Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

tour de force, a book of Latin verses containing sixteen hundred and ninety different anagrams on the words "Salvator, Genetrix, Joseph," and the same number of chronograms, with heaven knows how many other ingenuities in the way of acrostics, word-squares, etc.

Mr. James Hilton, an enthusiastic Englishman, who has constituted himself the historian of chronograms in two bulky volumes issued respectively in 1882 and 1885, speaks feelingly of "the limited extent of chronogram-making in this country at the time when scholars on the continent were much devoted to the art and carried it to such a state of excellence as was never reached in the universities or elsewhere in England.” Perhaps Englishmen had something better to do. Mr. Hilton goes on to express an awful hope that his tomes will stimulate the art, and "make it as popular in our time as it was in time past." And, what is worse, he gives us reasons for the hope. Since the appearance of his first volume, he tells us in the second, there has been a revival. Buildings have been dated in this way. One clergyman, who had erected a fernery out of the profits of his tracts on the deceased wife's sister question, dated that fernery in the following manner (it should be premised that the gentleman was a bachelor, and his initials were J. E. V.) :

MY LATE VVIFE'S SISTER BVILT THIS VVALL
BVT I IN TRVTH

NEVER VVED ANY VVIFE AT ALL,
NOR VVONT FORSOOTH,
SAITH J. E. V.

Readers who will take the trouble to extract the Roman numerals out of the above, and add them together, will find they amount to 1884, which is the desired date.

Church ales, also known as Holy or Whitsun ales, were merry-meetings held in medieval England, generally at Whitsuntide and under the shadow of the church, for the purpose of raising church funds. Some weeks prior to the festival the church-wardens brewed a large quantity of ale. On the appointed day all the people of the neighborhood gathered together. The village squire and his lady, sometimes accompanied by their jester, took part in the proceedings. Bull-baiting, bear-baiting, morris-dancing, games, and songs were indulged in. In "Pericles," Shakespeare says of a song,

It hath been sung at festivals,

On Ember eves, and holy ales.

Church - God. There is a proverb common to most modern languages which is found in these words in Heywood:

[blocks in formation]

The French say, "Qui est près de l'église est souvent loin de Dieu" ("He who is near the church is often far from God"). Analogous expressions are the Scotch "They're no a' saints that get holy water," the Italian "All are not saints who go to church," and the Spanish “The devil lurks behind the cross." Still another form of the same root idea is found in the proverb which Defoe has versified in the familiar lines,

Wherever God erects a house of prayer,
The devil always builds a chapel there;
And 'twill be found, upon examination,
The latter has the largest congregation,

The True-Born Englishman, Part I.;

which is also found in Drummond:

God never had a chapel but there, men say,
The devil a chapel hath raised by some wyles,
Posthumous Poems:

in Martin Luther :

For where God built a church, there the devil would also build a chapel,-Table-Talk, xvii. ;

and in Burton, Herbert, and many others. It is curious how the homely sense of the proverb finds its echo in the mystic lines of Emerson, where Brahma is represented as saying,

[blocks in formation]

Cider, All talk and no. An American colloquialism which finds its English equivalents in the proverbs "Much cry and little wool," "Much ado about nothing." Schele de Vere suggests that it originated at a party in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which had assembled to drink a barrel of superior cider; but, politics being introduced, speeches were made, and discussion ensued, till some malcontents withdrew on the plea that it was a trap into which they had been lured, politics and not pleasure being the purpose of the meeting, or, as they called it, "all talk and no cider." (Americanisms, p. 591.)

Cigar. Littré derives this word from cigarra, the Spanish name for grasshopper. When the Spaniards first introduced tobacco into Spain from the island of Cuba, in the sixteenth century, they cultivated the plant in their gardens, which in Spanish are called cigarrales. Each grew his tobacco in his cigarral, and rolled it up for smoking, as he had learned from the Indians in the West Indies. When one offered a smoke to a friend, he could say, “Es de mi cigarral" ("It is from my garden"). Soon the expression came to be, "Este cigarro es de mi cigarral" ("This cigar is from my garden"). And from this the word cigar spread over the world. The name cigarral for garden comes from cigarra, a grasshopper, that insect being very common in Spain, and cigarral meaning the place where the cigarra sings. In this way the word cigar comes from cigarra, the insect, not because it resembles the body of the grasshopper, but because it was grown in the place it frequents.

Ciphers, or Cryptograms. The art of secret correspondence was practised from a remote antiquity. But the earliest efforts were directed rather to concealing the message itself than to veiling its meaning. Among the ancients, for example, a manuscript message was applied to a sore leg instead of a bandage; thin leaves of lead after being written upon were rolled up and used as ear-rings; a bladder inscribed with a message was placed in a bottle of oil so as to fill the bottle. Sometimes a slave was used both as

writing-material and courier. His head was shaved, the message seared on his head with a hot iron, and after the hair had grown again he was sent on his destination. There the head was shaved once more, and the message became legible. The latter method had its advantages. Intelligence might thus be conveyed upon a skull too thick for it to penetrate, and under cir cumstances not very rare the absolute guarantee against penetration afforded by the medium would be recognized as its greatest merit. But its objections are obvious. The chief point to be considered in a competitive examination for the post of courier would be the speedy growth of hair, and the test would necessarily be tedious for the examining board. Then, again, when a State is trembling in the political balance, and wire-pullers are anxiously awaiting information as to the disposal of the "sinews of politics," it would be, to say the least, dangerous to the seizing of a golden opportunity to call in the barber, force the growth of the hirsute bush, despatch the bristling Mercury, and then literally read his bumps with the aid of a second barber.

