I was riding leisurely towards Highgate, when, at the foot of its classic hill, I recognised the stranger; he was mounted on a black pony, and before him trotted his dog, which was black also. In short, so well did I succeed, that on reaching Highgate the old gentleman invited me to rest at his house, which was a little apart from the village; and an excellent house it was,—small, but commodious, with a large garden, and commanding from the windows such a prospect as Lucretius would recommend to philosophers: the spires and domes of London, on a clear day, distinctly visible; here the Retreat of the Hermit, and there the Mare Magnum of the world.
The walls of the principal rooms were embellished with pictures of extraordinary merit, and in that high school of art which is so little understood out of Italy. I was surprised to learn that they were all from the hand of the owner. My evident admiration pleased my new friend, and led to talk upon his part, which showed him no less elevated in his theories of art than an adept in the practice.
Without fatiguing the reader with irrelevant criticism, it is necessary, perhaps, as elucidating much of the design and character of the work which these prefatory pages introduce, that I should briefly observe, that he insisted as much upon the connection of the arts, as a distinguished author has upon that of the sciences; that he held that in all works of imagination, whether expressed by words or by colours, the artist of the higher schools must make the broadest distinction between the real and the true,—in other words, between the imitation of actual life, and the exaltation of Nature into the Ideal.
No, no! I suppose Shakespeare has ceased to be admired? But then our critics have discovered that Shakespeare is so real! The poet who has never once drawn a character to be met with in actual life,—who has never once descended to a passion that is false, or a personage who is real! I was about to reply very severely to this paradox, when I perceived that my companion was growing a little out of temper. And he who wishes to catch a Rosicrucian, must take care not to disturb the waters. I thought it better, therefore, to turn the conversation.
Perhaps you desire only to enter the temple in order to ridicule the rites? Surely, were I so inclined, the fate of the Abbe de Villars is a sufficient warning to all men not to treat idly of the realms of the Salamander and the Sylph. Everybody knows how mysteriously that ingenious personage was deprived of his life, in revenge for the witty mockeries of his Comte de Gabalis. I see that you fall into the vulgar error, and translate literally the allegorical language of the mystics. With that the old gentleman condescended to enter into a very interesting, and, as it seemed to me, a very erudite relation, of the tenets of the Rosicrucians, some of whom, he asserted, still existed, and still prosecuted, in august secrecy, their profound researches into natural science and occult philosophy.
Are you acquainted with the Platonists? Their sublimest works are in manuscript, and constitute the initiatory learning, not only of the Rosicrucians, but of the nobler brotherhoods I have referred to. More solemn and sublime still is the knowledge to be gleaned from the elder Pythagoreans, and the immortal masterpieces of Apollonius. Here ended our conversation; but from that time an acquaintance was formed between us which lasted till my venerable friend departed this life.
Peace to his ashes! He was a person of singular habits and eccentric opinions; but the chief part of his time was occupied in acts of quiet and unostentatious goodness. He was an enthusiast in the duties of the Samaritan; and as his virtues were softened by the gentlest charity, so his hopes were based upon the devoutest belief. He never conversed upon his own origin and history, nor have I ever been able to penetrate the darkness in which they were concealed. He seemed to have seen much of the world, and to have been an eye-witness of the first French Revolution, a subject upon which he was equally eloquent and instructive.
At the same time he did not regard the crimes of that stormy period with the philosophical leniency with which enlightened writers their heads safe upon their shoulders are, in the present day, inclined to treat the massacres of the past: he spoke not as a student who had read and reasoned, but as a man who had seen and suffered. The old gentleman seemed alone in the world; nor did I know that he had one relation, till his executor, a distant cousin, residing abroad, informed me of the very handsome legacy which my poor friend had bequeathed me. This consisted, first, of a sum about which I think it best to be guarded, foreseeing the possibility of a new tax upon real and funded property; and, secondly, of certain precious manuscripts, to which the following volumes owe their existence.
I imagine I trace this latter bequest to a visit I paid the Sage, if so I may be permitted to call him, a few weeks before his death. Although he read little of our modern literature, my friend, with the affable good-nature which belonged to him, graciously permitted me to consult him upon various literary undertakings meditated by the desultory ambition of a young and inexperienced student. And at that time I sought his advice upon a work of imagination, intended to depict the effects of enthusiasm upon different modifications of character.
He listened to my conception, which was sufficiently trite and prosaic, with his usual patience; and then, thoughtfully turning to his bookshelves, took down an old volume, and read to me, first, in Greek, and secondly, in English, some extracts to the following effect:—. Why not, since you are so well versed in the matter, take the motto for a book of your own? From what you say of the prevailing taste in literature, I cannot flatter you with the hope that you will gain much by the undertaking.
And I tell you beforehand that you will find it not a little laborious. It is a truth for those who can comprehend it, and an extravagance for those who cannot. At last there arrived the manuscripts, with a brief note from my deceased friend, reminding me of my imprudent promise. With mournful interest, and yet with eager impatience, I opened the packet and trimmed my lamp.
Conceive my dismay when I found the whole written in an unintelligible cipher. I present the reader with a specimen:. I could scarcely believe my eyes: in fact, I began to think the lamp burned singularly blue; and sundry misgivings as to the unhallowed nature of the characters I had so unwittingly opened upon, coupled with the strange hints and mystical language of the old gentleman, crept through my disordered imagination.
Certainly, to say no worse of it, the whole thing looked uncanny! I was about, precipitately, to hurry the papers into my desk, with a pious determination to have nothing more to do with them, when my eye fell upon a book, neatly bound in blue morocco, and which, in my eagerness, I had hitherto overlooked. I opened this volume with great precaution, not knowing what might jump out, and—guess my delight—found that it contained a key or dictionary to the hieroglyphics. Not to weary the reader with an account of my labours, I am contented with saying that at last I imagined myself capable of construing the characters, and set to work in good earnest.
