Part 1 out of 9
This etext was prepared by Dave Ceponis and Sue Asscher.
EDWARD BULWER LYTTON
(PLATE: "Thou art good and fair," said Viola.
Drawn by P. Kauffmann, etched by Deblois.)
First prefixed to the Edition of 1845
JOHN GIBSON, R.A., SCULPTOR.
In looking round the wide and luminous circle of our great living
Englishmen, to select one to whom I might fitly dedicate this
work,--one who, in his life as in his genius, might illustrate
the principle I have sought to convey; elevated by the ideal
which he exalts, and serenely dwelling in a glorious existence
with the images born of his imagination,--in looking round for
some such man, my thoughts rested upon you. Afar from our
turbulent cabals; from the ignoble jealousy and the sordid strife
which degrade and acerbate the ambition of Genius,--in your Roman
Home, you have lived amidst all that is loveliest and least
perishable in the past, and contributed with the noblest aims,
and in the purest spirit, to the mighty heirlooms of the future.
Your youth has been devoted to toil, that your manhood may be
consecrated to fame: a fame unsullied by one desire of gold.
You have escaped the two worst perils that beset the artist in
our time and land,--the debasing tendencies of commerce, and the
angry rivalries of competition. You have not wrought your marble
for the market,--you have not been tempted, by the praises which
our vicious criticism has showered upon exaggeration and
distortion, to lower your taste to the level of the hour; you
have lived, and you have laboured, as if you had no rivals but in
the dead,--no purchasers, save in judges of what is best. In the
divine priesthood of the beautiful, you have sought only to
increase her worshippers and enrich her temples. The pupil of
Canova, you have inherited his excellences, while you have
shunned his errors,--yours his delicacy, not his affectation.
Your heart resembles him even more than your genius: you have
the same noble enthusiasm for your sublime profession; the same
lofty freedom from envy, and the spirit that depreciates; the
same generous desire not to war with but to serve artists in your
art; aiding, strengthening, advising, elevating the timidity of
inexperience, and the vague aspirations of youth. By the
intuition of a kindred mind, you have equalled the learning of
Winckelman, and the plastic poetry of Goethe, in the intimate
comprehension of the antique. Each work of yours, rightly
studied, is in itself a CRITICISM, illustrating the sublime
secrets of the Grecian Art, which, without the servility of
plagiarism, you have contributed to revive amongst us; in you we
behold its three great and long-undetected principles,--
simplicity, calm, and concentration.
But your admiration of the Greeks has not led you to the bigotry
of the mere antiquarian, nor made you less sensible of the
unappreciated excellence of the mighty modern, worthy to be your
countryman,--though till his statue is in the streets of our
capital, we show ourselves not worthy of the glory he has shed
upon our land. You have not suffered even your gratitude to
Canova to blind you to the superiority of Flaxman. When we
become sensible of our title-deeds to renown in that single name,
we may look for an English public capable of real patronage to
English Art,--and not till then.
I, artist in words, dedicate, then, to you, artist whose ideas
speak in marble, this well-loved work of my matured manhood. I
love it not the less because it has been little understood and
superficially judged by the common herd: it was not meant for
them. I love it not the more because it has found enthusiastic
favorers amongst the Few. My affection for my work is rooted in
the solemn and pure delight which it gave me to conceive and to
perform. If I had graven it on the rocks of a desert, this
apparition of my own innermost mind, in its least-clouded
moments, would have been to me as dear; and this ought, I
believe, to be the sentiment with which he whose Art is born of
faith in the truth and beauty of the principles he seeks to
illustrate, should regard his work. Your serener existence,
uniform and holy, my lot denies,--if my heart covets. But our
true nature is in our thoughts, not our deeds: and therefore, in
books--which ARE his thoughts--the author's character lies bare
to the discerning eye. It is not in the life of cities,--in the
turmoil and the crowd; it is in the still, the lonely, and more
sacred life, which for some hours, under every sun, the student
lives (his stolen retreat from the Agora to the Cave), that I
feel there is between us the bond of that secret sympathy, that
magnetic chain, which unites the everlasting brotherhood of whose
being Zanoni is the type.
London, May, 1845.
One of the peculiarities of Bulwer was his passion for occult
studies. They had a charm for him early in life, and he pursued
them with the earnestness which characterised his pursuit of
other studies. He became absorbed in wizard lore; he equipped
himself with magical implements,--with rods for transmitting
influence, and crystal balls in which to discern coming scenes
and persons; and communed with spiritualists and mediums. The
fruit of these mystic studies is seen in "Zanoni" and "A strange
Story," romances which were a labour of love to the author, and
into which he threw all the power he possessed,--power re-
enforced by multifarious reading and an instinctive appreciation
of Oriental thought. These weird stories, in which the author
has formulated his theory of magic, are of a wholly different
type from his previous fictions, and, in place of the heroes and
villains of every day life, we have beings that belong in part to
another sphere, and that deal with mysterious and occult
agencies. Once more the old forgotten lore of the Cabala is
unfolded; the furnace of the alchemist, whose fires have been
extinct for centuries, is lighted anew, and the lamp of the
Rosicrucian re-illumined. No other works of the author,
contradictory as have been the opinions of them, have provoked
such a diversity of criticism as these. To some persons they
represent a temporary aberration of genius rather than any
serious thought or definite purpose; while others regard them as
surpassing in bold and original speculation, profound analysis of
character, and thrilling interest, all of the author's other
works. The truth, we believe, lies midway between these
extremes. It is questionable whether the introduction into a
novel of such subjects as are discussed in these romances be not
an offence against good sense and good taste; but it is as
unreasonable to deny the vigour and originality of their author's
conceptions, as to deny that the execution is imperfect, and, at
times, bungling and absurd.
It has been justly said that the present half century has
witnessed the rise and triumphs of science, the extent and
marvels of which even Bacon's fancy never conceived,
simultaneously with superstitions grosser than any which Bacon's
age believed. "The one is, in fact, the natural reaction from
the other. The more science seeks to exclude the miraculous, and
reduce all nature, animate and inanimate, to an invariable law of
sequences, the more does the natural instinct of man rebel, and
seek an outlet for those obstinate questionings, those 'blank
misgivings of a creature moving about in worlds not realised,'
taking refuge in delusions as degrading as any of the so-called
Dark Ages." It was the revolt from the chilling materialism of
the age which inspired the mystic creations of "Zanoni" and "A
Strange Story." Of these works, which support and supplement
each other, one is the contemplation of our actual life through a
spiritual medium, the other is designed to show that, without
some gleams of the supernatural, man is not man, nor nature
In "Zanoni" the author introduces us to two human beings who have
achieved immortality: one, Mejnour, void of all passion or
feeling, calm, benignant, bloodless, an intellect rather than a
man; the other, Zanoni, the pupil of Mejnour, the representative
of an ideal life in its utmost perfection, possessing eternal
youth, absolute power, and absolute knowledge, and withal the
fullest capacity to enjoy and to love, and, as a necessity of
that love, to sorrow and despair. By his love for Viola Zanoni
is compelled to descend from his exalted state, to lose his
eternal calm, and to share in the cares and anxieties of
humanity; and this degradation is completed by the birth of a
child. Finally, he gives up the life which hangs on that of
another, in order to save that other, the loving and beloved
wife, who has delivered him from his solitude and isolation.
Wife and child are mortal, and to outlive them and his love for
them is impossible. But Mejnour, who is the impersonation of
thought,--pure intellect without affection,--lives on.
Bulwer has himself justly characterised this work, in the
Introduction, as a romance and not a romance, as a truth for
those who can comprehend it, and an extravagance for those who
cannot. The most careless or matter-of-fact reader must see that
the work, like the enigmatical "Faust," deals in types and
symbols; that the writer intends to suggest to the mind something
more subtle and impalpable than that which is embodied to the
senses. What that something is, hardly two persons will agree.
The most obvious interpretation of the types is, that in Zanoni
the author depicts to us humanity, perfected, sublimed, which
lives not for self, but for others; in Mejnour, as we have before
said, cold, passionless, self-sufficing intellect; in Glyndon,
the young Englishman, the mingled strength and weakness of human
nature; in the heartless, selfish artist, Nicot, icy, soulless
atheism, believing nothing, hoping nothing, trusting and loving
nothing; and in the beautiful, artless Viola, an exquisite
creation, pure womanhood, loving, trusting and truthful. As a
work of art the romance is one of great power. It is original in
its conception, and pervaded by one central idea; but it would
have been improved, we think, by a more sparing use of the
supernatural. The inevitable effect of so much hackneyed
diablerie--of such an accumulation of wonder upon wonder--is to
deaden the impression they would naturally make upon us. In
Hawthorne's tales we see with what ease a great imaginative
artist can produce a deeper thrill by a far slighter use of the
weird and the mysterious.
The chief interest of the story for the ordinary reader centres,
not in its ghostly characters and improbable machinery, the
scenes in Mejnour's chamber in the ruined castle among the
Apennines, the colossal and appalling apparitions on Vesuvius,
the hideous phantom with its burning eye that haunted Glyndon,
but in the loves of Viola and the mysterious Zanoni, the blissful
and the fearful scenes through which they pass, and their final
destiny, when the hero of the story sacrifices his own "charmed
life" to save hers, and the Immortal finds the only true
immortality in death. Among the striking passages in the work
are the pathetic sketch of the old violinist and composer,
Pisani, with his sympathetic "barbiton" which moaned, groaned,
growled, and laughed responsive to the feelings of its master;
the description of Viola's and her father's triumph, when "The
Siren," his masterpiece, is performed at the San Carlo in Naples;
Glyndon's adventure at the Carnival in Naples; the death of his
sister; the vivid pictures of the Reign of Terror in Paris,
closing with the downfall of Robespierre and his satellites; and
perhaps, above all, the thrilling scene where Zanoni leaves Viola
asleep in prison when his guards call him to execution, and she,
unconscious of the terrible sacrifice, but awaking and missing
him, has a vision of the procession to the guillotine, with
Zanoni there, radiant in youth and beauty, followed by the sudden
vanishing of the headsman,--the horror,--and the "Welcome" of her
loved one to Heaven in a myriad of melodies from the choral hosts
"Zanoni" was originally published by Saunders and Otley, London,
in three volumes 12mo., in 1842. A translation into French, made
by M. Sheldon under the direction of P. Lorain, was published in
Paris in the "Bibliotheque des Meilleurs Romans Etrangers."
PREFACE TO THE EDITION OF 1853.
