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Gaston de Latour: an unfinished romance by Walter Horatio Pater

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the fruit, of mind was still in life-giving contact with its root.
With books, as indeed with persons, his intercourse was apt to be
desultory. Books!--He was by way of asserting his independence of
them, was their very candid friend:--they were far from being [88]
an unmixed good. He would observe (the fact was its own scornful
comment) that there were more books upon books than upon any other
subject. Yet books, more than a thousand volumes, a handsome library
for that day, nicely representative not only of literature but of the
owner's taste therein, lay all around; and turning now to this, now
to that, he handled their pages with nothing less than tenderness: it
was the first of many inconsistencies which yet had about them a
singularly taking air, of reason, of equity. Plutarch and Seneca
were soon in the foreground: they would "still be at his elbow to
test and be tested": masters of the autumnal wisdom that was coming
to be his own, ripe and placid--from the autumn of old Rome, of life,
of the world, the very genius of second thoughts, of exquisite tact
and discretion, of judgment upon knowledge.

But the books dropped from his hands in the very midst of
enthusiastic quotation; and the guest was mounting a little turret
staircase, was on the leaden roof of the old tower, amid the fat,
noonday Gascon scenery. He saw, in bird's-eye view, the country he
was soon to become closely acquainted with, a country (like its
people) of passion and capacity, though at that moment emphatically
lazy. Towards the end of life some conscientious pangs seem to have
touched Montaigne's singularly humane and sensitive spirit, when he
looked back on the [89] long intellectual entertainment he had had,
in following, as an inactive spectator, "the ruin of his country,"
through a series of chapters, every one of which had told
emphatically in his own immediate neighbourhood. With its old and
new battlefields, its business, its fierce changes, and the old
perennial sameness of men's ways beneath them all, it had been
certainly matter of more assiduous reading than even those choice,
incommensurable, books, of ancient Greek and Roman experience. The
variableness, the complexity, the miraculous surprises of man,
concurrent with the variety, the complexity, the surprises of nature,
making all true knowledge of either wholly relative and provisional;
a like insecurity in one's self, if one turned thither for some ray
of clear and certain evidence; this, with an equally strong sense all
the time of the interest, the power and charm, alike of man and
nature and of the individual mind;--such was the sense of this open
book, of all books and things. That was what this quietly
enthusiastic reader was ready to assert as the sum of his studies;
disturbingly, as Gaston found, reflecting on his long unsuspicious
sojourn there, and detaching from the habits, the random traits of
character, his concessions and hints and sudden emphatic statements,
the soul and potency of the man.

How imperceptibly had darkness crept over them, effacing everything
but the interior of [90] the great circular chamber, its book-shelves
and enigmatic mottoes and the tapestry on the wall,--Circe and her
sorceries, in many parts--to draw over the windows in winter. Supper
over, the young wife entered at last. Always on the lookout for the
sincerities of human nature (sincerity counting for life-giving form,
whatever the matter might be) as he delighted in watching children,
Montaigne loved also to watch grown people when they were most like
children; at their games, therefore, and in the mechanical and
customary parts of their existence, as discovering the real soul in
them. Abstaining from the dice himself, since for him such "play was
not play enough, but too grave and serious a diversion," and
remarking that "the play of children is not performed in play, but to
be judged as their most serious action," he set Gaston and the
amiable, unpedantic, lady to play together, where he might observe
them closely; the game turning still, irresistibly, to conversation,
the last and sweetest if somewhat drowsy relics of this long day's
recreations.--Was Circe's castle here? If Circe could turn men into
swine, could she also release them again? It was frailty, certainly,
that Gaston remained here week after week, scarce knowing why; the
conversation begun that morning lasting for nine months, over books,
meals, in free rambles chiefly on horseback, as if in the waking
intervals of a long day-sleep.


[91] The diversity, the undulancy, of human nature!--so deep a sense
of it went with Montaigne always that himself too seemed to be ever
changing colour sympathetically therewith. Those innumerable
differences, mental and physical, of which men had always been aware,
on which they had so largely fed their vanity, were ultimate. That
the surface of humanity presented an infinite variety was the tritest
of facts. Pursue that variety below the surface!--the lines did but
part further and further asunder, with an ever-increasing divergency,
which made any common measure of truth impossible. Diversity of
custom!--What was it but diversity in the moral and mental view,
diversity of opinion? and diversity of opinion, what but radical
diversity of mental constitution? How various in kind and degree had
he found men's thoughts concerning death, for instance, "some (ah
me!) even running headlong upon it, with [92] a real affection"?
Death, life; wealth, poverty; the whole sum of contrasts; nay! duty
itself,--the relish of right and wrong"; all depend upon the opinion
each one has of them, and "receive no colour of good or evil but
according to the application of the individual soul." Did Hamlet
learn of him that "there is nothing either good or bad but thinking
makes it so"?--What we call evil is not so of itself: it depends only
upon us, to give it another taste and complexion.--Things, in respect
of themselves, have peradventure their weight, measure, and
conditions; but when once we have taken them into us, the soul forms
them as she pleases.--Death is terrible to Cicero, courted by Cato,
indifferent to Socrates.--Fortune, circumstance, offers but the
matter: 'tis the soul adds the form.--Every opinion, how fantastic
soever to some, is to another of force enough to be espoused at the
risk of life."

For opinion was the projection of individual will, of a native
original predilection. Opinions!--they are like the clothes we wear,
which warm us, not with their heat, but with ours. Track your way
(as he had learned to do) to the remote origin of what looks like
folly; at home, on its native soil, it was found to be justifiable,
as a proper growth of wisdom. In the vast conflict of taste,
preference, conviction, there was no real inconsistency. It was but
that the soul looked "upon things with [93] another eye, and
represented them to itself with another kind of face; reason being a
tincture almost equally infused into all our manners and opinions;
though there never were in the world two opinions exactly alike."
And the practical comment was, not as one might have expected,
towards the determination of some common standard of truth amid that
infinite variety, but to this effect rather, that we are not bound to
receive every opinion we are not able to refute, nor to accept
another's refutation of our own; these diversities being themselves
ultimate, and the priceless pearl of truth lying, if anywhere, not in
large theoretic apprehension of the general, but in minute vision of
the particular; in the perception of the concrete phenomenon, at this
particular moment, and from this unique point of view--that for you,
this for me--now, but perhaps not then.

Now; and not then! For if men are so diverse, not less disparate are
the many men who keep discordant company within each one of us,
"every man carrying in him the entire form of human condition."
"That we taste nothing pure:" the variancy of the individual in
regard to himself: the complexity of soul which there, too, makes
"all judgments in the gross" impossible or useless, certainly
inequitable, he delighted to note. Men's minds were like the
grotesques which some artists of that day loved to joint together, or
like one of his own [94] inconstant essays, never true for a page to
its proposed subject. "Nothing is so supple as our understanding: it
is double and diverse; and the matters are double and diverse, too."

Here, as it seemed to Gaston, was one for whom exceptions had taken
the place of law: the very genius of qualification followed him
through all his keen, constant, changeful consideration of men and
things. How many curious moral variations he had to show!--"vices
that are lawful": vices in us which "help to make up the seam in our
piecing, as poisons are useful for the conservation of health":
"actions good and excusable that are not lawful in themselves": "the
soul discharging her passions upon false objects where the true are
wanting": men doing more than they propose, or they hardly know what,
at immense hazard, or pushed to do well by vice itself, or working
for their enemies: "condemnations more criminal than the crimes they
condemn": the excuses that are self-accusations: instances, from his
own experience, of a hasty confidence in other men's virtue which
"God had favoured": and how, "even to the worst people, it is sweet,
their end once gained by a vicious act, to foist into it some show of
justice." In the presence of this indefatigable analyst of act and
motive all fixed outlines seemed to vanish away. The healthful
pleasure of motion, of thoughts in motion!--Yes! Gaston felt them,
the oldest of [95] them, moving, as he listened, under and away from
his feet, as if with the ground he stood on. And this was the vein
of thought which oftenest led the master back contemptuously to
emphasise the littleness of man.--"I think we can never be despised
according to our full desert."

By way of counterpoise, there were admirable surprises in man. That
cross-play of human tendencies determined from time to time in the
forces of unique and irresistible character, "moving all together,"
pushing the world around it to phenomenal good or evil. For such as
"make it their business to oversee human actions, it seems impossible
they should proceed from one and the same person." Consolidation of
qualities supposed, this did but make character, already the most
attractive, because the most dynamic, phenomenon of experience, more
interesting still. So tranquil a spectator of so average a world, a
too critical minimiser, it might seem, of all that pretends to be of
importance, Montaigne was constantly, gratefully, announcing his
contact, in life, in books, with undeniable power and greatness, with
forces full of beauty in their vigour, like lightning, the sea, the
torrents:--overpowering desire augmented, yet victorious, by its very
difficulty; the bewildering constancy of martyrs; single-hearted
virtue not to be resolved into anything less surprising than itself;
the devotion of that famed, so companionable, wife, dying cheerfully
[96] by her own act along with the sick husband "who could do no
better than kill himself"; the grief, the joy, of which men suddenly
die; the unconscious Stoicism of the poor; that stern self-control
with which Jacques Bonhomme goes as usual to his daily labour with a
heart tragic for the dead child at home; nay! even the boldness and
strength of "those citizens who sacrifice honour and conscience, as
others of old sacrificed their lives, for the good of their country."
So carefully equable, his mind nevertheless was stored with, and
delighted in, incidents, personalities, of barbarous strength--Esau,
in all his phases--the very rudest children or "our great and
powerful mother, nature." As Plato had said, "'twas to no purpose
for a sober-minded man to knock at the door of poesy," or, if truth
were spoken, of any other high matter of doing or making. That was
consistent with his sympathetic belief in the capability of mere
impetuous youth as such. Even those unexpected traits in ordinary
people which seem to hint at larger laws and deeper forces of
character, disconcerting any narrow judgment upon them, he welcomed
as akin to his own indolent, but suddenly kindling, nature:--the mere
self-will of men, the shrewd wisdom of an unlettered old woman, the
fount of goodness in a cold or malicious heart. "I hear every day
fools say things far from foolish." Those invincible prepossessions
of humanity, or of the [97] individual, which Bacon reckoned "idols
of the cave," are no offence to him; are direct informations, it may
be, beyond price, from a kindly spirit of truth in things.

