouldst
pity me."

Louise wept.

" Thanks for your tears, sister ; they do me good ; they com-
fort me. It is so long since I have revealed my sufferings to a
friendly eye."

Rembrandt was silent, and spoke no more that night. Next
day Louise once more took charge of her brother's household; and
until the death of this renowned artist, she consecrated herself
to his comfort, fulfilling with silent and devoted zeal the most
painful domestic duties. Not a murmur arose in her mind.
Never did she regret what she had undertaken, in spite of the
severity and injustice of Rembrandt.

Thus eight years of self-devotion passed, during which neither
her patience nor her tenderness for her brother failed for an in-
stant. Louise had always a balm for her brother's griefs, con-
solation for his complainings. She was always ready at his
side to render him assistance, and departed not for a bitter word
or a fit of passion. " My poor brother," she would say to her-
self; "how he is to be pitied. What must be his sufferings,
since he can speak to me thus !"

But in spite of this strange misanthropy, never had the talent
of Rembrandt been more sublime and admirable. " It seems,"
said Descamps, speaking of the later works of this great Flemish
artist — " it seems as though he had invented art, not found it.
He loved sudden transitions from light to shadow, and carried
this fancy to the greatest extent. To acquire it, his studio was
so disposed that the principal light came upon its gloomy recesses
from a solitary opening in the roof, a sort of trap-door, by -which
the artist cast the light at his will on the place he wished to illu-

Rembrandt sketched his portraits with precision, and a mix-
ture of colours peculiar to himself; he then went over this prepa-
ration with vig-orous touches, putting in intensely dark shadows.
His heads were exactly after nature, even in defects. This style
of portrait-painting was not much to the taste of many persons.
Rembrandt cared little for it. He said one day to a person who
approached too near to the painting on which he was engaged,
that a picture was not intended to he smelled at, and the odour of
faint was very tmhealthy. He seized at once the character of
each physiog'nomy, not embellishing nature, but imitating her
so simply and truthfully, that the heads seem to start from the

Rembrandt's manner of painting was a species of mag-ic. None
ever knew better than he the effect of different colours. He
put each tone in its place with so much justness and harmony,
that he was not obliged to mingle them, and thereby lose the



freslmess of the tints. By an admirable knowledge of chiaro-
scuro, he produced the most astonishing- effects.

Toward the end of his life, Rembrandt excelled not less as an
engraver. His manner was entirely original : he devoted him-
self wholly to the general effects, without descending to parti-
culars ; and he attained his end. Rembrandt would never engrave
in presence of any one : his secret was a treasure, and he never
imparted it, so that to this day his manner of commencing and
finishing his plates is entirely unknown."

Meanwhile the faculties of Rembrandt became more feeble ;
at last he did not quit his chamber; and soon took entirely to his
bed. He showed deep suffering at this, and redoubled his taci-
turnity during eight days. At the end of this time, one night
when his sister w^as sleeping in an arm-chair beside him, he called
her name in a gentler tone than ordinary. She rose instantly,
and ran eagerly to him.

" Sister," said he, "I shall soon die; but I am about to ask a
favour of thee : do not refuse me."

" What is it, my brother 1 "

" Refuse me not, or thou wilt throw me into despair. Raise the
trap-door beside my bed, that I may once more look at my trea-

Louise did as the sick man desired. When the trap-door was
opened, and the lamp-light shone into the depth of the hollow
place glittering on the gold pieces, the face of Rembrandt
brightened, his eyes filled with tears, he extended his hands, he
muttered unintelligible words. A mother about to quit her
children could not use more touching and tender expressions.

" Adieu," he murmured feebly ; " adieu, my life, my soul ! —
adieu for ever ! Must I quit you, lose you, never more possess
you ? Louise, I wish to be buried here. Thou wilt not tell any
one that I am dead, nor that my treasures are here — not even my
son. He is an ingrate, who forgets me; a prodigal, who
would dissipate my wealth. Do as thy brother implores thee
on his deathbed, Louise, and I will bless thee — ^bless thee from

" Reflect, my brother," said Louise ; " may not your own
harshness have estranged your son from you? May not your
penuriousness towards him have helped as completely to keep
him in real ignorance of the value of money, as an opposite ex-
treme would have done? He knows you are rich; all the world
knows you have gold ; all tradesmen are willing to trust him,
believing that you must pay : there is not much wonder that he
plays the prodigal."

" He has no love for his old father," murmured the sick man,
" or he would not pain me thus in the tenderest point. Oh,
Louise, no one has loved me but you, and you shall have my
gold : but keep it — bury it : promise to me — swear to me that he
shall not have it."



