Atlantic Monthly, Volume 11, Issue 67, May, 1863
Part 1 out of 5
Distributed Proofreaders from page scans provided by Cornell University
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. XI.--MAY, 1863.--NO. LXVII.
CHARLES LAMB'S UNCOLLECTED WRITINGS.
What Southey says of Cottle's shop is true of the little bookstore in a
certain old town of New England, which I used to frequent years ago, and
where I got my first peep into Chaucer, and Spenser, and Fuller, and Sir
Thomas Browne, and other renowned old authors, from whom I now derive so
much pleasure and solacement. 'Twas a place where sundry lovers of good
books used to meet and descant eloquently and enthusiastically upon the
merits and demerits of their favorite authors. I, then a young man, with
a most praiseworthy desire of reading "books that are books," but with
a most lamentable ignorance of even the names of the principal
English authors, was both a pleased and a benefited listener to the
conversations of these bookish men. Hawthorne says that to hear the
old Inspector (whom he has immortalized in the quaint and genial
introduction to the "Scarlet Letter") expatiate on fish, poultry, and
butcher's-meat, and the most eligible methods of preparing the same for
the table, was as appetizing as a pickle or an oyster; and to hear these
literary gourmands talk with such gusto of this writer's delightful
style, or of that one's delicious humor, or t' other's brilliant wit
and merciless satire, gave one a taste and a relish for the authors so
lovingly and heartily commended. Certainly, after hearing the genial,
scholarly, gentlemanly lawyer S---- sweetly discourse on the old English
divines,--or bluff, burly, good-natured, wit-loving Master R----
declaim, in his loud, bold, enthusiastic manner, on the old English
dramatists,--or queer, quaint, golden-hearted Dr. D---- mildly and
modestly, yet most pertinently, express himself about Old Burton and Old
Fuller,--or wise, thoughtful, ingenious Squire M---- ably, if not very
eloquently, hold forth on Shakspeare and Milton, I had (who but a dunce
or dunderhead would not have had?) a "greedy great desire" to look into
the works of
"Such famous men, such worthies of the
And after listening to the stout, brawny, two-fisted, whole-soled,
big-hearted, large-brained Parson A----, as he talked in his wise and
winsome manner about Charles Lamed and his writings, I could not refrain
from forthwith procuring and reading Elia's famous and immortal essays.
Since then I have been a constant reader of Elia, and a most zealous
admirer of Charles Lamb the author and Charles Lamb the man. Thackeray,
you remember, somewhere mentions a youthful admirer of Dickens, who,
when she is happy, reads "Nicholas Nickleby,"--when she is unhappy,
reads "Nicholas Nickleby,"--when she is in bed, reads "Nicholas
Nickleby,"--when she has nothing to do, reads "Nicholas Nickleby,"--and
when she has finished the book, reads "Nicholas Nickleby": and so do I
read and re-read the essays and letters of Charles Lamb; and the oftener
I read them, the better I like then, the higher I value them. Indeed, I
live upon the essays of Elia, as Hazlitt did upon "Tristram Shandy," as
a sort of food that simulates with my natural disposition.
And yet, despite all my love and admiration of Charles Lamb,--nay,
rather in consequence of it,--I must blame him of what Mr. Barron Field
was please to eulogize him for,--writing so little. Undoubtedly in most
authors suppression in writing would be a virtue. In Lamb it was a
fault. There are a score or two of subjects which he, "no less from
temerity than felicity of his pen," should have written upon,--subjects
on which he had thought and ruminated for years, and which he, and none
but he, could do justice to. He who loved and admired before or since,
such sterling old writers as Burton, Browne, Fuller, and Walton, should
have given us an article on each of those worthies and their inditing.
Chaucer and Spenser, though proud and happy in having had such an
appreciating reader of there writings as Elia was, when denizen of this
earth, would, methinks, have given him a warmer, heartier, gladder
welcome to heaven, if he had done for them what he did for Hogarth and
the old dramatists,--pointed out to the would "with a finger of fire"
the truth and beauty contained in their works. Instead of writing only
two volumes of essays, Elia should have written a dozen. He had read,
heard, thought, and seen enough to furnish matter for twice that number.
He himself confesseth, in a letter written a year or two before his
death, that he felt as if he had a thousand essays swelling within him.
Oh that Elia, like Mr. Spectator, had printed himself out before he
But notwithstanding Lamb's fame and popularity, notwithstanding
all readers of his inimitable essays lament that one who wrote so
delightfully as Elia did should have written so little, their has not
yet be published a complete collection of his writings. The standard
edition of his works, edited by Talfourd, is far from being complete.
Surely the author of "Ion" was unwise in not publishing all of Lamb's
productions. Carlyle said he wanted to know all about Margaret Fuller,
even to the color of her stocking. And the admirers of Elia wanted
to possess every scrap and fragment of his inditing. They cannot let
oblivion have the lease "notelet" or "essaykin" of his. For, however
inferior to his best productions these uncollected articles may be,
they must contain more or less of Lamb's humor, sense, and observation.
Somewhat of his delightful individuality must be stamped upon them. In
brief, they cannot but contain much that would amuse and entertain all
admirers of their author. For myself, I would rather read the poorest of
these uncollected essays of Elia than the best productions of some of
the most popular of modern authors. "The king's chaff is as good as
other people's corn," saith the old proverb. "There is a pleasure
arising from the very bagatelles of men renowned for their knowledge and
genius," says Goldsmith; "and we receive with veneration those pieces,
after they are dead, which would lessen them in our estimation while
living: sensible that we shall enjoy them no more, we treasure up, as
precious relics, every saying and word that has escaped them; but their
writings, of every kind, we deem inestimable."
For years I have been hopefully and patiently waiting for somebody to
collect and publish these scattered and all but forgotten articles of
Lamb's; but at last, seeing no likelihood of its being done at present,
if ever in my day, and fearing that I might else never have an
opportunity of perusing these strangely neglected writings of my
favorite author, I commenced the task of searching out and discovering
them myself for mine own delectation. And after a deal of fruitless and
aimless labor, (for, unlike Johannes Scotus Erigena, in his quest of a
treatise of Aristotle, I had no oracle to consult,) after spending as
many days in turning over the leaves of I know not how many volumes of
old, dusty, musty, fusty periodicals as Mr. Vernon ran miles after a
butterfly, I was amply rewarded for all my pains. For I not only found
all of Lamb's uncollected writings that are spoken of in his "Life and
Letters," but a goodly number of articles from his pen which neither
he nor his biographer has ever alluded to. As I read these (to me)
new essays of Elia, I could not but feel somewhat indignant that such
excellent productions of such an excellent writer should have been
"underkept and down supprest" so long. I was as much ravished with these
new-found essays of Lamb's as good old Nicholas Gerbelius (see Burton's
"Anatomy of Melancholy," Partition II., Section 2, Member 4) was with
a few Greek authors restored to light. If I had had one or two loving,
enthusiastic admirers of Charles Lamb to enjoy with me the delight of
perusing these uncollected Elias, I should have been "all felicity up to
the brim." For with me, as with Michael de Montaigne and Hans Andersen,
there is no pleasure without communication.
And therefore, partly to please myself, and partly to please the
admirers of Charles Lamb, I herewith publish a part of Elia's
uncollected essays and sketches. To ninety-nine hundredths of their
author's readers they will be as good as MSS. And not only will they be
new to most readers, but they will be found to be not wholly unworthy of
him who wrote the immortal dissertation on "Roast Pig." Albeit not to be
compared with Elia's best and most finished productions, these articles
contain some of the best qualities and peculiarities of his genius.
Without doubt, all genuine admirers, all true lovers of the gentle,
genial, delightful Elia, will be mightily pleased with these productions
of his inimitable pen.
Those who were so fortunate as to be personally acquainted with Charles
Lamb are lavish in their praise of his conversational powers. Hazlitt
says that no one ever stammered out such fine, piquant, deep, eloquent
things in a half-dozen half-sentences as he did. "He always made the
best pun and the best remark in the course of the evening." Lamb was
undoubtedly "matchless as a fireside companion," inimitable as a
table-talker, "great at the midnight hour." The "wit-combats" at his
Wednesday-evening parties were waged with scarcely inferior skill and
ability to those fought at the old Mermaid tavern between Shakspeare
and Ben Jonson. Hazlitt, in his delightful essay intituled "Persons One
would Wish to have Seen," gives a masterly report of the sayings and
doings at one of these parties. It is to be regretted that he did not
report the conversation at all of these weekly assemblages of wits,
humorists, and good-fellows. He made a capital book out of the
conversation of James Northcote: he could have made a better one out of
the conversation of Charles Lamb. Indeed, Elia himself seems to have
been conscious that many of his deepest, wisest, best thoughts and
ideas, as well as wildest, wittiest, airiest fancies and conceits, were
vented in conversation; and a few months before his death he noted down
for the entertainment of the readers of the London "Athenaeum," a few
specimens of his table-talk. Although these paragraphs of table-talk are
not transcripts of their author's actual conversation, they doubtless
contain the pith and substance of what he had really said in some of his
familiar discourses with friends and acquaintances. They contain none of
his "jests that scald like tears," none of his play upon words, none of
his flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar, but
some of his sweet, serious, beautiful thoughts and fancies.
Strange that Talfourd neglected to print "Table-Talk" in his edition of
Lamb! He does not even mention it. It is certainly as good, if not
a great deal better than some things of Lamb's which he saw fit to
reprint. But the best way to praise Elia's "Table-Talk" is, as the
"Tatler" says of South's wise and witty discourse on the "Pleasures of
Religious Wisdom," to quote it; and therefore here followeth, without
further comment or introduction,--
"TABLE-TALK. BY THE LATE ELIA.
"It is a desideratum in works that treat _de re culinaria_, that we
have no rationale of sauces, or theory of mixed flavors: as to show why
cabbage is reprehensible with roast beef, laudable with bacon; why the
haunch of mutton seeks the alliance of currant-jelly, the shoulder
civilly declineth it; why loin of veal, (a pretty problem,) being itself
unctuous, seeketh the adventitious lubricity of melted butter,--and why
the same part in pork, not more oleaginous, abhorreth from it; why the
French bean sympathizes with the flesh of deer; why salt fish points to
parsnip, brawn makes a dead-set at mustard; why cats prefer valerian to
heart's-ease, old ladies _vice versa_,--though this is rather travelling
out of the road of the dietetics, and may be thought a question more
curious than relevant; why salmon (a strong sapor _per se_) fortifieth
its condition with the mighty lobster-sauce, whose embraces are fatal to
the delicater relish of the turbot; why oysters in death rise up against
the contamination of brown sugar, while they are posthumously amorous
of vinegar; why the sour mango and the sweet jam by turns court and are
accepted by the compilable mutton-hash,--she not yet decidedly declaring
for either. We are as yet but in the empirical stage of cookery. We
feed ignorantly, and want to be able to give a reason of the relish that
is in us; so that, if Nature should furnish us with a new meat, or be
prodigally pleased to restore the phoenix, upon a _given_ flavor, we
might be able to pronounce instantly, on philosophical principles, what
the sauce to it should be,--what the curious adjuncts."
* * * * *
"The greatest pleasure I know is to do a good action by stealth and to
have it found out by accident."
* * * * *
"'T is unpleasant to meet a beggar. It is painful to deny him; and if
you relieve him, it is so much out of your pocket."
* * * * *
"Men marry for fortune, and sometimes to please their fancy; but, much
oftener than is suspected, they consider what the world will say of
it, how such a woman in their friends' eyes will look at the head of a
table. Hence we see so many insipid beauties made wives of, that could
not have struck the particular fancy of any man that had any fancy at
all. These I call _furniture wives_; as men buy _furniture pictures_,
because they suit this or that niche in their dining-parlors.
