Break, Phantsie, from thy cave of cloud,
And wave thy purple wings,
Now all thy figures are allowed,
And various shapes of things.
Create of airy forms a stream;
It must have blood and nought of phlegm;
And though it be a walking dream,
Yet let it like an odor rise
To all the senses here,
And fall like sleep upon their eyes,
Or music on their ear.
- Ben Jonson.
“There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy,” and among these may be placed that marvel and mystery of the seas, the island of St. Brandan. Every school-boy can enumerate and call by name the Canaries, the Fortunate Islands of the ancients; which, according to some ingenious speculative minds, are mere wrecks and remnants of the vast island of Atalantis, mentioned by Plato, as having been swallowed up by the ocean. Whoever has read the history of those isles, will remember the wonders told of another island, still more beautiful, seen occasionally from their shores, stretching away in the clear bright west, with long shadowy promontories, and high, sun-gilt peaks. Numerous expeditions, both in ancient and modern days, have launched forth from the Canaries in quest of that island; but, on their approach, mountain and promontory have gradually faded away, until nothing has remained but the blue sky above, and the deep blue water below. Hence it was termed by the geographers of old, Aprositus, or the Inaccessible; while modern navigators have called its very existence in question, pronouncing it a mere optical illusion, like the Fata Morgana of the Straits of Messina; or classing it with those unsubstantial regions known to mariners as Cape Flyaway, and the Coast of Cloud Land.
Let not, however, the doubts of the worldly-wise sceptics of modern days rob us of all the glorious realms owned by happy credulity in days of yore. Be assured, O reader of easy faith! thou for whom I delight to labor, be assured, that such an island does actually exist, and has, from time to time, been revealed to the gaze, and trodden by the feet, of favored mortals. Nay, though doubted by historians and philosophers, its existence is fully attested by the poets, who, being an inspired race, and gifted with a kind of second sight, can see into the mysteries of nature, hidden from the eyes of ordinary mortals. To this gifted race it has ever been a region of fancy and romance, teeming with all kinds of wonders. Here once bloomed, and perhaps still blooms, the famous garden of the Hesperides, with its golden fruit. Here, too, was the enchanted garden of Armida, in which that sorceress held the Christian paladin, Rinaldo, in delicious but inglorious thraldom; as is set forth in the immortal lay of Tasso. It was on this island, also, that Sycorax, the witch, held sway, when the good Prospero, and his infant daughter Miranda, were wafted to its shores. The isle was then
- “full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.”
Who does not know the tale, as told in the magic page of Shakspeare?
In fact, the island appears to have been, at different times, under the sway of different powers, genii of earth, and air, and ocean; who made it their shadowy abode; or rather, it is the retiring place of old worn-out deities and dynasties, that once ruled the poetic world, but are now nearly shorn of all their attributes. Here Neptune and Amphitrite hold a diminished court, like sovereigns in exile. Their ocean-chariot lies bottom upward, in a cave of the island, almost a perfect wreck, while their pursy Tritons and haggard Nereids bask listlessly, like seals about the rocks. Sometimes they assume a shadow of their ancient pomp, and glide in state about the glassy sea; while the crew of some tall Indiaman, that lies becalmed with flapping sails, hear with astonishment the mellow note of the Triton’s shell swelling upon the ear, as the invisible pageant sweeps by. Sometimes the quondam monarch of the ocean is permitted to make himself visible to mortal eyes, visiting the ships that cross the line, to exact a tribute from new-comers; the only remnant of his ancient rule, and that, alas! performed with tattered state, and tarnished splendor.
On the shores of this wondrous island, the mighty kraken heaves his bulk, and wallows many a rood; here, too, the sea-serpent lies coiled up, during the intervals of his much-contested revelations to the eyes of true believers; and here it is said, even the Flying Dutchman finds a port and casts his anchor, and furls his shadowy sail, and takes a short repose from his eternal wanderings.
Here all the treasures lost in the deep are safely garnered. The caverns of the shores are piled with golden ingots, hexes of pearls, rich bales of oriental silks; and their deep recesses sparkle with diamonds, or flame with carbuncles. Here, in deep bays and harbors, lies many a spell-bound ship, long given up as lost by the ruined merchant. Here, too, its crew, long bewailed as swallowed up in ocean, lie sleeping in mossy grottoes, from age to age, or wander about enchanted shores and groves, in pleasing oblivion of all things.
Such are some of the marvels related of this island, and which may serve to throw some light on the following legend, of unquestionable truth, which I recommend to the entire belief of the reader.