The Secrets of Cabalism
“No,” said the prime-minister of Christian VII, as he sat in the confidential cabinet of his colleague, Count Brandt—“that is too much for any human capacity of belief. I can see our master’s imbecility of head and hardness of heart, but I cannot believe him a composition of plumbago, or black lead.”
“You should rather say that you believe him a lump of silex, for black lead has too much affinity to the diamond to have afforded him either head or heart. But, Struensee!—are you, versed in all the monstrous superstitions of Asia, Africa, and ancient Europe, prepared to say my system is incredible?—What is there more unnatural in believing all the elements which surround us inhabited by active and intelligent beings, than in peopling them with the profligate and hideous deities of heathen and Hindoo mythology?”
“We now understand the Sublime allegory of both without believing either; and I frankly add, that I have studied the wild yet elegant romance of Rosicrucius not so much to enrich my mind as to relieve it by ideas of moral beauty, which are not supplied by realities.”
“That is,” said the designing philosopher, “you have formed a beau ideal. Tell me, while we are in the secret safety of this cabinet, with what part of human nature you could best dispense?—With its infirmities, of course?”
“I wish,” replied the young statesman, rising with energy, “that we had stronger reason, or no feelings. Brandt, all that yet has happened in my public life, convinces me we should be always wise, and therefore always easy, if we had none. Of what use is our indignation at dishonesty?—there are always a thousand reasons why it is not safe to express it.—We are required to submit patiently and daily to injustice, and our vivid sense of it is only a torment. Is there any feeling of joy, of friendship, or of triumph, which we are not forced to curb and suspect? Let me find, if I can, a creature framed for reason only, and I shall expect to see perfection.”
Brandt smiled at this sally, and at the high flush of excited feeling which coloured the speaker’s countenance. “You have said enough, Struensee, to shew me what materials I must chuse for your gratification, and to convince your unbelief.” So saying, he unlocked an iron coffer, and placed on the table two fragments of stone.
“This,” continued the cabalist, “is a part of that immense stone which eastern nations call Saxhrat, and believe the centre or axis of the earth. It was dislodged in one of those earthquakes which they suppose the Creator produces by commanding this stone to move one of its vast fibres. This smaller fragment came from that great tract northwards of Mexico, named Anahuas, and rich in ores and precious stones of every kind. The first contains portions of the six primitive rocks:—granite, porphyry, marble, serpentine, schist, and sienite;—the second includes the principies of all the oriental gems, the topaz, the emerald, the ruby, and the sapphire. Among the sullen and unpromising materials of the rocky fragment, I can find the occidental gems, the cornelian, sardonyx, agate, opal, mocha, jasper, and garnet. And into one or all of these I can convey life by certain combinations. There are beings who inhabit and govern these masses—chuse whether you desire to know them better, for they partake the nature of the substance they rule.”
Struensee smiled incredulously, and replied—“If I desired a superhuman wife, I would chuse one, like Mahomet’s angels, composed of seven kinds of incense, rather than one derived from clay or rock, however modified into gems. But if you ask what gem I should desire to animate, I would chuse the diamond, which lightning cannot penetrate, nor the utmost violence deprive of its qualities, I chuse it because its hardness, its brightness, and incorruptible nature, realize my notion of a mind all truth and justice without that beautiful defect called feeling.”
“You are mistaken, however,” said his companion;—“and the diamond unites some properties very foreign to your notion; for though it affords no ashes when exposed to fire, it ends in the most poisonous vapour. And the charcoal and oxygen which compose it are too obstinate and volatile to complete your poetical comparison. But we will see what chemic art can produce under a Rosicrucian’s guidance.”
Brandt opened what has since been called a Voltaic apparatus; and after sundry experiments aided by enormous heat, fused a small lump of charcoal, to which he added a most minute portion of oxygen. The result was, or seemed to be, a diamond of rare lustre, and such breadth of surface, that it resembled the crystal which covered a small portrait. And when Struensee looked upon it, a miniature face of exquisite colouring and beauty appeared within it, varying as the light glanced on the gem which contained it, as if it had life and motion. The young statesman was confounded at this specimen of cabalistic art, and especially as the visionary face was one he had imagined in his dreams of beauty. “You are surprised,” said Brandt, “at my discernment and my skill. You have not yet seen the sequel. Keep this gem—its power depends on the wearer’s affinity to the principles it possesses. Strength, firmness, and integrity, are the moral qualities which resemble the diamond—it has no fallibility, no soft particle, no power of change. Remember and preserve it.”
