THE PARALLEL: —
A POEM, Or Verses of William W—k—n, of Portgenone, in the County of Antrim, describing the base extraction, high insignificance, and family connections, of the said William W—k—n, alias Pigmy Will.
The Isle Egina as its said, was once depeopled by a plague:
Nor male nor female then was spared Save Eacus, who was its laird.
Great Jove to Eacus gave birth, As good a wight as liv’d on earth;
And skilled in magic as it’s said, He found out means in stop the plague.
The ants they saw to their surprise, The nation fall before their eyes; And earnestly desired then, That he would change them into men.
This was no sooner said than done, For straight to conjuring he begun; Then feet and legs might there be seen, And bodies moving on the green; With thighs, arms, shoulders, neck, and head, Like ghosts arising from the dead.
When all this tiny race was fram’d, There was one of them that was nam’d Ninneus, he of stature small, The merest dwarf among them all; The little Naethius, Pluto’s client, Compared to him was like a giant; Nor all the race of Fairies dire Nor Salamanders bred in fire Nor Oberon the fairy king, Nor all the race of dwarfs living, Nor one on earth compared him ‘till Except the moth called Pigmy Will. (1) But certes here, you’ll think anon, This is a rare comparison;
That such a lad as Ninneus was should likened be to Will the dwarf
But now, my muse, for to be brief On Willy’s acts turn o’er a leaf The Pigmy people did declare With race of Cranes a dreadful war; And urg’d them with their winged might To meet them on the field to fight.
The Cranes, not daunted at this news, Ne’er doubting that they’d soon confuse This reptile race void dread or fear Unto the battle they drew near.
Our Pigmy with his little page, (2) A fearful crane did soon engage She tore their face with beak and nail, And dealt her blows as thick as hail.
In minutes three the pgae was kill’d And Will being well in running skill’d,
Took to his heels t’ avoid disgrace And shun the rage of a cranish race, But fortune’s smiles, that wait on th’ brave Beam’d not, our hero fleet to save For soon, alas! he fell flat down.
The crane observing him in swoon, Clutch’d and lift high up in the air, Having fast hold of poor Will’s hair.
At this unhappy change of place, Will made a haggard rueful face And earnestly desired to be Rid of his potent enemy.
The crane fast sped, now high, now low, With her poor caitiff screaming foe; Till coming o’er Portnegro town, (3) She loos’d her fangs, and let him down:
And he, poor wight, like old king Log, Came plumb directly to a bog.
When from PortNegro he came home, His friends embrac’d him one by one;
But father said, “I’ll thrash your back, sir, (4) “Gin ye dinna mend your manners straight, sir!”
Like all ancient compositions of famous and learned men, the above wonderful Poem stands in need of Notes and Illustrations. (A) The transformation of the ants into men by Earus, in the Island of Egina, is taken from Ovid’s Metam. Lib VII., Fab. xxvi. and xxvii. And the story of the pigmies and the Cranes, may be seen in Homer, Pliny, and Juvenal. (1) Pigny Will, — the school nick-name of the young man, William W—k—n (2) Little page, — a poor little serving lad, a sort of playmate of William’s when he was at his father’s house. (3) Port Negro, — the town of Portglenone, on the River Ban, near to which this family dwelt. (4) I’ll thrash your back, — a very common expression of William’s father.
But it may be asked, how could young Clarke, at this age, get the information which enabled him to make the above classical allusions, for he had not yet read the authors to whom the verses refer? It may be answered, that he was now learning, and was particularly fond of classical history; and, having procured an old copy of Littleton’s dictionary, he made himself, at a very early age, entire master of all the proper names; so that there was neither person nor place to the classic world of which he could not give a ready account. This made him of great consideration among his school-fellows; and most of them in all the forms, generally applied to him for information on the historical parts of their lessons.
His love of reading was intense and unconquerable. To gratify this passion, and a passion it was in him, he would undergo any privations, and submit to any kind of hardship. The pence that he and his brother got for being good boys, and doing extra work, &c., they carefully preserved, never laying them out on toys, sweetmeats, &c., as other children did; but when their savings amounted to a sum for which they could purchase some interesting book, they laid it out in this way. At first they got penny and twopenny histories, afterwards sixpenny books, and so on, as their minds were improved and their pence increased.