For him there had been two grand surprises, two pre-eminent
manifestations of the power and charm of man, not to be explained
away,--one, within the compass of general and public observation: the
other, a matter of special intimacy to himself. There had been the
greatness of the old Greek and Roman life, so greatly recorded: there
had been the wisdom and kindness of Etienne de la Boetie, as made
known in all their fulness to him alone. That his ardent devotion to
the ancients had been rewarded with minute knowledge concerning them,
was the privilege of the age in which he was born, late in the
Revival of Letters. But the classical reading, which with others was
often but an affectation, seducing them from the highest to a lower
degree of reality, from men and women to their mere shadows in old
books, had been for him nothing less than personal contact. "The
qualities and fortunes" of the old Romans, especially, their
wonderful straight ways through the world, the straight passage of
their armies upon them, the splendour of their armour, of their
entire external presence and show, their "riches and embellishments,"
above all, "the suddenness of Augustus," in that grander age for
which decision was justifiable because really [98] possible, had ever
been "more in his head than the fortunes of his own country." If "we
have no hold even on things present but by imagination," as he loved
to observe,--then, how much more potent, steadier, larger, the
imaginative substance of the world of Alexander and Socrates, of
Virgil and Caesar, than that of an age, which seemed to him, living
in the midst of it, respectable mainly by its docility, by an
imitation of the ancients which after all left untouched the real
sources of their greatness. They had been indeed great, at the least
dramatically, redeemed in part by magnificent courage and tact, in
their very sins. "Our force is no more able to reach them in their
vicious than in their virtuous qualities; for both the one and the
other proceed from a vigour of soul which was without comparison
greater in them than in us."

And yet, thinking of his friendship with the "incomparable Etienne de
la Boetie, so perfect, inviolate and entire, that the like is hardly
to be found in story," he had to confess that the sources of
greatness must still be quick in the world. That had remained with
him as his one fixed standard of value in the estimate of men and
things. On this single point, antiquity itself had been surpassed;
the discourses it had left upon friendship seeming to him "poor and
flat in comparison of the sense he had of it." For once, his
sleepless habit of analysis had been checked by the inexplicable, the
absolute; [99] amid his jealously guarded indifference of soul he had
been summoned to yield, and had yielded, to the magnetic power of
another. "We were halves throughout, so that methinks by outliving
him I defraud him of his part. I was so grown to be always his
double in all things that methinks I am no more than half of myself.
There is no action or thought of mine wherein I do not miss him, as I
know that he would have missed me." Tender yet heroic, impulsive yet
so wise, he might have done what the survivor (so it seemed to
himself) was but vainly trying to do. It was worth his while to
become famous, if that hapless memory might but be embalmed in one's
fame. It had been better than love,--that friendship! to the
building of which so much "concurrence" had been requisite, that
"'twas much if fortune brought the like to pass once in three ages."
Actually, we may think, the "sweet society" of those four years, in
comparison with which the rest of his so pleasant life "was but
smoke," had touched Montaigne's nature with refinements it might
otherwise have lacked. He would have wished "to speak concerning it,
to those who had experience" of what he said, could such have been
found. In despair of that, he loved to discourse of it to all
comers,--how it had come about, the circumstances of its sudden and
wonderful growth. Yet after all were he pressed to say why he had so
loved Etienne de la Boetie, he [100] could but answer, "Because it
was He! Because it was I!"

And the surprises there are in man, his complexity, his variancy,
were symptomatic of the changefulness, the confusion, the surprises,
of the earth under one's feet, of the whole material world. The
irregular, the unforeseen, the inconsecutive, miracle, accident, he
noted lovingly: it had a philosophic import. It was habit rather
than knowledge of them that took away the strangeness of the things
actually about one. How many unlikely matters there were, testified
by persons worthy of faith, "which, if we cannot persuade ourselves
to believe, we ought at least to leave in suspense.--Though all that
had arrived by report of past time should be true, it would be less
than nothing in comparison of what is unknown."

On all sides we are beset by the incalculable--walled up suddenly, as
if by malign trickery, in the open field, or pushed forward
senselessly, by the crowd around us, to good-fortune. In art, as in
poetry, there are the "transports" which lift the artist out of, as
they are not of, himself; for orators also, "those extraordinary
motions which sometimes carry them above their design." Himself, "in
the necessity and heat of combat," had sometimes made answers, that
went "through and through," beyond hope. The work, by its own force
and fortune, sometimes outstrips the workman. And then, in [101]
defiance of the proprieties, whereas poets sometimes "flag, and
languish in a prosaic manner," prose will shine with the lustre,
vigour and boldness, with "the fury" of poetry.

And as to "affairs,"--how spasmodic the mixture, collision or
coincidence, of the mechanic succession of things with men's
volition! Mere rumour, so large a factor in events,--who could trace
out its ways? Various events (he was never tired of illustrating the
fact) "followed from the same counsel." Fortune, chance, that is to
say, the incalculable contribution of mere matter to man, "would
still be mistress of events"; and one might think it no un-wisdom to
commit everything to fortuity. But no! "fortune too is oft-times
observed to act by the rule of reason: chance itself comes round to
hold of justice;" war, above all, being a matter in which fortune was
inexplicable, though men might seem to have made it the main business
of their lives. If "the force of all counsel lies in the occasion,"
that is because things perpetually shift. If man--his taste, his
very conscience--change with the habit of time and place, that is
because habit is the emphatic determination, the tyranny, of changing
external and material circumstance. So it comes about that every one
gives the name of barbarism to what is not in use round about him,
excepting perhaps the Greeks and Romans, somewhat conventionally; and
Montaigne was fond of assuring people, [102] suddenly, that could we
have those privileged Greeks and Romans actually to sit beside us for
a while, they would be found to offend our niceties at a hundred
points. We have great power of taking ourselves in, and "pay
ourselves with words." Words too, language itself, and therewith the
more intimate physiognomy of thought, "slip every day through our
fingers." With his eye on his own labour, wistfully, he thought on
the instability of the French language in particular--a matter, after
all, so much less "perennial than brass." In no respect was nature
more stable, more consecutive, than man.

In nature, indeed, as in one's self, there might be no ultimate
inconsequence: only, "the soul looks upon things with another eye,
and represents them to itself with another kind of face: for
everything has many faces and several aspects. There is nothing
single and rare in respect of itself, but only in respect of our
knowledge, which is a wretched foundation whereon to ground our
rules, and one that represents to us a very false image of things."
Ah! even in so "dear" a matter as bodily health, immunity from
physical pain, what doubts! what variations of experience, of learned
opinion! Already, in six years of married life, of four children
treated so carefully, never, for instance, roughly awaked from sleep,
"wherein," he would observe, "children are much more profoundly
involved than we,"--of four children, [103] two were dead, and one
even now miserably sick. Seeing the doctor depart one morning a
little hastily, on the payment of his fee, he was tempted to some
nice questions as to the money's worth. "There are so many maladies,
and so many circumstances, presented to the physician, that human
sense must soon be at the end of its lesson:--the many complexions in
a melancholy person; the many seasons in winter; the many nations in
the French; the many ages in age; the many celestial mutations in the
conjunction of Venus and Saturn; the many parts in man's body, nay,
in a finger. And suppose the cure effected, how can we assure
ourselves that it was not because the disease was arrived at its
period, or an effect of chance, or the operation of something else
that the child had eaten, drunk, or touched that day, or by virtue of
his mother's prayers? We suppose we see one side of a thing when we
are really looking at another. As for me, I never see all of
anything; neither do they who so largely promise to show it to
others. Of the hundred faces that everything has I take one, and am
for the most part attracted by some new light I find in it."

And that new light was sure to lead him back very soon to his
"governing method, ignorance"--an ignorance "strong and generous, and
that yields nothing in honour and courage to knowledge; an ignorance,
which to conceive requires no less knowledge than to conceive [104]
knowledge itself"--a sapient, instructed, shrewdly ascertained
ignorance, suspended judgment, doubt everywhere.--Balances, very
delicate balances; he was partial to that image of equilibrium, or
preponderance, in things. But was there, after all, so much as
preponderance anywhere? To Gaston there was a kind of fascination,
an actually aesthetic beauty, in the spectacle of that keen-edged
intelligence, dividing evidence so finely, like some exquisite steel
instrument with impeccable sufficiency, always leaving the last word
loyally to the central intellectual faculty, in an entire
disinterestedness. If on the one hand he was always distrustful of
things that he wished, on the other he had many opinions he would
endeavour to make his son dislike, if he had one. What if the truest
opinions were not always the most commodious to man, "being of so
wild a composition"? He would say nothing to one party that he might
not on occasion say to the other, "with a little alteration of
accent." Yes! Doubt, everywhere! doubt in the far background, as
the proper intellectual equivalent to the infinite possibilities of
things: doubt, shrewdly economising the opportunities of the present
hour, in the very spirit of the traveller who walks only for the
walk's sake,--"every day concludes my expectation, and the journey of
my life is carried on after the same fashion": doubt, finally, as
"the best of pillows to sleep on." And in fact Gaston did sleep well
after [105] those long days of physical and intellectual movement, in
that quiet world, till the spring came round again.

But beyond and above all the various interests upon which the
philosopher's mind was for ever afloat, there was one subject always
in prominence--himself. His minute peculiarities, mental and
physical, what was constitutional with him as well as his transient
humours, how things affected him, what they really were to him,
Michael, much more than man, all this Gaston came to know, as the
world knew it afterwards in the Essays, often amused, sometimes
irritated, but never suspicious of postures, or insincerity.
Montaigne himself admitted his egotism with frank humour:--"in favour
of the Huguenots, who condemn our private confession, I confess
myself in public." And this outward egotism of manner was but the
symptom of a certain deeper doctrinal egotism:--"I have no other end
in writing but to discover myself." And what was the purport, what
the justification, of this undissembled egotism? It was the
recognition, over against, or in continuation of, that world of
floating doubt, of the individual mind, as for each one severally, at
once the unique organ, and the only matter, of knowledge,--the
wonderful energy, the reality and authority of that, in its absolute
loneliness, conforming all things to its law, without witnesses as
without judge, without appeal, save to itself. [106] Whatever truth
there might be, must come for each one from within, not from without.
To that wonderful microcosm of the individual soul, of which, for
each one, all other worlds are but elements,--to himself,--to what
was apparent immediately to him, what was "properly of his own having
and substance": he confidently dismissed the inquirer. His own
egotism was but the pattern of the true intellectual life of every
one. "The greatest thing in the world is for a man to know that he
is his own. If the world find fault that I speak too much of myself,
I find fault that they do not so much as think of themselves." How
it had been "lodged in its author":--that, surely, was the essential
question, concerning every opinion that comes to one man from

Yet, again, even on this ultimate ground of judgment, what undulancy,
complexity, surprises!--"I have no other end in writing but to
discover myself, who also shall peradventure be another thing to-
morrow." The great work of his life, the Essays, he placed "now
high, now low, with great doubt and inconstancy." "What are we but
sedition? like this poor France, faction against faction, within
ourselves, every piece playing every moment its own game, with as
much difference between us and ourselves as between ourselves and
others. Whoever will look narrowly into his own bosom will hardly
find himself twice in the same condition. [107] I give to myself
sometimes one face and sometimes another, according to the side I
turn to. I have nothing to say of myself, entirely and without
qualification. One grows familiar with all strange things by time.
But the more I frequent myself and the better I know myself, the less
do I understand myself. If others would consider themselves as I do,
they would find themselves full of caprice. Rid myself of it I
cannot without making myself away. They who are not aware of it have
the better bargain. And yet I know not whether they have or no!"

