Part 3 out of 5
"That might have been my peril once," answered Hilda. "It is not so
"Yes, fair maiden, you stand in that peril now!" insisted the kind old
man; and he added, smiling, yet in a melancholy vein, and with a
German grotesqueness of idea, "Some fine morning, I shall come to the
Pinacotheca of the Vatican, with my palette and my brushes, and shall
look for my little American artist that sees into the very heart of
the grand pictures! And what shall I behold? A heap of white ashes
on the marble floor, just in front of the divine Raphael's picture of
the Madonna da Foligno! Nothing more, upon my word! The fire, which
the poor child feels so fervently, will have gone into her innermost,
and burnt her quite up!"
"It would be a happy martyrdom!" said Hilda, faintly smiling. "But I
am far from being worthy of it. What troubles me much, among other
troubles, is quite the reverse of what you think. The old masters
hold me here, it is true, but they no longer warm me with their
influence. It is not flame consuming, but torpor chilling me, that
helps to make me wretched."
"Perchance, then," said the German, looking keenly at her, "Raphael
has a rival in your heart? He was your first love; but young maidens
are not always constant, and one flame is sometimes extinguished by
another!" Hilda shook her head, and turned away. She had spoken the
truth, however, in alleging that torpor, rather than fire, was what
she had to dread. In those gloomy days that had befallen her, it was
a great additional calamity that she felt conscious of the present
dimness of an insight which she once possessed in more than ordinary
measure. She had lost--and she trembled lest it should have departed
forever--the faculty of appreciating those great works of art, which
heretofore had made so large a portion of her happiness. It was no
A picture, however admirable the painter's art, and wonderful his
power, requires of the spectator a surrender of himself, in due
proportion with the miracle which has been wrought. Let the canvas
glow as it may, you must look with the eye of faith, or its highest
excellence escapes you. There is always the necessity of helping out
the painter's art with your own resources of sensibility and
imagination. Not that these qualities shall really add anything to
what the master has effected; but they must be put so entirely under
his control, and work along with him to such an extent, that, in a
different mood, when you are cold and critical, instead of sympathetic,
you will be apt to fancy that the loftier merits of the picture were
of your own dreaming, not of his creating.
Like all revelations of the better life, the adequate perception of a
great work of art demands a gifted simplicity of vision. In this, and
in her self-surrender, and the depth and tenderness of her sympathy,
had lain Hilda's remarkable power as a copyist of the old masters.
And now that her capacity of emotion was choked up with a horrible
experience, it inevitably followed that she should seek in vain, among
those friends so venerated and beloved, for the marvels which they had
heretofore shown her. In spite of a reverence that lingered longer
than her recognition, their poor worshipper became almost an infidel,
and sometimes doubted whether the pictorial art be not altogether a
For the first time in her life, Hilda now grew acquainted with that
icy demon of weariness, who haunts great picture galleries. He is a
plausible Mephistopheles, and possesses the magic that is the
destruction of all other magic. He annihilates color, warmth, and,
more especially, sentiment and passion, at a touch. If he spare
anything, it will be some such matter as an earthen pipkin, or a bunch
of herrings by Teniers; a brass kettle, in which you can see your rice,
by Gerard Douw; a furred robe, or the silken texture of a mantle, or
a straw hat, by Van Mieris; or a long-stalked wineglass, transparent
and full of shifting reflection, or a bit of bread and cheese, or an
over-ripe peach with a fly upon it, truer than reality itself, by the
school of Dutch conjurers. These men, and a few Flemings, whispers
the wicked demon, were the only painters. The mighty Italian masters,
as you deem them, were not human, nor addressed their work to human
sympathies, but to a false intellectual taste, which they themselves
were the first to create. Well might they call their doings "art,"
for they substituted art instead of nature. Their fashion is past,
and ought, indeed, to have died and been buried along with them.
Then there is such a terrible lack of variety in their subjects. The
churchmen, their great patrons, suggested most of their themes, and a
dead mythology the rest. A quarter part, probably, of any large
collection of pictures consists of Virgins and infant Christs,
repeated over and over again in pretty much an identical spirit, and
generally with no more mixture of the Divine than just enough to spoil
them as representations of maternity and childhood, with which
everybody's heart might have something to do. Half of the other
pictures are Magdalens, Flights into Egypt, Crucifixions, Depositions
from the Cross, Pietas, Noli-me-tangeres, or the Sacrifice of Abraham,
or martyrdoms of saints, originally painted as altar-pieces, or for
the shrines of chapels, and woefully lacking the accompaniments which
the artist haft in view.
The remainder of the gallery comprises mythological subjects, such as
nude Venuses, Ledas, Graces, and, in short, a general apotheosis of
nudity, once fresh and rosy perhaps, but yellow and dingy in our day,
and retaining only a traditionary charm. These impure pictures are
from the same illustrious and impious hands that adventured to call
before us the august forms of Apostles and Saints, the Blessed Mother
of the Redeemer, and her Son, at his death, and in his glory, and even
the awfulness of Him, to whom the martyrs, dead a thousand years ago,
have not yet dared to raise their eyes. They seem to take up one task
or the other w the disrobed woman whom they call Venus, or the type of
highest and tenderest womanhood in the mother of their Saviour with
equal readiness, but to achieve the former with far more satisfactory
success. If an artist sometimes produced a picture of the Virgin,
possessing warmth enough to excite devotional feelings, it was
probably the object of his earthly love to whom he thus paid the
stupendous and fearful homage of setting up her portrait to be
worshipped, not figuratively as a mortal, but by religious souls in
their earnest aspirations towards Divinity. And who can trust the
religious sentiment of Raphael, or receive any of his Virgins as
heaven-descended likenesses, after seeing, for example, the Fornarina
of the Barberini Palace, and feeling how sensual the artist must have
been to paint such a brazen trollop of his own accord, and lovingly?
Would the Blessed Mary reveal herself to his spiritual vision, and
favor him with sittings alternately with that type of glowing
earthliness, the Fornarina?
But no sooner have we given expression to this irreverent criticism,
than a throng of spiritual faces look reproachfully upon us. We see
cherubs by Raphael, whose baby innocence could only have been nursed
in paradise; angels by Raphael as innocent as they, but whose serene
intelligence embraces both earthly and celestial things; madonnas by
Raphael, on whose lips he has impressed a holy and delicate reserve,
implying sanctity on earth, and into whose soft eyes he has thrown a
light which he never could have imagined except by raising his own
eyes with a pure aspiration heavenward. We remember, too, that
divinest countenance in the Transfiguration, and withdraw all that we
Poor Hilda, however, in her gloomiest moments, was never guilty of the
high treason suggested in the above remarks against her beloved and
honored Raphael. She had a faculty (which, fortunately for themselves,
pure women often have) of ignoring all moral blotches in a character
that won her admiration. She purified the objects; of her regard by
the mere act of turning such spotless eyes upon them.
Hilda's despondency, nevertheless, while it dulled her perceptions in
one respect, had deepened them in another; she saw beauty less vividly,
but felt truth, or the lack of it, more profoundly. She began to
suspect that some, at least, of her venerated painters, had left an
inevitable hollowness in their works, because, in the most renowned of
them, they essayed to express to the world what they had not in their
own souls. They deified their light and Wandering affections, and
were continually playing off the tremendous jest, alluded to above, of
offering the features of some venal beauty to be enshrined in the
holiest places. A deficiency of earnestness and absolute truth is
generally discoverable in Italian pictures, after the art had become
consummate. When you demand what is deepest, these painters have not
wherewithal to respond. They substituted a keen intellectual
perception, and a marvellous knack of external arrangement, instead of
the live sympathy and sentiment which should have been their
inspiration. And hence it happens, that shallow and worldly men are
among the best critics of their works; a taste for pictorial art is
often no more than a polish upon the hard enamel of an artificial
character. Hilda had lavished her whole heart upon it, and found
(just as if she had lavished it upon a human idol) that the greater
part was thrown away.
For some of the earlier painters, however, she still retained much of
her former reverence. Fra Angelico, she felt, must have breathed a
humble aspiration between every two touches of his brush, in order to
have made the finished picture such a visible prayer as we behold it,
in the guise of a prim angel, or a saint without the human nature.
Through all these dusky centuries, his works may still help a
struggling heart to pray. Perugino was evidently a devout man; and
the Virgin, therefore, revealed herself to him in loftier and sweeter
faces of celestial womanhood, and yet with a kind of homeliness in
their human mould, than even the genius of Raphael could imagine.
Sodoma, beyond a question, both prayed and wept, while painting his
fresco, at Siena, of Christ bound to a pillar.
In her present need and hunger for a spiritual revelation, Hilda felt
a vast and weary longing to see this last-mentioned picture once again.
It is inexpressibly touching. So weary is the Saviour and utterly
worn out with agony, that his lips have fallen apart from mere
exhaustion; his eyes seem to be set; he tries to lean his head against
the pillar, but is kept from sinking down upon the ground only by the
cords that bind him. One of the most striking effects produced is the
sense of loneliness. You behold Christ deserted both in heaven and
earth; that despair is in him which wrung forth the saddest utterance
man ever made, "Why hast Thou forsaken me?" Even in this extremity,
however, he is still divine. The great and reverent painter has not
suffered the Son of God to be merely an object of pity, though
depicting him in a state so profoundly pitiful. He is rescued from it,
we know not how,--by nothing less than miracle,--by a celestial
majesty and beauty, and some quality of which these are the outward
garniture. He is as much, and as visibly, our Redeemer, there bound,
there fainting, and bleeding from the scourge, with the cross in view,
as if he sat on his throne of glory in the heavens! Sodoma, in this
matchless picture, has done more towards reconciling the incongruity
of Divine Omnipotence and outraged, suffering Humanity, combined in
one person, than the theologians ever did.
This hallowed work of genius shows what pictorial art, devoutly
exercised, might effect in behalf of religious truth; involving, as it
does, deeper mysteries of revelation, and bringing them closer to
man's heart, and making him tenderer to be impressed by them, than the
most eloquent words of preacher or prophet)
It is not of pictures like the above that galleries, in Rome or
elsewhere, are made up, but of productions immeasurably below them,
and requiring to be appreciated by a very different frame of mind.
Few amateurs are endowed with a tender susceptibility to the sentiment
of a picture; they are not won from an evil life, nor anywise morally
improved by it. The love of art, therefore, differs widely in its
influence from the love of nature; whereas, if art had not strayed
away from its legitimate paths and aims, it ought to soften and
sweeten the lives of its worshippers, in even a more exquisite degree
than the contemplation of natural objects. But, of its own potency,
it has no such effect; and it fails, likewise, in that other test of
its moral value which poor Hilda was now involuntarily trying upon it.
It cannot comfort the heart in affliction; it grows dim when the
shadow is upon us.
So the melancholy girl wandered through those long galleries, and over
the mosaic pavements of vast, solitary saloons, wondering what had
become of the splendor that used to beam upon her from the walls. She
grew sadly critical, and condemned almost everything that she was wont
to admire. Heretofore, her sympathy went deeply into a picture, yet
seemed to leave a depth which it was inadequate to sound; now, on the
contrary, her perceptive faculty penetrated the canvas like a steel
probe, and found but a crust of paint over an emptiness. Not that she
gave up all art as worthless; only it had lost its consecration. One
picture in ten thousand, perhaps, ought to live in the applause of
mankind, from generation to generation, until the colors fade and
blacken out of sight, or the canvas rot entirely away. For the rest,
let them be piled in garrets, just as the tolerable poets are shelved,
when their little day is over. Is a painter more sacred than a poet?
