« PreviousContinue »
[From an Address at Amherst College.]
THE DEATH OF COPERNICUS. It is plain that Copernicus, like his great contemporary, Columbus, though fully conscious of the boldness and the novelty of his doctrine, saw but a part of the changes it was to effect. in science. After harboring in his bosom, for long, long years, that pernicious heresy, the solar system, he died on the day of the appearance
of his book from the press. The closing scene of his life, with a little help from the imagination, would furnish a noble subject for an artist. For thirty-five years, he has revolved and matured in his mind his system of the heavens. A natural mildness of disposition, bordering on timidity, a reluctance to encounter controversy, and a dread of persecution, have led him to withhold his work from the press, and make known his system but to a few confidential disciples and friends. At length, he draws near his end; he is seventy-three years of age, and he yields his work on the “ Revolutions of the Heavenly Orbs” to his friends for publication. The day at last has come, on which it is to be ushered into the world. It is the twenty-fourth of May, 1543. On that day -- the effect, no doubt, of the intense excitement of his mind, operating upon an exhausted frame an effusion of blood brings him to the gates of the grave. His last hour has come; he lies stretched upon the couch from which he will never rise, in his apartment of the Canonry, at Frauenburg, East Prussia. The beams of the setting sun glance through the Gothic windows of his chamber; near his bedside is the armillary sphere, which he has contrived, to represent his theory of the heavens; his picture, painted by himself, the amusement of his earlier years, hangs before him; beneath it are his astrolabe and other imperfect astronomical instruments; and around him are gathered his sorrowing disci? ples. The door of the apartment opens; - the eye of the departing sage is turned to see who enters; it is a friend, who brings him the first printed copy of his immortal treatise. He knows that in that book he contradicts all that had ever been distinctly taught by former philosophers; he knows that he has rebelled against the sway of Ptolemy, which the scientific world
had acknowledged for a thousand years; he knows that the popular mind will be shocked by his innovation; he knows that the attempt will be made to press even religion into the service against him; but he knows that his book is true.
He is dying; but he leaves a glorious truth, as his dying bequest to the world. He bids the friend who has brought it place himself between the window and his bedside, that the sun's rays may fall
upon the precious volume, and he may behold it once more, before his eyes grow dim.
He looks upon it, takes it in his hands, presses it to his breast, and expires. But no; he is not wholly gone. A smile lights up his dying countenance; a beam of returning intelligence kindles in his eye; his lips move; and the friend, who leans over him, can hear him faintly murmur the beautiful sentiment which the Christian lyrist of a later age has so finely expressed in verse :
“ Ye golden lamps of heaven, farewell, with all your feeble light;
So died the great Columbus of the heavens !
JOSEPH RODMAN DRAKE. 1795–1820. It is as the author of The Culprit Fay that Drake is best known. Of the composition of this delicate fairy tale, the following history is given. “ The author was walking, with some friends, among the highlands of the Hudson, on a warm, moonlit evening, when one of the party remarked, that it would be difficult to write a fairy poem, purely imaginative, without the aid of human characters! When the friends were reässembled, two or three days afterwards, The_Culprit Fay was read to them, nearly as it is now printed.” Mr. Drake was a native of the city of New York, and was about entering upon medical practice, when consumption laid him low. His poetical talents were early developed ; but he had a very modest estimate of his productions, and it is supposed he destroyed a great number of his poems. Few, besides The Culprit Fay, have been published.
THE CULPRIT FAY.
'Tis the middle watch of a summer's night-
The stars are on the moving stream,
And fling, as its ripples gently flow,
In an eel-like spiral line below;
The bat in the shelvy rock is hid,
Of the gauze-winged katy-did;
Ever a note of wail and woe,
And earth and sky in her glances glow.
'T is the hour of fairy ban and spell :
And he has awakened the sentry elve
Who sleeps with him in the haunted tree, To bid him ring the hour of twelve,
And call the fays to their revelry; Twelve small strokes on his tinkling bell — 'T was made of the white snail's pearly shell "Midnight comes, and all is well! Hither, hither, wing your way! 'T is the dawn of the fairy-day.”
They come from beds of lichen green,
Some on the backs of beetles fly,
Where they swung in their cobweb hammocks high, And rocked about in the evening breeze;
Some from the hum-bird's downy nest They had driven him out by elfin power,
And, pillowed on plumes of his rainbow breast, Had slumbered there till the charméd hour;
Some had lain in the scoop of the rock, With glittering ising-stars inlaid ;
And some had opened the four-o'-clock, And stole within its purple shade.
And now they throng the moonlight glade, Above — below — on every side,
Their little minim forms arrayed In the tricksy pomp of fairy pride!
They come not now to print the lea,
He has lain upon her lip of dew,
To the elfin court must haste away ;
To hear the doom of the Culprit Fay.
The throne was reared
grass, Of spice-wood and of sassafras; On pillars of mottled tortoise-shell
Hung the burnished canopy, And o'er it gorgeous curtains fell
Of the tulip's crimsoned drapery. The monarch sat on his judgment-seat,
On his brow the crown imperial shone; The prisoner Fay was at his feet,
And his peers were ranged around the throne. He waved his sceptre in the air,
He looked around, and calmly spoke; His brow was grave, and eye severe,
But his voice in a softened accent broke:
"Fairy! fairy! list and mark:
Thou hast broke thine elfin chain;
And thy wings are dyed with a deadly stain : Thou hast sullied thine elfin purity
In the glance of a mortal maiden's eye; Thou hast scorned our dread decree,
And thou shouldst pay the forfeit high ; But well I know her sinless mind
Is pure as the angel forms above, Gentle and meek, and chaste and kind,
Such as a spirit well might love;