High Mass was performed with solemn pomp. The Ass was taught to kneel; and an Hymn, re plete with folly and blasphemy, was sung in his praise by the whole congregation. And what was still more remarkable for folly and profaneness, the Priest used, at the conclusion of the ceremony, and as a substitute for the words with which he on other occasions dismissed the people, to bray three times Like An Ass, which was answered by three similar brays by the People, instead of the usual response, " We bless theLord," &c.


(3d July.)

The Canicular, or Dog Days are, according to a celebrated modern author, very properly stated by our present almanacs, to commence on the 3d of July, and to end on the 11th of August. Before the alteration of the style in 1752, some of the almanacs noticed them as beginning on the 19th of July, and terminating on the 27th of August; while others made them to commence on the 24th of July, and to end on the 28th of August. )

The antient mode of calculating the Canicular Days, was from the heliacal rising of Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation, called Canis Major, or when that star first appeared, after having been hid by the superior rays of the sun: If such rule were still adhered to, the Dog Days would not take place in our latitude until near the end of August, and would consequently last until the end of September; but if, as is contended, these days are calculated to begin from the period when the Sun comes in conjunction with Sirius, and to last whilst its luminous rays obscure that star, their commencement and termination are correctly placed in the almanacs of the present period; though we must, of course, no longer agree with the antients, that the Dog Days are those commencing from the heliacal rising of Sirius, or when he first disengages himself from the rays of the sun, as hath, almost generally, heretofore been their explanation, but must date their beginning and duration from the cosmical rising of Sirius, or in other words, when it rises with the sun.

When the antients first observed Sirius emerging as it were from the sun, so as to become visible to the naked eye, they usually sacrificed a Brown Dog to appease its rage, considering that the Star was the cause of the hot sultry weather usually experienced at its appearance; and they would seem to have believed its power of heat, conjoined with that of the sun, to have been so excessive, that on the morning of its first rising the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases,

burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies. That the weather in July and August is generally more sultry than at any other period of the year, and that some particular diseases are consequently at that time more to be dreaded, both to man and beast, is past dispute. The exaggerated effects of the rising of Sirius are now, however, known to be groundless; and the superior heat usually felt during the dogdays, has been more philosophically accounted for. The sun, at this period of the year, not only darts his rays almost perpendicularly upon us, and of course with greater power; but has also continued to exert his influence through the spring and summer seasons, whereby the atmosphere and earth have received a warmth, proportioned to the continuity of its action; and moisture, in itself naturally cold, has been dissipated : — Even in the course of a Day, which has been aptly typified as a Short Year, the greatest effect of the sun is generally felt at about two o'clock, although it has then passed the meridian, because by having so much longer exerted its powers, its consequent effects are more than commensurate for the diminution of heat in its rays. The cold of winter in like manner augments about the time the days begin to increase, and continues to do so, for a considerable time after, because, at that season, the earth has become wet and chilled, from the effects of the preceding gradual decrease of power in the Sun, Vol. II. o

although, at that time, when the cold is usually most severe, that orb is ascensive, and returning from the winter solstice: and our Saxon ancestors were experimentally so well aware of this latter circumstance, that in the delineation on their calendars, to illustrate the characters of the months they represented February, (see vol. I. p. 63,) as a man in the act of striking his arms across his body to warm himself: while there is also yet in common use a very old saying, grounded upon the like conviction, that " when the days lengthen, the frost is sure to strengthen."

The early Egyptians, whose hieroglyplucal characters, aptly adapted by them to the peculiarity of their climate and circumstances, were the principal or perhaps sole origin of all the heathenish superstitions of other nations, were taught by long observation and experience, that as soon as a particular star became visible, the Nile would overflow its banks; and they accordingly upon its very first appearance retreated to their terraces, where they remained until the inundation had subsided. This star, therefore, was called by them Sihor, i. e. the Nile; as Series is in Greek, and Sii'itis in Latin; and from the warning it afforded them, they typified it as a dog, or in most cases as a man with a dog's head ^ that faithful animal having been, even in those times, distinguished for his peculiar qualities of watching over the affairs of man, and affording warning of approaching danger. The names assigned to this star by the Egyptians was Thaaut, or Tayout, the Dog; and in later times Sothis, Thotes, or Thot, each bearing the like signification; but it was left for the subsequent ignorance of those other nations who adopted that character for Sihor, now Sirius, without considering the true origin of its appellation, falsely to assign to it, the increasing heat of the season, and its consequent effects upon animated nature. The idea, however, of any such effects, either as toheat, or to disorders, from the influence of the canicular star, is now wholly exploded, from the reasons already assigned, and because " that star not only varies in its rising every year, as the latitude varies; but that it rises later and later every year in all latitudes;" so that when it rises in winter, which, by the way, cannot be for five or six thousand years, it might, with equal propriety, be charged with increasing the frost: and besides, it is to be observed, that although Sirius is the nearest to the earth of any of the Fixed Stars, it is computed to be at the enormous distance of 2,200,000,000,000 miles from our globe; a space too prodigious to admit of its rays affording any sensible heat; and which could not be passed by a cannon-ball, flying with its calculated velocity of 480 miles in one hour, in less than 523,211 years! Upon the whole, therefore, it evidently appears, that the origin of the name of this star was not only wholly disregarded, but that common and undigested opi

« PreviousContinue »