And as for these galleries of Roman palaces, they were to Hilda,
--though she still trod them with the forlorn hope of getting back her
sympathies,--they were drearier than the whitewashed walls of a prison
corridor. If a magnificent palace were founded, as was generally the
case, on hardened guilt and a stony conscience,--if the prince or
cardinal who stole the marble of his vast mansion from the Coliseum,
or some Roman temple, had perpetrated still deadlier crimes, as
probably he did,--there could be no fitter punishment for his ghost
than to wander, perpetually through these long suites of rooms, over
the cold marble or mosaic of the floors, growing chiller at every
eternal footstep. Fancy the progenitor of the Dorias thus haunting
those heavy halls where his posterity reside! Nor would it assuage
his monotonous misery, but increase it manifold, to be compelled to
scrutinize those masterpieces of art, which he collected with so much
cost and care, and gazing at them unintelligently, still leave a
further portion of his vital warmth at every one.
Such, or of a similar kind, is the torment of those who seek to enjoy
pictures in an uncongenial mood. Every haunter of picture galleries,
we should imagine, must have experienced it, in greater or less degree;
Hilda never till now, but now most bitterly.
And now, for the first time in her lengthened absence, comprising so
many years of her young life, she began to be acquainted with the
exile's pain. Her pictorial imagination brought up vivid scenes of
her native village, with its great old elm-trees; and the neat,
comfortable houses, scattered along the wide, grassy margin of its
street, and the white meeting-house, and her mother's very door, and
the stream of gold brown water, which her taste for color had kept
flowing, all this while, through her remembrance. O dreary streets,
palaces, churches, and imperial sepulchres of hot and dusty Rome, with
the muddy Tiber eddying through the midst, instead of the gold-brown
rivulet! How she pined under this crumbly magnificence, as if it were
piled all upon her human heart! How she yearned for that native
homeliness, those familiar sights, those faces which she had known
always, those days that never brought any strange event; that life of
sober week-days, and a solemn sabbath at the close! The peculiar
fragrance of a flower-bed, which Hilda used to cultivate, came freshly
to her memory, across the windy sea, and through the long years since
the flowers had withered. Her heart grew faint at the hundred
reminiscences that were awakened by that remembered smell of dead
blossoms; it was like opening a drawer, where many things were laid
away, and every one of them scented with lavender and dried
We ought not to betray Hilda's secret; but it is the truth, that being
so sad, and so utterly alone, and in such great need of sympathy, her
thoughts sometimes recurred to the sculptor. Had she met him now, her
heart, indeed, might not have been won, but her confidence would have
flown to him like a bird to its nest. One summer afternoon,
especially, Hilda leaned upon the battlements of her tower, and looked
over Rome towards the distant mountains, whither Kenyon had told her
that he was going.
"O that he were here!" she sighed; "I perish under this terrible
secret; and he might help me to endure it. O that he were here!"
That very afternoon, as the reader may remember, Kenyon felt Hilda's
hand pulling at the silken cord that was connected with his
heart-strings, as he stood looking towards Rome from the battlements
of Monte Beni.
ALTARS AND INCENSE
Rome has a certain species of consolation readier at hand, for all the
necessitous, than any other spot under the sun; and Hilda's despondent
state made her peculiarly liable to the peril, if peril it can justly
be termed, of seeking, or consenting, to be thus consoled.
Had the Jesuits known the situation of this troubled heart, her
inheritance of New England Puritanism would hardly have protected the
poor girl from the pious strategy of those good fathers. Knowing, as
they do, how to work each proper engine, it would have been ultimately
impossible for Hilda to resist the attractions of a faith, which so
marvellously adapts itself to every human need. Not, indeed, that it
can satisfy the soul's cravings, but, at least, it can sometimes help
the soul towards a higher satisfaction than the faith contains within
itself. It supplies a multitude of external forms, in which the
spiritual may be clothed and manifested; it has many painted windows,
as it were, through which the celestial sunshine, else disregarded,
may make itself gloriously perceptible in visions of beauty and
splendor. There is no one want or weakness of human nature for which
Catholicism will own itself without a remedy; cordials, certainly, it
possesses in abundance, and sedatives in inexhaustible variety, and
what may once have been genuine medicaments, though a little the worse
for long keeping.
To do it justice, Catholicism is such a miracle of fitness for its own
ends, many of which might seem to be admirable ones, that it is
difficult to imagine it a contrivance of mere man. Its mighty
machinery was forged and put together, not on middle earth, but either
above or below. If there were but angels to work it, instead of the
very different class of engineers who now manage its cranks and safety
valves, the system would soon vindicate the dignity and holiness of
Hilda had heretofore made many pilgrimages among the churches of Rome,
for the sake of wondering at their gorgeousness. Without a glimpse at
these palaces of worship, it is impossible to imagine the magnificence
of the religion that reared them. Many of them shine with burnished
gold. They glow with pictures. Their walls, columns, and arches seem
a quarry of precious stones, so beautiful and costly are the marbles
with which they are inlaid. Their pavements are often a mosaic, of
rare workmanship. Around their lofty cornices hover flights of
sculptured angels; and within the vault of the ceiling and the
swelling interior of the dome, there are frescos of such brilliancy,
and wrought with so artful a perspective, that the sky, peopled with
sainted forms, appears to be opened only a little way above the
spectator. Then there are chapels, opening from the side aisles and
transepts, decorated by princes for their own burial places, and as
shrines for their especial saints. In these, the splendor of the
entire edifice is intensified and gathered to a focus. Unless words
were gems, that would flame with many-colored light upon the page, and
throw thence a tremulous glimmer into the reader's eyes, it were wain
to attempt a description of a princely chapel.
Restless with her trouble, Hilda now entered upon another pilgrimage
among these altars and shrines. She climbed the hundred steps of the
Ara Coeli; she trod the broad, silent nave of St. John Lateran; she
stood in the Pantheon, under the round opening in the dome, through
which the blue sunny sky still gazes down, as it used to gaze when
there were Roman deities in the antique niches. She went into every
church that rose before her, but not now to wonder at its magnificence,
when she hardly noticed more than if it had been the pine-built
interior of a New England meeting-house.
She went--and it was a dangerous errand--to observe how closely and
comfortingly the popish faith applied itself to all human occasions.
It was impossible to doubt that multitudes of people found their
spiritual advantage in it, who would find none at all in our own
formless mode of worship; which, besides, so far as the sympathy of
prayerful souls is concerned, can be enjoyed only at stated and too
unfrequent periods. But here, whenever the hunger for divine
nutriment came upon the soul, it could on the instant be appeased. At
one or another altar, the incense was forever ascending; the mass
always being performed, and carrying upward with it the devotion of
such as had not words for their own prayer. And yet, if the
worshipper had his individual petition to offer, his own heart-secret
to whisper below his breath, there were divine auditors ever ready to
receive it from his lips; and what encouraged him still more, these
auditors had not always been divine, but kept, within their heavenly
memories, the tender humility of a human experience. Now a saint in
heaven, but once a man on earth.
Hilda saw peasants, citizens, soldiers, nobles, women with bare heads,
ladies in their silks, entering the churches individually, kneeling
for moments or for hours, and directing their inaudible devotions to
the shrine of some saint of their own choice. In his hallowed person,
they felt themselves possessed of an own friend in heaven. They were
too humble to approach the Deity directly. Conscious of their
unworthiness, they asked the mediation of their sympathizing patron,
who, on the score of his ancient martyrdom, and after many ages of
celestial life, might venture to talk with the Divine Presence, almost
as friend with friend. Though dumb before its Judge, even despair
could speak, and pour out the misery of its soul like water, to an
advocate so wise to comprehend the case, and eloquent to plead it, and
powerful to win pardon whatever were the guilt. Hilda witnessed what
she deemed to be an example of this species of confidence between a
young man and his saint. He stood before a shrine, writhing, wringing
his hands, contorting his whole frame in an agony of remorseful
recollection, but finally knelt down to weep and pray. If this youth
had been a Protestant, he would have kept all that torture pent up in
his heart, and let it burn there till it seared him into indifference.
Often and long, Hilda lingered before the shrines and chapels of the
Virgin, and departed from them with reluctant steps. Here, perhaps,
strange as it may seem, her delicate appreciation of art stood her in
good stead, and lost Catholicism a convert. If the painter had
represented Mary with a heavenly face, poor Hilda was now in the very
mood to worship her, and adopt the faith in which she held so elevated
a position. But she saw that it was merely the flattered portrait of
an earthly beauty; the wife, at best, of the artist; or, it might be,
a peasant girl of the Campagna, or some Roman princess, to whom he
desired to pay his court. For love, or some even less justifiable
motive, the old painter had apotheosized these women; he thus gained
for them, as far as his skill would go, not only the meed of
immortality, but the privilege of presiding over Christian altars, and
of being worshipped with far holier fervors than while they dwelt on
earth. Hilda's fine sense of the fit and decorous could not be
betrayed into kneeling at such a shrine.
She never found just the virgin mother whom she needed. Here it was
an earthly mother, worshipping the earthly baby in her lap, as any and
every mother does, from Eve's time downward. In another picture,
there was a dim sense, shown in the mother's face, of some divine
quality in the child. In a third, the artist seemed to have had a
higher perception, and had striven hard to shadow out the Virgin's joy
at bringing the Saviour into the world, and her awe and love,
inextricably mingled, of the little form which she pressed against her
bosom. So far was good. But still, Hilda looked for something more;
a face of celestial beauty, but human as well as heavenly, and with
the shadow of past grief upon it; bright with immortal youth, yet
matronly and motherly; and endowed with a queenly dignity, but
infinitely tender, as the highest and deepest attribute of her
"Ah," thought Hilda to herself, "why should not there be a woman to
listen to the prayers of women? A mother in heaven for all motherless
girls like me? In all God's thought and care for us, can he have
withheld this boon, which our weakness so much needs?"
Oftener than to the other churches, she wandered into St. Peter's.
Within its vast limits, she thought, and beneath the sweep of its
great dome, there should be space for all forms of Christian truth;
room both for the faithful and the heretic to kneel; due help for
every creature's spiritual want.
Hilda had not always been adequately impressed by the grandeur of this
mighty cathedral. When she first lifted the heavy leathern curtain,
at one of the doors, a shadowy edifice in her imagination had been
dazzled out of sight by the reality. Her preconception of St. Peter's
was a structure of no definite outline, misty in its architecture, dim
and gray and huge, stretching into an interminable perspective, and
overarched by a dome like the cloudy firmament. Beneath that vast
breadth and height, as she had fancied them, the personal man might
feel his littleness, and the soul triumph in its immensity. So, in
her earlier visits, when the compassed splendor Of the actual interior
glowed before her eyes, she had profanely called it a great prettiness;
a gay piece of cabinet work, on a Titanic scale; a jewel casket,
This latter image best pleased her fancy; a casket, all inlaid in the
inside with precious stones of various hue, so that there Should not
be a hair's-breadth of the small interior unadorned with its
resplendent gem. Then, conceive this minute wonder of a mosaic box,
increased to the magnitude of a cathedral, without losing the intense
lustre of its littleness, but all its petty glory striving to be
sublime. The magic transformation from the minute to the vast has not
been so cunningly effected but that the rich adornment still
counteracts the impression of space and loftiness. The spectator is
more sensible of its limits than of its extent.
