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Lumen: Conversation II, Part I


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QUÆRENS: Your revelations which were interrupted by the break of day, O Lumen, have left me hungering and thirsting to hear more of this wonderful mystery. As a child to whom one shows a delicious fruit longs to have a bite, and when he has tasted of it begs for more, so my curiosity is eager to have renewed enjoyment of these paradoxes of nature. May I venture to submit to you a few questions in relation to the subject, which have been suggested to me by the friends to whom I have communicated the substance of your revelations, and then may I ask you to continue the narrative of your impressions of the regions beyond this Earth?
Scientific truth, not fancy or romance.
LUMEN: No, my friend, I cannot consent to such curiosity. However perfectly disposed your mind may be to accept my communications, I am convinced that all the details of my subject have not been equally apprehended by you, and are not in your eyes equally self-evident. My recital has been called mystical by those who have not quite understood that it is neither a romance nor a phantasy, but a scientific truth, a physical fact demonstrable and demonstrated, indisputable and as positive as the fall of an aerolite or the motion of a cannon-ball. The reason which prevents you and your friends from fully comprehending these facts is, that they took place beyond this Earth, in regions foreign to the sphere of your impressions, and inaccessible to your terrestrial senses. Naturally you do not comprehend them. (Pardon my frankness, but in the spiritual world one is frank; there, even thoughts are visible.) You only comprehend those things which you perceive. And as you persist in regarding your ideas of time and space as absolute, although they are only relative, and thence form a judgment on truths which are quite beyond your sphere, and which are imperceptible to your terrestrial organism and faculties, I should not do you a true service, my friend, in giving you fuller details of my ultra-terrestrial observations.
An inquiring mind.
QUÆRENS: It is not, I assure you, in a spirit of simple curiosity, dear Lumen, that I ventured to draw you forth from the bosom of the invisible world, where advanced souls partake of indescribable joys. But I have understood, perhaps better than you, the grandeur of the problem, and it is under the inspiration of an earnest, studious avidity that I seek for other aspects of it, still more novel than those you have given me, if I may say so, or rather more bold and more incomprehensible. As the result of reflection, I have arrived at the conclusion that what we know is nothing, and that what we do not know is everything; I am therefore disposed to welcome everything you tell me. I beg of you, if you will allow me, to share your revelations . . .
LUMEN: The fact is, my friend, I assure you, either you are not sufficiently able to understand, or you are too willing to believe: in the first case, you do not fully comprehend; in the second, you are too credulous, and do not appreciate my communications at their full value. However, I shall continue.
QUÆRENS: Dear comrade of my earthly life!
LUMEN: The remaining facts, which I shall now relate to you, are still more extraordinary than any that preceded them.
QUÆRENS: I feel like Tantalus in the midst of his lake, or like the spirits in the twenty-fourth canto of the Purgatorio. I am as eager as the Hesperides holding out their hands for the fragrant fruit, or as Eve in her desire for . . .
Travelling on a ray of light.
LUMEN: Some time after my departure from the Earth, the eyes of my soul being still mournfully directed toward my native world, I found that, on an attentive examination, I could perceive at the 45th degree of north latitude and the 35th degree of longitude, a triangular piece of land of a sombre colour, north of the Black Sea, on the shores of which I saw, towards the west, a grievous number of my compatriots madly engaged in killing one another. I recalled to mind that relic of barbarism, war, formerly called glorious, with which you are still beset and burdened, and I remembered that in this corner of the Crimea 800,000 men fell, in ignorance of the cause of their mutual massacre. Some clouds then passed over Europe. At that time I was not on Capella, but in mid space, between that star and the Earth, about half the distance from Vega. Having left the Earth some time before, I turned toward a group of stars, that, seen from your planet, are to the left of Capella. Meanwhile my thoughts recurred from time to time to the Earth, and soon after taking the observation to which I have referred, my eyes being fixed on Paris, I was surprised to see it a prey to an insurrection of the people.
Lumen sees the Revolution of 1848.
