OR, THE FALL OF ROME
by WILKIE COLLINS
In preparing to compose a fiction founded on history, the writer of
these pages thought it no necessary requisite of such a work that the
principal characters appearing in it should be drawn from the historical
personages of the period. On the contrary, he felt that some very
weighty objections attached to this plan of composition. He knew well
that it obliged a writer to add largely from invention to what was
actually known--to fill in with the colouring of romantic fancy the bare
outline of historic fact--and thus to place the novelist's fiction in
what he could not but consider most unfavourable contrast to the
historian's truth. He was further by no means convinced that any story
in which historical characters supplied the main agents, could be
preserved in its fit unity of design and restrained within its due
limits of development, without some falsification or confusion of
historical dates--a species of poetical licence of which he felt no
disposition to avail himself, as it was his main anxiety to make his
plot invariably arise and proceed out of the great events of the era
exactly in the order in which they occurred.
Influenced, therefore, by these considerations, he thought that by
forming all his principal characters from imagination, he should be able
to mould them as he pleased to the main necessities of the story; to
display them, without any impropriety, as influenced in whatever manner
appeared most strikingly interesting by its minor incidents; and
further, to make them, on all occasions, without trammel or hindrance,
the practical exponents of the spirit of the age, of all the various
historical illustrations of the period, which the Author's researches
among conflicting but equally important authorities had enabled him to
garner up, while, at the same time, the appearance of verisimilitude
necessary to an historical romance might, he imagined, be successfully
preserved by the occasional introduction of the living characters of the
era, in those portions of the plot comprising events with which they had
been remarkably connected.
On this plan the recent work has been produced.
To the fictitious characters alone is committed the task of representing
the spirit of the age. The Roman emperor, Honorius, and the Gothic king,
Alaric, mix but little personally in the business of the story--only
appearing in such events, and acting under such circumstances, as the
records of history strictly authorise; but exact truth in respect to
time, place, and circumstance is observed in every historical event
introduced in the plot, from the period of the march of the Gothic
invaders over the Alps to the close of the first barbarian blockade of
CHAPTER 1. GOISVINTHA.
CHAPTER 2. THE COURT.
CHAPTER 3. ROME.
CHAPTER 4. THE CHURCH.
CHAPTER 5. ANTONINA.
CHAPTER 6. AN APPRENTICESHIP TO THE TEMPLE.
CHAPTER 7. THE BED-CHAMBER.
CHAPTER 8. THE GOTHS.
CHAPTER 9. THE TWO INTERVIEWS.
CHAPTER 10. THE RIFT IN THE WALL.
CHAPTER 11. GOISVINTHA'S RETURN.
CHAPTER 12. THE PASSAGE OF THE WALL.
CHAPTER 13. THE HOUSE IN THE SUBURBS.
CHAPTER 14. THE FAMINE.
CHAPTER 15. THE CITY AND THE GODS.
CHAPTER 16. LOVE MEETINGS.
CHAPTER 17. THE HUNS.
CHAPTER 18. THE FARM-HOUSE.
CHAPTER 19. THE GUARDIAN RESTORED.
CHAPTER 20. THE BREACH REPASSED.
CHAPTER 21. FATHER AND CHILD.
CHAPTER 22. THE BANQUET OF FAMINE.
CHAPTER 23. THE LAST EFFORTS OF THE BESIEGED.
CHAPTER 24. THE GRAVE AND THE CAMP.
CHAPTER 25. THE TEMPLE AND THE CHURCH.
CHAPTER 26. RETRIBUTION.
CHAPTER 27. THE VIGIL OF HOPE.
THE CONCLUSION. 'UBI THESAURUS IBI COR.'
CHAPTER 1. GOISVINTHA.
The mountains forming the range of Alps which border on the north-
eastern confines of Italy, were, in the autumn of the year 408, already
furrowed in numerous directions by the tracks of the invading forces of
those northern nations generally comprised under the appellation of
In some places these tracks were denoted on either side by fallen trees,
and occasionally assumed, when half obliterated by the ravages of
storms, the appearance of desolate and irregular marshes. In other
places they were less palpable. Here, the temporary path was entirely
hidden by the incursions of a swollen torrent; there, it was faintly
perceptible in occasional patches of soft ground, or partly traceable by
fragments of abandoned armour, skeletons of horses and men, and remnants
of the rude bridges which had once served for passage across a river or
transit over a precipice.
Among the rocks of the topmost of the range of mountains immediately
overhanging the plains of Italy, and presenting the last barrier to the
exertions of a traveller or the march of an invader, there lay, at the
beginning of the fifth century, a little lake. Bounded on three sides
by precipices, its narrow banks barren of verdure or habitations, and
its dark and stagnant waters brightened but rarely by the presence of
the lively sunlight, this solitary spot--at all times mournful--
presented, on the autumn of the day when our story commences, an aspect
of desolation at once dismal to the eye and oppressive to the heart.
It was near noon; but no sun appeared in the heaven. The dull clouds,
monotonous in colour and form, hid all beauty in the firmament, and shed
heavy darkness on the earth. Dense, stagnant vapours clung to the
mountain summits; from the drooping trees dead leaves and rotten
branches sunk, at intervals, on the oozy soil, or whirled over the
gloomy precipice; and a small steady rain fell, slow and unintermitting,
upon the deserts around. Standing upon the path which armies had once
trodden, and which armies were still destined to tread, and looking
towards the solitary lake, you heard, at first, no sound but the regular
dripping of the rain-drops from rock to rock; you saw no prospect but
the motionless waters at your feet, and the dusky crags which shadowed
them from above. When, however, impressed by the mysterious loneliness
of the place, the eye grew more penetrating and the ear more attentive,
a cavern became apparent in the precipices round the lake; and, in the
intervals of the heavy rain-drops, were faintly perceptible the sounds
of a human voice.
The mouth of the cavern was partly concealed by a large stone, on which
were piled some masses of rotten brushwood, as if for the purpose of
protecting any inhabitant it might contain from the coldness of the
atmosphere without. Placed at the eastward boundary of the lake, this
strange place of refuge commanded a view not only of the rugged path
immediately below it, but of a large plot of level ground at a short
distance to the west, which overhung a second and lower range of rocks.
From this spot might be seen far beneath, on days when the atmosphere
was clear, the olive grounds that clothed the mountain's base, and
beyond, stretching away to the distant horizon, the plains of fated
Italy, whose destiny of defeat and shame was now hastening to its dark
and fearful accomplishment.
The cavern, within, was low and irregular in form. From its rugged
walls the damp oozed forth upon its floor of decayed moss. Lizards and
noisome animals had tenanted its comfortless recesses undisturbed, until
the period we have just described, when their miserable rights were
infringed on for the first time by human intruders.
A woman crouched near the entrance of the place. More within, on the
driest part of the ground, lay a child asleep. Between them were
scattered some withered branches and decayed leaves, which were arranged
as if to form a fire. In many parts this scanty collection of fuel was
slightly blackened; but, wetted as it was by the rain, all efforts to
light it permanently had evidently been fruitless.
The woman's head was bent forwards, and her face, hid in her hands,
rested on her knees. At intervals she muttered to herself in a hoarse,
moaning voice. A portion of her scanty clothing had been removed to
cover the child. What remained on her was composed, partly of skins of
animals, partly of coarse cotton cloth. In many places this miserable
dress was marked with blood, and her long, flaxen hair bore upon its
dishevelled locks the same ominous and repulsive stain.
The child seemed scarcely four years of age, and showed on his pale,
thin face all the peculiarities of his Gothic origin. His features
seemed to have been once beautiful, both in expression and form; but a
deep wound, extending the whole length of his cheek, had now deformed
him for ever. He shivered and trembled in his sleep, and every now and
then mechanically stretched forth his little arms towards the dead cold
branches that were scattered before him.
Suddenly a large stone became detached from the rock in a distant part
of the cavern, and fell noisily to the ground. At this sound he woke
with a scream--raised himself--endeavoured to advance towards the woman,
and staggered backward against the side of the cave. A second wound in
the leg had wreaked that destruction on his vigour which the first had
effected on his beauty. He was a cripple.
At the instant of his awakening the woman had started up. She now
raised him from the ground, and taking some herbs from her bosom,
applied them to his wounded cheek. By this action her dress became
discomposed: it was stiff at the top with coagulated blood, which had
evidently flowed from a cut in her neck.
All her attempts to compose the child were in vain; he moaned and wept
piteously, muttering at intervals his disjointed exclamations of
impatience at the coldness of the place and the agony of his recent
wounds. Speechless and tearless the wretched woman looked vacantly down
on his face. There was little difficulty in discerning from that fixed,
distracted gaze the nature of the tie that bound the mourning woman to
the suffering boy. The expression of rigid and awful despair that
lowered in her fixed, gloomy eyes, the livid paleness that discoloured
her compressed lips, the spasms that shook her firm, commanding form,
mutely expressing in the divine eloquence of human emotion that between
the solitary pair there existed the most intimate of earth's
relationships--the connection of mother and child.
For some time no change occurred in the woman's demeanour. At last, as
if struck by some sudden suspicion, she rose, and clasping the child in
one arm, displaced with the other the brushwood at the entrance of her
place of refuge, cautiously looking forth on all that the mists left
visible of the western landscape. After a short survey she drew back as
if reassured by the unbroken solitude of the place, and turning towards
the lake, looked down upon the black waters at her feet.
'Night has succeeded to night,' she muttered gloomily, 'and has brought
no succour to my body, and no hope to my heart! Mile on mile have I
journeyed, and danger is still behind, and loneliness for ever before.
The shadow of death deepens over the boy; the burden of anguish grows
weightier than I can bear. For me, friends are murdered, defenders are
distant, possessions are lost. The God of the Christian priests has
abandoned us to danger and deserted us in woe. It is for me to end the
struggle for us both. Our last refuge has been in this place--our
sepulchre shall be here as well!'
With one last look at the cold and comfortless sky, she advanced to the
very edge of the lake's precipitous bank. Already the child was raised
in her arms, and her body bent to accomplish successfully the fatal
spring, when a sound in the east--faint, distant, and fugitive--caught
her ear. In an instant her eye brightened, her chest heaved, her cheek
flushed. She exerted the last relics of her wasted strength to gain a
prominent position upon a ledge of the rocks behind her, and waited in
an agony of expectation for a repetition of that magic sound.
In a moment more she heard it again--for the child, stupefied with
terror at the action that had accompanied her determination to plunge
with him into the lake, now kept silence, and she could listen
undisturbed. To unpractised ears the sound that so entranced her would
have been scarcely audible. Even the experienced traveller would have
thought it nothing more than the echo of a fallen stone among the rocks
in the eastward distance. But to her it was no unimportant sound, for
it gave the welcome signal of deliverance and delight.
As the hour wore on, it came nearer and nearer, tossed about by the
sportive echoes, and now clearly betraying that its origin was, as she
had at first divined, the note of the Gothic trumpet. Soon the distant
music ceased, and was succeeded by another sound, low and rumbling, as
of an earthquake afar off or a rising thunderstorm, and changing, ere
long, to a harsh confused noise, like the rustling of a mighty wind
through whole forests of brushwood.
At this instant the woman lost all command over herself; her former
patience and caution deserted her; reckless of danger, she placed the
child upon the ledge on which she had been standing; and, though
trembling in every limb, succeeded in mounting so much higher on the
crag as to gain a fissure near the top of the rock, which commanded an
uninterrupted view of the vast tracts of uneven ground leading in an
easterly direction to the next range of precipices and ravines.