One's own experience!--that, at least, was one's own: low and earthy,
it might be; still, the earth was, emphatically, good, good-natured;
and he loved, emphatically, to recommend the wisdom, amid all doubts,
of keeping close to it. Gaston soon knew well a certain threadbare
garment worn by Montaigne in all their rides together, sitting
quaintly on his otherwise gallant appointments,--an old mantle that
had belonged to his father. Retained, as he tells us, in spite of
its inconvenience, "because it seemed to envelope me in him," it was
the symbol of a hundred natural, perhaps somewhat material, pieties.
Parentage, kinship, relationship through earth,--the touch of that
was everywhere like a caress to him. His fine taste notwithstanding,
he loved, in those long rambles, to partake of homely fare, paying
largely for it. Everywhere it was as if the earth in him turned
kindly to [108] earth. "Under the sun," the sturdy purple thistles,
the blossoming burrs also, were worth knowing. Let us grow together
with you! they seem to say. Himself was one of those whom he thought
"Heaven favoured" in making them die, so naturally, by degrees. "I
shall be blind before I am sensible of the decay of my sight, with
such kindly artifice do the Fatal Sisters entwist our lives. I melt,
and steal away from myself. How variously is it no longer I!" It
was not he who would carry a furry robe at midsummer, because he
might need it in the winter.--"In fine, we must live among the
living, and let the river flow under the bridge without our care,
above all things avoiding fear, that great disturber of reason. The
thing in the world I am most afraid of is fear."

And still, health, the invincible survival of youth, "admonished him
to a better wisdom than years and sickness." Was there anything
better, fairer, than the beautiful light of health? To be in health
was itself the sign, perhaps the essence, of wisdom--a wisdom, rich
in counsels regarding all one's contacts with the earthy side of
existence. And how he could laugh!--at that King of Thrace, for
instance, who had a religion and a god all to himself, which his
subjects might not presume to worship; at that King of Mexico, who
swore at his coronation not only to keep the laws, but also to make
the sun run his annual course; at those followers [109] of Alexander,
who all carried their heads on one side as Alexander did. The
natural second-best, the intermediate and unheroic virtue (even the
Church, as we know, by no means requiring "heroic" virtue), was
perhaps actually the best, better than any kind of heroism, in an age
whose very virtues were apt to become insane; an age "guilty and
extravagant" in its very justice; for which, as regards all that
belongs to the spirit, the one thing needful was moderation. And it
was characteristic of Montaigne, a note of the real helpfulness there
was in his thoughts, that he preferred to base virtue on low, safe,
ground. "The lowest walk is the safest: 'tis the seat of constancy."
The wind about the tower, coming who knows whence and whither?--could
one enjoy its music, unless one knew the foundations safe, twenty
feet below-ground? Always he loved to hear such words as "soften and
modify the temerity of our propositions." To say less than the truth
about it, to dissemble the absoluteness of its claim, was agreeable
to his confidence in the natural charm, the gaiety, of goodness,
"that fair and beaten path nature has traced for us," over against
any difficult, militant, or chimerical virtue.--"Never had any morose
and ill-looking physician done anything to purpose." In that age, it
was a great thing to be just blameless. Virtue had its bounds,
"which once transgressed, the next step was into the territories
[110] of vice." "All decent and honest means of securing ourselves
from harm, were not only permitted but commendable." Any man who
despises his own life, might "always be master of that of another."
He would not condemn "a magistrate who sleeps; provided the people
under his charge sleep as well as he." Though a blundering world,
in collusion with a prejudiced philosophy, has "a great suspicion of
facility," there was a certain easy taking of things which made life
the richer for others as well as for one's self, and was at least an
excellent makeshift for disinterested service to them. With all his
admiration for the antique greatness of character, he would never
commend "so savage a virtue, and one that costs so dear," as that,
for instance, of the Greek mother, the Roman father, who assisted to
put their own erring sons to death. More truly commendable was the
custom of the Lacedaemonians, who when they went to battle sacrificed
always to the Muses, that "these might, by their sweetness and
gaiety, soften martial fury." How had divine philosophy herself been
discredited by the sour mask, the sordid patches, with which, her
enemies surely! had sent her abroad into the world. "I love a gay
and civil philosophy. There is nothing more cheerful than wisdom: I
had like to have said more wanton."

Was that why his conversation was sometimes coarse? "All the
contraries are to be found in [111] me, in one corner or another"; if
delicacy, so also coarseness. Delicacy there was, certainly,--a
wonderful fineness of sensation. "To the end," he tells us, "that
sleep should not so stupidly escape from me, I have caused myself to
be disturbed in my sleep, so that I might the better and more
sensibly taste and relish it.--Of scents, the simple and natural seem
to me the most pleasing, and I have often observed that they cause an
alteration in me, and work upon my spirits according to their several
virtues. In excessive heats I always travel by night, from sunset to
sunrise. I am betimes sensible of the little breezes that begin to
sing and whistle in the shrouds, the forerunners of the storm.--When
I walk alone in a beautiful orchard, if my thoughts are for a while
taken up with foreign occurrences, I some part of the time call them
back again to my walk, to the orchard, to the sweetness of the
solitude, and to myself.--There is nothing in us either purely
corporeal, or purely spiritual. 'Tis an inhuman wisdom that would
have us despise and hate the culture of the body. 'Tis not a soul,
'tis not a body, we are training up, but a man; and we ought not to
divide him. Of all the infirmities we have, the most savage is to
despise our being."

There was a fineness of sensation in these unpremeditated thoughts,
which to Gaston seemed to connect itself with the exquisite words he
had found to paint his two great affections, for his [112] father and
for Etienne de la Boetie,--a fineness of sensation perhaps quite
novel in that age, but still of physical sensation: and in pursuit of
fine physical sensation he came, on his broad, easy, indifferent
passage through the world, across the coarsest growths which also
thrive "under the sun," and was not revolted. They were akin to that
ruder earth within himself, of which a kind of undissembled greed was
symptomatic; the love of "meats little roasted, very high, and even,
as to several, quite gone"; while, in drinking, he loved "clear
glass, that the eye might taste too, according to its capacity"; akin
also to a certain slothfulness:--"Sleeping," he says, "has taken up a
great part of my life." And there was almost nothing he would not
say: no fact, no story, from his curious half-medical reading, he
would not find some plausible pretext to tell. Man's kinship to the
animal, the material, and all the proofs of it:--he would never blush
at them! In truth, he led the way to the immodesty of French
literature; and had his defence, a sort of defence, ready. "I know
very well that few will quarrel with the licence of my writings, who
have not more to quarrel with in the licence of their own thoughts."

Yet when Gaston, twenty years afterwards, heard of the seemingly
pious end of Monsieur de Montaigne, he recalled a hundred, always
quiet but not always insignificant, acts of devotion, noticeable in
those old days, on passing a village [113] church, or at home, in the
little chapel--superstitions, concessions to others, strictly
appropriate recognitions rather, as it might seem, of a certain great
possibility, which might lie among the conditions of so complex a
world. That was a point which could hardly escape so reflective a
mind as Gaston's: and at a later period of his life, at the harvest
of his own second thoughts, as he pondered on the influence over him
of that two-sided thinker, the opinion that things as we find them
would bear a certain old-fashioned construction, seemed to have been
the consistent motive, however secret and subtle in its working, of
Montaigne's sustained intellectual activity. A lowly philosophy of
ignorance would not be likely to disallow or discredit whatever
intimations there might be, in the experience of the wise or of the
simple, in favour of a venerable religion, which from its long
history had come to seem like a growth of nature. Somewhere, among
men's seemingly random and so inexplicable apprehensions, might lie
the grains of a wisdom more precious than gold, or even its priceless
pearl. That "free and roving thing," the human soul--what might it
not have found out for itself, in a world so wide? To deny, at all
events, would be only "to limit the mind, by negation."

It was not however this side of that double philosophy which
recommended itself just now to Gaston. The master's wistful
tolerance, so [114] extraordinary a characteristic in that age,
attracted him, in his present humour, not so much in connexion with
those problematic heavenly lights that might find their way to one
from infinite skies, as with the pleasant, quite finite, objects and
experiences of the indubitable world of sense, so close around him.
Over against the world's challenge to make trial of it, here was that
general licence, which his own warm and curious appetite just then
demanded of the moral theorist. For so pronounced a lover of
sincerity as Monsieur de Montaigne, there was certainly a strange
ambiguousness in the result of his lengthy inquiries, on the greatest
as well as on the lightest matters, and it was inevitable that a
listener should accept the dubious lesson in his own sense. Was this
shrewd casuist only bringing him by a roundabout way to principles he
would not have cared to avow? To the great religious thinker of the
next century, to Pascal, Montaigne was to figure as emphatically on
the wrong side, not merely because "he that is not with us, is
against us." It was something to have been, in the matter of
religious tolerance, as on many other matters of justice and
gentleness, the solitary conscience of the age. But could one really
care for truth, who never even seemed to find it? Did he fear,
perhaps, the practical responsibility of getting to the very bottom
of certain questions? That the actual discourse of so keen a thinker
appeared often inconsistent or inconsecutive, might be a [115] hint
perhaps that there was some deeper ground of thought in reserve; as
if he were really moving, securely, over ground you did not see.
What might that ground be? As to Gaston himself,--had this kindly
entertainer only been drawing the screws of a very complex piece of
machinery which had worked well enough hitherto for all practical
purposes?--Was this all that had been going on, while he lingered
there, week after week, in a kind of devout attendance on theories,
and, for his part, feeling no reverberation of actual events around
him, still less of great events in preparation? These were the
questions Gaston had in mind, as, at length, he thanked his host one
morning with real regret, and took his last look around that
meditative place, the manuscripts, the books, the emblems,--the house
of Circe on the wall.


