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Anna Jane Vardill

The Secrets of Cabalism

Part One

THE account given of the Cabalists in an extract from “Le Compte de Gabalis,”[1] renders much detail of their principles unnecessary. But the beautiful dream of Rosicrucius was mingled in the last century with more dangerous fanaticism. After fabling elegantly with gnomes, sylphs, nymphs and salamanders, a few philosophers amused themselves with a creed, by which they compounded human nature of the four elements, and ascribed the vivacity, meekness, fortitude, or apathy of the soul, to the prevalence of one or more of these constituents. It was not difficult to graft a kind of fatalism on this creed; for if the actions of men are caused by the influence of a prevailing element, they are in some degree predestined to such actions and not morally responsible. The next inference is, that such combinations of the four great principles of life, fire, water, earth, and air, must be accidental, or subject to no ruling providence. Thus, at least, a few German metaphysicians reasoned, and their disciples were very well pleased with a system so accommodating.

In the last years of Gustavus the Third’s reign, when the French revolution had thrown upwards all the froth of modern philosophy, a sect of this kind found its way into Gothland. One of its proselytes was a descendant of the great Wallenstein, and father of a young captain in the royal guard, whose misconduct caused one of its companies to be disbanded, and their officers expelled from Sweden. Count Wallenstein heard of his son’s disgrace with considerable coldness. “There is too much of the fluctuating and uncertain element in that boy,” said the cabalistical father;—“some fountain-nymph, some blue-eyed Egeria, will find employment for a Numa so young and romantic. I shall leave him to seek a guardian in his own element.”

After this speech Count Wallenstein named his son no more, and seemed to bury himself in his new studies. He employed a French mechanic to construct for him an automaton of great power, capable, when the stone to which it was attached received any pressure, of advancing, rising and moving its hands with significant and inviting gestures. He was heard to say, on the authority of some profound students, that mechanism and chemistry might go near to produce a human being, and his labours to perfect his favorite work were very long and private. Whether he hoped to animate it like a second Prometheus, and what means he pursued, were known only to himself and his confidential artisan.—Secrecy has always been an essential part of cabalism, and perhaps not the least charm to its professors.

There was at some distance from the little river Wreda, a low wooden house occupied by an unknown Frenchman. He had neither wife nor child, nor any servant except a negress, whose shape and colour were amply sufficient to dismay intrusive spies. The Swedish peasants had no hesitation in pronouncing her one of those sorceresses whose incantations are still feared, yet permitted, in the North. The habitation of these two recluses was in the hollow of a defile made by two rocks, whose faces so nearly met, that the sun could seldom penetrate to their utmost depth even in his highest noon. These rocks were desolately bare, except when the thin white smoke from Bertrand’s chimney rose curling over their sides, and gave a kind of softness to their purple tint. Two goats and a watch-dog occupied the narrow stockade or enclosure which the Frenchman and his negress had erected round their dwelling, into which no guest was ever admitted. They had spent seventeen years in its seclusion, but Bertrand was not always within his own walls. He took weekly and sometimes daily walks of great length, and his faithful Mooma was not permitted to enquire into their purpose. They might be to make purchases at the next hamlet, for he generally carried with him a knapsack or large basket, and in the beginning of the winter he was more inquisitive respecting shamoy and furs than appeared necessary for his own wardrobe. But the eighteenth winter brought with it a fatal disease which prevented his excursions, and he looked every day at the setting sun, or at the rings which marked the progress of time on his pine-tree torch, with frantic impatience. When three weeks of the darkest month had passed, Bertrand called Mooma to the side of his mattrass, pointed to a basket which stood empty beside him, and commanded her to fill it with some cakes of rye-flour, a flask of milk, and a piece of honeycomb which he had selected. He beckoned to the dog which usually attended his walks, and seemed as if he had been going to add some urgent orders, but the hand of death was on him. He stretched his hand towards the door with a cry of agony, and died.

Mooma’s intellect was well suited to the degree of abject servitude she had borne so many years. To obey her master, to prepare his coarse food, and perform the drudgery of his hovel, was all her knowledge, and she had been content to share his kindness with the animals domesticated about her. She looked at Bertrand’s stiffening features with very little comprehension of the dismal change his death might produce in her situation; and when she had composed his body, and sung the wild melody of an African dirge, she took up the basket and set forth, guided by the unchanging instinct of obedience.