Still it was no easy task, and two years elapsed before I had made much progress. I then, by way of experiment on the public, obtained the insertion of a few desultory chapters, in a periodical with which, for a few months, I had the honour to be connected. They appeared to excite more curiosity than I had presumed to anticipate; and I renewed, with better heart, my laborious undertaking.
But now a new misfortune befell me: I found, as I proceeded, that the author had made two copies of his work, one much more elaborate and detailed than the other; I had stumbled upon the earlier copy, and had my whole task to re-model, and the chapters I had written to re-translate. I may say then, that, exclusive of intervals devoted to more pressing occupations, my unlucky promise cost me the toil of several years before I could bring it to adequate fulfilment. The task was the more difficult, since the style in the original is written in a kind of rhythmical prose, as if the author desired that in some degree his work should be regarded as one of poetical conception and design.
Truth compels me also to confess, that, with all my pains, I am by no means sure that I have invariably given the true meaning of the cipher; nay, that here and there either a gap in the narrative, or the sudden assumption of a new cipher, to which no key was afforded, has obliged me to resort to interpolations of my own, no doubt easily discernible, but which, I flatter myself, are not inharmonious to the general design.
This confession leads me to the sentence with which I shall conclude: If, reader, in this book there be anything that pleases you, it is certainly mine; but whenever you come to something you dislike,—lay the blame upon the old gentleman! I have occasionally but not always marked the distinction; where, however, this is omitted, the ingenuity of the reader will be rarely at fault. Ariosto, Orland. Canto 1. At Naples, in the latter half of the last century, a worthy artist named Gaetano Pisani lived and flourished.
He was a musician of great genius, but not of popular reputation; there was in all his compositions something capricious and fantastic which did not please the taste of the Dilettanti of Naples. He was fond of unfamiliar subjects into which he introduced airs and symphonies that excited a kind of terror in those who listened. The names of his pieces will probably suggest their nature.
I find, for instance, among his MSS. It is true that in the selection of his subjects from ancient fable, Gaetano Pisani was much more faithful than his contemporaries to the remote origin and the early genius of Italian Opera. Fortunately, or the poor musician might have starved, he was not only a composer, but also an excellent practical performer, especially on the violin, and by that instrument he earned a decent subsistence as one of the orchestra at the Great Theatre of San Carlo. Here formal and appointed tasks necessarily kept his eccentric fancies in tolerable check, though it is recorded that no less than five times he had been deposed from his desk for having shocked the conoscenti, and thrown the whole band into confusion, by impromptu variations of so frantic and startling a nature that one might well have imagined that the harpies or witches who inspired his compositions had clawed hold of his instrument.
The impossibility, however, to find any one of equal excellence as a performer that is to say, in his more lucid and orderly moments had forced his reinstalment, and he had now, for the most part, reconciled himself to the narrow sphere of his appointed adagios or allegros. The audience, too, aware of his propensity, were quick to perceive the least deviation from the text; and if he wandered for a moment, which might also be detected by the eye as well as the ear, in some strange contortion of visage, and some ominous flourish of his bow, a gentle and admonitory murmur recalled the musician from his Elysium or his Tartarus to the sober regions of his desk.
Then he would start as if from a dream, cast a hurried, frightened, apologetic glance around, and, with a crestfallen, humbled air, draw his rebellious instrument back to the beaten track of the glib monotony. But at home he would make himself amends for this reluctant drudgery. And there, grasping the unhappy violin with ferocious fingers, he would pour forth, often till the morning rose, strange, wild measures that would startle the early fisherman on the shore below with a superstitious awe, and make him cross himself as if mermaid or sprite had wailed no earthly music in his ear.
The features were noble and striking, but worn and haggard, with black, careless locks tangled into a maze of curls, and a fixed, speculative, dreamy stare in his large and hollow eyes. All his movements were peculiar, sudden, and abrupt, as the impulse seized him; and in gliding through the streets, or along the beach, he was heard laughing and talking to himself. Withal, he was a harmless, guileless, gentle creature, and would share his mite with any idle lazzaroni, whom he often paused to contemplate as they lay lazily basking in the sun. Yet was he thoroughly unsocial.
He formed no friends, flattered no patrons, resorted to none of the merry-makings so dear to the children of music and the South. He and his art seemed alone suited to each other,—both quaint, primitive, unworldly, irregular. You could not separate the man from his music; it was himself. Without it he was nothing, a mere machine! With it, he was king over worlds of his own.
Poor man, he had little enough in this! In proportion, O Genius, to thy contempt for riches will be thy performance on thy violin! As Shakespeare among poets is the Cremona among instruments. Even bland, unjealous Paisiello, Maestro di Capella, shook his gentle head when the musician favoured him with a specimen of one of his most thrilling scenas.
And yet, Paisiello, though that music differs from all Durante taught thee to emulate, there may—but patience, Gaetano Pisani! Strange as it may appear to the fairer reader, this grotesque personage had yet formed those ties which ordinary mortals are apt to consider their especial monopoly,—he was married, and had one child. What is more strange yet, his wife was a daughter of quiet, sober, unfantastic England: she was much younger than himself; she was fair and gentle, with a sweet English face; she had married him from choice, and will you believe it? How she came to marry him, or how this shy, unsocial, wayward creature ever ventured to propose, I can only explain by asking you to look round and explain first to ME how half the husbands and half the wives you meet ever found a mate!
Yet, on reflection, this union was not so extraordinary after all. The girl was a natural child of parents too noble ever to own and claim her. She was brought into Italy to learn the art by which she was to live, for she had taste and voice; she was a dependant and harshly treated, and poor Pisani was her master, and his voice the only one she had heard from her cradle that seemed without one tone that could scorn or chide. And so—well, is the rest natural? Natural or not, they married.