"Your universally cried-up beauties are the very last choice which a man
of taste would make. What pleases all cannot have that individual charm
which makes this or that countenance engaging to you, and to you
only perhaps, you know not why. What gained the fair Gunnings titled
husbands, who, after all, turned out very sorry wives? Popular repute."
* * * * *
"It is a sore trial, when a daughter shall marry against her father's
approbation. A little hard-heartedness, and aversion to a reconcilement,
is almost pardonable. After all, Will Dockwray's way is, perhaps, the
wisest. His best-loved daughter made a most imprudent match,--in fact,
eloped with the last man in the world that her father would have wished
her to marry. All the world said that he would never speak to her again.
For months she durst not write to him, much less come near him. But, in
a casual rencounter, he met her in the streets of Ware,--Ware, that will
long remember the mild virtues of William Dockwray, Esq. What said the
parent to his disobedient child, whose knees faltered under her at the
sight of him? 'Ha, Sukey, is it you?' with that benevolent aspect with
which he paced the streets of Ware, venerated as an angel,--'come and
dine with us on Sunday'; then turning away, and again turning back, as
if he had forgotten something, he added,--'and, Sukey, do you hear?
bring your husband with you.' This was all the reproof she ever heard
from him. Need it be added that the match turned out better for Susan
than the world expected?"
* * * * *
"'We read the "Paradise Lost" as a task,' says Dr. Johnson. Nay, rather
as a celestial recreation, of which the dullard mind is not at all hours
alike recipient. 'Nobody ever wished it longer';--nor the moon rounder,
he might have added. Why, 'tis the perfectness and completeness of
it which makes us imagine that not a line could be added to it, or
diminished from it, with advantage. Would we have a cubit added to the
stature of the Medicean Venus? Do we wish her taller?"
* * * * *
"Amidst the complaints of the wide spread of infidelity among us, it is
consolatory that a sect is sprung up in the heart of the metropolis, and
is daily on the increase, of teachers of that healing doctrine which
Pope upheld, and against which Voltaire directed his envenomed wit. We
mean those practical preachers of Optimism, or the belief that _Whatever
is best_, the cads of omnibuses, who, from their little back pulpits,
not once in three or four hours, as those proclaimers of 'God and His
prophet' in Mussulman countries, but every minute, at the entry or
exit of a brief passenger, are heard, in an almost prophetic tone,
to exclaim, (Wisdom crying out, as it were, in the streets,) 'ALL'S
* * * * *
"Advice is not so commonly thrown away as is imagined. We seek it in
difficulties. But, in common speech, we are apt to confound with it
_admonition:_ as when a friend reminds one that drink is prejudicial to
the health, etc. We do not care to be told of that which we know better
than the good man that admonishes. M---- sent to his friend L----, who
is no water-drinker, a two-penny tract 'Against the Use of Fermented
Liquors.' L---- acknowledged the obligation, as far as to _twopence_.
Penotier's advice was the safest, after all:--
"'I advised him'--
"But I must tell you. The dear, good-meaning, no-thinking creature
had been dumbfounding a company of us with a detail of inextricable
difficulties in which the circumstances of an acquaintance of his were
involved. No clue of light offered itself. He grew more and more misty
as he proceeded. We pitied his friend, and thought,--
"'God help the man so wrapt in error's endless
"when, suddenly brightening up his placid countenance, like one that had
found out a riddle, and looked to have the solution admired,--
"'At last,' said he, 'I advised him'--
"Here he paused, and here we were again interminably thrown back. By no
possible guess could any of us aim at the drift of the meaning he was
about to be delivered of.
"'I advised him,' he repeated, 'to have some _advice_ upon the subject.'
"A general approbation followed; and it was unanimously agreed, that,
under all the circumstances of the case, no sounder or more judicious
counsel could have been given."
* * * * *
"A laxity pervades the popular use of words.
"Parson W---- is not quite so continent as Diana, yet prettily
dissembleth his frailty. Is Parson W---- therefore a _hypocrite?_ I
think not. Where the concealment of a vice is less pernicious than the
barefaced publication of it would be, no additional delinquency is
incurred in the secrecy.
"Parson W---- is simply an immoral clergyman. But if Parson W---- were
to be forever haranguing on the opposite virtue,--choosing for his
perpetual text, in preference to all other pulpit-topics, the remarkable
resistance recorded in the 89th of Exodus [Genesis?],--dwelling,
moreover, and dilating upon it,--then Parson W---- might be reasonably
suspected of hypocrisy. But Parson W---- rarely diverteth into such line
of argument, or toucheth it briefly. His ordinary topics are fetched
from 'obedience to the powers that are,'--'submission to the civil
magistrate in all commands that are not absolutely unlawful'; on which
he can delight to expatiate with equal fervor and sincerity.
"Again. To _despise_ a person is properly to _look down_ upon him with
none or the least possible emotion. But when Clementina, who has lately
lost her lover, with bosom heaving, eyes flashing, and her whole frame
in agitation, pronounces with a peculiar emphasis that she '_despises_
the fellow,' depend upon it that he is not quite so despicable in her
eyes as she would have us imagine.
"One more instance. If we must naturalize that portentous phrase, _a
truism_, it were well that we limited the use of it. Every commonplace
or trite observation is not a truism. For example: A good name helps
a man on in the world. This is nothing but a simple truth, however
hackneyed. It has a distinct subject and predicate. But when the thing
predicated is involved in the term of the subject, and so necessarily
involved that by no possible conception they can be separated, then
it becomes a truism; as to say, A good name is a proof of a man's
estimation in the world. We seem to be saying something, when we say
nothing. I was describing to F---- some knavish tricks of a mutual
friend of ours. 'If he did so and so,' was the reply, 'he cannot be an
honest man.' Here was a genuine truism, truth upon truth, inference and
proposition identical,--or rather, a dictionary definition usurping the
place of an inference."
* * * * *
"We are ashamed at sight of a monkey,--somehow as we are shy of poor
* * * * *
"C---- imagined a Caledonian compartment in Hades, where there should be
fire without sulphur."
* * * * *
"Absurd images are sometimes irresistible. I will mention two. An
elephant in a coach-office gravely coming to have his trunk booked;--a
mermaid over a fish-kettle cooking her own tail."
* * * * *
"It is the praise of Shakspeare, with reference to the playwriters, his
contemporaries, that he has so few revolting characters. Yet be has one
that is singularly mean and disagreeable,--the King in 'Hamlet.' Neither
has he characters of insignificance, unless the phantom that stalks over
the stage as Julius Caesar, in the play of that name, may be accounted
one. Neither has he envious characters, excepting the short part of
Don John, in 'Much Ado about Nothing.' Neither has he unentertaining
characters, if we except Parolles, and the little that there is of the
Clown, in 'All's Well that Ends Well.'"
* * * * *
"It would settle the dispute as to whether Shakspeare intended Othello
for a jealous character, to consider how differently we are affected
towards him, and for Leontes in the 'Winter's Tale.' Leontes _is_ that
character. Othello's fault was simply credulity."
* * * * *
"Is it possible that Shakspeare should never have read Homer, in
Chapman's version at least? If he had read it, could he mean to
_travesty_ it in the parts of those big boobies, Ajax and Achilles?
Ulysses, Nestor, and Agamemnon are true to their parts in the 'Iliad
'; they are gentlemen at least. Thersites, though unamusing, is fairly
deducible from it. Troilus and Cressida are a fine graft upon it. But
those two big bulks"--
* * * * *
Disraeli wrote a book on the Quarrels of Authors. Somebody should write
one on the Friendships of Literary Men. If such a work is ever written,
Charles Lamb and Samuel Taylor Coleridge will be honorably mentioned
therein. For among all the friendships celebrated in tale or history
there is none more admirable than that which existed between these two
eminent men. The "golden thread that tied their hearts together" was
never broken. Their friendship was never "chipt or diminished"; but the
longer they lived, the stronger it grew. Death could not destroy it.
Lamb, after Coleridge's death, as if weary of "this green earth," as if
not caring if "sun, and sky, and breeze, and solitary walks, and summer
holidays, and the greenness of fields, and the delicious juices of meats
and fishes, and society, and the cheerful glass, and candle-light, and
fireside conversations, and innocent vanities, and jests, and irony
itself," went out with life, willingly sought "Lavinian shores."
"Lamb," as Mr. John Foster says, in his beautiful tribute to his memory,
"never fairly recovered the death of Coleridge. He thought of little
else (his sister was but another portion of himself) until his own great
spirit joined his friend. He had a habit of venting his melancholy in a
sort of mirth. He would, with nothing graver than a pun, 'cleanse his
bosom of the perilous stuff that weighed' upon it. In a jest, or a few
light phrases, he would lay open the last recesses of his heart. So in
respect of the death of Coleridge. Some old friends of his saw him two
or three weeks ago and remarked the constant turning and reference of
his mind. He interrupted-himself and them almost every instant with some
play of affected wonder, or astonishment, or humorous melancholy, on the
words, '_Coleridge is dead_.' Nothing could divert him from that, for
the thought of it never left him. About the same time, we had written
to him to request a few lines for the literary album of a gentleman who
entertained a fitting admiration of his genius. It was the last request
we were destined to make, the last kindness we were allowed to receive.
He wrote in Mr. Keymer's volume,--and wrote of Coleridge."
And this is what he said of his friend: it would be, as Mr. Foster says,
impertinence to offer one remark on it:--
"When I heard of the death of Coleridge, it was without grief. It seemed
to me that he long had been on the confines of the next world,--that he
had a hunger for eternity. I grieved then that I could not grieve. But
since, I feel how great a part he was of me. His great and dear spirit
haunts me. I cannot think a thought, I cannot make a criticism on men or
books, without an ineffectual turning and reference to him. He was the
proof and touchstone of all my cogitations. He was a Grecian (or in the
first form) at Christ's Hospital, where I was Deputy-Grecian; and the
same subordination and deference to him I have preserved through a
life-long acquaintance. Great in his writings, he was greatest in his
conversation. In him was disproved that old maxim, that we should allow
every one his share of talk. He would talk from morn to dewy eve, nor
cease till far midnight; yet who ever would interrupt him? who would
obstruct that continuous flow of converse, fetched from Helicon or Zion?
He had the tact of making the unintelligible seem plain. Many who read
the abstruser parts of his 'Friend' would complain that his works did
not answer to his spoken wisdom. They were identical. But he had a
tone in oral delivery which seemed to convey sense to those who were
otherwise imperfect recipients. He was my fifty-years-old friend without
a dissension. Never saw I his likeness, nor probably the world can see
again. I seem to love the house he died at more passionately than when
he lived. I love the faithful Gilmans more than while they exercised
their virtues towards him living. What was his mansion is consecrated to
me a chapel.
"EDMONTON, November 21, 1834."
* * * * *
Having seen what Charles Lamb says of Coleridge, perhaps the reader
would like to see what Charles Lamb says of himself. For he, (though
but few of his readers are aware of the fact,) like Lord Herbert
of Cherbury, Gibbon, Franklin, and other eminent men, wrote an
autobiography. It is certainly the briefest, and perhaps the wittiest
and most truthful autobiographical sketch in the language. It was
published in the "New Monthly Magazine" a few months after its author's
death, with the following preface or introduction from the pen of some
unknown admirer of Elia:--
"We have been favored, by the kindness of Mr. Upcott, with the following
sketch, written in one of his manuscript collections, by Charles Lamb.