As a work of imagination, "Zanoni" ranks, perhaps, amongst the
highest of my prose fictions. In the Poem of "King Arthur,"
published many years afterwards, I have taken up an analogous
design, in the contemplation of our positive life through a
spiritual medium; and I have enforced, through a far wider
development, and, I believe, with more complete and enduring
success, that harmony between the external events which are all
that the superficial behold on the surface of human affairs, and
the subtle and intellectual agencies which in reality influence
the conduct of individuals, and shape out the destinies of the
world. As man has two lives,--that of action and that of
thought,--so I conceive that work to be the truest representation
of humanity which faithfully delineates both, and opens some
elevating glimpse into the sublimest mysteries of our being, by
establishing the inevitable union that exists between the plain
things of the day, in which our earthly bodies perform their
allotted part, and the latent, often uncultivated, often
invisible, affinities of the soul with all the powers that
eternally breathe and move throughout the Universe of Spirit.
I refer those who do me the honour to read "Zanoni" with more
attention than is given to ordinary romance, to the Poem of "King
Arthur," for suggestive conjecture into most of the regions of
speculative research, affecting the higher and more important
condition of our ultimate being, which have engaged the students
of immaterial philosophy in my own age.
Affixed to the "Note" with which this work concludes, and which
treats of the distinctions between type and allegory, the reader
will find, from the pen of one of our most eminent living
writers, an ingenious attempt to explain the interior or typical
meanings of the work now before him.
It is possible that among my readers there may be a few not
unacquainted with an old-book shop, existing some years since in
the neighbourhood of Covent Garden; I say a few, for certainly
there was little enough to attract the many in those precious
volumes which the labour of a life had accumulated on the dusty
shelves of my old friend D--. There were to be found no popular
treatises, no entertaining romances, no histories, no travels, no
"Library for the People," no "Amusement for the Million." But
there, perhaps, throughout all Europe, the curious might discover
the most notable collection, ever amassed by an enthusiast, of
the works of alchemist, cabalist, and astrologer. The owner had
lavished a fortune in the purchase of unsalable treasures. But
old D-- did not desire to sell. It absolutely went to his heart
when a customer entered his shop: he watched the movements of
the presumptuous intruder with a vindictive glare; he fluttered
around him with uneasy vigilance,--he frowned, he groaned, when
profane hands dislodged his idols from their niches. If it were
one of the favourite sultanas of his wizard harem that attracted
you, and the price named were not sufficiently enormous, he would
not unfrequently double the sum. Demur, and in brisk delight he
snatched the venerable charmer from your hands; accede, and he
became the picture of despair,--nor unfrequently, at the dead of
night, would he knock at your door, and entreat you to sell him
back, at your own terms, what you had so egregiously bought at
his. A believer himself in his Averroes and Paracelsus, he was
as loth as the philosophers he studied to communicate to the
profane the learning he had collected.
It so chanced that some years ago, in my younger days, whether of
authorship or life, I felt a desire to make myself acquainted
with the true origin and tenets of the singular sect known by the
name of Rosicrucians. Dissatisfied with the scanty and
superficial accounts to be found in the works usually referred to
on the subject, it struck me as possible that Mr. D--'s
collection, which was rich, not only in black-letter, but in
manuscripts, might contain some more accurate and authentic
records of that famous brotherhood,--written, who knows? by one
of their own order, and confirming by authority and detail the
pretensions to wisdom and to virtue which Bringaret had arrogated
to the successors of the Chaldean and Gymnosophist. Accordingly
I repaired to what, doubtless, I ought to be ashamed to confess,
was once one of my favourite haunts. But are there no errors and
no fallacies, in the chronicles of our own day, as absurd as
those of the alchemists of old? Our very newspapers may seem to
our posterity as full of delusions as the books of the alchemists
do to us; not but what the press is the air we breathe,--and
uncommonly foggy the air is too!
On entering the shop, I was struck by the venerable appearance of
a customer whom I had never seen there before. I was struck yet
more by the respect with which he was treated by the disdainful
collector. "Sir," cried the last, emphatically, as I was turning
over the leaves of the catalogue,--"sir, you are the only man I
have met, in five-and-forty years that I have spent in these
researches, who is worthy to be my customer. How--where, in this
frivolous age, could you have acquired a knowledge so profound?
And this august fraternity, whose doctrines, hinted at by the
earliest philosophers, are still a mystery to the latest; tell me
if there really exists upon the earth any book, any manuscript,
in which their discoveries, their tenets, are to be learned?"
At the words, "august fraternity," I need scarcely say that my
attention had been at once aroused, and I listened eagerly for
the stranger's reply.
"I do not think," said the old gentleman, "that the masters of
the school have ever consigned, except by obscure hint and
mystical parable, their real doctrines to the world. And I do
not blame them for their discretion."
Here he paused, and seemed about to retire, when I said, somewhat
abruptly, to the collector, "I see nothing, Mr. D--, in this
catalogue which relates to the Rosicrucians!"
"The Rosicrucians!" repeated the old gentleman, and in his turn
he surveyed me with deliberate surprise. "Who but a Rosicrucian
could explain the Rosicrucian mysteries! And can you imagine
that any members of that sect, the most jealous of all secret
societies, would themselves lift the veil that hides the Isis of
their wisdom from the world?"
"Aha!" thought I, "this, then, is 'the august fraternity' of
which you spoke. Heaven be praised! I certainly have stumbled
on one of the brotherhood."
"But," I said aloud, "if not in books, sir, where else am I to
obtain information? Nowadays one can hazard nothing in print
without authority, and one may scarcely quote Shakespeare without
citing chapter and verse. This is the age of facts,--the age of
"Well," said the old gentleman, with a pleasant smile, "if we
meet again, perhaps, at least, I may direct your researches to
the proper source of intelligence." And with that he buttoned
his greatcoat, whistled to his dog, and departed.
It so happened that I did meet again with the old gentleman,
exactly four days after our brief conversation in Mr. D--'s book-
shop. I was riding leisurely towards Highgate, when, at the foot
of its classic hill, I recognised the stranger; he was mounted on
a black pony, and before him trotted his dog, which was black
If you meet the man whom you wish to know, on horseback, at the
commencement of a long hill, where, unless he has borrowed a
friend's favourite hack, he cannot, in decent humanity to the
brute creation, ride away from you, I apprehend that it is your
own fault if you have not gone far in your object before you have
gained the top. In short, so well did I succeed, that on
reaching Highgate the old gentleman invited me to rest at his
house, which was a little apart from the village; and an
excellent house it was,--small, but commodious, with a large
garden, and commanding from the windows such a prospect as
Lucretius would recommend to philosophers: the spires and domes
of London, on a clear day, distinctly visible; here the Retreat
of the Hermit, and there the Mare Magnum of the world.
The walls of the principal rooms were embellished with pictures
of extraordinary merit, and in that high school of art which is
so little understood out of Italy. I was surprised to learn that
they were all from the hand of the owner. My evident admiration
pleased my new friend, and led to talk upon his part, which
showed him no less elevated in his theories of art than an adept
in the practice. Without fatiguing the reader with irrelevant
criticism, it is necessary, perhaps, as elucidating much of the
design and character of the work which these prefatory pages
introduce, that I should briefly observe, that he insisted as
much upon the connection of the arts, as a distinguished author
has upon that of the sciences; that he held that in all works of
imagination, whether expressed by words or by colours, the artist
of the higher schools must make the broadest distinction between
the real and the true,--in other words, between the imitation of
actual life, and the exaltation of Nature into the Ideal.
"The one," said he, "is the Dutch School, the other is the
"Sir," said I, "the Dutch is the most in fashion."
"Yes, in painting, perhaps," answered my host, "but in
"It was of literature I spoke. Our growing poets are all for
simplicity and Betty Foy; and our critics hold it the highest
praise of a work of imagination, to say that its characters are
exact to common life, even in sculpture--"
"In sculpture! No, no! THERE the high ideal must at least be
"Pardon me; I fear you have not seen Souter Johnny and Tam
"Ah!" said the old gentleman, shaking his head, "I live very much
out of the world, I see. I suppose Shakespeare has ceased to be
"On the contrary; people make the adoration of Shakespeare the
excuse for attacking everybody else. But then our critics have
discovered that Shakespeare is so REAL!"
"Real! The poet who has never once drawn a character to be met
with in actual life,--who has never once descended to a passion
that is false, or a personage who is real!"
I was about to reply very severely to this paradox, when I
perceived that my companion was growing a little out of temper.
And he who wishes to catch a Rosicrucian, must take care not to
disturb the waters. I thought it better, therefore, to turn the
"Revenons a nos moutons," said I; "you promised to enlighten my
ignorance as to the Rosicrucians."
"Well!" quoth he, rather sternly; "but for what purpose? Perhaps
you desire only to enter the temple in order to ridicule the
"What do you take me for! Surely, were I so inclined, the fate
of the Abbe de Villars is a sufficient warning to all men not to
treat idly of the realms of the Salamander and the Sylph.
Everybody knows how mysteriously that ingenious personage was
deprived of his life, in revenge for the witty mockeries of his
'Comte de Gabalis.'"
"Salamander and Sylph! I see that you fall into the vulgar
error, and translate literally the allegorical language of the
With that the old gentleman condescended to enter into a very
interesting, and, as it seemed to me, a very erudite relation, of
the tenets of the Rosicrucians, some of whom, he asserted, still
existed, and still prosecuted, in august secrecy, their profound
researches into natural science and occult philosophy.
"But this fraternity," said he, "however respectable and
virtuous,--virtuous I say, for no monastic order is more severe
in the practice of moral precepts, or more ardent in Christian
faith,--this fraternity is but a branch of others yet more
transcendent in the powers they have obtained, and yet more
illustrious in their origin. Are you acquainted with the
"I have occasionally lost my way in their labyrinth," said I.
"Faith, they are rather difficult gentlemen to understand."
"Yet their knottiest problems have never yet been published.
Their sublimest works are in manuscript, and constitute the
initiatory learning, not only of the Rosicrucians, but of the
nobler brotherhoods I have referred to. More solemn and sublime
still is the knowledge to be gleaned from the elder Pythagoreans,
and the immortal masterpieces of Apollonius."
"Apollonius, the imposter of Tyanea! are his writings extant?"
"Imposter!" cried my host; "Apollonius an imposter!"
"I beg your pardon; I did not know he was a friend of yours; and
if you vouch for his character, I will believe him to have been a
very respectable man, who only spoke the truth when he boasted of
his power to be in two places at the same time."
"Is that so difficult?" said the old gentleman; "if so, you have
Here ended our conversation; but from that time an acquaintance
was formed between us which lasted till my venerable friend
departed this life. Peace to his ashes! He was a person of
singular habits and eccentric opinions; but the chief part of his
time was occupied in acts of quiet and unostentatious goodness.