Until after many visits, Hilda continued to mourn for that dim,
illimitable interior, which with her eyes shut she had seen from
childhood, but which vanished at her first glimpse through the actual
door. Her childish vision seemed preferable to the cathedral which
Michael Angelo, and all the great architects, had built; because, of
the dream edifice, she had said, "How vast it is!" while of the real
St. Peter's she could only say, "After all, it is not so immense!"
Besides, such as the church is, it can nowhere be made visible at one
glance. It stands in its own way. You see an aisle, or a transept;
you see the nave, or the tribune; but, on account of its ponderous
piers and other obstructions, it is only by this fragmentary process
that you get an idea of the cathedral.
There is no answering such objections. The great church smiles calmly
upon its critics, and, for all response, says, "Look at me!" and if
you still murmur for the loss of your shadowy perspective, there comes
no reply, save, "Look at me!" in endless repetition, as the one thing
to be said. And, after looking many times, with long intervals
between, you discover that the cathedral has gradually extended itself
over the whole compass of your idea; it covers all the site of your
visionary temple, and has room for its cloudy pinnacles beneath the
One afternoon, as Hilda entered St. Peter's in sombre mood, its
interior beamed upon her with all the effect of a new creation. It
seemed an embodiment of whatever the imagination could conceive, or
the heart desire, as a magnificent, comprehensive, majestic symbol of
religious faith. All splendor was included within its verge, and
there was space for all. She gazed with delight even at the
multiplicity of ornament. She was glad at the cherubim that fluttered
upon the pilasters, and of the marble doves, hovering unexpectedly,
with green olive-branches of precious stones. She could spare nothing,
now, of the manifold magnificence that had been lavished, in a
hundred places, richly enough to have made world-famous shrines in any
other church, but which here melted away into the vast sunny breadth,
and were of no separate account. Yet each contributed its little all
towards the grandeur of the whole.
She would not have banished one of those grim popes, who sit each over
his own tomb, scattering cold benedictions out of their marble hands;
nor a single frozen sister of the Allegoric family, to whom--as, like
hired mourners at an English funeral, it costs them no wear and tear
of heart--is assigned the office of weeping for the dead. If you
choose to see these things, they present themselves; if you deem them
unsuitable and out of place, they vanish, individually, but leave
their life upon the walls.
The pavement! it stretched out illimitably, a plain of many-colored
marble, where thousands of worshippers might kneel together, and
shadowless angels tread among them without brushing their heavenly
garments against those earthly ones. The roof! the dome! Rich,
gorgeous, filled with sunshine, cheerfully sublime, and fadeless after
centuries, those lofty depths seemed to translate the heavens to
mortal comprehension, and help the spirit upward to a yet higher and
wider sphere. Must not the faith, that built this matchless edifice,
and warmed, illuminated, and overflowed from it, include whatever can
satisfy human aspirations at the loftiest, or minister to human
necessity at the sorest? If Religion had a material home, was it not
As the scene which we but faintly suggest shone calmly before the New
England maiden at her entrance, she moved, as if by very instinct, to
one of the vases of holy water, upborne against a column by two mighty
cherubs. Hilda dipped her fingers, and had almost signed the cross
upon her breast, but forbore, and trembled, while shaking the water
from her finger-tips. She felt as if her mother's spirit, somewhere
within the dome, were looking down upon her child, the daughter of
Puritan forefathers, and weeping to behold her ensnared by these gaudy
superstitions. So she strayed sadly onward, up the nave, and towards
the hundred golden lights that swarm before the high altar. Seeing a
woman; a priest, and a soldier kneel to kiss the toe of the brazen St.
Peter, who protrudes it beyond his pedestal for the purpose, polished
bright with former salutations, while a child stood on tiptoe to do
the same, the glory of the church was darkened before Hilda's eyes.
But again she went onward into remoter regions. She turned into the
right transept, and thence found her way to a shrine, in the extreme
corner of the edifice, which is adorned with a mosaic copy of Guido's
beautiful Archangel, treading on the prostrate fiend.
This was one of the few pictures, which, in these dreary days, had not
faded nor deteriorated in Hilda's estimation; not that it was better
than many in which she no longer took an interest; but the subtile
delicacy of the painter's genius was peculiarly adapted to her
character. She felt, while gazing at it, that the artist had done a
great thing, not merely for the Church of Rome, but for the cause of
Good. The moral of the picture, the immortal youth and loveliness of
virtue, and its irresistibles might against ugly Evil, appealed as
much to Puritans as Catholics.
Suddenly, and as if it were done in a dream, Hilda found herself
kneeling before the shrine, under the ever-burning lamp that throws
its rays upon the Archangel's face. She laid her forehead on the
marble steps before the altar, and sobbed out a prayer; she hardly
knew to whom, whether Michael, the Virgin, or the Father; she hardly
knew for what, save only a vague longing, that thus the burden of her
spirit might be lightened a little.
In an instant she snatched herself up, as it were, from her knees, all
a-throb with the emotions which were struggling to force their way out
of her heart by the avenue that had so nearly been opened for them.
Yet there was a strange sense of relief won by that momentary,
passionate prayer; a strange joy, moreover, whether from what she had
done, or for what she had escaped doing, Hilda could not tell. But
she felt as one half stifled, who has stolen a breath of air.
Next to the shrine where she had knelt there is another, adorned with
a picture by Guercino, representing a maiden's body in the jaws of the
sepulchre, and her lover weeping over it; while her beatified spirit
looks down upon the scene, in the society of the Saviour and a throng
of saints. Hilda wondered if it were not possible, by some miracle of
faith, so to rise above her present despondency that she might look
down upon what she was, just as Petronilla in the picture looked at
her own corpse. A hope, born of hysteric trouble, fluttered in her
heart. A presentiment, or what she fancied such, whispered her, that,
before she had finished the circuit of the cathedral, relief would
The unhappy are continually tantalized by similar delusions of succor
near at hand; at least, the despair is very dark that has no such
will-o'-the-wisp to glimmer in it.
THE WORLD'S CATHEDRAL
Still gliding onward, Hilda now looked up into the dome, where the
sunshine came through the western windows, and threw across long
shafts of light. They rested upon the mosaic figures of two
evangelists above the cornice. These great beams of radiance,
traversing what seemed the empty space, were made visible in misty
glory, by the holy cloud of incense, else unseen, which had risen into
the middle dome. It was to Hilda as if she beheld the worship of the
priest and people ascending heavenward, purified from its alloy of
earth, and acquiring celestial substance in the golden atmosphere to
which it aspired, She wondered if angels did not sometimes hover
within the dome, and show themselves, in brief glimpses, floating amid
the sunshine and the glorified vapor, to those who devoutly worshipped
on the pavement.
She had now come into the southern transept. Around this portion of
the church are ranged a number of confessionals. They are small
tabernacles of carved wood, with a closet for the priest in the centre;
and, on either side, a space for a penitent to kneel, and breathe his
confession through a perforated auricle into the good father's ear.
Observing this arrangement, though already familiar to her, our poor
Hilda was anew impressed with the infinite convenience--if we may use
so poor a phrase--of the Catholic religion to its devout believers.
Who, in truth, that considers the matter, can resist a similar
impression! In the hottest fever-fit of life, they can always find,
ready for their need, a cool, quiet, beautiful place of worship. They
may enter its sacred precincts at any hour, leaving the fret and
trouble of the world behind them, and purifying themselves with a
touch of holy water at the threshold. In the calm interior, fragrant
of rich and soothing incense, they may hold converse with some saint,
their awful, kindly friend. And, most precious privilege of all,
whatever perplexity, sorrow, guilt, may weigh upon their souls, they
can fling down the dark burden at the foot of the cross, and go
forth--to sin no more, nor be any longer disquieted; but to live again
in the freshness and elasticity of innocence.
"Do not these inestimable advantages," thought Hilda, "or some of them
at least, belong to Christianity itself? Are they not a part of the
blessings which the system was meant to bestow upon mankind? Can the
faith in which I was born and bred be perfect, if it leave a weak girl
like me to wander, desolate, with this great trouble crushing me
A poignant anguish thrilled within her breast; it was like a thing
that had life, and was struggling to get out.
"O help! O help!" cried Hilda; "I cannot, cannot bear it!"
Only by the reverberations that followed--arch echoing the sound to
arch, and a pope of bronze repeating it to a pope of marble, as each
sat enthroned over his tomb--did Hilda become aware that she had
really spoken above her breath. But, in that great space, there is no
need to hush up the heart within one's own bosom, so carefully as
elsewhere; and if the cry reached any distant auditor, it came broken
into many fragments, and from various quarters of the church.
Approaching one of the confessionals, she saw a woman kneeling within.
Just as Hilda drew near, the penitent rose, came forth, and kissed
the hand of the priest, who regarded her with a look of paternal
benignity, and appeared to be giving her some spiritual counsel, in a
low voice. She then knelt to receive his blessing, which was
fervently bestowed. Hilda was so struck with the peace and joy in the
woman's face, that, as the latter retired, she could not help speaking
"You look very happy!" said she. "Is it so sweet, then, to go to the
"O, very sweet, my dear signorina!" answered the woman, with moistened
eyes and an affectionate smile; for she was so thoroughly softened
with what she had been doing, that she felt as if Hilda were her
younger sister. "My heart is at rest now. Thanks be to the Saviour,
and the Blessed Virgin and the saints, and this good father, there is
no more trouble for poor Teresa!"
"I am glad for your sake," said Hilda, sighing for her own. "I am a
poor heretic, but a human sister; and I rejoice for you!"
She went from one to another of the confessionals, and, looking at
each, perceived that they were inscribed with gilt letters: on one,
Pro Italica Lingua; on another, Pro Flandrica Lingua; on a third, Pro
Polonica Lingua; on a fourth, Pro Illyrica Lingua; on a fifth, Pro
Hispanica Lingua. In this vast and hospitable cathedral, worthy to be
the religious heart of the whole world, there was room for all nations;
there was access to the Divine Grace for every Christian soul; there
was an ear for what the overburdened heart might have to murmur, speak
in what native tongue it would.
When Hilda had almost completed the circuit of the transept, she came
to a confessional--the central part was closed, but a mystic room
protruded from it, indicating the presence of a priest within--on
which was inscribed, Pro Anglica Lingua.
It was the word in season! If she had heard her mother's voice from
within the tabernacle, calling her, in her own mother-tongue, to come
and lay her poor head in her lap, and sob out all her troubles, Hilda
could not have responded with a more inevitable obedience. She did
not think; she only felt. Within her heart was a great need. Close
at hand, within the veil of the confessional, was the relief. She
flung herself down in the penitent's place; and, tremulously,
passionately, with sobs, tears, and the turbulent overflow of emotion
too long repressed, she poured out the dark story which had infused
its poison into her innocent life.
Hilda had not seen, nor could she now see, the visage of the priest.