It will be read with deep interest by all, but with the deepest interest
by those who had the honor and the happiness of knowing the writer. It
is so singularly characteristic, that we can scarcely persuade ourselves
we do not hear it, as we read, spoken from his living lips. Slight as
it is, it conveys the most exquisite and perfect notion of the personal
manner and habits of our friend. For the intellectual rest, we lift the
veil of its noble modesty, and can even here discern them. Mark its
humor, crammed into a few thinking words,--its pathetic sensibility in
the midst of contrast,--its wit, truth, and feeling,--and, above all,
its fanciful retreat at the close under a phantom cloud of death."
CHARLES LAMB'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY.
"Charles Lamb, born in the Inner Temple, 10th February, 1775; educated
in Christ's Hospital; afterwards a clerk in the Accountants' Office,
East-India House; pensioned off from that service, 1825, after
thirty-three years' service; is now a gentleman at large;--can remember
few specialties in his life worth noting, except that he once caught a
swallow flying (_teste sua manu_). Below the middle stature; cast of
face slightly Jewish, with no Judaic tinge in his complexional religion;
stammers abominably, and is therefore more apt to discharge his
occasional conversation in a quaint aphorism or a poor quibble than in
set and edifying speeches; has consequently been libelled as a person
always aiming at wit, which, as he told a dull fellow that charged him
with it, is at least as good as aiming at dulness. A small eater,
but not drinker; confesses a partiality for the production of the
juniper-berry; was a fierce smoker of tobacco, but may be resembled to
a volcano burnt out, emitting only now and then a casual puff. Has been
guilty of obtruding upon the public a tale in prose, called 'Rosamund
Gray,'--a dramatic sketch, named 'John Woodvil,'--a 'Farewell Ode to
Tobacco,'--with sundry other poems, and light prose matter, collected in
two slight crown octavos, and pompously christened his works, though in
fact they were his recreations, and his true works may be found on the
shelves of Leadenhall Street, filling some hundred folios. He is also
the true Elia, whose essays are extant in a little volume, published
a year or two since, and rather better known from that name without a
meaning than from anything he has done, or can hope to do, in his own.
He also was the first to draw the public attention to the old English
dramatists, in a work called 'Specimens of English Dramatic Writers
who lived about the Time of Shakspeare,' published about fifteen years
since. In short, all his merits and demerits to set forth would take to
the end of Mr. Upcott's book, and then not be told truly.
"He died _____ 18__, much lamented.[A]
Witness his hand,
"18th April, 1827."
[Footnote A: "_To Anybody_--Please to fill up these blanks."]
Lamb, if he did not find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
and sermons in stones, found good in everything. The soul of goodness in
things evil was visible to him. He had thought, felt, and suffered
so much, that, as Leigh Hunt says, he literally had intolerance for
nothing. Though he could see but little religion in many professing
Christians, he nevertheless saw that the motley players, "made up of
mimic laughter and tears, passing from the extremes of joy or woe at the
prompter's call," were not so godless and impious as the world believed
them to be.
Writing to Bernard Barton in the spring of 1826, Lamb says, speaking
of his literary projects,--"A little thing without name will also be
printed on the Religion of the Actors, but it is out of your way; so I
recommend you, with true author's hypocrisy, to skip it." I wonder if
"good B.B." read the article, and, if he did, how he liked it. Quaker
though he was, he could not but have been pleased with it. Should you
like to read the "Religion of the Actors," reader? You will not find it
in any edition of Charles Lamb's writings. Here it is.
THE RELIGION OF ACTORS.
"The world has hitherto so little troubled its head with the points of
doctrine held by a community which contributes in other ways so largely
to its amusement, that, before the late mischance of a celebrated
tragic actor, it scarce condescended to look into the practice of any
individual player, much less to inquire into the hidden and abscondite
springs of his actions. Indeed, it is with some violence to the
imagination that we conceive of an actor as belonging to the relations
of private life, so closely do we identify these persons in our mind
with the characters which they assume upon the stage. How oddly does it
sound, when we are told that the late Miss Pope, for instance,--that
is to say, in our notion of her, Mrs. Candor,--was a good daughter, an
affectionate sister, and exemplary in all the parts of domestic life!
With still greater difficulty can we carry our notions to church, and
conceive of Liston kneeling upon a hassock, or Munden uttering a pious
ejaculation, 'making mouths at the invisible event.' But the times are
fast improving; and if the process of sanctity begun under the happy
auspices of the present licenser go on to its completion, it will be
as necessary for a comedian to give an account of his faith as of his
conduct. Fawcett must study the five points; and Dicky Suett, if he were
alive, would have had to rub up his catechism. Already the effects of it
begin to appear. A celebrated performer has thought fit to oblige the
world with a confession of his faith,--or, Br----'s 'Religio Dramatici.'
This gentleman, in his laudable attempt to shift from his person the
obloquy of Judaism, with the forwardness of a new convert, in trying to
prove too much, has, in the opinion of many, proved too little. A simple
declaration of his Christianity was sufficient; but, strange to say,
his apology has not a word about it. We are left to gather it from some
expressions which imply that he is a Protestant; but we did not wish to
inquire into the niceties of his orthodoxy. To his friends of the _old
persuasion_ the distinction was impertinent; for what cares Rabbi Ben
Kimchi for the differences which have split our novelty? To the great
body of Christians that hold the Pope's supremacy--that is to say, to
the major part of the Christian world--his religion will appear as
much to seek as ever. But perhaps he conceived that all Christians are
Protestants, as children, and the common people call all that are not
animals Christians. The mistake was not very considerable in so young a
proselyte. Or he might think the general (as logicians speak) involved
in the particular. All Protestants are Christians; but I am a
Protestant; _ergo_, etc.: as if a marmoset, contending to be a man,
overleaping that term as too generic and vulgar, should at once roundly
proclaim himself to be a gentleman. The argument would be, as we say,
_ex abundanti_. From whichever cause this _excessus in terminis_
proceeded, we can do no less than congratulate the general state of
Christendom upon the accession of so extraordinary a convert. Who was
the happy instrument of the conversion we are yet to learn: it comes
nearest to the attempt of the late pious Doctor Watts to Christianize
the Psalms of the Old Testament. Something of the old Hebrew raciness is
lost in the transfusion; but much of its asperity is softened and pared
down in the adaptation.
"The appearance of so singular a treatise at this conjuncture has set
us upon an inquiry into the present state of religion upon the stage
generally. By the favor of the church-wardens of Saint Martin's in the
Fields, and Saint Paul's, Covent Garden, who have very readily, and with
great kindness, assisted our pursuit, we are enabled to lay before the
public the following particulars. Strictly speaking, neither of the two
great bodies is collectively a religious institution. We had expected to
have found a chaplain among them, as at Saint Stephen's, and other Court
establishments; and were the more surprised at the omission, as the last
Mr. Bengough, at the one house, and Mr. Powell at the other, from a
gravity of speech and demeanor, and the habit of wearing black at their
first appearances in the beginning of _fifth_ or the conclusion of
_fourth acts_, so eminently pointed out their qualifications for such
office. These corporations, then, being not properly congregational,
we must seek the solution of our question in the tastes, attainments,
accidental breeding, and education of the individual members of them.
As we were prepared to expect, a majority at both houses adhere to the
religion of the Church Established, only that at one of them a pretty
strong leaven of Catholicism is suspected,--which, considering the
notorious education of the manager at a foreign seminary, is not so much
to be wondered at. Some have gone so far as to report that Mr. T----y,
in particular, belongs to an order lately restored on the Continent. We
can contradict this: that gentleman is a member of the Kirk of Scotland;
and his name is to be found, much to his honor, in the list of seceders
from the congregation of Mr. Fletcher. While the generality, as we have
said, are content to jog on in the safe trammels of national orthodoxy,
symptoms of a sectarian spirit have broken out in quarters where we
should least have looked for it. Some of the ladies at both houses are
deep in controverted points. Miss F----e, we are credibly informed, is
_Sub-_, and Madame V----a _Supra_-Lapsarian. Mr. Pope is the last of the
exploded sect of the Ranters. Mr. Sinclair has joined the Shakers. Mr.
Grimaldi, Senior, after being long a Jumper, has lately fallen into some
whimsical theories respecting the Fall of Man; which he understands,
not of an allegorical, but a _real tumble_, by which the whole body of
humanity became, as it were, lame to the performance of good works.
Pride he will have to be nothing but a stiff neck; irresolution, the
nerves shaken; an inclination to sinister paths, crookedness of the
joints; spiritual deadness, a paralysis; want of charity, a contraction
in the fingers; despising of government, a broken head; the plaster, a
sermon; the lint to bind it up, the text; the probers, the preachers; a
pair of crutches, the old and new law; a bandage, religious obligation:
a fanciful mode of illustration, derived from the accidents and habits
of his past calling _spiritualized_, rather than from any accurate
acquaintance with the Hebrew text, in which report speaks him but a raw
scholar. Mr. Elliston, from all that we can learn, has his religion yet
to choose; though some think him a Muggletonian."
* * * * *
Willis, in his "Pencillings by the Way," describing his interview with
Charles and Mary Lamb, says,--"Nothing could be more delightful than the
kindness and affection between the brother and the sister, though Lamb
was continually taking advantage of her deafness to mystify her with the
most singular gravity upon every topic that was started. 'Poor Mary!'
said he, 'she hears all of an epigram but the point.' 'What are you
saying of me, Charles?' she asked. 'Mr. Willis,' said he, raising his
voice, 'admires _your_ "Confessions of a Drunkard" very much, and I was
saying it was no merit of yours that you understood the subject.' We had
been speaking of this admirable essay (which is his own) half an hour
That essay has been strangely and purposely misunderstood. Elia, albeit
he loved the cheerful glass, was not a drunkard. The "poor nameless
egotist" of the Confessions is not Charles Lamb. In printing the article
in the "London Magazine," (it was originally contributed to a collection
of tracts published by Basil Montagu,) Elia introduced it to the readers
of that periodical in the following explanatory paragraphs. They should
be printed in all editions of Elia as a note to the article they explain
and comment on. For many persons, like a writer in the London "Quarterly
Review" for July, 1822, believe, or profess to believe, that this
"fearful picture of the consequences of intemperance" is a true tale.
"How far it was from actual truth," says Talfourd, "the essays of Elia,
the production of a later day, in which the maturity of his feeling,
humor, and reason is exhibited, may sufficiently show."
ELIA ON HIS "CONFESSIONS OF A DRUNKARD."
"Many are the sayings of Elia, painful and frequent his lucubrations,
set forth for the most part (such his modesty!) without a name,
scattered about in obscure periodicals and forgotten miscellanies. From
the dust of some of these it is our intention occasionally to revive a
tract or two that shall seem worthy of a better fate, especially at a
time like the present, when the pen of our industrious contributor,
engaged in a laborious digest of his recent Continental tour, may haply
want the leisure to expatiate in more miscellaneous speculations. We
have been induced, in the first instance, to reprint a thing which
he put forth in a friend's volume some years since, entitled 'The
Confessions of a Drunkard,' seeing that Messieurs the Quarterly
Reviewers have chosen to embellish their last dry pages with fruitful
quotations therefrom; adding, from their peculiar brains, the gratuitous
affirmation, that they have reason to believe that the describer (in his
delineations of a drunkard, forsooth!) partly sat for his own picture.