He was an enthusiast in the duties of the Samaritan; and as his
virtues were softened by the gentlest charity, so his hopes were
based upon the devoutest belief. He never conversed upon his own
origin and history, nor have I ever been able to penetrate the
darkness in which they were concealed. He seemed to have seen
much of the world, and to have been an eye-witness of the first
French Revolution, a subject upon which he was equally eloquent
and instructive. At the same time he did not regard the crimes
of that stormy period with the philosophical leniency with which
enlightened writers (their heads safe upon their shoulders) are,
in the present day, inclined to treat the massacres of the past:
he spoke not as a student who had read and reasoned, but as a man
who had seen and suffered. The old gentleman seemed alone in the
world; nor did I know that he had one relation, till his
executor, a distant cousin, residing abroad, informed me of the
very handsome legacy which my poor friend had bequeathed me.
This consisted, first, of a sum about which I think it best to be
guarded, foreseeing the possibility of a new tax upon real and
funded property; and, secondly, of certain precious manuscripts,
to which the following volumes owe their existence.
I imagine I trace this latter bequest to a visit I paid the Sage,
if so I may be permitted to call him, a few weeks before his
Although he read little of our modern literature, my friend, with
the affable good-nature which belonged to him, graciously
permitted me to consult him upon various literary undertakings
meditated by the desultory ambition of a young and inexperienced
student. And at that time I sought his advice upon a work of
imagination, intended to depict the effects of enthusiasm upon
different modifications of character. He listened to my
conception, which was sufficiently trite and prosaic, with his
usual patience; and then, thoughtfully turning to his
bookshelves, took down an old volume, and read to me, first, in
Greek, and secondly, in English, some extracts to the following
"Plato here expresses four kinds of mania, by which I desire to
understand enthusiasm and the inspiration of the gods: Firstly,
the musical; secondly, the telestic or mystic; thirdly, the
prophetic; and fourthly, that which belongs to love."
The author he quoted, after contending that there is something in
the soul above intellect, and stating that there are in our
nature distinct energies,--by the one of which we discover and
seize, as it were, on sciences and theorems with almost intuitive
rapidity, by another, through which high art is accomplished,
like the statues of Phidias,--proceeded to state that
"enthusiasm, in the true acceptation of the word, is, when that
part of the soul which is above intellect is excited to the gods,
and thence derives its inspiration."
The author, then pursuing his comment upon Plato, observes, that
"one of these manias may suffice (especially that which belongs
to love) to lead back the soul to its first divinity and
happiness; but that there is an intimate union with them all; and
that the ordinary progress through which the soul ascends is,
primarily, through the musical; next, through the telestic or
mystic; thirdly, through the prophetic; and lastly, through the
enthusiasm of love."
While with a bewildered understanding and a reluctant attention I
listened to these intricate sublimities, my adviser closed the
volume, and said with complacency, "There is the motto for your
book,--the thesis for your theme."
"Davus sum, non Oedipus," said I, shaking my head,
discontentedly. "All this may be exceedingly fine, but, Heaven
forgive me,--I don't understand a word of it. The mysteries of
your Rosicrucians, and your fraternities, are mere child's play
to the jargon of the Platonists."
"Yet, not till you rightly understand this passage, can you
understand the higher theories of the Rosicrucians, or of the
still nobler fraternities you speak of with so much levity."
"Oh, if that be the case, I give up in despair. Why not, since
you are so well versed in the matter, take the motto for a book
of your own?"
"But if I have already composed a book with that thesis for its
theme, will you prepare it for the public?"
"With the greatest pleasure," said I,--alas, too rashly!
"I shall hold you to your promise," returned the old gentleman,
"and when I am no more, you will receive the manuscripts. From
what you say of the prevailing taste in literature, I cannot
flatter you with the hope that you will gain much by the
undertaking. And I tell you beforehand that you will find it not
a little laborious."
"Is your work a romance?"
"It is a romance, and it is not a romance. It is a truth for
those who can comprehend it, and an extravagance for those who
At last there arrived the manuscripts, with a brief note from my
deceased friend, reminding me of my imprudent promise.
With mournful interest, and yet with eager impatience, I opened
the packet and trimmed my lamp. Conceive my dismay when I found
the whole written in an unintelligible cipher. I present the
reader with a specimen:
(Several strange characters.)
and so on for nine hundred and forty mortal pages in foolscap. I
could scarcely believe my eyes: in fact, I began to think the
lamp burned singularly blue; and sundry misgivings as to the
unhallowed nature of the characters I had so unwittingly opened
upon, coupled with the strange hints and mystical language of the
old gentleman, crept through my disordered imagination.
Certainly, to say no worse of it, the whole thing looked UNCANNY!
I was about, precipitately, to hurry the papers into my desk,
with a pious determination to have nothing more to do with them,
when my eye fell upon a book, neatly bound in blue morocco, and
which, in my eagerness, I had hitherto overlooked. I opened this
volume with great precaution, not knowing what might jump out,
and--guess my delight--found that it contained a key or
dictionary to the hieroglyphics. Not to weary the reader with an
account of my labours, I am contented with saying that at last I
imagined myself capable of construing the characters, and set to
work in good earnest. Still it was no easy task, and two years
elapsed before I had made much progress. I then, by way of
experiment on the public, obtained the insertion of a few
desultory chapters, in a periodical with which, for a few months,
I had the honour to be connected. They appeared to excite more
curiosity than I had presumed to anticipate; and I renewed, with
better heart, my laborious undertaking. But now a new misfortune
befell me: I found, as I proceeded, that the author had made two
copies of his work, one much more elaborate and detailed than the
other; I had stumbled upon the earlier copy, and had my whole
task to remodel, and the chapters I had written to retranslate.
I may say then, that, exclusive of intervals devoted to more
pressing occupations, my unlucky promise cost me the toil of
several years before I could bring it to adequate fulfilment.
The task was the more difficult, since the style in the original
is written in a kind of rhythmical prose, as if the author
desired that in some degree his work should be regarded as one of
poetical conception and design. To this it was not possible to
do justice, and in the attempt I have doubtless very often need
of the reader's indulgent consideration. My natural respect for
the old gentleman's vagaries, with a muse of equivocal character,
must be my only excuse whenever the language, without luxuriating
into verse, borrows flowers scarcely natural to prose. Truth
compels me also to confess, that, with all my pains, I am by no
means sure that I have invariably given the true meaning of the
cipher; nay, that here and there either a gap in the narrative,
or the sudden assumption of a new cipher, to which no key was
afforded, has obliged me to resort to interpolations of my own,
no doubt easily discernible, but which, I flatter myself, are not
inharmonious to the general design. This confession leads me to
the sentence with which I shall conclude: If, reader, in this
book there be anything that pleases you, it is certainly mine;
but whenever you come to something you dislike,--lay the blame
upon the old gentleman!
London, January, 1842.
N.B.--The notes appended to the text are sometimes by the author,
sometimes by the editor. I have occasionally (but not always)
marked the distinction; where, however, this is omitted, the
ingenuity of the reader will be rarely at fault.
Chi di diverso effeto hanno liquore!
"Ariosto, Orland. Fur." Canto 1.7.
That hold a draught of different effects.)
D' alta belta, ma sua belta non cura:
Di natura, d' amor, de' cieli amici
Le negligenze sue sono artifici.
"Gerusal. Lib.," canto ii. xiv.-xviii.
(She was a virgin of a glorious beauty, but regarded not her
beauty...Negligence itself is art in those favoured by Nature, by
love, and by the heavens.)
At Naples, in the latter half of the last century, a worthy
artist named Gaetano Pisani lived and flourished. He was a
musician of great genius, but not of popular reputation; there
was in all his compositions something capricious and fantastic
which did not please the taste of the Dilettanti of Naples. He
was fond of unfamiliar subjects into which he introduced airs and
symphonies that excited a kind of terror in those who listened.
The names of his pieces will probably suggest their nature. I
find, for instance, among his MSS., these titles: "The Feast of
the Harpies," "The Witches at Benevento," "The Descent of Orpheus
into Hades," "The Evil Eye," "The Eumenides," and many others
that evince a powerful imagination delighting in the fearful and
supernatural, but often relieved by an airy and delicate fancy
with passages of exquisite grace and beauty. It is true that in
the selection of his subjects from ancient fable, Gaetano Pisani
was much more faithful than his contemporaries to the remote
origin and the early genius of Italian Opera.
That descendant, however effeminate, of the ancient union between
Song and Drama, when, after long obscurity and dethronement, it
regained a punier sceptre, though a gaudier purple, by the banks
of the Etrurian Arno, or amidst the lagunes of Venice, had chosen
all its primary inspirations from the unfamiliar and classic
sources of heathen legend; and Pisani's "Descent of Orpheus" was
but a bolder, darker, and more scientific repetition of the
"Euridice" which Jacopi Peri set to music at the august nuptials
of Henry of Navarre and Mary of Medicis.* Still, as I have said,
the style of the Neapolitan musician was not on the whole
pleasing to ears grown nice and euphuistic in the more dulcet
melodies of the day; and faults and extravagances easily
discernible, and often to appearance wilful, served the critics
for an excuse for their distaste. Fortunately, or the poor
musician might have starved, he was not only a composer, but also
an excellent practical performer, especially on the violin, and
by that instrument he earned a decent subsistence as one of the
orchestra at the Great Theatre of San Carlo. Here formal and
appointed tasks necessarily kept his eccentric fancies in
tolerable check, though it is recorded that no less than five
times he had been deposed from his desk for having shocked the
conoscenti, and thrown the whole band into confusion, by
impromptu variations of so frantic and startling a nature that
one might well have imagined that the harpies or witches who
inspired his compositions had clawed hold of his instrument.
The impossibility, however, to find any one of equal excellence
as a performer (that is to say, in his more lucid and orderly
moments) had forced his reinstalment, and he had now, for the
most part, reconciled himself to the narrow sphere of his
appointed adagios or allegros. The audience, too, aware of his
propensity, were quick to perceive the least deviation from the
text; and if he wandered for a moment, which might also be
detected by the eye as well as the ear, in some strange
contortion of visage, and some ominous flourish of his bow, a
gentle and admonitory murmur recalled the musician from his
Elysium or his Tartarus to the sober regions of his desk. Then
he would start as if from a dream, cast a hurried, frightened,
apologetic glance around, and, with a crestfallen, humbled air,
draw his rebellious instrument back to the beaten track of the
glib monotony. But at home he would make himself amends for this
reluctant drudgery. And there, grasping the unhappy violin with
ferocious fingers, he would pour forth, often till the morning
rose, strange, wild measures that would startle the early
fisherman on the shore below with a superstitious awe, and make
him cross himself as if mermaid or sprite had wailed no earthly
music in his ear.
(*Orpheus was the favourite hero of early Italian Opera, or
Lyrical Drama. The Orfeo of Angelo Politiano was produced in
1475. The Orfeo of Monteverde was performed at Venice in 1667.)
This man's appearance was in keeping with the characteristics of
his art. The features were noble and striking, but worn and
haggard, with black, careless locks tangled into a maze of curls,
and a fixed, speculative, dreamy stare in his large and hollow
eyes. All his movements were peculiar, sudden, and abrupt, as
the impulse seized him; and in gliding through the streets, or
along the beach, he was heard laughing and talking to himself.