Examining it more attentively, I discerned barricades on the boulevards, near the Hôtel de Ville, and along the streets, and the citizens firing at one another. The first idea that occurred to me was that a new revolution was taking place before my eyes, and that Napoleon III. was dethroned. But, by the secret sympathy of souls, my sight was attracted to a barricade in the Faubourg St. Antoine, upon which I saw lying prostrate the Archbishop Denis Auguste Affre, with whom I had been slightly acquainted. His sightless eyes were turned towards the heavens where I was, but he saw nothing; in his hand he held a green branch. I was thus witnessing the days of 1848, and in particular that of the 25th of June.
A few minutes--a few hours, perhaps--passed, during which my imagination and my reason sought in turns for an explanation of this special scene. To see 1848 after 1854! When my sight was again attracted to the Earth, I remarked a distribution of tricoloured flags in a grand square of the city of Lyons. Trying to distinguish the official person who was making this distribution, I recognised the uniforms, and I remembered that after the accession of Louis Philippe, the young Duke of Orleans had been sent to quell the disturbances in the capital of French manufactures.
He sees the events of 1831.
It followed from thence that, after 1854 and 1848, I had before my eyes an event of 1831. Presently my glance turned to Paris on the day of a public fête. The king, a coarse-looking man, with a rubicund face, was tearing along in a magnificent chariot, and was just crossing the Pont Neuf. The weather was splendid. Some fair ladies posed, like a basket of lilies, on the white parapet of the bridge. Floating over Paris some brightly-coloured creatures could be seen. Evidently I beheld the entrance of the Bourbons into France.
Supposed explanation of this strange sight.
I should not have understood this last strange sight if I had not recollected that a number of balloons, in the form of animals, had been sent up on that occasion. From my higher altitude they appeared to wriggle about the roofs of the houses. To see again past events was comprehensible enough, according to the law of light. But to see things contrary to their real order in time, that was too fantastic, and puzzled me beyond expression. Nevertheless, as I had the things before my eyes, I could not deny the fact. I sought forthwith for some hypothesis to account for this singular phenomenon. At first I supposed it was really the Earth that I saw, and that by a fiat of fate, the secret of which is known only to God, the history of France repeats itself, and passes through the same phases that it has already traversed; that the course of events proceed up to a certain maximum, where they shine gloriously for a time, and then comes a reaction to the original state of things, by an oscillation in human affairs like the variations of the magnetic needle, or like the movements of the stars.
The personages whom I took for the Duke of Orleans and Louis XVIII. were perhaps other princes, who were repeating exactly what the former had done. This hypothesis, however, appeared to be so very extraordinary, that I paused to consider a more rational theory. Admitting the fact of the number of stars, with planets moving round them, is it not probable that a world exactly like the Earth exists somewhere in the universe of space?
Calculation of probabilities.
The calculation of probabilities supplies an answer to this question. The greater the number of worlds, the greater will be the probability that the forces of nature have given birth to an organisation like that of the Earth. Now the real number of worlds surpasses all human calculation, either written or possible to be written. If we could understand what "infinite" means, we might venture to say that this number is infinite. I concluded, then, that there is a very high probability in favour of the existence of many worlds exactly like the Earth, on the surface of which the same history is accomplished, and the same succession of historical events takes place; worlds which are inhabited by identically the same species of vegetables and animals, and the same humanity, and where men and families like our own, I doubt not, exist.
In the second place, I asked myself if another world analogous to the Earth might not also be symmetrical to it; and then I worked out the geometry of the problem, and the metaphysical theory of images. I arrived at the conclusion that it was possible for the world in question to be like the Earth, but in an inverse form. When you look at yourself in a mirror, you notice that the ring on your right hand appears to be on the ring-finger of your left hand. This explains the symbol. If you wink your right eye, your reflection winks the left eye; when you advance your right arm, your image advances the left arm. It is not impossible that in the infinity of the stars a world exists exactly the converse of the terrestrial world. Undoubtedly in an infinity of worlds the non-existence of a similar world, perhaps of millions of them, would be the real impossibility. Nature of necessity repeats herself, reproduces herself, but still under all forms plays the game of creation. I thought therefore that the world on which I saw those things was not the Earth, but a globe like the Earth, the history of which was precisely the opposite of yours.
QUÆRENS: I myself have had the idea also that it might have been as you say. But was it not easy for you to make sure of it by ascertaining whether it was the Earth or another star that you had before your eyes, by examining its astronomical position?
The solution of the problem.