The truth is, that our friend had been reading among the essays of a
contemporary, who has perversely been confounded with him, a paper in
which Edax (or the Great Eater) humorously complaineth of an inordinate
appetite; and it struck him that a better paper--of deeper interest, and
wider usefulness--might be made out of the imagined experiences of a
Great Drinker. Accordingly he set to work, and, with that mock fervor
and counterfeit earnestness with which he is too apt to over-realize
his descriptions, has given us a frightful picture indeed, but no more
resembling the man Elia than the fictitious Edax may be supposed to
identify itself with Mr. L., its author. It is, indeed, a compound
extracted out of his long observations of the effects of drinking upon
all the world about him; and this accumulated mass of misery he hath
centred (as the custom is with judicious essayists) in a single figure.
We deny not that a portion of his own experiences may have passed into
the picture, (as who, that is not a washy fellow, but must at some times
have felt the after-operation of a too generous cup?)--but then how
heightened! how exaggerated! how little within the sense of the Review,
where a part, in their slanderous usage, must be understood to stand for
the whole! But it is useless to expostulate with this Quarterly slime,
brood of Nilus, watery heads with hearts of jelly, spawned under the
sign of Aquarius, incapable of Bacchus, and therefore cold, washy,
spiteful, bloodless. Elia shall string them up one day, and show their
colors,--or rather, how colorless and vapid the whole fry,--when he
putteth forth his long-promised, but unaccountably hitherto delayed,
'Confessions of a Water-Drinker.'"
* * * * *
In turning over the leaves of divers old periodicals in search of the
"Religion of Actors," I accidentally and unexpectedly found an article
by Charles Lamb entitled, "On the Custom of Hissing at the Theatres,
with some Account of a Club of Damned Authors."
Lamb, we know, was a great lover of the drama,--a true patron and
admirer of playwrights and play-actors. He was, perhaps, the greatest
theatrical critic that ever lived. Many of the happiest hours of his
life were passed in reading the works of the old English dramatists, and
in witnessing the performances of favorite actors. He once had hopes of
being a successful dramatist himself, and to that end devoted many of
his spare hours and odd moments to the composition of a tragedy. ("John
Woodvil,") which John Kemble, "the stately manager of Drury Lane,"
refused to bring out. But not wholly discouraged by the ill success of
his tragedy, he tried his hand at a farce, and produced "Mr. H.," which,
to the author's exceeding great delight, was accepted by the manager of
[Footnote B: Talfourd says that the acceptance of "Mr. H." gave Lamb
some of the happiest moments he ever spent.]
To Manning, then sojourning among the Mandarins, he thus writes of "Mr.
"Now you'd like to know the subject. The title is 'Mr. H.',--no more:
how simple! how taking! A great H sprawling over the play-bill, and
attracting eyes at every corner. The story is a coxcomb appearing at
Bath, vastly rich,--all the ladies dying for him, all bursting to know
who he is; but he goes by no other name than Mr. H.: a curiosity like
that of the dames of Strasburg about the man with the great nose. But I
won't tell you any more about it. Yes, I will; but I can't give you an
idea how I have done it. I'll just tell you, that, after much vehement
admiration, when his true name comes out, 'Hogsflesh,' all the women
shun him, avoid him, and not one can be found to change their name for
him: that's the idea: how flat it is here! but how whimsical in
the farce! And only think how hard upon me it is, that the ship is
despatched to-morrow, and my triumph cannot be ascertained till the
Wednesday after;--but all China will ring of it by-and-by."
Would that Lamb's joyous and exultant anticipations of "Mr. H."'s
success had proved true! But, instead of being greeted with the applause
of pit and gallery, which would have stood Elia instead of "the unheard
voice of posterity," the piece was hissed and hooted from the stage.
In a letter to Manning, written early in 1808, he thus, half humorously,
half pathetically, describes the reception the town gave "Mr. H.":--
"So I go creeping on since I was lamed with that cursed fall from off
the top of Drury-Lane Theatre into the pit, something more than a year
ago. However, I have been free of the house ever since, and the house
was pretty free with me upon that occasion. Hang 'em, how they hissed!
It was not a hiss neither, but a sort of a frantic yell, like a
congregation of mad geese, with roaring sometimes like bears, mows and
mops like apes, sometimes snakes, that hissed me into madness. 'Twas
like Saint Anthony's temptations. Mercy on us, that God should give his
favorite children, men, mouths to speak with, to discourse rationally,
to promise smoothly, to flatter agreeably, to encourage warmly, to
counsel wisely, to sing with, to drink with, and to kiss with, and that
they should turn them into mouths of adders, bears, wolves, hyenas, and
whistle like tempests, and emit breath through them like distillations
of aspic poison, to asperse and vilify the innocent labors of their
fellow-creatures who are desirous to please them! Heaven be pleased to
make the teeth rot out of them all, therefore! Make them a reproach, and
all that pass by them to loll out their tongue at them! Blind mouths! as
Milton somewhere calls them."
If his farce had been--what "Gentleman Lewis," who was present on the
night of its performance, said, if he had had it, he would have made it,
by a few judicious curtailments--"the most popular little thing that
had been brought out for some time," Lamb would not have written the
"ON THE CUSTOM OF HISSING AT THE THEATRES, WITH SOME ACCOUNT OF A CLUB
OF DAMNED AUTHORS.
"Mr. Reflector,--I am one of those persons whom the world has thought
proper to designate by the title of Damned Authors. In that memorable
season of dramatic failures, 1806-7, in which no fewer, I think, than
two tragedies, four comedies, one opera, and three farces suffered at
Drury-Lane Theatre, I was found guilty of constructing an afterpiece,
and was _damned_.
"Against the decision of the public in such instances there can be no
appeal. The Clerk of Chatham might as well have protested against the
decision of Cade and his followers, who were then _the public_. Like
him, I was condemned because I could write.
"Not but it did appear to some of us that the measures of the popular
tribunal at that period savored a little of harshness and of the
_summum jus_. The public mouth was early in the season fleshed upon
the 'Vindictive Man,' and some pieces of that nature, and it retained
through the remainder of it a relish of blood. As Dr. Johnson would have
said: Sir, there was a habit of sibilation in the house.
"Still less am I disposed to inquire into the reason of the comparative
lenity, on the other hand, with which some pieces were treated, which,
to indifferent judges, seemed at least as much deserving of condemnation
as some of those which met with it. I am willing to put, a favorable
construction upon the votes that were given against us; I believe that
there was no bribery or designed partiality in the case;--only 'our
nonsense did not happen to suit their nonsense'; that was all.
"But against the _manner_ in which the public on these occasions think
fit to deliver their disapprobation I must and ever will protest.
"Sir, imagine--but you have been present at the damning of a
piece,--those who never had that felicity, I beg them to imagine--a vast
theatre, like that which Drury Lane was, before it was a heap of dust
and ashes, (I insult not over its fallen greatness; let it recover
itself when it can for me, let it lift up its towering head once
more, and take in poor authors to write for it; _hic coestus artemque
repono_,)--a theatre like that, filled with all sorts of disgusting
sounds,--shrieks, groans, hisses, but chiefly the last, like the noise
of many waters, or that which Don Quixote heard from the fulling-mills,
or that wilder combination of devilish sounds which Saint Anthony
listened to in the wilderness.
"Oh, Mr. Reflector, is it not a pity, that the sweet human voice, which
was given man to speak with, to sing with, to whisper tones of love in,
to express compliance, to convey a favor, or to grant a suit,--that
voice, which in a Siddons or a Braham rouses us, in a Siren Catalani
charms and captivates us,--that the musical, expressive human voice
should be converted into a rival of the noises of silly geese, and
irrational, venomous snakes?
"I never shall forget the sounds on _my night_; I never before that time
fully felt the reception which the Author of All Ill in the 'Paradise
Lost' meets with from the critics in the _pit_, at the final close of
his Tragedy upon the Human Race,--though that, alas! met with too much
"'from innumerable tongues,
A dismal universal _hiss_, the sound
Of public scorn. Dreadful was the din
Of _hissing_ through the hall, thick swarming now
With complicated monsters, head and tail,
Scorpion and asp, and Amphisbaena dire,
Cerastes horned, Hydrus, and Elops drear,
"For _hall_ substitute _theatre_, and you have the very image of what
takes place at what is called the _damnation_ of a piece,--and properly
so called; for here you see its origin plainly, whence the custom was
derived, and what the first piece was that so suffered. After this none
can doubt the propriety of the appellation.
"But, Sir, as to the justice of bestowing such appalling,
heart-withering denunciations of the popular obloquy upon the venial
mistake of a poor author who thought to please us in the act of filling
his pockets,--for the sum of his demerits amounts to no more than
that,--it does, I own, seem to me a species of retributive justice far
too severe for the offence. A culprit in the pillory (bate the eggs)
meets with no severer exprobration.
"Indeed, I have often wondered that some modest critic has not proposed
that there should be a wooden machine to that effect erected in some
convenient part of the _proscenium_, which an unsuccessful author should
be required to mount, and stand his hour, exposed to the apples and
oranges of the pit. This _amende honorable_ would well suit with the
meanness of some authors, who in their prologues fairly prostrate their
skulls to the audience, and seem to invite a pelting.
"Or why should they not have their pens publicly broke over their
heads, as the swords of recreant knights in old times were, and an oath
administered to them that they should never write again?
"Seriously, _Messieurs the Public_, this outrageous way which you have
got of expressing your displeasures is too much for the occasion. When
I was deafening under the effects of it, I could not help asking what
crime of great moral turpitude I had committed: for every man about me
seemed to feel the offence as personal to himself, as something which
public interest and private feelings alike called upon him in the
strongest possible manner to stigmatize with infamy.
"The Romans, it Is well known to you, Mr. Reflector, took a gentler
method of marking their disapprobation of an author's work. They were a
humane and equitable nation. They left the _furca_ and the _patibulum_,
the axe and the rods, to great offenders: for these minor and (if I may
so term them) extra-moral offences _the bent thumb_ was considered as a
sufficient sign of disapprobation,--_vertere pollicem_; as _the pressed
thumb, premere pollicem_, was a mark of approving.
"And really there seems to have been a sort of fitness in this method,
a correspondency of sign in the punishment to the offence. For, as
the action of writing is performed by bending the thumb forward, the
retroversion or bending back of that joint did not unaptly point to the
opposite of that action, implying that it was the will of the audience
that the author should _write no more:_ a much more significant, as
well as more humane, way of expressing-that desire, than our custom of
hissing, which is altogether senseless and indefensible. Nor do we find
that the Roman audiences deprived themselves, by this lenity, of any
tittle of that supremacy which audiences in all ages have thought
themselves bound to maintain over such as have been candidates for their
applause. On the contrary, by this method they seem to have had the
author, as we should express it, completely _under finger and thumb_.
"The provocations to which a dramatic genius is exposed from the public
are so much the more vexatious as they are removed from any possibility
of retaliation, the hope of which sweetens most other injuries: for the
public _never writes itself_. Not but something very like it took place
at the time of the O.-P. differences. The placards which were nightly
exhibited were, properly speaking, the composition of the public. The
public wrote them, the public applauded them, and precious morceaux of
wit and eloquence they were,--except some few, of a better quality,
which it is well known were furnished by professed dramatic writers.
After this specimen of what the public can do for itself, it should be a
little slow in condemning what others do for it.
"As the degrees of malignancy vary in people according as they have more
or less of the Old Serpent (the father of hisses) in their composition,
I have sometimes amused myself with analyzing this many-headed hydra,
which calls itself the public, into the component parts of which it is
'complicated, head and tail,' and seeing how many varieties of the snake
kind it can afford.
"First, there is the Common English Snake.--This is that part of the
auditory who are always the majority at damnations, but who, having
no critical venom in themselves to sting them on, stay till they hear
others hiss, and then join in for company.
"The Blind Worm is a, species very nearly allied to the foregoing. Some
naturalists have doubted whether they are not the same.