Theirs was a little library — but to them exceedingly precious; for their books were their companions. and in their company ever vacant hour was employed. Before and after labor were their chief times for reading; and to gain time, the necessary hours of repose were abridged. Childish history, tales, and romances, were the first subjects of their study. The following short list of their books I give as a curiosity; the names of several are, I suppose, no longer known:
The Reading made easy, and Ditwarts’s Spelling-Book.
The famous and delightful history of Tom Thumb.
Ditto of Jack the Giant Killer Ditto of Jack Horner.
Ditto of Rosewall and Lilly Ann.
Ditto of Guy Earl of Warwick.
Ditto of the Seven Wise Masters and Mistresses.
Ditto of the Nine Worthies of the World.
Ditto of Thomas Hickathrift.
Ditto of Captain James Hind.
Ditto of the Babes in the World.
Ditto of the Seven Champions of Christendom.
Ditto of Sir Francis Drake.
Ditto of the New World, i.e. America.
Ditto of Captain Falkner.
Ditto of Montelion, or the Knight of the Oracle.
Ditto of Robinson Crusoe.
Ditto of Valentine and Orson.
Ditto of Parismus and Parismenos.
The Tale of the Three Bonnets.
The Fairy Tales.
Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.
The Destruction of Troy.
Robin Hood’s Garland.
The history of Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudesly.
The Life of Sir William Wallace.
A Groat’s worth of Wit for a Penny.
The Cherry and the Sloe.
The Gentle Shepherd.
The Pilgrim’s Proresi.
Aesop’s Fables, by L’Estrangc.
The Holy War. — Cum multis aliis, quae nunc prescribere longum est.
Such were the humble materials which served as semina for a very large stock of bibliogrophical knowledge, and, as a foundation, certainly very unpromising, of one of the most select and valuable private libraries in the kingdom.
“From small beginnings mighty fabrics rise.”
According to the present mode of education most of these articles would be proscribed, as calculated to vitiate the taste and give false impressions; especially books of enchantment chivalry, &c. But is it not better to have a deeply rooted belief of the existence of an eternal world, — of God, angels and spirits, though mingled with such superstition as naturally as cleaves to infant and inexperienced minds, and which maturer judgment, reflection, and experience, will easily correct than to be brought up in a general ignorance of God and heaven, of angels, spirits, and spiritual influence; or in skepticism concerning the whole? There is a sort of Sadducean education now highly in vogue, that is laying the foundation of general irreligion and Deism. Although it may not quadrate with certain received maxims, it may be here safely asserted, that it was such reading as the above, that gave A. Clarke his literary taste and bent his mind to literary, philosophical, and metaphysical pursuits. He himself has bee n known to observe, ‘Had I never read those books, it is probable I should never have been a reader, or a scholar, of any kind: yea, I doubt much, whether I should ever have been a religious man. Books of enchantments, &c., led me to believe in a spiritual world, and that if there were a devil to hurt, there was a God to help, who never deserted the upright: and, when I came to read the Sacred Writings, I was confronted by their authority in the belief I had received, and have reason to thank God, that I was not educated under the modern Sadducean system. “ At this early age he read the Pilgrim’s Progress, as he would read a book of Chivalry. CHRISTIAN was the great Hero by whom the most appalling difficulties were surmounted, the most incredible labors performed, powerful enchantments dissolved, giants conquered, and devils quelled. It was not likely that he would see it as a spiritual allegory: and therefore it was no wonder that he could not comprehend how Christian and Hopeful could submit to live several days and nights in the dungeon of Doubting Castle, under the torture of Giant Despair, while the former “had a key in his bosom which could open ever lock in that castle. “ When he read that part, and found that Christian actually had such a key, and did use it, and thus released both himself and his companion, he called him fifty fools for his pains; and has often since been led to express his surprise that both John Bunyan the author, and those who hold his creed, should not have been more aware of these great truths, — that no grace of God can be at all effectual to the salvation of the soul, unless it be faithfully used; — that we may have the power to believe to the saving of the soul, and yet not use that power, and so continue in darkness and condemnation: for, though faith be the gift of God, it is only so as to the grace of faith, or power to believe; but the act of faith, or believing, is the act of the soul, under the aid of that power or grace; for, although, to believe without the power, is as “impossible as to make a world” yet, when we have that power, we may believe and be saved. God no more believes for us, than he repents for us. We may have the grace of repentance, — a deep conviction from his spirit, that we have sinned; but we may harden our hearts against that grace, and so quench the spirit. In like manner, we may have the grace or power to believe and yet hesitate, and not cast ourselves on Divine Mercy. Christian had the key of faith in his bosom, long before he pulled it out to open the doors of his prison house.
