IMAGINARY CONVERSATIONS AND POEMS: A SELECTION
By WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR
Marcellus and Hannibal
Queen Elizabeth and Cecil
Epictetus and Seneca
Peter the Great and Alexis
Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
Joseph Scaliger and Montaigne
Boccaccio and Petrarca
Bossuet and the Duchess de Fontanges
John of Gaunt and Joanna of Kent
Leofric and Godiva
Essex and Spenser
Lord Bacon and Richard Hooker
Oliver Cromwell and Walter Noble
Lord Brooke and Sir Philip Sidney
Southey and Porson
The Abbe Delille and Walter Landor
Diogenes and Plato
Alfieri and Salomon the Florentine Jew
Rousseau and Malesherbes
Lucullus and Caesar
Epicurus, Leontion, and Ternissa
Dante and Beatrice
Fra Filippo Lippi and Pope Eugenius the Fourth
Tasso and Cornelia
La Fontaine and de La Rochefoucault
Lucian and Timotheus
Bishop Shipley and Benjamin Franklin
Southey and Landor
The Emperor of China and Tsing-Ti
Louis XVIII and Talleyrand
Oliver Cromwell and Sir Oliver Cromwell
The Count Gleichem: the Countess: their Children, and Zaida
First Day's Interview
Third Day's Interview
Fourth Day's Interview
Fifth Day's Interview
I. She I love (alas in vain!)
II. Pleasure! why thus desert the heart
III. Past ruin'd Ilion Helen lives
IV. Ianthe! you are call'd to cross the sea!
V. The gates of fame and of the grave
VI. Twenty years hence my eyes may grow
VII. Here, ever since you went abroad
VIII. Tell me not things past all belief
IX. Proud word you never spoke, but you will speak
X. Fiesole Idyl
XI. Ah what avails the sceptred race
XII. With rosy hand a little girl prest down
VIII. Ternissa! you are fled!
XIV. Various the roads of life; in one
XV. Yes; I write verses now and then
XVI. On seeing a hair of Lucretia Borgia
XVII. Once, and once only, have I seen thy face
XVIII. To Wordsworth
XIX. To Charles Dickens
XX. To Barry Cornwall
XXI. To Robert Browning
XXIII. Leaf after leaf drops off, flower after flower
XXIV. Well I remember how you smiled
XXV. I strove with none, for none was worth my strife
XXVI. Death stands above me, whispering low
XXVII. A Pastoral
XXVIII. The Lover
XXIX. The Poet who Sleeps
XXX. Daniel Defoe
XXXI. Idle Words
XXXII. To the River Avon
MARCELLUS AND HANNIBAL
Hannibal. Could a Numidian horseman ride no faster? Marcellus! oh! Marcellus! He moves not—he is dead. Did he not stir his fingers? Stand wide, soldiers—wide, forty paces; give him air; bring water; halt! Gather those broad leaves, and all the rest, growing under the brushwood; unbrace his armour. Loose the helmet first—his breast rises. I fancied his eyes were fixed on me—they have rolled back again. Who presumed to touch my shoulder? This horse? It was surely the horse of Marcellus! Let no man mount him. Ha! ha! the Romans, too, sink into luxury: here is gold about the charger.
Gaulish Chieftain. Execrable thief! The golden chain of our king under a beast's grinders! The vengeance of the gods hath overtaken the impure——
Hannibal. We will talk about vengeance when we have entered Rome, and about purity among the priests, if they will hear us. Sound for the surgeon. That arrow may be extracted from the side, deep as it is. The conqueror of Syracuse lies before me. Send a vessel off to Carthage. Say Hannibal is at the gates of Rome. Marcellus, who stood alone between us, fallen. Brave man! I would rejoice and cannot. How awfully serene a countenance! Such as we hear are in the islands of the Blessed. And how glorious a form and stature! Such too was theirs! They also once lay thus upon the earth wet with their blood—few other enter there. And what plain armour!
Gaulish Chieftain. My party slew him; indeed, I think I slew him myself. I claim the chain: it belongs to my king; the glory of Gaul requires it. Never will she endure to see another take it.
Hannibal. My friend, the glory of Marcellus did not require him to wear it. When he suspended the arms of your brave king in the temple, he thought such a trinket unworthy of himself and of Jupiter. The shield he battered down, the breast-plate he pierced with his sword—these he showed to the people and to the gods; hardly his wife and little children saw this, ere his horse wore it.
Gaulish Chieftain. Hear me; O Hannibal!
Hannibal. What! when Marcellus lies before me? when his life may perhaps be recalled? when I may lead him in triumph to Carthage? when Italy, Sicily, Greece, Asia, wait to obey me? Content thee! I will give thee mine own bridle, worth ten such.
Gaulish Chieftain. For myself?
Hannibal. For thyself.
Gaulish Chieftain. And these rubies and emeralds, and that scarlet——?
Hannibal. Yes, yes.
Gaulish Chieftain. O glorious Hannibal! unconquerable hero! O my happy country! to have such an ally and defender. I swear eternal gratitude—yes, gratitude, love, devotion, beyond eternity.
Hannibal. In all treaties we fix the time: I could hardly ask a longer. Go back to thy station. I would see what the surgeon is about, and hear what he thinks. The life of Marcellus! the triumph of Hannibal! what else has the world in it? Only Rome and Carthage: these follow.
Marcellus. I must die then? The gods be praised! The commander of a Roman army is no captive.
Hannibal. [To the Surgeon.] Could not he bear a sea voyage? Extract the arrow.
Surgeon. He expires that moment.
Marcellus. It pains me: extract it.
Hannibal. Marcellus, I see no expression of pain on your countenance, and never will I consent to hasten the death of an enemy in my power. Since your recovery is hopeless, you say truly you are no captive.
[To the Surgeon.] Is there nothing, man, that can assuage the mortal pain? for, suppress the signs of it as he may, he must feel it. Is there nothing to alleviate and allay it?
Marcellus. Hannibal, give me thy hand—thou hast found it and brought it me, compassion.
[To the Surgeon.] Go, friend; others want thy aid; several fell around me.
Hannibal. Recommend to your country, O Marcellus, while time permits it, reconciliation and peace with me, informing the Senate of my superiority in force, and the impossibility of resistance. The tablet is ready: let me take off this ring—try to write, to sign it, at least. Oh, what satisfaction I feel at seeing you able to rest upon the elbow, and even to smile!
Marcellus. Within an hour or less, with how severe a brow would Minos say to me, 'Marcellus, is this thy writing?'
Rome loses one man: she hath lost many such, and she still hath many left.
Hannibal. Afraid as you are of falsehood, say you this? I confess in shame the ferocity of my countrymen. Unfortunately, too, the nearer posts are occupied by Gauls, infinitely more cruel. The Numidians are so in revenge: the Gauls both in revenge and in sport. My presence is required at a distance, and I apprehend the barbarity of one or other, learning, as they must do, your refusal to execute my wishes for the common good, and feeling that by this refusal you deprive them of their country, after so long an absence.
Marcellus. Hannibal, thou art not dying.
Hannibal. What then? What mean you?
Marcellus. That thou mayest, and very justly, have many things yet to apprehend: I can have none. The barbarity of thy soldiers is nothing to me: mine would not dare be cruel. Hannibal is forced to be absent; and his authority goes away with his horse. On this turf lies defaced the semblance of a general; but Marcellus is yet the regulator of his army. Dost thou abdicate a power conferred on thee by thy nation? Or wouldst thou acknowledge it to have become, by thy own sole fault, less plenary than thy adversary's?
I have spoken too much: let me rest; this mantle oppresses me.
Hannibal. I placed my mantle on your head when the helmet was first removed, and while you were lying in the sun. Let me fold it under, and then replace the ring.
Marcellus. Take it, Hannibal. It was given me by a poor woman who flew to me at Syracuse, and who covered it with her hair, torn off in desperation that she had no other gift to offer. Little thought I that her gift and her words should be mine. How suddenly may the most powerful be in the situation of the most helpless! Let that ring and the mantle under my head be the exchange of guests at parting. The time may come, Hannibal, when thou (and the gods alone know whether as conqueror or conquered) mayest sit under the roof of my children, and in either case it shall serve thee. In thy adverse fortune, they will remember on whose pillow their father breathed his last; in thy prosperity (Heaven grant it may shine upon thee in some other country!) it will rejoice thee to protect them. We feel ourselves the most exempt from affliction when we relieve it, although we are then the most conscious that it may befall us.
There is one thing here which is not at the disposal of either.
Marcellus. This body.
Hannibal. Whither would you be lifted? Men are ready.
Marcellus. I meant not so. My strength is failing. I seem to hear rather what is within than what is without. My sight and my other senses are in confusion. I would have said—this body, when a few bubbles of air shall have left it, is no more worthy of thy notice than of mine; but thy glory will not let thee refuse it to the piety of my family.
Hannibal. You would ask something else. I perceive an inquietude not visible till now.
Marcellus. Duty and Death make us think of home sometimes.