One after another the long minutes glided on, and, though much was still
audible, nothing was yet to be seen. At length the shrill sound of the
trumpet again rang through the dull, misty air, and the next instant the
advance guard of an army of Goths emerged from the distant woods.
Then, after an interval, the multitudes of the main body thronged
through every outlet in the trees, and spread in dusky masses over the
desert ground that lay between the woods and the rocks about the borders
of the lake. The front ranks halted, as if to communicate with the
crowds of the rearguard and the stragglers among the baggage waggons,
who still poured forth, apparently in interminable hosts, from the
concealment of the distant trees. The advanced troops, evidently with
the intention of examining the roads, still marched rapidly on, until
they gained the foot of the ascent leading to the crags to which the
woman still clung, and from which, with eager attention, she still
watched their movements.
Placed in a situation of the extremest peril, her strength was her only
preservative against the danger of slipping from her high and narrow
elevation. Hitherto the moral excitement of expectation had given her
the physical power necessary to maintain her position; but just as the
leaders of the guard arrived at the cavern, her over-wrought energies
suddenly deserted her; her hands relaxed their grasp; she tottered, and
would have sunk backwards to instant destruction, had not the skins
wrapped about her bosom and waist become entangled with a point of one
of the jagged rocks immediately around her. Fortunately--for she could
utter no cry--the troops halted at this instant to enable their horses
to gain breath. Two among them at once perceived her position and
detected her nation. They mounted the rocks; and, while one possessed
himself of the child, the other succeeded in rescuing the mother and
bearing her safely to the ground.
The snorting of horses, the clashing of weapons, the confusion of loud,
rough voices, which now startled the native silence of the solitary
lake, and which would have bewildered and overwhelmed most persons in
the woman's exhausted condition, seemed, on the contrary, to reassure
her feelings and reanimate her powers. She disengaged herself from her
preserver's support, and taking her child in her arms, advanced towards
a man of gigantic stature, whose rich armour sufficiently announced that
his position in the army was one of command.
'I am Goisvintha,' said she, in a firm, calm voice--'sister to
Hermanric. I have escaped from the massacre of the hostages of Aquileia
with one child. Is my brother with the army of the king?'
This declaration produced a marked change in the bystanders. The looks
of indifference or curiosity which they had at first cast on the
fugitive, changed to the liveliest expression of wonder and respect.
The chieftain whom she had addressed raised the visor of his helmet so
as to uncover his face, answered her question in the affirmative, and
ordered two soldiers to conduct her to the temporary encampment of the
main army in the rear. As she turned to depart, an old man advanced,
leaning on his long, heavy sword, and accosted her thus--
'I am Withimer, whose daughter was left hostage with the Romans in
Aquileia. Is she of the slain or of the escaped?'
'Her bones rot under the city walls,' was the answer. 'The Romans made
of her a feast for the dogs.'
No word or tear escaped the old warrior. He turned in the direction of
Italy; but, as he looked downwards towards the plains, his brow lowered,
and his hands tightened mechanically round the hilt of his enormous
The same gloomy question was propounded to Goisvintha by the two men who
guided her to the army that had been asked by their aged comrade. It
received the same terrible answer, which was borne with the same stern
composure, and followed by the same ominous glance in the direction of
Italy, as in the instance of the veteran Withimer.
Leading the horse that carried the exhausted woman with the utmost care,
and yet with wonderful rapidity, down the paths which they had so
recently ascended, the men in a short space of time reached the place
where the army had halted, and displayed to Goisvintha, in all the
majesty of numbers and repose, the vast martial assemblage of the
warriors of the North.
No brightness gleamed from their armour; no banners waved over their
heads; no music sounded among their ranks. Backed by the dreary woods,
which still disgorged unceasing additions to the warlike multitude
already encamped; surrounded by the desolate crags which showed dim,
wild, and majestic through the darkness of the mist; covered with the
dusky clouds which hovered motionless over the barren mountain tops, and
poured their stormy waters on the uncultivated plains--all that the
appearance of the Goths had of solemnity in itself was in awful harmony
with the cold and mournful aspect that the face of Nature had assumed.
Silent--menacing--dark,--the army looked the fit embodiment of its
leader's tremendous purpose--the subjugation of Rome.
Conducting Goisvintha quickly through the front files of warriors, her
guides, pausing at a spot of ground which shelved upwards at right
angles with the main road from the woods, desired her to dismount; and
pointing to the group that occupied the place, said, 'Yonder is Alaric
the king, and with him is Hermanric thy brother.'
At whatever point of view it could have been regarded, the assemblage of
persons thus indicated to Goisvintha must have arrested inattention
itself. Near a confused mass of weapons, scattered on the ground,
reclined a group of warriors apparently listening to the low, muttered
conversation of three men of great age, who rose above them, seated on
pieces of rock, and whose long white hair, rough skin dresses, and lean
tottering forms appeared in strong contrast with the iron-clad and
gigantic figures of their auditors beneath. Above the old men, on the
highroad, was one of Alaric's waggons; and on the heaps of baggage piled
against its clumsy wheels had been chosen resting-place of the future
conqueror of Rome. The top of the vehicle seemed absolutely teeming
with a living burden. Perched in every available nook and corner were
women and children of all ages, and weapons and live stock of all
varieties. Now, a child--lively, mischievous, inquisitive--peered forth
over the head of a battering-ram. Now, a lean, hungry sheep advanced his
inquiring nostrils sadly to the open air, and displayed by the movement
the head of a withered old woman pillowed on his woolly flanks. Here,
appeared a young girl struggling, half entombed in shields. There,
gasped an emaciated camp-follower, nearly suffocated in heaps of furs.
The whole scene, with its background of great woods, drenched in a
vapour of misty rain, with its striking contrasts at one point and its
solemn harmonies at another, presented a vast combination of objects
that either startled or awed--a gloomy conjunction of the menacing and
Bidding Goisvintha wait near the waggon, one of her conductors
approached and motioned aside a young man standing near the king. As
the warrior rose to obey the demand, he displayed, with all the physical
advantages of his race, and ease and elasticity of movement unusual
among the men of his nation. At the instant when he joined the soldier
who had accosted him, his face was partially concealed by an immense
helmet, crowned with a boar's head, the mouth of which, forced open at
death, gaped wide, as if still raging for prey. But the man had
scarcely stated his errand, when he started violently, removed the grim
appendage of war, and hastened bare-headed to the side of the waggon
where Goisvintha awaited his approach.
The instant he was beheld by the woman, she hastened to meet him; placed
the wounded child in his arms, and greeted him with these words:--
'Your brother served in the armies of Rome when our people were at peace
with the Empire. Of his household and his possessions this is all that
the Romans have left!'
She ceased, and for an instant the brother and sister regarded each
other in touching and expressive silence. Though, in addition to the
general characteristics of country, the countenances of the two
naturally bore the more particular evidences of community of blood, all
resemblance between them at this instant--so wonderful is the power of
expression over feature--had utterly vanished. The face and manner of
the young man (he had numbered only twenty years) expressed a deep
sorrow, manly in its stern tranquility, sincere in its perfect innocence
of display. As he looked on the child, his blue eyes--bright, piercing,
and lively--softened like a woman's; his lips, hardly hidden by his
short beard, closed and quivered; and his chest heaved under the armour
that lay upon its noble proportions. There was in this simple,
speechless, tearless melancholy--this exquisite consideration of
triumphant strength for suffering weakness--something almost sublime;
opposed as it was to the emotions of malignity and despair that appeared
in Goisvintha's features. The ferocity that gleamed from her dilated,
glaring eyes, the sinister markings that appeared round her pale and
parted lips, the swelling of the large veins, drawn to their extremest
point of tension on her lofty forehead, so distorted her countenance,
that the brother and sister, as they stood together, seemed in
expression to have changed sexes for the moment. From the warrior came
pity for the sufferer; from the mother, indignation for the offence.
Arousing himself from his melancholy contemplation of the child, and as
yet answering not a word to Goisvintha, Hermanric mounted the waggon,
and placing the last of his sister's offspring in the arms of a decrepid
old woman, who sat brooding over some bundles of herbs spread out upon
her lap, addressed her thus:--
'These wounds are from the Romans. Revive the child, and you shall be
rewarded from the spoils of Rome.'
'Ha! ha! ha!' chuckled the crone; 'Hermanric is an illustrious warrior,
and shall be obeyed. Hermanric is great, for his arm can slay; but
Brunechild is greater than he, for her cunning can cure!'
As if anxious to verify this boast before the warrior's eyes, the old
woman immediately began the preparation of the necessary dressings from
her store of herbs; but Hermanric waited not to be a witness of her
skill. With one final look at the pale, exhausted child, he slowly
descended from the waggon, and approaching Goisvintha, drew her towards
a sheltered position near the ponderous vehicle. Here he seated himself
by her side, prepared to listen with the deepest attention to her
recital of the scenes of terror and suffering through which she had so
'You,' she began, 'born while our nation was at peace; transported from
the field of war to those distant provinces where tranquility still
prevailed; preserved throughout your childhood from the chances of
battle; advanced to the army in your youth, only when its toils are past
and its triumphs are already at hand--you alone have escaped the
miseries of our people, to partake in the glory of their approaching
'Hardly had a year passed since you had been removed from the
settlements of the Goths when I wedded Priulf. The race of triflers to
whom he was then allied, spite of their Roman haughtiness, deferred to
him in their councils, and confessed among their legions that he was
brave. I saw myself with joy the wife of a warrior of renown; I
believed, in my pride, that I was destined to be the mother of a race of
heroes; when suddenly there came news to us that the Emperor Theodosius
was dead. Then followed anarchy among the people of the soil, and
outrages on the liberties of their allies, the Goths. Ere long the call
to arms arose among our nation. Soon our waggons of war were rolled
across the frozen Danube; our soldiers quitted the Roman camp; our
husbandmen took their weapons from their cottage walls; we that were
women prepared with our children to follow our husbands to the field;
and Alaric, the king, came forth as the leader of our hosts.
'We marched upon the territories of the Greeks. But how shall I tell
you of the events of those years of war that followed our invasion; of
the glory of our victories; of the hardships of our defences; of the
miseries of our retreats; of the hunger that we vanquished; of the
diseases that we endured; of the shameful peace that was finally
ratified, against the wishes of our king! How shall I tell of all this,
when my thoughts are on the massacre from which I have just escaped--
when these first evils, though once remembered in anguish, are, even
now, forgotten in the superior horrors that ensued!