In hearing the history of the Trojan War; for his father used to recite it to his children as a Winter Evening’s Tale; Adam was so much struck with the character of Hector, — his courage, his calmness, dignified carriage, filial piety, and inflexible love of his country and his family, that he was quite enamored with it; and when he read Burton’s Nine Worthies of the World, he longed to see Hector, whom he considered the chief of the whole; and as he had heard that in many cases the departed have revisited their friends and others; he has gone out into the fields by himself, when a child of seven or eight years old, and with the most ardent desire, invoked the soul of the departed chief to appear to him; and thinking that it could hear, has even set it a time and place in the fields to meet him.
Can it be supposed that the Romances which he read could be of any real service? The names of the chief of these, the Reader has already seen. With respect to these he has said, when conversing with his friends on the subject, — “I believe I should have been an arrant coward had I never read Romances; such was the natural timidity, or if you please, imbecility of my mind.” Of his courage none could doubt, who have seen him, while offering the salvation of God to a rebel world, surrounded and assailed by a desperate mob, standing alone, when his friends had forsaken him and fled, every man providing for his own safety. Instances of this kind will occur in the course of this Narrative.
As he had heard and read much of enchantments and enchanters, so he had heard much of magic and magicians. Whether there were any thing real in their pretended science he could not tell: but his curiosity prompted him strongly to inquire. He had heard of the Occult Philosophy of Cornelius Agrippa, and wonderful tales his school-fellows had told relative to this book; — “that it was obliged to be chained to a large block, else it would fly, or be carried away,” &c.
Hearing that a school-master at some miles’ distance, had a copy, he begged his father to write a letter to the gentleman, requesting the loan of the book for a few days. Though he knew not the road, and was only about eight years of age, yet he equipped himself for the journey and when his mother said, “Adam, you must not attempt to go; you will be lost, for you know not the road,” He replied, “Never fear, mother, I shall find it well enough.” “But you will be so weary by the time you get there, that you will not have strength to return;” to which he answered, “Never fear, mother, If I can get there and get the book, I hope to get as much out of it as will bring me home without touching the ground. The little fellow had actually made up his mind to return to his home on the back of an angel he was however disappointed; the man refused to lend the book.
This disappointment only served to whet and increase his curiosity: and an occurrence shortly after took place, which in some measure crowned his wishes as to a sight of this book. A family of traveling tinkers or iron founders, — makers of small iron pots, — came to the country. It was currently reported of them, that they were all conjurers and possessed some wonderful magical books. Adam got leave from his parents to visit them. He found a man, his wife, and a tall well-made son of about twenty years of age, and several other children, two of whom were dumb, encamped in a forsaken house, where, for the time being, they had erected a furnace and were hard at work. Adam’s errand was soon known, and the father, a very intelligent man, began to entertain him with strange relations of what might be done by spells, figures, diagrams, letters, fumigations, &c. &c. All this he heard with raptures, and inquired into the particulars: — these were sparingly related, and he was told to come the next day. He went accordingly, and was well received, and to his inexpressible joy, a copy of the three books of Cornelius Agrippa’s Occult Philosophy was produced. He touched it with fear, and read it with trembling, and asked liberty to take some notes which was conceded. In this way, studying, talking, looking for simples, and preparing operations, he spent several days; this eccentric community cheerfully dividing, with this indefatigable student, their morsel of homely fare. Every night, however, he returned home; and early in the morning revisited these occult philosophers. At length, when they had supplied all the adjacent place with their manufacture, they removed to another part of the country, entirely out of his reach; and he returned laden with spoils, for such he esteemed them; and having, as he supposed, the bounds of his knowledge considerably enlarged. His instructor, however, had told him that there was a fourth book of the incomparable Cornelius Agrippa, without which, as it contained the practice o f the art, it would be useless to attempt any operations. This was discouraging; but it could not be remedied, and so he nearly remitted all study of the science, as he was unacquainted with the practical part, till he should be able to meet with this fourth book.