"The Rattle--Snake.--These are your obstreperous talking critics,--the
impertinent guides of the pit,--who will not give a plain man leave to
enjoy an evening's entertainment, but, with their frothy jargon and
incessant finding of faults, either drown his pleasure quite, or force
him in his own defence to join in their clamorous censure. The hiss
always originates with these. When this creature springs his _rattle_,
you would think, from the noise it makes, there was something in it; but
you have only to examine the instrument from which the noise proceeds,
and you will find it typical of a critic's tongue,--a shallow membrane,
empty, voluble, and seated in the most contemptible part of the
"The Whip-Snake.--This is he that lashes the poor author the next day in
"The Deaf Adder, or _Surda Echidna_ of Linnaeus.--Under this head may be
classed all that portion of the spectators (for audience they properly
are not) who, not finding the first act of a piece answer to their
preconceived notions of what a first act should be, like Obstinate in
John Bunyan, positively thrust their fingers in their ears, that they
may not hear a word of what is coming, though perhaps the very next act
may be composed in a style as different as possible, and be written
quite to their own tastes. These Adders refuse to hear the voice of the
charmer, because the tuning of his instrument gave them offence.
"I should weary you, and myself too, if I were to go through all the
classes of the serpent kind. Two qualities are common to them all. They
are creatures of remarkably cold digestions, and chiefly haunt _pits_
and low grounds.
"I proceed with more pleasure to give you an account of a club to which
I have the honor to belong. There are fourteen of us, who are all
authors that have been once in our lives what is called _damned_. We
meet on the anniversaries of our respective nights, and make ourselves
merry at the expense of the public. The chief tenets which distinguish
our society, and which every man among us is bound to hold for gospel,
"That the public, or mob, in all ages, have been a set of blind, deaf,
obstinate, senseless, illiterate savages. That no man of genius, in his
senses, would be ambitious of pleasing such a capricious, ungrateful
rabble. That the only legitimate end of writing for them is to pick
their pockets, and, that failing, we are at full liberty to vilify and
abuse them as much as ever we think fit.
"That authors, by their affected pretences to humility, which they made
use of as a cloak to insinuate their writings into the callous senses of
the multitude, obtuse to everything but the grossest flattery, have by
degrees made that great beast their master; as we may act submission to
children till we are obliged to practise it in earnest. That authors are
and ought to be considered the masters and preceptors of the public,
and not _vice versa_. That it was so in the days of Orpheus, Linus,
and Musaeus, and would be so again, if it were not that writers prove
traitors to themselves. That, in particular, in the days of the first of
those three great authors just mentioned, audiences appear to have been
perfect models of what audiences should be; for, though along with the
trees and the rocks and the wild creatures, which he drew after him to
listen to his strains, some serpents doubtless came to hear his music,
it does not appear that any one among them ever lifted up _a dissentient
voice_. They knew what was due to authors in those days. Now every stock
and stone turns into a serpent, and has a voice.
"That the terms 'Courteous Reader' and 'Candid Auditors,' as having
given rise to a false notion in those to whom they were applied, as
if they conferred upon them some right, _which they cannot have,_ of
exercising their judgments, ought to be utterly banished and exploded.
"These are our distinguishing tenets. To keep up the memory of the cause
in which we suffered, as the ancients sacrificed a goat, a supposed
unhealthy animal, to Aesculapius, on our feast-nights we cut up a goose,
an animal typical of _the popular voice_, to the deities of Candor and
Patient Hearing. A zealous member of the society once proposed that we
should revive the obsolete luxury of viper-broth; but the stomachs of
some of the company rising at the proposition, we lost the benefit of
that highly salutary and _antidotal dish_.
"The privilege of admission to our club is strictly limited to such as
have been fairly _damned_. A piece that has met with ever so little
applause, that has but languished its night or two, and then gone out,
will never entitle its author to a seat among us. An exception to our
usual readiness in conferring this privilege is in the case of a writer
who, having been once condemned, writes again, and becomes candidate for
a second martyrdom. Simple damnation we hold to be a merit, but to be
twice-damned we adjudge infamous. Such a one we utterly reject, and
blackball without a hearing:--
"_The common damned shun his society._
"Hoping that your publication of our Regulations may be a means of
inviting some more members into our society, I conclude this long
"I am, Sir, yours, SEMEL-DAMNATUS."
* * * * *
"Tortured with winter's storms, and tossed with a tumultuous sea."
When God's curse forsook my country, it fell on me. I had been young
and heroic; I had fought well; what portion of the clock-work of Fate
had been allotted me I had utterly performed. Twelve years ago I became
a man and strove for my country's freedom; now she has attained her
heights without me, and I--what am I? A shapeless hulk, that stays in
the shadow, and that hates the world and the people of the world, and
verily the God above the world!
"Fight!" whispered Father Anselmo, the young priest, to me, at my last
shrift; and fight I did. For from Italy's bosom I had drawn the strength
of sword-arm, hip, and thigh; and I vowed to lose that arm and life and
all that made life dear toward the trampling of oppressors from the
My sun rose in storm, it continued in storm,--why not so have set? Why
not have died when swords swept their lightnings about me, when the
glorious thunders of battle rolled around and sulphurous blasts
enveloped, when the air was full of the bray of bugle and beat of drum,
of shout and shriek, exultation and agony? Why not have gone with the
crowd of souls reeking with daring and desire? Why, oh, why thus left
alone to wither? Why still hangs that sun above me, yet wrapt and veiled
and utterly obscured in thick, murk mists of sorrow and despair?
Peace!--let me tell you my story.
Since Father Anselmo--like all youth, whether under cowl, cap, or
crown--was a Liberal at heart, I had not wanted counsel; but when I
had told him all my yearnings and aspirations, had bared to him the
throbbings of my very thought, and he had replied in that one blessed
word, I hastened away. There were none to whom I should say farewell;
I was alone in the world. This wild blood of my veins ran in no other
veins; I knew thoroughly the wide freedom of solitude; the sins and
the virtues of my race, whatever they were, had culminated in me. As
I looked back, that morning, the castle, planted in a dimple of its
demesnes, old and gray and watched by purple peaks of Apennine, seemed
to hide its command only under the mask of silence. The wood through
which I went, with its alluring depths, the moss verdant in everlasting
spring beneath my eager feet, each bough I lifted, the blossoms that
blew their gales after, the bearded grasses that shook in the wind, all
gave me their secret sigh; all the sweet land around, the distant hill,
the distant shore, said, "Redeem me from my chains!" I came across a
sylvan statue, some faun nestled in the forest: the rains had stained,
frosts cracked, suns blistered it; but what of those? A vine covered
with thorns and stemmed with cords had wreathed about it and bound it
closely in serpent-coils. I stayed and tore apart the fetters till my
hands bled, cut away the twisting branches, and set the god free from
his bonds. Triumph rose to my lips, for I said, "So will I free my
country!" Ah, there was my error,--the shackling vines would grow again,
and infold the marble image that had consecrated the forest-glooms;
there is the flaw in all my work,--I have shorn, but have never uprooted
an evil. Youth is a fool; the young Titans cannot scale heaven,--heaven,
that, if what I live through be true, is ramparted round with tyrant
lies! But is it true? Am I what I seem to myself? Did I fail in my
purpose, in my will? Did Italy herself belie me? Did she, did she I
loved, she I worshipped, she the woman to whom I gave all, for whom I
sacrificed all, did she, too, forsake me? Ah, no! you will tell me Italy
is free. But I did not free her! She waits only to put on in Venice her
tiara. And for that other one, that fair Austrian woman, that devil whom
I serve and adore, that yellow-haired witch who brewed her incantations
in my holiest raptures,--she did not then play me foul, and falsely
feign love to win me to disgrace? May all the woes in Heaven's hands
fall on her!
God! what have I said? That I should live to ban her with a word! Did I
say it? Oh, but it was vain! Woe for her? No, no! all blessings shower
upon her, sunshine attend her, peace and gladness dwell about her!
Traitress though she were, I must love her yet; I cannot unlove her; I
would take her into my heart, and fold my arms about her.--Oh, I pray
you do not look upon me with that mocking smile! Pity me, rather! pity
this wretched heart that longs to curse God and die!--Nay, I want not
your idle words. Can good destroy? Can love persecute? I was a worm that
turned. What then? Why not have crushed me to annihilation? Oh, no, not
that! He took me up and shook me before the world, clipped me, and let
me fall. A derisive Deity,--why, the words give each other the lie!
Stop! Your sad eyes look as if you would go away, but for this infinite
pity in you. What makes you pity me? Because I am shorn of my strength?
because of all my fair proportions there is nothing left unshrivelled?
because my body--such as it is--is racked with hourly and perpetual
pain? because I die? For none of these? Truly, your judgments are
insenilable. For what then? Because,--yet, no, that cannot be,--because
I bear a stubborn heart? because I will not bend my soul as He has bent
my body? Partly,--but you are witless! What else? Because I toss off a
shield and buckler, you say. Because I will not lean upon a tower of
strength. Because I will not throw myself on the tide of divine love,
and trust myself to its course. It was that divine love, then, that
tower of strength, that shield and buckler, that made me this thing you
see. Tarpeia was enough. Away with your generalities! Go, go, you slave
of the past!
Yet no,--you have not gone? You believe what you say,--I know with those
eyes you cannot deceive. Ah, but I trusted her eyes once! Yet it gives
you rest;--your sorrows are not like mine,--there is no rest for me. I
cannot go and gather that balm of Gilead,--I have no legs. I have as
good as none. This wheel-chair and that dog of a turnkey are not the
equipage for such a journey.--Ah, do not turn from me now! My railing is
worse than my cursing, you feel indeed. Well, stay with me at least, and
if it is twelve years since you shrived me at first, perhaps you shall
shrive me at last,--for I doubt if I am ever brought out to this
sunshine again, if I do not die in the prison-damps to-night,--and you,
with all your change, are Father Anshmo, I think.--Stay, I will confess
to you, confess this. Man! man! this infinite pity of your soul for mine
throws a light on my dark ways; God's curse has fallen on me through
man's curse, why not God's love through man's love? Anselmo, though you
became priest, and I went to become hero, we were children together; I
was dear to you then; I am so still, it seems. In your love let me find
the love of that Heaven I have defied.--Stay, friend, yet another word.
If man's love can be so great, what can God's love be? That which I
said I said, in desperation; in very truth, that peace hangs like an
unattainable city in the clouds before my soul's vision, that love like
a broad river flowing through the lands, an atmosphere bathing the
worlds, the subtile essence and ether of space in which the farthest
star pursues its course,--why, then, should it escape me, the mote? Oh,
when the world turned from me, I sought to flee thither! I sighed for
the rest there! Wretched, alone, I have wept in the dark and in the
light that I might go and fling myself at the heavenly feet. But, do you
see? sin has broken down the bridge between God and me. Yet why,
then, is sin in the world,--that scum that rises in the creation and
fermentation of good,--why, but _as_ a bridge on which to re-seek those
shores from which we wander? Man, I do repent me,--in loving you I
find God. And you call that blasphemy!--Nay, go, indeed, my friend! So
humble, you are not the man for me. I can talk to the winds: they, at
least, do not visit me too roughly.
These are thy tears, Anselmo? Thou a priest, yet a man? Still with me?
Yet thou wilt have to bear with wayward moods,--scorn now, quiet then. I
am a tetchy man; I am an old man, too, though but just past thirty.--So!
I thank God for thee, dear friend!
