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The Adventures of Timothy Peacock, Esquire; or, Freemasonry Practically Illustrated
Daniel P. Thompson
Amoto quaeramus seria ludo.
Our tale, gentle reader, must now assume a more serious aspect. From the more light, and often somewhat ludicrous incidents through which we have passed to this stage of our narrative—incidents from which more gifted pens than ours might have plentifully drawn the shafts of effective satire, or the food for merry laughter—we now reluctantly turn to scenes calculated to cause other reflections— to awaken other and more painful emotions.
About ten days subsequent to the events recorded in our last chapter, William Botherworth, whose frolicsome exhibitions of masonry improved occupied a conspicuous place in the first or introductory part of these remarkable adventures, received from a commercial acquaintance of the neighboring port the following letter:—
Sir,—As war is now declared, and a fleet of the enemy's forces said to be hovering round the coast, we are fearful that they will reach this place, in which case our property would be exposed to destruction. The quantity of hops which you left in store with us might be removed into the interior without much trouble or expense; and I am very anxious that you should come to town immediately to devise measures respecting them. I wish you to come tomorrow, as after that I may be absent several days. Do not fail of being here by to-morrow evening.
"Pshaw!" said Botherworth to himself—"pshaw, man! your wits must surely be wool-gathering. In the first place the British will never get there; and if they should, they will doubtless respect all private property. They must be wanton fiends indeed to destroy my few hundreds of hops. However, Rodgers may know more than he tells, and perhaps, on the whole, I had better ride down to-morrow and see for myself."
Such were the passing thoughts of Botherworth as he run over for a second time this brief epistle, so artfully calculated to arrest the attention of the person to whom it was addressed. And, putting up the letter with the conclusion that he should obey the summons, as unnecessary and even singular as it appeared to him, proceeded to make such little arrangements about his farm as he considered his intended absence for a day or two would require.
Botherworth, although by nature a person of great buoyancy of spirits and cheerfulness of disposition, qualities which he still in a good measure retained, had yet of late years manifested much less inclination for convivial companionship, or for mingling with society at large, than formerly. And becoming of consequence more domestic, he had supplied himself with a good selection of books with which to furnish that recreation and employment of his leisure at home which the excess of his social feelings had formerly led him to seek too much perhaps abroad in the usual routine of profitless amusements. From these, together with the early advantages which he had enjoyed of seeing the world and becoming acquainted with mankind, he had by this time acquired a stock of general knowledge much more extensive than is commonly to be met with among men in his sphere of life; while at the same time, aided by a mind naturally acute and discriminating he had formed original views and settled opinions upon almost all subjects connected with the different classes and organizations of society and its various institutions. The circumstance of his expulsion from the masonic lodge for causes growing out of the prevailing characteristic of his more youthful years, as before intimated, creating probably some degree of acrimony and sensitiveness of feeling towards the fraternity, had led him to bestow much study and reflection on the nature and principles of that peculiar institution. The result of all of which was to establish in his mind the honest, though at that period, the singular, conviction that the whole system was founded on principles radically wrong, and unjust and unequal in their operations towards the rest of society; and, to say nothing of its ceremonies and lofty pretensions which he had always felt disposed to ridicule, that its oaths and obligations could not be either legally or morally binding upon those who had taken them. And it was with these views and impressions that he had ventured, a few months previous to the time of which we are speaking, upon the act of which the reader has been already apprised, that of imparting to a young friend, in a confidential way, all the essential secrets of Freemasonry—little dreaming, at the time, as he had formerly made partial experiments of the kind with impunity, that consequences so melancholy to himself were so soon to follow, and even now wholly unconscious that he had been betrayed to the infuriated, but cautious and darkdoing brotherhood.