[116] We all feel, I suppose, the pathos of that mythic situation in
Homer, where the Greeks at the last throb of battle around the body
of Patroclus find the horror of supernatural darkness added to their
other foes; feel it through some touch of truth to our own experience
how the malignancy of the forces against us may be doubled by their
uncertainty and the resultant confusion of one's own mind--blindfold
night there too, at the moment when daylight and self-possession are

In that old dream-land of the Iliad such darkness is the work of a
propitiable deity, and withdrawn at its pleasure; in life, it often
persists obstinately. It was so with the agents on the terrible Eve
of St. Bartholomew, 1572, when a man's foes were those of his own
household. An ambiguity of motive and influence, a confusion of
spirit amounting, as we approach the centre of action, to physical
madness, encompasses [117] those who are formally responsible for
things; and the mist around that great crime, or great "accident," in
which the gala weather of Gaston's coming to Paris broke up, leaving
a sullenness behind it to remain for a generation, has never been
penetrated. The doubt with which Charles the Ninth would seem to
have left the world, doubt as to his own complicity therein, as well
as to the precise nature, the course and scope, of the event itself,
is still unresolved. So it was with Gaston also. The incident in
his life which opened for him the profoundest sources of regret and
pity, shaped as it was in a measure by those greater historic
movements, owed its tragic significance there to an unfriendly shadow
precluding knowledge how certain facts had really gone, a shadow
which veiled from others a particular act of his and the true
character of its motives.

For, the scene of events being now contracted very closely to Paris,
the predestined actors therein were gradually drawn thither as into
some narrow battlefield or slaughter-house or fell trap of destiny,
and Gaston, all unconsciously, along with them--he and his private
fortunes involved in those larger ones. Result of chance, or fate,
or cunning prevision, there are in the acts great and little--the
acts and the words alike--of the king and his associates, at this
moment, coincidences which give them at least superficially the
colour of an elaborate conspiracy. [118] Certainly, as men looked
back afterwards, all the seemingly random doings of those restless
months ending in the Noces Vermeilles marriage of Henry of Navarre
with Margaret of France, lent themselves agreeably to the theory of a
great plot to crush out at one blow, in the interest of the reigning
Valois, not the Huguenots only but the rival houses of Guise and
Bourbon. The word, the act, from hour to hour through what presented
itself at the time as a long-continued season of frivolity, suggested
in retrospect alike to friend and foe the close connexion of a
mathematical problem. And yet that damning coincidence of date, day
and hour apparently so exactly timed, in the famous letter to the
Governor of Lyons, by which Charles, the trap being now ready, seems
to shut all the doors upon escaping victims, is admitted even by
Huguenot historians to have been fortuitous. Gaston, recalling to
mind the actual mien of Charles as be passed to and fro across the
chimeric scene, timid, and therefore constitutionally trustful
towards older persons, filially kissing the hand of the grim Coligni-
-Mon père! Mon père!--all his câlineries in that age of courtesy and
assassinations--would wonder always in time to come, as the more
equitable sort of historians have done, what amount of guilty
foresight the young king had carried in his bosom. And this
ambiguity regarding the nearest agent in so great a crime, adding
itself to the general mystery of life, touched Gaston duly with a
sense [119] of the dim melancholy of man's position in the world. It
might seem the function of some cruel or merely whimsical power,
thus, by the flinging of mere dust through the air, to double our
actual misfortunes. However carefully the critical intelligence in
him might trim the balance, his imagination at all events would never
be clear of the more plausible construction of events. In spite of
efforts not to misjudge, in proportion to the clearness with which he
recalled the visible footsteps of the "accursed" Valois, he saw them,
irresistibly, in connexion with the end actually reached, moving to
the sounds of wedding music, through a world of dainty gestures, amid
sonnets and flowers, and perhaps the most refined art the world has
seen, to their surfeit of blood.

And if those "accursed" Valois might plead to be judged refinedly, so
would Gaston, had the opportunity come, have pleaded not to be
misunderstood. Of the actual event he was not a spectator, and his
sudden absence from Paris at that moment seemed to some of those he
left there only a cruelly characteristic incident in the great
treachery. Just before that delirious night set in, the news that
his old grandfather lay mortally sick at Deux-manoirs had snatched
him away to watch by the dying bed, amid the peaceful ministries of
the religion which was even then filling the houses of Paris with
blood. But the yellow-haired woman, light of soul, whose husband he
had become by dubious and [120] irregular Huguenot rites, the
religious sanction of which he hardly recognised--flying after his
last tender kiss, with the babe in her womb, from the ruins of her
home, and the slaughter of her kinsmen, supposed herself
treacherously deserted. For him, on the other hand, "the pity of
it," the pity of the thing supplied all that had been wanting in its
first consecration, and made the lost mistress really a wife. His
recoil from that damaging theory of his conduct brought home to a
sensitive conscience the fact that there had indeed been a measure of
self-indulgent weakness in his acts, and made him the creature for
the rest of his days of something like remorse.

The gaiety, the strange devils' gaiety of France, at least in all
places whither its royalty came, ended appropriately in a marriage--a
marriage of "The Reform" in the person of Prince Henry of Navarre, to
Catholicism in the person of Margaret of Valois, Margaret of the
"Memoirs," Charles's sister, in tacit defiance of, or indifference
to, the Pope. With the great Huguenot leaders, with the princes of
the house of Guise, and the Court, like one united family, all in
gaudy evidence in its streets, Paris, ever with an eye for the chance
of amusement, always preoccupied with the visible side of things,
always Catholic--was bidden to be tolerant for a moment, to carry no
fire-arms under penalties, "to renew no past [121] quarrels," and
draw no sword in any new one. It was the perfect stroke of
Catherine's policy, the secret of her predominance over her sons,
thus, with a flight of purchaseable fair women ever at command, to
maintain perpetual holiday, perpetual idleness, with consequent
perpetual, most often idle, thoughts about marriage, amid which the
actual conduct of affairs would be left to herself. Yet for Paris
thus Catholic, there was certainly, even if the Pope were induced to
consent, and the Huguenot bride-groom to "conform," something illicit
and inauspicious about this marriage within the prohibited degrees of
kinship. In fact, the cunningly sought papal dispensation never
came; Charles, with apparent unconcern, fulfilled his threat, and did
without it; must needs however trick the old Cardinal de Bourbon into
performing his office, not indeed "in the face of the Church," but in
the open air outside the doors of the cathedral of Notre-Dame, the
Catholics quietly retiring into the interior, when that starveling
ceremony was over, to hear the nuptial mass. Still, the open air,
the August sunshine, had lent the occasion an irresistible physical
gaiety in this hymeneal Assumption weather. Paris, suppressing its
scruples, its conscientious and unconscientious hatreds, at least for
a season, had adorned herself as that fascinating city always has
been able to adorn herself, if with something of artifice, certainly
[121] with great completeness, almost to illusion. Whatever gloom
the Middle Age with its sins and sorrows might have left there, was
under gallant disguise to-day. In the train of the young married
people, jeunes premiers in an engagement which was to turn out almost
as transitory as a stage-play, a long month of masquerade meandered
night and day through the public places. His carnality and hers, so
startling in their later developments, showed now in fact but as the
engaging force of youth, since youth, however unpromising its
antecedents, can never have sinned irretrievably. Yet to curious
retrospective minds not long afterwards, these graceful follies would
seem tragic or allegoric, with an undercurrent of infernal irony
throughout. Charles and his two brothers, keeping the gates of a
mimic paradise in the court of the Louvre, while the fountains ran
wine--were they already thinking of a time when they would keep those
gates, with iron purpose, while the gutters ran blood?

If Huguenots were disgusted with the frivolities of the hour, passing
on the other side of the street in sad attire, plotting, as some have
thought, as their enemies will persuade the Pope, a yet more terrible
massacre of their own, only anticipated by the superior force and
shrewdness of the Catholics, on the very eve of its accomplishment--
they did but serve just now to relieve the predominant white and red,
[123] and thereby double the brilliancy, of a gay picture. Yet a
less than Machiavellian cunning might perhaps have detected, amid all
this sudden fraternity--as in some unseasonably fine weather signs of
coming distress--a risky element of exaggeration in those
precipitately patched-up amities, a certain hollow ring in those
improbable religious conversions, those unlikely reconciliations in
what was after all an age of treachery as a fine art. With Gaston,
however, the merely receptive and poetic sense of life was abundantly
occupied with the spectacular value of the puissant figures in motion
around him. If he went beyond the brilliancy of the present moment
in his wonted pitiful equitable after-thoughts, he was still
concerned only with the more general aspects of the human lot, and
did not reflect that every public movement, however generous in its
tendency, is really flushed to active force by identification with
some narrower personal or purely selfish one. Coligni, "the
Admiral," centre of Huguenot opposition, just, kind, grim, to the
height of inspired genius, the grandest character his faith had yet
produced--undeterred by those ominous voices (of aged women and the
like) which are apt to beset all great actions, yielded readily to
the womanish endearments of Charles, his filial words and fond
touching of the hands, the face, aged at fifty-five--just this
portion of his conduct let us hope being exclusive of his precise
share [124] in the "conspiracy." And the opportune death in Paris of
the Huguenot Queen of Navarre only stirred question for a moment:
autopsy revealed no traces of unfair play, though at a time credulous
as to impossible poisoned perfumes and such things, romantic in its
very suspicions.

Delirium was in the air already charged with thunder, and laid hold
on Gaston too. It was as if through some unsettlement in the
atmospheric medium the objects around no longer acted upon the senses
with the normal result. Looking back afterwards, this singularly
self-possessed person had to confess that under its influence he had
lost for a while the exacter view of certain outlines, certain real
differences and oppositions of things in that hotly coloured world of
Paris (like a shaken tapestry about him) awaiting the Eve of Saint
Bartholomew. Was the "undulant" philosophy of Monsieur de Montaigne,
in collusion with this dislocating time, at work upon him, that,
following with only too entire a mobility the experience of the hour,
he found himself more than he could have thought possible the toy of
external accident? Lodged in Abelard's quarter, he all but repeats
Abelard's typical experience. His new Heloise, with capacities
doubtless, as he reflected afterwards regretfully, for a refined and
serious happiness, although actually so far only a man's plaything,
sat daintily amid her posies and painted potteries in the [125]
window of a house itself as forbidding and stern as her kinsmen, busy
Huguenot printers, well-to-do at a time not only fertile in new books
and new editions, but profuse of tracts, sheets, satiric handbills
for posting all over France. Gaston's curiosity, a kind of
fascination he finds in their dark ways, takes him among them on
occasion, to feel all the more keenly the contrast of that picture-
like prettiness in this framing of their grim company, their grim
abode. Her frivolity is redeemed by a sensitive affection for these
people who protect her, by a self-accusing respect for their
religion, for the somewhat surly goodness, the hard and unattractive
pieties into which she cannot really enter; and she yearns after her
like, for those harmless forbidden graces towards which she has a
natural aptitude, loses her heart to Gaston as he goes to and fro,
wastes her days in reminiscence of that bright passage, notes the
very fineness of his linen. To him, in turn, she seems, as all
longing creatures ever have done, to have some claim upon him--a
right to consideration--to an effort on his part: he finds a sister
to encourage: she touches him, clings where she touches. The gloomy,
honest, uncompromising Huguenot brothers interfere just in time to
save her from the consequence of what to another than Gaston might
have counted as only a passing fondness to be soon forgotten; and the
marriage almost forced upon him seemed under its actual conditions no
binding sacrament. [126] A marriage really indissoluble in itself,
and for the heart of Colombe sacramental, as he came afterwards to
understand--for his own conscience at the moment, the transaction
seemed to have but the transitoriness, as also the guilt of a vagrant
love. A connexion so light of motive, so inexpressive of what seemed
the leading forces of his character, he might, but for the sorrow
which stained its actual issue, have regarded finally as a mere
mistake, or an unmeaning accident in his career.