* * * * *
Anselmo, look out on this scene below us here, as we sit on our lofty
battlement. Not on the turrets or the loopholes, the grates and spikes,
or all the fortified horror,--but on the earth. It is fair earth, though
not Italy; this is a mountain-fortress; here are all the lights and
shadows that play over grand hill-countries, and yonder are fields of
grain, where the winds and sunbeams play at storm, and a little hamlet's
sheltered valley. Doubtless there are towers, besides, half hidden in
the hills. It is Austria: slaves tread it, and tyrants drain it, it is
true,--but the wild, free gypsies troop now and then across it, and
though no fiction of law supports a claim they would scorn to make, they
use it so that you would swear they own it. Do you see how this iron
reticulation of social rule and custom and force makes a scaffolding on
which this tameless race build up their lives? I watch them often. Each
country has its compensations. Anselmo, this first made me tremble in
my petty defiance,--I, an ephemera of May, defying the dominations of
eternity!--Not so,--not too lowly; I also am, and each limitation of
life is as well, a domination of eternity. But I saw that it was no
purpose of God to have destroyed Italy; when men in weakness and
wantonness suffered their liberties to be torn from them, suffered
themselves to become enslaved, there was compensation in that their sons
had chance for heroic growth; they might, in efforts for freedom, create
virtues that, born to freedom, they would never have known. I, too, had
my field; I lost it; my enemy was myself. But when I think of her--Ay,
there it is! Do not let me think of her! I become mad, when I think of
her!--At least, allow me this: God's ways are dark. Not that? Not even
that? I needed what I have? If my ambitions, my passions, my will, had
ruled, my soul would have remained null? Ah, friend, and is that so much
the worse? It is the soul that aches!--I am a man of the people, a
man who acts,--I _was_, I mean,--not a man who thinks; and all your
subtleties of word perchance entrap me. I am not wary when you come to
logic. See! I surrender point after point. I shall be dead soon, you
know; when this morning's sun shave have set, when the moon shall hold
the night in fee, I shall depart,--wing up and away;--is it, that, my
body already dead, my mind sickens and dies with it, bit after bit, and
so I yield, and attest, that, without the agony of my life, death had
failed to burst my soul's husk? Oh, for I was born of an earthy race,
blood ran thick in our veins, we were sensuous and passionate, the
breath and steam of pleasure stifled our brains, and our filmy eyes
could not see heaven. Yes, yes, I needed it all; but, friend, it is
* * * * *
I like to sit here in the sun. It is only a twelvemonth, of all my long
years' imprisonment, that this has been allowed me. I like to sleep in
it, like any wild creature,--the lizard, a mere reptile,--the bird, a
hindered soul. To lie thus, weak as I am, but pillowed and warmed by the
searching genial rays, seems such comfort, when I think of the bed I
once had on the rack! This little slumber from which I wake revives me.
I feared not to find you, and did not unclose my eyes at once. It was
good in you to come, Anselmo; it must have been at risk of much.
You ask me to speak of my life since I went away on that morning of
your command,--to reconcile the hostile acts, to gather the scattered
reports. Hear it all!
You know my wealth was equal to my demand. I used it; before six
months were over, I was the life and soul of those who must needs be
conspirators. They saw that I was earnest, that my sacrifices were real;
they trusted me. Soon the movement had become general; all the smothered
elements of national life were convulsed and throbbing under the crust
How proud and glad was I that morning after our victory! I saw great
Italy, beautiful Italy, once more put on her diadem; I beheld the future
prospect of one broad, free land, barriered by Alps and set impregnably
in summer seas, storied seas, keys of the West and East. We embraced
each other as brothers of this glorious nation, ancient Rome risen from
trance; as we walked the streets, we sang; Milan was turbulent with
gladness; no gala-day was ever half so bright; the very spires appeared
to spring in the white radiance of their flames up a deeper heaven; the
sun stayed at perpetual dawn for us. Walking along, jubilant and daring,
at length we paused in a square where a fountain dashed up its column of
sunshine, and laved our hands. By Heaven! We forgot independence, Italy,
freedom; we were crazed with success and hope; it seemed that the stream
was Austrian blood! Then, in the midst of all, I looked up,--and on a
balcony she stood. A fair woman, with hair like shredded light, her
great blue eyes wide and full and of intense dye, her nostril distended
with pride, and fear and hate of us,--but on the full lips, ripe with
crimson bloom, juicy and young and fresh, on those Love lay. The others
wound forward,--I with them, yet apart; and my eyes became fixed on
hers. Then I lifted my cap with its tricolor. She did not return the
courtesy, but stood as if spellbound, one hand threading back the
straying hair, the lips a little parted; suddenly she turned to fly,
that hand upraised to the casement's side, and still, as she looked
back, the beautiful eyes on mine. My companions had preceded me; we were
alone in the square; she wavered as she stood, then tore a rose from her
bosom, kissed it deep into its heart, and tossed it to me.
"Let all its petals be joys!" I said, and she vanished.
Oh, friend, the leaves have fallen, the rose is dead! Look! I have kept
it through all,--sear leaf and withered spray!
That night we danced; and the Austrian girl was there. They told me she
was exiled, and that she loved liberty; no one told me she was a spy. I
saw her swim along the dance, the white satin of her raiment flashing
perpetual interchange of lustrous and obscure, the warm air playing in
the lace that fell like the spray of the fountain round her golden hair
and over her pearly shoulder; grace swept in all her motions, beauty
crowned her, she seemed the perfect, pitch of womanhood.
Still she swims along the lazy line with indolent pleasure, still floats
in dreamy waltz-circles perchance, still bends to the swaying tune
as the hazel-branch bonds to the hidden treasure,--but as for me, my
dancing days are over.
By-and-by it was I with whom she danced, whose hand she touched, on whom
she leaned. I wondered if there were any man so blest; I listened to her
breath, I watched her cheek, our eyes met, and I loved her. The music
grew deeper, more impassioned; we stood and listened to it,--for she
danced then no more,--our hearts beat time to it, the wind wandering at
the casement played in its measure; we said no words, but now and then
each sought the other's glance, and, convicted there, turned in sudden
shame away. When I bade her good-night, which I might never have done
but that the revel broke, a great curl of her hair blew across my lips.
I was bold,--I was heated, too, with this half-secret life of my heart,
this warm blood that went leaping so riotously through my veins, and yet
so silently,--I took my dagger from my belt and severed the curl. See,
friend! will you look at it? It is like the little gold snakes of the
Campagna, is it not? each thread, so fine and fair, a separate ray of
light: once it was part of her! See how it twists round my hand! Haste!
haste! let me put it up, lest I go mad!--Where was I?
I busied myself again in the work to be done; because of our victory we
must not rest; once more all went forward. I saw the Austrian woman only
from a window, or in a church, or as she walked in the gardens, for many
days. Then the times grew hotter; I left the place, and lived with stern
alarums; and thither she also came. I never sought what sent her. She
was with the wounded, with the dying. Then the need of her was past, and
she and all the others took their way. At length that also came to an
We were in Rome,--and thither, some time previously, she had gone.
One night, our business for the day was over, our plans for the morrow
laid, our messages received, our messengers despatched, and those who
had been conspirators and now bade fair to be saviours were sleeping.
Sleep seemed to fold the world; each bough and twig was silent in
repose; the spectral moonlight itself slept as it bathed the air. I
alone wandered and waked. With me there were too many cares for rest;
work kept me on the alert; to court slumber at once was not easy after
the nervous tension of duty. I was torn, too, with conflicting feelings:
half my soul went one way in devotion to my country, half my soul
swerved to the other as I thought of the Austrian woman. I grew tired of
the streets and squares; something that should be fragrant and bowery
attracted me. I mounted on the broken water-god of a dry bath and leaped
No sooner was I there than I knew why I had come. This was her garden.
Heart of Heaven! how all things spoke of her! How the great white roses
hung their doubly heavy heads and poured their perfume out to her! how
the sprays shivered as T spoke the name she owned! how the nightingales
ceased for a breath their warbling as she rustled down a fragrant path
and met me! All her hair was swept back in one great mass and held by an
ivory comb; a white cloak wrapped her white array; she was jewel-less
and stripped of lustre; she was like pearl, milky as a shell, white as
the moonlight that followed in her wake.
"You breathed my name,--I came," she said.
"Pardon!" I replied. "I heard the fountains dash and the nightingales
sing, and I but came for rest under the spell."
"And have you found it?"
"I have found it."
We remained silent then, while floods of passion gathered and lay darkly
still in our hearts. No, no! I know now that it was not so; yet I will
tell it, tell it all, as I thought it then.
She did not stir; indeed, she had such capability of rest, that, had I
not spoken, she would never have stirred, it may be. She knew that my
glance was upon her; for herself, she looked at the broad lilies that
grew at her feet, and listened to the melody that seemed to bubble from
a thousand throats with interfluent sound upon the night. It was her
repose that soothed me: moulded clay is not so calm, the marble rose of
silence not half so beautifully folded to dreamful rest, so lovely
and so still no garden-statue could have been; the cool, soft night
infiltrated its tranquillity through all her being.
As we stood, the nightingales gave us capricious pause; one alone,
distant and clear, fluted its faint piping like the phantom of the
finished strain. Another sound broke the air and floated along on this
too delicious accompaniment: music, fine and far. Some other lover sang
to her his serenade. The voice in its golden sonority rose and crept
toward her with persuading sweetness, winding through all the alleys and
hovering over the plots of greenery with a tranquil strength, as if such
song were but the natural spirit of the night, or as if the soul of the
broad calm and silence itself had taken voice.
"Thy beauty, like a star
Whose life is light,
Shines on me from afar.
And on the night.
"Each midnight blossom bends
With sweetest weight,
And to thy casement sends
Its fragrant freight.
"Each, air that faintly curls
About thy nest
Its daring pinion furls
Within thy breast.
"The night is spread for thee,
The heavens are wide,
And the dark earth's mystery
"For thee the garden waits,
The hours delay,
The fountains toss their jets
Of shimmering spray.
"Then leave thy dim delight
In dreams above,
Come forth, and crown the night
With her I love!"
She listened, but did not lift her head or suffer the change of a fold;
then there came the tinkle of the strings that embalmed the tune, and
the singer's steps grew soundless as he left the street. A new phantasm
crept upon me. What right had any other man to sing to her his
love-songs? Did she not live, was not her beauty created, her soul
given, for me? Did not the very breath she drew belong to me? My voice,
hoarse and husky, disturbed the stillness, my eyes flamed on her.
"Do you love that man who sang?" I murmured.
"Signor, I love you," she said.
Then we were silent as before, but she stood no longer alone and
opposite. One passionate step, an outstretched arm, and her head on my
bosom, my lips bent to hers.
All the nightingales burst forth in choral redundance of song, all the
low winds woke and fainted again through the balmy boughs, all the great
stars bent out of heaven to shed their sweet influences upon us.
It seemed to me that in that old palace-garden life began, my memory
went out in confused joy. I held her, she was mine! mine, mine, in life
and for eternity! Fool! it was I who was hers! Man, you are a priest,
and must not love. I, too, was sworn a priest to my country. So we break
O moments of swift bliss, why are you torture to remember? Let me not
think how the night slipped into dawn as we roamed, how pale gold
filtered through the darkness and bleached the air, how bird after bird
with distant chirrup and breaking time announced the day. She left me,
and as well it might be night. I wound a strange way home. I questioned
if it were the dream of a fevered brain; I wondered, would she remember
when next she saw me? None met with me that day; I forgot all. With the
night I again waited in the garden. In vain I waited; she came no more.