The huge watch-dog seemed to hesitate between his desire to remain with his dead master and his accustomed duty of attending the basket. The latter prevailed, and Mooma following his gambols as he snuffed his way through the drifted snow, arrived, after a very long walk, at a place which seemed to her superstitious eyes a mansion for some unknown deity. It was a large circular space about half a mile in extent, covered with smooth and shining ice, except in the centre, where a tuft of dwarf trees crusted with icicles appeared like a knot of crystal pillars wreathed with diamonds. Something like a dim haze hovered over the highest, and sometimes floated in the wind, while Mooma stood gazing on it as if it had been the breathing of the deity she feared. Her shaggy companion shewed less fear, and seizing the basket from her hand, walked across the blue circle of ice, and deposited it among the frozen trees. He returned bounding and gambolling, till Mooma, conceiving that this offering of food was meant by her dead master to propitiate some unseen power, such as her savage countrymen worshipped, turned her face homewards, hoping to have secured the happy passage of his soul.

Bertrand lay undisturbed in his winding-sheet when she returned to his hut; and this faithful servant’s next task was to deposit him under the richest turf in his little garden. She decorated it with a few beads and shells, all that she had preserved of her native land, and sang the dirge of her tribe, until the bitterness of the midnight frost forced her back to her solitary hearth. Winter passed and spring returned without causing any change in her mode of life, for her little stock of oil, rye-flour, and the milk of her goats, sufficed for light and nourishment. And the dog’s gestures and joyful bark reminded her every seventh morning to replenish the basket, and carry it again to the spot which seemed familiar to him: and Mooma still believing this a religious rite in some way useful to her dead master, fulfilled it with humble and patient fidelity.

But as the brighter and warmer days approached, the scene of her mysterious duty changed from a sheet of ice to a lovely lake, and the bower in the centre became green. Still the dog plunged resolutely with his charge into the water, swam across, and having deposited it in some invisible recess, returned with his usual expressions of delight. And in this dreary and unfrequented region, the poor negress found comfort in these excursions to perform what seemed a communion with some friendly spirit of the water.

Curiosity has so little part in the uncultivated African’s character, that Mooma might have continued her obedience to Bertrand’s last command without further investigation, and with a comforting belief that her little tenement’s safety was secured by this mysterious ceremony. But on the 19th of March 1792, as she returned from her weekly excursion, her dog’s furious howlings and the print of strange feet in the snow informed her of a stranger’s visit. Opening the door of her hut, and looking round, she saw the coffer of her dead master had been ransacked, and the only apparel it contained taken out. Part of a rye-loaf and a flask of rum had been taken also, but a small piece of silver was left on the board. It appeared to Mooma of so much more value than the things removed, that she fell on her knees and kissed it with reverence, as the gift of that beneficent spirit to which she paid, as she supposed, her weekly tributes. In one respect Mooma was not mistaken. The rix-dollar was in reality much more in worth than the tattered grey cloak and suit of shamoy leather which the interloper had purloined, but they were of infinite value in his eyes, and except the morsel of rye-bread moistened in rum, he had tasted nothing for several hours. Clothed in his stolen garb, he made haste to a lonely road which led by many detours and dangerous precipices to a house near the town called Granna.

This house was large, and had the air of a nobleman’s mansion, though ill-built and neglected. Our stranger forced himself through a broken gate into a green court-yard, and through a loophole once meant for an arrow-slit into the interior of this house, where no one seemed likely to oppose him: for only an old man was sitting alone in a sort of laboratory; and the figure of the intruder so much resembled the great Tycho Brahe’s in his grotesque fur-cap and ill-suited leathern coat, that the student stood aghast as if his lucubrations had raised the ghost of Danish philosophy.

“Put out the lights,” said the newcomer sternly—“the seventeenth of March is over—he is dead—”

Count Wallenstein knew his son’s voice, and ran to embrace him—“I have not an hour to lose,” added young Otto—“the gates of the city are shut—I escaped thus far by miracle—are you alone?”

“What is done! what is escaped!” asked the old Count, as if he had feared to understand the desperate import of his son’s countenance. Otto made no answer, and the trampling of horses towards his house announced the extremity of danger. “Take this ring and this purse, my son—pass through the lowest window, and keep to the right of the lake—if no smoke is rising, wait till a woman’s hand beckons among the rocks.”