But, at intervals, in the pauses of that strange confession, half
choked by the struggle of her feelings toward an outlet, she heard a
mild, calm voice, somewhat mellowed by age. It spoke soothingly; it
encouraged her; it led her on by apposite questions that seemed to be
suggested by a great and tender interest, and acted like magnetism in
attracting the girl's confidence to this unseen friend. The priest's
share in the interview, indeed, resembled that of one who removes the
stones, clustered branches, or whatever entanglements impede the
current of a swollen stream. Hilda could have imagined--so much to
the purpose were his inquiries--that he was already acquainted with
some outline of what she strove to tell him.
Thus assisted, she revealed the whole of her terrible secret! The
whole, except that no name escaped her lips.
And, ah, what a relief! When the hysteric gasp, the strife between
words and sobs, had subsided, what a torture had passed away from her
soul! It was all gone; her bosom was as pure now as in her childhood.
She was a girl again; she was Hilda of the dove-cote; not that
doubtful creature whom her own doves had hardly recognized as their
mistress and playmate, by reason of the death-scent that clung to her
After she had ceased to speak, Hilda heard the priest bestir himself
with an old man's reluctant movement. He stepped out of the
confessional; and as the girl was still kneeling in the penitential
corner, he summoned her forth.
"Stand up, my daughter," said the mild voice of the confessor; "what
we have further to say must be spoken face to face."
Hilda did his bidding, and stood before him with a downcast visage,
which flushed and grew pale again. But it had the wonderful beauty
which we may often observe in those who have recently gone through a
great struggle, and won the peace that lies just on the other side.
We see it in a new mother's face; we see it in the faces of the dead;
and in Hilda's countenance--which had always a rare natural charm for
her friends--this glory of peace made her as lovely as an angel.
On her part, Hilda beheld a venerable figure with hair as white as
snow, and a face strikingly characterized by benevolence. It bore
marks of thought, however, and penetrative insight; although the keen
glances of the eyes were now somewhat bedimmed with tears, which the
aged shed, or almost shed, on lighter stress of emotion than would
elicit them from younger men.
"It has not escaped my observation, daughter," said the priest, "that
this is your first acquaintance with the confessional. How is this?"
"Father," replied Hilda, raising her eyes, and again letting them fall,
"I am of New Eng land birth, and was bred as what you call a heretic."
"From New England!" exclaimed the priest. "It was my own birthplace,
likewise; nor have fifty years of absence made me cease to love it.
But a heretic! And are you reconciled to the Church?"
"Never, father," said Hilda.
"And, that being the case," demanded the old man, "on what ground, my
daughter, have you sought to avail yourself of these blessed
privileges, confined exclusively to members of the one true Church, of
confession and absolution?"
"Absolution, father?" exclaimed Hilda, shrinking back. "O no, no! I
never dreamed of that! Only our Heavenly Father can forgive my sins;
and it is only by sincere repentance of whatever wrong I may have done,
and by my own best efforts towards a higher life, that I can hope for
his forgiveness! God forbid that I should ask absolution from mortal
"Then wherefore," rejoined the priest, with somewhat less mildness in
his tone,--"wherefore, I ask again, have you taken possession, as I
may term it, of this holy ordinance; being a heretic, and neither
seeking to share, nor having faith in, the unspeakable advantages
which the Church offers to its penitents?"
"Father," answered Hilda, trying to tell the old man the simple truth,
"I am a motherless girl, and a stranger here in Italy. I had only God
to take care of me, and be my closest friend; and the terrible,
terrible crime, which I have revealed to you, thrust itself between
him and me; so that I groped for him in the darkness, as it were, and
found him not,--found nothing but a dreadful solitude, and this crime
in the midst of it! I could not bear it. It seemed as if I made the
awful guilt my own, by keeping it hidden in my heart. I grew a
fearful thing to myself. I was going mad!"
"It was a grievous trial, my poor child!" observed the confessor.
"Your relief, I trust, will prove to be greater than you yet know!"
"I feel already how immense it is!" said Hilda, looking gratefully in
his face. "Surely, father, it was the hand of Providence that led me
hither, and made me feel that this vast temple of Christianity, this
great home of religion, must needs contain some cure, some ease, at
least, for my unutterable anguish. And it has proved so. I have told
the hideous secret; told it under the sacred seal of the confessional;
and now it will burn my poor heart no more!"
"But, daughter," answered the venerable priest, not unmoved by what
Hilda said, "you forget! you mistake!--you claim a privilege to which
you have not entitled yourself! The seal of the confessional, do you
say? God forbid that it should ever be broken where it has been
fairly impressed; but it applies only to matters that have been
confided to its keeping in a certain prescribed method, and by persons,
moreover, who have faith in the sanctity of the ordinance. I hold
myself, and any learned casuist of the Church would hold me, as free
to disclose all the particulars of what you term your confession, as
if they had come to my knowledge in a secular way."
"This is not right, father!" said Hilda, fixing her eyes on the old
"Do not you see, child," he rejoined, with some little heat, "with all
your nicety of conscience, cannot you recognize it as my duty to make
the story known to the proper authorities; a great crime against
public justice being involved, and further evil consequences likely to
"No, father, no!" answered Hilda, courageously, her cheeks flushing
and her eyes brightening as she spoke. "Trust a girl's simple heart
sooner than any casuist of your Church, however learned he may be.
Trust your own heart, too! I came to your confessional, father, as I
devoutly believe, by the direct impulse of Heaven, which also brought
you hither to-day, in its mercy and love, to relieve me of a torture
that I could no longer bear. I trusted in the pledge which your
Church has always held sacred between the priest and the human soul,
which, through his medium, is struggling towards its Father above.
What I have confided to you lies sacredly between God and yourself.
Let it rest there, father; for this is right, and if you do otherwise,
you will perpetrate a great wrong, both as a priest and a man! And
believe me, no question, no torture, shall ever force my lips to utter
what would be necessary, in order to make my confession available
towards the punishment of the guilty ones. Leave Providence to deal
"My quiet little countrywoman," said the priest, with half a smile on
his kindly old face, "you can pluck up a spirit, I perceive, when you
fancy an occasion for one."
"I have spirit only to do what I think right," replied Hilda simply.
"In other respects I am timorous."
"But you confuse yourself between right feelings and very foolish
inferences," continued the priest, "as is the wont of women,--so much
I have learnt by long experience in the confessional,--be they young
or old. However, to set your heart at rest, there is no probable need
for me to reveal the matter. What you have told, if I mistake not,
and perhaps more, is already known in the quarter which it most
"Known!" exclaimed Hilda. "Known to the authorities of Rome! And
what will be the consequence?"
"Hush!" answered the confessor, laying his finger on his lips. "I
tell you my supposition--mind, it is no assertion of the fact--in
order that you may go the more cheerfully on your way, not deeming
yourself burdened with any responsibility as concerns this dark deed.
And now, daughter, what have you to give in return for an old man's
kindness and sympathy?"
"My grateful remembrance," said Hilda, fervently, "as long as I live!"
"And nothing more?" the priest inquired, with a persuasive smile.
"Will you not reward him with a great joy; one of the last joys that
he may know on earth, and a fit one to take with him into the better
world? In a word, will you not allow me to bring you as a stray lamb
into the true fold? You have experienced some little taste of the
relief and comfort which the Church keeps abundantly in store for all
its faithful children. Come home, dear child,--poor wanderer, who
hast caught a glimpse of the heavenly light,--come home, and be at
"Father," said Hilda, much moved by his kindly earnestness, in which,
however, genuine as it was, there might still be a leaven of
professional craft, "I dare not come a step farther than Providence
shall guide me. Do not let it grieve you, therefore, if I never
return to the confessional; never dip my fingers in holy water; never
sign my bosom with the cross. I am a daughter of the Puritans. But,
in spite of my heresy," she added with a sweet, tearful smile, "you
may one day see the poor girl, to whom you have done this great
Christian kindness, coming to remind you of it, and thank you for it,
in the Better Land."
The old priest shook his head. But, as he stretched out his hands at
the same moment, in the act of benediction, Hilda knelt down and
received the blessing with as devout a simplicity as any Catholic of
HILDA AND A FRIEND
When Hilda knelt to receive the priest's benediction, the act was
witnessed by a person who stood leaning against the marble balustrade
that surrounds the hundred golden lights, before the high altar. He
had stood there, indeed, from the moment of the girl's entrance into
the confessional. His start of surprise, at first beholding her, and
the anxious gloom that afterwards settled on his face, sufficiently
betokened that he felt a deep and sad interest in what was going
After Hilda had bidden the priest farewell, she came slowly towards
the high altar. The individual to whom we have alluded seemed
irresolute whether to advance or retire. His hesitation lasted so
long that the maiden, straying through a happy reverie, had crossed
the wide extent of the pavement between the confessional and the altar,
before he had decided whether to meet her. At last, when within a
pace or two, she raised her eyes and recognized Kenyon.
"It is you!" she exclaimed, with joyful surprise. "I am so happy."
In truth, the sculptor had never before seen, nor hardly imagined,
such a figure of peaceful beatitude as Hilda now presented. While
coming towards him in the solemn radiance which, at that period of the
day, is diffused through the transept, and showered down beneath the
dome, she seemed of the same substance as the atmosphere that
enveloped her. He could scarcely tell whether she was imbued with
sunshine, or whether it was a glow of happiness that shone out of her.
At all events, it was a marvellous change from the sad girl, who had
entered the confessional bewildered with anguish, to this bright, yet
softened image of religious consolation that emerged from it. It was
as if one of the throng of angelic people, who might be hovering in
the sunny depths of the dome, had alighted on the pavement. Indeed,
this capability of transfiguration, which we often see wrought by
inward delight on persons far less capable of it than Hilda, suggests
how angels come by their beauty, it grows out of their happiness, and
lasts forever only because that is immortal.
She held out her hand, and Kenyon was glad to take it in his own, if
only to assure himself that she was made of earthly material.
"Yes, Hilda, I see that you are very happy," he replied gloomily, and
withdrawing his hand after a single pressure. "For me, I never was
less so than at this moment."
"Has any misfortune befallen you?" asked Hilda with earnestness.
"Pray tell me, and you shall have my sympathy, though I must still be
very happy. Now I know how it is that the saints above are touched by
the sorrows of distressed people on earth, and yet are never made
wretched by them. Not that I profess to be a saint, you know," she
added, smiling radiantly. "But the heart grows so large, and so rich,
and so variously endowed, when it has a great sense of bliss, that it
can give smiles to some, and tears to others, with equal sincerity,
and enjoy its own peace throughout all."
"Do not say you are no saint!" answered Kenyon with a smile, though he
felt that the tears stood in his eves. "You will still be Saint Hilda,
whatever church may canonize you."
"Ah! you would not have said so, had you seen me but an hour ago!"
murmured she. "I was so wretched, that there seemed a grievous sin in
"And what has made you so suddenly happy?" inquired the sculptor.
"But first, Hilda, will you not tell me why you were so wretched?"
"Had I met you yesterday, I might have told you that," she replied.
"To-day, there is no need."
"Your happiness, then?" said the sculptor, as sadly as before.
"Whence comes it?"
"A great burden has been lifted from my heart--from my conscience, I
had almost said"--answered Hilda, without shunning the glance that he
fixed upon her. "I am a new creature, since this morning, Heaven be
praised for it! It was a blessed hour--a blessed impulse--that
brought me to this beautiful and glorious cathedral. I shall hold it
in loving remembrance while I live, as the spot where I found infinite
peace after infinite trouble."
Her heart seemed so full, that it spilt its new gush of happiness, as
it were, like rich and sunny wine out of an over-brimming goblet.