The notes which he took at this time were very imperfect, as he had not learned to write, so as to make them very intelligible: but his brother copied all fair; and by the help of Adam’s descriptions made those little entries pretty correct.
He was persuaded the whole was innocent, for every thing seemed to be done with a reference to and dependence upon, God. By His terrible name all spirits were to be raised, employed, bound, and loosed. The science appeared to connect both worlds and bring about a friendly intercourse between disembodied and embodied spirits: and by it those which were fallen and wicked were to be made the servants and vassals of the good and holy.
This view of the subject, tended greatly to impose on his mind; but happening about this time to read an answer in a book entitled The Athenian Oracle, to the question,— “Is that magic lawful whose operations are performed in the name of God, and by solemn invocations of his power,” &c. &c.? The answer was, No: — for, concerning such things, our Lord has said: Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them I never knew you; depart from me ye that work iniquity, Matthew 7:22,23.
This had a proper effect, and made him proceed afterwards with caution in all these occult matters: nor did he ever attempt to use any kind of magical incantations.
This subject has been treated more particularly because many young minds have been led astray by the promises and apparent piety of this science; and have been thereby plunged into sorrows and disappointments.
So much of the fear of God had young Clarke all this time, that had he not been convinced that it was consistent with religion, he never would have bent his mind to its study. Many years after this, he investigated this subject still more minutely; and saw all that could be termed the use and abuse of it.
There was, however, one good effect produced, by the report spread in the neighborhood, — that the young Clarkes had such sovereign magical powers, and had such spells set in their house, garden, and fields, that, “if any person came to plunder or steal, he would be arrested by the power of those spells, and not be able to move from the spot in which he began his depredations, till sunrise the next morning: this secured their property.
Previously to this, many things were stolen, particularly poultry; but after this, nothing was ever taken; and the family became so secure, that for months together, they neither bolted nor locked their doors; nor indeed was it necessary.
There are three or four articles in the little library mentioned above, on which it may be necessary to say a few words, because of the effects produced by them on A. C’s. mind; and because of the influence they had on his future life and studies: -viz. The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, Robinson Crusoe, and L’Estrange’s Fables of AEsop.
The reading of the first of these gave him that decided taste for Oriental history which has been so very useful to him in all his biblical studies. He wished to acquaint himself more particularly with a people whose customs and manners, both religious and civil, were so strange and curious; he never lost sight of this till divine providence opened the way, and placed the means in his power to gain some acquaintance with the principal languages of the East. This also will be noticed in its due place.
The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, he read as a real history: no true tale was ever better or more naturally told: and none, merely fictitious, was ever told more imposingly. No history, true or feigned, had ever a more direct moral tendency. From it, he has often said, he learned more expressly his duty to God to his parents, and a firmer belief in Divine Providence, then from all he read or heard from books or men during his early years: and as soon as they could read, he took care to put this work into the hands of his own children, from the conviction, that in it were combined the finest lessons, and maxims of religious and morality, with every thing interesting and fascinating in historic detail. He has always stated that the good impressions made on his mind by reading this work were never effaced.
With the Fables of Aesop, and his Life by Planudes, he was always much delighted. It was almost one of the first hooks that he could read, and it was one of the last of his boyish companions that he relinquished. The little pictures with which it was adorned, were the means of attaching his mind, in the first instance. From the Countrymen, whose Wagon had stuck fast in the sand, he learned the necessity of strenuous exertion, while expecting the Divine succor. He often applied the words, “Thou fool! whip thy horses and set thy shoulders to the wheels, and call upon Hercules, and he will help thee, to those who expected God by a miracle to bring them out of their difficulties, while sitting down in indolence and supine self-despair.