Hannibal. Thitherward the thoughts of the conqueror and of the conquered fly together.
Marcellus. Hast thou any prisoners from my escort?
Hannibal. A few dying lie about—and let them lie—they are Tuscans. The remainder I saw at a distance, flying, and but one brave man among them—he appeared a Roman—a youth who turned back, though wounded. They surrounded and dragged him away, spurring his horse with their swords. These Etrurians measure their courage carefully, and tack it well together before they put it on, but throw it off again with lordly ease.
Marcellus, why think about them? or does aught else disquiet your thoughts?
Marcellus. I have suppressed it long enough. My son—my beloved son!
Hannibal. Where is he? Can it be? Was he with you?
Marcellus. He would have shared my fate—and has not. Gods of my country! beneficent throughout life to me, in death surpassingly beneficent: I render you, for the last time, thanks.
QUEEN ELIZABETH AND CECIL
Elizabeth. I advise thee again, churlish Cecil, how that our Edmund Spenser, whom thou callest most uncourteously a whining whelp, hath good and solid reason for his complaint. God's blood! shall the lady that tieth my garter and shuffles the smock over my head, or the lord that steadieth my chair's back while I eat, or the other that looketh to my buck-hounds lest they be mangy, be holden by me in higher esteem and estate than he who hath placed me among the bravest of past times, and will as safely and surely set me down among the loveliest in the future?
Cecil. Your Highness must remember he carouseth fully for such deserts: fifty pounds a year of unclipped moneys, and a butt of canary wine; not to mention three thousand acres in Ireland, worth fairly another fifty and another butt, in seasonable and quiet years.
Elizabeth. The moneys are not enough to sustain a pair of grooms and a pair of palfreys, and more wine hath been drunken in my presence at a feast. The moneys are given to such men, that they may not incline nor be obligated to any vile or lowly occupation; and the canary, that they may entertain such promising wits as court their company and converse; and that in such manner there may be alway in our land a succession of these heirs unto fame. He hath written, not indeed with his wonted fancifulness, nor in learned and majestical language, but in homely and rustic wise, some verses which have moved me, and haply the more inasmuch as they demonstrate to me that his genius hath been dampened by his adversities. Read them.
How much is lost when neither heart nor eye Rosewinged Desire or fabling Hope deceives; When boyhood with quick throb hath ceased to spy The dubious apple in the yellow leaves;
When, rising from the turf where youth reposed, We find but deserts in the far-sought shore; When the huge book of Faery-land lies closed, And those strong brazen clasps will yield no more.
Elizabeth. The said Edmund hath also furnished unto the weaver at Arras, John Blanquieres, on my account, a description for some of his cunningest wenches to work at, supplied by mine own self, indeed, as far as the subject-matter goes, but set forth by him with figures and fancies, and daintily enough bedecked. I could have wished he had thereunto joined a fair comparison between Dian—no matter—he might perhaps have fared the better for it; but poets' wits—God help them!—when did they ever sit close about them? Read the poesy, not over-rich, and concluding very awkwardly and meanly.
Where forms the lotus, with its level leaves And solid blossoms, many floating isles, What heavenly radiance swift descending cleaves The darksome wave! Unwonted beauty smiles
On its pure bosom, on each bright-eyed flower, On every nymph, and twenty sate around, Lo! 'twas Diana—from the sultry hour Hither she fled, nor fear'd she sight or sound.
Unhappy youth, whom thirst and quiver-reeds Drew to these haunts, whom awe forbade to fly! Three faithful dogs before him rais'd their heads, And watched and wonder'd at that fixed eye.
Forth sprang his favourite—with her arrow-hand Too late the goddess hid what hand may hide, Of every nymph and every reed complain'd, And dashed upon the bank the waters wide.
On the prone head and sandal'd feet they flew— Lo! slender hoofs and branching horns appear! The last marr'd voice not e'en the favourite knew, But bay'd and fasten'd on the upbraiding deer.
Far be, chaste goddess, far from me and mine The stream that tempts thee in the summer noon! Alas, that vengeance dwells with charms divine——
Elizabeth. Pshaw! give me the paper: I forewarned thee how it ended—pitifully, pitifully.
Cecil. I cannot think otherwise than that the undertaker of the aforecited poesy hath chosen your Highness; for I have seen painted—I know not where, but I think no farther off than Putney—the identically same Dian, with full as many nymphs, as he calls them, and more dogs. So small a matter as a page of poesy shall never stir my choler nor twitch my purse-string.
Elizabeth. I have read in Plinius and Mela of a runlet near Dodona, which kindled by approximation an unlighted torch, and extinguished a lighted one. Now, Cecil, I desire no such a jetty to be celebrated as the decoration of my court: in simpler words, which your gravity may more easily understand, I would not from the fountain of honour give lustre to the dull and ignorant, deadening and leaving in its tomb the lamp of literature and genius. I ardently wish my reign to be remembered: if my actions were different from what they are, I should as ardently wish it to be forgotten. Those are the worst of suicides, who voluntarily and propensely stab or suffocate their fame, when God hath commanded them to stand on high for an example. We call him parricide who destroys the author of his existence: tell me, what shall we call him who casts forth to the dogs and birds of prey its most faithful propagator and most firm support? Mark me, I do not speak of that existence which the proudest must close in a ditch—the narrowest, too, of ditches and the soonest filled and fouled, and whereunto a pinch of ratsbane or a poppy-head may bend him; but of that which reposes on our own good deeds, carefully picked up, skilfully put together, and decorously laid out for us by another's kind understanding: I speak of an existence such as no father is author of, or provides for. The parent gives us few days and sorrowful; the poet, many and glorious: the one (supposing him discreet and kindly) best reproves our faults; the other best remunerates our virtues.
A page of poesy is a little matter: be it so; but of a truth I do tell thee, Cecil, it shall master full many a bold heart that the Spaniard cannot trouble; it shall win to it full many a proud and flighty one that even chivalry and manly comeliness cannot touch. I may shake titles and dignities by the dozen from my breakfast-board; but I may not save those upon whose heads I shake them from rottenness and oblivion. This year they and their sovereign dwell together; next year, they and their beagle. Both have names, but names perishable. The keeper of my privy seal is an earl: what then? the keeper of my poultry-yard is a Caesar. In honest truth, a name given to a man is no better than a skin given to him: what is not natively his own falls off and comes to nothing.
I desire in future to hear no contempt of penmen, unless a depraved use of the pen shall have so cramped them as to incapacitate them for the sword and for the council chamber. If Alexander was the Great, what was Aristoteles who made him so, and taught him every art and science he knew, except three—those of drinking, of blaspheming, and of murdering his bosom friends? Come along: I will bring thee back again nearer home. Thou mightest toss and tumble in thy bed many nights, and never eke out the substance of a stanza; but Edmund, if perchance I should call upon him for his counsel, would give me as wholesome and prudent as any of you. We should indemnify such men for the injustice we do unto them in not calling them about us, and for the mortification they must suffer at seeing their inferiors set before them. Edmund is grave and gentle: he complains of fortune, not of Elizabeth; of courts, not of Cecil. I am resolved—so help me, God!—he shall have no further cause for his repining. Go, convey unto him those twelve silver spoons, with the apostles on them, gloriously gilded; and deliver into his hand these twelve large golden pieces, sufficing for the yearly maintenance of another horse and groom. Beside which, set open before him with due reverence this Bible, wherein he may read the mercies of God toward those who waited in patience for His blessing; and this pair of crimson silk hose, which thou knowest I have worn only thirteen months, taking heed that the heel-piece be put into good and sufficient restoration, at my sole charges, by the Italian woman nigh the pollard elm at Charing Cross.
EPICTETUS AND SENECA
Seneca. Epictetus, I desired your master, Epaphroditus, to send you hither, having been much pleased with his report of your conduct, and much surprised at the ingenuity of your writings.
Epictetus. Then I am afraid, my friend——
Seneca. My friend! are these the expressions—Well, let it pass. Philosophers must bear bravely. The people expect it.
Epictetus. Are philosophers, then, only philosophers for the people; and, instead of instructing them, must they play tricks before them? Give me rather the gravity of dancing dogs. Their motions are for the rabble; their reverential eyes and pendant paws are under the pressure of awe at a master; but they are dogs, and not below their destinies.
Seneca. Epictetus! I will give you three talents to let me take that sentiment for my own.
Epictetus. I would give thee twenty, if I had them, to make it thine.
Seneca. You mean, by lending it the graces of my language?
Epictetus. I mean, by lending it to thy conduct. And now let me console and comfort thee, under the calamity I brought on thee by calling thee my friend. If thou art not my friend, why send for me? Enemy I can have none: being a slave, Fortune has now done with me.
Seneca. Continue, then, your former observations. What were you saying?
Epictetus. That which thou interruptedst.
Seneca. What was it?
Epictetus. I should have remarked that, if thou foundest ingenuity in my writings, thou must have discovered in them some deviation from the plain, homely truths of Zeno and Cleanthes.
Seneca. We all swerve a little from them.