This young wife loved her husband; and young and gentle as she was, she might almost be said to be the protector of the two. From how many disgraces with the despots of San Carlo and the Conservatorio had her unknown officious mediation saved him! In how many ailments—for his frame was weak—had she nursed and tended him! And then she would so patiently, perhaps for in true love there is not always the finest taste so delightedly , listen to those storms of eccentric and fitful melody, and steal him—whispering praises all the way—from the unwholesome night-watch to rest and sleep!
I said his music was a part of the man, and this gentle creature seemed a part of the music; it was, in fact, when she sat beside him that whatever was tender or fairy-like in his motley fantasia crept into the harmony as by stealth. Doubtless her presence acted on the music, and shaped and softened it; but, he, who never examined how or what his inspiration, knew it not.
All that he knew was, that he loved and blessed her. He fancied he told her so twenty times a day; but he never did, for he was not of many words, even to his wife. His language was his music,—as hers, her cares! He was more communicative to his barbiton , as the learned Mersennus teaches us to call all the varieties of the great viol family. Certainly barbiton sounds better than fiddle; and barbiton let it be. He would talk to that by the hour together,—praise it, scold it, coax it, nay for such is man, even the most guileless , he had been known to swear at it; but for that excess he was always penitentially remorseful.
And the barbiton had a tongue of his own, could take his own part, and when he also scolded, had much the best of it. He was a noble fellow, this Violin! There was something mysterious in his great age. How many hands, now dust, had awakened his strings ere he became the Robin Goodfellow and Familiar of Gaetano Pisani! His very case was venerable,—beautifully painted, it was said, by Caracci. An English collector had offered more for the case than Pisani had ever made by the violin.
But Pisani, who cared not if he had inhabited a cabin himself, was proud of a palace for the barbiton. His barbiton, it was his elder child! He had another child, and now we must turn to her. How shall I describe thee, Viola? Certainly the music had something to answer for in the advent of that young stranger. For both in her form and her character you might have traced a family likeness to that singular and spirit-like life of sound which night after night threw itself in airy and goblin sport over the starry seas…Beautiful she was, but of a very uncommon beauty,—a combination, a harmony of opposite attributes.
Her hair of a gold richer and purer than that which is seen even in the North; but the eyes, of all the dark, tender, subduing light of more than Italian—almost of Oriental—splendour. The complexion exquisitely fair, but never the same,—vivid in one moment, pale the next. And with the complexion, the expression also varied; nothing now so sad, and nothing now so joyous.
I grieve to say that what we rightly entitle education was much neglected for their daughter by this singular pair. To be sure, neither of them had much knowledge to bestow; and knowledge was not then the fashion, as it is now. But accident or nature favoured young Viola. And she contrived soon to read and to write; and her mother, who, by the way, was a Roman Catholic, taught her betimes to pray.
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But then, to counteract all these acquisitions, the strange habits of Pisani, and the incessant watch and care which he required from his wife, often left the child alone with an old nurse, who, to be sure, loved her dearly, but who was in no way calculated to instruct her. Dame Gionetta was every inch Italian and Neapolitan. Her youth had been all love, and her age was all superstition. She was garrulous, fond,—a gossip. Now she would prattle to the girl of cavaliers and princes at her feet, and now she would freeze her blood with tales and legends, perhaps as old as Greek or Etrurian fable, of demon and vampire,—of the dances round the great walnut-tree at Benevento, and the haunting spell of the Evil Eye.
Those visionary strains, ever struggling to translate into wild and broken sounds the language of unearthly beings, breathed around her from her birth. Thus you might have said that her whole mind was full of music; associations, memories, sensations of pleasure or pain,—all were mixed up inexplicably with those sounds that now delighted and now terrified; that greeted her when her eyes opened to the sun, and woke her trembling on her lonely couch in the darkness of the night. The legends and tales of Gionetta only served to make the child better understand the signification of those mysterious tones; they furnished her with words to the music.
It was natural that the daughter of such a parent should soon evince some taste in his art. But this developed itself chiefly in the ear and the voice. She was yet a child when she sang divinely. A great Cardinal—great alike in the State and the Conservatorio—heard of her gifts, and sent for her. From that moment her fate was decided: she was to be the future glory of Naples, the prima donna of San Carlo. The Cardinal insisted upon the accomplishment of his own predictions, and provided her with the most renowned masters.
To inspire her with emulation, his Eminence took her one evening to his own box: it would be something to see the performance, something more to hear the applause lavished upon the glittering signoras she was hereafter to excel! Oh, how gloriously that life of the stage, that fairy world of music and song, dawned upon her! It was the only world that seemed to correspond with her strange childish thoughts.
It appeared to her as if, cast hitherto on a foreign shore, she was brought at last to see the forms and hear the language of her native land. Beautiful and true enthusiasm, rich with the promise of genius! And now the initiation was begun. She was to read, to study, to depict by a gesture, a look, the passions she was to delineate on the boards; lessons dangerous, in truth, to some, but not to the pure enthusiasm that comes from art; for the mind that rightly conceives art is but a mirror which gives back what is cast on its surface faithfully only—while unsullied.
She seized on nature and truth intuitively. Her recitations became full of unconscious power; her voice moved the heart to tears, or warmed it into generous rage. But this arose from that sympathy which genius ever has, even in its earliest innocence, with whatever feels, or aspires, or suffers. It was no premature woman comprehending the love or the jealousy that the words expressed; her art was one of those strange secrets which the psychologists may unriddle to us if they please, and tell us why children of the simplest minds and the purest hearts are often so acute to distinguish, in the tales you tell them, or the songs you sing, the difference between the true art and the false, passion and jargon, Homer and Racine,—echoing back, from hearts that have not yet felt what they repeat, the melodious accents of the natural pathos.