I waxed full of love's anger, I crushed the tendril and the vine, I
wandered up and down the walks and cursed these thorns that tore my
heart. As I went, an angle of the shrubbery allured; I turned, and lo!
full radiance from open doors, and silvery sounds of sport. I leaned
against the ilex, lost in shadow, and watched her as she stirred and
floated there before me in the light. She seemed to carry with her an
atmosphere of warmth and brilliance; all things were ordered as she
moved; one throng melted before her, another followed. By-and-by
she stood at the long casement to seek acquaintance with the night.
Constantly I thought to meet her eye, and I would not reflect that she
saw only dusk and vacancy. Then indignantly I stepped from the ilex and
confronted her. A low, glad cry escapes her lips, she holds her arms
toward me and would cross the sill, when a voice constrains her from
within. It is he, the accursed Neapolitan.
"Signor," she says, "a vampire flitted past the dawn."
Dawn indeed was breaking. The man still stood there when she left him,
and still looked out; his eyes lay on me, and irate and motionless
I returned their gaze. One by one her guests departed; with a last
threatening glance, he, too, withdrew. I plunged into the silent places
again, and waited now, assured that she would come. The constellations
paled, and still I was alone. Then I wandered restlessly again, and,
winding through thickets of leaf-distilled perfume, I came where just
above a balcony, and almost beyond reach from it, a light burned dimly
in one narrow window. I did not ask myself why I did it, but in another
moment I had clambered to the place, and, standing there, I bent forward
to my right, pulled away the tangle of ivy that filled half the niche,
and was peering in.
"What is that?" said a voice I knew, with its silvery echo of the South,
the accursed Neapolitan's.
"It is the owl that builds in the recess, and stirs the ivy," she
"Haste!" said a third,--"the day breaks."
She was sitting at a low table, writing; Pia, the old nurse, stood
behind her chair; the oil was richly scented that she burned; the
single light illumined only her, and covered with her shadow the low
ceiling,--a shadow that seemed to hang above her like a pall ready to
fall from ghostly fingers and smother her in its folds; the others
lounged about the room and waited on her pen, in gloom they, their faces
gleaming from that dusk demoniacly. It was a concealed room, entered by
secret ways, unknown to others than these.
When she had written, she sealed.
"There is no more to await. Adieu," she said.
"It is some transfer of property, some legal paper, some sale, some
gift," I said to myself, as I watched them take it and depart. Then she
was alone again. I saw her start up, pace the narrow spot,--saw her
stand and pull down the masses, so interspersed with golden light, that
crowned her head, and look at them wonderingly as they overlay her
fingers,--then saw those fingers clasped across the eyes, and the
lips part with a sigh that, prolonged and deepened, grew to be a
groan,--while all the time that shadow on the ceiling hovered and
fluttered and grew still, till it seemed the cluster of Eumenides
waiting to pounce on its prey. In another pause I had taken the perilous
step, had hung by the crumbling rock, the rending vine, had entered and
was beside her. A cold horror iced her face; she warned me away with her
"What have you seen?" she said.
"You, O my love, in grief."
"And no more?"
"I have seen you give a letter to the Neapolitan, who departs to-morrow
with the little Viennois,--perhaps to your friends at home."
"And that is all?"
"That is all."
"I have no friends at home. To whom, then, could the letter be?"
"How should I divine?"
"It was for the Austrian Government! Now love me, if you dare!"
"And do you suppose I did not know it?"
"Then is your love for me but a shield and mask?"
As I gazed in reply, my steady eyes, the soul that kindled my smile, my
open arms, all must have asseverated for me the truth of my devotion.
"Still?" she said. "Still? And you can keep your faith to me and to
What was this doubt of me, this stain she would have cast upon my honor?
That armor's polish was too intense to sustain it; it rolled off like
a cloud from heaven. Italy's fortunes were _my_ fortunes; it was
impossible for me to betray them; this woman I would win to wed them.
How long, how long my blood had felt this thing in her! how long my
brain had rebelled! In a proud innocence, I stood with folded arms, and
could afford to smile.
"Stay!" she said again, after our mute gaze, and laying her hand upon my
arm. "You shall not love me in vain, you shall not trust me for nothing.
Your cause is mine to-day. That is the last message I send to Vienna."
And then I believed her.
The light, slanting up, crept in and touched the brow of an ideal bust
of Mithras which she had invested with her faintly-faded wreath of
heliotropes; their fragrance falling through the place already made the
atmosphere more rich than that of chest of almond-wood,--this perfume
that is like the soul of the earth itself exhaled to the amorous air.
Behind an alabaster shrine she lighted a holy-taper, slowly to waste
and pale in the spreading day. We went to the window, where among the
ivy-nooks day's life was just astir with gaudy wings.
"All will be seeking you, and yet you cannot go," she said.
"Why can I not go?"
"It is broad morning."
"And what of that?"
"One thing. You shall not compromise yourself, going from the house of
an Austrian woman and worse!"
She was too winningly imperious to fail. I delayed, and together we
looked out on the rosy sky.
"Come down," she said at last, "and on an arbor-moss the sun shall
drowse you, the flower-scents be your opiates, the birds your lullaby,
and I your guard."
We went, and, wandering again through the garden-paths, she brushed
the dew with her trailing festal garments, and plucked the great blue
convolvuli to crown her forehead. Soon, on a plot of Roman violets,
screened by tall trees and trellises, we breakfasted. One might have
said that the cloth was laid above giant mushroom-stems, the service
acorn-cups and calices of milky blooms; golden was the honey-comb we
broke, manna was our bread; she caught the water in her hand from the
fountain and pledged me, and swift as sunshine I bent forward and
prevented the thirsty lips. Then she laid my head on her shoulder, with
her cool finger-tips she stroked the temples and soothed the lids,
they fell and closed on the vision bending above me,--loveliness like
painting, pallor that was waxen, yellow tresses wreathed with azure
stars, eyes that caught the hue again and absorbed all Tyrian dyes.
The plash and bubble of waters swooned dreamily about my ears, and far
off it seemed I heard the wild, sad songs of her native land, that now
in tinkling tune, and now in long, slow rise and fall of mellow sound,
swathed me with sweet satiety to dreamless rest.
The sun stole round and rose above the screen of trees at last and woke
me. I was alone, the silent statues looked on me, the breath of the dark
violets crushed by my weight rose in shrouding incense. I lifted myself
and searched for her, and asked why I must needs believe each hour of
joy a dream,--then went and cooled my brow in the lucent basin at hand,
and waited till she came, in changed raiment, and gliding toward me as
the Spirit of Noon might have come. She led me in, well refreshed, and
in the cool north rooms of the palace the warm hours of the day slipped
like beads from a leash. It scarcely seemed her fingers that touched the
harp to tune, but as if some herald of sirocco, some faint, hot breeze,
had brushed between the strings. It scarcely seemed her voice that
talked to me, but something distant as the tone in a sad sea-shell. What
I said I knew not; I was in a maze, bewildered with bliss; I only knew I
loved her, I only felt my joy.
She told me many things: stories of her mountain-home, in distant view
of the old fortress of Hellberg,--this is the fortress of Hellberg,
Anselmo,--of her youth, her maidenhood, her life in Vienna, her lovers
in Venice, her health, that had sent her finally there where we sat
"I thought it sad," she said at length, "when they exiled me, so to
say, from Vienna and all my gay career there, because Venice, with its
water-breaths, might heal my attainted health,--and sadder when the
winter bade me leave night-tides and gondolas and repair to Rome. Now
spring has come, and all the hills are blue with these deep violets,
the very air is balm, the year is at flood, and life at what seems its
height is perfected with you."
"But you love that land you left?" I replied, after a while, and lifting
her face to meet my gaze.
"Love it? Oh, yes! You love your land as you love a person in whose
veins and yours kindred blood runs, because it is hardly possible to do
otherwise. The land gave me life, that is all; I never knew till lately
that it was anything to be thankful for. It is not sufficiently a
_country_ to kindle enthusiasm; it has no national life, you know,--is
an automaton put through its motions by paid and cunning mechanists.
I thought it right to obey orders and serve it. But now _you_ are my
country,--I serve only you."
It was easy so to pass to my own hopes, to my own life, to my land, the
land to which I had vowed the last drop of blood in my gift. Her eyes
beamed upon me, smiles rippled over her face, she clasped me now and
then and sealed my brow with kisses. Soon I left her side and strode
from end to end of the long _salon_, speaking eagerly of the future that
opened to Italy. I told her how the beautiful corpse lay waiting its
resurrection, and how the Angel of Eternal Life hovered with spreading
wings above, ready to sound his general trump. My pulses beat like
trip-hammers, and as I passed a mirror I saw myself white with the
excitement that fired me.
"You are wild with your joyous emotion," she said, coming forward and
clinging round me. "Your eyes flame from depths of darkness. What, after
all, is Italy to you, that your blood should boil in thinking of her
wrongs? These people, for whom in your terrible magnanimity, I feel that
you would sacrifice even me, to-morrow would turn and rend you!"
"No, no!" I answered. "All things but you! You, you, are before my
The tears filled her large, serious eyes, her lips quivered in
melancholy smile, as sunshine plays with shower over autumn woodlands.
Was I not right? Right, though the universe declare me wrong! I would do
it all again; if she loved me, she had authority to be first of all in
my care; in love lie the highest duties of existence.
I had forgotten the subject on which we spoke; I was thinking only of
her, her beauty, her tenderness, and the debt of deathless devotion that
I owed her. It was otherwise in her thought; she had not dropped the old
thread, but, looking up, resumed.
"It is, then, an idea that you serve?"
Brought back from my reverie, "Could I serve a more worthy master?" I
"You do not particularly love your countrymen, nine-tenths of whom
you have never seen? You do not particularly hate the hostile race,
nine-tenths of whom you have never seen?"
"Abstractly, I hate them. Kindliness of heart prevents individual
hatred, and without kindliness of heart in the first place there can be
no pure patriotism."
"And for the other part. What do you care for these men who herd in the
old tombs, raise a pittance of vetch, and live the life of brutes? what
for the lazzaroni of Naples, for the brigands of Romagua, the murderers
of the Apennine? Nay, nothing, indeed. It is, then, for the land that
you care, the mere face of the country, because it entombs myriad
ancestors, because it is familiar in its every aspect, because it
overflows with abundant beauty. But is the land less fair when foreign
sway domineers it? do the blossoms cease to crowd the gorge, the mists
to fill it with rolling color? is the sea less purple around you, the
sky less blue above, the hills, the fields, the forests, less lavishly
"Yes, the land is less fair," I said. "It is a fair slave. It loses
beauty in the proportion of difference that exists between any two
creatures,--the one a slave of supple symmetry and perfect passivity,
the other a daring woman who stands nearer heaven by all the height of
her freedom. And for these people of whom you speak, first I care for
them because they _are_ my countrymen,--and next, because the idea which
I serve is a purpose to raise them into free and responsible agents."
"Each man does that for himself; no one can do it for another."
"But any one may remove the obstacles from another's way, scatter the
scales from the eyes of the blind, strip the dead coral from the reef."
She took yellow honeysuckles from a vase of massed amethyst and began to
weave them in her yellow hair,--humming a tune, the while, that was full
of the subtilest curves of sound. Soon she had finished, and finished
the fresh thought as well.
"Do you know, my own," she said, "the men who begin as hierophants of
an idea are apt to lose sight of the pure purpose, and to become the
dogged, bigoted, inflexible, unreasoning adherents of a party? All
leaders of liberal movements should beware how far they commit
themselves to party-organizations. Only that man is free. It is easier
to be a partisan than a patriot."
"Lady, you are like all women who talk politics, however capable they
may be of acting them. You immediately beg the question. We are
speaking of patriotism, not of partisanship."