"I will not take so wicked an oath," said Louise meekly,
" but if you wish it, I will take charge of your g-old — bestow a
portion of it in deeds of charity, and transfer the remainder to
your son from time to time, according as he may appear to know
its uses."

Eembrandt turned uneasily on his pillow. He wept, and
sobbed, and wished to rise and go to his treasure. Never was
grief more expressive, nor despair more fearful. A long fainting
St followed this strange scene. But when Rembrandt recovered
his consciousness, an inexpressible change had taken place : his
coimtenance shone with solemn majesty; death at this last hour
had divested the artist's soul of the mud of earth, and made it
appear in its own sublime grandeur.

" Louise," said he, " do as you will with my gold ; my eyes
are opened to a new and celestial light, of which I have dreamt
in the mysterious thoughts of my heart, and towards which all
my desires have tended. This knowledge fills up the perpetual
void from which I have suffered so much, and inundates my
heart with that fulness of joy for which I have thirsted in vain.
Life and its miseries, human passions, all lie at my feet like the
broken chains of a slave ; for God and eternity are before me ;
angels call me, and cry, * Brother ! ' Oh let me go and rejoin
them ; and thou — I will pray to God that thou mayest follow
me soon. Angels — my brethren ! behold me — I am returning
to heaven I "

He fell back — Louise held the hand of the dead I

Two months after, when she had fulfilled her promise and
restored to the son of Rembrandt, just returned from Italy, the
greater part of his father's property, Louise, now very old,
undertook a journey to Leyden to see Therese, who was sick,
and required the care of a sister whom she had seen but twice
during ten years. This time, however, her coui'age was above
her strength. Louise died on the journey.

Twelve leagues from Amsterdam, on the road to Leyden, are
the ruins of a church, partly destroyed by wars and revolutions,
so that the turret and the walls of the cemetery alone remain
standing. At one side of this wall is fixed a tablet of black
marble, on which is the following inscription : — ■



Who died at the age of ninety- three, in tliis village, on a journey.


Few of the curious visit these ruins, and none of those whom
chance has led hither suspect the devotion and tenderness of the
woman whose remains lie here. And so it is often in the world.
While the deeds of conquerors are chronicled, books filled with



the account of their doing's, countries called after them, and the
most trivial actions connected with their lives are thought worth
remembering:, the heroism of private life remains for the most
^part unnoticed. And perhaps it is well so ; for the sensitive
mind would often be distressed Avere the details of private sorrows
and hidden faults drag-ged into lig"ht. The virtuous members of
a famil}'- suffer keenly" from the disgrace attendant on the faults
of the vicious ; and every one must have noticed how very com-
monly it happens, as in the case of Rembrandt's sister, that the
hig-h qualities of the one are drawn out by the suffering's which
fall on them in consequence of the errors of the other. There is
a stor}'- of a nobleman being' led to execution for some imputed
political offence, when his servant, pitying' his case, cried out,
" Oh, that you should die innocent !" " Would you have me die
guilty ?" replied his master. The application of this anecdote is
evident. All the sufferings of the evil doers are heightened by
remorse, but the brave and virtuous, whose path lies in undoing
the harm the wicked have done, are upheld by the consciousness
of right, and the sweet reflection that sorrow when it comes is
not of their own bringing. A moment's thought must convince
us how much more important is the cultivation of the domestic
virtues, than the performance of what the world often erroneously
calls great actions. It is a thought almost too vast for the mind,
yet one it should try to grasp, that the world contains millions
of families — small domestic circles, each strong in its hopes, fears,
affections, interests. How few of these, either from talent or the
accident of position, can ever expect to play what is called a
great and distinguished part in the sight of their fellow-creatures !
— a poor ambition, after all, and one too often corrupted by selfish
motives; but there is none so obscure that he cannot practise
the virtues of self-denial, benevolence, truth, justice, and discre-
tion. In leading such a life as this, we must ahvaj^s find the
great reward attendant on the performance of our duties. Even
one such character in a household spreads peace and happiness
around it. If we throw a stone into the water, we observe how
the ripples spread wider and wider ; and so in human life does
the influence of good conduct extend around us, teaching at the
same time by example more forcibly than by precept ; and it is
an influence no human being is too humble to exert. To fulfil
worthily the duties of our station, and the domestic relations of
life, in the spirit of justice, love, and charity, is in reality the
noblest destiny to which we can aspire. AVhat matters it that
the world does not often register such deeds, though it knows,
by the sum of human happiness and virtue, that they must have
been performed 1 Is it not written in the holy book — " Blessed
are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the
pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are they that
mourn, for they shall be comforted."