Young Wallenstein made but one leap through the outlet into his father’s deserted park, and heard the clanging of horses’ hoofs before the gate as their riders drew themselves round in array to prevent the flight of any inhabitant. But he had strong nerves and muscles—every winding was known to him, and he crept under and among piles of drifted snow, which the early sun of spring had not yet dissolved. He was soon out of sight and hearing—the immediate danger was passed, and he went at a tardier pace to the lake. What place of refuge was he to expect there! Every thing on its banks was silent and desolate, but perhaps the absence of all human visitants might be his father’s motive for selecting such an asylum. But as he listened with ears quickened by alarm, the word of command given to soldiers, whose trumpet sounded dully on the frozen air, was distinctly audible. There was no alternative: a pile of rocks seemed at a safe distance near the centre; and before the first horseman had turned upon the banks, Otto plunged in, and swam desperately towards it.

Meanwhile Count Wallenstein received the visit of an armed detachment with the courtesy and coolness of an accomplished statesman. He permitted their official search, heard their strange intelligence, which the commander hardly ventured to hint, and dismissed them with abundant promises to assist their purpose. When the troop had left his domain, he sent his few servants to their beds, and retired himself to his laboratory. He sat there musing and in deep silence till he supposed all asleep. Then with his lamp in one hand and a mask in the other, he descended to the lowest apartment of his house. He was followed unseen by an armed man, the commander of the troop which had visited him to search his tenement a few hours before. This man knew the strange and reserved character of Count Wallenstein, and, by bribing a menial, had obtained means of re-entering and watching. He was not disappointed in his expectations of discovering something. Through the crevice of a door studded with iron, but shrunk by age, he saw eleven men seated round a table lighted by the single lamp which the elder Wallenstein had placed upon it.

“We are all assembled,” said one at the head of the assembly, “except one—yet the seventeenth of March is past.”

“Past, but seen only through a shadow,” answered another voice—“we know not yet how far the spirits of earth may subdue those of a nobler element.”

“If to give earth to earth be a deed fit for those who profess to be nowise akin to earthly things,” replied the first speaker, bending down his head and crossing his arms on the horoscope spread before him.—“Had this thing prospered,” he added, in a broken tone, “the twelfth chair at this table would not have been vacant now. We have trusted too much to our wisdom—too little to Providence.”

“To Providence,” was echoed by a dark gaunt man, whose face, though half masked, discovered the grimness of a maniac—“What is that Providence?—If, as our great master teaches us, the elements have separate ministers that busy themselves in the affairs of men, there is not one but many providences, and we have no right to doubt that one of them at least will befriend us.”

“You are right,” said Wallenstein—“And why should a word affright us?—What ignorant men call death is but the transmigration of a spirit to its parent element. He who fell on Tuesday had a soul which the world said was a spark of the rarest fire—What if he has passed by the help of fire into a better and fitter state?”

“Still,” answered the first speaker, “I see not how we had a right to dispossess his body of that spark by force. If the elements were not blended in him so justly as our science deems fit, we have yet no right to dissolve what we could not amend.”

“We have not dissolved, we have only altered,” interrupted the enthusiast fiercely—“Earth will receive her part of him—fire has claimed its own—air has his last breath—water—O! there was nothing of that pure and gentle element in his composition. But,” he added, pausing and looking at the former speaker, “enough of its coldest particles are in some among us.”

“There is iron in water,” retorted his opponent, “and you may find strength where there seems only temperance. If the spirits of the element you name delight in murder, it would have been well if they had all been smothered when the upper crust of the earth fell in, as your philosophers pretend, at the first deluge.”

The sarcastic sneer on his lip, betrayed by the curl of his thick mustachio, was not unobserved by Wallenstein, who filled his huge silver cup to the brim. “Whatever be the power and properties of water,” he said, in a jovial tone, “we will not try them here. Brothers and friends, let us drink to the nymph of the Wreden lake.”