LUMEN: That is precisely what I did immediately, and this examination confirmed me in my opinion. The star where I had just witnessed four facts, analogous to four terrestrial facts, but inversely, did not appear to me to occupy its original position. The little constellation of the Altar no longer existed, and on that side of the heavens where you remember the Earth appeared to be in my first episode, there was an irregular polygon of unknown stars. I was thus convinced that it was not our Earth that I had before my eyes. I could no longer feel any doubt about it, and I was satisfied that I had now, for my field of exploration, a world so much the more curious that it was not the Earth, and that its history appeared to represent, in an inverse order, the scenes of the history of our world.
Some events, it is true, did not appear to have corresponding ones on the Earth, but in general the coincidence was very remarkable. I was the more struck with this because the contempt which I feel for the instigators of war had led me to hope that a folly so absurd and so infamous might not have existed in other worlds.
History retraced.
But, on the contrary, the greater part of the events which I witnessed were combats or preparations for war. After a battle, which appeared to me very much to resemble that of Waterloo, I saw the battle of the Pyramids. An image of Napoleon as emperor had become first Consul, and I saw the Revolution succeed to the Consulate. Some time after I observed the square in front of the Château of Versailles covered with mourning-coaches, and in an open pathway from Ville-d'Avray I recognised the botanist Jean Jacques Rousseau slowly walking along, and, no doubt, at that moment philosophising on the death of Louis XV. I was particularly struck with the gala fêtes at the beginning of the reign of Louis XV., worthy successors of those of the Regency, during which the treasures of France glistened in precious stones on the fingers of the three or four adored courtesans. I saw Voltaire, with his white cotton cap, in his park at Ferney; and later on, Bossuet, walking on the little terrace of his episcopal palace at Meaux, not far from the little hill through which the railway is now cut, but I could not see the least trace of the railway line. In this same succession of events, I saw the highroads covered with diligences, and large sailing ships on the seas.
France of the past.
Steam and all the factories that are moved by it now, had disappeared. Neither telegraphs nor any other application of electricity existed. Balloons, which more than once I had seen in the field of observation, were lost to sight. The last that I saw was the shapeless globe sent up by the brothers Montgolfier at Annonay in the presence of the States-General. The face of the Earth was quite changed--Paris, Lyons, Marseilles, Havre, and more especially Versailles, were not recognisable; the first four had lost their immense activity, the last had gained incomparably in magnificence.
I had formed a very imperfect idea of the splendour of the royal fêtes at Versailles. It was a satisfaction to me to be present at them; and it was not without interest that I recognised Louis XIV. himself, on the splendid terrace at the west, surrounded by a thousand nobles whose breasts were covered with decorations.
The monarchy.
It was in the evening; the last rays of glowing sunshine were reflected on the royal façade, whilst gallant couples gravely descended the steps of the marble stairs, and presently disappeared along the silent and shady avenues. My sight was fixed in reference on France, or at least toward that region of this unknown world which represented France to me; for absence makes the heart grow fonder, and when far from one's country one thinks of it all the more, and recurs with ever new interest to the thought of it. Do not believe that souls liberated from their bodies are scornful, and indifferent, and devoid of memory. Our existence would then be a sad one. No; we preserve the faculty of remembrance. Our hearts are not wholly absorbed in the life of the spirit; and so it was with an instinctive feeling of delight, which you can imagine, that thus I saw again the history of France unfolded before me as though its phases were being accomplished in an inverse order.
After the people had amalgamated into one nationality, I saw the rule of a single sovereign established. After that came princely feudalism. Mazarin, Richelieu, Louis XIII., and Henry IV. appeared to me at Saint Germain. The Bourbons and the Guises resumed their skirmishes for me. I thought I could distinguish the night of St. Bartholomew. I saw some special events in the history of our provinces--for instance, one of the scenes in the sorcery of Chaumont, which I had time to observe, before the Church of Saint Jean, and the massacre of the Protestants at Vassy. What a comedy is human life! Alas! too often a tragedy! Suddenly I beheld in space the magnificent comet of 1577, in the form of a sabre. In grand array in the midst of a plain, brilliantly decorated, I recognised Francis I. and Charles V. saluting one another. Louis XI. I perceived on a terrace of the Bastile, attended by his two gloomy companions.
Joan of Arc.