'The truce was made. Alaric departed with the remnant of his army, and
encamped at AEmona, on the confines of that land which he had already
invaded, and which he is no prepared to conquer. Between our king and
Stilicho, the general of the Romans, passed many messages, for the
leaders disputed on the terms of the peace that should be finally
ordained. Meanwhile, as an earnest of the Gothic faith, bands of our
warriors, and among them Priulf, were despatched into Italy to be allies
once more of the legions of Rome, and with them they took their wives
and their children, to be detained as hostages in the cities throughout
'I and my children were conducted to Aquileia. In a dwelling within the
city we were lodged with our possessions. It was night when I took
leave of Priulf, my husband, at the gates. I watched him as he departed
with the army, and, when the darkness hid him from my eyes, I re-entered
the town; from which I am the only woman of our nation who has escaped
As she pronounced these last words, Goisvintha's manner, which had
hitherto been calm and collected, began to change: she paused abruptly
in her narrative, her head sunk upon her breast, her frame quivered as
if convulsed with violent agony. When she turned towards Hermanric
after an interval of silence to address him again, the same malignant
expression lowered over her countenance that had appeared on it when she
presented to him her wounded child; her voice became broken, hoarse, and
unfeminine; and pressing closely to the young man's side, she laid her
trembling fingers on his arm, as if to bespeak his most undivided
'Time grew on,' she continued, 'and still there came no tidings that the
peace was finally secured. We, that were hostages, lived separate from
the people of the town; for we felt enmity towards each other even then.
In my captivity there was no employment for me but patience--no pursuit
but hope. Alone with my children, I was wont to look forth over the sea
towards the camp of our king; but day succeeded to day, and his warriors
appeared not on the plains; nor did Priulf return with the legions to
encamp before the gates of the town. So I mourned in my loneliness; for
my heart yearned towards the homes of my people; I longed once more to
look upon my husband's face, and to behold again the ranks of our
warriors, and the majesty of their battle array.
'But already, when the great day of despair was quickly drawing near, a
bitter outrage was preparing for me alone. The men who had hitherto
watched us were changed, and of the number of the new guards was one who
cast on me the eyes of lust. Night after night he poured his entreaties
into my unwilling ear; for, in his vanity and shamelessness, he believed
that I, who was Gothic and the wife of a Goth, might be won by him whose
parentage was but Roman! Soon from prayers he rose to threats; and one
night, appearing before me with smiles, he cried out that Stilicho,
whose desire was to make peace with the Goths, had suffered, for his
devotion to our people, the penalty of death; that a time of ruin was
approaching for us all, and that he alone--whom I despised--could
preserve me from the anger of Rome. As he ceased he approached me; but
I, who had been in many battle-fields, felt no dread at the prospect of
war, and I spurned him with laughter from my presence.
'Then, for a few nights more, my enemy approached me not again. Until
one evening, as I sat on the terrace before the house, with the child
that you have beheld, a helmet-crest suddenly fell at my feet, and a
voice cried to me from the garden beneath: 'Priulf thy husband has been
slain in a quarrel by the soldiers of Rome! Already the legions with
whom he served are on their way to the town; for a massacre of the
hostages is ordained. Speak but the word, and I can save thee even
'I looked on the crest. It was bloody, and it was his! For an instant
my heart writhed within me as I thought on my warrior whom I had loved!
Then, as I heard the messenger of death retire, cursing, from his
lurking-place in the garden, I recollected that now my children had none
but their mother to defend them, and that peril was preparing for them
from the enemies of their race. Besides the little one in my arms, I
had two that were sleeping in the house. As I looked round, bewildered
and in despair, to see if a chance were left us to escape, there rang
through the evening stillness the sound of a trumpet, and the tramp of
armed men was audible in the street beneath. Then, from all quarters of
the town rose, as one sudden sound, the shrieks of women and the yells
of men. Already, as I rushed towards my children's beds, the fiends of
Rome had mounted the stairs, and waved in bloody triumph their reeking
swords! I gained the steps; and, as I looked up, they flung down at me
the body of my youngest child. O Hermanric! Hermanric! it was the most
beautiful and the most beloved! What the priests say that God should be
to us, that, the fairest one of my offspring, was to me! As I saw it
mutilated and dead--I, who but an hour before had hushed it on my bosom
to rest!--my courage forsook me, and when the murderers advanced on me I
staggered and fell. I felt the sword-point enter my neck; I saw the
dagger gleam over the child in my arms; I heard the death-shriek of the
last victim above; and then my senses failed me, and I could listen and
move no more!
'Long must I have lain motionless at the foot of those fatal stairs; for
when I awoke from my trance the noises in the city were hushed, and from
her place in the firmament the moon shone softly into the deserted
house. I listened, to be certain that I was alone with my murdered
children. No sound was in the dwelling; the assassins had departed,
believing that their labour of blood was ended when I fell beneath their
swords; and I was able to crawl forth in security, and to look my last
upon my offspring that the Romans had slain. The child that I held to
my breast still breathed. I stanched with some fragments of my garment
the wounds that he had received, and laying him gently by the stairs--in
the moonlight, so that I might see him when he moved--I groped in the
shadow of the wall for my first murdered and my last born; for that
youngest and fairest one of my offspring whom they had slaughtered
before my eyes! When I touched the corpse, it was wet with blood; I
felt its face, and it was cold beneath my hands; I raised its body in my
arms, and its limbs already were rigid in death! Then I thought of the
eldest child, who lay dead in the chamber above. But my strength was
failing me fast. I had an infant who might yet be preserved; and I knew
that if morning dawned on me in the house, all chances of escape were
lost for ever. So, though my heart was cold within me at leaving my
child's corpse to the mercy of the Romans, I took up the dead and the
wounded one in my arms, and went forth into the garden, and thence
towards the seaward quarter of the town.
'I passed through the forsaken streets. Sometimes I stumbled against
the body of a child--sometimes the moonlight showed me the death-pale
face of some woman of my nation whom I had loved, stretched upward to
the sky; but I still advanced until I gained the wall of the town, and
heard on the other side the waters of the river running onward to the
Port of Aquileia and the sea.
'I looked around. The gates I knew were guarded and closed. By the
wall was the only prospect of escape; but its top was high and its sides
were smooth when I felt them with my hands. Despairing and wearied, I
laid my burdens down where they were hidden by the shade, and walked
forward a few paces, for to remain still was a torment that I could not
endure. At a short distance I saw a soldier sleeping against the wall
of a house. By his side was a ladder placed against the window. As I
looked up I beheld the head of a corpse resting on its top. The victim
must have been lately slain, for her blood still dripped slowly down
into an empty wine-pot that stood within the soldier's reach. When I
saw the ladder, hope revived within me. I removed it to the wall--I
mounted, and laid my dead child on the great stones at its top--I
returned, and placed my wounded boy by the corpse. Slowly, and with
many efforts, I dragged the ladder upwards, until from its own weight
one end fell to the ground on the other side. As I had risen so I
descended. In the sand of the river-bank I scraped a hole, and buried
there the corpse of the infant; for I could carry the weight of two no
longer. Then with my wounded child I reached some caverns that lay
onward near the seashore. There throughout the next day I lay hidden--
alone with my sufferings of body and my affliction of heart--until the
night came on, when I set forth on my journey to the mountains; for I
knew that at Aemona, in the camp of the warriors of my people, lay the
only refuge that was left to me on earth. Feebly and slowly, hiding by
day an d travelling by night, I kept on my way until I gained that lake
among the rocks, where the guards of the army came forward and rescued
me from death.'
She ceased. Throughout the latter portion of her narrative her
demeanour had been calm and sad; and as she dwelt, with the painful
industry of grief, over each minute circumstance connected with the
bereavements she had sustained, her voice softened to those accents of
quiet mournfulness, which make impressive the most simple words, and
render musical the most unsteady tones. It seemed as if those tenderer
and kinder emotions, which the attractions of her offspring had once
generated in her character, had at the bidding of memory become
revivified in her manner while she lingered over the recital of their
deaths. For a brief space of time she looked fixedly and anxiously upon
the countenance of Hermanric, which was half averted from her, and
expressed a fierce and revengeful gloom that sat unnaturally on it noble
lineaments. Then turning from him, she buried her face in her hands,
and made no effort more to attract him to attention or incite him to
This solemn silence kept by the bereaved woman and the brooding man had
lasted but a few minutes, when a harsh, trembling voice was heard from
the top of the waggon, calling at intervals, 'Hermanric! Hermanric!'
At first the young man remained unmoved by those discordant and
repulsive tones. They repeated his name, however, so often and so
perseveringly, that he noticed them ere long; and rising suddenly, as if
impatient of the interruption, advanced towards the side of the waggon
from which the mysterious summons appeared to come.
As he looked up towards the vehicle the voice ceased, and he saw that
the old woman to whom he had confided the child was the person who had
called him so hurriedly but a few moments before. Her tottering body,
clothed in bear-skins, was bent forward over a large triangular shield
of polished brass, on which she leant her lank, shrivelled arms. Her
head shook with a tremulous, palsied action; a leer, half smile, half
grimace, distended her withered lips and lightened her sunken eyes.
Sinister, cringing, repulsive; her face livid with the reflection from
the weapon that was her support, and her figure scarcely human in the
rugged garments that encompassed its gaunt proportions, she seemed a
deformity set up by evil spirits to mock the majesty of the human form--
an embodied satire on all that is most deplorable in infirmity and most
disgusting in age.
The instant she discerned Hermanric, she stretched her body out still
farther over the shield; and pointing to the interior of the waggon,
muttered softly that one fearful and expressive word--dead!
Without waiting for any further explanation, the young Goth mounted the
vehicle, and gaining the old woman's side, saw stretched on her
collection of herbs--beautiful in the sublime and melancholy stillness
of death--the corpse of Goisvintha's last child.
'Is Hermanric wroth?' whined the hag, quailing before the steady,
rebuking glance of the young man. 'When I said that Brunechild was
greater than Hermanric, I lied. It is Hermanric that is most powerful!
See, the dressings were placed on the wounds; and, though the child has
died, shall not the treasures that were promised me be mine? I have
done what I could, but my cunning begins to desert me, for I am old--
old--old! I have seen my generation pass away! Aha! I am old,
Hermanric, I am old!'
When the young warrior looked on the child, he saw that the hag had
spoken truth, and that the victim had died from no fault of hers. Pale
and serene, the countenance of the boy showed how tranquil had been his
death. The dressings had been skilfully composed and carefully applied
to his wounds, but suffering and privation had annihilated the
feebleness of human resistance in their march toward the last dread
goal, and the treachery of Imperial Rome had once more triumphed as was
its wont, and triumphed over a child!
As Hermanric descended with the corpse Goisvintha was the first object
that met his eyes when he alighted on the ground. The mother received
from him the lifeless burden without an exclamation or a tear. That
emanation from her former and kinder self which had been produced by the
closing recital of her sufferings was henceforth, at the signal of her
last child's death, extinguished in her for ever!
'His wounds had crippled him,' said the young man gloomily. 'He could
never have fought with the warriors! Our ancestors slew themselves when
they were no longer vigorous for the fight. It is better that he has
'Vengeance!' gasped Goisvintha, pressing up closely to his side. 'We
will have vengeance for the massacre of Aquileia! When blood is
streaming in the palaces of Rome, remember my murdered children, and
hasten not to sheathe thy sword!'
At this instant, as if to rouse still further the fierce determination
that appeared already in the face of the young Goth, the voice of Alaric
was heard commanding the army to advance. Hermanric started, and drew
the panting woman after him to the resting-place of the king. There,
armed at all points, and rising, by his superior stature, high above the
throng around him, stood the dreaded captain of the Gothic hosts. His
helmet was raised so as to display his clear blue eyes gleaming over the
multitude around him; he pointed with his sword in the direction of
Italy; and as rank by rank the men started to their arms, and prepared
exultingly for the march, his lips parted with a smile of triumph, and
ere he moved to accompany them he spoke thus:--
'Warriors of the Goths, our halt is a short one among the mountains; but
let not the weary repine, for the glorious resting-place that awaits our
labours is the city of Rome! The curse of Odin, when in the infancy of
our nation he retire before the myriads of the Empire, it is our
privilege to fulfil! That future destruction which he denounced against
Rome, it is ours to effect! Remember your hostages that the Romans have
slain; your possessions that the Romans have seized; your trust that the
Romans have betrayed! Remember that I, your king, have within me that
supernatural impulse which never deceives, and which calls to me in a
voice of encouragement--Advance, and the Empire is thine! Assemble the
warriors, and the City of the World shall be delivered to the conquering
Goths! Let us onward without delay! Our prey awaits us! Our triumph is
near! Our vengeance is at hand!'