The cabalist fixed his eyes sternly on Struensee, who understood the admonition. They were both engaged in plans, perhaps too romantic, for the reformation of Danish policy; and the weakness of the sovereign, while it permitted daring attempts, encreased the hazard of those who had no support except their own talents. Brandt knew how much truth and honour were mingled with the enthusiasm of Struensee’s character, and also knew how far the charm of mystery acts on the firmest human nature. Artfully descending from the pomp of his philosophic harangue, he led his young colleague back to the secret of state-policy which had caused their meeting, and sketched the extensive plot a few days was to unfold.
On the third day from this cabalistic conference, the young queen Caroline-Matilda was expected to preside at a dramatic entertainment, composed, in compliment to her native country, in the English language. Count Brandt had given the half-ideot king a sufficient taste for necromantic wonders, and in due compliance with his taste, the drama was founded on the agency of a sylph, attached to a learned and discontented man. This latter character fell to the lot of Count Struensee, who studied it with zeal and delight, because it really suited the romantic bent of his genius, and his gallant readiness to amuse an amiable and ill-matched stranger; the part of the sylph was sustained by a creature attired in the lightest drapery, but impenetrably veiled. The King seemed enchanted with her gestures and her voice, especially, perhaps, because no one could inform him from whence the actress came. His own inability to penetrate any thing obscure, and the delight which folly always finds in mysteries, increased the charm of the incognita. He was standing in a stupid but very happy trance of wonder, when Count Brandt presented himself. “Your questions and conjectures, sire,” said the accomplished cabalist, “are all misapplied. Whoever has presumed to guess who or what the stranger really is, has no right to be believed. She is the creation of my art, and I have fulfilled my promise to your Majesty.”
The king, in a still higher humour of joy, required him to call her back and reveal her name.
“She has no name, unless, sire, you are pleased to called her Adama, or the Diamond. But she shall appear again at your command, with a dramatis personæ of her own species.”
“But,” interposed the King, “let her dispense with that ungraceful and unfriendly veil.”
“Her veil,” answered Brandt, “is the woven amianthus, and partakes of the fossil kind from which some of her kindred beings spring.”— Then shewing two small caskets of ebony, and ivory, containing, as he said, the oriental and occidental earths, he desired the king to make his choice. Christian chose the oriental, and Brandt, opening his ivory box, scattered a little earth upon the table, muttering the celebrated cabalistical word “’ Έτημλογηχομυςτιχος.”
At this moment a delicious symphony, produced by the invention of an ingenious chemist on wires and bells governed by electric fluid, astonished some part of the audience; and the king, seated between Brandt and Struensee, saw a groupe of exquisite figures suddenly emerge from beneath the canopy. One wore a veil of pale blue, another of the softest green; the third and fourth had garments which seemed dipped in the dye of the topaz and the ruby, but the fifth wore a mantle that appeared, from its singular lustre and transparency, to be composed of filaments of spunglass, so flexible yet so bright were the foldings of the tissue. As these lovely figures wreathed themselves in their dance, they resembled flowers arranged in a well-chosen garland; and the king, powerfully affected with surprise and a sense of that kind of beauty which promises pleasure, asked Brandt if these were substances or shadows.
“Your Majesty sees,” he answered, “the spirits of those gems which spring from mere alumine or clay—a substance the most stubborn in the world, yet its offsprings are brittle, brilliant, and pellucid. They have life and motion, but passions are unknown to them,—in this, at least, they resemble their parent.”
“For what purpose, then,” interrupted Christian, “have they any existence?”
“They are visible only to those whose actions require judgment and fortitude. Princes and legislators have a right to their presence, but they can behold them only while their minds are occupied, as your Majesty’s now is, in philosophic investigation, or in beneficent projects, such as have been suggested to you for the enfranchisement of your poor subjects.”