Later on, my sight was turned to a square in Rouen, where I observed flames and smoke, and in their midst I discerned the form of the Maid of Orleans. Convinced as I was that the world I was looking at was the exact counterpart of the Earth, I divined beforehand the events that I was about to see. Thus, after having seen Saint Louis dying before Tunis, I was present at the eighth Crusade, and subsequently at the third, where I recognised Frederick Barbarossa by his beard.
The Crusades.
Then at the first Crusade, when Peter the Hermit and Godfrey reminded me of Tasso. I was not a little surprised. I then expected to see, in succession, Hugh Capet, leading a procession, arrayed in his official robes; the Council of Tauriacum deciding that the judgment of God would be pronounced in the battle of Fontanet; Charles the Bald ordering the massacre of a hundred thousand men and all the Merovingian nobility; Charlemagne crowned in Rome: his war against the Saxons and the Lombards; Charles Martel hammering away at the Saracens, King Dagobert founding the Abbey of St. Denis, just as I had seen Alexander III. laying the first stone of Notre Dame; Brunehaut dragged along the pavement by a horse; the Visigoths, the Vandals, the Ostrogoths, Clovis Meroveus appearing in the country of the Saliens:
The history of France unrolled.
in a word, the history of France, from its very beginning, unrolled itself before me in an order inverse to the succession of events--this was what actually happened. Many historical questions which were very important, and which had hitherto been obscure to me, were rendered clear. I ascertained, among other things, that the French were the original possessors of the right bank of the Rhine, and that the Germans have no right to claim that river, and still less to dispute the possession of the left bank.
There was, I assure you, an immense interest in taking part, if I may so express myself, in the events of which I had but the vague ideas derived from the echoes of history, often deceptive, and in visiting countries that are now totally transformed. The vast and brilliant capital of modern civilisation became old to me, and had shrunk to the size of an ordinary town, but was at the same time fortified with crenellated towers.
Old Paris.
I admired in turns the beautiful city of the fifteenth century, its curious types of architecture, the celebrated tower of Nesle, and the extensive convents of Saint Germain-des-Prés. Where the tower of St. Jacques now stands, I recognised the gloomy court of the alchemist Nicolas Flamel. The round and pointed roofs had the singular effect of looking like mushrooms on the banks of a river. Then this feudal aspect disappeared, and gave place to a solitary castle in the Seine valley surrounded by cottages; and finally there was nothing but a fertile plain, where one could only distinguish a few huts of savages. At the same time I remarked that the seat of civilisation was changed,and was now in the south. I will confess to you, my friend, that I never felt greater delight than at the moment when I was permitted to see Rome of the Cæsars in all its splendour.
Rome of the Cæsars.
It was the day of a triumph, and no doubt under the rule of the Syrian princes; for in the midst of magnificent surroundings, gorgeous chariots, the purple oriflammes of the Senate, and of elegant women and of performers of theatres, I distinguished the Emperor luxuriously reclining in a golden car, clothed in delicately-coloured silk, covered with precious stones and ornaments in gold and silver, which glittered in the golden sunshine. This must have been Heliogabalus, the priest of the sun. The Coliseum, the temple of Antoninus, the triumphal arches, and Trajan's column were standing. Rome was in all its ancient beauty and grandeur, that last beautiful phase which was no more than a scene in a theatre to those crowned buffoons. A little later I was present at the eruption of Vesuvius, which overwhelmed Herculaneum and Pompeii. I saw Rome in flames, just for a moment; and although I was not able to distinguish Nero on his terrace, I have no doubt I beheld the conflagration in the year 64, and the signal for the persecution of the Christians.
A few hours after, my attention being still occupied in examining the extensive gardens by the Tiber, I had just seen the Emperor near a parterre of roses, when, in consequence of the revolution of the Earth on its axis, Judea was presented to me. How anxiously I regarded it when I distinguished Jerusalem and the mountain of Golgotha. Jesus was climbing this mountain, accompanied by a few women, escorted by a troop of soldiers, and followed by the Jewish populace. I shall never forget this spectacle.
It assumed a totally different aspect to me from what it did to those who were living at the time and who took part in it, for the glorious future (and the past also) of the Christian Church was unfolded for me as the crown of the Divine sacrifice. . . . I cannot dwell on it; you can understand what various feelings agitated my soul on this supreme occasion. . . . A little later, returning to Rome, I recognised Julius Cæsar prostrate in death, with Antony beside him holding what I think was a roll of papyrus in his left hand. The conspirators were hastening down to the banks of the Tiber.