Withal, he was a harmless, guileless, gentle creature, and would
share his mite with any idle lazzaroni, whom he often paused to
contemplate as they lay lazily basking in the sun. Yet was he
thoroughly unsocial. He formed no friends, flattered no patrons,
resorted to none of the merry-makings so dear to the children of
music and the South. He and his art seemed alone suited to each
other,--both quaint, primitive, unworldly, irregular. You could
not separate the man from his music; it was himself. Without it
he was nothing, a mere machine! WITH it, he was king over worlds
of his own. Poor man, he had little enough in this! At a
manufacturing town in England there is a gravestone on which the
epitaph records "one Claudius Phillips, whose absolute contempt
for riches, and inimitable performance on the violin, made him
the admiration of all that knew him!" Logical conjunction of
opposite eulogies! In proportion, O Genius, to thy contempt for
riches will be thy performance on thy violin!
Gaetano Pisani's talents as a composer had been chiefly exhibited
in music appropriate to this his favourite instrument, of all
unquestionably the most various and royal in its resources and
power over the passions. As Shakespeare among poets is the
Cremona among instruments. Nevertheless, he had composed other
pieces of larger ambition and wider accomplishment, and chief of
these, his precious, his unpurchased, his unpublished, his
unpublishable and imperishable opera of the "Siren." This great
work had been the dream of his boyhood, the mistress of his
manhood; in advancing age "it stood beside him like his youth."
Vainly had he struggled to place it before the world. Even
bland, unjealous Paisiello, Maestro di Capella, shook his gentle
head when the musician favoured him with a specimen of one of his
most thrilling scenas. And yet, Paisiello, though that music
differs from all Durante taught thee to emulate, there may--but
patience, Gaetano Pisani! bide thy time, and keep thy violin in
Strange as it may appear to the fairer reader, this grotesque
personage had yet formed those ties which ordinary mortals are
apt to consider their especial monopoly,--he was married, and had
one child. What is more strange yet, his wife was a daughter of
quiet, sober, unfantastic England: she was much younger than
himself; she was fair and gentle, with a sweet English face; she
had married him from choice, and (will you believe it?) she yet
loved him. How she came to marry him, or how this shy, unsocial,
wayward creature ever ventured to propose, I can only explain by
asking you to look round and explain first to ME how half the
husbands and half the wives you meet ever found a mate! Yet, on
reflection, this union was not so extraordinary after all. The
girl was a natural child of parents too noble ever to own and
claim her. She was brought into Italy to learn the art by which
she was to live, for she had taste and voice; she was a dependant
and harshly treated, and poor Pisani was her master, and his
voice the only one she had heard from her cradle that seemed
without one tone that could scorn or chide. And so--well, is the
rest natural? Natural or not, they married. This young wife
loved her husband; and young and gentle as she was, she might
almost be said to be the protector of the two. From how many
disgraces with the despots of San Carlo and the Conservatorio had
her unknown officious mediation saved him! In how many ailments
--for his frame was weak--had she nursed and tended him! Often,
in the dark nights, she would wait at the theatre with her
lantern to light him and her steady arm to lean on; otherwise, in
his abstract reveries, who knows but the musician would have
walked after his "Siren" into the sea! And then she would so
patiently, perhaps (for in true love there is not always the
finest taste) so DELIGHTEDLY, listen to those storms of eccentric
and fitful melody, and steal him--whispering praises all the way
--from the unwholesome night-watch to rest and sleep!
I said his music was a part of the man, and this gentle creature
seemed a part of the music; it was, in fact, when she sat beside
him that whatever was tender or fairy-like in his motley fantasia
crept into the harmony as by stealth. Doubtless her presence
acted on the music, and shaped and softened it; but, he, who
never examined how or what his inspiration, knew it not. All
that he knew was, that he loved and blessed her. He fancied he
told her so twenty times a day; but he never did, for he was not
of many words, even to his wife. His language was his music,--as
hers, her cares! He was more communicative to his barbiton, as
the learned Mersennus teaches us to call all the varieties of the
great viol family. Certainly barbiton sounds better than fiddle;
and barbiton let it be. He would talk to THAT by the hour
together,--praise it, scold it, coax it, nay (for such is man,
even the most guileless), he had been known to swear at it; but
for that excess he was always penitentially remorseful. And the
barbiton had a tongue of his own, could take his own part, and
when HE also scolded, had much the best of it. He was a noble
fellow, this Violin!--a Tyrolese, the handiwork of the
illustrious Steiner. There was something mysterious in his great
age. How many hands, now dust, had awakened his strings ere he
became the Robin Goodfellow and Familiar of Gaetano Pisani! His
very case was venerable,--beautifully painted, it was said, by
Caracci. An English collector had offered more for the case than
Pisani had ever made by the violin. But Pisani, who cared not if
he had inhabited a cabin himself, was proud of a palace for the
barbiton. His barbiton, it was his elder child! He had another
child, and now we must turn to her.
How shall I describe thee, Viola? Certainly the music had
something to answer for in the advent of that young stranger.
For both in her form and her character you might have traced a
family likeness to that singular and spirit-like life of sound
which night after night threw itself in airy and goblin sport
over the starry seas...Beautiful she was, but of a very uncommon
beauty,--a combination, a harmony of opposite attributes. Her
hair of a gold richer and purer than that which is seen even in
the North; but the eyes, of all the dark, tender, subduing light
of more than Italian--almost of Oriental--splendour. The
complexion exquisitely fair, but never the same,--vivid in one
moment, pale the next. And with the complexion, the expression
also varied; nothing now so sad, and nothing now so joyous.
I grieve to say that what we rightly entitle education was much
neglected for their daughter by this singular pair. To be sure,
neither of them had much knowledge to bestow; and knowledge was
not then the fashion, as it is now. But accident or nature
favoured young Viola. She learned, as of course, her mother's
language with her father's. And she contrived soon to read and
to write; and her mother, who, by the way, was a Roman Catholic,
taught her betimes to pray. But then, to counteract all these
acquisitions, the strange habits of Pisani, and the incessant
watch and care which he required from his wife, often left the
child alone with an old nurse, who, to be sure, loved her dearly,
but who was in no way calculated to instruct her.
Dame Gionetta was every inch Italian and Neapolitan. Her youth
had been all love, and her age was all superstition. She was
garrulous, fond,--a gossip. Now she would prattle to the girl of
cavaliers and princes at her feet, and now she would freeze her
blood with tales and legends, perhaps as old as Greek or Etrurian
fable, of demon and vampire,--of the dances round the great
walnut-tree at Benevento, and the haunting spell of the Evil Eye.
All this helped silently to weave charmed webs over Viola's
imagination that afterthought and later years might labour vainly
to dispel. And all this especially fitted her to hang, with a
fearful joy, upon her father's music. Those visionary strains,
ever struggling to translate into wild and broken sounds the
language of unearthly beings, breathed around her from her birth.
Thus you might have said that her whole mind was full of music;
associations, memories, sensations of pleasure or pain,--all were
mixed up inexplicably with those sounds that now delighted and
now terrified; that greeted her when her eyes opened to the sun,
and woke her trembling on her lonely couch in the darkness of the
night. The legends and tales of Gionetta only served to make the
child better understand the signification of those mysterious
tones; they furnished her with words to the music. It was
natural that the daughter of such a parent should soon evince
some taste in his art. But this developed itself chiefly in the
ear and the voice. She was yet a child when she sang divinely.
A great Cardinal--great alike in the State and the Conservatorio
--heard of her gifts, and sent for her. From that moment her
fate was decided: she was to be the future glory of Naples, the
prima donna of San Carlo.
The Cardinal insisted upon the accomplishment of his own
predictions, and provided her with the most renowned masters. To
inspire her with emulation, his Eminence took her one evening to
his own box: it would be something to see the performance,
something more to hear the applause lavished upon the glittering
signoras she was hereafter to excel! Oh, how gloriously that
life of the stage, that fairy world of music and song, dawned
upon her! It was the only world that seemed to correspond with
her strange childish thoughts. It appeared to her as if, cast
hitherto on a foreign shore, she was brought at last to see the
forms and hear the language of her native land. Beautiful and
true enthusiasm, rich with the promise of genius! Boy or man,
thou wilt never be a poet, if thou hast not felt the ideal, the
romance, the Calypso's isle that opened to thee when for the
first time the magic curtain was drawn aside, and let in the
world of poetry on the world of prose!
And now the initiation was begun. She was to read, to study, to
depict by a gesture, a look, the passions she was to delineate on
the boards; lessons dangerous, in truth, to some, but not to the
pure enthusiasm that comes from art; for the mind that rightly
conceives art is but a mirror which gives back what is cast on
its surface faithfully only--while unsullied. She seized on
nature and truth intuitively. Her recitations became full of
unconscious power; her voice moved the heart to tears, or warmed
it into generous rage. But this arose from that sympathy which
genius ever has, even in its earliest innocence, with whatever
feels, or aspires, or suffers.
It was no premature woman comprehending the love or the jealousy
that the words expressed; her art was one of those strange
secrets which the psychologists may unriddle to us if they
please, and tell us why children of the simplest minds and the
purest hearts are often so acute to distinguish, in the tales you
tell them, or the songs you sing, the difference between the true
art and the false, passion and jargon, Homer and Racine,--echoing
back, from hearts that have not yet felt what they repeat, the
melodious accents of the natural pathos. Apart from her studies,
Viola was a simple, affectionate, but somewhat wayward child,--
wayward, not in temper, for that was sweet and docile; but in her
moods, which, as I before hinted, changed from sad to gay and gay
to sad without an apparent cause. If cause there were, it must
be traced to the early and mysterious influences I have referred
to, when seeking to explain the effect produced on her
imagination by those restless streams of sound that constantly
played around it; for it is noticeable that to those who are much
alive to the effects of music, airs and tunes often come back, in
the commonest pursuits of life, to vex, as it were, and haunt
them. The music, once admitted to the soul, becomes also a sort
of spirit, and never dies. It wanders perturbedly through the
halls and galleries of the memory, and is often heard again,
distinct and living as when it first displaced the wavelets of
the air. Now at times, then, these phantoms of sound floated
back upon her fancy; if gay, to call a smile from every dimple;
if mournful, to throw a shade upon her brow,--to make her cease
from her childishmirth, and sit apart and muse.