Epictetus. In practice too?
Seneca. Yes, even in practice, I am afraid.
Seneca. Too often.
Epictetus. Strange! I have been attentive, and yet have remarked but one difference among you great personages at Rome.
Seneca. What difference fell under your observation?
Epictetus. Crates and Zeno and Cleanthes taught us that our desires were to be subdued by philosophy alone. In this city, their acute and inventive scholars take us aside, and show us that there is not only one way, but two.
Seneca. Two ways?
Epictetus. They whisper in our ear, 'These two ways are philosophy and enjoyment: the wiser man will take the readier, or, not finding it, the alternative.' Thou reddenest.
Seneca. Monstrous degeneracy.
Epictetus. What magnificent rings! I did not notice them until thou liftedst up thy hands to heaven, in detestation of such effeminacy and impudence.
Seneca. The rings are not amiss; my rank rivets them upon my fingers: I am forced to wear them. Our emperor gave me one, Epaphroditus another, Tigellinus the third. I cannot lay them aside a single day, for fear of offending the gods, and those whom they love the most worthily.
Epictetus. Although they make thee stretch out thy fingers, like the arms and legs of one of us slaves upon a cross.
Seneca. Oh, horrible! Find some other resemblance.
Epictetus. The extremities of a fig-leaf.
Epictetus. The claws of a toad, trodden on or stoned.
Seneca. You have great need, Epictetus, of an instructor in eloquence and rhetoric: you want topics, and tropes, and figures.
Epictetus. I have no room for them. They make such a buzz in the house, a man's own wife cannot understand what he says to her.
Seneca. Let us reason a little upon style. I would set you right, and remove from before you the prejudices of a somewhat rustic education. We may adorn the simplicity of the wisest.
Epictetus. Thou canst not adorn simplicity. What is naked or defective is susceptible of decoration: what is decorated is simplicity no longer. Thou mayest give another thing in exchange for it; but if thou wert master of it, thou wouldst preserve it inviolate. It is no wonder that we mortals, little able as we are to see truth, should be less able to express it.
Seneca. You have formed at present no idea of style.
Epictetus. I never think about it. First, I consider whether what I am about to say is true; then, whether I can say it with brevity, in such a manner as that others shall see it as clearly as I do in the light of truth; for, if they survey it as an ingenuity, my desire is ungratified, my duty unfulfilled. I go not with those who dance round the image of Truth, less out of honour to her than to display their agility and address.
Seneca. We must attract the attention of readers by novelty, and force, and grandeur of expression.
Epictetus. We must. Nothing is so grand as truth, nothing so forcible, nothing so novel.
Seneca. Sonorous sentences are wanted to awaken the lethargy of indolence.
Epictetus. Awaken it to what? Here lies the question; and a weighty one it is. If thou awakenest men where they can see nothing and do no work, it is better to let them rest: but will not they, thinkest thou, look up at a rainbow, unless they are called to it by a clap of thunder?
Seneca. Your early youth, Epictetus, has been, I will not say neglected, but cultivated with rude instruments and unskilful hands.
Epictetus. I thank God for it. Those rude instruments have left the turf lying yet toward the sun; and those unskilful hands have plucked out the docks.
Seneca. We hope and believe that we have attained a vein of eloquence, brighter and more varied than has been hitherto laid open to the world.
Epictetus. Than any in the Greek?
Seneca. We trust so.
Epictetus. Than your Cicero's?
Seneca. If the declaration may be made without an offence to modesty. Surely, you cannot estimate or value the eloquence of that noble pleader?
Epictetus. Imperfectly, not being born in Italy; and the noble pleader is a much less man with me than the noble philosopher. I regret that, having farms and villas, he would not keep his distance from the pumping up of foul words against thieves, cut-throats, and other rogues; and that he lied, sweated, and thumped his head and thighs, in behalf of those who were no better.
Seneca. Senators must have clients, and must protect them.
Epictetus. Innocent or guilty?
Epictetus. If I regret what is and might not be, I may regret more what both is and must be. However, it is an amiable thing, and no small merit in the wealthy, even to trifle and play at their leisure hours with philosophy. It cannot be expected that such a personage should espouse her, or should recommend her as an inseparable mate to his heir.
Seneca. I would.
Epictetus. Yes, Seneca, but thou hast no son to make the match for; and thy recommendation, I suspect, would be given him before he could consummate the marriage. Every man wishes his sons to be philosophers while they are young; but takes especial care, as they grow older, to teach them its insufficiency and unfitness for their intercourse with mankind. The paternal voice says: 'You must not be particular; you are about to have a profession to live by; follow those who have thriven the best in it.' Now, among these, whatever be the profession, canst thou point out to me one single philosopher?
Seneca. Not just now; nor, upon reflection, do I think it feasible.
Epictetus. Thou, indeed, mayest live much to thy ease and satisfaction with philosophy, having (they say) two thousand talents.
Seneca. And a trifle to spare—pressed upon me by that godlike youth, my pupil Nero.
Epictetus. Seneca! where God hath placed a mine, He hath placed the materials of an earthquake.
Seneca. A true philosopher is beyond the reach of Fortune.
Epictetus. The false one thinks himself so. Fortune cares little about philosophers; but she remembers where she hath set a rich man, and she laughs to see the Destinies at his door.
PETER THE GREAT AND ALEXIS
Peter. And so, after flying from thy father's house, thou hast returned again from Vienna. After this affront in the face of Europe, thou darest to appear before me?
Alexis. My emperor and father! I am brought before your Majesty, not at my own desire.
Peter. I believe it well.
Alexis. I would not anger you.
Peter. What hope hadst thou, rebel, in thy flight to Vienna?
Alexis. The hope of peace and privacy; the hope of security; and, above all things, of never more offending you.
Peter. That hope thou hast accomplished. Thou imaginedst, then, that my brother of Austria would maintain thee at his court—speak!
Alexis. No, sir! I imagined that he would have afforded me a place of refuge.
Peter. Didst thou, then, take money with thee?
Alexis. A few gold pieces.
Peter. How many?
Alexis. About sixty.
Peter. He would have given thee promises for half the money; but the double of it does not purchase a house, ignorant wretch!
Alexis. I knew as much as that: although my birth did not appear to destine me to purchase a house anywhere; and hitherto your liberality, my father, hath supplied my wants of every kind.
Peter. Not of wisdom, not of duty, not of spirit, not of courage, not of ambition. I have educated thee among my guards and horses, among my drums and trumpets, among my flags and masts. When thou wert a child, and couldst hardly walk, I have taken thee into the arsenal, though children should not enter according to regulations: I have there rolled cannon-balls before thee over iron plates; and I have shown thee bright new arms, bayonets and sabres; and I have pricked the back of my hands until the blood came out in many places; and I have made thee lick it; and I have then done the same to thine. Afterward, from thy tenth year, I have mixed gunpowder in thy grog; I have peppered thy peaches; I have poured bilge-water (with a little good wholesome tar in it) upon thy melons; I have brought out girls to mock thee and cocker thee, and talk like mariners, to make thee braver. Nothing would do. Nay, recollect thee! I have myself led thee forth to the window when fellows were hanged and shot; and I have shown thee every day the halves and quarters of bodies; and I have sent an orderly or chamberlain for the heads; and I have pulled the cap up from over the eyes; and I have made thee, in spite of thee, look steadfastly upon them, incorrigible coward!
And now another word with thee about thy scandalous flight from the palace, in time of quiet, too! To the point! Did my brother of Austria invite thee? Did he, or did he not?
Alexis. May I answer without doing an injury or disservice to his Imperial Majesty?
Peter. Thou mayest. What injury canst thou or any one do, by the tongue, to such as he is?
Alexis. At the moment, no; he did not. Nor indeed can I assert that he at any time invited me; but he said he pitied me.
Peter. About what? hold thy tongue; let that pass. Princes never pity but when they would make traitors: then their hearts grow tenderer than tripe. He pitied thee, kind soul, when he would throw thee at thy father's head; but finding thy father too strong for him, he now commiserates the parent, laments the son's rashness and disobedience, and would not make God angry for the world. At first, however, there must have been some overture on his part; otherwise thou are too shamefaced for intrusion. Come—thou hast never had wit enough to lie—tell me the truth, the whole truth.
Alexis. He said that if ever I wanted an asylum, his court was open to me.
Peter. Open! so is the tavern; but folks pay for what they get there. Open, truly! and didst thou find it so?
Alexis. He received me kindly.
Peter. I see he did.
Alexis. Derision, O my father! is not the fate I merit.
Peter. True, true! it was not intended.
Alexis. Kind father! punish me then as you will.
Peter. Villain! wouldst thou kiss my hand, too? Art thou ignorant that the Austrian threw thee away from him, with the same indifference as he would the outermost leaf of a sandy sunburnt lettuce?
Alexis. Alas! I am not ignorant of this.
Peter. He dismissed thee at my order. If I had demanded from him his daughter, to be the bedfellow of a Kalmuc, he would have given her, and praised God.