The scytale of the Lacedæmonians, so called from the staff employed in

constructing and deciphering the message, seems to have been the earliest approach to our modern cipher despatches. When the Spartan ephors wished to forward their orders to their commanders abroad, they wound slantwise a narrow strip of parchment upon the scytale so that the edges met close together, and the message was then added in such a way that the centre of the line of writing was on the edges of the parchment. When unwound, the scroll consisted of broken letters, and in that condition it was despatched to its destination, the general to whose hands it came deciphering it by means of a scytale exactly corresponding to that used by the ephors.

Other methods were gradually invented. By the fourth century before Christ, Æneas Tacticus, a Greek writer on military tactics, is said by Polybius to have collected some twenty different modes of writing, understood only by those in the secret. Among the Romans Julius Cæsar made use of a cipher (still resorted to occasionally) which consists merely in the transposition of the ordinary letters of the alphabet,—writing d for a, e for b, and so on. But the plan was not original with him. It had already been in use, not only among the Romans, but by the Greeks, the Syracusans, the Carthaginians, and the Jews. Traces of it may even be found in the Scriptures. Thus, in Jeremiah xxv. 26, the prophet, to conceal the meaning of his prediction from all but the initiated, writes Sheshach instead of Babel (Babylon); that is, instead of using the second and twelfth letters of the Hebrew alphabet from the beginning, B, b, 1, he uses the second and twelfth from the end, Sh, sh, ch.

In the Middle Ages the art of secret writing had developed to such an extent that almost every sovereign kept by him an expert to transmit his correspondence and to decipher the intercepted despatches of his enemies. In 1500 the first important book on cryptography was published by John Trithemius. It is entitled "Polygraphia,” and was undertaken at the desire of the Duke of Bavaria. It was not originally intended for publication, Trithemius deeming that it would be contrary to the public interests to have the art generally understood. His objections were subsequently overruled. Cryptography by this time did not consist merely of transposed letters: these were early found too easy of solution. Figures and other characters were used as letters, and with them ranges of numerals were combined as the representatives of syllables, parts of words, words themselves, and complete phrases. Under this head must be placed the despatches of Giovanni Micheli, the Venetian ambassador to England in the reign of Queen Mary,-documents which have only of late years been deciphered. Many of the private letters and papers from the pen of Charles I. and his queen, who were adepts in the use of ciphers, are of the same description. A favorite system of that monarch, used by him during the year 1646, was made up of an alphabet of twenty-four letters, which were represented by four simple strokes, varied in length, slope, and position. An interest attaches to this cipher from the fact that it was employed in the well-known letter addressed by the king to the Earl of Glamorgan, in which the former made concessions to the Roman Catholics of Ireland. Much of Charles's cipher correspondence fell into the hands of the Roundheads at Naseby, and Dr. John Wallis, the famous mathematician, was employed to decipher it.

But it was with the Revolution of 1688 that the art of cipher-writing was developed along the lines which have brought it to its present state of perfection.

After the expulsion of James II., the Jacobites racked their brains incessantly in contriving the means of secret communication. They resorted to sympathetic inks, by the use of which the real writing remained invisible, while a complex cipher, written between the lines in black ink, but which had

really no signification, was made use of to perplex the decipherers. It was a device of this description that was made use of by Mary of Modena, in behalf of James, in 1690, when she despatched her treasonable papers sewn up in the buttons of her two spies, Fuller and Crone. Fuller, a traitor to the Jacobites, carried his letters at once to William at Kensington. Ostensibly they contained nothing of importance; but on the application of a testing liquid, words of the gravest import became legible. Crone was sought out, arrested, tried, and condemned to death. He only saved his life by a confession which inculpated the guilty parties.

Another device was that of writing in parables. This was playing the game of treason at a cheap rate; because, though the purport of such letters might be easily guessed, the crime of the writer remained incapable of legal proof. Macaulay, in his History, gives some samples of this kind of correspondence. One of the letters, couched in the "cant of the law," ran thus:

There is hope that Mr. Jackson will soon recover his estate. The new landlord is a hard man, and has set the freeholders against him. A little matter would redeem the whole property. The opinions of the best counsel were in Mr. Jackson's favor. All that was necessary was that he should himself appear in Westminster Hall. The final hearing ought to be before the close of Easter Term.

The real significance of this is too obvious to escape recognition by the simplest reader; yet it is not actionable in law. Mr. Jackson, of course, is James II.; his estate is the kingdom; the new landlord is William; the freeholders are the men of property, and so on, the whole being an invitation to James to make a descent on the coast with a French army ("a little matter") before the end of Easter.