Apart from her studies, Viola was a simple, affectionate, but somewhat wayward child,—wayward, not in temper, for that was sweet and docile; but in her moods, which, as I before hinted, changed from sad to gay and gay to sad without an apparent cause. If cause there were, it must be traced to the early and mysterious influences I have referred to, when seeking to explain the effect produced on her imagination by those restless streams of sound that constantly played around it; for it is noticeable that to those who are much alive to the effects of music, airs and tunes often come back, in the commonest pursuits of life, to vex, as it were, and haunt them.
The music, once admitted to the soul, becomes also a sort of spirit, and never dies. It wanders perturbedly through the halls and galleries of the memory, and is often heard again, distinct and living as when it first displaced the wavelets of the air. Now at times, then, these phantoms of sound floated back upon her fancy; if gay, to call a smile from every dimple; if mournful, to throw a shade upon her brow,—to make her cease from her childishmirth, and sit apart and muse.
Rightly, then, in a typical sense, might this fair creature, so airy in her shape, so harmonious in her beauty, so unfamiliar in her ways and thoughts,—rightly might she be called a daughter, less of the musician than the music, a being for whom you could imagine that some fate was reserved, less of actual life than the romance which, to eyes that can see, and hearts that can feel, glides ever along with the actual life, stream by stream, to the Dark Ocean. And therefore it seemed not strange that Viola herself, even in childhood, and yet more as she bloomed into the sweet seriousness of virgin youth, should fancy her life ordained for a lot, whether of bliss or woe, that should accord with the romance and reverie which made the atmosphere she breathed.
Frequently she would climb through the thickets that clothed the neighbouring grotto of Posilipo,—the mighty work of the old Cimmerians,—and, seated by the haunted Tomb of Virgil, indulge those visions, the subtle vagueness of which no poetry can render palpable and defined; for the Poet that surpasses all who ever sang, is the heart of dreaming youth! Frequently there, too, beside the threshold over which the vine-leaves clung, and facing that dark-blue, waveless sea, she would sit in the autumn noon or summer twilight, and build her castles in the air.
Who doth not do the same,—not in youth alone, but with the dimmed hopes of age! But those day-dreams of hers were more habitual, distinct, and solemn than the greater part of us indulge. They seemed like the Orama of the Greeks,—prophets while phantasma. Fu stupor, fu vaghezza, fu diletto! Now at last the education is accomplished! Viola is nearly sixteen. Yes, but in what character? Ah, there is the secret! Others insist upon it that her forte is the comic, and that Cimarosa is hard at work at another Matrimonia Segreto.
But in the meanwhile there is a check in the diplomacy somewhere. The Cardinal is observed to be out of humour. Naples is distracted with curiosity and conjecture. The lecture ends in a quarrel, and Viola comes home sullen and pouting: she will not act,—she has renounced the engagement. Pisani, too inexperienced to be aware of all the dangers of the stage, had been pleased at the notion that one, at least, of his name would add celebrity to his art.
However, he said nothing,—he never scolded in words, but he took up the faithful barbiton. Oh, faithful barbiton, how horribly thou didst scold! It screeched, it gabbled, it moaned, it growled. She stole to her mother, and whispered in her ear; and when Pisani turned from his employment, lo! He looked at them with a wondering stare; and then, as if he felt he had been harsh, he flew again to his Familiar. And now you thought you heard the lullaby which a fairy might sing to some fretful changeling it had adopted and sought to soothe. Liquid, low, silvery, streamed the tones beneath the enchanted bow.
The most stubborn grief would have paused to hear; and withal, at times, out came a wild, merry, ringing note, like a laugh, but not mortal laughter. It was one of his most successful airs from his beloved opera,—the Siren in the act of charming the waves and the winds to sleep. Heaven knows what next would have come, but his arm was arrested. Viola had thrown herself on his breast, and kissed him, with happy eyes that smiled through her sunny hair. At that very moment the door opened,—a message from the Cardinal. Viola must go to his Eminence at once.
Her mother went with her. All was reconciled and settled; Viola had her way, and selected her own opera. O ye dull nations of the North, with your broils and debates,—your bustling lives of the Pnyx and the Agora!
But whose the opera? No cabinet intrigue ever was so secret. Pisani came back one night from the theatre, evidently disturbed and irate. Woe to thine ears hadst thou heard the barbiton that night! And his variations, his diablerie of sirens and harpies, on such a night, made a hazard not to be contemplated without awe. For the first time he spoke in words upon the subject, and gravely asked—for that question the barbiton, eloquent as it was, could not express distinctly—what was to be the opera, and what the part?
And Viola as gravely answered that she was pledged to the Cardinal not to reveal. Pisani said nothing, but disappeared with the violin; and presently they heard the Familiar from the house-top whither, when thoroughly out of humour, the musician sometimes fled , whining and sighing as if its heart were broken. The affections of Pisani were little visible on the surface. He was not one of those fond, caressing fathers whose children are ever playing round their knees; his mind and soul were so thoroughly in his art that domestic life glided by him, seemingly as if that were a dream, and the heart the substantial form and body of existence.
Persons much cultivating an abstract study are often thus; mathematicians proverbially so. Do you know what the illustrious Giardini said when the tyro asked how long it would take to learn to play on the violin? No, Pisani; often, with the keen susceptibility of childhood, poor Viola had stolen from the room to weep at the thought that thou didst not love her. And yet, underneath this outward abstraction of the artist, the natural fondness flowed all the same; and as she grew up, the dreamer had understood the dreamer.
The eventful hour is come. Viola is gone to the theatre,—her mother with her. The indignant musician remains at home. He must lay aside his violin; he must put on his brocade coat and his lace ruffles. Here they are,—quick, quick! And quick rolls the gilded coach, and majestic sits the driver, and statelily prance the steeds.