Coligni lay suffering in the fiery August from the shot of the
ambiguous assassin which had missed his heart, amid the real or
feigned regrets of the Guises, of the royal family, of his true
friends, wondering as they watched whether the bullet had been a
poisoned one. The other Huguenot leaders had had their warnings to
go home, as the princes of the house of Navarre, Condé and Henry of
Bearn, would fain have done--the gallant world about them being come
just now to have certain suspicious resemblances to a prison or a
trap. Under order of the king the various quarters of Paris had been
distributed for some unrevealed purpose of offence or defence. To
the officers in immediate charge it was intimated that "those of the
new religion" designed "to rise against the king's authority, to the
trouble of his subjects and the city of Paris. For the prevention of
which conspiracy the king enjoined the Provost to possess himself
[127] of the keys of the various city gates, and seize all boats
plying on the river, to the end that none might enter or depart."
And just before the lists close around the doomed, Gaston has bounded
away on his road homeward to the bed of the dying grandfather, after
embracing his wife, anxious, if she might, to share his journey, with
some forecast of coming evil among those dark people.

The white badges of Catholicism had been distributed, not to every
Catholic (a large number of Catholics perished), to some Huguenots
such as La Rochefoucauld, brave guerrier et joyeux compagnon, dear to
Charles, hesitating still with some last word of conscience in his
ear at the very gate of the Louvre, when a random pistol-shot, in the
still undisturbed August night, rousing sudden fear for himself,
precipitates the event, and as if in delirium he is driven forth on
the scent of human blood. He had always hunted like a madman. It
was thus "the matins of Paris" began, in which not religious zealots
only assisted, but the thieves, the wanton, the unemployed, the
reckless children, les enfants massacreurs like those seen dragging
an insulted dead body to the Seine, greed or malice or the desire for
swift settlement of some long-pending law-suit finding here an
opportunity. A religious pretext had brought into sudden evidence
all the latent ferocities of a corrupt though dainty civilisation,
and while the stairways of the Louvre, the streets, [128] the vile
trap-doors of Paris, run blood, far away at Deux-manoirs Gaston
watches as the light creeps over the silent cornfields, the last
sense of it in those aged eyes now ebbing softly away. The village
priest, almost as aged, assists patiently with his immemorial
consolations at this long, leisurely, scarce perceptible ending to a
long, leisurely life, on the quiet double-holiday morning.*

The wild news of public disaster, penetrating along the country roads
now bristling afresh with signs of universal war, seemed of little
consequence in comparison with that closer grief at home, which made
just then the more effective demand on his sympathy, till the thought
came of the position of Colombe--his wife left behind there in Paris.
Immediate rumour, like subsequent history, gave variously the number-
-the number of thousands--who perished. The great Huguenot leader
was dead, one party at least, the royal party, safe for the moment
and in high spirits. As Charles himself put it, the ancient private
quarrel between the houses of Guise and Chatillon was ended by the
decease of the chief of the latter, Coligni de Châtillon--a death so
saintly after its new fashion that the long-delayed vengeance of
Henri de Guise on the presumed instigator of the murder of his father
seemed a martyrdom. And around that central barbarity the slaughter
had spread over Paris in widening [129] circles. With conflicting
thoughts, in wild terror and grief, Gaston seeks the footsteps of
Colombe, of her people, from their rifled and deserted house to the
abodes of their various acquaintance, like the traces of wrecked men
under deep water. Yet even amid his private distress, queries on
points of more general interest in the event would not be excluded.
With whom precisely, in whose interest had the first guilty motion
been?--Gaston on the morrow asked in vain as the historian asks
still. And more and more as he picked his way among the direful
records of the late massacre, not the cruelty only but the obscurity,
the accidental character, yet, alas! also the treachery, of the
public event seemed to identify themselves tragically with his own
personal action. Those queries, those surmises were blent with the
enigmatic sense of his own helplessness amid the obscure forces
around him, which would fain compromise the indifferent, and had made
him so far an accomplice in their unfriendly action that he felt
certainly not quite guiltless, thinking of his own irresponsible,
self-centered, passage along the ways, through the weeks that had
ended in the public crime and his own private sorrow. Pity for those
unknown or half-known neighbours whose faces he must often have
looked on--ces pauvres morts!--took an almost remorseful character
from his grief for the delicate creature whose vain longings had been
perhaps but a rudimentary aptitude for the [130] really high things
himself had represented to her fancy, the refined happiness to which
he might have helped her. The being whose one claim had lain in her
incorrigible lightness, came to seem representative of the suffering
of the whole world in its plenitude of piteous detail, in those
unvalued caresses, that desire towards himself, that patient half-
expressed claim not to be wholly despised, poignant now for ever.
For he failed to find her: and her brothers being presumably dead,
all he could discover of a certainty from the last survivor of her
more distant kinsmen was the fact of her flight into the country,
already in labour it was thought, and in the belief that she had been
treacherously deserted, like many another at that great crisis. In
the one place in the neighbourhood of Paris with which his knowledge
connected her he seeks further tidings, but hears only of her passing
through it, as of a passage into vague infinite space; a little
onward, dimly of her death, with the most damaging view of his own
conduct presented with all the condemnatory resources of Huguenot
tongues, but neither of the place nor the circumstances of that
event, nor whether, as seemed hardly probable, the child survived.
It was not till many years afterwards that he stood by her grave,
still with no softening of the cruel picture driven then as with fire
into his soul; her affection, her confidence in him still contending
with the suspicions, the ill-concealed [131] antipathy to him of her
hostile brothers, the distress of her flight, half in dread to find
the husband she was pursuing with the wildness of some lost child,
who seeking its parents begins to suspect treacherous abandonment.
That most mortifying view of his actions had doubtless been further
enforced on her by others, the worst possible reading, to her own
final discomfiture, of a not unfaithful heart.


128. *Sunday, August 24, Feast of St. Bartholomew.


Jetzo, da ich ausgewachsen,
Viel gelesen, viel gereist,
Schwillt mein Herz, und ganz von Herzen,
Glaub' ich an den Heilgen Geist.--HEINE.+

[132] Those who were curious to trace the symmetries of chance or
destiny felt now quite secure in observing that, of nine French kings
of the name, every third Charles had been a madman. Over the exotic,
nervous creature who had inherited so many delicacies of
organisation, the coarse rage or rabies of the wolf, part, doubtless,
of an inheritance older still, had asserted itself on that terrible
night of Saint Bartholomew, at the mere sight, the scent, of blood,
in the crime he had at least allowed others to commit; and it was not
an unfriendly witness who recorded that, the fever once upon him, for
an hour he had been less a man than a beast of prey. But,
exemplifying that exquisite fineness of cruelty proper to an ideal
tragedy, with the [133] work of his madness all around him, he awoke
sane next day, to remain so--aged at twenty-one--seeking for the few
months left him to forget himself in his old out-of-door amusements,
rending a consumptive bosom with the perpetual horn-blowing which
could never rouse again the gay morning of life.

"I have heard," says Brantome, of Elisabeth, Charles's queen, "that
on the Eve of Saint Bartholomew, she, having no knowledge of the
matter, went to rest at her accustomed hour, and, sleeping till the
morning, was told, as she arose, of the brave mystery then playing.
'Alas!' she cried; 'the king! my husband! does he know it?' 'Ay!
Madam,' they answered; 'the king himself has ordained it.' 'God!'
she cried; 'how is this? and what counsellors be they who have given
him this advice? O God, be pitiful! for unless Thou art pitiful I
fear this offence will never be pardoned unto him;' and asking for
her 'Hours,' suddenly betook herself to prayer, weeping."

Like the shrinking, childish Elisabeth, the Pope also wept at that
dubious service to his Church from one who was, after all, a Huguenot
in belief; and Huguenots themselves pitied his end.--"Ah! ces
pauvres morts! que j'ai eu un meschant conseil! Ah! ma nourrice! ma
mie, ma nourrice! que de sang, et que de meurtres!"

It was a peculiarity of the naturally devout [134] Gaston that,
habituated to yield himself to the poetic guidance of the Catholic
Church in her wonderful, year-long, dramatic version of the story of
redemption, he had ever found its greatest day least evocative of
proportionate sympathy. The sudden gaieties of Easter morning, the
congratulations to the Divine Mother, the sharpness of the recoil
from one extreme of feeling to the other, for him never cleared away
the Lenten pre-occupation with Christ's death and passion: the empty
tomb, with the white clothes lying, was still a tomb: there was no
human warmth in the "spiritual body": the white flowers, after all,
were those of a funeral, with a mortal coldness, amid the loud
Alleluias, which refused to melt at the startling summons, any more
than the earth will do in the March morning because we call it
Spring. It was altogether different with that other festival which
celebrates the Descent of the Spirit, the tongues, the nameless
impulses gone all abroad, to soften slowly, to penetrate, all things,
as with the winning subtlety of nature, or of human genius. The
gracious Pentecostal fire seemed to be in alliance with the sweet,
warm, relaxing winds of that later, securer, season, bringing their
spicy burden from unseen sources. Into the close world, like a
walled garden, about him, influences from remotest time and space
found their way, travelling unerringly on their long journeys, as
[135] if straight to him, with the assurance that things were not
wholly left to themselves; yet so unobtrusively that, a little later,
the transforming spiritual agency would be discernible at most in the
grateful cry of an innocent child, in some good deed of a bad man, or
unlooked-for gentleness of a rough one, in the occasional turning to
music of a rude voice. Through the course of years during which
Gaston was to remain in Paris, very close to other people's sins,
interested, all but entangled, in a world of corruption in flower
(pleasantly enough to the eye), those influences never failed him.
At times it was as if a legion of spirits besieged his door: "Open
unto me! Open unto me! My sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled!"
And one result, certainly, of this constant prepossession was, that
it kept him on the alert concerning theories of the divine assistance
to man, and the world,--theories of inspiration. On the Feast of
Pentecost, on the afternoon of the thirtieth of May, news of the
death of Charles the Ninth had gone abroad promptly, with large
rumours as to the manner of it. Those streams of blood blent
themselves fantastically in Gaston's memory of the event with the
gaudy colours of the season--the crazy red trees in blossom upon the
heated sky above the old grey walls; like a fiery sunset, it might
seem, as he looked back over the ashen intervening years. To
Charles's successor (he and [136] the Queen-mother now delightfully
secure from fears, however unreasonable, of Charles's jerking dagger)
the day became a sweet one, to be noted unmistakably by various pious
and other observances, which still further fixed the thought of that
Sunday on Gaston's mind, with continual surmise as to the tendencies
of so complex and perplexing a scene.