Kenyon saw that she was in one of those moods of elevated feeling,
when the soul is upheld by a strange tranquility, which is really
more passionate and less controllable than emotions far exceeding it
in violence. He felt that there would be indelicacy, if he ought not
rather to call it impiety, in his stealing upon Hilda, while she was
thus beyond her own guardianship, and surprising her out of secrets
which she might afterwards bitterly regret betraying to him.
Therefore, though yearning to know what had happened, he resolved to
forbear further question.
Simple and earnest people, however, being accustomed to speak from
their genuine impulses, cannot easily, as craftier men do, avoid the
subject which they have at heart. As often as the sculptor unclosed
his lips, such words as these were ready to burst out:--"Hilda, have
you flung your angelic purity into that mass of unspeakable corruption,
the Roman Church?"
"What were you saying?" she asked, as Kenyon forced back an almost
uttered exclamation of this kind.
"I was thinking of what you have just remarked about the cathedral,"
said he, looking up into the mighty hollow of the dome. "It is indeed
a magnificent structure, and an adequate expression of the Faith which
built it. When I behold it in a proper mood,--that is to say, when I
bring my mind into a fair relation with the minds and purposes of its
spiritual and material architects,--I see but one or two criticisms to
make. One is, that it needs painted windows."
"O, no!" said Hilda. "They would be quite inconsistent with so much
richness of color in the interior of the church. Besides, it is a
Gothic ornament, and only suited to that style of architecture, which
requires a gorgeous dimness."
"Nevertheless," continued the sculptor, "yonder square apertures,
filled with ordinary panes of glass, are quite out of keeping with the
superabundant splendor of everything about them. They remind me of
that portion of Aladdin's palace which he left unfinished, in order
that his royal father-in-law might put the finishing touch. Daylight,
in its natural state, ought not to be admitted here. It should stream
through a brilliant illusion of saints and hierarchies, and old
scriptural images, and symbolized dogmas, purple, blue, golden, and a
broad flame of scarlet. Then, it would be just such an illumination
as the Catholic faith allows to its believers. But, give me--to live
and die in--the pure, white light of heaven!"
"Why do you look so sorrowfully at me?" asked Hilda, quietly meeting
his disturbed gaze. "What would you say to me? I love the white
"I fancied so," answered Kenyon. "Forgive me, Hilda; but I must needs
speak. You seemed to me a rare mixture of impressibility, sympathy,
sensitiveness to many influences, with a certain quality of common
sense;--no, not that, but a higher and finer attribute, for which I
find no better word. However tremulously you might vibrate, this
quality, I supposed, would always bring you back to the equipoise.
You were a creature of imagination, and yet as truly a New England
girl as any with whom you grew up in your native village. If there
were one person in the world whose native rectitude of thought, and
something deeper, more reliable, than thought, I would have trusted
against all the arts of a priesthood,--whose taste alone, so exquisite
and sincere that it rose to be a moral virtue, I would have rested
upon as a sufficient safeguard,--it was yourself!"
"I am conscious of no such high and delicate qualities as you allow me,"
answered Hilda. "But what have I done that a girl of New England
birth and culture, with the right sense that her mother taught her,
and the conscience that she developed in her, should not do?"
"Hilda, I saw you at the confessional!" said Kenyon.
"Ah well, my dear friend," replied Hilda, casting down her eyes, and
looking somewhat confused, yet not ashamed, "you must try to forgive
me for that, ~ if you deem it wrong, because it has saved my reason,
and made me very happy. Had you been here yesterday, I would have
confessed to you."
"Would to Heaven I had!" ejaculated Kenyon.
"I think," Hilda resumed," I shall never go to the confessional again;
for there can scarcely come such a sore trial twice in my life. If I
had been a wiser girl, a stronger, and a more sensible, very likely I
might not have gone to the confessional at all. It was the sin of
others that drove me thither; not my own, though it almost seemed so.
Being what I am, I must either have done what you saw me doing, or
have gone mad. Would that have been better?"
"Then you are not a Catholic?" asked the sculptor earnestly.
"Really, I do not quite know what I am," replied Hilda, encountering
his eyes with a frank and simple gaze. "I have a great deal of faith,
and Catholicism seems to have a great deal of good. Why should not I
be a Catholic, if I find there what I need, and what I cannot find
elsewhere? The more I see of this worship, the more I wonder at the
exuberance with which it adapts itself to all the demands of human
infirmity. If its ministers were but a little more than human, above
all error, pure from all iniquity, what a religion would it be!"
"I need not fear your conversion to the Catholic faith," remarked
Kenyon, "if you are at all aware of the bitter sarcasm implied in your
last observation. It is very just. Only the exceeding ingenuity of
the system stamps it as the contrivance of man, or some worse author;
not an emanation of the broad and simple wisdom from on high."
"It may be so," said Hilda; "but I meant no sarcasm."
Thus conversing, the two friends went together down the grand extent
of the nave. Before leaving the church, they turned to admire again
its mighty breadth, the remoteness of the glory behind the altar, and
the effect of visionary splendor and magnificence imparted by the long
bars of smoky sunshine, which travelled so far before arriving at a
place of rest.
"Thank Heaven for having brought me hither!" said Hilda fervently.
Kenyon's mind was deeply disturbed by his idea of her Catholic
propensities; and now what he deemed her disproportionate and
misapplied veneration for the sublime edifice stung him into
"The best thing I know of St. Peter's," observed he, "is its equable
temperature" We are now enjoying the coolness of last winter, which, a
few months hence, will be the warmth of the present summer. It has no
cure, I suspect, in all its length and breadth, for a sick soul, but
it would make an admirable atmospheric hospital for sick bodies. What
a delightful shelter would it be for the invalids who throng to Rome,
where the sirocco steals away their strength, and the tramontana stabs
them through and through, like cold steel with a poisoned point! But
within these walls, the thermometer never varies. Winter and summer
are married at the high altar, and dwell together in perfect harmony."
"Yes," said Hilda; "and I have always felt this soft, unchanging
climate of St. Peter's to be another manifestation of its sanctity."
"That is not precisely my idea," replied Kenyon. "But what a
delicious life it would be, if a colony of people with delicate lungs
or merely with delicate fancies--could take up their abode in this
ever-mild and tranquil air. These architectural tombs of the popes
might serve for dwellings, and each brazen sepulchral doorway would
become a domestic threshold. Then the lover, if he dared, might say
to his mistress, ' Will you share my tomb with me? ' and, winning her
soft consent, he would lead her to the altar, and thence to yonder
sepulchre of Pope Gregory, which should be their nuptial home. What a
life would be theirs, Hilda, in their marble Eden!"
"It is not kind, nor like yourself," said Hilda gently, "to throw
ridicule on emotions which are genuine. I revere this glorious church
for itself and its purposes; and love it, moreover, because here I
have found sweet peace, after' a great anguish."
"Forgive me," answered the sculptor, "and I will do so no more. My
heart is not so irreverent as my Words."
They went through the piazza of St. Peter's and the adjacent streets,
silently at first; but, before reaching the bridge of St. Angelo,
Hilda's flow of spirits began to bubble forth, like the gush of a
streamlet that has been shut up by frost, or by a heavy stone over its
source. Kenyon had never found her so delightful as now; so softened
out of the chillness of her virgin pride; so full of fresh thoughts,
at which he was often moved to smile, although, on turning them over a
little more, he sometimes discovered that they looked fanciful only
because so absolutely true.
But, indeed, she was not quite in a normal state. Emerging from gloom
into sudden cheerfulness, the effect upon Hilda was as if she were
just now created. After long torpor, receiving back her intellectual
activity, she derived an exquisite pleasure from the use of her
faculties, which were set in motion by causes that seemed inadequate.
She continually brought to Kenyon's mind the image of a child, making
its plaything of every object, but sporting in good faith, and with a
kind of seriousness. Looking up, for example, at the statue of St.
Michael, on the top of Hadrian's castellated tomb, Hilda fancied an
interview between the Archangel and the old emperor's ghost, who was
naturally displeased at finding his mausoleum, which he had ordained
for the stately and solemn repose of his ashes, converted to its
"But St. Michael, no doubt," she thoughtfully remarked, "would finally
convince the Emperor Hadrian that where a warlike despot is sown as
the seed, a fortress and a prison are the only possible crop."
They stopped on the bridge to look into the swift eddying flow of the
yellow Tiber, a mud puddle in strenuous motion; and Hilda wondered
whether the seven-branched golden candlestick,--the holy candlestick
of the Jews, which was lost at the Ponte Molle, in Constantine's time,
had yet been swept as far down the river as this.
"It probably stuck where it fell," said the sculptor; "and, by this
time, is imbedded thirty feet deep in the mud of the Tiber. Nothing
will ever bring it to light again."
"I fancy you are mistaken," replied Hilda, smiling. "There was a
meaning and purpose in each of its seven branches, and such a
candlestick cannot be lost forever. When it is found again, and seven
lights are kindled and burning in it, the whole world will gain the
illumination which it needs. Would not this be an admirable idea for
a mystic story or parable, or seven-branched allegory, full of poetry,
art, philosophy, and religion? It shall be called 'The Recovery of
the Sacred Candlestick.' As each branch is lighted, it shall have a
differently colored lustre from the other six; and when all the seven
are kindled, their radiance shall combine into the intense white light
"Positively, Hilda, this is a magnificent conception," cried Kenyon.
"The more I look at it, the brighter it burns."
"I think so too," said Hilda, enjoying a childlike pleasure in her own
idea. "The theme is better suited for verse than prose; and when I go
home to America, I will suggest it to one of our poets. Or seven
poets might write the poem together, each lighting a separate branch
of the Sacred Candlestick."
"Then you think of going home?" Kenyon asked.
"Only yesterday," she replied, "I longed to flee away. Now, all is
changed, and, being happy again, I should feel deep regret at leaving
the Pictorial Land. But I cannot tell. In Rome, there is something
dreary and awful, which we can never quite escape. At least, I
thought so yesterday."
When they reached the Via Portoghese, and approached Hilda's tower,
the doves, who were waiting aloft, flung themselves upon the air, and
came floating down about her head. The girl caressed them, and
responded to their cooings with similar sounds from her own lips, and
with words of endearment; and their joyful flutterings and airy little
flights, evidently impelled by pure exuberance of spirits, seemed to
show that the doves had a real sympathy with their mistress's state of
mind. For peace had descended upon her like a dove.
Bidding the sculptor farewell, Hilda climbed her tower, and came forth
upon its summit to trim the Virgin's lamp. The doves, well knowing
her custom, had flown up thither to meet her, and again hovered about
her head; and very lovely was her aspect, in the evening Sunlight,
which had little further to do with the world just then, save to fling
a golden glory on Hilda's hair, and vanish.
Turning her eyes down into the dusky street which she had just quitted,
Hilda saw the sculptor still there, and waved her hand to him.
