The Atlas, a three-decker, was launched in 1782. When they came to ship her bowsprit, the figure stood so high that it was necessary to cut away part of the globe upon his shoulders, and that part happened to be America. Sailors remarked this as ominous at the time, and the event has not weakened their belief in omens.
An event of heavier import was noticed 154when the new standard was first hoisted on board the Royal William at Spithead, after the Union with Ireland. A gale of wind blew it from the mast-head, and the flag was lost. It was said, that when her sheet-anchor was weighed after the gale, the flag was found twined round its flukes. This was a pious fraud: they who invented it, endeavoured to counteract a superstition in others, which they were conscious of in themselves.
These omens, which are not generally known, deserve to be recorded; the first because it has been fulfilled, the second because it will not be. The winds may do their will with the standard of Great Britain, but it is safe from the power of man.
Statesmen have derided omens; but they do not deserve to be derided; for popular feeling is sometimes a barometer which perceives the change of atmosphere before it is visible. An historian, therefore, ought not to discard them. 155They are delightful to the poet, and valuable to the philosopher. Who can read in Josephus of the prodigies which announced the fall of Jerusalem without feeling his heart fail?
Were I to relate in poetry Rodrigo’s descent into the cavern of Toledo, I would describe it as having the images of his predecessors, the Gothic kings, set up round the sides of the rock, and only one nich vacant. Torch-light and cave scenery would give a terrifying effect to what may be seen without any effect at all in the Royal Exchange.