^r^^^^^, HE cat belongs to the same natural famih,' as tlie
1^3 lion, tig'er, panther, leopard, puma, serval, ocelot, and

(^A^ ||o>; lynx. The tribe is perhaps one of the best defined
^\p in zoolog-y, all its members having* characteristics of

^^ structure and habit not to be confounded with those of
^fe' other animals. Every reader must be familiar "u-ith the
^f^" forms of the tig-er and domestic cat, and these ma}- be

VJ' taken as types of the family. The rounded head and
pointed ears, the long lithe body, covered with line silky hair,
and often beautifully marked, the silent stealthy step, occasioned
by treading only on the fleshy ball of the foot, the sharp retrac-
tile clavv's, the large lustrous eyes, capable, from the expansive
power of the pupil, of seeing in the dark, the whiskered lip, the
trenchant carnivorous teeth, and the tongue covered with re-
curved bony prickles, are common to all.

In their habits and manner of life they are equally akin.
They inhabit the forest and the brake, sleeping away the
greater part of their time, and only visiting* the glade and
open plain when pressed by hunger. They are for the most part
nocturnal in their habitSj being guided to their prey by their
peculiar power of vision, by their scent, and by their hearing*,
which is superior to that of most other animals. Naturally, they
are strictly carnivorous, not hunting down their prey by a pro-
tracted chase, like the wolf and dog, but by lying in wait, or by
moving stealthily with their supple joints and cushioned feet,
till within spring of their victims, on which they dart with a
growl, as if the muscular effort of the moment were painful
No. 55. i


even to themselves. A'^Hiether the attack "be that of a ti^er on a
huffalo, or that of a cat on a helpless mouse, the mode of action
is the same— a bound with the whole body from the distance of
many yards, a violent stroke with the forefoot, a clutch with
the claws, which are thrust from their sheaths, and a half-tearing
half-sucking motion of the jaws, as if the animal gloated in
ecstasy over the blood of its victim.

This mode of life has gained for these animals the common
epithets of " cruel, savage, and bloodthirsty," and has caused
them to be looked upon by the uninformed as monsters in
creation. Nothing could be more erroneous. No creature is
capable of moral good and moral evil save man; he it is alone
that can judge for himself; and he it is upon whom this gift of
judsrment has imposed the responsibility of right and wrong.
The tiger in slaughtering a stag gratifies no evil passion ; he
merely^satisfies an appetite which nature has implanted within
him, and which nature has surrounded with the objects for its
satisfaction. When these objects shall die out, then also will the
tis-er cease to exist ; and were the whole world equally peopled
and cultivated with our own island, the feline family would be
limited to a single genus — namely, the humble cat. But as things
are at present constituted, the valleys and plains of the tropics
are clothed with an excessive vegetation, supporting numerous
herbivorous animals, which could only be kept within due limits
by the existence of carnivora, such as the lion, tiger, leopard,
and panther.

The distribution of the feline animals is governed by those
conditions to which we have alluded; and thus the puma in-
habits the North American prairie, the jaguar the savannahs of
South America, the lion the arid plains of Africa and Asia, the
tiger and panther the tropical jungles of the old worM; the
minor species, as the ocelot and lynx, have a wider ran^e m both
worlds; while the domestic cat associates with man in almost
every region. With the exception of the latter, none of the other
genera have been tamed or domesticated, so that they are strictly
'^ wild beasts," against which man wages a ceaseless war of extir-
pation. It is true that in the East one species of leopard is trained
for hunting, but this but very sparingly, and even then he does
not follow the game by scent, but is carried by the hunters, and
only let loose w'hen he is within a few bounds of the animal. It
must not be inferred, however, that they are untameable ; for
every creature is capable more or less of being trained by man,
provided it receives due attention ; and we have sufficient evidence,
in the wonderful feats performed bv the lions and tigers of Mr
Carter and Van Amburgh, that the 'FdiniS are by no means desti-
tute of intelligent docility. The truth is, there is no inducement
to tame them ; and thus the cat— the most diminutive of the
family, and the only one of direct utility to civilised man— is likely
to continue, as it ever has been, the sole domesticated member.