Death of Julius Cæsar.
With a very natural curiosity I traced back the life of Julius Cæsar, and found him with Vercingetorix in the centre of Gaul, and I may state that none of the suppositions of our modern historians respecting the situation of Alesia are correct. In fact, this fortress was situated on . . .
QUÆRENS: Master, pardon me for interrupting you, but I am anxious to seize this opportunity to question you on a particular point respecting the Dictator. Since you have seen Julius Cæsar, tell me, I pray you, if his face resembles that given by the Emperor Napoleon III. in his great work on the life of that famous captain?
LUMEN: I should be delighted, my old friend, to enlighten you on this point if it were possible for me to do so. But reflect for a moment, and you will see that the laws of perspective forbid me.
QUÆRENS: Of perspective? You mean to say of politics.
LUMEN: No, of perspective (although these two things strongly resemble one another); for in seeing great men from the height of heaven, I do not see them as they appear to the vulgar. From the heavens we see men geometrically from above, not face to face; that is to say, when they are standing we have only a horizontal projection of them. You may remember that once in a balloon, as we passed over the Vendôme Column at Paris, you remarked to me that Napoleon seen from that height was not above the level of other men. It was just the same with Cæsar. In the other world material measures disappear, only intellectual measures exist.
Roman history.
To continue, however, I retraced history, from Julius Cæsar to the Consuls, and then to the kings of Latium, in order to witness the rape of the Sabines, which I was pleased to observe actually, as a type of ancient manners. History has embellished many things, and I discovered that most events as represented to us are totally different from the actual facts. Then I saw King Candaules in Lydia, in the scene in the bath that you remember, then the invasion of Egypt by the Ethiopians, the oligarchical republic of Corinth, the eighth Olympiad in Greece, and Isaiah the prophet in Judea.
Building of the Pyramids.
I saw the building of the Pyramids by troops of obedient slaves under chiefs mounted on dromedaries. The great dynasties of Bactria and of India appeared before me, and China showed the marvellous skill in the arts that she possessed even before the birth of the western world. I had an opportunity to search for the Atlantis of Plato, and I saw that the opinions of Bailly on that continent, now submerged, are not devoid of foundation. In Gaul I could distinguish nothing but vast forests and swamps; even the Druids had disappeared, and the savage inhabitants strongly resembled those that we find now in Oceania.
The Stone Age.
It was truly the stone age as it is unearthed for us by modern archæologists. Further back still, I saw that the number of men diminished by degrees, and the domination of nature seemed to belong to a race of the great apes, to the cave bears, to lions, hyenas, and the rhinoceros. A moment arrived when it was not only impossible to distinguish a single man on the surface of the earth, but when not the least vestige of the human race was visible. All had disappeared; earthquakes, volcanoes, deluges prevailed over the surface of the planet, and the presence of man in the midst of such a chaotic state of things was no longer possible.
QUÆRENS: I shall confess to you, dear Lumen, that I have waited with impatience for the moment when you should arrive at the garden of Eden, in order to learn in what form the creation of the human race on the earth was presented to you. I am surprised that you do not seem to have thought of making this important observation.
LUMEN: I relate to you only the things which I saw, my curious friend, and I refrain from substituting the dreams of my imagination for the evidences of my sight. I did not perceive the least trace of that Eden so poetically depicted in the primitive theogonies. Now, this was very extraordinary, since the resemblance between the world that I had before my eyes and the Earth was so complete. It was more than surprising, if the terrestrial paradise was really the cradle of humanity. But I do not see why paradise might not have been, with as good reason, at the end of human society.
QUÆRENS: Indeed I think it would be more just to suppose it to be at the end rather than the beginning, as the result and the recompense, instead of the misunderstood prelude, to a life of suffering. But since you have not seen it I shall not urge my question.
Prehistoric ages.
