It was this turn of mind that made Savill's conversation peculiarly agreeable to Godolphin in his present humour; and the latter invested it, from his own mood, with a charm which in reality it wanted. For, as I shall show, in Godolphin, what deterioration the habits of frivolous and worldly life produce on the mind of a man of genius, I show only in Saville the effect they produce on a man of sense.
"Well, Godolphin," said Saville, as he saw the former rise to depart; "you will at least dine with me to-day—a punctual eight. I think I can promise you an agreeable evening. The Linettini, and that dear little Fanny Millinger (your old flame), are coming; and I have asked old Stracey, the poet, to say bons mots for them. Poor old Stracey! He goes about to all his former friends and fellow-liberals, boasting of his favour with the Great, and does not see that we only use him as we would a puppet-show or a dancing-dog."
"What folly," said Godolphin, "it is in any man of genius (not also of birth) to think the Great of this country can possibly esteem him! Nothing can equal the secret enmity with which dull men regard an intellect above their comprehension. Party politics, and the tact, the shifting, the commonplace that Party politics alone require; these they can appreciate; and they feel respect for an orator, even though he be not a county member; for he can assist them in their paltry ambition for place and pension: but an author, or a man of science, the rogues positively jeer at him!"
"And yet," said Saville, "how few men of letters perceive a truth so evident to us, so hackneyed even in the conversations of society! For a little reputation at a dinner table, for a coaxing nobe from some titled demirep affecting the De Stael, they forget not only to be glorious but even to be respectable. And this, too, not only for so petty a gratification, but for one that rarely lasts above a London season. We allow the low-born author to be the lion this year; but we dub him a bore the next. We shut our doors upon his twice-told jests, and send for the Prague minstrels to sing to us after dinner instead."
"However," said Godolphin, "it is only poets you find so foolish as to be deceived by you. There is not a single prose writer of real genius so absurd."
"And why is that?"
"Because," replied Godolphin, philosophising, "poets address themselves more to women than men; and insensibly they acquire the weaknesses which they are accustomed to address. A poet whose verses delight the women will be found, if we closely analyse his character, to be very like a woman himself."
"You don't love poets?" said Saville.
"The glory of old has departed from them. I mean less from their pages than their minds. We have plenty of beautiful poets, but how little poetry breathing of a great soul!"
Here the door opened, and a Mr. Glosson was announced. There entered a little, smirking, neat-dressed man, prim as a lawyer or a house-agent.
"Ah, Glosson, is that you?" said Saville, with something like animation: "sit down, my good sir,—sit down. Well! well! (rubbing his bands); what news? what news?"
"Why, Mr. Saville, I think we may get the land from old ——. He has the right of the job. I have been with him all this morning. He asks six thousand pounds for it.
"The unconscionable dog! He got it from the crown for two."
"Ah, very true,—very true: but you don't see, sir,—you don't see, that it is well worth nine. Sad times,—sad times: jobs from the crown are growing scarcer every day, Mr. Saville."
"Humph! that's all a chance, a speculation. Times are bad indeed, as you say: no money in the market; go, Glosson; offer him five; your percentage shall be one per cent. higher than if I pay six thousand, and shall be counted up to the latter sum."
"He! he! he! sir!" grinned Glosson; "you are fond of your joke, Mr. Saville."
"Well, now; what else in the market? never mind my friend: Mr. Godolphin—Mr. Glosson; now all gene is over; proceed,—proceed."
Glosson hummed, and bowed, and hummed again, and then glided on to speak of houses, and crown lands, and properties in Wales, and places at court (for some of the subordinate posts at the palace were then—perhaps are now—regular matter of barter); and Saville, bending over the table, with his thin delicate hands clasped intently, and his brow denoting his interest, and his sharp shrewd eye fixed on the agent, furnished to the contemplative Godolphin a picture which he did not fail to note, to moralise on, to despise!
What a spectacle is that of the prodigal rake, hardening and sharpening into the grasping speculator!
FANNY MILLINGER ONCE MORE.—LOVE.—WOMAN.—BOOKS.—A HUNDRED TOPICS TOUCHED ON THE SURFACE.—GODOLPHIN'S STATE OF MIND MORE MINUTELY EXAMINED.—THE DINNER AT SAVILLE'S.
Godolphin went to see and converse with Fanny Millinger.
She was still unmarried, and still the fashion. There was a sort of allegory of real life, in the manner in which, at certain epochs, our Idealist was brought into contact with the fair actress of ideal creations. There was, in short, something of a moral in the way these two streams of existence—the one belonging to the Actual, the other to the Imaginary—flowed on, crossing each other at stated times. Which was the more really imaginative—the life of the stage, or that of the world's stage? The gay Fanny was rejoiced to welcome back again her early lover. She ran on, talking of a thousand topics, without remarking the absent mind and musing eye of Godolphin, till he himself stopped her somewhat abruptly:—
"Well, Fanny, well, and what do you know of Saville? You have grown intimate with him, eh? We shall meet at his house this evening."