He paused; and at that moment the trumpet gave signal for the march.
'Up! up!' cried Hermanric, seizing Goisvintha by the arm, and pointing
to the waggon which had already begun to move; 'make ready for the
journey! I will charge myself with the burial of the child. Yet a few
days and our encampment may be before Aquileia. Be patient, and I will
avenge thee in the palaces of Rome!'
The mighty mass moved. The multitude stretched forth over the barren
ground; and even now the warriors in front of the army might be seen by
those in the rear mounting the last range of passes that lay between the
plains of Italy and the Goths.
CHAPTER 2. THE COURT.
The traveller who so far departs from the ordinary track of tourists in
modern Italy as to visit the city of Ravenna, remembers with
astonishment, as he treads its silent and melancholy streets, and
beholds vineyards and marshes spread over an extent of four miles
between the Adriatic and the town, that this place, now half deserted,
was once the most populous of Roman fortresses; and that where fields
and woods now present themselves to his eyes the fleets of the Empire
once rode securely at anchor, and the merchant of Rome disembarked his
precious cargoes at his warehouse door.
As the power of Rome declined, the Adriatic, by a strange fatality,
began to desert the fortress whose defence it had hitherto secured.
Coeval with the gradual degeneracy of the people was the gradual
withdrawal of the ocean from the city walls; until, at the beginning of
the sixth century, a grove of pines already appeared where the port of
Augustus once existed.
At the period of our story--though the sea had even then receded
perceptibly--the ditches round the walls were yet filled, and the canals
still ran through the city in much the same manner as they intersect
Venice at the present time.
On the morning that we are about to describe, the autumn had advanced
some days since the events mentioned in the preceding chapter. Although
the sun was now high in the eastern horizon, the restlessness produced
by the heat emboldened a few idlers of Ravenna to brave the sultriness
of the atmosphere, in the vain hope of being greeted by a breeze from
the Adriatic as they mounted the seaward ramparts of the town. On
attaining their destined elevation, these sanguine citizens turned their
faces with fruitless and despairing industry towards every point of the
compass, but no breath of air came to reward their perseverance. Nothing
could be more thoroughly suggestive of the undiminished universality of
the heat than the view, in every direction, from the position they then
occupied. The stone houses of the city behind them glowed with a vivid
brightness overpowering to the strongest eyes. The light curtains hung
motionless over the lonely windows. No shadows varied the brilliant
monotony of the walls, or softened the lively glitter on the waters of
the fountains beneath. Not a ripple stirred the surface of the broad
channel, that now replaced the ancient harbour. Not a breath of wind
unfolded the scorching sails of the deserted vessels at the quay. Over
the marshes in the distance hung a hot, quivering mist; and in the
vineyards, near the town, not a leaf waved upon its slender stem. On
the seaward side lay, vast and level, the prospect of the burning sand;
and beyond it the main ocean--waveless, torpid, and suffused in a flood
of fierce brightness--stretched out to the cloudless horizon that closed
the sunbright view.
Within the town, in those streets where the tall houses cast a deep
shadow on the flagstones of the road, the figures of a few slaves might
here and there be seen sleeping against the walls, or gossiping
languidly on the faults of their respective lords. Sometimes an old
beggar might be observed hunting on the well-stocked preserves of his
own body the lively vermin of the South. Sometimes a restless child
crawled from a doorstep to paddle in the stagnant waters of a kennel;
but, with the exception of these doubtful evidences of human industry,
the prevailing characteristic of the few groups of the lowest orders of
the people which appeared in the streets was the most listless and utter
indolence. All that gave splendour to the city at other hours of the
day was at this period hidden from the eye. The elegant courtiers
reclined in their lofty chambers; the guards on duty ensconced
themselves in angles of walls and recesses of porticoes; the graceful
ladies slumbered on perfumed couches in darkened rooms; the gilded
chariots were shut into the carriage-houses; the prancing horses were
confined in the stables; and even the wares in the market-places were
removed from exposure to the sun. It was clear that the luxurious
inhabitants of Ravenna recognised no duties of sufficient importance,
and no pleasures of sufficient attraction, to necessitate the exposure
of their susceptible bodies to the noontide heat.
To give the reader some idea of the manner in which the indolent
patricians of the Court loitered away their noon, and to satisfy, at the
same time, the exigencies attaching to the conduct of this story, it is
requisite to quit the lounging-places of the plebeians in the streets
for the couches of the nobles in the Emperor's palace.
Passing through the massive entrance gates, crossing the vast hall of
the Imperial abode, with its statues, its marbles, and its guards in
attendance, and thence ascending the noble staircase, the first object
that might on this occasion have attracted the observer, when he gained
the approaches to the private apartments, was a door at an extremity of
the corridor, richly carved and standing half open. At this spot were
grouped some fifteen or twenty individuals, who conversed by signs, and
maintained in all their movements the most decorous and complete
silence. Sometimes one of the party stole on tiptoe to the door, and
looked cautiously through, returning almost instantaneously, and
expressing to his next neighbour, by various grimaces, his immense
interest in the sight he had just beheld. Occasionally there came from
this mysterious chamber sounds resembling the cackling of poultry,
varied now and then by a noise like the falling of a shower of small,
light substances upon a hard floor. Whenever these sounds were audible,
the members of the party outside the door looked round upon each other
and smiled--some sarcastically, some triumphantly. A few among these
patient expectants grasped rolls of vellum in their hands; the rest held
nosegays of rare flowers, or supported in their arms small statues and
pictures in mosaic. Of their number, some were painters and poets, some
orators and philosophers, and some statuaries and musicians. Among such
a motley assemblage of professions, remarkable in all ages of the world
for fostering in their votaries the vice of irritability, it may seem
strange that so quiet and orderly a behaviour should exist as that just
described. But it is to be observed that in attending at the palace,
these men of genius made sure at least of outward unanimity among their
ranks, by coming equally prepared with one accomplishment, and equally
animated by one hope: they waited to employ a common agent--flattery; to
attain a common end--gain.
The chamber thus sacred, even from the intrusion of intellectual
inspiration, although richly ornamented, was of no remarkable extent.
At other times the eye might have wandered with delight on the exquisite
plants and flowers, scattered profusely over a noble terrace, to which a
second door in the apartment conducted; but, at the present moment, the
employment of the occupant of the room was of so extraordinary a nature,
that the most attentive observation must have missed all the inferior
characteristics of the place, to settle immediately on its inhabitant
In the midst of a large flock of poultry, which seemed strangely
misplaced on a floor of marble and under a gilded roof, stood a pale,
thin, debilitated youth, magnificently clothed, and holding in his hand
a silver vase filled with grain, which he ever and anon distributed to
the cackling multitude at his feet. Nothing could be more pitiably
effeminate than the appearance of this young man. His eyes were heavy
and vacant, his forehead low and retiring, his cheeks sallow, and his
form curved as if with a premature old age. An unmeaning smile dilated
his thin, colourless lips; and as he looked down on his strange
favourites, he occasionally whispered to them a few broken expressions
of endearment, almost infantine in their simplicity. His whole soul
seemed to be engrossed by the labour of distributing his grain, and he
followed the different movements of the poultry with an earnestness of
attention which seemed almost idiotic in its ridiculous intensity. If
it be asked, why a person so contemptible as this solitary youth has
been introduced with so much care, and described with so much
minuteness, it must be answered, that, though destined to form no
important figure in this work, he played, from his position, a
remarkable part in the great drama on which it is founded--for this
feeder of chickens was no less a person than Honorius, Emperor of Rome.
It is the very imbecility of this man, at such a time as that we now
write on, which invests his character with a fearful interest in the eye
of posterity. In himself the impersonation of the meanest vices
inherent in the vicious civilisation of his period, to his feebleness
was accorded the terrible responsibility of liberating the long-prisoned
storm whose elements we have attempted to describe in the preceding
chapter. With just intellect enough to be capricious, and just
determination enough to be mischievous, he was an instrument fitted for
the uses of every ambitious villain who could succeed in gaining his
ear. To flatter his puerile tyranny, the infatuated intriguers of the
Court rewarded the heroic Stilicho for the rescue of his country with
the penalty of death, and defrauded Alaric of the moderate concessions
that they had solemnly pledged themselves to perform. To gratify his
vanity, he was paraded in triumph through the streets of Rome for a
victory that others had gained. To pander to his arrogance, by an
exhibition of the vilest privilege of that power which had been
intrusted to him for good, the massacre of the helpless hostages,
confided by Gothic honour to Roman treachery, was unhesitatingly
ordained; and, finally, to soothe the turbulence of his unmanly fears,
the last act of his unscrupulous councillors, ere the Empire fell, was
to authorise his abandoning his people in the hour of peril, careless
who suffered in defenceless Rome, while he was secure in fortified
Ravenna. Such was the man under whom the mightiest of the world's
structures was doomed to totter to its fall! Such was the figure
destined to close a scene which Time and Glory had united to hallow and
adorn! Raised and supported by a superhuman daring, that invested the
nauseous horrors of incessant bloodshed with a rude and appalling
magnificence, the mistress of nations was now fated to sink by the most
ignoble of defeats, under the most abject of tremblers. For this had
the rough old kingdom shaken off its enemies by swarms from its vigorous
arms! For this had the doubtful virtues of the Republic, and the
perilous magnificence of the Empire, perplexed and astonished the world!
In such a conclusion as Honorius ended the dignified barbarities of a
Brutus, the polished splendours of an Augustus, the unearthly atrocities
of a Nero, and the immortal virtues of a Trajan! Vainly, through the
toiling ages, over the ruin of her noblest hearts, and the prostitution
of her grandest intellects, had Rome striven pitilessly onward, grasping
at the shadow--Glory; the fiat had now gone forth that doomed her to
possess herself finally of the substance--Shame!
When the imperial trifler had exhausted his store of grain, and
satisfied the cravings of his voracious favourites, he was relieved of
his silver vase by two attendants. The flock of poultry was then
ushered out at one door, while the flock of geniuses was ushered in at
Leaving the emperor to cast his languid eyes over objects of art for
which he had no admiration, and to open his unwilling ears to
panegyrical orations for which he had no comprehension, we proceed to
introduce the reader to an apartment on the opposite side of the palace,
in which are congregated all the beauty and elegance of his Court.