Rightly, then, in a typical sense, might this fair creature, so
airy in her shape, so harmonious in her beauty, so unfamiliar in
her ways and thoughts,--rightly might she be called a daughter,
less of the musician than the music, a being for whom you could
imagine that some fate was reserved, less of actual life than the
romance which, to eyes that can see, and hearts that can feel,
glides ever along WITH the actual life, stream by stream, to the
And therefore it seemed not strange that Viola herself, even in
childhood, and yet more as she bloomed into the sweet seriousness
of virgin youth, should fancy her life ordained for a lot,
whether of bliss or woe, that should accord with the romance and
reverie which made the atmosphere she breathed. Frequently she
would climb through the thickets that clothed the neighbouring
grotto of Posilipo,--the mighty work of the old Cimmerians,--and,
seated by the haunted Tomb of Virgil, indulge those visions, the
subtle vagueness of which no poetry can render palpable and
defined; for the Poet that surpasses all who ever sang, is the
heart of dreaming youth! Frequently there, too, beside the
threshold over which the vine-leaves clung, and facing that
dark-blue, waveless sea, she would sit in the autumn noon or
summer twilight, and build her castles in the air. Who doth not
do the same,--not in youth alone, but with the dimmed hopes of
age! It is man's prerogative to dream, the common royalty of
peasant and of king. But those day-dreams of hers were more
habitual, distinct, and solemn than the greater part of us
indulge. They seemed like the Orama of the Greeks,--prophets
Fu stupor, fu vaghezza, fu diletto!
"Gerusal. Lib.," cant. ii. xxi.
("Desire it was, 't was wonder, 't was delight."
Now at last the education is accomplished! Viola is nearly
sixteen. The Cardinal declares that the time is come when the
new name must be inscribed in the Libro d'Oro,--the Golden Book
set apart to the children of Art and Song. Yes, but in what
character?--to whose genius is she to give embodiment and form?
Ah, there is the secret! Rumours go abroad that the
inexhaustible Paisiello, charmed with her performance of his "Nel
cor piu non me sento," and his "Io son Lindoro," will produce
some new masterpiece to introduce the debutante. Others insist
upon it that her forte is the comic, and that Cimarosa is hard at
work at another "Matrimonia Segreto." But in the meanwhile there
is a check in the diplomacy somewhere. The Cardinal is observed
to be out of humour. He has said publicly,--and the words are
portentous,--"The silly girl is as mad as her father; what she
asks is preposterous!" Conference follows conference; the
Cardinal talks to the poor child very solemnly in his closet,--
all in vain. Naples is distracted with curiosity and conjecture.
The lecture ends in a quarrel, and Viola comes home sullen and
pouting: she will not act,--she has renounced the engagement.
Pisani, too inexperienced to be aware of all the dangers of the
stage, had been pleased at the notion that one, at least, of his
name would add celebrity to his art. The girl's perverseness
displeased him. However, he said nothing,--he never scolded in
words, but he took up the faithful barbiton. Oh, faithful
barbiton, how horribly thou didst scold! It screeched, it
gabbled, it moaned, it growled. And Viola's eyes filled with
tears, for she understood that language. She stole to her
mother, and whispered in her ear; and when Pisani turned from his
employment, lo! both mother and daughter were weeping. He looked
at them with a wondering stare; and then, as if he felt he had
been harsh, he flew again to his Familiar. And now you thought
you heard the lullaby which a fairy might sing to some fretful
changeling it had adopted and sought to soothe. Liquid, low,
silvery, streamed the tones beneath the enchanted bow. The most
stubborn grief would have paused to hear; and withal, at times,
out came a wild, merry, ringing note, like a laugh, but not
mortal laughter. It was one of his most successful airs from his
beloved opera,--the Siren in the act of charming the waves and
the winds to sleep. Heaven knows what next would have come, but
his arm was arrested. Viola had thrown herself on his breast,
and kissed him, with happy eyes that smiled through her sunny
hair. At that very moment the door opened,--a message from the
Cardinal. Viola must go to his Eminence at once. Her mother
went with her. All was reconciled and settled; Viola had her
way, and selected her own opera. O ye dull nations of the North,
with your broils and debates,--your bustling lives of the Pnyx
and the Agora!--you cannot guess what a stir throughout musical
Naples was occasioned by the rumour of a new opera and a new
singer. But whose the opera? No cabinet intrigue ever was so
secret. Pisani came back one night from the theatre, evidently
disturbed and irate. Woe to thine ears hadst thou heard the
barbiton that night! They had suspended him from his office,--
they feared that the new opera, and the first debut of his
daughter as prima donna, would be too much for his nerves. And
his variations, his diablerie of sirens and harpies, on such a
night, made a hazard not to be contemplated without awe. To be
set aside, and on the very night that his child, whose melody was
but an emanation of his own, was to perform,--set aside for some
new rival: it was too much for a musician's flesh and blood.
For the first time he spoke in words upon the subject, and
gravely asked--for that question the barbiton, eloquent as it
was, could not express distinctly--what was to be the opera, and
what the part? And Viola as gravely answered that she was
pledged to the Cardinal not to reveal. Pisani said nothing, but
disappeared with the violin; and presently they heard the
Familiar from the house-top (whither, when thoroughly out of
humour, the musician sometimes fled), whining and sighing as if
its heart were broken.
The affections of Pisani were little visible on the surface. He
was not one of those fond, caressing fathers whose children are
ever playing round their knees; his mind and soul were so
thoroughly in his art that domestic life glided by him, seemingly
as if THAT were a dream, and the heart the substantial form and
body of existence. Persons much cultivating an abstract study
are often thus; mathematicians proverbially so. When his servant
ran to the celebrated French philosopher, shrieking, "The house
is on fire, sir!" "Go and tell my wife then, fool!" said the
wise man, settling back to his problems; "do _I_ ever meddle with
domestic affairs?" But what are mathematics to music--music,
that not only composes operas, but plays on the barbiton? Do you
know what the illustrious Giardini said when the tyro asked how
long it would take to learn to play on the violin? Hear, and
despair, ye who would bend the bow to which that of Ulysses was a
plaything, "Twelve hours a day for twenty years together!" Can a
man, then, who plays the barbiton be always playing also with his
little ones? No, Pisani; often, with the keen susceptibility of
childhood, poor Viola had stolen from the room to weep at the
thought that thou didst not love her. And yet, underneath this
outward abstraction of the artist, the natural fondness flowed
all the same; and as she grew up, the dreamer had understood the
dreamer. And now, shut out from all fame himself; to be
forbidden to hail even his daughter's fame!--and that daughter
herself to be in the conspiracy against him! Sharper than the
serpent's tooth was the ingratitude, and sharper than the
serpent's tooth was the wail of the pitying barbiton!
The eventful hour is come. Viola is gone to the theatre,--her
mother with her. The indignant musician remains at home.
Gionetta bursts into the room: my Lord Cardinal's carriage is at
the door,--the Padrone is sent for. He must lay aside his
violin; he must put on his brocade coat and his lace ruffles.
Here they are,--quick, quick! And quick rolls the gilded coach,
and majestic sits the driver, and statelily prance the steeds.
Poor Pisani is lost in a mist of uncomfortable amaze. He arrives
at the theatre; he descends at the great door; he turns round and
round, and looks about him and about: he misses something,--
where is the violin? Alas! his soul, his voice, his self of
self, is left behind! It is but an automaton that the lackeys
conduct up the stairs, through the tier, into the Cardinal's box.
But then, what bursts upon him! Does he dream? The first act
is over (they did not send for him till success seemed no longer
doubtful); the first act has decided all. He feels THAT by the
electric sympathy which ever the one heart has at once with a
vast audience. He feels it by the breathless stillness of that
multitude; he feels it even by the lifted finger of the Cardinal.
He sees his Viola on the stage, radiant in her robes and gems,--
he hears her voice thrilling through the single heart of the
thousands! But the scene, the part, the music! It is his other
child,--his immortal child; the spirit-infant of his soul; his
darling of many years of patient obscurity and pining genius; his
masterpiece; his opera of the Siren!
This, then, was the mystery that had so galled him,--this the
cause of the quarrel with the Cardinal; this the secret not to be
proclaimed till the success was won, and the daughter had united
her father's triumph with her own!
And there she stands, as all souls bow before her,--fairer than
the very Siren he had called from the deeps of melody. Oh, long
and sweet recompense of toil! Where is on earth the rapture like
that which is known to genius when at last it bursts from its
hidden cavern into light and fame!
He did not speak, he did not move; he stood transfixed,
breathless, the tears rolling down his cheeks; only from time to
time his hands still wandered about,--mechanically they sought
for the faithful instrument, why was it not there to share his
At last the curtain fell; but on such a storm and diapason of
applause! Up rose the audience as one man, as with one voice
that dear name was shouted. She came on, trembling, pale, and in
the whole crowd saw but her father's face. The audience followed
those moistened eyes; they recognised with a thrill the
daughter's impulse and her meaning. The good old Cardinal drew
him gently forward. Wild musician, thy daughter has given thee
back more than the life thou gavest!
"My poor violin!" said he, wiping his eyes, "they will never hiss
thee again now!"
Fra si contrarie tempre in ghiaccio e in foco,
In riso e in pianto, e fra paura e speme
"Gerusal. Lib.," cant. iv. xciv.
(Between such contrarious mixtures of ice and fire, laughter and
tears,--fear and hope, the deceiving dame.)
Now notwithstanding the triumph both of the singer and the opera,
there had been one moment in the first act, and, consequently,
BEFORE the arrival of Pisani, when the scale seemed more than
doubtful. It was in a chorus replete with all the peculiarities
of the composer. And when the Maelstrom of Capricci whirled and
foamed, and tore ear and sense through every variety of sound,
the audience simultaneously recognised the hand of Pisani. A
title had been given to the opera which had hitherto prevented
all suspicion of its parentage; and the overture and opening, in
which the music had been regular and sweet, had led the audience
to fancy they detected the genius of their favourite Paisiello.
Long accustomed to ridicule and almost to despise the pretensions
of Pisani as a composer, they now felt as if they had been unduly
cheated into the applause with which they had hailed the overture
and the commencing scenas. An ominous buzz circulated round the
house: the singers, the orchestra,--electrically sensitive to
the impression of the audience,--grew, themselves, agitated and
dismayed, and failed in the energy and precision which could
alone carry off the grotesqueness of the music.
There are always in every theatre many rivals to a new author and
a new performer,--a party impotent while all goes well, but a
dangerous ambush the instant some accident throws into confusion
the march of success. A hiss arose; it was partial, it is true,
but the significant silence of all applause seemed to forebode
the coming moment when the displeasure would grow contagious. It
was the breath that stirred the impending avalanche. At that
critical moment Viola, the Siren queen, emerged for the first
time from her ocean cave. As she came forward to the lamps, the
novelty of her situation, the chilling apathy of the audience,--
which even the sight of so singular a beauty did not at the first
arouse,--the whispers of the malignant singers on the stage, the
glare of the lights, and more--far more than the rest--that
recent hiss, which had reached her in her concealment, all froze
up her faculties and suspended her voice. And, instead of the
grand invocation into which she ought rapidly to have burst, the
regal Siren, retransformed into the trembling girl, stood pale
and mute before the stern, cold array of those countless eyes.