In the evening following the day which brought him the letter above quoted, Botherworth came into his house with looks so uncommonly pensive and dejected as to attract the notice of the family; for still a bachelor, though now upwards of forty, he had living with him at this time, in capacity of house-keeper, a quaker lady whose husband followed the sea, with her two children, both fine boys, to all of whom Botherworth was much attached. Taking a seat at an open window, he long sat gazing out, in thoughtful silence, on the surrounding landscape, that lay spread in tranquil beauty before him. The stars were beginning to twinkle through the gathering curtains of night; and the full orbed moon, majestically mounting the deep cerulean vault of the orient heavens, and brightening each moment into more glorious effulgence, as the twilight, streak after streak, slowly faded in the west, threw her silvery beams, with increasing splendor, over the broad and diversified landscape, now glimmering on the placid stream, now kindling in refracted brightness and beauty on the cascade, and now shedding a varied and sombre glory over hill and dale, town and woodland, as far as the eye could reach, round the adjacent country, all quiet and noisless as the repose of sleeping infancy, except when the voice of the plaintive whippoorwill, responding to his mate on the distant hill, at measured intervals, broke sweetly in upon the silence of the scene.
"Miriam," said he at length, partially rousing himself from his long reverie, and addressing the quakeress who sat knitting in quiet cheerfulness near him, "Miriam, what a beautiful evening!—or rather," he continued after a pause, "beautiful, and happifying it seems to me it should be, with all these bright and glorious objects before us."
`And why is it not so, friend William,' said the person addressed.
"I know not," replied the other, "but every thing to-night to me appears to wear a singularly gloomy aspect. Even this scene, with all its brightness, which ever before as I remember, looked pleasant and delightful, now appears strangely mournful and deathly. And why is it? Can it be that nature ever sympathises with our feelings, or rather is it, that the state of our feelings produces this effect? What are those favorite lines of yours, Miriam, which I have often heard you singing, containing, I think, some sentiments on this subject?"
`It is not according to my people's creed to sing,' meekly replied the quakeress, `yet not deeming the forbearance essential, I sometimes transgress, perhaps wrongfully; but does thee wish me to sing the lines now?'
Botherworth replying in the affirmative, the lady, who, though untutored by art, was yet one of those whom nature has often gifted with powers of minstrelsy more exquisite and effective than any thing which the highest acquirements in musical science alone can bestow, now commencing in a low, soft, melodious voice, sang the following stanzas:—
When the pulse of joy beats high, And pleasure weaves her fairy dreams, O, how delightful to the eye— How gladsome all around us seems! Fountain, streamlet, garden, grove, All, all, in semblant brightness drest, And breathing melody and love, Reflect the sunshine of the breast. But when sorrow's clouds arise, And settle on the mind in gloom, How quickly every bright hue dies Of all that joyousness and bloom! Earth and skies with mingled light, The vocal grove, the streamlet's flow, Now seem to sicken on the sight, Or murmur back the sufferer's wo. Thus forever—dark or fair, As our own breasts, life's path we find; And gloom or brightness gathers there, As mirror'd from the changeful mind.
"Miriam," said Botherworth, again apparently awakening from the moody abstraction into which he had relapsed when the quakeress had ceased, "Miriam, do you believe we shall have an existence in another world?"
`Surely, friend William,' said she, in evident surprise at the question, `surely thee cannot doubt the scriptures?'
"No, I do not," replied the other—"on them my only hope of a hereafter is grounded, for, but for them I should be forced into the fearful conviction, that with the body the soul perished. Human pride I know flatters itself with the thought of immortality, and in the wish, the strong hope, believes it, calling this belief, which grows only out of the desire, as I have often thought, a proof of the soul's future existence. But is there any thing in nature— in reason, that sufficiently indicates it? The soul and body comparatively begin their existence together— are in maturity at the same time, and at the same time decay, and apparently terminate their existence. When the oil in the lamp is consumed, the light goes out, and is seemingly extinguished for ever. But the thought—the bare thought of annihilation, how dark, how dreadful!"
`What makes thee talk so,' again soothingly asked the quakeress, `and appear so gloomy to-night. Thee art generally jocose, and I sometimes think too vain and light in thy conversation—but now. Thee art well, friend Wiliam? '
"Yes, I am well, Miriam," said he, mournfully, "but it seems to me as if this pleasant evening was to be the last I shall ever behold. But what matters it, should it in reality be so? I have no wife or children, no relations indeed, but the most distant, to mourn for me. The world in which I once delighted to mingle, will move on without me, unconcious of its loss. The gay will still be merry and laugh, as I have done; the mercenary will still traffic and contrive, absorbed in their own interests, and the ambitious will still go on, pursuing the objects of their aim, and thinking only of their own advancement. The little vacancy in the ranks of society which my absence may occasion, will quickly be filled by others, probably more deserving. And who will miss me?"