"How sad and dim he looks, down there in that dreary street!" she said
to herself. "Something weighs upon his spirits. Would I could
"How like a spirit she looks, aloft there, with the evening glory
round her head, and those winged creatures claiming her as akin to
them!" thought Kenyon, on his part. "How far above me! how
unattainable! Ah, if I could lift myself to her region! Or--if it be
not a sin to wish it--would that I might draw her down to an earthly
What a sweet reverence is that, when a young man deems his mistress a
little more than mortal, and almost chides himself for longing to
bring her close to his heart! A trifling circumstance, but such as
lovers make much of, gave him hope. One of the doves, which had been
resting on Hilda's shoulder, suddenly flew downward, as if recognizing
him as its mistress's dear friend; and, perhaps commissioned with an
errand of regard, brushed his upturned face with its wings, and again
The sculptor watched the bird's return, and saw Hilda greet it with a
SNOWDROPS AND MAIDENLY DELIGHTS
It being still considerably earlier than the period at which artists
and tourists are accustomed to assemble in Rome, the sculptor and
Hilda found themselves comparatively alone there. The dense mass of
native Roman life, in the midst of which they were, served to press
them near one another. It was as if they had been thrown together on
a desert island. Or they seemed to have wandered, by some strange
chance, out of the common world, and encountered each other in a
depopulated city, where there were streets of lonely palaces, and
unreckonable treasures of beautiful and admirable things, of which
they two became the sole inheritors.
In such circumstances, Hilda's gentle reserve must have been stronger
than her kindly disposition permitted, if the friendship between
Kenyon and herself had not grown as warm as a maiden's friendship can
ever be, without absolutely and avowedly blooming into love. On the
sculptor's side, the amaranthine flower was already in full blow. But
it is very beautiful, though the lover's heart may grow chill at the
perception, to see how the snow will sometimes linger in a virgin's
breast, even after the spring is well advanced. In such alpine soils,
the summer will not be anticipated; we seek vainly for passionate
flowers, and blossoms of fervid hue and spicy fragrance, finding only
snowdrops and sunless violets, when it is almost the full season for
the crimson rose.
With so much tenderness as Hilda had in her nature, it was strange
that she so reluctantly admitted the idea of love; especially as, in
the sculptor, she found both congeniality and variety of taste, and
likenesses and differences of character; these being as essential as
those to any poignancy of mutual emotion.
So Hilda, as far as Kenyon could discern, still did not love him,
though she admitted him within the quiet circle of her affections as a
dear friend and trusty counsellor. If we knew what is best for us, or
could be content with what is reasonably good, the sculptor might well
have been satisfied, for a season, with this calm intimacy, which so
sweetly kept him a stranger in her heart, and a ceremonious guest; and
yet allowed him the free enjoyment of all but its deeper recesses.
The flowers that grow outside of those minor sanctities have a wild,
hasty charm, which it is well to prove; there may be sweeter ones
within the sacred precinct, but none that will die while you are
handling them, and bequeath you a delicious legacy, as these do, in
the perception of their evanescence and unreality.
And this may be the reason, after all, why Hilda, like so many other
maidens, lingered on the hither side of passion; her finer instinct
and keener sensibility made her enjoy those pale delights in a degree
of which men are incapable. She hesitated to grasp a richer happiness,
as possessing already such measure of it as her heart could hold, and
of a quality most agreeable to her virgin tastes.
Certainly, they both were very happy. Kenyon's genius, unconsciously
wrought upon by Hilda's influence, took a more delicate character than
heretofore. He modelled, among other things, a beautiful little
statue of maidenhood gathering a snowdrop. It was never put into
marble, however, because the sculptor soon recognized it as one of
those fragile creations which are true only to the moment that
produces them, and are wronged if we try to imprison their airy
excellence in a permanent material.
On her part, Hilda returned to her customary Occupations with a fresh
love for them, and yet with a deeper look into the heart of things;
such as those necessarily acquire who have passed from picture
galleries into dungeon gloom, and thence come back to the picture
gallery again. It is questionable whether she was ever so perfect a
copyist thenceforth. She could not yield herself up to the painter so
unreservedly as in times past; her character had developed a sturdier
quality, which made her less pliable to the influence of other minds.
She saw into the picture as profoundly as ever, and perhaps more so,
but not with the devout sympathy that had formerly given her entire
possession of the old master's idea. She had known such a reality,
that it taught her to distinguish inevitably the large portion that is
unreal, in every work of art. Instructed by sorrow, she felt that
there is something beyond almost all which pictorial genius has
produced; and she never forgot those sad wanderings from gallery to
gallery, and from church to church, where she had vainly sought a type
of the Virgin Mother, or the Saviour, or saint, or martyr, which a
soul in extreme need might recognize as the adequate one.
How, indeed, should she have found such? How could holiness be
revealed to the artist of an age when the greatest of them put genius
and imagination in the place of spiritual insight, and when, from the
pope downward, all Christendom was corrupt?
Meanwhile, months wore away, and Rome received back that large portion
of its life-blood which runs in the veins of its foreign and temporary
population. English visitors established themselves in the hotels,
and in all the sunny suites of apartments, in the streets convenient
to the Piazza di Spagna; the English tongue was heard familiarly along
the Corso, and English children sported in the Pincian Gardens.
The native Romans, on the other hand, like the butterflies and
grasshoppers, resigned themselves to the short, sharp misery which
winter brings to a people whose arrangements are made almost
exclusively with a view to summer. Keeping no fire within-doors,
except possibly a spark or two in the kitchen, they crept out of their
cheerless houses into the narrow, sunless, sepulchral streets,
bringing their firesides along with them, in the shape of little
earthen pots, vases, or pipkins, full of lighted charcoal and warm
ashes, over which they held their tingling finger-ends. Even in this
half-torpid wretchedness, they still seemed to dread a pestilence in
the sunshine, and kept on the shady side of the piazzas, as
scrupulously as in summer. Through the open doorways w no need to
shut them when the weather within was bleaker than without--a glimpse
into the interior of their dwellings showed the uncarpeted brick
floors, as dismal as the pavement of a tomb.
They drew their old cloaks about them, nevertheless, and threw the
corners over their shoulders, with the dignity of attitude and action
that have come down to these modern citizens, as their sole
inheritance from the togated nation. Somehow or other, they managed
to keep up their poor, frost-bitten hearts against the pitiless
atmosphere with a quiet and uncomplaining endurance that really seems
the most respectable point in the present Roman character. For in New
England, or in Russia, or scarcely in a hut of the Esquimaux, there is
no such discomfort to be borne as by Romans in wintry weather, when
the orange-trees bear icy fruit in the gardens; and when the rims of
all the fountains are shaggy with icicles, and the Fountain of Trevi
skimmed almost across with a glassy surface; and when there is a slide
in the piazza of St. Peter's, and a fringe of brown, frozen foam along
the eastern shore of the Tiber, and sometimes a fall of great
snowflakes into the dreary lanes and alleys of the miserable city.
Cold blasts, that bring death with them, now blow upon the shivering
invalids, who came hither in the hope of breathing balmy airs.
Wherever we pass our summers, may all our inclement months, from
November to April, henceforth be spent in some country that recognizes
winter as an integral portion of its year!
Now, too, there was especial discomfort in the stately picture
galleries, where nobody, indeed,--not the princely or priestly
founders, nor any who have inherited their cheerless magnificence,
--ever dreamed of such an impossibility as fireside warmth, since
those great palaces were built. Hilda, therefore, finding her fingers
so much benumbed that the spiritual influence could not be transmitted
to them, was persuaded to leave her easel before a picture, on one of
these wintry days, and pay a visit to Kenyon's studio. But neither
was the studio anything better than a dismal den, with its marble
shapes shivering around the walls, cold as the snow images which the
sculptor used to model in his boyhood, and sadly behold them weep
themselves away at the first thaw.
Kenyon's Roman artisans, all this while, had been at work on the
Cleopatra. The fierce Egyptian queen had now struggled almost out of
the imprisoning stone; or, rather, the workmen had found her within
the mass of marble, imprisoned there by magic, but still fervid to the
touch with fiery life, the fossil woman of an age that produced
statelier, stronger, and more passionate creatures than our own. You
already felt her compressed heat, and were aware of a tiger-like
character even in her repose. If Octavius should make his appearance,
though the marble still held her within its embrace, it was evident
that she would tear herself forth in a twinkling, either to spring
enraged at his throat, or, sinking into his arms, to make one more
proof of her rich blandishments, or, falling lowly at his feet, to try
the efficacy of a woman's tears.
"I am ashamed to tell you how much I admire this statue," said Hilda.
"No other sculptor could have done it."
"This is very sweet for me to hear," replied Kenyon; "and since your
reserve keeps you from saying more, I shall imagine you expressing
everything that an artist would wish to hear said about his work."
"You will not easily go beyond my genuine opinion," answered Hilda,
with a smile.
"Ah, your kind word makes me very happy," said the sculptor, "and I
need it, just now, on behalf of my Cleopatra. That inevitable period
has come,--for I have found it inevitable, in regard to all my works,
--when I look at what I fancied to be a statue, lacking only breath to
make it live, and find it a mere lump of senseless stone, into which I
have not really succeeded in moulding the spiritual part of my idea.
I should like, now,--only it would be such shameful treatment for a
discrowned queen, and my own offspring too,--I should like to hit poor
Cleopatra a bitter blow on her Egyptian nose with this mallet."
"That is a blow which all statues seem doomed to receive, sooner or
later, though seldom from the hand that sculptured them," said Hilda,
laughing. "But you must not let yourself be too much disheartened by
the decay of your faith in what you produce. I have heard a poet
express similar distaste for his own most exquisite poem, and I am
afraid that this final despair, and sense of short-coming, must always
be the reward and punishment of those who try to grapple with a great
or beautiful idea. It only proves that you have been able to imagine
things too high for mortal faculties to execute. The idea leaves you
an imperfect image of itself, which you at first mistake for the
ethereal reality, but soon find that the latter has escaped out of
your closest embrace."
"And the only consolation is," remarked Kenyon, "that the blurred and
imperfect image may still make a very respectable appearance in the
eyes of those who have not seen the original."
"More than that," rejoined Hilda; "for there is a class of spectators
whose sympathy will help them to see the perfect through a mist of
imperfection. Nobody, I think, ought to read poetry, or look at
pictures or statues, who cannot find a great deal more in them than
the poet or artist has actually expressed. Their highest merit is
"You, Hilda, are yourself the only critic in whom I have much faith,"
said Kenyon. "Had you condemned Cleopatra, nothing should have saved
"You invest me with such an awful responsibility," she replied, "that
I shall not dare to say a single word about your other works."
"At least," said the sculptor, "tell me whether you recognize this
He pointed to a bust of Donatello. It was not the one which Kenyon
had begun to model at Monte Beni, but a reminiscence of the Count's
face, wrought under the influence of all the sculptor's knowledge of
his history, and of his personal and hereditary character. It stood
on a wooden pedestal, not nearly finished, but with fine white dust
and small chips of marble scattered about it, and itself incrusted all
round with the white, shapeless substance of the block. In the midst
appeared the features, lacking sharpness, and very much resembling a
fossil countenance,--but we have already used this simile, in
reference to Cleopatra, with the accumulations of long-past ages
clinging to it.
And yet, strange to say, the face had an expression, and a more
recognizable one than Kenyon had succeeded in putting into the clay
model at Monte Beni. The reader is probably acquainted with
Thorwaldsen's three-fold analogy,--the clay model, the Life; the
plaster cast, the Death; and the sculptured marble, the Resurrection,
--and it seemed to be made good by the spirit that was kindling up
these imperfect features, like a lambent flame.