Alexis. O father! is his baseness my crime?
Peter. No; thine is greater. Thy intention, I know, is to subvert the institutions it has been the labour of my lifetime to establish. Thou hast never rejoiced at my victories.
Alexis. I have rejoiced at your happiness and your safety.
Peter. Liar! coward! traitor! when the Polanders and Swedes fell before me, didst thou from thy soul congratulate me? Didst thou get drunk at home or abroad, or praise the Lord of Hosts and Saint Nicholas? Wert thou not silent and civil and low-spirited?
Alexis. I lamented the irretrievable loss of human life; I lamented that the bravest and noblest were swept away the first; that the gentlest and most domestic were the earliest mourners; that frugality was supplanted by intemperance; that order was succeeded by confusion; and that your Majesty was destroying the glorious plans you alone were capable of devising.
Peter. I destroy them! how? Of what plans art thou speaking?
Alexis. Of civilizing the Muscovites. The Polanders in part were civilized: the Swedes, more than any other nation on the Continent; and so excellently versed were they in military science, and so courageous, that every man you killed cost you seven or eight.
Peter. Thou liest; nor six. And civilized, forsooth? Why, the robes of the metropolitan, him at Upsal, are not worth three ducats, between Jew and Livornese. I have no notion that Poland and Sweden shall be the only countries that produce great princes. What right have they to such as Gustavus and Sobieski? Europe ought to look to this before discontents become general, and the people do to us what we have the privilege of doing to the people. I am wasting my words: there is no arguing with positive fools like thee. So thou wouldst have desired me to let the Polanders and Swedes lie still and quiet! Two such powerful nations!
Alexis. For that reason and others I would have gladly seen them rest, until our own people had increased in numbers and prosperity.
Peter. And thus thou disputest my right, before my face, to the exercise of the supreme power.
Alexis. Sir! God forbid!
Peter. God forbid, indeed! What care such villains as thou art what God forbids! He forbids the son to be disobedient to the father; He forbids—He forbids—twenty things. I do not wish, and will not have, a successor who dreams of dead people.
Alexis. My father! I have dreamed of none such.
Peter. Thou hast, and hast talked about them—Scythians, I think, they call 'em. Now, who told thee, Mr. Professor, that the Scythians were a happier people than we are; that they were inoffensive; that they were free; that they wandered with their carts from pasture to pasture, from river to river; that they traded with good faith; that they fought with good courage; that they injured none, invaded none, and feared none? At this rate I have effected nothing. The great founder of Rome, I heard in Holland, slew his brother for despiting the weakness of his walls; and shall the founder of this better place spare a degenerate son, who prefers a vagabond life to a civilized one, a cart to a city, a Scythian to a Muscovite? Have I not shaved my people, and breeched them? Have I not formed them into regular armies, with bands of music and haversacks? Are bows better than cannon? shepherds than dragoons, mare's milk than brandy, raw steaks than broiled? Thine are tenets that strike at the root of politeness and sound government. Every prince in Europe is interested in rooting them out by fire and sword. There is no other way with false doctrines: breath against breath does little.
Alexis. Sire, I never have attempted to disseminate my opinions.
Peter. How couldst thou? the seed would fall only on granite. Those, however, who caught it brought it to me.
Alexis. Never have I undervalued civilization: on the contrary, I regretted whatever impeded it. In my opinion, the evils that have been attributed to it sprang from its imperfections and voids; and no nation has yet acquired it more than very scantily.
Peter. How so? give me thy reasons—thy fancies, rather; for reason thou hast none.
Alexis. When I find the first of men, in rank and genius, hating one another, and becoming slanderers and liars in order to lower and vilify an opponent; when I hear the God of mercy invoked to massacres, and thanked for furthering what He reprobates and condemns—I look back in vain on any barbarous people for worse barbarism. I have expressed my admiration of our forefathers, who, not being Christians, were yet more virtuous than those who are; more temperate, more just, more sincere, more chaste, more peaceable.
Peter. Malignant atheist!
Alexis. Indeed, my father, were I malignant I must be an atheist; for malignity is contrary to the command, and inconsistent with the belief, of God.
Peter. Am I Czar of Muscovy, and hear discourses on reason and religion? from my own son, too! No, by the Holy Trinity! thou art no son of mine. If thou touchest my knee again, I crack thy knuckles with this tobacco-stopper: I wish it were a sledge-hammer for thy sake. Off, sycophant! Off, runaway slave!
Alexis. Father! father! my heart is broken! If I have offended, forgive me!
Peter. The State requires thy signal punishment.
Alexis. If the State requires it, be it so; but let my father's anger cease!
Peter. The world shall judge between us. I will brand thee with infamy.
Alexis. Until now, O father! I never had a proper sense of glory. Hear me, O Czar! let not a thing so vile as I am stand between you and the world! Let none accuse you!
Peter. Accuse me, rebel! Accuse me, traitor!
Alexis. Let none speak ill of you, O my father! The public voice shakes the palace; the public voice penetrates the grave; it precedes the chariot of Almighty God, and is heard at the judgment-seat.
Peter. Let it go to the devil! I will have none of it here in Petersburg. Our church says nothing about it; our laws forbid it. As for thee, unnatural brute, I have no more to do with thee neither!
Ho, there! chancellor! What! come at last! Wert napping, or counting thy ducats?
Chancellor. Your Majesty's will and pleasure!
Peter. Is the Senate assembled in that room?
Chancellor. Every member, sire.
Peter. Conduct this youth with thee, and let them judge him; thou understandest me.
Chancellor. Your Majesty's commands are the breath of our nostrils.
Peter. If these rascals are amiss, I will try my new cargo of Livonian hemp upon 'em.
Chancellor. [Returning.] Sire, sire!
Peter. Speak, fellow! Surely they have not condemned him to death, without giving themselves time to read the accusation, that thou comest back so quickly.
Chancellor. No, sire! Nor has either been done.
Peter. Then thy head quits thy shoulders.
Chancellor. O sire!
Peter. Curse thy silly sires! what art thou about?
Chancellor. Alas! he fell.
Peter. Tie him up to thy chair, then. Cowardly beast! what made him fall?
Chancellor. The hand of Death; the name of father.
Peter. Thou puzzlest me; prithee speak plainlier.
Chancellor. We told him that his crime was proven and manifest; that his life was forfeited.
Peter. So far, well enough.
Chancellor. He smiled.
Peter. He did! did he? Impudence shall do him little good. Who could have expected it from that smock-face! Go on—what then?
Chancellor. He said calmly, but not without sighing twice or thrice, 'Lead me to the scaffold: I am weary of life; nobody loves me.' I condoled with him, and wept upon his hand, holding the paper against my bosom. He took the corner of it between his fingers, and said, 'Read me this paper; read my death-warrant. Your silence and tears have signified it; yet the law has its forms. Do not keep me in suspense. My father says, too truly, I am not courageous; but the death that leads me to my God shall never terrify me.'
Peter. I have seen these white-livered knaves die resolutely; I have seen them quietly fierce like white ferrets with their watery eyes and tiny teeth. You read it?
Chancellor. In part, sire! When he heard your Majesty's name accusing him of treason and attempts at rebellion and parricide, he fell speechless. We raised him up: he was motionless; he was dead!
Peter. Inconsiderate and barbarous varlet as thou art, dost thou recite this ill accident to a father! and to one who has not dined! Bring me a glass of brandy.
Chancellor. And it please your Majesty, might I call a—a——
Peter. Away and bring it: scamper! All equally and alike shall obey and serve me.
Hark ye! bring the bottle with it: I must cool myself—and—hark ye! a rasher of bacon on thy life! and some pickled sturgeon, and some krout and caviare, and good strong cheese.
HENRY VIII AND ANNE BOLEYN
Henry. Dost thou know me, Nanny, in this yeoman's dress? 'Sblood! does it require so long and vacant a stare to recollect a husband after a week or two? No tragedy-tricks with me! a scream, a sob, or thy kerchief a trifle the wetter, were enough. Why, verily the little fool faints in earnest. These whey faces, like their kinsfolk the ghosts, give us no warning. Hast had water enough upon thee? Take that, then: art thyself again?
Anne. Father of mercies! do I meet again my husband, as was my last prayer on earth? Do I behold my beloved lord—in peace—and pardoned, my partner in eternal bliss? it was his voice. I cannot see him: why cannot I? Oh, why do these pangs interrupt the transports of the blessed?
Henry. Thou openest thy arms: faith! I came for that. Nanny, thou art a sweet slut. Thou groanest, wench: art in labour? Faith! among the mistakes of the night, I am ready to think almost that thou hast been drinking, and that I have not.
Anne. God preserve your Highness: grant me your forgiveness for one slight offence. My eyes were heavy; I fell asleep while I was reading. I did not know of your presence at first; and, when I did, I could not speak. I strove for utterance: I wanted no respect for my liege and husband.
Henry. My pretty warm nestling, thou wilt then lie! Thou wert reading, and aloud too, with thy saintly cup of water by thee, and—what! thou art still girlishly fond of those dried cherries!