`Why!—thou dost indeed surprise me!' said the agitated listener, laying down her knitting work with increasing emotion—`It pains me, friend William, to hear thee talk so. Why does thee expect to die now more than any other time?'
"I have no reason for thinking so," relied Botherworth, in the same desponding tone, "none that would generally be considered as one, I presume; but as I before intimated, there is a dark and fearful cloud upon my soul. For several hours past, I have felt some unaccountable influence acting on my feelings under which they seem to labor in troubled agony as if they, and not my reason, were instinctively sensible that some danger, some hidden evil was impending over me—the whole operating upon me, in spite of all my endeavors to shake it off, like what the sailors used to call the death-spell which sometimes seized the victim doomed soon to perish by battle or storm. But what it is, or when, or where, the bolt is to fall, I know not. To-morrow I am going to town to be absent perhaps several days. If any thing should happen to me, you will find my will in my desk which you may deliver to the person to whom it is directed, and in proper time you will learn what I have done for you and your children."
So saying, he bid the quakeress a tender good night, and leaving her with tears standing in her eyes, retired to rest.
Among all the various branches of the reputed supernatural, as enchantment, witchcraft, second-sight visions, prophetic dreams, apparitions, signs, warnings &c., which have successively been in vogue in different countries, and in different ages of the world, but which are now mostly exploded as discovered to have been but the tricks and inventions of the artful and designing, or accounted for on natural principles, there is no one that has received less attention from intelligent and philosophical writers than that which is generally known by the term of presentiments. And, yet, it appears to me there is no one of them all, that is so well entitled to consideration, as regards the many and authenticated facts which can be cited in support of its real existence, and at the same time so difficult of solution when that existence is established. History, biography and the records of travellers and journalists furnish numerous instances of men having experienced deep forebodings of the fate which soon awaited them, but which no human foresight could then reasonably have predicted. Men too, whose character for intelligence and courage, exempted them from the presumption that they might have been under the influence of imagination or superstitious fears. Among these, for example, may be instanced the brave Baron De Kalb, who fell at the south in the American Revolution, and the gallant Pike, a victim of the last war, both of whom, previous to the battles in which they respectively perished, felt an unwavering conviction that their earthly career would be terminated in the approaching contest. The conflagration of Richmond theatre furnished also one or two most striking examples of this kind. If these and the like instances are not attributable to sheer chance, which, it appears to me we are hardly warranted in presuming, then it follows that the doctrine of presentiments is established as having a foundation in fact, and is not the less entitled to credit because it has a particular and not a general application. But once admitting the existence of this mysterious principle, where is the human philosophy that can explain its operation or fathom its causes? If I rightly understand the history of these cases, and I have heard some of them from the lips of those who described from actual experience, the operation seems to be instinctive, and chiefly confined to the feelings or animal sensibilities, and apparently originating with them, while the impression on the mind is vague and undefined, suggesting no distinct ideas, and seemingly putting it in action only for the purpose of contriving or providing escape from the boded danger. Indeed the intellect appears to have but little to do with these impressions—and often, while the mind rejects them and seems to convince itself that they arise from assignable causes, the same dark, boding, irrepulsible feeling, in spite of all the suggestions of reason, again and again returns to haunt the agitated bosom. To what then is this principle to be assigned? To instinct, like that which is said to forewarn the feathered tribe of approaching convulsions of nature? Or is it a direct communication from higher spiritual beings made to the animal, not the intellectual part of our existence? But this last supposition would involve the proposition that spiritual, can communicate with animal existence without the intervention of mind—a proposition never yet admitted among the settled principles of philosophy—it would open the door to a new and unexplored field in the doctrine of pneumatology. Whence then shall we turn for a solution of this inextricable subject? Where are the enterprising Locks and Stewarts of the age, that they pass the subject unnoticed? If a vulgar superstition, is it not prevalent enough to require a refutation?— and if not, why do they shrink from the investigation, and the attempt of solving the mystery?
The next morning, Botherworth arose lively and cheerful. The cloud had evidently passed from his brow; and taking his breakfast in his usual serenity of mind, and sociability of manner, and without the slightest allusion to the events of the preceding evening, set forward on foot to where he expected to intersect a public stage, which before night would land him at his place of destination.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014