"I was not quite sure, at first glance, that I knew the face,"
observed Hilda; "the likeness surely is not a striking one. There is
a good deal of external resemblance, still, to the features of the
Faun of Praxiteles, between whom and Donatello, you know, we once
insisted that there was a perfect twin-brotherhood. But the
expression is now so very different!"
"What do you take it to be?" asked the sculptor.
"I hardly know how to define it," she answered. "But it has an effect
as if I could see this countenance gradually brightening while I look
at it. It gives the impression of a growing intellectual power and
moral sense. Donatello's face used to evince little more than a
genial, pleasurable sort of vivacity, and capability of enjoyment.
But here, a soul is being breathed into him; it is the Faun, but
advancing towards a state of higher development."
"Hilda, do you see all this?" exclaimed Kenyon, in considerable
surprise. "I may have had such an idea in my mind, but was quite
unaware that I had succeeded in conveying it into the marble."
"Forgive me," said Hilda, "but I question whether this striking effect
has been brought about by any skill or purpose on the sculptor's part.
Is it not, perhaps, the chance result of the bust being just so far
shaped out, in the marble, as the process of moral growth had advanced
in the original? A few more strokes of the chisel might change the
whole expression, and so spoil it for what it is now worth."
"I believe you are right," answered Kenyon, thoughtfully examining his
work; "and, strangely enough, it was the very expression that I tried
unsuccessfully to produce in the clay model. Well; not another chip
shall be struck from the marble."
And, accordingly, Donatello's bust (like that rude, rough mass of the
head of Brutus, by Michael Angelo, at Florence) has ever since
remained in an unfinished state. Most spectators mistake it for an
unsuccessful attempt towards copying the features of the Faun of
Praxiteles. One observer in a thousand is conscious of something more,
and lingers long over this mysterious face, departing from it
reluctantly, and with many a glance thrown backward. What perplexes
him is the riddle that he sees propounded there; the riddle of the
soul's growth, taking its first impulse amid remorse and pain, and
struggling through the incrustations of the senses. It was the
contemplation of this imperfect portrait of Donatello that originally
interested us in his history, and impelled us to elicit from Kenyon
what he knew of his friend's adventures.
REMINISCENCES OF MIRIAM
When Hilda and himself turned away from the unfinished bust, the
sculptor's mind still dwelt upon the reminiscences which it suggested.
"You have not seen Donatello recently," he remarked, "and therefore
cannot be aware how sadly he is changed."
"No wonder!" exclaimed Hilda, growing pale.
The terrible scene which she had witnessed, when Donatello's face
gleamed out in so fierce a light, came back upon her memory, almost
for the first time since she knelt at the confessional. Hilda, as is
sometimes the case with persons whose delicate organization requires a
peculiar safeguard, had an elastic faculty of throwing off such
recollections as would be too painful for endurance. The first shock
of Donatello's and Miriam's crime had, indeed, broken through the
frail defence of this voluntary forgetfulness; but, once enabled to
relieve herself of the ponderous anguish over which she had so long
brooded, she had practised a subtile watchfulness in preventing its
"No wonder, do you say?" repeated the sculptor, looking at her with
interest, but not exactly with surprise; for he had long suspected
that Hilda had a painful knowledge of events which he himself little
more than surmised. "Then you know!--you have heard! But what can
you possibly have heard, and through what channel?"
"Nothing!" replied Hilda faintly. "Not one word has reached my ears
from the lips of any human being. Let us never speak of it again! No,
no! never again!"
"And Miriam!" said Kenyon, with irrepressible interest. "Is it also
forbidden to speak of her?"
"Hush! do not even utter her name! Try not to think of it!" Hilda
whispered. "It may bring terrible consequences!"
"My dear Hilda!" exclaimed Kenyon, regarding her with wonder and deep
sympathy. "My sweet friend, have you had this secret hidden in your
delicate, maidenly heart, through all these many months! No wonder
that your life was withering out of you."
"It was so, indeed!" said Hilda, shuddering. "Even now, I sicken at
"And how could it have come to your knowledge?" continued the sculptor.
"But no matter! Do not torture yourself with referring to the
subject. Only, if at any time it should be a relief to you, remember
that we can speak freely together, for Miriam has herself suggested a
confidence between us."
"Miriam has suggested this!" exclaimed Hilda. "Yes, I remember, now,
her advising that the secret should be shared with you. But I have
survived the death struggle that it cost me, and need make no further
revelations. And Miriam has spoken to you! What manner of woman can
she be, who, after sharing in such a deed, can make it a topic of
conversation with her friends?"
"Ah, Hilda," replied Kenyon, "you do not know, for you could never
learn it from your own heart, which is all purity and rectitude, what
a mixture of good there may be in things evil; and how the greatest
criminal, if you look at his conduct from his own point of view, or
from any side point, may seem not so unquestionably guilty, after all.
So with Miriam; so with Donatello. They are, perhaps, partners in
what we must call awful guilt; and yet, I will own to you,--when I
think of the original cause, the motives, the feelings, the sudden
concurrence of circumstances thrusting them onward, the urgency of the
moment, and the sublime unselfishness on either part,--I know not well
how to distinguish it from much that the world calls heroism. Might
we not render some such verdict as this?--'Worthy of Death, but not
unworthy of Love! '"
"Never!" answered Hilda, looking at the matter through the clear
crystal medium of her own integrity. "This thing, as regards its
causes, is all a mystery to me, and must remain so. But there is, I
believe, only one right and one wrong; and I do not understand, and
may God keep me from ever understanding, how two things so totally
unlike can be mistaken for one another; nor how two mortal foes, as
Right and Wrong surely are, can work together in the same deed. This
is my faith; and I should be led astray, if you could persuade me to
give it up."
"Alas for poor human nature, then!" said Kenyon sadly, and yet half
smiling at Hilda's unworldly and impracticable theory. "I always felt
you, my dear friend, a terribly severe judge, and have been perplexed
to conceive how such tender sympathy could coexist with the
remorselessness of a steel blade. You need no mercy, and therefore
know not how to show any."
"That sounds like a bitter gibe," said Hilda, with the tears springing
into her eyes. "But I cannot help it. It does not alter my
perception of the truth. If there be any such dreadful mixture of
good and evil as you affirm,--and which appears to me almost more
shocking than pure evil,--then the good is turned to poison, not the
evil to wholesomeness."
The sculptor seemed disposed to say something more, but yielded to the
gentle steadfastness with which Hilda declined to listen. She grew
very sad; for a reference to this one dismal topic had set, as it were,
a prison door ajar, and allowed a throng of torturing recollections
to escape from their dungeons into the pure air and white radiance of
her soul. She bade Kenyon a briefer farewell than ordinary, and went
homeward to her tower.
In spite of her efforts to withdraw them to other subjects, her
thoughts dwelt upon Miriam; and, as had not heretofore happened, they
brought with them a painful doubt whether a wrong had not been
committed on Hilda's part, towards the friend once so beloved.
Something that Miriam had said, in their final conversation, recurred
to her memory, and seemed now to deserve more weight than Hilda had
assigned to it, in her horror at the crime just perpetrated. It was
not that the deed looked less wicked and terrible in the retrospect;
but she asked herself whether there were not other questions to be
considered, aside from that single one of Miriam's guilt or innocence;
as, for example, whether a close bond of friendship, in which we once
voluntarily engage, ought to be severed on account of any unworthiness,
which we subsequently detect in our friend. For, in these unions of
hearts,--call them marriage, or whatever else,--we take each other for
better for worse. Availing ourselves of our friend's intimate
affection, we pledge our own, as to be relied upon in every emergency.
And what sadder, more desperate emergency could there be, than had
befallen Miriam? Who more need the tender succor of the innocent,
than wretches stained with guilt! And must a selfish care for the
spotlessness of our own garments keep us from pressing the guilty ones
close to our hearts, wherein, for the very reason that we are innocent,
lies their securest refuge from further ill?
It was a sad thing for Hilda to find this moral enigma propounded to
her conscience; and to feel that, whichever way she might settle it,
there would be a cry of wrong on the other side. Still, the idea
stubbornly came back, that the tie between Miriam and herself had been
real, the affection true, and that therefore the implied compact was
not to be shaken off.
"Miriam loved me well," thought Hilda remorsefully, "and I failed her
at her sorest need."
Miriam loved her well; and not less ardent had been the affection
which Miriam's warm, tender, and generous characteristics had excited
in Hilda's more reserved and quiet nature. It had never been
extinguished; for, in part, the wretchedness which Hilda had since
endured was but the struggle and writhing of her sensibility, still
yearning towards her friend. And now, at the earliest encouragement,
it awoke again, and cried out piteously, complaining of the violence
that had been done it.
Recurring to the delinquencies of which she fancied (we say "fancied,"
because we do not unhesitatingly adopt Hilda's present view, but
rather suppose her misled by her feelings)--of which she fancied
herself guilty towards her friend, she suddenly remembered a sealed
packet that Miriam had confided to her. It had been put into her
hands with earnest injunctions of secrecy and care, and if unclaimed
after a certain period, was to be delivered according to its address.
Hilda had forgotten it; or, rather, she had kept the thought of this
commission in the background of her consciousness, with all other
thoughts referring to Miriam.
But now the recollection of this packet, and the evident stress which
Miriam laid upon its delivery at the specified time, impelled Hilda to
hurry up the staircase of her tower, dreading lest the period should
already have elapsed.
No; the hour had not gone by, but was on the very point of passing.
Hilda read the brief note of instruction, on a corner of the envelope,
and discovered, that, in case of Miriam's absence from Rome, the
packet was to be taken to its destination that very day.
"How nearly I had violated my promise!" said Hilda. "And, since we
are separated forever, it has the sacredness of an injunction from a
dead friend. There is no time to be lost."
So Hilda set forth in the decline of the afternoon, and pursued her
way towards the quarter of the city in which stands the Palazzo Cenci.
Her habit of self-reliance was so simply strong, so natural, and now
so well established by long use, that the idea of peril seldom or
never occurred to Hilda, in her lonely life.
She differed, in this particular, from the generality of her sex,
--although the customs and character of her native land often produce
women who meet the world with gentle fearlessness, and discover that
its terrors have been absurdly exaggerated by the tradition of mankind.
In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, the apprehensiveness of women
is quite gratuitous. Even as matters now stand, they are really safer
in perilous situations and emergencies than men; and might be still
more so, if they trusted themselves more confidingly to the chivalry
of manhood. In all her wanderings about Rome, Hilda had gone and
returned as securely as she had been accustomed to tread the familiar
street of her New England village, where every face wore a look of
recognition. With respect to whatever was evil, foul, and ugly, in
this populous and corrupt city, she trod as if invisible, and not only
so, but blind. She was altogether unconscious of anything wicked that
went along the same pathway, but without jostling or impeding her, any
more than gross substance hinders the wanderings of a spirit. Thus it
is, that, bad as the world is said to have grown, innocence continues
to make a paradise around itself, and keep it still unfallen.
Hilda's present expedition led her into what was--physically, at
least--the foulest and ugliest part of Rome. In that vicinity lies
the Ghetto, where thousands of Jews are crowded within a narrow
compass, and lead a close, unclean, and multitudinous life, resembling
that of maggots when they over-populate a decaying cheese.