Anne. I had no other fruit to offer your Highness the first time I saw you, and you were then pleased to invent for me some reason why they should be acceptable. I did not dry these: may I present them, such as they are? We shall have fresh next month.
Henry. Thou art always driving away from the discourse. One moment it suits thee to know me, another not.
Anne. Remember, it is hardly three months since I miscarried. I am weak, and liable to swoons.
Henry. Thou hast, however, thy bridal cheeks, with lustre upon them when there is none elsewhere, and obstinate lips resisting all impression; but, now thou talkest about miscarrying, who is the father of that boy?
Anne. Yours and mine—He who hath taken him to his own home, before (like me) he could struggle or cry for it.
Henry. Pagan, or worse, to talk so! He did not come into the world alive: there was no baptism.
Anne. I thought only of our loss: my senses are confounded. I did not give him my milk, and yet I loved him tenderly; for I often fancied, had he lived, how contented and joyful he would have made you and England.
Henry. No subterfuges and escapes. I warrant, thou canst not say whether at my entrance thou wert waking or wandering.
Anne. Faintness and drowsiness came upon me suddenly.
Henry. Well, since thou really and truly sleepedst, what didst dream of?
Anne. I begin to doubt whether I did indeed sleep.
Henry. Ha! false one—never two sentences of truth together! But come, what didst think about, asleep or awake?
Anne. I thought that God had pardoned me my offences, and had received me unto Him.
Henry. And nothing more?
Anne. That my prayers had been heard and my wishes were accomplishing: the angels alone can enjoy more beatitude than this.
Henry. Vexatious little devil! She says nothing now about me, merely from perverseness. Hast thou never thought about me, nor about thy falsehood and adultery?
Anne. If I had committed any kind of falsehood, in regard to you or not, I should never have rested until I had thrown myself at your feet and obtained your pardon; but, if ever I had been guilty of that other crime, I know not whether I should have dared to implore it, even of God's mercy.
Henry. Thou hast heretofore cast some soft glances upon Smeaton; hast thou not?
Anne. He taught me to play on the virginals, as you know, when I was little, and thereby to please your Highness.
Henry. And Brereton and Norris—what have they taught thee?
Anne. They are your servants, and trusty ones.
Henry. Has not Weston told thee plainly that he loved thee?
Anne. Yes; and——
Henry. What didst thou?
Anne. I defied him.
Henry. Is that all?
Anne. I could have done no more if he had told me that he hated me. Then, indeed, I should have incurred more justly the reproaches of your Highness: I should have smiled.
Henry. We have proofs abundant: the fellows shall one and all confront thee. Aye, clap thy hands and kiss thy sleeve, harlot!
Anne. Oh that so great a favour is vouchsafed me! My honour is secure; my husband will be happy again; he will see my innocence.
Henry. Give me now an account of the moneys thou hast received from me within these nine months. I want them not back: they are letters of gold in record of thy guilt. Thou hast had no fewer than fifteen thousand pounds in that period, without even thy asking; what hast done with it, wanton?
Anne. I have regularly placed it out to interest.
Henry. Where? I demand of thee.
Anne. Among the needy and ailing. My Lord Archbishop has the account of it, sealed by him weekly. I also had a copy myself; those who took away my papers may easily find it; for there are few others, and they lie open.
Henry. Think on my munificence to thee; recollect who made thee. Dost sigh for what thou hast lost?
Anne. I do, indeed.
Henry. I never thought thee ambitious; but thy vices creep out one by one.
Anne. I do not regret that I have been a queen and am no longer one; nor that my innocence is called in question by those who never knew me; but I lament that the good people who loved me so cordially, hate and curse me; that those who pointed me out to their daughters for imitation check them when they speak about me; and that he whom next to God I have served with most devotion is my accuser.
Henry. Wast thou conning over something in that dingy book for thy defence? Come, tell me, what wast thou reading?
Anne. This ancient chronicle. I was looking for someone in my own condition, and must have missed the page. Surely in so many hundred years there shall have been other young maidens, first too happy for exaltation, and after too exalted for happiness—not, perchance, doomed to die upon a scaffold, by those they ever honoured and served faithfully; that, indeed, I did not look for nor think of; but my heart was bounding for any one I could love and pity. She would be unto me as a sister dead and gone; but hearing me, seeing me, consoling me, and being consoled. O my husband! it is so heavenly a thing——
Henry. To whine and whimper, no doubt, is vastly heavenly.
Anne. I said not so; but those, if there be any such, who never weep, have nothing in them of heavenly or of earthly. The plants, the trees, the very rocks and unsunned clouds, show us at least the semblances of weeping; and there is not an aspect of the globe we live on, nor of the waters and skies around it, without a reference and a similitude to our joys or sorrows.
Henry. I do not remember that notion anywhere. Take care no enemy rake out of it something of materialism. Guard well thy empty hot brain; it may hatch more evil. As for those odd words, I myself would fain see no great harm in them, knowing that grief and frenzy strike out many things which would else lie still, and neither spurt nor sparkle. I also know that thou hast never read anything but Bible and history—the two worst books in the world for young people, and the most certain to lead astray both prince and subject. For which reason I have interdicted and entirely put down the one, and will (by the blessing of the Virgin and of holy Paul) commit the other to a rigid censor. If it behoves us kings to enact what our people shall eat and drink—of which the most unruly and rebellious spirit can entertain no doubt—greatly more doth it behove us to examine what they read and think. The body is moved according to the mind and will; we must take care that the movement be a right one, on pain of God's anger in this life and the next.
Anne. O my dear husband! it must be a naughty thing, indeed, that makes Him angry beyond remission. Did you ever try how pleasant it is to forgive any one? There is nothing else wherein we can resemble God perfectly and easily.
Henry. Resemble God perfectly and easily! Do vile creatures talk thus of the Creator?
Anne. No, Henry, when His creatures talk thus of Him, they are no longer vile creatures! When they know that He is good, they love Him; and, when they love Him, they are good themselves. O Henry! my husband and king! the judgments of our Heavenly Father are righteous; on this, surely, we must think alike.
Henry. And what, then? Speak out; again I command thee, speak plainly! thy tongue was not so torpid but this moment. Art ready? Must I wait?
Anne. If any doubt remains upon your royal mind of your equity in this business: should it haply seem possible to you that passion or prejudice, in yourself or another, may have warped so strong an understanding—do but supplicate the Almighty to strengthen and enlighten it, and He will hear you.
Henry. What! thou wouldst fain change thy quarters, ay?
Anne. My spirit is detached and ready, and I shall change them shortly, whatever your Highness may determine.
Henry. Yet thou appearest hale and resolute, and (they tell me) smirkest and smilest to everybody.
Anne. The withered leaf catches the sun sometimes, little as it can profit by it; and I have heard stories of the breeze in other climates that sets in when daylight is about to close, and how constant it is, and how refreshing. My heart, indeed, is now sustained strangely; it became the more sensibly so from that time forward, when power and grandeur and all things terrestrial were sunk from sight. Every act of kindness in those about me gives me satisfaction and pleasure, such as I did not feel formerly. I was worse before God chastened me; yet I was never an ingrate. What pains have I taken to find out the village-girls who placed their posies in my chamber ere I arose in the morning! How gladly would I have recompensed the forester who lit up a brake on my birthnight, which else had warmed him half the winter! But these are times past: I was not Queen of England.
Henry. Nor adulterous, nor heretical.
Anne. God be praised!
Henry. Learned saint! thou knowest nothing of the lighter, but perhaps canst inform me about the graver, of them.
Anne. Which may it be, my liege?
Henry. Which may it be? Pestilence! I marvel that the walls of this tower do not crack around thee at such impiety.
Anne. I would be instructed by the wisest of theologians: such is your Highness.
Henry. Are the sins of the body, foul as they are, comparable to those of the soul?
Anne. When they are united, they must be worse.
Henry. Go on, go on: thou pushest thy own breast against the sword. God hath deprived thee of thy reason for thy punishment. I must hear more: proceed, I charge thee.
Anne. An aptitude to believe one thing rather than another, from ignorance or weakness, or from the more persuasive manner of the teacher, or from his purity of life, or from the strong impression of a particular text at a particular time, and various things beside, may influence and decide our opinion; and the hand of the Almighty, let us hope, will fall gently on human fallibility.
Henry. Opinion in matters of faith! rare wisdom! rare religion! Troth, Anne! thou hast well sobered me. I came rather warmly and lovingly; but these light ringlets, by the holy rood, shall not shade this shoulder much longer. Nay, do not start; I tap it for the last time, my sweetest. If the Church permitted it, thou shouldst set forth on thy long journey with the Eucharist between thy teeth, however loath.
Anne. Love your Elizabeth, my honoured lord, and God bless you! She will soon forget to call me. Do not chide her: think how young she is.
Could I, could I kiss her, but once again! it would comfort my heart—or break it.