Kespecting" tLe domestication of the cat, of which there are
many varieties, differing' in size, length of haiu, colour, and the
like, we have no authentic information. AVe have no knowledg-e
Vr'hen it became the associate of man ; nor do we know anything-
concerning- its original habitat. It is true that the wild cat has
inhabited Great Britain, the continent of Europe, and Asia, from
the earliest periods ^ but that animal presents so many diffe-
rences, that naturalists g'enerally consider it as belonging to a
distinct species. Thus it is a larger and more powerful animal
than the domestic one ; has longer and shaggier fur ; has a more
ferocious aspect ; has the intestinal canal shorter, which proves
it to be more decidedly carnivorous ; and has the heart and sto-
mach not quite so like those of the more omnivorous dog. The
most of these are transient distinctions, which domestication
mig'ht obliterate ; but we can hardly conceive of the same in-
fluence acting so decidedly upon the internal structure. How-
ever this may be, the general opinion at present is, that they
belong to different species ; that the wild cat is strictly an in-
habitant of the brake, enduring with admirable fortitude the
extremes of heat and cold ; and that the domestic animal, from
its more delicate constitution, and its fondness of warmth, seems
to have sprung from a southern habitat.

Every one is so perfectly familiar with the domestic cat, that
any description of the animal is altogether unnecessary ; yet one
or two of the more obvious varieties may be mentioned, with the
remark, that it is quite as difficult, fi'om their present appearance,
to refer them all to one stock, as it is to believe that that stock is
the wild cat of the British brake. The Cat of Angora, says a
recent writer, of whose descriptions we avail ourselves, is a very
beautiful variety, with silvery hair of fine silken texture, gene-
rally longest on the neck, but also long on the tail. Some are
yellowish, and others olive, approaching to the colour of the
lion ; but they are all delicate creatures, and of gentle disposi-
tions. The Persian Cat is a variety with the hair very much
produced, and very silky, perhaps more so than the cat of Ang'ora.
It is, however, differently coloured, being of a fine uniform gray
on the upper part, with the texture of the fur as soft as silk, and
the lustre glossy ; the colour fades off on the lower parts of the
sides, and passes into white, or nearly so, on the belly. This is
probably one of the most beautiful varieties, and it is said to be
exceedingly g-entle in its manners. The Chinese Cat has the fur
beautifully glossed, but it is very different from either of those
which have been mentioned. It is variegated with black and
yellow, and, unlike the most of the race, has the ears pendulous.
The last we shall mention is the Tortoise-shell Cat, one of the
prettiest varieties of those which have the fur of moderate length,


and witliout any particular silver}^ gloss. The colours are very
pure black, wliite, and reddish orange ; and in this country, at
least, males thus marked are said to be rare, thouirh they are
quite common in Egypt and the south of Europe. This variety
has other qualities to recommend it besides the beauty of its
colours. Tortoise-shell cats are ver^^ elegant, though delicate in
their form, and are, at the same time, very active, and among*
the most attached and grateful of the whole race. It may be
remarked, however, that there is much less difference in manners
than in appearance, and that those which are best fed and most
kiudl}'- treated are invariably the best natured and the most

It has already been observed that little or nothing is knovrn
regarding' the history of the domestic cat; and naturally so,
since the animal is generally too insignificant to merit much
attention. The cat has been known from time immemorial to
the Chinese, Hindoos, and Persians ; Vv'as domiciled among the
PhcBnicians, Egyptians, Jews, Greeks, and Romans ; and even
figures in the mythology of some of these nations. Among the
Egyptians the cat was held in the greatest veneration. If one
died a natural death, it was mourned for with certain appointed
symbols of grief; and if killed, the murderer was given up to
the rabble to be buffeted to death. Cats were thus not only held
sacred when alive, but after death were embalmed and deposited
in the niches of the catacombs. Moncrieft" mentions that an
insult offered to a cat by a Roman was the cause of an insurrec-
tion among the Egyptians, even v.'hen the fact of their own
vanquishment could not excite them to rebel ; and it is also told
that Cambyses, availing himself of this regard for the animal,
made himself master of Pelusis, which had hitherto successfully
resisted his arms. The stratagem which he fell upon was in the
highest degree ingenious : he gave to each of his soldiers em-
ployed in the attack a live cat instead of a buckler, and the
Egyptian garrison, rather than injure the objects of their vene-
ration, suffered themselves to be conquered. M. Baumgarten
informs us, that when he was at Damascus, he saw there
a kind of hospital for cats : the house in which they were kept
was very large, walled round, and was said to be quite full of
them. On inquiring into the origin of this singular institution,
he was told that Mahomet, when he once lived there, broug'ht
with him a cat, which he kept in the sleeve of his garment, and
carefully fed %vith his own hands — cutting off" his sleeve rather
than disturb the slumber of his favourite. His followers in this
place, therefore, ever afterwards paid a superstitious res})ect to
these animals ; and supported them in this manner by public

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) → online text (page 45 of 59)