Imagine a room two hundred feet long and proportionably broad. Its
floor is mosaic, wrought into the loveliest patterns. Its sides are
decorated with immense pillars of variegated marble, the recesses formed
by which are occupied by statues, all arranged in exquisite variety of
attitude, so as to appear to be offering to whoever approaches them the
rare flowers which it is the duty of the attendants to place in their
hands. The ceiling is painted in fresco, in patterns and colours
harmonising with those on the mosaic floor. The cornices are of silver,
and decorated with mottoes from the amatory poets of the day, the
letters of which are formed by precious stones. In the middle of the
room is a fountain throwing up streams of perfumed water, and surrounded
by golden aviaries containing birds of all sizes and nations. Three
large windows, placed at the eastern extremity of the apartment, look
out upon the Adriatic, but are covered at this hour, from the outside,
with silk curtains of a delicate green shade, which cast a soft,
luxurious light over every object, but are so thinly woven and so
skilfully arranged that the slightest breath of air which moves without
finds its way immediately to the languid occupants of the Court waiting-
room. The number of these individuals amounts to about fifty or sixty
persons. By far the larger half of the assemblage are women. Their
black hair tastefully braided into various forms, and adorned with
flowers or precious stones, contrasts elegantly with the brilliant
whiteness of the robes in which they are for the most part clothed. Some
of them are occupied in listlessly watching the movements of the birds
in the aviaries; others hold a languid and whispered conversation with
such of the courtiers as happen to be placed near them. The men exhibit
in their dresses a greater variety of colour, and in their occupations a
greater fertility of resource, than the women. Their garments, of the
lightest rose, violet, or yellow tints, diversify fantastically the
monotonous white robes of their gentle companions. Of their
employments, the most conspicuous are playing on the lute, gaming with
dice, teasing their lapdogs, and insulting their parasites. Whatever
their occupation, it is performed with little attention, and less
enthusiasm. Some recline on their couches with closed eyes, as if the
heat made the labour of using their organs of vision too much for them;
others, in the midst of a conversation, suddenly leave a sentence
unfinished, apparently incapacitated by lassitude from giving expression
to the simplest ideas. Every sight in the apartment that attracts the
eye, every sound that gains the ear, expresses a luxurious repose. No
brilliant light mars the pervading softness of the atmosphere; no
violent colour materialises the light, ethereal hues of the dresses; no
sudden noises interrupt the fitful and plaintive notes of the lute, jar
with the soft twittering of the birds in the aviaries, or drown the
still, regular melody of the ladies' voices. All objects, animate and
inanimate, are in harmony with each other. It is a scene of
spiritualised indolence--a picture of dreamy beatitude in the inmost
sanctuary of unruffled repose.
Amid this assemblage of beauty and nobility, the members of which were
rather to be generally noticed than particularly observed, there was,
however, one individual who, both by the solitary occupation he had
chosen and his accidental position in the room, was personally
remarkable among the listless patricians around him.
His couch was placed nearer the window than that of any other occupant
of the chamber. Some of his indolent neighbours--especially those of the
gentler sex--occasionally regarded him with mingled looks of admiration
and curiosity; but no one approached him, or attempted to engage him in
conversation. A piece of vellum lay by his side, on which, from time to
time, he traced a few words, and then resumed his reclining position,
apparently absorbed in reflection, and utterly regardless of all the
occupants, male and female, of the imperial apartment. Judging from his
general appearance, he could scarcely be twenty-five years of age. The
conformation of the upper part of his face was thoroughly intellectual--
the forehead high, broad, and upright; the eyes clear, penetrating, and
thoughtful;--but the lower part was, on the other hand, undeniably
sensual. The lips, full and thick, formed a disagreeable contrast to
the delicate chiselling of the straight Grecian nose; while the
fleshiness of the chin, and the jovial redundancy of the cheeks, were,
in their turn, utterly at variance with the character of the pale, noble
forehead, and the expression of the quick, intelligent eyes. In stature
he was barely of the middle size; but every part of his body was so
perfectly proportioned that he appeared, in any position, taller than he
really was. The upper part of his dress, thrown open from the heat,
partly disclosed the fine statuesque formation of his neck and chest.
His ears, hands, and feet were of that smallness and delicacy which is
held to denote the aristocracy of birth; and there was in his manner
that indescribable combination of unobtrusive dignity and unaffected
elegance, which in all ages and countries, and through all changes of
manners and customs, has rendered the demeanour of its few favoured
possessors the instantaneous interpreter of their social rank.
While the patrician was still occupied over his vellum, the following
conversation took place in whispers between two ladies placed near the
situation he occupied.
'Tell me, Camilla,' said the eldest and stateliest of the two, 'who is
the courtier so occupied in composition? I have endeavoured, I know not
how often, to catch his eye; but the man will look at nothing but his
roll of vellum or the corners of the room.'
'What, are you so great a stranger in Italy as not to know him!' replied
the other, a lively girl of small delicate form, who fidgeted with
persevering restlessness on her couch, and seemed incapable of giving an
instant's steady attention to any of the objects around her. 'By all
the saints, martyrs, and relics of my uncle the bishop!'
'Hush! You should not swear!'
'Not swear! Why, I am making a new collection of oaths, intended solely
for ladies' use! I intend to set the fashion of swearing by them
'But answer my question, I beseech you! Will you never learn to talk on
one subject at a time?'
'Your question--ah, your question! It was about the Goths?'
'No, no! It was about that man who is incessantly writing, and will
look at nobody. He is almost as provoking as Camilla herself!'
'Don't frown so! That man, as you call him, is the senator Vetranio.'
The lady started. It was evident that Vetranio had a reputation.
'Yes!' continued the lively Camilla, 'that is the accomplished Vetranio;
but he will be no favourite of yours, for he sometimes swears--swears by
the ancient gods, too, which is forbidden!'
'He is handsome.'
'Handsome! he is beautiful! Not a woman in Italy but is languishing for
'I have heard that he is clever.'
'Who has not? He is the author of some of the most celebrated sauces of
the age. Cooks of all nations worship him as an oracle. Then he writes
poetry, and composes music, and paints pictures! And as for
philosophy--he talks it better than my uncle the bishop!'
'Is he rich?'
'Ah! my uncle the bishop!--I must tell you how I helped Vetranio to make
a satire on him! When I was staying with him at Rome, I used often to
see a woman in a veil taken across the garden to his study; so, to
perplex him, I asked him who she was. And he frowned and stammered, and
said at first that I was disrespectful; but he told me afterwards that
she was an Arian whom he was labouring to convert. So I thought I
should like to see how this conversion went on, and I hid myself behind
a bookcase. But it is a profound secret; I tell it you in confidence.'
'I don't care to know it. Tell me about Vetranio.'
'How ill-natured you are! Oh! I shall never forget how we laughed when
I told Vetranio what I had seen. He took up his writing materials, and
made the satire immediately. The next day all Rome heard of it. My
uncle was speechless with rage! I believe he suspected me; but he gave
up converting the Arian lady, and--'
'I ask you again--Is Vetranio rich?'
'Half Sicily is his. He has immense estates in Africa, olive-grounds in
Syria, and corn-fields in Gaul. I was present at an entertainment he
gave at his villa in Sicily. He fitted up one of his vessels from the
descriptions of the furnishing of Cleopatra's galley, and made his
slaves swim after us as attendant Tritons. Oh! it was magnificent!'
'I should like to know him.'
'You should see his cats! He has a perfect legion of them at his villa.
Twelve slaves are employed to attend on them. He is mad about cats, and
declares that the old Egyptians were right to worship them. He told me
yesterday, that when his largest cat is dead he will canonise her, in
spite of the Christians! And then he is so kind to his slaves! They
are never whipped or punished, except when they neglect or disfigure
themselves; for Vetranio will allow nothing that is ugly or dirty to
come near him. You must visit his banqueting-hall in Rome. It is
'But why is he here?'
'He has come to Ravenna, charged with some secret message from the
Senate, and has presented a rare breed of chickens to that foolish--'
'Hush! you may be overheard!'
'Well!--to that wise emperor of ours! Ah! the palace has been so
pleasant since he has been here!'
At this instant the above dialogue--from the frivolity of which the
universally-learned readers of modern times will, we fear, recoil with
contempt--was interrupted by a movement on the part of its hero which
showed that his occupation was at an end. With the elaborate
deliberation of a man who disdains to exhibit himself as liable to be
hurried by any mortal affair, Vetranio slowly folded up the vellum he
had now filled with writing, and depositing it in his bosom, made a sign
to a slave who happened to be then passing near him with a dish of
Having received his message, the slave retired to the entrance of the
apartment, and beckoning to a man who stood outside the door, motioned
him to approach Vetranio's couch.
This individual immediately hurried across the room to the window where
the elegant Roman awaited him. Not the slightest description of him is
needed; for he belonged to a class with which moderns are as well
acquainted as ancients--a class which has survived all changes of
nations and manners--a class which came in with the first rich man in
the world, and will only go out with the last. In a word, he was a
He enjoyed, however, one great superiority over his modern successors:
in his day flattery was a profession--in ours it has sunk to a pursuit.
'I shall leave Ravenna this evening,' said Vetranio.
The parasite made three low bows and smiled ecstatically.
'You will order my travelling equipage to be at the palace gates an hour
The parasite declared he should never forget the honour of the
commission, and left the room.
The sprightly Camilla, who had overheard Vetranio's command, jumped off
her couch, as soon as the parasite's back was turned, and running up to
the senator, began to reproach him for the determination he had just
'Have you no compunction at leaving me to the dulness of this horrible
palace, to satisfy your idle fancy for going to Rome,' said she, pouting
her pretty lip, and playing with a lock of the dark brown hair that
clustered over Vetranio's brow.
'Has the senator Vetranio so little regard for his friends as to leave
them to the mercy of the Goths?' said another lady, advancing with a
winning smile to Camilla's side.
'Ah, those Goths!' exclaimed Vetranio, turning to the last speaker.
'Tell me, Julia, is it not reported that the barbarians are really
marching into Italy?'
'Everybody has heard of it. The emperor is so discomposed by the
rumour, that he has forbidden the very name of the Goths to be mentioned
in his presence again.'
'For my part,' continued Vetranio, drawing Camilla towards him, and
playfully tapping her little dimpled hand, 'I am in anxious expectation
of the Goths, for I have designed a statue of Minerva, for which I can
find no model so fit as a woman of that troublesome nation. I am
informed upon good authority, that their limbs are colossal, and their
sense of propriety most obediently pliable under the discipline of the
'If the Goths supply you with a model for anything,' said a courtier who
had joined the group while Vetranio was speaking, 'it will be with a
representation of the burning of your palace at Rome, which they will
enable you to paint from the inexhaustible reservoir of your own
The individual who uttered this last observation was remarkable among
the brilliant circle around him by his excessive ugliness. Urged by his
personal disadvantages, and the loss of all his property at the gaming-
table, he had latterly personated a character, the accomplishments
attached to which rescued him, by their disagreeable originality in that
frivolous age, from oblivion or contempt. He was a Cynic philosopher.
His remark, however, produced no other effect on his hearers' serenity
than to excite their merriment. Vetranio laughed, Camilla laughed,
Julia laughed. The idea of a troop of barbarians ever being able to
burn a palace at Rome was too wildly ridiculous for any one's gravity;
and as the speech was repeated in other parts of the room, in spite of
their dulness and lassitude the whole Court laughed.
'I know not why I should be amused by that man's nonsense,' said
Camilla, suddenly becoming grave at the very crisis of a most attractive
smile, 'when I am so melancholy at the thought of Vetranio's departure.