Poor Pisani is lost in a mist of uncomfortable amaze. He arrives at the theatre; he descends at the great door; he turns round and round, and looks about him and about: he misses something,—where is the violin? But then, what bursts upon him! Does he dream? The first act is over they did not send for him till success seemed no longer doubtful ; the first act has decided all. He feels that by the electric sympathy which ever the one heart has at once with a vast audience. He feels it by the breathless stillness of that multitude; he feels it even by the lifted finger of the Cardinal.
He sees his Viola on the stage, radiant in her robes and gems,—he hears her voice thrilling through the single heart of the thousands! But the scene, the part, the music! It is his other child,—his immortal child; the spirit-infant of his soul; his darling of many years of patient obscurity and pining genius; his masterpiece; his opera of the Siren! And there she stands, as all souls bow before her,—fairer than the very Siren he had called from the deeps of melody. Oh, long and sweet recompense of toil! Where is on earth the rapture like that which is known to genius when at last it bursts from its hidden cavern into light and fame!
He did not speak, he did not move; he stood transfixed, breathless, the tears rolling down his cheeks; only from time to time his hands still wandered about,—mechanically they sought for the faithful instrument, why was it not there to share his triumph? At last the curtain fell; but on such a storm and diapason of applause!
Up rose the audience as one man, as with one voice that dear name was shouted. The good old Cardinal drew him gently forward. Wild musician, thy daughter has given thee back more than the life thou gavest! Now, notwithstanding the triumph both of the singer and the opera, there had been one moment in the first act, and, consequently, before the arrival of Pisani, when the scale seemed more than doubtful.
It was in a chorus replete with all the peculiarities of the composer. And when the Maelstrom of Capricci whirled and foamed, and tore ear and sense through every variety of sound, the audience simultaneously recognised the hand of Pisani. A title had been given to the opera which had hitherto prevented all suspicion of its parentage; and the overture and opening, in which the music had been regular and sweet, had led the audience to fancy they detected the genius of their favourite Paisiello. Long accustomed to ridicule and almost to despise the pretensions of Pisani as a composer, they now felt as if they had been unduly cheated into the applause with which they had hailed the overture and the commencing scenas.
An ominous buzz circulated round the house: the singers, the orchestra,—electrically sensitive to the impression of the audience,—grew, themselves, agitated and dismayed, and failed in the energy and precision which could alone carry off the grotesqueness of the music. There are always in every theatre many rivals to a new author and a new performer,—a party impotent while all goes well, but a dangerous ambush the instant some accident throws into confusion the march of success. A hiss arose; it was partial, it is true, but the significant silence of all applause seemed to forebode the coming moment when the displeasure would grow contagious.
It was the breath that stirred the impending avalanche. At that critical moment Viola, the Siren queen, emerged for the first time from her ocean cave. As she came forward to the lamps, the novelty of her situation, the chilling apathy of the audience,—which even the sight of so singular a beauty did not at the first arouse,—the whispers of the malignant singers on the stage, the glare of the lights, and more—far more than the rest—that recent hiss, which had reached her in her concealment, all froze up her faculties and suspended her voice.
And, instead of the grand invocation into which she ought rapidly to have burst, the regal Siren, retransformed into the trembling girl, stood pale and mute before the stern, cold array of those countless eyes. At that instant, and when consciousness itself seemed about to fail her, as she turned a timid beseeching glance around the still multitude, she perceived, in a box near the stage, a countenance which at once, and like magic, produced on her mind an effect never to be analysed nor forgotten.
It was one that awakened an indistinct, haunting reminiscence, as if she had seen it in those day-dreams she had been so wont from infancy to indulge. She could not withdraw her gaze from that face, and as she gazed, the awe and coldness that had before seized her, vanished like a mist from before the sun.
And while yet she gazed, and the glow returned to her heart, the stranger half rose, as if to recall the audience to a sense of the courtesy due to one so fair and young; and the instant his voice gave the signal, the audience followed it by a burst of generous applause. For this stranger himself was a marked personage, and his recent arrival at Naples had divided with the new opera the gossip of the city. From that time Viola forgot the crowd, the hazard, the whole world,—except the fairy one over with she presided. Only when all was over, and she saw her father and felt his joy, did this wild spell vanish before the sweeter one of the household and filial love.
Why, Viola, strange child, sittest thou apart, thy face leaning on thy fair hands, thine eyes fixed on space? Up, rouse thee! Every dimple on the cheek of home must smile to-night. And a happy reunion it was round that humble table: a feast Lucullus might have envied in his Hall of Apollo, in the dried grapes, and the dainty sardines, and the luxurious polenta, and the old lacrima a present from the good Cardinal.
The barbiton, placed on a chair—a tall, high-backed chair—beside the musician, seemed to take a part in the festive meal. Its honest varnished face glowed in the light of the lamp; and there was an impish, sly demureness in its very silence, as its master, between every mouthful, turned to talk to it of something he had forgotten to relate before.
You give me so much joy, child,—I am so proud of thee and myself. But he and I, poor fellow, have been so often unhappy together! The intoxication of vanity and triumph, the happiness in the happiness she had caused, all this was better than sleep. But still from all this, again and again her thoughts flew to those haunting eyes, to that smile with which forever the memory of the triumph, of the happiness, was to be united. Her feelings, like her own character, were strange and peculiar. They were not those of a girl whose heart, for the first time reached through the eye, sighs its natural and native language of first love.
It was not so much admiration, though the face that reflected itself on every wave of her restless fancies was of the rarest order of majesty and beauty; nor a pleased and enamoured recollection that the sight of this stranger had bequeathed: it was a human sentiment of gratitude and delight, mixed with something more mysterious, of fear and awe. Certainly she had seen before those features; but when and how? Only when her thoughts had sought to shape out her future, and when, in spite of all the attempts to vision forth a fate of flowers and sunshine, a dark and chill foreboding made her recoil back into her deepest self.