The fable of the Lark and Young Ones, taught him the folly of expecting that help from neighbors and friend which a man owed to himself, and which by the exertions of himself and family, he could furnish. From the fable of the farmer who wished Rain and Fair Weather in the those times which he should judge most proper, and at harvest time had no crop, he learned the folly of human anxiety concerning the weather, and the necessity of depending on divine providence. The braggart who pretended to have cleared so many yards at one leap in the Island of Rhodes showed him the vanity of empty boasting; and of pretending to have done some mighty feat in some distant country, which his friends were at liberty not to credit till they had seen him perform the same at home, The Dog in the Manger, The Trumpeter taken prisoner, The sick Kite, The Daw in borrowed Feathers, &c. &c. were all to him lessons of instruction; and from them he borrowed some of the chief maxims which governed his life.
It may be proper to give here some account how the the gentry spend their long winter’s evenings, in that part of Ireland in which young Clarke was born and educated.
The young people of the different families go night about, to each other’s houses, and while the female part are employed in cording and spinning the master and elder males in weaving linen cloth, and some of the older children in filling the bobbins, called there quills, and one holding the lighted wooden candle, a thin lath, split from a block of bog-fir, called there a split; — a grandfather, grandmother, or some other aged person, tells Tales of other times; chiefly the exploits of their ancestors, especially of Fion ma cool (Fingal) and his family; and his family, and their wars with the Danes. Some of these tales employ two or three hours in the telling.
And although this custom prevailed long before anything was heard of Macpherson, and his Finfal and Ossian, and their heroes, yet similar accounts to his relations, were produced in the Noctes Hibernicae of these people. It is true that in these there were many wild stories which are not found in Macpherson, but the substance was often the same. Per haps this may plead something in favor of Macpherson’s general accuracy: he did not make all his stories: but he may have greatly embellished them. As for the existence of epic poems, in those times, either in Ireland, or in the Scotch Highlands, it is a fiction too gross to be credited: nothing like these appear in the best told tales of the most intelligent Shenachies, which the tell as having received them from their fathers and they from their fathers, and so up to an impenetrable antiquity. A. C. has been heard to say: — “The Gaelic tales are of such a nature, and take possession of the heart and memory so forcibly, that they may he related by different persons again and again, without omitting any one material circumstance. I have heard some of these tales, the telling of which took up three full hours, that I could repeat, and have repeated afterwards, in different companies, without the loss of a single sentence. I have, in telling such, done little else than give a verbal relation, only mending the language, where it appeared particularly faulty. “But were those tales, to which you refer, told in verse? “No; they were all in prose: but they might have been originally in verse; for the persons who related them, translated them out of their maternal tongue, which was Irish, alias Gaelic. I asked no questions relative to the form in which they existed in the original; because I did not know that any thing depended on it; for of Macpherson and his Ossian, and the controversy on that subject, no man had then heard.”
In one of those tales which relates to Fion ma cool, (Fingal) there is a statement of his conversion by the preaching of St. Patrick. When the chief of Erin presented himself before the Saint, he found him very decrepit and obliged to support himself on two crutches, while he performed the ceremony of baptism. When about to sprinkle the water upon Fingal’s head the Saint was obliged to shift his ground, in order to stand more commodiously by the chief. In doing this he unwittingly placed the pike of his crutch upon Fion’s foot: the ceremony being ended, when St. Patrick was about to move away, he found the end of his crutch entangled in the foot of the chief, the pike having run through it and pinned it to the ground! Expressing both his surprise and regret, he asked Fingal, “Why he had not informed him of the mistake at first?” the noble chief answered, “I thought, holy father, that this had been a port of the ceremony.” He who could have acted so must have been truly magnanimous, and sincerely desirous o f becoming a Christian!
When work and tales were ended the supper was introduced, which was invariably in the winter evenings, a basket of potatoes, boiled, without being peeled; and either a salt herring, or a little milk, mostly buttermilk.
Immediately after this simple repast all went to bed, and generally arose to work a considerable time before day.
In few parts of the world do the peasantry live a more industrious and harmless life. It should also be stated, that sometimes instead of tales, they employ themselves with riddles, puzzles, and various trials of wit.
Sometimes in narrative and national songs, among which are accounts of foreign travels, shipwrecks, the Battle of the Boyne, and the Siege of Londonderry. They are fond also of blazoning the piety, fortitude, noble descent, and valorous achievements of their forefathers. Feats, requiring either much strength or agility, were frequent exercises for their young men in these social meetings; such as lifting weights; and, in moonlight nights, out of doors, putting the stone, and pitching the bar or iron crow.