Another device of that time was one which confined the signification of a missive to certain letters, which could be discovered only by the person who had the key. Thus, if it was required to inform a prisoner that his accomplice, on being tried in court, had not betrayed him, it might be done by the following lines, inserted as the second or third paragraph, according to agreement beforehand :

I have but time for a few words. Rejoicing that you are so well treated, I hope to hear that you are better. Can you not write soon? even a word will be welcome to your poor wife. So soon as I hear from you I shall communicate with your friends. If Sarah comes to London, I may accompany her to see you. This is not certain, and may not take place. I know little news, though much is stirring; but I live much secluded. If Harry were here, he, I warrant, would know all. Venn came last night, and desired to be remembered to you; if good wishes could set you free, you would soon be at liberty.

The secret information contained in the above paragraph is far more secure from discovery than anything written in cipher. The governor of the jail, who had read it, would in most cases unhesitatingly pass it to his prisoner without suspicion; but the prisoner, who knew the key, would also in a few minutes know, by simply reading and putting together every third letter after a stop, that his accomplice, Jones, said nothing on his trial that could implicate him,-a piece of information which the governor of the jail would, in case of treason, be the last person to impart.

Then came the invention of the cipher, which its originators proudly termed the chiffre indéchiffrable,—the indecipherable cipher. It was an extension of the principle of substituting one letter of the alphabet by another. A new element was introduced in the shape of a key-word that was known only to the sender and the recipient. When the latter received the message he wrote the key-word over the ciphers, and thus introduced new and bewildering complications.

But as the improvement in armor plates always led to new improvements in guns, so the cryptographical armor invariably met with more and more highly perfected ordnance to riddle it. The indecipherable cipher was deciphered as

its predecessors had been. No matter how complex the literary puzzle contrived, men could be found who were always ready and able to translate it into decipherable language. The most notable instance of this great fact occurred in America during the Presidential muddle of 1876. Cipher messages transmitted by Mr. Tilden's agents to the disputed State of Oregon fell into the hands of the New York Tribune. Mr. John G. R. Hassard set himself to master the problem. He discovered that the messages contained overtures of bribery and corruption. The Tribune published the explanation, and though the messages could not be traced directly to Mr. Tilden, but only to his nephew, Mr. Pelton, their result was to reduce Mr. Tilden himself to a cipher.

Another evidence of the dangers of cipher-writing is found in the Agony column of the London Times. Ingenious spoil-sports, or parties having some personal interest at stake, are continually employing their leisure time in discovering the best-laid plans and in making them go agley.

To take a single instance: On February 11, 1853, the following mad-looking advertisement appeared in the Times:

CENERENTOLA. Jsyng rd mifwy nx Xnhp mfaj ywnji yt kwfrj fs jcugfitynts Kwt dtz gzy hfssty Xngjshj nx xfs jxy nk ymf ywzj hfzxj nx sty xzxujhyji; nk ny nx tgg xytwnjx bngg gj xnkyji yt ymj gtyytr. It dtz wjrjrgiw tzw htzns'x knwxy uwtutxnynts: ymnsp tk ny.

Mad as this looks, the solution is easy, once the key is discovered, and the key is very simple. Indeed, it is only the old system of Cæsar, substituting f for a, g for b, and so on in sequence. That the key was found by an interested third party is evidenced by the following advertisement which appeared three days later in the same column:

CENERENTOLA. Until my heart is sick have I tried to frame an explanation for you, but cannot. Silence is safest, if the true cause is not suspected if it is, all stories will be sifted to the bottom. Do you remember our cousin's first proposition? Think of it. N pstb Dtz. Now, this is simply a full translation of the first advertisement (correcting obvious printers' errors), and the cryptogram at the close, unlocked by the same key, reveals "I know you." A bomb-shell in the camp this must have proved! The originals were silenced forever, so far as the Times column goes, though the curtain is not rung down there until the third party has this final shot, February 19:

CENERENTOLA. What nonsense! Your cousin's proposition is absurd. I have given an explanation, the true one,-which has perfectly satisfied both parties,—a thing which silence never could have effected. So no more such absurdity.

Ciphers have their humors, as have all other lines of human effort. A famous example was the mystification practised by George Canning in 1826 upon Sir Charles Bagot, English minister to King William I. of Holland. Canning was then Premier. A treaty of commerce with Great Britain was pending. Sir Charles received a despatch one day at the Foreign Office while he was with the king and the Dutch minister Falk. He begged leave to open it. Leave was immediately granted, but he found that the letter was in cipher. As he had not the key with him, he could do nothing else than ask permission to retire. Going home, he made out the despatch as follows:

(In Cipher.)

SIR,

SEPARATE, SECRET, AND CONFIDENTIAL.

FOREIGN OFFICE, January 31, 1826.

In matters of commerce, the fault of the Dutch
Is offering too little and asking too much.
With equal advantage the French are content,
So we'll clap on Dutch bottoms just twenty per cent.
Chorus. Twenty per cent; twenty per cent.

« AnteriorContinuar »