At that instant, and when consciousness itself seemed about to
fail her, as she turned a timid beseeching glance around the
still multitude, she perceived, in a box near the stage, a
countenance which at once, and like magic, produced on her mind
an effect never to be analysed nor forgotten. It was one that
awakened an indistinct, haunting reminiscence, as if she had seen
it in those day-dreams she had been so wont from infancy to
indulge. She could not withdraw her gaze from that face, and as
she gazed, the awe and coldness that had before seized her,
vanished like a mist from before the sun.
In the dark splendour of the eyes that met her own there was
indeed so much of gentle encouragement, of benign and
compassionate admiration,--so much that warmed, and animated, and
nerved,--that any one, actor or orator, who has ever observed the
effect that a single earnest and kindly look in the crowd that is
to be addressed and won, will produce upon his mind, may readily
account for the sudden and inspiriting influence which the eye
and smile of the stranger exercised on the debutante.
And while yet she gazed, and the glow returned to her heart, the
stranger half rose, as if to recall the audience to a sense of
the courtesy due to one so fair and young; and the instant his
voice gave the signal, the audience followed it by a burst of
generous applause. For this stranger himself was a marked
personage, and his recent arrival at Naples had divided with the
new opera the gossip of the city. And then as the applause
ceased, clear, full, and freed from every fetter, like a spirit
from the clay, the Siren's voice poured forth its entrancing
music. From that time Viola forgot the crowd, the hazard, the
whole world,--except the fairy one over with she presided. It
seemed that the stranger's presence only served still more to
heighten that delusion, in which the artist sees no creation
without the circle of his art, she felt as if that serene brow,
and those brilliant eyes, inspired her with powers never known
before: and, as if searching for a language to express the
strange sensations occasioned by his presence, that presence
itself whispered to her the melody and the song.
Only when all was over, and she saw her father and felt his joy,
did this wild spell vanish before the sweeter one of the
household and filial love. Yet again, as she turned from the
stage, she looked back involuntarily, and the stranger's calm and
half-melancholy smile sank into her heart,--to live there, to be
recalled with confused memories, half of pleasure, and half of
Pass over the congratulations of the good Cardinal-Virtuoso,
astonished at finding himself and all Naples had been hitherto in
the wrong on a subject of taste,--still more astonished at
finding himself and all Naples combining to confess it; pass over
the whispered ecstasies of admiration which buzzed in the
singer's ear, as once more, in her modest veil and quiet dress,
she escaped from the crowd of gallants that choked up every
avenue behind the scenes; pass over the sweet embrace of father
and child, returning through the starlit streets and along the
deserted Chiaja in the Cardinal's carriage; never pause now to
note the tears and ejaculations of the good, simple-hearted
mother,--see them returned; see the well-known room, venimus ad
larem nostrum (We come to our own house.); see old Gionetta
bustling at the supper; and hear Pisani, as he rouses the
barbiton from its case, communicating all that has happened to
the intelligent Familiar; hark to the mother's merry, low,
English laugh. Why, Viola, strange child, sittest thou apart,
thy face leaning on thy fair hands, thine eyes fixed on space?
Up, rouse thee! Every dimple on the cheek of home must smile
to-night. ("Ridete quidquid est domi cachinnorum." Catull. "ad
And a happy reunion it was round that humble table: a feast
Lucullus might have envied in his Hall of Apollo, in the dried
grapes, and the dainty sardines, and the luxurious polenta, and
the old lacrima a present from the good Cardinal. The barbiton,
placed on a chair--a tall, high-backed chair--beside the
musician, seemed to take a part in the festive meal. Its honest
varnished face glowed in the light of the lamp; and there was an
impish, sly demureness in its very silence, as its master,
between every mouthful, turned to talk to it of something he had
forgotten to relate before. The good wife looked on
affectionately, and could not eat for joy; but suddenly she rose,
and placed on the artist's temples a laurel wreath, which she had
woven beforehand in fond anticipation; and Viola, on the other
side her brother, the barbiton, rearranged the chaplet, and,
smoothing back her father's hair, whispered, "Caro Padre, you
will not let HIM scold me again!"
Then poor Pisani, rather distracted between the two, and excited
both by the lacrima and his triumph, turned to the younger child
with so naive and grotesque a pride, "I don't know which to thank
the most. You give me so much joy, child,--I am so proud of thee
and myself. But he and I, poor fellow, have been so often
Viola's sleep was broken,--that was natural. The intoxication of
vanity and triumph, the happiness in the happiness she had
caused, all this was better than sleep. But still from all this,
again and again her thoughts flew to those haunting eyes, to that
smile with which forever the memory of the triumph, of the
happiness, was to be united. Her feelings, like her own
character, were strange and peculiar. They were not those of a
girl whose heart, for the first time reached through the eye,
sighs its natural and native language of first love. It was not
so much admiration, though the face that reflected itself on
every wave of her restless fancies was of the rarest order of
majesty and beauty; nor a pleased and enamoured recollection that
the sight of this stranger had bequeathed: it was a human
sentiment of gratitude and delight, mixed with something more
mysterious, of fear and awe. Certainly she had seen before those
features; but when and how? Only when her thoughts had sought to
shape out her future, and when, in spite of all the attempts to
vision forth a fate of flowers and sunshine, a dark and chill
foreboding made her recoil back into her deepest self. It was a
something found that had long been sought for by a thousand
restless yearnings and vague desires, less of the heart than
mind; not as when youth discovers the one to be beloved, but
rather as when the student, long wandering after the clew to some
truth in science, sees it glimmer dimly before him, to beckon, to
recede, to allure, and to wane again. She fell at last into
unquiet slumber, vexed by deformed, fleeting, shapeless phantoms;
and, waking, as the sun, through a veil of hazy cloud, glinted
with a sickly ray across the casement, she heard her father
settled back betimes to his one pursuit, and calling forth from
his Familiar a low mournful strain, like a dirge over the dead.
"And why," she asked, when she descended to the room below,--
"why, my father, was your inspiration so sad, after the joy of
"I know not, child. I meant to be merry, and compose an air in
honour of thee; but he is an obstinate fellow, this,--and he
would have it so."
E cosi i pigri e timidi desiri
"Gerusal. Lib.," cant. iv. lxxxviii.
(And thus the slow and timid passions urged.)
It was the custom of Pisani, except when the duties of his
profession made special demand on his time, to devote a certain
portion of the mid-day to sleep,--a habit not so much a luxury as
a necessity to a man who slept very little during the night. In
fact, whether to compose or to practice, the hours of noon were
precisely those in which Pisani could not have been active if he
would. His genius resembled those fountains full at dawn and
evening, overflowing at night, and perfectly dry at the meridian.
During this time, consecrated by her husband to repose, the
signora generally stole out to make the purchases necessary for
the little household, or to enjoy (as what woman does not?) a
little relaxation in gossip with some of her own sex. And the
day following this brilliant triumph, how many congratulations
would she have to receive!
At these times it was Viola's habit to seat herself without the
door of the house, under an awning which sheltered from the sun
without obstructing the view; and there now, with the prompt-book
on her knee, on which her eye roves listlessly from time to time,
you may behold her, the vine-leaves clustering from their arching
trellis over the door behind, and the lazy white-sailed boats
skimming along the sea that stretched before.
As she thus sat, rather in reverie than thought, a man coming
from the direction of Posilipo, with a slow step and downcast
eyes, passed close by the house, and Viola, looking up abruptly,
started in a kind of terror as she recognised the stranger. She
uttered an involuntary exclamation, and the cavalier turning,
saw, and paused.
He stood a moment or two between her and the sunlit ocean,
contemplating in a silence too serious and gentle for the
boldness of gallantry, the blushing face and the young slight
form before him; at length he spoke.
"Are you happy, my child," he said, in almost a paternal tone,
"at the career that lies before you? From sixteen to thirty, the
music in the breath of applause is sweeter than all the music
your voice can utter!"
"I know not," replied Viola, falteringly, but encouraged by the
liquid softness of the accents that addressed her,--"I know not
whether I am happy now, but I was last night. And I feel, too,
Excellency, that I have you to thank, though, perhaps, you scarce
"You deceive yourself," said the cavalier, with a smile. "I am
aware that I assisted to your merited success, and it is you who
scarce know how. The WHY I will tell you: because I saw in your
heart a nobler ambition than that of the woman's vanity; it was
the daughter that interested me. Perhaps you would rather I
should have admired the singer?"
"No; oh, no!"
"Well, I believe you. And now, since we have thus met, I will
pause to counsel you. When next you go to the theatre, you will
have at your feet all the young gallants of Naples. Poor infant!
the flame that dazzles the eye can scorch the wing. Remember
that the only homage that does not sully must be that which these
gallants will not give thee. And whatever thy dreams of the
future,--and I see, while I speak to thee, how wandering they
are, and wild,--may only those be fulfilled which centre round
the hearth of home."
He paused, as Viola's breast heaved beneath its robe. And with a
burst of natural and innocent emotions, scarcely comprehending,
though an Italian, the grave nature of his advice, she
"Ah, Excellency, you cannot know how dear to me that home is
already. And my father,--there would be no home, signor, without
A deep and melancholy shade settled over the face of the
cavalier. He looked up at the quiet house buried amidst the
vine-leaves, and turned again to the vivid, animated face of the
"It is well," said he. "A simple heart may be its own best
guide, and so, go on, and prosper. Adieu, fair singer."
"Adieu, Excellency; but," and something she could not resist--an
anxious, sickening feeling of fear and hope,--impelled her to the
question, "I shall see you again, shall I not, at San Carlo?"
"Not, at least, for some time. I leave Naples to-day."
"Indeed!" and Viola's heart sank within her; the poetry of the
stage was gone.