Hilda passed on the borders of this region, but had no occasion to
step within it. Its neighborhood, however, naturally partook of
characteristics 'like its own. There was a confusion of black and
hideous houses, piled massively out of the ruins of former ages; rude
and destitute of plan, as a pauper would build his hovel, and yet
displaying here and there an arched gateway, a cornice, a pillar, or a
broken arcade, that might have adorned a palace. Many of the houses,
indeed, as they stood, might once have been palaces, and possessed
still a squalid kind of grandeur. Dirt was everywhere, strewing the
narrow streets, and incrusting the tall shabbiness of the edifices,
from the foundations to the roofs; it lay upon the thresholds, and
looked out of the windows, and assumed the guise of human life in the
children that Seemed to be engendered out of it. Their father was the
sun, and their mother--a heap of Roman mud.
It is a question of speculative interest, whether the ancient Romans
were as unclean a people as we everywhere find those who have
succeeded them. There appears to be a kind of malignant spell in the
spots that have been inhabited by these masters of the world, or made
famous in their history; an inherited and inalienable curse, impelling
their successors to fling dirt and defilement upon whatever temple,
column, mined palace, or triumphal arch may be nearest at hand, and on
every monument that the old Romans built. It is most probably a
classic trait, regularly transmitted downward, and perhaps a little
modified by the better civilization of Christianity; so that Caesar
may have trod narrower and filthier ways in his path to the Capitol,
than even those of modern Rome.
As the paternal abode of Beatrice, the gloomy old palace of the Cencis
had an interest for Hilda, although not sufficiently strong, hitherto,
to overcome the disheartening effect of the exterior, and draw her
over its threshold. The adjacent piazza, of poor aspect, contained
only an old woman selling roasted chestnuts and baked squash-seeds;
she looked sharply at Hilda, and inquired whether she had lost her way.
"No," said Hilda; "I seek the Palazzo Cenci."
"Yonder it is, fair signorina," replied the Roman matron. "If you
wish that packet delivered, which I see in your hand, my grandson
Pietro shall run with it for a baiocco. The Cenci palace is a spot of
ill omen for young maidens."
Hilda thanked the old dame, but alleged the necessity of doing her
errand in person. She approached the front of the palace, which, with
all its immensity, had but a mean appearance, and seemed an abode
which the lovely shade of Beatrice would not be apt to haunt, unless
her doom made it inevitable. Some soldiers stood about the portal,
and gazed at the brown-haired, fair-cheeked Anglo-Saxon girl, with
approving glances, but not indecorously. Hilda began to ascend the
staircase, three lofty flights of which were to be surmounted, before
reaching the door whither she was bound.
THE EXTINCTION OF A LAMP
Between Hilda and the sculptor there had been a kind of half-expressed
understanding, that both were to visit the galleries of the Vatican
the day subsequent to their meeting at the studio. Kenyon,
accordingly, failed not to be there, and wandered through the vast
ranges of apartments, but saw nothing of his expected friend. The
marble faces, which stand innumerable along the walls, and have kept
themselves so calm through the vicissitudes of twenty centuries, had
no sympathy for his disappointment; and he, on the other hand, strode
past these treasures and marvels of antique art, with the indifference
which any preoccupation of the feelings is apt to produce, in
reference to objects of sculpture. Being of so cold and pure a
substance, and mostly deriving their vitality more from thought than
passion, they require to be seen through a perfectly transparent
And, moreover, Kenyon had counted so much upon Hilda's delicate
perceptions in enabling him to look at two or three of the statues,
about which they had talked together, that the entire purpose of his
visit was defeated by her absence. It is a delicious sort of mutual
aid, when the united power of two sympathetic, yet dissimilar,
intelligences is brought to bear upon a poem by reading it aloud, or
upon a picture or statue by viewing it in each other's company. Even
if not a word of criticism be uttered, the insight of either party is
wonderfully deepened, and the comprehension broadened; so that the
inner mystery of a work of genius, hidden from one, will often reveal
itself to two. Missing such help, Kenyon saw nothing at the Vatican
which he had not seen a thousand times before, and more perfectly than
In the chili of his disappointment, he suspected that it was a very
cold art to which he had devoted himself. He questioned, at that
moment, whether sculpture really ever softens and warms the material
which it handles; whether carved marble is anything but limestone,
after all; and whether the Apollo Belvedere itself possesses any merit
above its physical beauty, or is beyond criticism even in that
generally acknowledged excellence. In flitting glances, heretofore,
he had seemed to behold this statue, as something ethereal and godlike,
but not now.
Nothing pleased him, unless it were the group of the Laocoon, which,
in its immortal agony, impressed Kenyon as a type of the long, fierce
struggle of man, involved in the knotted entanglements of Error and
Evil, those two snakes, which, if no divine help intervene, will be
sure to strangle him and his children in the end. What he most
admired was the strange calmness diffused through this bitter strife;
so that it resembled the rage of the sea made calm by its immensity,'
or the tumult of Niagara which ceases to be tumult because it lasts
forever. Thus, in the Laocoon, the horror of a moment grew to be the
fate of interminable ages. Kenyon looked upon the group as the one
triumph of sculpture, creating the repose, which is essential to it,
in the very acme of turbulent effort; but, in truth, it was his mood
of unwonted despondency that made him so sensitive to the terrible
magnificence, as well as to the sad moral, of this work. Hilda
herself could not have helped him to see it with nearly such
A good deal more depressed than the nature of the disappointment
warranted, Kenyon went to his studio, and took in hand a great lump of
clay. He soon found, however, that his plastic cunning had departed
from him for the time. So he wandered forth again into the uneasy
streets of Rome, and walked up and down the Corso, where, at that
period of the day, a throng of passers-by and loiterers choked up the
narrow sidewalk. A penitent was thus brought in contact with the
It was a figure in a white robe, with a kind of featureless mask over
the face, through the apertures of which the eyes threw an
unintelligible light. Such odd, questionable shapes are often seen
gliding through the streets of Italian cities, and are understood to
be usually persons of rank, who quit their palaces, their gayeties,
their pomp and pride, and assume the penitential garb for a season,
with a view of thus expiating some crime, or atoning for the aggregate
of petty sins that make up a worldly life. It is their custom to ask
alms, and perhaps to measure the duration of their penance by the time
requisite to accumulate a sum of money out of the little droppings of
individual charity. The avails are devoted to some beneficent or
religious purpose; so that the benefit accruing to their own souls is,
in a manner, linked with a good done, or intended, to their fellow-men.
These figures have a ghastly and startling effect, not so much from
any very impressive peculiarity in the garb, as from the mystery which
they bear about with them, and the sense that there is an acknowledged
sinfulness as the nucleus of it.
In the present instance, however, the penitent asked no alms of Kenyon;
although, for the space of a minute or two, they stood face to face,
the hollow eyes of the mask encountering the sculptor's gaze. But,
just as the crowd was about to separate them, the former spoke, in a
voice not unfamiliar to Kenyon, though rendered remote and strange by
the guilty veil through which it penetrated.
"Is all well with you, Signore?" inquired the penitent, out of the
cloud in which he walked.
"All is well," answered Kenyon. "And with you?"
But the masked penitent returned no answer, being borne away by the
pressure of the throng.
The sculptor stood watching the figure, and was almost of a mind to
hurry after him and follow up the conversation that had been begun;
but it occurred to him that there is a sanctity (or, as we might
rather term it, an inviolable etiquette) which prohibits the
recognition of persons who choose to walk under the veil of penitence.
"How strange!" thought Kenyon to himself. "It was surely Donatello!
What can bring him to Rome, where his recollections must be so painful,
and his presence not without peril? And Miriam! Can she have
He walked on, thinking of the vast change in Donatello, since those
days of gayety and innocence, when the young Italian was new in Rome,
and was just beginning to be sensible of a more poignant felicity than
he had yet experienced, in the sunny warmth of Miriam's smile. The
growth of a soul, which the sculptor half imagined that he had
witnessed in his friend, seemed hardly worth the heavy price that it
had cost, in the sacrifice of those simple enjoyments that were gone
forever. A creature of antique healthfulness had vanished from the
earth; and, in his stead, there was only one other morbid and
remorseful man, among millions that were cast in the same
The accident of thus meeting Donatello the glad Faun of his
imagination and memory, now transformed into a gloomy
penitent--contributed to deepen the cloud that had fallen over
Kenyon's spirits. It caused him to fancy, as we generally do, in the
petty troubles which extend not a hand's-breadth beyond our own sphere,
that the whole world was saddening around him. It took the sinister
aspect of an omen, although he could not distinctly see what trouble
it might forebode.
If it had not been for a peculiar sort of pique, with which lovers are
much conversant, a preposterous kind of resentment which endeavors to
wreak itself on the beloved object, and on one's own heart, in
requital of mishaps for which neither are in fault, Kenyon might at
once have betaken himself to Hilda's studio, and asked why the
appointment was not kept. But the interview of to-day was to have
been so rich in present joy, and its results so important to his
future life, that the bleak failure was too much for his equanimity.
He was angry with poor Hilda, and censured her without a hearing;
angry with himself, too, and therefore inflicted on this latter
criminal the severest penalty in his power; angry with the day that
was passing over him, and would not permit its latter hours to redeem
the disappointment of the morning.
To confess the truth, it had been the sculptor's purpose to stake all
his hopes on that interview in the galleries of the Vatican. Straying
with Hilda through those long vistas of ideal beauty, he meant, at
last, to utter himself upon that theme which lovers are fain to
discuss in village lanes, in wood paths, on seaside sands, in crowded
streets; it little matters where, indeed, since roses are sure to
blush along the way, and daisies and violets to spring beneath the
feet, if the spoken word be graciously received. He was resolved to
make proof whether the kindness that Hilda evinced for him was the
precious token of an individual preference, or merely the sweet
fragrance of her disposition, which other friends might share as
largely as himself. He would try if it were possible to take this shy,
yet frank, and innocently fearless creature captive, and imprison her
in his heart, and make her sensible of a wider freedom there, than in
all the world besides.
It was hard, we must allow, to see the shadow of a wintry sunset
falling upon a day that was to have been so bright, and to find
himself just where yesterday had left him, only with a sense of being
drearily balked, and defeated without an opportunity for struggle. So
much had been anticipated from these now vanished hours, that it
seemed as if no other day could bring back the same golden hopes.
In a case like this, it is doubtful whether Kenyon could have done a
much better thing than he actually did, by going to dine at the Cafe
Nuovo, and drinking a flask of Montefiascone; longing, the while, for
a beaker or two of Donatello's Sunshine. It would have been just the
wine to cure a lover's melancholy, by illuminating his heart with
tender light and warmth, and suggestions of undefined hopes, too
ethereal for his morbid humor to examine and reject them.
No decided improvement resulting from the draught of Montefiascone, he
went to the Teatro Argentino, and sat gloomily to see an Italian
comedy, which ought to have cheered him somewhat, being full of
glancing merriment, and effective over everybody's disabilities except
his own. The sculptor came out, however, before the close of the
performance, as disconsolate as he went in.
As he made his way through the complication of narrow streets, which
perplex that portion of the city, a carriage passed him. It was
driven rapidly, but not too fast for the light of a gas-lamp to flare
upon a face within--especially as it was bent forward, appearing to
recognize him, while a beckoning hand was protruded from the window.
On his part, Kenyon at once knew the face, and hastened to the
carriage, which had now stopped.
"Miriam! you in Rome?" he exclaimed "And your friends know nothing of
"Is all well with you?" she asked.