It was a something found that had long been sought for by a thousand restless yearnings and vague desires, less of the heart than mind; not as when youth discovers the one to be beloved, but rather as when the student, long wandering after the clew to some truth in science, sees it glimmer dimly before him, to beckon, to recede, to allure, and to wane again. She fell at last into unquiet slumber, vexed by deformed, fleeting, shapeless phantoms; and, waking, as the sun, through a veil of hazy cloud, glinted with a sickly ray across the casement, she heard her father settled back betimes to his one pursuit, and calling forth from his Familiar a low mournful strain, like a dirge over the dead.
I meant to be merry, and compose an air in honour of thee; but he is an obstinate fellow, this,—and he would have it so. E cosi i pigri e timidi desiri Sprona. It was the custom of Pisani, except when the duties of his profession made special demand on his time, to devote a certain portion of the mid-day to sleep,—a habit not so much a luxury as a necessity to a man who slept very little during the night.
In fact, whether to compose or to practice, the hours of noon were precisely those in which Pisani could not have been active if he would. His genius resembled those fountains full at dawn and evening, overflowing at night, and perfectly dry at the meridian. During this time, consecrated by her husband to repose, the signora generally stole out to make the purchases necessary for the little household, or to enjoy as what woman does not? And the day following this brilliant triumph, how many congratulations would she have to receive!
As she thus sat, rather in reverie than thought, a man coming from the direction of Posilipo, with a slow step and downcast eyes, passed close by the house, and Viola, looking up abruptly, started in a kind of terror as she recognised the stranger. She uttered an involuntary exclamation, and the cavalier turning, saw, and paused.
He stood a moment or two between her and the sunlit ocean, contemplating in a silence too serious and gentle for the boldness of gallantry, the blushing face and the young slight form before him; at length he spoke. From sixteen to thirty, the music in the breath of applause is sweeter than all the music your voice can utter! And I feel, too, Excellency, that I have you to thank, though, perhaps, you scarce know why! Perhaps you would rather I should have admired the singer? And now, since we have thus met, I will pause to counsel you.
When next you go to the theatre, you will have at your feet all the young gallants of Naples. Poor infant! Remember that the only homage that does not sully must be that which these gallants will not give thee. And whatever thy dreams of the future,—and I see, while I speak to thee, how wandering they are, and wild,—may only those be fulfilled which centre round the hearth of home. And with a burst of natural and innocent emotions, scarcely comprehending, though an Italian, the grave nature of his advice, she exclaimed,—.
And my father,—there would be no home, signor, without him! A deep and melancholy shade settled over the face of the cavalier. He looked up at the quiet house buried amidst the vine-leaves, and turned again to the vivid, animated face of the young actress. Adieu, fair singer. Look how it grows up, crooked and distorted. Some wind scattered the germ from which it sprang, in the clefts of the rock; choked up and walled round by crags and buildings, by Nature and man, its life has been one struggle for the light,—light which makes to that life the necessity and the principle: you see how it has writhed and twisted; how, meeting the barrier in one spot, it has laboured and worked, stem and branches, towards the clear skies at last.
What has preserved it through each disfavour of birth and circumstances,—why are its leaves as green and fair as those of the vine behind you, which, with all its arms, can embrace the open sunshine? My child, because of the very instinct that impelled the struggle,—because the labour for the light won to the light at length.
So with a gallant heart, through every adverse accident of sorrow and of fate to turn to the sun, to strive for the heaven; this it is that gives knowledge to the strong and happiness to the weak. Ere we meet again, you will turn sad and heavy eyes to those quiet boughs, and when you hear the birds sing from them, and see the sunshine come aslant from crag and housetop to be the playfellow of their leaves, learn the lesson that Nature teaches you, and strive through darkness to the light! As he spoke he moved on slowly, and left Viola wondering, silent, saddened with his dim prophecy of coming evil, and yet, through sadness, charmed.
Involuntarily her eyes followed him,—involuntarily she stretched forth her arms, as if by a gesture to call him back; she would have given worlds to have seen him turn,—to have heard once more his low, calm, silvery voice; to have felt again the light touch of his hand on hers. As moonlight that softens into beauty every angle on which it falls, seemed his presence,—as moonlight vanishes, and things assume their common aspect of the rugged and the mean, he receded from her eyes, and the outward scene was commonplace once more.
The stranger passed on, through that long and lovely road which reaches at last the palaces that face the public gardens, and conducts to the more populous quarters of the city. A group of young, dissipated courtiers, loitering by the gateway of a house which was open for the favourite pastime of the day,—the resort of the wealthier and more high-born gamesters,—made way for him, as with a courteous inclination he passed them by.
He has not been many days at Naples, and I cannot yet find any one who knows aught of his birthplace, his parentage, or, what is more important, his estates! See,—no, you cannot see it here; but it rides yonder in the bay. The bankers he deals with speak with awe of the sums placed in their hands. My valet learned from some of the sailors on the Mole that he had resided many years in the interior of India. Here comes our prince of gamesters, Cetoxa; be sure that he already must have made acquaintance with so wealthy a cavalier; he has that attraction to gold which the magnet has to steel.
Well, Cetoxa, what fresh news of the ducats of Signor Zanoni? He desired a box at San Carlo; but I need not tell you that the expectation of a new opera ah, how superb it is,—that poor devil, Pisani; who would have thought it? He accepts it,—I wait on him between the acts; he is most charming; he invites me to supper. Cospetto, what a retinue! We sit late,—I tell him all the news of Naples; we grow bosom friends; he presses on me this diamond before we part,—is a trifle, he tells me: the jewellers value it at pistoles!