The king paused earnestly with a serious gaze; and turning to Struensee, said—“Who is she that stands in the centre?—It is the shape and stature of my wife.”
“Your Majesty sees with the eye of a young husband,—the spirit of the diamond has no fixed complexion, and whoever is permitted to discern her always imagines that, she resembles what he prizes best. Look again, and you will find in her face all the beauty that creates love.”
“Ah!” said Christian, with the sudden light of intellect which sometimes breaks on idiotism, “that is the only true beauty,—but I see the face of Caroline-Matilda of England, not of my own Dina.”
The figure on which the king gazed instantly dropped her shining veil, and wrapped herself in one, whose whiteness resembled that of the swan’s down, but it concealed her features entirely. “I have told you,” said Brandt, “the nature of these Gnomes. Still possessed of the properties of earth, they are incapable of social enjoyment, and cannot administer to ours. The fire that passed through your Majesty’s fancy,—the feelings of youthful affection that revived as you spoke of a former favorite, have disturbed the sober and cold frame of mind requisite to discern these preternatural beings. Ah, Sire! their beauty cannot be wholly unfolded to you till you have completed that great effort which will prove and establish the independence of your spirit.”— As the cabalist spoke, a sudden darkness covered the saloon; and when it vanished, nothing remained of the beautiful vision, except a leaf of laurel on which a diamond hung like a dew-drop, at the king’s feet.
During the whole of this dialogue, Struensee had no eyes, except for the beautiful dancer who had worn the veil of remarkable whiteness without transparency. It had answered completely the purpose of a mask, but her person so resembled the Queen Matilda’s, that Struensee felt a kind of remorse mingling with the pleasure which her presence excited. That pleasure had not been invisible or unobserved. Count Moltke, the favorite confidante of the dowager-queen, had been placed among the audience to watch his conduct, and executed his office with the bitter zeal of a displaced minister and an ambitious woman’s agent. Cowering among the trees that formed an avenue from the illuminated theatre to the queen’s ballroom, he expected to see her pass without her veil, that he might identify her with the unknown actress, and fixed the suspicions he had already roused in her duped husband. But he only saw the king leaning familiarly on the arm of Count Brandt, who led him into one of the lighted temples which the queen’s taste had erected in her gardens. He followed secretly and closely, till he saw them seated at a table on which Brandt spread a paper, and pointed to a place for the king’s signature. “Sire;” he heard him say, “you designed this night only to gratify philosophic curiosity,—you will render it an era in moral and political regeneration if you sign this decree. You have seen the secrets of Nature revealed by my humble means; recompense her for the discovery by liberating and enlightening her sons. I have made you acquainted with a being sprung only from the basest element, from mere impenetrable clay,—deign, sire, to acquaint yoursclf with your fellow-creatures,—your countrymen, your subjects, by elevating them from bondage, and giving them a portion of freedom and instruction. If that intelligent and fair creature came at my command to-night, what may not spring from your influence over the noblest race of men?”
The king cast his eyes, in which the hazy light of intoxication was visible, on a shaded recess between the pillars. Moltke himself was surprised to see the figure of the sylph-actress standing as if covered with a veil of transparent diamond. Christian rose to catch her, but some impenetrable substance seemed to resist his touch. “A Rosicrucian knows,” said the cabalist, “that the spirits of the elements can be approached only by those who resemble them. Your Majesty has not yet shewn the firmness of the gem in which that lovely spirit is embodied. There is only one act wanting to prove it.”
Christian put his agitated hand to the official paper, and signed it almost illegibly; and Struensee, who entered almost at the same instant, exchanged a glance with his colleague which congratulated him on his success. But the veiled figure disappeared as he presented himself; and while their eyes and their credulous master’s dwelt upon the space she had left, they did not perceive the hand that removed the paper from the table. When they looked round towards each other, they had no suspicion that another had been substituted. Count Brandt placed the false paper carefully in his portfolio, and returned with his sovereign and Struensee to join the gala. Moltke, stealing from his hiding-place, made haste to seek the queen-dowager, and shewed her an order for the arrest of Caroline-Matilda, signed by the king’s hand.