The last words of Charles had asserted his satisfaction in leaving no
male child to wear his crown. But the brother, whose obvious kingly
qualities, the chief facts really known of him so far, Charles was
thought to have envied--the gallant feats of his youth, de ses Jeunes
guerres, his stature, his high-bred beauty, his eloquence, his almost
pontifical refinement and grace,--had already promptly deserted the
half-barbarous kingdom, his acceptance of which had been but the mask
of banishment; though he delayed much on his way to the new one,
passing round through the cities of Venice and Lombardy, seductive
schools of the art of life as conceived by Italian epicures, of which
he became only too ready a student. On Whit-Monday afternoon, while
Charles "went in lead," amid very little private or public concern,
to join his kinsfolk at Saint-Denys, Paris was already looking out
for its new king, following, through doubtful rumour, his circuitous
journey to the throne, by Venice, Padua, Ferrara, Mantua, Turin, over
Mont Cenis, by Lyons, to French [137] soil, still building
confidently on the prestige of his early manhood. Seeing him at
last, all were conscious in a moment of the inversion of their hopes.
Had the old witchcrafts of Poland, the old devilries of his race,
laid visible hold on the hopeful young man, that he must now take
purely satiric estimate of so great an opportunity, with a programme
which looked like formal irony on the kingly position, a premeditated
mockery of those who yielded him, on demand, a servile reverence
never before paid to any French monarch? Well! the amusement, or
business, of Parisians, at all events, would still be that of
spectators, assisting at the last act of the Valois tragedy, in the
course of which fantastic traits and incidents would naturally be
multiplied. Fantastic humour seemed at its height in the institution
of a new order of knighthood, the enigmatic splendours of which were
to be a monument of Henry's superstitious care, or, as some said, of
his impious contempt, of the day which had made him master of his
destiny,--that great Church festival, towards the emphatic marking of
which he was ever afterwards ready to welcome any novel or striking
device for the spending of an hour.

It was on such an occasion, then,--on a Whitsunday afternoon, amid
the gaudy red hues of the season, that Gaston listened to one, who,
as if with some intentional new version of the sacred event then
commemorated, had a great [138] deal to say concerning the Spirit;
above all, of the freedom, the indifference, of its operations; and
who would give a strangely altered colour, for a long time to come,
to the thoughts, to the very words, associated with the celebration
of Pentecost. The speaker, though understood to be a brother of the
Order of Saint Dominic, had not been present at the mass--the daily
University red mass, De Spiritu Sancto, but said to-day according to
the proper course of the season in the chapel of the Sorbonne, with
much pomp, by the Italian Bishop of Paris. It was the reign of the
Italians just then, a doubly refined, somewhat morbid, somewhat ash-
coloured, Italy in France, more Italian still. What our Elisabethan
poets imagined about Italian culture--forcing all they knew of Italy
to an ideal of dainty sin such as had never actually existed there,--
that the court of Henry, so far as in it lay, realised in fact. Men
of Italian birth, "to the great suspicion of simple people," swarmed
in Paris, already "flightier, less constant, than the girouettes on
its steeples"; and it was love for Italian fashions that had brought
king and courtiers here this afternoon, with great éclat, as they
said, frizzed and starched, in the beautiful, minutely considered,
dress of the moment, pressing the learned University itself into the
background; for the promised speaker, about whom tongues had been
busy, not only in the Latin quarter, had [139] come from Italy. In
an age in which all things about which Parisians much cared must be
Italian, there might be a hearing for Italian philosophy. Courtiers
at least would understand Italian; and this speaker was rumoured to
possess in perfection all the curious arts of his native language.
And of all the kingly qualities of Henry's youth, the single one
which had held by him was that gift of eloquence he was able also to
value in others; an inherited gift perhaps, for amid all contemporary
and subsequent historic gossip about his mother, the two things
certain are, that the hands credited with so much mysterious ill-
doing were fine ones, and that she was an admirable speaker.

Bruno himself tells us, long after he had withdrawn himself from it,
that the monastic life promotes the freedom of the intellect by its
silence and self-concentration. The prospect of such freedom
sufficiently explains why a young man who, however well-found in
worldly and personal advantages, was above all conscious of great
intellectual possessions, and of fastidious spirit also, with a
remarkable distaste for the vulgar, should have espoused poverty,
chastity, and obedience, in a Dominican cloister. What liberty of
mind may really come to, in such places, what daring new departures
it may suggest even to the strictly monastic temper, is exemplified
by the dubious and dangerous mysticism of men like John of Parma and
[140] Joachim of Flora, the reputed author of a new "Everlasting
Gospel"; strange dreamers, in a world of sanctified rhetoric, of that
later dispensation of the Spirit, in which all law will have passed
away; or again by a recognised tendency, in the great rival Order of
Saint Francis, in the so-called "spiritual" Franciscans, to
understand the dogmatic words of faith, with a difference.

The three convents in which successively Bruno had lived, at Naples,
at Città di Campagna, and finally the Minerva at Rome, developed
freely, we may suppose, all the mystic qualities of a genius, in
which, from the first, a heady southern imagination took the lead.
But it was from beyond monastic bounds that he would look for the
sustenance, the fuel, of an ardour born or bred within them. Amid
such artificial religious stillness the air itself becomes generous
in undertones. The vain young monk (vain, of course) would feed his
vanity by puzzling the good, sleepy heads of the average sons of
Dominic with his neology, putting new wine into old bottles, teaching
them their own business, the new, higher, truer sense of the most
familiar terms, of the chapters they read, the hymns they sang; above
all, as it happened, every word that referred to the Spirit, the
reign of the Spirit, and its excellent freedom. He would soon pass
beyond the utmost possible limits of his brethren's sympathy, beyond
the [141] largest and freest interpretation such words would bear, to
words and thoughts on an altogether different plane, of which the
full scope was only to be felt in certain old pagan writers,--pagan,
though approached, perhaps, at first, as having a kind of natural,
preparatory, kinship with Scripture itself. The Dominicans would
seem to have had well-stocked, and liberally-selected, libraries; and
this curious youth, in that age of restored letters, read eagerly,
easily, and very soon came to the kernel of a difficult old author,
Plotinus or Plato,--to the real purpose of thinkers older still,
surviving by glimpses only in the books of others, Empedocles, for
instance, and Pythagoras, who had been nearer the original sense of
things; Parmenides, above all, that most ancient assertor of God's
identity with the world. The affinities, the unity, of the visible
and the invisible, of earth and heaven, of all things whatever, with
one another, through the consciousness, the person, of God the
Spirit, who was at every moment of infinite time, in every atom of
matter, at every point of infinite space; aye! was everything, in
turn: that doctrine--l'antica filosofia Italiana--was in all its
vigour there, like some hardy growth out of the very heart of nature,
interpreting itself to congenial minds with all the fulness of
primitive utterance. A big thought! yet suggesting, perhaps, from
the first, in still, small, immediately practical, voice, a freer way
of taking, a possible modification [142] of, certain moral precepts.
A primitive morality,--call it! congruous with those larger primitive
ideas, with that larger survey, with the earlier and more liberal

Returning to this ancient "pantheism," after the long reign of a
seemingly opposite faith, Bruno unfalteringly asserts "the vision of
all things in God" to be the aim of all metaphysical speculation, as
of all enquiry into nature. The Spirit of God, in countless variety
of forms, neither above, nor in any way without, but intimately
within, all things, is really present, with equal integrity and
fulness, in the sunbeam ninety millions of miles long, and the
wandering drop of water as it evaporates therein. The divine
consciousness has the same relation to the production of things as
the human intelligence to the production of true thoughts concerning
them. Nay! those thoughts are themselves actually God in man: a loan
to man also of His assisting Spirit, who, in truth, is the Creator of
things, in and by His contemplation of them. For Him, as for man in
proportion as man thinks truly, thought and being are identical, and
things existent only in so far as they are known. Delighting in
itself, in the sense of its own energy, this sleepless, capacious,
fiery intelligence, evokes all the orders of nature, all the
revolutions of history, cycle upon cycle, in ever new types. And God
the Spirit, the soul of the world, being therefore really identical
with the [143] soul of Bruno also, as the universe shapes itself to
Bruno's reason, to his imagination, ever more and more articulately,
he too becomes a sharer of the divine joy in that process of the
formation of true ideas, which is really parallel to the process of
creation, to the evolution of things. In a certain mystic sense,
which some in every age of the world have understood, he, too, is the
creator; himself actually a participator in the creative function.
And by such a philosophy, Bruno assures us, it was his experience
that the soul is greatly expanded: con questa filosofia l'anima mi
s'aggrandisce: mi se magnifica l'intelletto!

For, with characteristic largeness of mind, Bruno accepted this
theory in the whole range of its consequences. Its more immediate
corollary was the famous axiom of "indifference," of "the coincidence
of contraries." To the eye of God, to the philosophic vision through
which God sees in man, nothing is really alien from Him. The
differences of things, those distinctions, above all, which schoolmen
and priests, old or new, Roman or Reformed, had invented for
themselves, would be lost in the length and breadth of the
philosophic survey: nothing, in itself, being really either great or
small; and matter certainly, in all its various forms, not evil but
divine. Dare one choose or reject this or that? If God the Spirit
had made, nay! was, all things indifferently, then, matter and
spirit, the spirit and the flesh, heaven and earth, freedom [144] and
necessity, the first and the last, good and evil, would be
superficial rather than substantial differences. Only, were joy and
sorrow also, together with another distinction, always of emphatic
reality to Gaston, for instance, to be added to the list of phenomena
really "coincident," or "indifferent," as some intellectual kinsmen
of Bruno have claimed they should?