And what, after all, do these rumours, when sifted, amount to? They have no origin but this,—a silly old man of eighty-six, quite in his dotage, solemnly avers that he saw this same Zanoni seventy years ago he himself, the narrator, then a mere boy at Milan; when this very Zanoni, as you all see, is at least as young as you or I, Belgioso.
Old Avelli declares that Zanoni does not seem a day older than when they met at Milan. He says that even then at Milan—mark this—where, though under another name, this Zanoni appeared in the same splendour, he was attended also by the same mystery. And that an old man there remembered to have seen him sixty years before, in Sweden. I will believe them when I see this diamond turn to a wisp of hay. Cetoxa was a redoubted swordsman, and excelled in a peculiarly awkward manoeuvre, which he himself had added to the variations of the stoccata. The grave gentleman, however anxious for the spiritual weal of the count, had an equal regard for his own corporeal safety.
He contented himself with a look of compassion, and, turning through the gateway, ascended the stairs to the gaming-tables. Gentlemen, you sup with me to-night. I assure you I never met a more delightful, sociable, entertaining person, than my dear friend the Signor Zanoni. Quello Ippogifo, grande e strano augello Lo porta via.
And now, accompanying this mysterious Zanoni, am I compelled to bid a short farewell to Naples. Mount behind me,—mount on my hippogriff, reader; settle yourself at your ease. I bought the pillion the other day of a poet who loves his comfort; it has been newly stuffed for your special accommodation. So, so, we ascend! Look as we ride aloft,—look! Hail to ye, cornfields and vineyards famous for the old Falernian! Hail to ye, golden orange-groves of Mola di Gaeta! Hail to ye, sweet shrubs and wild flowers, omnis copia narium , that clothe the mountain-skirts of the silent Lautulae!
Shall we rest at the Volscian Anxur,—the modern Terracina,—where the lofty rock stands like the giant that guards the last borders of the southern land of love? Away, away! Dreary and desolate, their miasma is to the gardens we have passed what the rank commonplace of life is to the heart when it has left love behind. Mournful Campagna, thou openest on us in majestic sadness. Rome, seven-hilled Rome! Where is the traveller we pursue? Turn the hippogriff loose to graze: he loves the acanthus that wreathes round yon broken columns.
Yes, that is the arch of Titus, the conqueror of Jerusalem,—that the Colosseum! Through one passed the triumph of the deified invader; in one fell the butchered gladiators. Monuments of murder, how poor the thoughts, how mean the memories ye awaken, compared with those that speak to the heart of man on the heights of Phyle, or by thy lone mound, grey Marathon!
We stand amidst weeds and brambles and long waving herbage. Where we stand reigned Nero,—here were his tessellated floors; here,. How the lizard watches us with his bright, timorous eye! We disturb his reign. In the midst of this desolation is an old building of the middle ages. Here dwells a singular recluse. In the season of the malaria the native peasant flies the rank vegetation round; but he, a stranger and a foreigner, no associates, no companions, except books and instruments of science.
He is often seen wandering over the grass-grown hills, or sauntering through the streets of the new city, not with the absent brow and incurious air of students, but with observant piercing eyes that seem to dive into the hearts of the passers-by. An old man, but not infirm,—erect and stately, as if in his prime. None know whether he be rich or poor. He asks no charity, and he gives none,—he does no evil, and seems to confer no good.
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He is a man who appears to have no world beyond himself; but appearances are deceitful, and Science, as well as Benevolence, lives in the Universe. This abode, for the first time since thus occupied, a visitor enters. It is Zanoni. You observe those two men seated together, conversing earnestly. Years long and many have flown away since they met last,—at least, bodily, and face to face. But if they are sages, thought can meet thought, and spirit spirit, though oceans divide the forms. Death itself divides not the wise. Thou meetest Plato when thine eyes moisten over the Phaedo.
May Homer live with all men forever! They converse; they confess to each other; they conjure up the past, and repeople it; but note how differently do such remembrances affect the two. He has acted in the past he surveys; but not a trace of the humanity that participates in joy and sorrow can be detected on the passionless visage of his companion; the past, to him, as is now the present, has been but as Nature to the sage, the volume to the student,—a calm and spiritual life, a study, a contemplation.
From the past they turn to the future. At the verge of that hundred years, Man, the ripest born of Time, 8 stood as at the deathbed of the Old World, and beheld the New Orb, blood-red amidst cloud and vapour,—uncertain if a comet or a sun. Behold the icy and profound disdain on the brow of the old man,—the lofty yet touching sadness that darkens the glorious countenance of Zanoni. Is it that one views with contempt the struggle and its issue, and the other with awe or pity?
Wisdom contemplating mankind leads but to the two results,—compassion or disdain. He who believes in other worlds can accustom himself to look on this as the naturalist on the revolutions of an ant-hill, or of a leaf. What is the Earth to Infinity,—what its duration to the Eternal? Oh, how much greater is the soul of one man than the vicissitudes of the whole globe! Child of heaven, and heir of immortality, how from some star hereafter wilt thou look back on the ant-hill and its commotions, from Clovis to Robespierre, from Noah to the Final Fire.
The spirit that can contemplate, that lives only in the intellect, can ascend to its star, even from the midst of the burial-ground called Earth, and while the sarcophagus called Life immures in its clay the everlasting! But thou, Zanoni,—thou hast refused to live only in the intellect; thou hast not mortified the heart; thy pulse still beats with the sweet music of mortal passion; thy kind is to thee still something warmer than an abstraction,—thou wouldst look upon this Revolution in its cradle, which the storms rock; thou wouldst see the world while its elements yet struggle through the chaos!