“This shall be executed to-night,” said the crafty statesman—“and Brandt has in his portfolio an absolute warrant to detain Struensee in close custody, Stupid contrivers!—while they performed their burlesque phantasmagoria to amuse your son, their precious act for the advancement of the peasantry was exchanged for one of more immediate benefit. And the best part of the machinery is, that each of these reforming ministers will think himself duped by the other. Thus we shall break both their alliance and their project.”
Before the daybreak Caroline-Matilda was conveyed to prison with her infant son; and Brandt had unwarily delivered his portfolio into the hands of his secretary, a spy purchased by his enemy. This perfidious colleague instantly conveyed it to Count Moltke, who assembled proper officers, and, accompanied by his agent, entered Struensee’s bed-chamber, and arrested him. At the sight of his friend’s secretary, and of that paper which he had seen signed with such high hopes, the certainty of most deep fraud smote him. Count Moltke was not slow in enforcing the stroke. “You are charged,” said he, “on evident proofs, of undue favor from the queen, and I am an eye-witness of your sinister attempts to distract the king by exhibitions of art-magic and cabalism. Give me that jewel which an infatuated woman has lavished on you from her husband’s regalia, and thank my kindness for removing from your person a testimonial so decisive of your guilt.”
Struensee was compelled to surrender the diamond with a powerful feeling of disgust and indignation at the stratagem employed by Brandt to fix on him the strongest appearances of treason. And while they lodged him in that state-prison which he knew he should never leave, except to perish on the scaffold, he exectrated and renounced the philanthropy whose excess had tempted him to serve his countrymen and trust his colleague at the hazard of life and honour.
The day appointed for his execution came, and the tolling of a bell indicated the hour. It was scarcely dawn. By a dull lantern-light he was led into the yard of his prison, and put into a coach strongly guarded. His journey, he expected, would terminate at the public place of execution, and he was surprised to see the coach turn through the city-gates into a lonely road. It stopped at the frontiers, and the commandant of his escort alighted, and entered with him into a miserable hut called a post-house. “Struensee—you are free—under your name, and in your attire, another state-prisoner was executed this morning at Copenhagen. Take back this diamond, and do not ask me by what means it is restored to you as the means of your future fortune. Keep the seal of this packet unbroken seven years, and let its contents be known only to yourself.”
Struensee was thunderstruck, and hardly sensible of joy at this dismission. His ambition, his benevolence, even his capacity for friendship, were all destroyed by the deadly plot of which he had been the victim. But he was still young, rich in a jewel of immense value, conscious of innocence, and apparently secure from his public enemies. He retired to a small farm which he possessed in Silesia, and lived under an assumed name, entirely estranged from the world. If he could have regained those warm and active feelings which disappointment had crushed, he might have been useful and happy. Nothing, however, could recall the trusting, hoping, and cheerful spirit of his youth. He had seen the woman he thought loveliest debased by artifice; his friend had betrayed him, and the people for whom he would have hazarded life and greatness joined in the vilest libels on his memory. But as the dryness and desolation of his heart encreased, he became timid and avaricious, and hoarded the diamond with anxious care. He was not less tenacious of the secret packet; and when seven years had worn away, he found its contents in the hand-writing of Count Brandt, and in these few words:—
“April 27th, 1772.
“I shall expiate my political rashness to-morrow on the scaffold, and the queen’s connivance in our dangerous drama will cost her liberty, perhaps her life. But I have done enough. I promised to make you acquainted with that preternatural thing,—a creature capable of reason, but destitute of all human or social feeling,—in other words, capable of no affection, no hope, and no effort. I am told your demeanour in the prison was that of sullen and determined apathy, which, if I understand your character, will soon transform you to the thing you desired to see. I told you truly,—the diamond has no power except over those who resemble its hard and impenetrable nature. If the spirit which has entered your mind has debased you to a level with coarse earth, the gems it composes will be all you are now capable of valuing. Keep this as my legacy, and one of the Secrets of Cabalism.”