The Dominican brother was at no distant day to break far enough away
from the election, the seeming "vocation," of his youth, yet would
remain always, and under all circumstances, unmistakably a monk in
some predominant qualities of temper. At first it was only by way of
thought that he asserted his liberty--delightful, late-found,
privilege!--traversing, in strictly mental journeys, that spacious
circuit, as it broke away before him at every moment upon ever-new
horizons. Kindling thought and imagination at once, the prospect
draws from him cries of joy, of a kind of religious joy, as in some
new "canticle of the creatures," some new hymnal, or antiphonary.
"Nature" becomes for him a sacred term.--"Conform thyself to Nature!
"with what sincerity, what enthusiasm, what religious fervour, he
enounces that precept, to others, to himself! Recovering, as he
fancies, a certain primeval sense of Deity broadcast on things, a
sense in which Pythagoras and other "inspired" theorists of early
Greece had abounded, in his hands philosophy becomes a poem, a [145]
sacred poem, as it had been with them. That Bruno himself, in "the
enthusiasm of the idea," drew from his axiom of the "indifference of
contraries" the practical consequence which is in very deed latent
there, that he was ready to sacrifice to the antinomianism, which is
certainly a part of its rigid logic, the austerities, the purity of
his own youth, for instance, there is no proof. The service, the
sacrifice, he is ready to bring to the great light that has dawned
for him, occupying his entire conscience with the sense of his
responsibilities to it, is the sacrifice of days and nights spent in
eager study, of plenary, disinterested utterance of the thoughts that
arise in him, at any hazard, at the price, say! of martyrdom. The
work of the divine Spirit, as he conceives it, exalts, inebriates
him, till the scientific apprehension seems to take the place of
prayer, oblation, communion. It would be a mistake, he holds, to
attribute to the human soul capacities merely passive or receptive.
She, too, possesses initiatory power as truly as the divine soul of
the world, to which she responds with the free gift of a light and
heat that seem her own.

Yet a nature so opulently endowed can hardly have been lacking in
purely physical or sensuous ardours. His pantheistic belief that the
Spirit of God is in all things, was not inconsistent with, nay! might
encourage, a keen and restless eye for the dramatic details of life
and character [146] however minute, for humanity in all its visible
attractiveness, since there too, in truth, divinity lurks. From
those first fair days of early Greek speculation, love had occupied a
large place in the conception of philosophy; and in after days Bruno
was fond of developing, like Plato, like the Christian Platonists,
combining something of the peculiar temper of each, the analogy
between the flights of intellectual enthusiasm and those of physical
love, with an animation which shows clearly enough the reality of his
experience in the latter. The Eroici Furori, his book of books,
dedicated to Philip Sidney, who would be no stranger to such
thoughts, presents a singular blending of verse and prose, after the
manner of Dante's Vita Nuova. The supervening philosophic comment
reconsiders those earlier, physically erotic, impulses which had
prompted the sonnet in voluble Italian, entirely to the advantage of
their abstract, incorporeal, theoretic, equivalents. Yet if it is
after all but a prose comment, it betrays no lack of the natural
stuff out of which such mystic transferences must be made. That
there is no single name of preference, no Beatrice, or Laura, by no
means proves the young man's earlier desires to have been merely
Platonic; and if the colours of love inevitably lose a little of
their force and propriety by such deflexion from their earlier
purpose, their later intellectual purpose as certainly finds its
opportunity thereby, in the [147] matter of borrowed fire and wings.
A kind of old scholastic pedantry creeping back over the ardent youth
who had thrown it off so defiantly (as if love himself went in now
for a University degree), Bruno developes, under the mask of amorous
verse, all the various stages of abstraction, by which, as the last
step of a long ladder, the mind attains actual "union." For, as with
the purely religious mystics, "union," the mystic union of souls with
one another and their Lord, nothing less than union between the
contemplator and the contemplated--the reality, or the sense, or at
least the name of such union--was always at hand. Whence that
instinctive tendency towards union if not from the Creator of things
Himself, who has doubtless prompted it in the physical universe, as
in man? How familiar the thought that the whole creation, not less
than the soul of man, longs for God, "as the hart for the water-
brooks"! To unite oneself to the infinite by largeness and lucidity
of intellect, to enter, by that admirable faculty, into eternal life-
-this was the true vocation of the spouse, of the rightly amorous
soul. A filosofia è necessario amore. There would be degrees of
progress therein, as of course also of relapse: joys and sorrows,
therefore. And, in interpreting these, the philosopher, whose
intellectual ardours have superseded religion and physical love, is
still a lover and a monk. All the influences of the convent, the
sweet, heady [148] incense, the pleading sounds, the sophisticated
light and air, the grotesque humours of old gothic carvers, the thick
stratum of pagan sentiment beneath all this,--Santa Maria sopra
Minervam!--are indelible in him. Tears, sympathies, tender
inspirations, attraction, repulsion, zeal, dryness, recollection,
desire:--he finds a place for them all: knows them all well in their
unaffected simplicity, while he seeks the secret and secondary, or,
as he fancies, the primary, form and purport of each.

Whether as a light on actual life, or as a mere barren scholastic
subtlety, never before had the pantheistic doctrine been developed
with such completeness, never before connected with so large a sense
of nature, so large a promise of the knowledge of it as it really is.
The eyes that had not been wanting to visible humanity turned now
with equal liveliness on the natural world, in that region of his
birth, where all the colour and force of nature are at least two-
fold. Nature is not only a thought or meditation in the divine mind;
it is also the perpetual energy of that mind, which, ever identical
with itself, puts forth and absorbs in turn all the successive forms
of life, of thought, of language even. What seemed like striking
transformations of matter were in truth only a chapter, a clause, in
the great volume of the transformations of the divine Spirit. The
mystic recognition that all is indeed divine had accompanied a
realisation [149] of the largeness of the field of concrete
knowledge, the infinite extent of all there was actually to know.
Winged, fortified, by that central philosophic faith, the student
proceeds to the detailed reading of nature, led on from point to
point by manifold lights, which will surely strike on him by the way,
from the divine intelligence in it, speaking directly,
sympathetically, to a like intelligence in him. The earth's
wonderful animation, as divined by one who anticipates by a whole
generation the Baconian "philosophy of experience": in that, those
bold, flighty, pantheistic speculations become tangible matter of
fact. Here was the needful book for man to read; the full
revelation, the story in detail, of that one universal mind,
struggling, emerging, through shadow, substance, manifest spirit, in
various orders of being,--the veritable history of God. And nature,
together with the true pedigree and evolution of man also, his
gradual issue from it, was still all to learn. The delightful tangle
of things!--it would be the delightful task of man's thoughts to
disentangle that. Already Bruno had measured the space which Bacon
would fill, with room, perhaps, for Darwin also. That Deity is
everywhere, like all such abstract propositions, is a two-edged
force, depending for its practical effect on the mind which admits it
on the peculiar perspective of that mind. To Dutch Spinosa, in the
next century, faint, consumptive, with a naturally [150] faint hold
on external things, the theorem that God was in all things whatever,
annihilating their differences, suggested a somewhat chilly
withdrawal from the contact of all alike. But in Bruno, eager and
impassioned, an Italian of the Italians, it awoke a constant,
inextinguishable appetite for every form of experience,--a fear, as
of the one sin possible, of limiting, for one's self or another, the
great stream flowing for thirsty souls, that wide pasture set ready
for the hungry heart.

Considered from the point of view of a minute observation of nature,
the Infinite might figure as "the infinitely little"; no blade of
grass being like another, as there was no limit to the complexities
of an atom of earth,--cell, sphere, within sphere. And the earth
itself, hitherto seemingly the privileged centre of a very limited
universe, was, after all, but an atom in an infinite world of starry
space, then lately divined by candid intelligence, which the
telescope was one day to present to bodily eyes. For if Bruno must
needs look forward to the future, to Bacon, for adequate knowledge of
the earth, the infinitely little, he could look backwards also
gratefully to another daring mind which had already put that earth
into its modest place, and opened the full view of the heavens. If
God is eternal, then, the universe is infinite and worlds
innumerable. Yes! one might well have divined what reason now
demonstrated, indicating those endless [151] spaces which a real
sidereal science would gradually occupy.

That the stars are suns: that the earth is in motion: that the earth
is of like stuff with the stars:--now the familiar knowledge of
children--dawning on Bruno as calm assurance of reason on appeal from
the prejudice of the eye, brought to him an inexpressibly
exhilarating sense of enlargement in the intellectual, nay! the
physical atmosphere. And his consciousness of unfailing unity and
order did not desert him in that broader survey, which made the
utmost one could ever know of the earth seem but a very little
chapter in the endless history of God the Spirit, rejoicing so
greatly in the admirable spectacle that it never ceases to evolve
from matter new conditions. The immoveable earth, as we term it,
beneath one's feet!--Why, one almost felt the movement, the
respiration, of God in it. And yet how greatly even the physical
eye, the sensible imagination (so to term it) was flattered by the
theorem. What joy in that motion, in the prospect, the music! "The
music of the spheres!"--he could listen to it in a perfection such as
had never been conceded to Plato, to Pythagoras even.--

Veni, Creator Spiritus,
Mentes tuorum visita,
Imple superna gratia,
Quae tu creasti pectora.+

Yes! The grand old Christian hymns, perhaps [152] the grandest of
them all, seemed to lend themselves in the chorus, to be deepened
immeasurably under this new intention. It is not always, or often,
that men's abstract ideas penetrate the temperament, touch the animal
spirits, affect conduct. It was what they did with Bruno. The
ghastly spectacle of the endless material universe--infinite dust, in
truth, starry as it may look to our terrestrial eyes--that prospect
from which the mind of Pascal recoiled so painfully, induced in Bruno
only the delightful consciousness of an ever-widening kinship and
sympathy, since every one of those infinite worlds must have its
sympathetic inhabitants. Scruples of conscience, if he felt such,
might well be pushed aside for the "excellency" of such knowledge as
this. To shut the eyes, whether of the body or the mind, would be a
kind of sullen ingratitude;--the one sin to believe, directly or
indirectly, in any absolutely dead matter anywhere, as being
implicitly a denial of the indwelling spirit.--A free spirit,
certainly, as of old! Through all his pantheistic flights, from
horizon to horizon, it was still the thought of liberty that
presented itself, to the infinite relish of this "prodigal son" of
Dominic. God the Spirit had made all things indifferently, with a
largeness, a beneficence, impiously belied by any theory of
restrictions, distinctions, of absolute limitation. Touch! see!
listen! eat freely of all the trees of the garden of Paradise, with
the voice of the [153] Lord God literally everywhere!--here was the
final counsel of perfection. The world was even larger than youthful
appetite, youthful capacity. Let theologian and every other theorist
beware how he narrowed either. "The plurality of worlds!"--How petty
in comparison seemed those sins, the purging of which was men's chief
motive in coming to places like this convent, whence Bruno, with vows
broken, or for him obsolete, presently departed. A sonnet,
expressive of the joy with which he returned to so much more than the
liberty of ordinary men, does not suggest that he was driven from it.
Though he must have seemed to those who surely had loved so loveable
a creature there to be departing, like the "prodigal" of the Gospel,
into the farthest of possible far countries, there is no proof of
harsh treatment on their part, or even of an effort to detain him.