"You it was who forsook the subject. You know nothing about it; you
confess that it is with you merely a blind instinct; you cannot tell me
even what patriotism is."
"Stay!" I replied. "All love is instinct in the germ. Can you define the
yearnings that the mother feels toward her child, the tie that binds son
to father? Then you can define the sentiment that attaches me to the
land from whose breast I have drawn life. The love of country is more
invisible, more imponderable, more inappreciable than the electricity
that fills the air and flows with perpetual variation from pole to pole
of the earth. It is as deep, as unsearchable, as ineffable as the power
which sways me to you. It is the sublimation of other affection. A
portion of you has always gone out into the material spot where you have
been, a portion of that has entered you, your past life is entwined with
river and shore. You become the country, and the country becomes a part
of God. Those who love their country, love the vast abstraction, can
almost afford not to love God. She is a beneficence, she is a shield,
something for which to do and die, something for worship, ideal, grand;
and though the sky is their only roof, the earth their only bed,
affluent are they who have a land! Passion rooted deeply as the
foundations of the hills: a man may adore one woman, but in adoring his
land the aggregation of all men's love for all other women overwhelms
him and accentuates to a fuller emotion. It is unselfish, impersonal,
sheer sentiment clarified at its white heat from all interest and
deceit, the noblest joy, the noblest sorrow. Bold should they be, and
pure as the priests who bore the ark, that dare to call themselves
patriots. And those, Lenore, who live to see their country's hopeless
ruin, plunge into a sadness at heart that no other loss can equal, no
remaining blessing mitigate,--neither the devotion of a wife nor the
perfection of a child. You have seen exiles from a lost land? Pride is
dead in them, hope is dead, ambition is dead, joy is dead. Tell me,
would you choose me to suffer the personal loss of love and you, a loss
I could hide in my aching soul, or to bear those black marks of gall and
melancholy which forever overshadow them in widest grief and gloom?"
She had sunk upon a seat, and was looking up at me with a pained
unwavering glance, as if in my words she foresaw my fate.
"You are too intense!" she cried. "Your tones, your eyes, your gestures,
make it an individual thing with you."
"And so it is!" I exclaimed. "I cannot sleep in peace, nor walk upon the
ways, while these Austrian bayonets take my sunshine, these threatening
approaching French banners hide the fair light of heaven!"
"Come," she said, rising. "Speak no more. I am tired of the burden of
the ditty, dear; and it may do you such injury yet that already I hate
it. Come out again into our garden with me. Dismiss these cares, these
burning pains and rankling wounds. Be soothed by the cool evening air,
taste the gorgeous quiet of sunset, gather peace with the dew."
So we went. I trusted her the more that she differed from me, that then
she promised to love Italy only because _I_ loved it. I told her my
secret schemes, I took her advice on points of my own responsibility, I
learned the joy of help and confidence in one whom you deem devotedly
true. Finally we remained without speech, stood long heart to heart
while the night fell around us like a curtain; her eyes deepened from
their azure noon-splendor and took the violet glooms of the hour, a
great planet rose and painted itself within them; again and again I
printed my soul on her lips ere I left her.
At first, when I was sure that I was once more alone in the streets,
I could not shake from myself the sense of her presence. I could not
escape from my happiness, I was able to bring my thought to no other
consideration. I reached home mechanically, slept an hour, performed the
routine of bath and refreshment, and sought my former duties. But how
changed seemed all the world to me! what air I breathed! in what light I
worked! Still I felt the thrilling pressure of those kisses on my lips,
still those dear embraces!
So days passed on. I worked faithfully for the purpose to which I was
so utterly committed that let that be lost and I was lost! We were
victorious; after the banner fell in Lombardy to soar again in Venice
and to sink, the Republic struggled to life; Rome rose once more on her
seven hills, free and grand, child and mother of an idea, the idea of
national unity, of independence and liberty from Tyrol to Sicily. My
God! think of those dear people who for the first time said, "We have a
Yet how could we have hoped then to continue? Such brief success dazzled
us to the past. Piedmont had long since struck the key-note of Italy's
fortunes. As Charles Albert forsook Milan and suffered Austria once more
to mouth the betrayed land and drip its blood from her heavy jaws, till
in a baptism of redder dye he absolved himself from the sin,--so woe
heaped on woe, all came to crisis, ruin, and loss,--the Republic fell,
Rome fell, the French entered.
Our names had become too famous, our heroic defence too familiar, for us
to escape unknown: the Vascello had not been the only place where youth
fought as the lioness fights for her whelps. Many of us died. Some fled.
Others, and I among them, remained impenetrably concealed in the midst
of our enemies. Weeks then dragged away, and months. New schemes chipped
their shell. Again the central glory of the land might rise revealed to
the nations. We never lost courage; after each downfall we rose like
Antaeus with redoubled strength from contact with the beloved soil, for
each fall plunged us farther into the masses of the people, into closer
knowledge of them and kinder depths of their affection, and so, learning
their capabilities and the warmth of their hearts and the strength of
their endurance, we became convinced that freedom was yet to be theirs.
Meanwhile, you know, our operations were shrouded in inscrutable
secrecy; the French held Rome in frowning terror and subjection; the
Pope trembled on his chair, and clutched it more franticly with his weak
fingers: it was not even known that we, the leaders, were now in the
city; all supposed us to be awaiting quietly the turn of events, in some
other land. As if we ourselves were not events, and Italy did not hang
on our motions! But, as I said, all this time we were at work; our
emissaries gave us enough to do: we knew what spoil the robbers in the
March had made, the decree issued in Vienna, the order of the day in
Paris, the last word exchanged between the Cardinals, what whispers were
sibilant in the Vatican; we mined deeper every day, and longed for the
electric stroke which should kindle the spark and send princes and
principalities shivered widely into atoms. But, friend, this was not
to be. We knew one thing more, too: we knew at last that we also were
watched,--when men sang our songs in the echoing streets at night, and
when each of us, and I, chief of all, renewed our ancient fame, and
became the word in every one's mouth, so that old men blessed us in the
way as we passed, wrapt, we had thought, in safe disguise, and crowds
applauded. Thus again we changed our habits, our rendezvous, our
quarters, and again we eluded suspicion.
There came breathing-space. I went to her to enjoy it, as I would have
gone with some intoxicating blossom to share with her its perfume,--with
any band of wandering harpers, that together our ears might be
delighted. I went as when, utterly weary, I had always gone and rested
awhile with her I loved in the sweet old palace-garden: I had my ways,
undreamed of by army or police or populace. There had I lingered,
soothed at noon by the hum of the bee, at night by that spirit that
scatters the dew, by the tranquillity and charm of the place, ever
rested by her presence, the repose of her manner, the curve of her
dropping eyelid, so that looking on her face alone gave me pleasant
Now, as I entered, she threw down her work,--some handkerchief for her
shoulders, perhaps, or yet a banner for those unrisen men of Rome,
I said,--a white silk square on which she had wrought a hand with a
gleaming sickle, reversed by tall wheat whose barbed grains bent full
and ripe to the reaper, and round the margin, half-pictured, wound the
wild hedge-roses of Paestum. She threw it down and came toward me in
haste, and drew me through an inner apartment.
"He has returned, they say," she said presently,--mentioning the
Neapolitan,--"and it would be unfortunate, if you met."
"Unfortunate for _him_, if we met here!"
"How fearless! Yet he is subtler than the snake in Eden. I fear him as I
"Why fear him?"
"That I cannot tell. Some secret sign, some unspeakable intuition,
assures me of injury through him."
"Dearest, put it by. The strength of all these surrounding leagues with
their swarm does not flow through his wrist, as it does through mine. He
is more powerless than the mote in the air."
"You are so confident!" she said.
"How can I be anything else than confident? The very signs in the sky
speak for us, and half the priests are ours, and the land itself is an
oath. Look out, Lenore! Look down on these purple fields that so sweetly
are taking nightfall; look on these rills that braid the landscape and
sing toward the sea; see yonder the row of columns that have watched
above the ruins of their temple for centuries, to wait this hour; behold
the heaven, that, lucid as one dome of amethyst, darkens over us and
blooms in star on star;--was ever such beauty? Ah, take this wandering
wind,--was ever such sweetness? And since every inch of earth
is historic,--since here rose glory to fill the world with wide
renown,--since here the heroes walked, the gods came down,--since Oreads
haunt the hill, and Nereids seek the shore"--
"Whereabout do Nereids seek the shore?" she archly asked.
"Why, if you must have data," I answered, laughing, "let us say Naples."
"What is that you have to say of Naples?" demanded a voice in the
door-way,--and turning, I confronted the Neapolitan.
She had started back at the abrupt apparition, and before she could
recover, stung by rage and surprise I had replied,--
"What have I to say of Naples? That its tyrant walks in blood to his
A man, I, with my hot furies, to be intrusted with the commonwealth!
"I will trouble you to repeat that sentence at some day," he said.
"Here and now, if you will!" I uttered, my hand on my hilt.
"Thanks. Not here and now. It will answer, if you remember it _then_.--I
hope I see Her Highness well. Pardon this little _brusquerie_, I pray.
The southern air is kind to loveliness: I regret to bring with me Her
She replied in the same courteous air, inquired concerning her
acquaintance, and ordered lights,--took the letter he brought, and held
it, still sealed, in the taper's flame till it fell in ashes.
"Signor," she said, lifting the white atoms of dust and sifting them
through her fingers, "you may carry back these as my reply."
"Nay, I do not return," he answered. "And, Signorina, many things are
pardoned to one in--your condition. Recover your senses, and you will
find this so among others."
Then, as coolly as if nothing had happened, he spoke of the affairs
of the day, the tendency of measures, the feeling of the people, and
finally rose, kissed her hand, and departed. He was joined without by
the little Viennois, and the accursed couple sauntered down the street
together. I should have gone then,--the place was no longer safe for
me,--but something, the old spell, yet detained me.
Lenore did not speak, but threw open all the windows and doors that were
"Let us be purified of his presence, at least!" she cried, when this was
"And you have ceased to fear this man whom you have dared so offend?" I
"He is not offended," said Lenore. "Austria is not Naples. He will not
transmit my reply till he is utterly past hope."
"Hope of what?"
"Of my hand."
"Lenore! Then put him beyond hope now! Become my wife!"
"Ah,--if it were less unwise"--
"If you loved me, Lenore, you would not think of that."
"And you doubt it? Why should I, then, say again that I love you,--I
Ah, friend, how can I repeat those words? Never have I given her
endearments again to the air: sacred were they then, sacred now, however
false. Ah, passionate words! oh, sweet _issimos!_ tender intonations!
how deeply, how deeply ye lie in my soul! Let me repeat but one
sentence: it was the, key to my destiny.
"Yes, yes," she said, rising from my arms, "already I do you injury. You
think oftener of me than of Italy."
It was true. I sprang to my feet and began pacing the floor, as I sought
to recall any instance in which I had done less than I might for my
country. The cool evening-breeze, and the bell-notes sinking through
the air from distant old campaniles, soothed my tumult, and, turning, I
"My devotion to you sanctifies my devotion to her. And not only for her
own sake do I work, but that you, you, Lenore, may have a land where no
one is your master, and where your soul may develop and become perfect."
"And those who have not such object, why do they work?"
Then first I felt that I had fallen from the heights where my companions
stood. This ardent patriotism of mine was sullied, a stain of
selfishness rose and blotted out my glory, others should wear the
conquering crowns of this grand civic game. Oh, friend! that was sad
enough, but it was inevitable. Here is where the crime came in,--that,
knowing this, I still continued as their leader, suffered them to call
me Master and Saviour, and walked upon the palms they spread.
Lenore mistook my silence.
Back to Full Books