What will become of me when he is gone? Alas! who will be left in the
palace to compose songs to my beauty and music for my lute? Who will
paint me as Venus, and tell me stories about the ancient Egyptians and
their cats? Who at the banquet will direct what dishes I am to choose,
and what I am to reject? Who?'--and poor little Camilla stopped
suddenly in her enumeration of the pleasures she was about to lose, and
seemed on the point of weeping as piteously as she had been laughing
rapturously but the instant before.
Vetranio was touched--not by the compliment to his more intellectual
powers, but by the admission of his convivial supremacy as a guide to
the banquet, contained in the latter part of Camilla's remonstrance.
The sex were then, as now, culpably deficient in gastronomic enthusiasm.
It was, therefore, a perfect triumph to have made a convert to the
science of the youngest and loveliest of the ladies of the Court.
'If she can gain leave of absence,' said the gratified senator, 'Camilla
shall accompany me to Rome, and shall be present at the first
celebration of my recent discovery of a Nightingale Sauce.'
Camilla was in ecstasies. She seized Vetranio's cheeks between her rosy
little fingers, kissed him as enthusiastically as a child kisses a new
toy, and darted gaily off to prepare for her departure.
'Vetranio would be better employed,' sneered the Cynic, 'in inventing
new salves for future wounds than new sauces for future nightingales!
His carcase will be carved by Gothic swords as a feast for the worms
before his birds are spitted with Roman skewers as a feast for his
guests! Is this a time for cutting statues and concocting sauces? Fie
on the senators who abandon themselves to such pursuits as Vetranio's!'
'I have other designs,' replied the object of all this moral
indignation, looking with insulting indifference on the Cynic's
repulsive countenance, 'which, from their immense importance to the
world, must meet with universal approval. The labour that I have just
achieved forms one of a series of three projects which I have for some
time held in contemplation. The first is an analysis of the new
priesthood; the second, a true personification, both by painting and
sculpture, of Venus; the third, a discovery of what has been hitherto
uninvented--a nightingale sauce. By the inscrutable wisdom of Fate, it
has been so willed that the last of the objects I proposed to myself has
been the first attained. The sauce is composed, and I have just
concluded on this vellum the ode that is to introduce it at my table.
The analysation will be my next labour. It will take the form of a
treatise, in which, making the experience of past years the groundwork
of prophecy for the future, I shall show the precise number of
additional dissensions, controversies, and quarrels that will be require
to enable the new priesthood to be themselves the destroyers of their
own worship. I shall ascertain by an exact computation the year in
which this destruction will be consummated; and I have by me as the
materials for my work an historical summary of Christian schisms and
disputes in Rome for the last hundred years. As for my second design,
the personification of Venus, it is of appalling difficulty. It demands
an investigation of the women of every nation under the sun; a
comparison of the relative excellences and peculiarities of their
several charms; and a combination of all that is loveliest in the
infinite variety of their most prominent attractions, under one form.
To forward the execution of this arduous project, my tenants at home and
my slave-merchants abroad have orders to send to my villa in Sicily all
women who are born most beautiful in the Empire, or can be brought most
beautiful from the nations around. I will have them displayed before
me, of every shade in complexion and of every peculiarity in form! At
the fitting period I shall commence my investigations, undismayed by
difficulty, and determined on success. Never yet has the true Venus
been personified! Should I accomplish the task, how exquisite will be
my triumph! My work will be the altar at which thousands will offer up
the softest emotions of the heart. It will free the prisoned
imagination of youth, and freshen the fading recollections on the memory
Vetranio paused. The Cynic was struck dumb with indignation. A
solitary zealot for the Church, who happened to be by, frowned at the
analysation. The ladies tittered at the personification. The
gastronomists chuckled at the nightingale sauce; but for the first few
minutes no one spoke. During this temporary embarrassment, Vetranio
whispered a few words in Julia's ear; and--just as the Cynic was
sufficiently recovered to retort--accompanied by the lady, he quitted
Never was popularity more unalloyed than Vetranio's. Gifted with a
disposition the pliability of which adapted itself to all emergencies,
his generosity disarmed enemies, while his affability made friends.
Munificent without assumption, successful without pride, he obliged with
grace and shone with safety. People enjoyed his hospitality, for they
knew that it was disinterested; and admired his acquirements, for they
felt that they were unobtrusive. Sometimes (as in his dialogue with the
Cynic) the whim of the moment, or the sting of a sarcasm, drew from him
a hint at his station, or a display of his eccentricities; but, as he
was always the first soon afterwards to lead the laugh at his own
outbreak, his credit as a noble suffered nothing by his infirmity as a
man. Gaily and attractively he moved in all grades of the society of
his age, winning his social laurels in every rank, without making a
rival to dispute their possession, or an enemy to detract from their
On quitting the Court waiting-room, Vetranio and Julia descended the
palace stairs and passed into the emperor's garden. Used generally as
an evening lounge, this place was now untenanted, save by the few
attendants engaged in cultivating the flower-beds and watering the
smooth, shady lawns. Entering one of the most retired of the numerous
summer-houses among the trees, Vetranio motioned his companion to take a
seat, and then abruptly addressed her in the following words:--
'I have heard that you are about to depart for Rome--is it true?'
He asked this question in a low voice, and with a manner in its
earnestness strangely at variance with the volatile gaiety which had
characterised him, but a few moments before, among the nobles of the
Court. As Julia answered him in the affirmative, his countenance
expressed a lively satisfaction; and seating himself by her side, he
continued the conversation thus:--
'If I thought that you intended to stay for any length of time in the
city, I should venture upon a fresh extortion from your friendship by
asking you to lend me your little villa at Aricia!'
'You shall take with you to Rome an order on my steward to place
everything there at your entire disposal.'
'My generous Julia! You are of the gifted few who really know how to
confer a favour! Another woman would have asked me why I wanted the
villa--you give it unreservedly. So delicate an unwillingness to
intrude on a secret reminds me that the secret should now be yours!'
To explain the easy confidence that existed between Vetranio and Julia,
it is necessary to inform the reader that the lady--although still
attractive in appearance--was of an age to muse on her past, rather than
to meditate on her future conquests. She had known her eccentric
companion from his boyhood, had been once flattered in his verses, and
was sensible enough--now that her charms were on the wane--to be as
content with the friendship of the senator as she had formerly been
enraptured with the adoration of the youth.
'You are too penetrating,' resumed Vetranio, after a short pause, 'not
to have already suspected that I only require your villa to assist me in
the concealment of an intrigue. So peculiar is my adventure in its
different circumstances, that to make use of my palace as the scene of
its development would be to risk a discovery which might produce the
immediate subversion of all my designs. But I fear the length of my
confession will exceed the duration of your patience!'
'You have aroused my curiosity. I could listen to you for ever!'
'A short time before I took my departure from Rome for this place,'
continued Vetranio, 'I encountered an adventure of the most
extraordinary nature, which has haunted me with the most extraordinary
perseverance, and which will have, I feel assured, the most
extraordinary results. I was sitting one evening in the garden of my
palace on the Pincian Mount, occupied in trying a new composition on my
lute. In one of the pauses of the melody, which was tender and
plaintive, I heard sounds that resembled the sobbing of some one in
distress among the trees behind me. I looked cautiously round, and
discerned, half-hidden by the verdure, the figure of a young girl, who
appeared to be listening to the music with the most entranced attention.
Flattered by such a testimony to my skill, and anxious to gain a nearer
view of my mysterious visitant, I advanced towards her hiding-place,
forgetting in my haste to continue playing on the lute. The instant the
music ceased, she discerned me and disappeared. Determined to behold
her, I again struck the chords, and in a few minutes I saw her white
robe once more among the trees. I redoubled my efforts. I played with
the utmost expression the most pathetic parts of the melody. As if
under the influence of a charm, she began to advance towards me, now
hesitating, now moving back a few steps, now approaching, half-
reluctantly, half willingly, until, utterly vanquished by the long
trembling close of the last cadence of the air, she ran suddenly up to
me, and falling at my feet, raised her hands as if to implore my
'Truly this was no common tribute to your skill! Did she speak to you?'
'She uttered not a word,' continued Vetranio. 'Her large soft eyes,
bright with tears, looked piteously up in my face; her delicate lips
trembled, as if she wished to speak, but dared not; her smooth round
arms were the very perfection of beauty. Child as she seemed in years
and emotions, she looked a woman in loveliness and form. For the moment
I was too much astonished by the suddenness of her supplicating action
to move or speak. As soon as I recovered myself I attempted to fondle
and console her, but she shrunk from my embrace, and seemed inclined to
escape from me again; until I touched once more the strings of the lute,
and then she uttered a subdued exclamation of delight, nestled close up
to me, and looked into my face with such a strange expression of mingled
adoration and rapture, that I declare to you, Julia, I felt as bashful
before her as a boy.'
'You bashful! The Senator Vetranio bashful!' exclaimed Julia, looking
up with an expression of the most unfeigned incredulity and
'The lute,' pursued Vetranio gravely, without heeding the interruption,
'was my sole means of procuring any communication with her. If I ceased
playing, we were as strangers; if I resumed, we were as friends. So,
subduing the notes of the instrument while she spoke to me in a soft
tremulous musical voice, I still continued to play. By this plan I
discovered at our first interview that she was the daughter of one
Numerian, that she was on the point of completing her fourteenth year,
and that she was called Antonina. I had only succeeded in gaining this
mere outline of her story, when, as if struck by some sudden
apprehension, she tore herself from me with a look of the utmost terror,
and entreating me not to follow her if I ever desired to see her again,
she disappeared rapidly among the trees.'
'More and more wonderful! And, in your new character of a bashful man,
you doubtless obeyed her injunctions?'
'I did,' replied the senator; 'but the next evening I revisited the
garden grove, and, as soon as I struck the chords, as if by magic, she
again approached. At this second interview I learned the reason of her
mysterious appearances and departures. Her father, she told me, was one
of a new sect, who imagine--with what reason it is impossible to
comprehend--that they recommend themselves to their Deity by making
their lives one perpetual round of bodily suffering and mental anguish.
Not content with distorting all his own feelings and faculties, this
tyrant perpetrated his insane austerities upon the poor child as well.
He forbade her to enter a theatre, to look on sculpture, to read poetry,
to listen to music. He made her learn long prayers, and attend to
interminable sermons. He allowed her no companions of her own age--not
even girls like herself. The only recreation that she could obtain was
the permission--granted with much reluctance and many rebukes--to
cultivate a little garden which belonged to the house they lived in, and
joined at one point the groves round my palace. There, while she was
engaged over her flowers, she first heard the sound of my lute. for many
months before I had discovered her, she had been in the habit of
climbing the enclosure that bounded her garden, and hiding herself among
the trees to listen to the music, whenever her father's concerns took
him abroad. She had been discovered in this occupation by an old man
appointed to watch her in his master's absence. The attendant, however,
on hearing her confession, not only promised to keep her secret, but
permitted her to continue her visits to my grove whenever I chanced to
be playing there on the lute. Now the most mysterious part of this
matter is, that the girl seemed--in spite of his severity towards her--
to have a great affection for her surly; for, when I offered to deliver
her from his custody, she declared that nothing could induce her to
desert him--not even the attraction of living among fine pictures and
hearing beautiful music every hour in the day. But I see I weary you;
and, indeed, it is evident from the length of the shadows that the hour
of my departure is at hand. Let me then pass from my introductory
interviews with Antonina, to the consequences that had resulted from
them when I set forth on my journey to Ravenna.'