It happens most naturally of course that those who undergo the shock
of spiritual or intellectual change sometimes fail to recognise their
debt to the deserted cause:--How much of the heroism, or other high
quality, of their rejection has really been the product of what they
reject? Bruno, the escaped monk, is still a monk; and his
philosophy, impious as it might seem to some, a religion; very new
indeed, yet a religion. He came forth well-fitted by conventual
influences to play upon men as he had been played upon. A challenge,
a war-cry, an [154] alarum, everywhere he seemed to be but the
instrument of some subtly materialised spiritual force, like that of
the old Greek prophets, that "enthusiasm" he was inclined to set so
high, or like impulsive Pentecostal fire. His hunger to know, fed
dreamily enough at first within the convent walls, as he wandered
over space and time, an indefatigable reader of books, would be fed
physically now by ear and eye, by large matter-of-fact experience, as
he journeys from university to university; less as a teacher than a
courtier, a citizen of the world, a knight-errant of intellectual
light. The philosophic need to try all things had given reasonable
justification to the stirring desire for travel common to youth, in
which, if in nothing else, that whole age of the later Renaissance
was invincibly young. The theoretic recognition of that mobile
spirit of the world, ever renewing its youth, became the motive of a
life as mobile, as ardent, as itself, of a continual journey, the
venture and stimulus of which would be the occasion of ever-new
discoveries, of renewed conviction.

The unity, the spiritual unity, of the world:--that must involve the
alliance, the congruity, of all things with one another, of the
teacher's personality with the doctrine he had to deliver, of the
spirit of that doctrine with the fashion of his utterance, great
reinforcements of sympathy. In his own case, certainly, when Bruno
confronted his audience at Paris, himself, his theme, [155] his
language, were alike the fuel of one clear spiritual flame, which
soon had hold of his audience also; alien, strangely alien, as that
audience might seem from the speaker. It was intimate discourse, in
magnetic touch with every one present, with his special point of
impressibility; the sort of speech which, consolidated into literary
form as a book, would be a dialogue according to the true Attic
genius, full of those diversions, passing irritations, unlooked-for
appeals, in which a solicitous missionary finds his largest range of
opportunity, and takes even dull wits unaware. In Bruno, that
abstract theory of the perpetual motion of the world was become a
visible person talking with you.

And as the runaway Dominican was still in temper a monk, so he
presented himself to his audience in the comely Dominican habit. The
reproachful eyes were to-day for the most part kindly observant,
registering every detail of that singular company, all the
physiognomic effects which come, by the way, on people, and, through
them, on things,--the "shadows of ideas" in men's faces--his own
pleasantly expressive with them, in turn. De Umbris Idearum: it was
the very title of his discourse. There was "heroic gaiety" there:
only, as usual with gaiety, it made the passage of a peevish cloud
seem all the chillier. Lit up, in the agitation of speaking, by many
a harsh or scornful beam, yet always sinking, in moments of repose,
to an [156] expression of high-bred melancholy, the face was one that
looked, after all, made for suffering,--already half pleading, half
defiant, as of a creature you could hurt, but to the last never shake
a hair's-breadth from its estimate of yourself.

Like nature, like nature in that opulent country of his birth which
the "Nolan," as he delighted to call himself, loved so well that,
born wanderer as he was, he must perforce return thither sooner or
later at the risk of life, he gave plenis manibus, but without
selection, and was hardly more fastidious in speech than the
"asinine" vulgar he so deeply contemned. His rank, un-weeded
eloquence, abounding in play of words, rabbinic allegories, verses
defiant of prosody, in the kind of erudition he professed to despise,
with here and there a shameless image,--the product not of formal
method, but of Neapolitan improvisation--was akin to the heady wine,
the sweet, coarse odours, of that fiery, volcanic soil, fertile in
such irregularities as manifest power. Helping himself indifferently
to all religions for rhetoric illustration, his preference was still
for that of the soil, the old pagan religion, and for the primitive
Italian gods, whose names and legends haunt his speech, as they do
the carved and pictorial work of that age of the Renaissance. To
excite, to surprise, to move men's minds, like the volcanic earth as
if in travail, and, according to the Socratic fancy, [157] to bring
them to the birth, was after all the proper function of the teacher,
however unusual it might seem in so ancient a university.
"Fantastic!"--from first to last, that was the descriptive epithet;
and the very word, carrying us to Shakespeare, reminds one how
characteristic of the age such habit was, and that it was pre-
eminently due to Italy. A man of books, he had yet so vivid a hold
on people and things, that the traits and tricks of the audience
seemed to strike from his memory all the graphic resources of his old
readings. He seemed to promise some greater matter than was then
actually exposed by him; to be himself enjoying the fulness of a
great outlook, the vague suggestion of which did but sustain the
curiosity of the listeners. And still, in hearing him speak you
seemed to see that subtle spiritual fire to which he testified
kindling from word to word. What Gaston then heard was, in truth,
the first fervid expression of all those contending views out of
which his written works would afterwards be compacted, of course with
much loss of heat in the process. Satyric or hybrid growths, things
due to hybris,+ insult, insolence, to what the old satyrs of fable
embodied,--the volcanic South is kindly prolific of these, and Bruno
abounded in mockery; though it was by way of protest. So much of a
Platonist, for Plato's genial humour he had nevertheless substituted
the harsh laughter of Aristophanes. Paris, teeming, beneath a [158]
very courtly exterior, with mordant words, in unabashed criticism of
all real or suspected evil, provoked his utmost powers of scorn for
the "Triumphant Beast," the "installation of the ass," shining even
there amid the university folk,--those intellectual bankrupts of the
Latin Quarter, who had so long passed between them, however gravely,
a worthless "parchment and paper" currency. In truth, Aristotle, the
supplanter of Plato, was still in possession, pretending, as Bruno
conceived, to determine heaven and earth by precedent, hiding the
proper nature of things from the eyes of men. "Habit"--the last word
of his practical philosophy--indolent habit! what would this mean, in
the intellectual life, but just that sort of dead judgments which,
because the mind, the eye, were no longer really at work in them, are
most opposed to the essential quickness and freedom of the spirit?

The Shadows of Ideas: De Umbris Idearum: such, in set terms, have
been the subject of Bruno's discourse, appropriately to the still
only half emancipated intellect of his audience:--on approximations
to truth: the divine imaginations, as seen, darkly, more bearably by
weaker faculties, in words, in visible facts, in their shadows
merely. According to the doctrine of "Indifference," indeed, there
would be no real distinction between substance and shadow. In regard
to man's feeble wit, however, varying degrees of knowledge
constituted such a distinction. [159] "Ideas, and Shadows of Ideas":
the phrase recurred often; and, as such mystic phrases will, fixed
itself in Gaston's fancy, though not quite according to the mind of
the speaker; accommodated rather to the thoughts which just then
preoccupied his own. As already in his life there had been the
Shadows of Events,--the indirect yet fatal influence there of deeds
in which he had no part, so now, for a time, he seemed to fall under
the spell, the power, of the Shadows of Ideas, of Bruno's Ideas; in
other words, of those indirect suggestions, which, though no
necessary part of, yet inevitably followed upon, his doctrines.
What, for instance, might be the proper practical limitations of that
telling theory of "the coincidence, the indifference, of opposites"?

To that true son of the Renaissance, in the light of his large,
antique, pagan ideas, the difference between Rome and the Reform
would figure, of course, as but an insignificant variation upon some
deeper and more radical antagonism, between two tendencies of men's
minds. But what about an antagonism deeper still? Between Christ
and the world, say!--Christ and the flesh!--or about that so very
ancient antagonism between good and evil. Was there any place really
left for imperfection, moral or otherwise, in a world, wherein the
minutest atom, the lightest thought, could not escape from God's
presence? Who should note the crime, the sin, [160] the mistake, in
the operation of that eternal spirit, which was incapable of mis-
shapen births? In proportion as man raised himself to the ampler
survey of the divine work around him, just in that proportion did the
very notion of evil disappear. There were no weeds, no "tares," in
the endless field. The truly illuminated mind, discerning
spiritually, might do what it would. Even under the shadow of
monastic walls, that had sometimes been the precept, which larger
theories of "inspiration" had bequeathed to practice. "Of all the
trees of the garden thou mayest freely eat!--If ye take up any deadly
thing, it shall not hurt you!--And I think that I, too, have the
spirit of God."

Bruno, a citizen of the world, Bruno at Paris, was careful to warn
off the vulgar from applying the decisions of philosophy beyond its
proper speculative limits. But a kind of secrecy, an ambiguous
atmosphere, encompassed, from the first, alike the speaker and the
doctrine; and in that world of fluctuating and ambiguous characters,
the alerter mind certainly, pondering on this novel "reign of the
spirit"--what it might actually be--would hardly fail to find in
Bruno's doctrines a method of turning poison into food, to live and
thrive thereon; an art, to Paris, in the intellectual and moral
condition of that day, hardly less opportune than had it related to
physical poisons. If Bruno himself was cautious not to suggest the
ethic or practical [161] equivalent to his theoretic positions, there
was that in his very manner of speech, in that rank, un-weeded
eloquence of his, which seemed naturally to discourage any effort at
selection, any sense of fine difference, of nuances or proportion, in
things. The loose sympathies of his genius were allied to nature,
nursing, with equable maternity of soul, good, bad, and indifferent
alike, rather than to art, distinguishing, rejecting, refining.
Commission and omission! sins of the former surely had the natural
preference. And how would Paolo and Francesca have read this lesson?
How would Henry, and Margaret of the "Memoirs," and other susceptible
persons then present, read it, especially if the opposition between
practical good and evil traversed diametrically another distinction,
the "opposed points" of which, to Gaston for instance, could never by
any possibility become "indifferent,"--the distinction, namely,
between the precious and the base, aesthetically; between what was
right and wrong in the matter of art?


132. +From Aus der Harzreise, "Bergidylle 2": "Tannenbaum, mit grünen
Fingern," Stanza 10. E-text editor's translation: "Now that I have
grown to maturity, / Have read and traveled much, / My whole heart
expands / With my belief in the Holy Spirit."

151. +The beginning of a hymn used by the Catholic Church to
commemorate solemn occasions. Dryden's translation: "Creator Spirit,
by whose aid / The world's foundations first were laid, / Come visit
every pious mind, Come pour Thy joys on human kind."

157. +Transliteration: hybris. Liddell and Scott definition: "wanton
violence, arising from the pride of strength, passion, etc."


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