LUMEN: Finally, in concluding my observations of this singular world, whose history was exactly the inverse of yours, I saw marvellous animals, of monstrous forms, in combat on the shores of vast oceans. There were enormous serpents armed with formidable claws; crocodiles that flew in the air, sustained by wings organically longer than their bodies; misshapen fishes with jaws wide enough to swallow an ox; birds of prey struggling in terrible battles in the desert islands. There were whole continents covered with forests, trees with enormous leaves entangled in one another; a vegetation at once sombre and severe, for the vegetable kingdom was devoid of both flowers and fruit. The mountains vomited forth clouds of flame and vapour, the rivers fell in cataracts, the ground opened in immense chasms in which were engulfed hills, woods, streams, trees, and animals. But before long it became impossible for me to perceive even the surface of the globe; a universal sea appeared to cover it, and the vegetable kingdom, like the animal kingdom, was slowly effaced, and gave place to a monotonous verdure interspersed with lightning and whitish smoke. Henceforth it was a dying world.
A dying world.
I was present at the last palpitations of its heart, intermittently revealed in the gloom by flashes of flame. Then it seemed to me that it rained everywhere over its whole surface, for the Sun threw light on nothing but clouds and torrents of rain. The hemisphere opposite to the Sun appeared less sombre than before, and one could perceive a dull light gleaming through the tempests. This light increased in intensity, and spread over the entire sphere. Great crevasses became red like iron in the furnace; and as iron in a hot furnace becomes bright red, then orange, then yellow, then in succession white and incandescent, so the world passed through all the progressive phases of heat. Its volume increased, its movement of rotation became slower. The mysterious globe seemed like an immense sphere of molten metal enveloped in metallic vapours. Under the incessant action of this interior furnace and the elemental combats (or combinations) of this strange chemistry, it acquired enormous proportions, and the sphere of fire became a sphere of smoke. Thence it went on developing without cessation, and lost its personality. The Sun, which at first had shed light on it, no longer surpassed it in brightness, and it itself increased so much in circumference that it became evident to me that the vaporous planet would soon lose its own existence and be absorbed in the enlarged atmosphere of the Sun. It is a rare experience to be present at the end of a world. And so in my enthusiasm I could not prevent myself from crying out with a kind of vanity, "Behold the end of the world, O God! and this, then, is the fate in store for all the inhabited worlds!"
The beginning, not the end of the Earth.
"This is not the end,'' replied a voice in the hearing of my soul; "this is the beginning.'' "How can this be the beginning?" thought I immediately. "The beginning of the Earth itself,'' replied the same voice. "Thou hast seen over again the whole history of the Earth in thus withdrawing from her with a velocity greater than that of light."
This declaration did not surprise me so much as the first episode of my ultra-terrestrial life, for I was now familiarised with the astonishing effects of the laws of light; I was henceforth prepared for every new surprise. I had some doubts of the fact, in consequence of certain details that I have not given you to avoid disturbing the unity of my recital or breaking the thread of my narrative, but which were nevertheless incomparably more extraordinary than the general succession of events.
QUÆRENS: But if it was really the Earth, how comes it that the astronomical calculations you made in order to recognise her in the constellation of the Altar, indicated, as you have pointed out, that the world you were examining was neither the Earth nor a star of the Altar?
Events retraced.
LUMEN: The fact is, that even that constellation had itself changed in consequence of my voyage in space. In place of the stars of the third magnitude, α, γ, and ζ (alpha, gamma, zeta), and stars of the fourth magnitude, β, δ, and θ (beta, delta, theta), which constitute that figure as seen from the Earth, my distance towards the nebulæ had reduced those stars to little imperceptible points.
Sidereal perspective.
It had placed other brilliant stars there, which were no doubt α (alpha) and β (beta) of Auriga, θ, ι, η (theta, iota, eta), and perhaps even ε (epsilon) of the same constellation--stars diametrically opposite to the preceding when seen from the Earth, but which were necessarily interposed there when I had passed them by. The celestial perspective had already changed, and it had become, in truth, almost impossible to determine the position of our Sun.
It was really the Earth that Lumen saw.
QUÆRENS: I had not thought of this inevitable change of perspective on the other side of Capella; and so it was really the Earth that you saw, and therefore its history was unrolled before you in an inverse order--you saw ancient events taking place after modern events. By what new process has light thus enabled you to ascend the stream of time? Furthermore, dear Lumen, you have informed me that you have observed some curious particulars relative to the Earth itself. I am wishful to ask you some special questions on these details. I shall listen, then, with interest to the extraordinary history which ought to complete this recital, persuaded, as before, that it will fully reward my curiosity.

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