Balancing was a favorite amusement, but in this very few make much proficiency, because it requires great agility and a very steady eye.
Perhaps few ever carried this to greater perfection than young Clarke; whatever he was able to lift on his chin, that he could balance: iron crows, sledge hammers, ladders, chairs, &c. &c., he could in a great variety of combinations balance to great perfection on chin, nose and forehead. In short, whatever he saw done in this way he could do; so that many of the common people thought he performed these feats by a supernatural agency. How much more rational and manly are such amusements than cards, dice, or degrading games of hazard of any kind! By these, the mind is debased, and the meanest and vilest passions excited, nourished and gratified. By those, emulation, corporeal strength, agility, &c. are produced and maintained. The former may make poltroons and assassins, but can never make a man, a friend, or a hero.
Of his Religious Education, scarcely any thing has been yet spoken; as it was not judged proper to mix his boyish operations and pursuits with matters of a more severe and spiritual cast.
We have already seen that, at a very early age his mind was deeply impressed with subjects of the greatest importance. This was not a transitory impression: — his mother was a woman decidedly religious: she was a Presbyterian of the old Puritanic school. She had been well catechized in her youth, and had read the Scriptures with great care and to much profit. She ever placed the fear of God before the eyes of her children, caused them to read and reverence the Scriptures, and endeavored to impress the most interesting arts on their minds. If they did wrong at any time, she had recourse uniformly to the Bible, to strengthen her reproofs and to deepen conviction. In these she was so conversant and ready, that there was scarcely a delinquency, for the condemnation of which she could not easily find a portion. She seemed to find them on the first opening, and would generally say, “See what God has guided my eye to in a moment.” Her own reproofs her children could in some measure bear, but when she had recours e to the Bible, they were terrified out of measure; such an awful sense had they of the truth of God’s Word and the Majesty of the Author. One anecdote will serve to show her manner of reproving, and the impression made by such reproofs.
Adam one day disobeyed his mother, and the disobedience was accompanied with some look or gesture that indicated a undervaluing of her authority. This was a high affront; she immediately flew to the Bible, and opened on these words, Proverbs 30:17, which she read and commented on in a most awful manner: — “The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.” The poor culprit was cut to the heart, believing the words had been sent immediately from heaven: he went out into the field with a troubled spirit, and was musing on this horrible denunciation of Divine displeasure, when the hoarse croak of a raven sounded to his conscience an alarm more terrible than the cry of fire at midnight! He looked up and soon perceived this most ominous bird, and actually supposing it to be the raven of which the text spoke, coming to pick out his eyes, he clapped his hands on them with the utmost speed and trepidation, and ran to wards the house as fast as the state of his alarm and perturbation would admit, that he might escape the impending vengeance.
The severe creed of his mother led her more frequently to represent the Supreme Being as a God of Justice, than as the God of mercy: the consequence was, the children dreaded God, and obeyed only through fear: — perhaps, this was the only impression that could be made, to awaken conscience and keep it awake.
To the religious instructions of his mother, her son ever attributed, under God, that fear of the Divine Majesty, which ever prevented him from taking pleasure in sin. “My mother’s reproofs and terrors never left me, said he, “till I sought and found the salvation of God. And sin was generally so burdensome to me, that I was glad to hear of deliverance from it. She taught me such reverence for the Bible, that if I had it in my hand even for the purpose of studying a chapter in order to say it as a lesson, and had been disposed with my class-fellows to sing, whistle a tune, or be facetious, I dared not do either while the book was open in my hands. In such cases I always shut it and laid it down beside me. Who will dare to lay this to the charge of superstition!”
We need not say that such a mother taught her children to pray. Each night, before they went to bed, they regularly kneeled successively at her knee and said the Lord’s Prayer; and implored a blessing on father, mother, relatives, and friends: those who were six years old and upwards, said also the Apostles Creed. She had also a Morning Prayer and an Evening Prayer, which she taught them: these prayers were in verse; who was the author we know not. As they are simple and expressive, and well suited to infant minds, I shall insert them for their piety, whatever may be thought of the reader.