JOSEPH SCALIGER AND MONTAIGNE
Montaigne. What could have brought you, M. de l'Escale, to visit the old man of the mountain, other than a good heart? Oh, how delighted and charmed I am to hear you speak such excellent Gascon. You rise early, I see: you must have risen with the sun, to be here at this hour; it is a stout half-hour's walk from the brook. I have capital white wine, and the best cheese in Auvergne. You saw the goats and the two cows before the castle.
Pierre, thou hast done well: set it upon the table, and tell Master Matthew to split a couple of chickens and broil them, and to pepper but one. Do you like pepper, M. de l'Escale?
Scaliger. Not much.
Montaigne. Hold hard! let the pepper alone: I hate it. Tell him to broil plenty of ham; only two slices at a time, upon his salvation.
Scaliger. This, I perceive, is the antechamber to your library: here are your everyday books.
Montaigne. Faith! I have no other. These are plenty, methinks; is not that your opinion?
Scaliger. You have great resources within yourself, and therefore can do with fewer.
Montaigne. Why, how many now do you think here may be?
Scaliger. I did not believe at first that there could be above fourscore.
Montaigne. Well! are fourscore few?—are we talking of peas and beans?
Scaliger. I and my father (put together) have written well-nigh as many.
Montaigne. Ah! to write them is quite another thing: but one reads books without a spur, or even a pat from our Lady Vanity. How do you like my wine?—it comes from the little knoll yonder: you cannot see the vines, those chestnut-trees are between.
Scaliger. The wine is excellent; light, odoriferous, with a smartness like a sharp child's prattle.
Montaigne. It never goes to the head, nor pulls the nerves, which many do as if they were guitar-strings. I drink a couple of bottles a day, winter and summer, and never am the worse for it. You gentlemen of the Agennois have better in your province, and indeed the very best under the sun. I do not wonder that the Parliament of Bordeaux should be jealous of their privileges, and call it Bordeaux. Now, if you prefer your own country wine, only say it: I have several bottles in my cellar, with corks as long as rapiers, and as polished. I do not know, M. de l'Escale, whether you are particular in these matters: not quite, I should imagine, so great a judge in them as in others?
Scaliger. I know three things: wine, poetry, and the world.
Montaigne. You know one too many, then. I hardly know whether I know anything about poetry; for I like Clem Marot better than Ronsard. Ronsard is so plaguily stiff and stately, where there is no occasion for it; I verily do think the man must have slept with his wife in a cuirass.
Scaliger. It pleases me greatly that you like Marot. His versions of the Psalms is lately set to music, and added to the New Testament of Geneva.
Montaigne. It is putting a slice of honeycomb into a barrel of vinegar, which will never grow the sweeter for it.
Scaliger. Surely, you do not think in this fashion of the New Testament!
Montaigne. Who supposes it? Whatever is mild and kindly is there. But Jack Calvin has thrown bird-lime and vitriol upon it, and whoever but touches the cover dirties his fingers or burns them.
Scaliger. Calvin is a very great man, I do assure you, M. de Montaigne.
Montaigne. I do not like your great men who beckon me to them, call me their begotten, their dear child, and their entrails; and, if I happen to say on any occasion, 'I beg leave, sir, to dissent a little from you,' stamp and cry, 'The devil you do!' and whistle to the executioner.
Scaliger. You exaggerate, my worthy friend!
Montaigne. Exaggerate do I, M. de l'Escale? What was it he did the other day to the poor devil there with an odd name?—Melancthon, I think it is.
Scaliger. I do not know: I have received no intelligence of late from Geneva.
Montaigne. It was but last night that our curate rode over from Lyons (he made two days of it, as you may suppose) and supped with me. He told me that Jack had got his old friend hanged and burned. I could not join him in the joke, for I find none such in the New Testament, on which he would have founded it; and, if it is one, it is not in my manner or to my taste.
Scaliger. I cannot well believe the report, my dear sir. He was rather urgent, indeed, on the combustion of the heretic Michael Servetus some years past.
Montaigne. A thousand to one, my spiritual guide mistook the name. He has heard of both, I warrant him, and thinks in his conscience that either is as good a roast as the other.
Scaliger. Theologians are proud and intolerant, and truly the farthest of all men from theology, if theology means the rational sense of religion, or indeed has anything to do with it in any way. Melancthon was the very best of the reformers; quiet, sedate, charitable, intrepid, firm in friendship, ardent in faith, acute in argument, and profound in learning.
Montaigne. Who cares about his argumentation or his learning, if he was the rest?
Scaliger. I hope you will suspend your judgment on this affair until you receive some more certain and positive information.
Montaigne. I can believe it of the Sieur Calvin.
Scaliger. I cannot. John Calvin is a grave man, orderly and reasonable.
Montaigne. In my opinion he has not the order nor the reason of my cook. Mat never took a man for a sucking-pig, cleaning and scraping and buttering and roasting him; nor ever twitched God by the sleeve and swore He should not have His own way.
Scaliger. M. de Montaigne, have you ever studied the doctrine of predestination?
Montaigne. I should not understand it, if I had; and I would not break through an old fence merely to get into a cavern. I would not give a fig or a fig-leaf to know the truth of it, as far as any man can teach it me. Would it make me honester or happier, or, in other things, wiser?
Scaliger. I do not know whether it would materially.
Montaigne. I should be an egregious fool then to care about it. Our disputes on controverted points have filled the country with missionaries and cut-throats. Both parties have shown a disposition to turn this comfortable old house of mine into a fortress. If I had inclined to either, the other would have done it. Come walk about it with me; after a ride, you can do nothing better to take off fatigue.
Scaliger. A most spacious kitchen!
Montaigne. Look up!
Scaliger. You have twenty or more flitches of bacon hanging there.
Montaigne. And if I had been a doctor or a captain, I should have had a cobweb and predestination in the place of them. Your soldiers of the religion on the one side, and of the good old faith on the other, would not have left unto me safe and sound even that good old woman there.
Scaliger. Oh, yes! they would, I hope.
Old Woman. Why dost giggle, Mat? What should he know about the business? He speaks mighty bad French, and is as spiteful as the devil. Praised be God, we have a kind master, who thinks about us, and feels for us.
Scaliger. Upon my word, M. de Montaigne, this gallery is an interesting one.
Montaigne. I can show you nothing but my house and my dairy. We have no chase in the month of May, you know—unless you would like to bait the badger in the stable. This is rare sport in rainy days.
Scaliger. Are you in earnest, M. de Montaigne?
Montaigne. No, no, no, I cannot afford to worry him outright: only a little for pastime—a morning's merriment for the dogs and wenches.
Scaliger. You really are then of so happy a temperament that, at your time of life, you can be amused by baiting a badger!
Montaigne. Why not? Your father, a wiser and graver and older man than I am, was amused by baiting a professor or critic. I have not a dog in the kennel that would treat the badger worse than brave Julius treated Cardan and Erasmus, and some dozens more. We are all childish, old as well as young; and our very last tooth would fain stick, M. de l'Escale, in some tender place of a neighbour. Boys laugh at a person who falls in the dirt; men laugh rather when they make him fall, and most when the dirt is of their own laying.
Is not the gallery rather cold, after the kitchen? We must go through it to get into the court where I keep my tame rabbits; the stable is hard by: come along, come along.
Scaliger. Permit me to look a little at those banners. Some of them are old indeed.
Montaigne. Upon my word, I blush to think I never took notice how they are tattered. I have no fewer than three women in the house, and in a summer's evening, only two hours long, the worst of these rags might have been darned across.
Scaliger. You would not have done it surely!
Montaigne. I am not over-thrifty; the women might have been better employed. It is as well as it is then; ay?
Scaliger. I think so.
Montaigne. So be it.
Scaliger. They remind me of my own family, we being descended from the great Cane della Scala, Prince of Verona, and from the House of Hapsburg, as you must have heard from my father.
Montaigne. What signifies it to the world whether the great Cane was tied to his grandmother or not? As for the House of Hapsburg, if you could put together as many such houses as would make up a city larger than Cairo, they would not be worth his study, or a sheet of paper on the table of it.
BOCCACCIO AND PETRARCA
Boccaccio. Remaining among us, I doubt not that you would soon receive the same distinctions in your native country as others have conferred upon you: indeed, in confidence I may promise it. For greatly are the Florentines ashamed that the most elegant of their writers and the most independent of their citizens lives in exile, by the injustice he had suffered in the detriment done to his property, through the intemperate administration of their laws.
Petrarca. Let them recall me soon and honourably: then perhaps I may assist them to remove their ignominy, which I carry about with me wherever I go, and which is pointed out by my exotic laurel.
Boccaccio. There is, and ever will be, in all countries and under all governments, an ostracism for their greatest men.
Petrarca. At present we will talk no more about it. To-morrow I pursue my journey towards Padua, where I am expected; where some few value and esteem me, honest and learned and ingenious men; although neither those Transpadane regions, nor whatever extends beyond them, have yet produced an equal to Boccaccio.