One evening, at Paris, several months after the date of our last chapter, there was a reunion of some of the most eminent wits of the time, at the house of a personage distinguished alike by noble birth and liberal accomplishments. Nearly all present were of the views that were then the mode.https://ansundedu.tk
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For, as came afterwards a time when nothing was so unpopular as the people, so that was the time when nothing was so vulgar as aristocracy. The airiest fine gentleman and the haughtiest noble prated of equality, and lisped enlightenment. Among the more remarkable guests were Condorcet, then in the prime of his reputation, the correspondent of the king of Prussia, the intimate of Voltaire, the member of half the academies of Europe,—noble by birth, polished in manners, republican in opinions.
It was one of those petits soupers for which the capital of all social pleasures was so renowned. The conversation, as might be expected, was literary and intellectual, enlivened by graceful pleasantry. Many of the ladies of that ancient and proud noblesse—for the noblesse yet existed, though its hours were already numbered—added to the charm of the society; and theirs were the boldest criticisms, and often the most liberal sentiments. Vain labour for me—vain labour almost for the grave English language—to do justice to the sparkling paradoxes that flew from lip to lip.
The favourite theme was the superiority of the moderns to the ancients. Condorcet on this head was eloquent, and to some, at least, of his audience, most convincing. That Voltaire was greater than Homer few there were disposed to deny. Keen was the ridicule lavished on the dull pedantry which finds everything ancient necessarily sublime. But intelligence circulates, Condorcet; like water, it finds its level.
Here Condrocet is more eloquent than before. Without kings, men must be safe; and without priests, minds must be free. The great impediments to knowledge are, first, the want of a common language; and next, the short duration of existence.
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But as to the first, when all men are brothers, why not a universal language? As to the second, the organic perfectibility of the vegetable world is undisputed, is Nature less powerful in the nobler existence of thinking man? The very destruction of the two most active causes of physical deterioration—here, luxurious wealth; there, abject penury,—must necessarily prolong the general term of life. The art of medicine will then be honoured in the place of war, which is the art of murder: the noblest study of the acutest minds will be devoted to the discovery and arrest of the causes of disease.
Life, I grant, cannot be made eternal; but it may be prolonged almost indefinitely. And as the meaner animal bequeaths its vigour to its offspring, so man shall transmit his improved organisation, mental and physical, to his sons. Oh, yes, to such a consummation does our age approach! The venerable Malesherbes sighed. Perhaps he feared the consummation might not come in time for him. The handsome Marquis de — and the ladies, yet handsomer than he, looked conviction and delight.
But two men there were, seated next to each other, who joined not in the general talk: the one a stranger newly arrived in Paris, where his wealth, his person, and his accomplishments, had already made him remarked and courted; the other, an old man, somewhere about seventy,—the witty and virtuous, brave, and still light-hearted Cazotte, the author of Le Diable Amoureux. These two conversed familiarly, and apart from the rest, and only by an occasional smile testified their attention to the general conversation.
Recall the time when, led by curiosity, or perhaps the nobler desire of knowledge, you sought initiation into the mysterious order of Martines de Pasqualis. I have shaken off the influence they once had on my own imagination. And then, with a yet lower voice, the stranger continued to address him, to remind him of certain ceremonies and doctrines,—to explain and enforce them by references to the actual experience and history of his listener, which Cazotte thrilled to find so familiar to a stranger.
At that question Cazotte started; his cheeks grew pale, large drops stood on his forehead; his lips writhed; his gay companions gazed on him in surprise. I will answer: you, Marquis de Condorcet, will die in prison, but not by the hand of the executioner. In the peaceful happiness of that day, the philosopher will carry about with him not the elixir but the poison. Be comforted; the last drops will not follow the razor. For you, venerable Malesherbes; for you, Aimar Nicolai; for you, learned Bailly,—I see them dress the scaffold!
And all the while, O great philosophers, your murderers will have no word but philosophy on their lips! Shall I have no part to play in this drama of your fantasies. You will become—a Christian! This was too much for the audience that a moment before seemed grave and thoughtful, and they burst into an immoderate fit of laughter, while Cazotte, as if exhausted by his predictions, sank back in his chair, and breathed hard and heavily.
A convulsive tremor shook the involuntary prophet,—it passed, and left his countenance elevated by an expression of resignation and calm. With these words, Cazotte rose; and the guests, awed in spite of themselves, shortly afterwards broke up and retired. It was some time before midnight when the stranger returned home. His apartments were situated in one of those vast abodes which may be called an epitome of Paris itself.
The cellars rented by mechanics, scarcely removed a step from paupers, often by outcasts and fugitives from the law,—often by some daring writer, who, after scattering amongst the people doctrines the most subversive of order, or the most libellous on the characters of priest, minister, and king—retired amongst the rats, to escape the persecution that attends the virtuous—the ground-floor occupied by shops—the entresol by artists; the principal stories by nobles; and the garrets by journeymen or grisettes.
As the stranger passed up the stairs, a young man of a form and countenance singularly unprepossessing emerged from a door in the entresol , and brushed beside him. The stranger paused, and observed him with thoughtful looks, as he hurried down the stairs. While he thus stood, he heard a groan from the room which the young man had just quitted; the latter had pulled to the door with hasty vehemence, but some fragment, probably of fuel, had prevented its closing, and it now stood slightly ajar; the stranger pushed it open and entered.
He passed a small anteroom, meanly furnished, and stood in a bedchamber of meagre and sordid discomfort. Stretched on the bed, and writhing in pain, lay an old man; a single candle lit the room, and threw its feeble ray over the furrowed and death-like face of the sick person. No attendant was by; he seemed left alone, to breathe his last. Sir, I am poor, but I can pay you well. There is the basin, all I have taken these six hours. I had scarce drunk it ere these pains began. Richardson: Piano Music. Martin Jones , Adrian Farmer.
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