The masked Divan rose, pledged the cup with joined hands, and their president instantly extinguished the lamp. It seemed as if they all departed by different doors, and the Swedish soldier was left alone in his covert. He was powerfully and strangely affected by all he had seen. The mysticism of their language, the apparatus of crucibles and Leyden jars, and the bags of earth, stoves, and bladders, attached to the persons of the speakers, appeared at once grotesque and hideous. There was enough, however, to excite both his curiosity and his loyal zeal, and the last allusion to the Wreden lake determined him to adventure there. He left the house by the same means that had enabled him to enter it, and bent his steps to the banks which his troop had already reconnoitred. The Swede mused all the way on the obscure hints he had gathered concerning the spirits of the water, and paused once or twice before he tried his strength in swimming across the lake to the island-rock where he supposed the murderer might be concealed. By frequent and cautious surveys, he discovered a prominent rock in a part of the islet nearest the main shore, distinguished by something like a flight of steps. He even imagined, as the water lay calm and clear, that the fragments of rock piled under these steps had the appearance of an artificial barricade. The soldier’s eye was keen and experienced. He dived like a bird of the water, and alighted on a point very little below its surface. But an apparition rose before him which seemed to change his blood into the same cold element. A creature gradually advanced from behind the reef of caverned rocks in the semblance of a female. Her long dripping hair was tangled with weeds and sand, but there was motion in her eyes and in the hands that seemed to act like oars upon the water. Presently, she rose breast-high above it, and remained still, her neck shining in the moonlight like polished ivory. The soldier’s eyes fastened themselves on this spectacle, and all that he had heard of the Count’s communion with beings of another species came upon his thoughts. Still he stood firm on the base of the rock, though without strength enough to move. The mer-maiden, if such a name may be given to the nymph of the lake, only raised her hand as if to beckon him away, and her large blue eyes dwelt on him with a fascinating gaze. Either his dazzled eyes or the motion of the water seemed to bring her nearer; and making one instinctive effort, he charged his carbine which he had brought slung over his shoulder, and fired. The ball rebounded as from a stone, but the flash of another musquet passed close to his head. The soldier, however daunted by a nymph of the lake, had no fears of ordinary beings, and deeming he had a mortal enemy to deal with, he stepped back, and again loading his fusil, discharged it through the crevice from whence the hostile bullet had proceeded. It was answered by a deadly groan. He bent down, and looking into the chasm, saw Count Wallenstein’s son struggling with death. The generous soldier raised him up, and would have forced a cordial into his lips. “It is too late,” said Otto, “but I have lived long enough. Carry me farther into the cave, and let me die.”

“Ah, Wallenstein!” said the soldier, “why did you not trust me?—How could I expect to find you in this deplorable disguise? But the seventeenth of March is past, and the King still lives.”

“He must die!” answered Otto; “Ankerstroem charged his pistol trebly, and his aim was sure. Make your own escape. There is a peril nearer than you dream of!”

He would have said more, but voice and life failed him. His last words only roused and confirmed the courage of the Swedish soldier. He took the cap and cloak of the dead body, and went further into the cave, from which a thin smoke seemed to ascend. It guided him to a kind of recess arched with the living rock, and lighted only by a fire of pine-tree. Near it sat a man of singularly gaunt and grim figure muffled in a military cloak, with a large sack beside him.—“Make your escape,” said the soldier, imitating the voice and phrase of young Wallenstein—“there is a peril nearer than you dream of.”—“What then?” retorted the ruffian—“have I not shared it with our comrades eighteen months—Thanks to the faithful fool, and a dog’s cunning, we have not starved here. What! did the wooden mermaid scare away the spy?”—“He is safe,” said the loyal Swede, lowering his voice, and retiring into the most shadowy corner.—“So will I be!” rejoined his companion—“Your master Rosicrucius had an iron effigy to guard his tomb—his disciples have a painted one to secure their treasury—I will shew you better machinery.” So saying, he made a leap towards the outlet of the cave, but the troop had forded the lake and crowded in to the assistance of their commander. They seized the regicide’s accomplice, and found in the recesses of the cave all the correspondence, gold, weapons, and ammunition of the traitorous cabal. The automaton artfully constructed to guard the entrance when the foot of a stranger invaded it, was hewn to pieces, and Ankerstroem’s miserable death on the scaffold terminated one daring effort of political cabalism.


  1. Vol. LXXVIII, page 394.

The European Magazine, Vol. 79, January 1821, pp. 9-13