"And," said the cavalier, turning back, and gently laying his
hand on hers,--"and, perhaps, before we meet, you may have
suffered: known the first sharp griefs of human life,--known how
little what fame can gain, repays what the heart can lose; but be
brave and yield not,--not even to what may seem the piety of
sorrow. Observe yon tree in your neighbour's garden. Look how
it grows up, crooked and distorted. Some wind scattered the germ
from which it sprang, in the clefts of the rock; choked up and
walled round by crags and buildings, by Nature and man, its life
has been one struggle for the light,--light which makes to that
life the necessity and the principle: you see how it has writhed
and twisted; how, meeting the barrier in one spot, it has
laboured and worked, stem and branches, towards the clear skies
at last. What has preserved it through each disfavour of birth
and circumstances,--why are its leaves as green and fair as those
of the vine behind you, which, with all its arms, can embrace the
open sunshine? My child, because of the very instinct that
impelled the struggle,--because the labour for the light won to
the light at length. So with a gallant heart, through every
adverse accident of sorrow and of fate to turn to the sun, to
strive for the heaven; this it is that gives knowledge to the
strong and happiness to the weak. Ere we meet again, you will
turn sad and heavy eyes to those quiet boughs, and when you hear
the birds sing from them, and see the sunshine come aslant from
crag and housetop to be the playfellow of their leaves, learn the
lesson that Nature teaches you, and strive through darkness to
As he spoke he moved on slowly, and left Viola wondering, silent,
saddened with his dim prophecy of coming evil, and yet, through
sadness, charmed. Involuntarily her eyes followed him,--
involuntarily she stretched forth her arms, as if by a gesture to
call him back; she would have given worlds to have seen him
turn,--to have heard once more his low, calm, silvery voice; to
have felt again the light touch of his hand on hers. As
moonlight that softens into beauty every angle on which it falls,
seemed his presence,--as moonlight vanishes, and things assume
their common aspect of the rugged and the mean, he receded from
her eyes, and the outward scene was commonplace once more.
The stranger passed on, through that long and lovely road which
reaches at last the palaces that face the public gardens, and
conducts to the more populous quarters of the city.
A group of young, dissipated courtiers, loitering by the gateway
of a house which was open for the favourite pastime of the day,--
the resort of the wealthier and more high-born gamesters,--made
way for him, as with a courteous inclination he passed them by.
"Per fede," said one, "is not that the rich Zanoni, of whom the
"Ay; they say his wealth is incalculable!"
"THEY say,--who are THEY?--what is the authority? He has not
been many days at Naples, and I cannot yet find any one who knows
aught of his birthplace, his parentage, or, what is more
important, his estates!"
"That is true; but he arrived in a goodly vessel, which THEY SAY
is his own. See,--no, you cannot see it here; but it rides
yonder in the bay. The bankers he deals with speak with awe of
the sums placed in their hands."
"Whence came he?"
"From some seaport in the East. My valet learned from some of
the sailors on the Mole that he had resided many years in the
interior of India."
"Ah, I am told that in India men pick up gold like pebbles, and
that there are valleys where the birds build their nests with
emeralds to attract the moths. Here comes our prince of
gamesters, Cetoxa; be sure that he already must have made
acquaintance with so wealthy a cavalier; he has that attraction
to gold which the magnet has to steel. Well, Cetoxa, what fresh
news of the ducats of Signor Zanoni?"
"Oh," said Cetoxa, carelessly, "my friend--"
"Ha! ha! hear him; his friend--"
"Yes; my friend Zanoni is going to Rome for a short time; when he
returns, he has promised me to fix a day to sup with me, and I
will then introduce him to you, and to the best society of
Naples! Diavolo! but he is a most agreeable and witty
"Pray tell us how you came so suddenly to be his friend."
"My dear Belgioso, nothing more natural. He desired a box at San
Carlo; but I need not tell you that the expectation of a new
opera (ah, how superb it is,--that poor devil, Pisani; who would
have thought it?) and a new singer (what a face,--what a voice!--
ah!) had engaged every corner of the house. I heard of Zanoni's
desire to honour the talent of Naples, and, with my usual
courtesy to distinguished strangers, I sent to place my box at
his disposal. He accepts it,--I wait on him between the acts; he
is most charming; he invites me to supper. Cospetto, what a
retinue! We sit late,--I tell him all the news of Naples; we
grow bosom friends; he presses on me this diamond before we
part,--is a trifle, he tells me: the jewellers value it at 5000
pistoles!--the merriest evening I have passed these ten years."
The cavaliers crowded round to admire the diamond.
"Signor Count Cetoxa," said one grave-looking sombre man, who had
crossed himself two or three times during the Neapolitan's
narrative, "are you not aware of the strange reports about this
person; and are you not afraid to receive from him a gift which
may carry with it the most fatal consequences? Do you not know
that he is said to be a sorcerer; to possess the mal-occhio;
"Prithee, spare us your antiquated superstitions," interrupted
Cetoxa, contemptuously. "They are out of fashion; nothing now
goes down but scepticism and philosophy. And what, after all, do
these rumours, when sifted, amount to? They have no origin but
this,--a silly old man of eighty-six, quite in his dotage,
solemnly avers that he saw this same Zanoni seventy years ago (he
himself, the narrator, then a mere boy) at Milan; when this very
Zanoni, as you all see, is at least as young as you or I,
"But that," said the grave gentleman,--"THAT is the mystery. Old
Avelli declares that Zanoni does not seem a day older than when
they met at Milan. He says that even then at Milan--mark this--
where, though under another name, this Zanoni appeared in the
same splendour, he was attended also by the same mystery. And
that an old man THERE remembered to have seen him sixty years
before, in Sweden."
"Tush," returned Cetoxa, "the same thing has been said of the
quack Cagliostro,--mere fables. I will believe them when I see
this diamond turn to a wisp of hay. For the rest," he added
gravely, "I consider this illustrious gentleman my friend; and a
whisper against his honour and repute will in future be
equivalent to an affront to myself."
Cetoxa was a redoubted swordsman, and excelled in a peculiarly
awkward manoeuvre, which he himself had added to the variations
of the stoccata. The grave gentleman, however anxious for the
spiritual weal of the count, had an equal regard for his own
corporeal safety. He contented himself with a look of
compassion, and, turning through the gateway, ascended the stairs
to the gaming-tables.
"Ha, ha!" said Cetoxa, laughing, "our good Loredano is envious of
my diamond. Gentlemen, you sup with me to-night. I assure you I
never met a more delightful, sociable, entertaining person, than
my dear friend the Signor Zanoni."
Quello Ippogifo, grande e strano augello
Lo porta via.
"Orlando Furioso," c. vi. xviii.
(That hippogriff, great and marvellous bird, bears him away.)
And now, accompanying this mysterious Zanoni, am I compelled to
bid a short farewell to Naples. Mount behind me,--mount on my
hippogriff, reader; settle yourself at your ease. I bought the
pillion the other day of a poet who loves his comfort; it has
been newly stuffed for your special accommodation. So, so, we
ascend! Look as we ride aloft,--look!--never fear, hippogriffs
never stumble; and every hippogriff in Italy is warranted to
carry elderly gentlemen,--look down on the gliding landscapes!
There, near the ruins of the Oscan's old Atella, rises Aversa,
once the stronghold of the Norman; there gleam the columns of
Capua, above the Vulturnian Stream. Hail to ye, cornfields and
vineyards famous for the old Falernian! Hail to ye, golden
orange-groves of Mola di Gaeta! Hail to ye, sweet shrubs and
wild flowers, omnis copia narium, that clothe the mountain-skirts
of the silent Lautulae! Shall we rest at the Volscian Anxur,--
the modern Terracina,--where the lofty rock stands like the giant
that guards the last borders of the southern land of love? Away,
away! and hold your breath as we flit above the Pontine Marshes.
Dreary and desolate, their miasma is to the gardens we have
passed what the rank commonplace of life is to the heart when it
has left love behind.
Mournful Campagna, thou openest on us in majestic sadness. Rome,
seven-hilled Rome! receive us as Memory receives the way-worn;
receive us in silence, amidst ruins! Where is the traveller we
pursue? Turn the hippogriff loose to graze: he loves the
acanthus that wreathes round yon broken columns. Yes, that is
the arch of Titus, the conqueror of Jerusalem,--that the
Colosseum! Through one passed the triumph of the deified
invader; in one fell the butchered gladiators. Monuments of
murder, how poor the thoughts, how mean the memories ye awaken,
compared with those that speak to the heart of man on the heights
of Phyle, or by thy lone mound, grey Marathon! We stand amidst
weeds and brambles and long waving herbage. Where we stand
reigned Nero,--here were his tessellated floors; here,
"Mighty in the heaven, a second heaven,"
hung the vault of his ivory roofs; here, arch upon arch, pillar
on pillar, glittered to the world the golden palace of its
master,--the Golden House of Nero. How the lizard watches us
with his bright, timorous eye! We disturb his reign. Gather
that wild flower: the Golden House is vanished, but the wild
flower may have kin to those which the stranger's hand scattered
over the tyrant's grave; see, over this soil, the grave of Rome,
Nature strews the wild flowers still!
In the midst of this desolation is an old building of the middle
ages. Here dwells a singular recluse. In the season of the
malaria the native peasant flies the rank vegetation round; but
he, a stranger and a foreigner, no associates, no companions,
except books and instruments of science. He is often seen
wandering over the grass-grown hills, or sauntering through the
streets of the new city, not with the absent brow and incurious
air of students, but with observant piercing eyes that seem to
dive into the hearts of the passers-by. An old man, but not
infirm,--erect and stately, as if in his prime. None know
whether he be rich or poor. He asks no charity, and he gives
none,--he does no evil, and seems to confer no good. He is a man
who appears to have no world beyond himself; but appearances are
deceitful, and Science, as well as Benevolence, lives in the
Universe. This abode, for the first time since thus occupied, a
visitor enters. It is Zanoni.
You observe those two men seated together, conversing earnestly.
Years long and many have flown away since they met last,--at
least, bodily, and face to face. But if they are sages, thought
can meet thought, and spirit spirit, though oceans divide the
forms. Death itself divides not the wise. Thou meetest Plato
when thine eyes moisten over the Phaedo. May Homer live with all
They converse; they confess to each other; they conjure up the
past, and repeople it; but note how differently do such
remembrances affect the two. On Zanoni's face, despite its
habitual calm, the emotions change and go. HE has acted in the
past he surveys; but not a trace of the humanity that
participates in joy and sorrow can be detected on the passionless
visage of his companion; the past, to him, as is now the present,
has been but as Nature to the sage, the volume to the student,--a
calm and spiritual life, a study, a contemplation.
From the past they turn to the future. Ah! at the close of the
last century, the future seemed a thing tangible,--it was woven
up in all men's fears and hopes of the present.
At the verge of that hundred years, Man, the ripest born of Time,
("An des Jahrhunderts Neige,
Der reifste Sohn der Zeit."
stood as at the deathbed of the Old World, and beheld the New
Orb, blood-red amidst cloud and vapour,--uncertain if a comet or
a sun. Behold the icy and profound disdain on the brow of the
old man,--the lofty yet touching sadness that darkens the
glorious countenance of Zanoni. Is it that one views with
contempt the struggle and its issue, and the other with awe or
pity? Wisdom contemplating mankind leads but to the two
results,--compassion or disdain. He who believes in other worlds
can accustom himself to look on this as the naturalist on the
revolutions of an ant-hill, or of a leaf. What is the Earth to
Infinity,--what its duration to the Eternal? Oh, how much
greater is the soul of one man than the vicissitudes of the whole
globe! Child of heaven, and heir of immortality, how from some
star hereafter wilt thou look back on the ant-hill and its
commotions, from Clovis to Robespierre, from Noah to the Final
Fire. The spirit that can contemplate, that lives only in the
intellect, can ascend to its star, even from the midst of the
burial-ground called Earth, and while the sarcophagus called Life
immures in its clay the everlasting!