Boccaccio. Then, in the name of friendship, do not go thither!—form such rather from your fellow-citizens. I love my equals heartily; and shall love them the better when I see them raised up here, from our own mother earth, by you.
Petrarca. Let us continue our walk.
Boccaccio. If you have been delighted (and you say you have been) at seeing again, after so long an absence, the house and garden wherein I have placed the relaters of my stories, as reported in the Decameron, come a little way farther up the ascent, and we will pass through the vineyard on the west of the villa. You will see presently another on the right, lying in its warm little garden close to the roadside, the scene lately of somewhat that would have looked well, as illustration, in the midst of your Latin reflections. It shows us that people the most serious and determined may act at last contrariwise to the line of conduct they have laid down.
Petrarca. Relate it to me, Messer Giovanni; for you are able to give reality the merits and charms of fiction, just as easily as you give fiction the semblance, the stature, and the movement of reality.
Boccaccio. I must here forgo such powers, if in good truth I possess them.
Petrarca. This long green alley, defended by box and cypresses, is very pleasant. The smell of box, although not sweet, is more agreeable to me than many that are: I cannot say from what resuscitation of early and tender feeling. The cypress, too, seems to strengthen the nerves of the brain. Indeed, I delight in the odour of most trees and plants.
Will not that dog hurt us?—he comes closer.
Boccaccio. Dog! thou hast the colours of a magpie and the tongue of one; prithee be quiet: art thou not ashamed?
Petrarca. Verily he trots off, comforting his angry belly with his plenteous tail, flattened and bestrewn under it. He looks back, going on, and puffs out his upper lip without a bark.
Boccaccio. These creatures are more accessible to temperate and just rebuke than the creatures of our species, usually angry with less reason, and from no sense, as dogs are, of duty. Look into that white arcade! Surely it was white the other day; and now I perceive it is still so: the setting sun tinges it with yellow.
Petrarca. The house has nothing of either the rustic or the magnificent about it; nothing quite regular, nothing much varied. If there is anything at all affecting, as I fear there is, in the story you are about to tell me, I could wish the edifice itself bore externally some little of the interesting that I might hereafter turn my mind toward it, looking out of the catastrophe, though not away from it. But I do not even find the peculiar and uncostly decoration of our Tuscan villas: the central turret, round which the kite perpetually circles in search of pigeons or smaller prey, borne onward, like the Flemish skater, by effortless will in motionless progression. The view of Fiesole must be lovely from that window; but I fancy to myself it loses the cascade under the single high arch of the Mugnone.
Boccaccio. I think so. In this villa—come rather farther off: the inhabitants of it may hear us, if they should happen to be in the arbour, as most people are at the present hour of day—in this villa, Messer Francesco, lives Monna Tita Monalda, who tenderly loved Amadeo degli Oricellari. She, however, was reserved and coy; and Father Pietro de' Pucci, an enemy to the family of Amadeo, told her nevermore to think of him, for that, just before he knew her, he had thrown his arm round the neck of Nunciata Righi, his mother's maid, calling her most immodestly a sweet creature, and of a whiteness that marble would split with envy at.
Monna Tita trembled and turned pale. 'Father, is the girl really so very fair?' said she anxiously.
'Madonna,' replied the father, 'after confession she is not much amiss: white she is, with a certain tint of pink not belonging to her, but coming over her as through the wing of an angel pleased at the holy function; and her breath is such, the very ear smells it: poor, innocent, sinful soul! Hei! The wretch, Amadeo, would have endangered her salvation.'
'She must be a wicked girl to let him,' said Monna Tita. 'A young man of good parentage and education would not dare to do such a thing of his own accord. I will see him no more, however. But it was before he knew me: and it may not be true. I cannot think any young woman would let a young man do so, even in the last hour before Lent. Now in what month was it supposed to be?'
'Supposed to be!' cried the father indignantly: 'in June; I say in June.'
'Oh! that now is quite impossible: for on the second of July, forty-one days from this, and at this very hour of it, he swore to me eternal love and constancy. I will inquire of him whether it is true: I will charge him with it.'
She did. Amadeo confessed his fault, and, thinking it a venial one, would have taken and kissed her hand as he asked forgiveness.
Petrarca. Children! children! I will go into the house, and if their relatives, as I suppose, have approved of the marriage, I will endeavour to persuade the young lady that a fault like this, on the repentance of her lover, is not unpardonable. But first, is Amadeo a young man of loose habits?
Boccaccio. Less than our others: in fact, I never heard of any deviation, excepting this.
Petrarca. Come, then, with me.
Boccaccio. Wait a little.
Petrarca. I hope the modest Tita, after a trial, will not be too severe with him.
Boccaccio. Severity is far from her nature; but, such is her purity and innocence, she shed many and bitter tears at his confession, and declared her unalterable determination of taking the veil among the nuns of Fiesole. Amadeo fell at her feet, and wept upon them. She pushed him from her gently, and told him she would still love him if he would follow her example, leave the world, and become a friar of San Marco. Amadeo was speechless; and, if he had not been so, he never would have made a promise he intended to violate. She retired from him. After a time he arose, less wounded than benumbed by the sharp uncovered stones in the garden-walk; and, as a man who fears to fall from a precipice goes farther from it than is necessary, so did Amadeo shun the quarter where the gate is, and, oppressed by his agony and despair, throw his arms across the sundial and rest his brow upon it, hot as it must have been on a cloudless day in August. When the evening was about to close, he was aroused by the cries of rooks overhead; they flew towards Florence, and beyond; he, too, went back into the city.
Tita fell sick from her inquietude. Every morning ere sunrise did Amadeo return; but could hear only from the labourers in the field that Monna Tita was ill, because she had promised to take the veil and had not taken it, knowing, as she must do, that the heavenly bridegroom is a bridegroom never to be trifled with, let the spouse be young and beautiful as she may be. Amadeo had often conversed with the peasant of the farm, who much pitied so worthy and loving a gentleman; and, finding him one evening fixing some thick and high stakes in the ground, offered to help him. After due thanks, 'It is time,' said the peasant, 'to rebuild the hovel and watch the grapes.'
'This is my house,' cried he. 'Could I never, in my stupidity, think about rebuilding it before? Bring me another mat or two: I will sleep here to-night, to-morrow night, every night, all autumn, all winter.'
He slept there, and was consoled at last by hearing that Monna Tita was out of danger, and recovering from her illness by spiritual means. His heart grew lighter day after day. Every evening did he observe the rooks, in the same order, pass along the same track in the heavens, just over San Marco; and it now occurred to him, after three weeks, indeed, that Monna Tita had perhaps some strange idea, in choosing his monastery, not unconnected with the passage of these birds. He grew calmer upon it, until he asked himself whether he might hope. In the midst of this half-meditation, half-dream, his whole frame was shaken by the voices, however low and gentle, of two monks, coming from the villa and approaching him. He would have concealed himself under this bank whereon we are standing; but they saw him, and called him by name. He now perceived that the younger of them was Guiberto Oddi, with whom he had been at school about six or seven years ago, and who admired him for his courage and frankness when he was almost a child.
'Do not let us mortify poor Amadeo,' said Guiberto to his companion. 'Return to the road: I will speak a few words to him, and engage him (I trust) to comply with reason and yield to necessity.' The elder monk, who saw he should have to climb the hill again, assented to the proposal, and went into the road. After the first embraces and few words, 'Amadeo! Amadeo!' said Guiberto, 'it was love that made me a friar; let anything else make you one.'
'Kind heart!' replied Amadeo. 'If death or religion, or hatred of me, deprives me of Tita Monalda, I will die, where she commanded me, in the cowl. It is you who prepare her, then, to throw away her life and mine!'
'Hold! Amadeo!' said Guiberto, 'I officiate together with good Father Fontesecco, who invariably falls asleep amid our holy function.'
Now, Messer Francesco, I must inform you that Father Fontesecco has the heart of a flower. It feels nothing, it wants nothing; it is pure and simple, and full of its own little light. Innocent as a child, as an angel, nothing ever troubled him but how to devise what he should confess. A confession costs him more trouble to invent than any Giornata in my Decameron cost me. He was once overheard to say on this occasion, 'God forgive me in His infinite mercy, for making it appear that I am a little worse than He has chosen I should be!' He is temperate; for he never drinks more than exactly half the wine and water set before him. In fact, he drinks the wine and leaves the water, saying: 'We have the same water up at San Domenico; we send it hither: it would be uncivil to take back our own gift, and still more to leave a suspicion that we thought other people's wine poor beverage.' Being afflicted by the gravel, the physician of his convent advised him, as he never was fond of wine, to leave it off entirely; on which he said, 'I know few things; but this I know well—in water there is often gravel, in wine never. It hath pleased God to afflict me, and even to go a little out of His way in order to do it, for the greater warning to other sinners. I will drink wine, brother Anselmini, and help His work.'
I have led you away from the younger monk.
'While Father Fontesecco is in the first stage of beatitude, chanting through his nose the Benedicite, I will attempt,' said Guiberto, 'to comfort Monna Tita.'