'I think I can imagine the consequences already!' said Julia, smiling
'Begin then,' retorted Vetranio, 'by imagining that the strangeness of
this girl's situation, and the originality of her ideas, invested her
with an attraction for me, which the charms of her person and age
contributed immensely to heighten. She delighted my faculties as a
poet, as much as she fired my feelings as a man; and I determined to
lure her from the tyrannical protection of her father by the employment
of every artifice that my ingenuity could suggest. I began by teaching
her to exercise for herself the talent which had so attracted her in
another. By the familiarity engendered on both sides by such an
occupation, I hoped to gain as much in affection from her as she
acquired in skill from me; but to my astonishment, I still found her as
indifferent towards the master, and as tender towards the music, as she
had appeared at our first interview. If she had repelled my advances,
if they had overwhelmed her with confusion, I could have adapted myself
to her humour, I should have felt the encouragement of hope; but the
coldness, the carelessness, the unnatural, incomprehensible ease with
which she received even my caresses, utterly disconcerted me. It seemed
as if she could only regard me as a moving statue, as a mere
impersonation, immaterial as the science I was teaching her. If I spoke,
she hardly looked on me; if I moved, she scarcely noticed the action. I
could not consider it dislike; she seemed to gentle to nourish such a
feeling for any creature on earth. I could not believe it coldness; she
was all life, all agitation, if she heard only a few notes of music.
When she touched the chords of the instrument, her whole frame trembled.
Her eyes, mild, serious, and thoughtful when she looked on me, now
brightened with delight, now softened with tears, when she listened to
the lute. As day by day her skill in music increased, so her manner
towards me grew more inexplicably indifferent. At length, weary of the
constant disappointments that I experienced, and determined to make a
last effort to touch her heart by awakening her gratitude, I presented
her with the very lute which she had at first heard, and on which she
had now learned to play. Never have I seen any human being so
rapturously delighted as this incomprehensible girl when she received
the instrument from my hands. She alternately wept and laughed over it,
she kissed it, fondled it, spoke to it, as if it had been a living
thing. But when I approached to suppress the expressions of
thankfulness that she poured on me for the gift, she suddenly hid the
lute in her robe, as if afraid that I should deprive her of it, and
hurried rapidly from my sight. The next day I waited for her at our
accustomed meeting-place, but she never appeared. I sent a slave to her
father's house, but she would hold no communication with him. It was
evident that, now she had gained her end, she cared no more to behold
me. In my first moments of irritation, I determined to make her feel my
power, if she despised my kindness; but reflection convinced me, from my
acquaintance with her character, that in such a matter force was
impolitic, that I should risk my popularity in Rome, and engage myself
in an unworthy quarrel to no purpose. Dissatisfied with myself, and
disappointed in the girl, I obeyed the first dictates of my impatience,
and seizing the opportunity afforded by my duties in the senate of
escaping from the scene of defeated hopes, I departed angrily for
'Departed for Ravenna!' cried Julia, laughing outright. 'Oh, what a
conclusion to the adventure! I confess it, Vetranio, such consequences
as these are beyond all imagination!'
'You laugh, Julia,' returned the senator, a little piqued; 'but hear me
to the end, and you will find that I have not yet resigned myself to
defeat. For the few days that I have remained here, Antonina's image
has incessantly troubled my thoughts. I perceive that my inclination,
as well as my reputation, is concerned in subduing her ungrateful
aversion. I suspect that my anxiety to gain her will, if unremoved, so
far influence my character, that from Vetranio the Serene, I shall be
changed into Vetranio the Sardonic. Pride, honour, curiosity, and love
all urge me to her conquest. To prepare for my banquet is an excuse to
the Court for my sudden departure from this place; the real object of my
journey is Antonina alone.'
'Ah, now I recognise my friend again in his own character,' remarked the
'You will ask me how I purpose to obtain another interview with her?'
continued Vetranio. 'I answer, that the girl's attendant has voluntarily
offered himself as an instrument for the prosecution of my plans. The
very day before I departed from Rome, he suddenly presented himself to
my in my garden, and proposed to introduce me into Numerian's house--
having first demanded, with the air more of an equal than an inferior,
whether the report that I was still a secret adherent of the old
religion, of the worship of the gods, was true. Suspicious of the
fellow's motives (for he abjured all recompense as the reward of his
treachery), and irritated by the girl's recent ingratitude, I treated
his offer with contempt. Now, however, that my dissatisfaction is
calmed and my anxiety aroused, I am determined, at all hazards, to trust
myself to this man, be his motives for aiding me what they may. If my
efforts at my expected interview--and I will not spare them--are
rewarded with success, it will be necessary to obtain some refuge for
Antonina that will neither be suspected nor searched. For such a
hiding-place, nothing can be more admirably adapted than your Arician
villa. Do you--now that you know for what use it is intended--repent of
your generous disposal of it in aid of my design?'
'I am delighted to have had it to bestow on you,' replied the liberal
Julia, pressing Vetranio's hand. 'Your adventure is indeed uncommon--I
burn with impatience to hear how it will end. Whatever happens, you may
depend on my secrecy and count on my assistance. But see, the sun is
already verging towards the west; and yonder comes one of your slaves to
inform you, I doubt not, that your equipage is prepared. Return with me
to the palace, and I will supply you with the letter necessary to
introduce you as master to my country abode.'
The worthy citizens of Ravenna assembled in the square before the palace
to behold the senator's departure, had entirely exhausted such innocent
materials for amusement as consisted in staring at the guards, catching
the clouds of gnats that hovered about their ears, and quarrelling with
each other; and were now reduced to a state of very noisy and unanimous
impatience, when their discontent was suddenly and most effectually
appeased by the appearance of the travelling equipage with Vetranio and
Camilla outside the palace gates.
Uproarious shouts greeted the appearance of the senator and his
magnificent retinue; but they were increased a hundred-fold when the
chief slaves, by their master's command, each scattered a handful of
small coin among the poorer classes of the spectators. Every man among
that heterogeneous assemblage of rogues, fools, and idlers roared his
loudest and capered his highest, in honour of the generous patrician.
Gradually and carefully the illustrious travellers moved through the
crowd around them to the city gate; and thence, amid incessant shouts of
applause, raised with imposing unanimity of lung, and wrought up to the
most distracting discordancy of noise, Vetranio and his lively companion
departed in triumph for Rome.
A few days after this event the citizens were again assembled at the
same place and hour--probably to witness another patrician departure--
when their ears were assailed by the unexpected sound produced by the
call to arms, which was followed immediately by the closing of the city
gates. They had scarcely asked each other the meaning of these unusual
occurrences, when a peasant, half frantic with terror, rushed into the
square, shouting out the terrible intelligence that the Goths were in
The courtiers heard the news, and starting from a luxurious repast,
hurried to the palace windows to behold the portentous spectacle. For
the remainder of the evening the banqueting tables were unapproached by
The wretched emperor was surprised among his poultry by that dreaded
intelligence. He, too, hastened to the windows, and looking forth, saw
the army of avengers passing in contempt his solitary fortress, and
moving swiftly onward towards defenceless Rome. Long after the darkness
had hidden the masses of that mighty multitude from his eyes, did he
remain staring helplessly upon the fading landscape, in a stupor of
astonishment and dread; and, for the first time since he had possessed
them, his flocks of fowls were left for that night unattended by their
CHAPTER 3. ROME.
The perusal of the title to this chapter will, we fear, excite emotions
of apprehension, rather than of curiosity, in the breasts of experienced
readers. They will doubtless imagine that it is portentous of long
rhapsodies on those wonders of antiquity, the description of which has
long become absolutely nauseous to them by incessant iteration. They
will foresee wailings over the Palace of the Caesars, and meditations
among the arches of the Colosseum, loading a long series of weary
paragraphs to the very chapter's end; and, considerately anxious to
spare their attention a task from which it recoils, they will
unanimously hurry past the dreaded desert of conventional reflection, to
alight on the first oasis that may present itself, whether it be formed
by a new division of the story, or suddenly indicated by the appearance
of a dialogue. Animated, therefore, by apprehensions such as these, we
hasten to assure them that in no instance will the localities of our
story trench upon the limits of the well-worn Forum, or mount the arches
of the exhausted Colosseum. It is with the beings, and not the
buildings of old Rome, that their attention is to be occupied. We
desire to present them with a picture of the inmost emotions of the
times--of the living, breathing actions and passions of the people of
the doomed Empire. Antiquarian topography and classical architecture we
leave to abler pens, and resign to other readers.
It is, however, necessary that the sphere in which the personages of our
story are about to act should be in some measure indicated, in order to
facilitate the comprehension of their respective movements. That
portion of the extinct city which we design to revive has left few
traces of its existence in the modern town. Its sites are
traditionary--its buildings are dust. The church rises where the temple
once stood, and the wine-shop now lures the passing idler where the bath
invited his ancestor of old.
The walls of Rome are in extent, at the present day, the same as they
were at the period of which we now write. But here all analogy between
the ancient and modern city ends. The houses that those walls were once
scarcely wide enough to enclose have long since vanished, and their
modern successors occupy but a third of the space once allotted to the
capital of the Empire.
Beyond the walls immense suburbs stretched forth in the days of old.
Gorgeous villas, luxurious groves, temples, theatres, baths--
interspersed by colonies of dwellings belonging to the lower orders of
the people--surrounded the mighty city. Of these innumerable abodes
hardly a trace remains. The modern traveller, as he looks forth over
the site of the famous suburbs, beholds, here and there, a ruined
aqueduct, or a crumbling tomb, tottering on the surface of a
The present entrance to Rome by the Porta del Popolo occupies the same
site as the ancient Flaminian Gate. Three great streets now lead from
it towards the southern extremity of the city, and form with their
tributaries the principal portion of modern Rome. On one side they are
bounded by the Pincian Hill, on the other by the Tiber. Of these
streets, those nearest the river occupy the position of the famous
Campus Martius; those on the other side, the ancient approaches to the
gardens of Sallust and Lucullus, on the Pincian Mount.
On the opposite bank of the Tiber (gained by the Ponte St. Angelo,
formerly the Pons Elius), two streets pierced through an irregular and
populous neighbourhood, conduct to the modern Church of St. Peter. At
the period of our story this part of the city was of much greater
consequence, both in size and appearance, than it is at present, and led
directly to the ancient Basilica of St. Peter, which stood on the same
site as that now occupied by the modern edifice.
The events about to be narrated occur entirely in the parts of the city
just described. From the Pincian Hill, across the Campus Martius, over
the Pons Elius, and on to the Basilica of St. Peter, the reader may be
often invited to accompany us, but he will be spared all necessity of
penetrating familiar ruins, or mourning over the sepulchres of departed
Ere, however, we revert to former actors or proceed to new characters,
it will be requisite to people the streets that we here attempt to
rebuild. By this process it is hoped that the reader will gain that
familiarity with the manners and customs of the Romans of the fifth
century on which the influence of this story mainly depends, and which
we despair of being able to instil by a philosophical disquisition on
the features of the age. A few pages of illustration will serve our
purpose better, perhaps, than volumes of historical description. There
is no more unerring index to the character of a people than the streets
of their cities.
It is near evening. In the widest part of the Campus Martius crowds of
people are assembled before the gates of a palace. They are congregated
to receive several baskets of provisions, distributed with ostentatious
charity by the owner of the mansion. The incessant clamour and
agitation of the impatient multitude form a strange contrast to the
stately serenity of the natural and artificial objects by which they are
enclosed on all sides.