But thou, Zanoni,--thou hast refused to live ONLY in the
intellect; thou hast not mortified the heart; thy pulse still
beats with the sweet music of mortal passion; thy kind is to thee
still something warmer than an abstraction,--thou wouldst look
upon this Revolution in its cradle, which the storms rock; thou
wouldst see the world while its elements yet struggle through the
Precepteurs ignorans de ce faible univers.--Voltaire.
(Ignorant teachers of this weak world.)
Nous etions a table chez un de nos confreres a l'Academie,
Grand Seigneur et homme d'esprit.--La Harpe.
(We supped with one of our confreres of the Academy,--a great
nobleman and wit.)
One evening, at Paris, several months after the date of our last
chapter, there was a reunion of some of the most eminent wits of
the time, at the house of a personage distinguished alike by
noble birth and liberal accomplishments. Nearly all present were
of the views that were then the mode. For, as came afterwards a
time when nothing was so unpopular as the people, so that was the
time when nothing was so vulgar as aristocracy. The airiest fine
gentleman and the haughtiest noble prated of equality, and lisped
Among the more remarkable guests were Condorcet, then in the
prime of his reputation, the correspondent of the king of
Prussia, the intimate of Voltaire, the member of half the
academies of Europe,--noble by birth, polished in manners,
republican in opinions. There, too, was the venerable
Malesherbes, "l'amour et les delices de la Nation." (The idol
and delight of the nation (so-called by his historian,
Gaillard).) There Jean Silvain Bailly, the accomplished
scholar,--the aspiring politician. It was one of those petits
soupers for which the capital of all social pleasures was so
renowned. The conversation, as might be expected, was literary
and intellectual, enlivened by graceful pleasantry. Many of the
ladies of that ancient and proud noblesse--for the noblesse yet
existed, though its hours were already numbered--added to the
charm of the society; and theirs were the boldest criticisms, and
often the most liberal sentiments.
Vain labour for me--vain labour almost for the grave English
language--to do justice to the sparkling paradoxes that flew from
lip to lip. The favourite theme was the superiority of the
moderns to the ancients. Condorcet on this head was eloquent,
and to some, at least, of his audience, most convincing. That
Voltaire was greater than Homer few there were disposed to deny.
Keen was the ridicule lavished on the dull pedantry which finds
everything ancient necessarily sublime.
"Yet," said the graceful Marquis de --, as the champagne danced
to his glass, "more ridiculous still is the superstition that
finds everything incomprehensible holy! But intelligence
circulates, Condorcet; like water, it finds its level. My
hairdresser said to me this morning, 'Though I am but a poor
fellow, I believe as little as the finest gentleman!'"
"Unquestionably, the great Revolution draws near to its final
completion,--a pas de geant, as Montesquieu said of his own
Then there rushed from all--wit and noble, courtier and
republican--a confused chorus, harmonious only in its
anticipation of the brilliant things to which "the great
Revolution" was to give birth. Here Condrocet is more eloquent
"Il faut absolument que la Superstition et le Fanatisme fassent
place a la Philosophie. (It must necessarily happen that
superstition and fanaticism give place to philosophy.) Kings
persecute persons, priests opinion. Without kings, men must be
safe; and without priests, minds must be free."
"Ah," murmured the marquis, "and as ce cher Diderot has so well
'Et des boyaux du dernier pretre
Serrez le cou du dernier roi.'"
(And throttle the neck of the last king with the string from the
bowels of the last priest.)
"And then," resumed Condorcet,--"then commences the Age of
Reason!--equality in instruction, equality in institutions,
equality in wealth! The great impediments to knowledge are,
first, the want of a common language; and next, the short
duration of existence. But as to the first, when all men are
brothers, why not a universal language? As to the second, the
organic perfectibility of the vegetable world is undisputed, is
Nature less powerful in the nobler existence of thinking man?
The very destruction of the two most active causes of physical
deterioration--here, luxurious wealth; there, abject penury,--
must necessarily prolong the general term of life. (See
Condorcet's posthumous work on the Progress of the Human Mind.--
Ed.) The art of medicine will then be honoured in the place of
war, which is the art of murder: the noblest study of the
acutest minds will be devoted to the discovery and arrest of the
causes of disease. Life, I grant, cannot be made eternal; but it
may be prolonged almost indefinitely. And as the meaner animal
bequeaths its vigour to its offspring, so man shall transmit his
improved organisation, mental and physical, to his sons. Oh,
yes, to such a consummation does our age approach!"
The venerable Malesherbes sighed. Perhaps he feared the
consummation might not come in time for him. The handsome
Marquis de -- and the ladies, yet handsomer than he, looked
conviction and delight.
But two men there were, seated next to each other, who joined not
in the general talk: the one a stranger newly arrived in Paris,
where his wealth, his person, and his accomplishments, had
already made him remarked and courted; the other, an old man,
somewhere about seventy,--the witty and virtuous, brave, and
still light-hearted Cazotte, the author of "Le Diable Amoureux."
These two conversed familiarly, and apart from the rest, and only
by an occasional smile testified their attention to the general
"Yes," said the stranger,--"yes, we have met before."
"I thought I could not forget your countenance; yet I task in
vain my recollections of the past."
"I will assist you. Recall the time when, led by curiosity, or
perhaps the nobler desire of knowledge, you sought initiation
into the mysterious order of Martines de Pasqualis."
(It is so recorded of Cazotte. Of Martines de Pasqualis little
is known; even the country to which he belonged is matter of
conjecture. Equally so the rites, ceremonies, and nature of the
cabalistic order he established. St. Martin was a disciple of
the school, and that, at least, is in its favour; for in spite of
his mysticism, no man more beneficent, generous, pure, and
virtuous than St. Martin adorned the last century. Above all, no
man more distinguished himself from the herd of sceptical
philosophers by the gallantry and fervour with which he combated
materialism, and vindicated the necessity of faith amidst a chaos
of unbelief. It may also be observed, that Cazotte, whatever
else he learned of the brotherhood of Martines, learned nothing
that diminished the excellence of his life and the sincerity of
his religion. At once gentle and brave, he never ceased to
oppose the excesses of the Revolution. To the last, unlike the
Liberals of his time, he was a devout and sincere Christian.
Before his execution, he demanded a pen and paper to write these
words: "Ma femme, mes enfans, ne me pleurez pas; ne m'oubliez
pas, mais souvenez-vous surtout de ne jamais offenser Dieu."
("My wife, my children, weep not for me; forget me not, but
remember above everything never to offend God.)--Ed.)
"Ah, is it possible! You are one of that theurgic brotherhood?"
"Nay, I attended their ceremonies but to see how vainly they
sought to revive the ancient marvels of the cabala."
"Such studies please you? I have shaken off the influence they
once had on my own imagination."
"You have not shaken it off," returned the stranger, bravely; "it
is on you still,--on you at this hour; it beats in your heart; it
kindles in your reason; it will speak in your tongue!"
And then, with a yet lower voice, the stranger continued to
address him, to remind him of certain ceremonies and doctrines,--
to explain and enforce them by references to the actual
experience and history of his listener, which Cazotte thrilled to
find so familiar to a stranger.
Gradually the old man's pleasing and benevolent countenance grew
overcast, and he turned, from time to time, searching, curious,
uneasy glances towards his companion.
The charming Duchesse de G-- archly pointed out to the lively
guests the abstracted air and clouded brow of the poet; and
Condorcet, who liked no one else to be remarked, when he himself
was present, said to Cazotte, "Well, and what do YOU predict of
the Revolution,--how, at least, will it affect us?"
At that question Cazotte started; his cheeks grew pale, large
drops stood on his forehead; his lips writhed; his gay companions
gazed on him in surprise.
"Speak!" whispered the stranger, laying his hand gently upon the
arm of the old wit.
At that word Cazotte's face grew locked and rigid, his eyes dwelt
vacantly on space, and in a low, hollow voice, he thus answered
(The following prophecy (not unfamiliar, perhaps, to some of my
readers), with some slight variations, and at greater length, in
the text of the authority I am about to cite, is to be found in
La Harpe's posthumous works. The MS. is said to exist still in
La Harpe's handwriting, and the story is given on M. Petitot's
authority, volume i. page 62. It is not for me to enquire if
there be doubts of its foundation on fact.--Ed.),--
"You ask how it will affect yourselves,--you, its most learned,
and its least selfish agents. I will answer: you, Marquis de
Condorcet, will die in prison, but not by the hand of the
executioner. In the peaceful happiness of that day, the
philosopher will carry about with him not the elixir but the
"My poor Cazotte," said Condorcet, with his gentle smile, "what
have prisons, executioners, and poison to do with an age of
liberty and brotherhood?"
"It is in the names of Liberty and Brotherhood that the prisons
will reek, and the headsman be glutted."
"You are thinking of priestcraft, not philosophy, Cazotte," said
(Champfort, one of those men of letters who, though misled by the
first fair show of the Revolution, refused to follow the baser
men of action into its horrible excesses, lived to express the
murderous philanthropy of its agents by the best bon mot of the
time. Seeing written on the walls, "Fraternite ou la Mort," he
observed that the sentiment should be translated thus, "Sois mon
frere, ou je te tue." ("Be my brother, or I kill thee.")) "And
what of me?"
"You will open your own veins to escape the fraternity of Cain.
Be comforted; the last drops will not follow the razor. For you,
venerable Malesherbes; for you, Aimar Nicolai; for you, learned
Bailly,--I see them dress the scaffold! And all the while, O
great philosophers, your murderers will have no word but
philosophy on their lips!"
The hush was complete and universal when the pupil of Voltaire--
the prince of the academic sceptics, hot La Harpe--cried with a
sarcastic laugh, "Do not flatter me, O prophet, by exemption from
the fate of my companions. Shall _I_ have no part to play in
this drama of your fantasies."
At this question, Cazotte's countenance lost its unnatural
expression of awe and sternness; the sardonic humour most common
to it came back and played in his brightening eyes.
"Yes, La Harpe, the most wonderful part of all! YOU will
This was too much for the audience that a moment before seemed
grave and thoughtful, and they burst into an immoderate fit of
laughter, while Cazotte, as if exhausted by his predictions, sank
back in his chair, and breathed hard and heavily.
"Nay, said Madame de G--, "you who have predicted such grave
things concerning us, must prophesy something also about