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Poict. I hope we shall have another good day to-morrow, for the clouds are red in the west.
Phys. I have no doubt of it, for the red has a tint of purple.
making, rays; and as dry air is not perfectly transparent, they are again reflected in the horizon. I have observed generally a coppery or yellow sunset to foretel rain; but, as an indication of wet weather approaching, nothing is more certain than a halo round the moon, which is produced by the precipitated water; and the larger the circle, the nearer the clouds, and, consequently, the more ready to fall.
Hal. I have often observed that the proverb is correct
A rainbow in the morning is the shepherd's warning
A rainbow at night is the shepherd's delight.
Can you explain this omen?
Phys. A rainbow can only occur when the clouds containing or depositing the rain are opposite to the sun,—and in the evening the rainbow is in the east, and in the morning in the west; and as our heavy rains, in this climate, are usually brought by the westerly wind, a rainbow in the west indicates that the bad weather is on the road, by the wind, to us; whereas the rainbow in the east proves that the rain in these clouds is passing from us.
Poict. I have often observed that when the swallows fly high, fine weather is to be expected or continued; but when they fly low, and close to the ground, rain is almost surely approaching. Can you account for this?
Hal. Swallows follow the flies and gnats, and flies and gnats usually delight in warm strata of air; and as warm air is lighter, and usually moister than cold air, when the warm strata of air are higher, there is less chance of moisture being thrown down from them by the mixture with cold air; but when the warm and moist air is close to the surface, it is almost certain that, as the cold air flows down into it, a deposition of water will take place.
Poict. I have often seen sea-gulls assemble on the land, and have almost always observed that very stormy and rainy weather was approaching. I conclude that these animals, sensible of a current of air approaching from the ocean, retire to the land to shelter themselves from the storm.
Orn. No such thing. The storm is their element; and the little petrel enjoys the heaviest gale, because, living on the smaller sea insects, he is sure to find his food in the spray of a heavy wave, and you may see him flitting above the edge of the highest surge. I believe that the reason of this migration of sea-gulls, and other sea birds to the land, is their security of finding food; and they may be observed, at this time, feeding greedily on the earth worms and larvæ, driven out of the ground by severe floods; and the fish, on which they prey in fine weather in the sea, leave the surface and go deeper in storms. The search after food, as we agreed on a former occasion, is the principal cause why animals change their places. The different tribes of the wading birds always migrate when rain is about to take place; and I remember once, in Italy, having been long waiting, in the end of March, for the arrival of the double snipe in the Campagna of Rome, a great flight appeared
on the 3rd of April, and the day after heavy rain set in, which greatly interfered with my sport. The vulture, upon the same principle, follows armies; and I have no doubt that the augury of the ancients was a good deal founded upon the observation of the instincts of birds. There are many superstitions of the vulgar owing to the same source. For anglers, in spring, it is always unlucky to see single magpies, but two may be always regarded as a favourable omen; and the reason is, that in cold and stormy weather one magpie alone leaves the nest in search of food, the other remaining sitting upon the eggs or the young ones; but when two go out together, it is only when the weather is warm and mild, and favourable for fishing.
Poict. The singular connections of causes and effects, to which you have just referred, make superstition less to be wondered at, particularly amongst the vulgar; and when two facts, naturally unconnected, have been accidentally coincident, it is not singular that this coincidence should have been observed and registered, and that omens of the most absurd kind should be trusted in. In the west of England, half a century ago, a particular hollow noise on the sea coast was referred to a spirit or goblin, called Bucca, and was supposed to foretell a shipwreck; the philosopher knows that sound travels much faster than currents in the air, and the sound always foretold the approach of a very heavy storm, which seldom takes place on that wild and rocky coast, without a shipwreck on some part of its extensive shores, surrounded by the Atlantic.
Phys. All the instances of omens you have mentioned are founded on reason; but how can you explain such absurdities as Friday being an unlucky day, the terror of spilling salt, or meeting an old woman? I knew a man, of very high dignity, who was exceedingly moved by these omens, and who never went out shooting without a bittern's claw fastened to his button-hole by a ribbon, which he thought ensured him good luck.
Poict. These, as well as the omens of death-watches, dreams, &c., are for the most part founded upon some accidental coinci dence; but spilling of salt, on an uncommon occasion, may, as I have known it, arise from a disposition to apoplexy, shown by an incipient numbness in the hand, and may be a fatal symptom; and persons, dispirited by bad omens, sometimes prepare the way for evil fortune; for confidence in success is a great means of ensuring it. The dream of Brutus, before the field of Pharsalia, probably produced a species of irresolution and despondency which was the principal cause of his losing the battle and I have heard that the illustrious sportsman to whom you referred just now, was always observed to shoot ill, because he shot carelessly, after one of his dispiriting omens.
Hal. I have in life met with a few things which I found it im possible to explain, either by chance coincidences or by natural connections: and I have known minds of a very superior class affected by them-persons in the habit of reasoning deeply and profoundly.
Phys. In my opinion, profound minds are the most likely to think lightly of the resources of human reason; and it is the pert superficial thinker who is generally strongest in every kind of unbelief. The deep philosopher sees chains of causes and effects so wonderfully and strangely linked together, that he is usually the last person to decide upon the impossibility of any two series of events being independent of each other; and in science, so many natural miracles, as it were, have been brought to light-such as the fall of stones from meteors in the atmosphere, the disarming a thunder cloud by a metallic point, the production of fire from ice by a metal white as silver, and the referring certain laws of motion of the sea to the moon-that the physical inquirer is seldom disposed to assert confidently on any abstruse subjects belonging to the ordeal of natural things, and still less so on those relating to the more mysterious relations of moral events and intellectual natures.
Description of a Subtle Disputant.
HE was in logic a great critic,
A hair 'twixt south and south-west side;
And pay with ratiocination;
All this by syllogism, true
In mood and figure,† he would do,
His mouth, but out there flew a trope:‡
* I. e. the science of reducing things or discourses to their component parts. ↑ Logical terms to denote the form in which an argument is stated.
Figure of speech.
For all a rhetorician's rules
Teach nothing but to name his tools.
Which learned pedants much affect:
Of patch'd and piebald languages:
A leash of languages at once.
Did fill his mouth with pebble stones,
When he harangued, but known his phrase,
Sir Roger de Coverley at Church.
I AM always very well pleased with a country Sunday, and think, if keeping holy the seventh day were only a human institution, it would be the best method that could have been thought of for the polishing and civilising of mankind. It is certain the country people would soon degenerate into a kind of savages and barbarians, were there not such frequent returns of a stated time, in which the whole village meet together with their best faces, and in their cleanliest habits, to converse with one another upon different subjects, hear their duties explained to them, and join together in adoration of the Supreme Being. Sunday clears away the rust
* Babel-like, confused.