The space they occupy is oblong in shape and of great extent in size.
Part of it is formed by a turf walk shaded with trees, part by the paved
approaches to the palace and the public baths which stand in its
immediate neighbourhood. These two edifices are remarkable by their
magnificent outward adornments of statues, and the elegance and number
of the flights of steps by which they are respectively entered. With
the inferior buildings, the market-places and the gardens attached to
them, they are sufficiently extensive to form the boundary of one side
of the immediate view. The appearance of monotony which might at other
times be remarked in the vastness and regularity of their white fronts,
is at this moment agreeably broken by several gaily-coloured awnings
stretched over their doors and balconies. The sun is now shining on
them with overpowering brightness; the metallic ornaments on their
windows glitter like gems of fire; even the trees which form their
groves partake of the universal flow of light, and fail, like the
objects around them, to offer to the weary eye either refreshment or
Towards the north, the Mausoleum of Augustus, towering proudly up into
the brilliant sky, at once attracts the attention. From its position,
parts of this noble building are already in shade. Not a human being is
visible on any part of its mighty galleries--it stands solitary and
sublime, an impressive embodiment of the emotions which it was raised to
On the side opposite the palace and the baths is the turf walk already
mentioned. Trees, thickly planted and interlaced by vines, cast a
luxurious shade over this spot. In their interstices, viewed from a
distance, appear glimpses of gay dresses, groups of figures in repose,
stands loaded with fruit and flowers, and innumerable white marble
statues of fauns and wood-nymphs. From this delicious retreat the
rippling of fountains is to be heard, occasionally interrupted by the
rustling of leaves, or the plaintive cadences of the Roman flute.
Southward two pagan temples stand in lonely grandeur among a host of
monuments and trophies. The symmetry of their first construction still
remains unimpaired, their white marble pillars shine in the sunlight
brightly as of old, yet they now present to the eye an aspect of strange
desolation, of unnatural mysterious gloom. Although the laws forbid the
worship for which they were built, the hand of reform has as yet not
ventured to doom them to ruin or adapt them to Christian purposes. None
venture to tread their once-crowded colonnades. No priest appears to
give the oracles from their doors; no sacrifices reek upon their naked
altars. Under their roofs, visited only by the light that steals through
their narrow entrances, stand unnoticed, unworshipped, unmoved, the
mighty idols of old Rome. Human emotion, which made them Omnipotence
once, has left them but stone now. The 'Star in the East' has already
dimmed the fearful halo which the devotion of bloodshed once wreathed
round their forms. Forsaken and alone, they stand but as the gloomy
monuments of the greatest delusion ever organised by the ingenuity of
We have now, so to express it, exhibited the frame surrounding the
moving picture, which we shall next attempt to present to the reader by
mixing with the multitude before the palace gates.
This assembly resolved itself into three divisions: that collected
before the palace steps, that loitering about the public baths, and that
reposing in the shade of the groves. The first was of the most
consequence in numbers, and of the greatest variety in appearance.
Composed of rogues of the worst order from every quarter of the world,
it might be said to present, in its general aspect of numerical
importance, the very sublime of degradation. Confident in their rude
union of common avidity, these worthy citizens vented their insolence on
all objects, and in every direction, with a careless impartiality which
would have shamed the most victorious efforts of modern mobs. The
hubbub of voices was perfectly fearful. The coarse execrations of
drunken Gauls, the licentious witticisms of effeminate Greeks, the noisy
satisfaction of native Romans, the clamorous indignation of irritable
Jews--all sounded together in one incessant chorus of discordant noises.
Nor were the senses of sight and smell more agreeably assailed than the
faculty of hearing, by this anomalous congregation. Immodest youth and
irreverent age; woman savage, man cowardly; the swarthy Ethiopian
beslabbered with stinking oil; the stolid Briton begrimed with dirt--
these, and a hundred other varying combinations, to be imagined rather
than expressed, met the attention in every direction. To describe the
odours exhaled by the heat from this seething mixture of many
pollutions, would be to force the reader to close the book; we prefer to
return to the distribution which was the cause of this degrading tumult,
and which consisted of small baskets of roasted meat packed with common
fruits and vegetables, and handed, or rather flung down, to the mob by
the servants of the nobleman who gave the feast. The people revelled in
the abundance thus presented to them. They threw themselves upon it like
wild beasts; they devoured it like hogs, or bore it off like plunderers;
while, secure in the eminence on which they were placed, the purveyors
of this public banquet expressed their contempt for its noisy
recipients, by holding their noses, stopping their ears, turning their
backs, and other pantomimic demonstrations of lofty and excessive
disgust. These actions did not escape the attention of those members of
the assembly who, having eaten their fill, were at leisure to make use
of their tongues, and who showered an incessant storm of abuse on the
heads of their benefactor's retainers.
'See those fellows!' cried one; 'they are the waiters at our feast, and
they mock us to our faces! Down with the filthy kitchen thieves!'
'Excellently well said, Davus!--but who is to approach them? They stink
at this distance!'
'The rotten-bodied knaves have the noses of dogs and the carcases of
Then came a chorus of voices--'Down with them! Down with them!' In the
midst of which an indignant freedman advanced to rebuke the mob,
receiving, as the reward of his temerity, a shower of missiles and a
volley of curses; after which he was thus addressed by a huge, greasy
butcher, hoisted on his companions' shoulders:--
'By the soul of the emperor, could I get near you, you rogue, I would
quarter you with my fingers alone!--A grinning scoundrel that jeers at
others! A filthy flatterer that dirts the very ground he walks on! By
the blood of the martyrs, should I fling the sweepings of the slaughter-
house at him, he knows not where to get himself dried!'
'Thou rag of a man,' roared a neighbour of the indignant butcher's,
'dost thou frown upon the guests of thy master, the very scrapings of
whose skin are worth more than thy whole carcase! It is easier to make a
drinking-vessel of the skull of a flea than to make an honest man of
such a villainous night-walker as thou art!'
'Health and prosperity to our noble entertainer!' shouted one section of
the grateful crowd as the last speaker paused for breath.
'Death to all knaves of parasites!' chimed in another.
'Honour to the citizens of Rome!' roared a third party with modest
'Give that freedman our bones to pick!' screamed an urchin from the
outskirts of the crowd.
This ingenious piece of advice was immediately followed; and the
populace gave vent to a shout of triumph as the unfortunate freedman,
scared by a new volley of missiles, retreated with ignominious
expedition to the shelter of his patron's halls.
In the slight and purified specimen of the 'table talk' of a Roman mob
which we have here ventured to exhibit, the reader will perceive that
extraordinary mixture of servility and insolence which characterised not
only the conversation but the actions of the lower orders of society at
the period of which we write. Oppressed and degraded, on the one hand,
to a point of misery scarcely conceivable to the public of the present
day, the poorer classes in Rome were, on the other, invested with such a
degree of moral license, and permitted such an extent of political
privilege, as flattered their vanity into blinding their sense of
indignation. Slaves in their season of servitude, masters in their hours
of recreation, they presented, as a class, one of the most amazing
social anomalies ever existing in any nation; and formed, in their
dangerous and artificial position, one of the most important of the
internal causes of the downfall of Rome.
The steps of the public baths were almost as crowded as the space before
the neighbouring building. Incessant streams of people, either entering
or departing, poured over the broad flagstones of its marble colonnades.
This concourse, although composed in some parts of the same class of
people as that assembled before the palace, presented a certain
appearance of respectability. Here and there--chequering the dusky
monotony of masses of dirty tunics--might be discerned the refreshing
vision of a clean robe, or the grateful indication of a handsome person.
Little groups, removed as far as possible from the neighbourhood of the
noisy plebeians, were scattered about, either engaged in animated
conversation, or listlessly succumbing to the lassitude induced by a
recent bath. An instant's attention to the subject of discourse among
the more active of these individuals will aid us in pursuing our social
The loudest voice among the speakers at this particular moment proceeded
from a tall, thin, sinister-looking man, who was haranguing a little
group of listeners with great vehemence and fluency.
'I tell you, Socius,' said he, turning suddenly upon one of his
companions, 'that, unless new slave-laws are made, my calling is at an
end. My patron's estate requires incessant supplies of these wretches.
I do my best to satisfy the demand, and the only result of my labour is,
that the miscreants either endanger my life, or fly with impunity to
join the gangs of robbers infesting our woods.'
'Truly I am sorry for you; but what alteration would you have made in
'I would empower bailiffs to slay upon the spot all slaves whom they
thought disorderly, as an example to the rest!'
'What would such a permission avail you? These creatures are necessary,
and such a law would exterminate them in a few months. Can you not
break their spirit with labour, bind their strength with chains, and
vanquish their obstinacy with dungeons?'
'All this I have done, but they die under the discipline, or escape from
their prisons. I have now three hundred slaves on my patron's estates.
Against those born on our lands I have little to urge. Many of them, it
is true, begin the day with weeping and end it with death; but for the
most part, thanks to their diurnal allowance of stripes, they are
tolerably submissive. It is with the wretches that I have been obliged
to purchase from prisoners of war and the people of revolted towns that
I am so dissatisfied. Punishments have no effect on them, they are
incessantly indolent, sulky, desperate. It was but the other day that
ten of them poisoned themselves while at work in the fields, and fifty
more, after setting fire to a farm-house while my back was turned,
escaped to join a gang of their companions, who are now robbers in the
woods. These fellows, however, are the last of the troop who will
perpetrate such offences. With the concurrence of my patron, I have
adopted a plan that will henceforth tame them efficiently!'
'Are you at liberty to communicate it?'
'By the keys of St. Peter, I wish I could see it practised on every
estate in the land! It is this:--Near a sulphur lake at some distance
from my farm-house is a tract of marshy ground, overspread here and
there by the ruins of an ancient slaughter-house. I propose to dig in
this place several subterranean caverns, each of which shall be capable
of holding twenty men. Here my mutinous slaves shall sleep after their
day's labour. The entrances shall be closed until morning with a large
stone, on which I will have engraven this inscription: 'These are the
dormitories invented by Gordian, bailiff of Saturninus, a nobleman, for
the reception of refractory slaves.'
'Your plan is ingenious; but I suspect your slaves (so insensible to
hardships are the brutal herd) will sleep as unconcernedly in their new
dormitories as in their old.'
'Sleep! It will be a most original species of repose that they will
taste there! The stench of the sulphur lake will breathe Sabian odours
for them over a couch of mud! Their anointing oil will be the slime of
attendant reptiles! Their liquid perfumes will be the stagnant oozings
from their chamber roof! Their music will be the croaking of frogs and
the humming of gnats; and as for their adornments, why, they will be
decked forth with head-garlands of twining worms, and movable brooches
of cockchafers and toads! Tell me now, most sagacious Socius, do you
still think that amidst such luxuries as these my slaves will sleep?'
'No; they will die.'
'You are again wrong. They will curse and rave perhaps, but that is of
no consequence. They will work the longer above ground to shorten the
term of their repose beneath. They will wake at an instant's notice,
and come forth at a moment's signal. I have no fear of their dying!'
'Do you leave Rome soon?'
'I go this evening, taking with me such a supply of trustworthy
assistants as will enable me to execute my plan without delay.
'Most ingenious of bailiffs, I bid you farewell!'
As the worthy Gordian stalked off, big with the dignity of his new