'Good, blessed Guiberto!' exclaimed Amadeo in a transport of gratitude, at which Guiberto smiled with his usual grace and suavity. 'O Guiberto! Guiberto! my heart is breaking. Why should she want you to comfort her?—but—comfort her then!' and he covered his face within his hands.
'Remember,' said Guiberto placidly, 'her uncle is bedridden; her aunt never leaves him; the servants are old and sullen, and will stir for nobody. Finding her resolved, as they believe, to become a nun, they are little assiduous in their services. Humour her, if none else does, Amadeo; let her fancy that you intend to be a friar; and, for the present, walk not on these grounds.'
'Are you true, or are you traitorous?' cried Amadeo, grasping his friend's hand most fiercely.
'Follow your own counsel, if you think mine insincere,' said the young friar, not withdrawing his hand, but placing the other on Amadeo's. 'Let me, however, advise you to conceal yourself; and I will direct Silvestrina to bring you such accounts of her mistress as may at least make you easy in regard to her health. Adieu.'
Amadeo was now rather tranquil; more than he had ever been, not only since the displeasure of Monna Tita, but since the first sight of her. Profuse at all times in his gratitude to Silvestrina, whenever she brought him good news, news better than usual, he pressed her to his bosom. Silvestrina Pioppi is about fifteen, slender, fresh, intelligent, lively, good-humoured, sensitive; and any one but Amadeo might call her very pretty.
Petrarca. Ah, Giovanni! here I find your heart obtaining the mastery over your vivid and volatile imagination. Well have you said, the maiden being really pretty, any one but Amadeo might think her so. On the banks of the Sorga there are beautiful maids; the woods and the rocks have a thousand times repeated it. I heard but one echo; I heard but one name: I would have fled from them for ever at another.
Boccaccio. Francesco, do not beat your breast just now: wait a little. Monna Tita would take the veil. The fatal certainty was announced to Amadeo by his true Guiberto, who had earnestly and repeatedly prayed her to consider the thing a few months longer.
'I will see her first! By all the saints of heaven I will see her!' cried the desperate Amadeo, and ran into the house, toward the still apartment of his beloved. Fortunately Guiberto was neither less active nor less strong than he, and overtaking him at the moment, drew him into the room opposite. 'If you will be quiet and reasonable, there is yet a possibility left you,' said Guiberto in his ear, although perhaps he did not think it. 'But if you utter a voice or are seen by any one, you ruin the fame of her you love, and obstruct your own prospects for ever. It being known that you have not slept in Florence these several nights, it will be suspected by the malicious that you have slept in the villa with the connivance of Monna Tita. Compose yourself; answer nothing; rest where you are: do not add a worse imprudence to a very bad one. I promise you my assistance, my speedy return, and best counsel: you shall be released at daybreak.' He ordered Silvestrina to supply the unfortunate youth with the cordials usually administered to the uncle, or with the rich old wine they were made of; and she performed the order with such promptitude and attention, that he was soon in some sort refreshed.
Petrarca. I pity him from my innermost heart, poor young man! Alas, we are none of us, by original sin, free from infirmities or from vices.
Boccaccio. If we could find a man exempt by nature from vices and infirmities, we should find one not worth knowing: he would also be void of tenderness and compassion. What allowances then could his best friends expect from him in their frailties? What help, consolation, and assistance in their misfortunes? We are in the midst of a workshop well stored with sharp instruments: we may do ill with many, unless we take heed; and good with all, if we will but learn how to employ them.
Petrarca. There is somewhat of reason in this. You strengthen me to proceed with you: I can bear the rest.
Boccaccio. Guiberto had taken leave of his friend, and had advanced a quarter of a mile, which (as you perceive) is nearly the whole way, on his return to the monastery, when he was overtaken by some peasants who were hastening homeward from Florence. The information he collected from them made him determine to retrace his steps. He entered the room again, and, from the intelligence he had just acquired, gave Amadeo the assurance that Monna Tita must delay her entrance into the convent; for that the abbess had that moment gone down the hill on her way toward Siena to venerate some holy relics, carrying with her three candles, each five feet long, to burn before them; which candles contained many particles of the myrrh presented at the Nativity of our Saviour by the Wise Men of the East. Amadeo breathed freely, and was persuaded by Guiberto to take another cup of old wine, and to eat with him some cold roast kid, which had been offered him for merenda. After the agitation of his mind a heavy sleep fell upon the lover, coming almost before Guiberto departed: so heavy indeed that Silvestrina was alarmed. It was her apartment; and she performed the honours of it as well as any lady in Florence could have done.
Petrarca. I easily believe it: the poor are more attentive than the rich, and the young are more compassionate than the old.
Boccaccio. O Francesco! what inconsistent creatures are we!
Petrarca. True, indeed! I now foresee the end. He might have done worse.
Boccaccio. I think so.
Petrarca. He almost deserved it.
Boccaccio. I think that too.
Petrarca. Wretched mortals! our passions for ever lead us into this, or worse.
Boccaccio. Ay, truly; much worse generally.
Petrarca. The very twig on which the flowers grew lately scourges us to the bone in its maturity.
Boccaccio. Incredible will it be to you, and, by my faith, to me it was hardly credible. Certain, however, is it that Guiberto on his return by sunrise found Amadeo in the arms of sleep.
Petrarca. Not at all, not at all: the truest lover might suffer and act as he did.
Boccaccio. But, Francesco, there was another pair of arms about him, worth twenty such, divinity as he is. A loud burst of laughter from Guiberto did not arouse either of the parties; but Monna Tita heard it, and rushed into the room, tearing her hair, and invoking the saints of heaven against the perfidy of man. She seized Silvestrina by that arm which appeared the most offending: the girl opened her eyes, turned on her face, rolled out of bed, and threw herself at the feet of her mistress, shedding tears, and wiping them away with the only piece of linen about her. Monna Tita too shed tears. Amadeo still slept profoundly; a flush, almost of crimson, overspreading his cheeks. Monna Tita led away, after some pause, poor Silvestrina, and made her confess the whole. She then wept more and more, and made the girl confess it again, and explain her confession. 'I cannot believe such wickedness,' she cried: 'he could not be so hardened. O sinful Silvestrina! how will you ever tell Father Doni one half, one quarter? He never can absolve you.'
Petrarca. Giovanni, I am glad I did not enter the house; you were prudent in restraining me. I have no pity for the youth at all: never did one so deserve to lose a mistress.
Boccaccio. Say, rather, to gain a wife.
Petrarca. Absurdity! impossibility!
Boccaccio. He won her fairly; strangely, and on a strange table, as he played his game. Listen! that guitar is Monna Tita's. Listen! what a fine voice (do not you think it?) is Amadeo's.
Oh, I have err'd! I laid my hand upon the nest (Tita, I sigh to sing the rest) Of the wrong bird.
Petrarca. She laughs too at it! Ah! Monna Tita was made by nature to live on this side of Fiesole.
BOSSUET AND THE DUCHESS DE FONTANGES
Bossuet. Mademoiselle, it is the king's desire that I compliment you on the elevation you have attained.
Fontanges. O monseigneur, I know very well what you mean. His Majesty is kind and polite to everybody. The last thing he said to me was, 'Angelique! do not forget to compliment Monseigneur the bishop on the dignity I have conferred upon him, of almoner to the dauphiness. I desired the appointment for him only that he might be of rank sufficient to confess, now you are duchess. Let him be your confessor, my little girl.'
Bossuet. I dare not presume to ask you, mademoiselle, what was your gracious reply to the condescension of our royal master.
Fontanges. Oh, yes! you may. I told him I was almost sure I should be ashamed of confessing such naughty things to a person of high rank, who writes like an angel.
Bossuet. The observation was inspired, mademoiselle, by your goodness and modesty.
Fontanges. You are so agreeable a man, monseigneur, I will confess to you, directly, if you like.
Bossuet. Have you brought yourself to a proper frame of mind, young lady?
Fontanges. What is that?
Bossuet. Do you hate sin?
Fontanges. Very much.
Bossuet. Are you resolved to leave it off?
Fontanges. I have left it off entirely since the king began to love me. I have never said a spiteful word of anybody since.
Bossuet. In your opinion, mademoiselle, are there no other sins than malice?
Fontanges. I never stole anything; I never committed adultery; I never coveted my neighbour's wife; I never killed any person, though several have told me they should die for me.
Bossuet. Vain, idle talk! Did you listen to it?
Fontanges. Indeed I did, with both ears; it seemed so funny.
Bossuet. You have something to answer for, then.
Fontanges. No, indeed, I have not, monseigneur. I have asked many times after them, and found they were all alive, which mortified me.
Bossuet. So, then! you would really have them die for you?
Fontanges. Oh, no, no! but I wanted to see whether they were in earnest, or told me fibs; for, if they told me fibs, I would never trust them again.
Bossuet. Do you hate the world, mademoiselle?
Fontanges. A good deal of it: all Picardy, for example, and all Sologne; nothing is uglier—and, oh my life! what frightful men and women!