"Oh, yes, he is a charming person in his little way; and the only man who allows me to be a friend without dreaming of becoming a lover. Now that's what I like. We poor actresses have so much would-be love in the course of our lives, that a little friendship now and then is a novelty which other and soberer people can never appreciate. On reading Gil Blas the other day—I am no great reader, as you may remember—I was struck by that part in which the dear Santillane assures us that there was never any love between him and Laura the actress. I thought it so true to nature, so probable, that they should have formed so strong an intimacy for each other, lived in the same house, had every opportunity for love, yet never loved. And it was exactly because she was an actress, and a light good-for-nothing creature that it so happened; the very multiplicity of lovers prevented her falling in love; the very carelessness of her life, poor girl, rendered a friend so charming to her. It would have spoiled the friend to have made him an adorer; it would have turned the rarity into the every-day character. Now, so it is with me and Saville; I like his wit, he likes my good temper. We see each other as often as if we were in love; and yet I do not believe it even possible that he should ever kiss my hand. After all," continued Fanny, laughing, "love is not so necessary to us women as people think. Fine writers say, 'Oh, men have a thousand objects, women but one!' That's nonsense, dear Percy; women have their thousand objects too. They have not the bar, but they have the milliner's shop; they can't fight, but they can sit by the window and embroider a work-bag; they don't rush into politics, but they plunge their souls into love for a parrot or a lap-dog. Don't let men flatter themselves; Providence has been just as kind in that respect to one sex as to the other; our objects are small, yours great; but a small object may occupy the mind just as much as the loftiest."
"Ours great! pshaw!" said Godolphin, who was rather struck with Fanny's remarks; "there is nothing great in those professions which man is pleased to extol. Is selfishness great? Are the low trickery, the organised lies of the bar, a great calling? Is the mechanical slavery of the soldier—fighting because he is in the way of fighting, without knowing the cause, without an object, save a dim, foolish vanity which he calls glory, and cannot analyse—is that a great aim and vocation? Well: the senate! look at the outcry which wise men make against the loathsome corruption of that arena; then look at the dull hours,—the tedious talk, the empty boasts, the poor and flat rewards, and tell me where is the greatness? No, Fanny! the embroidered work-bag, and the petted parrot, afford just as great—morally great—occupations as those of the bar, the army, the senate. It is only the frivolous who talk of frivolities; there is nothing frivolous; all earthly occupations are on a par—alike important if they alike occupy; for to the wise all are poor and valueless."
"I fancy you are very wrong," said the actress, pressing her pretty fingers to her forehead, as if to understand him; "but I cannot tell you why, and I never argue. I ramble on in my odd way, casting out my shrewd things without defending them if any one chooses to quarrel with them. What I do I let others do. My maxim in talk is my maxim in life. I claim liberty for myself, and give indulgence to others."
"I see," said Godolphin, "that you have plenty of books about you, though you plead not guilty to reading. Do you learn your philosophy from them? for I think you have contracted a vein of reflection since we parted which I scarcely recognise as an old characteristic."
"Why," answered Fanny, "though I don't read, I skim. Sometimes I canter through a dozen novels in a morning. I am disappointed, I confess, in all these works; I want to see more real knowledge of the world than they ever display. They tell us how Lord Arthur looked, and Lady Lucy dressed, and what was the colour of those curtains, and these eyes, and so forth; and then the better sort, perhaps, do also tell us what the heroine felt as well as wore, and try with might and main to pull some string of the internal machine; but still I am not enlightened, not touched. I don't recognise men and women; they are puppets with holiday phrases: and I tell you what, Percy, these novelists make the last mistake you would suppose them guilty of; they have not romance enough in them to paint the truths of society. Old gentlemen say novels are bad teachers of life, because they make it too ideal; quite the reverse: novels are too trite! too superficial! Their very talk about love, and the fuss they make about it, show how shallow real romance is with them; for they say nothing new on it, and real romance is for ever striking out new thoughts. Am I not right, Percy?—No! life, be it worldly as it may, has a vast deal of romance in it. Every one of us (even poor I) have a mine of thoughts, and fancies, and wishes, that books are too dull and commonplace to reach the heart is a romance in itself."
"A philosophical romance, my Fanny; full of mysteries and conceits, and refinements, mixed up with its deeper passages. But how came you so wise?"
"Thank you!" answered Fanny, with a profound curtsey. "The fact is—though you, as in duty bound, don't perceive it—that I am older than I was when we last met. I reflect where I then felt. Besides, the stage fills our heads with a half sort of wisdom, and gives us that strange melange of shrewd experience and romantic notions which is, in fact, the real representation of nine human hearts out of ten. Talking of books, I want some one to write a novel, which shall be a metaphysical Gil Blas; which shall deal more with the mind than Le Sage's book, and less with the actions; which shall make its hero the creature of the world, but a different creation, though equally true; which shall give a faithful picture in the character of one man of the aspect and the effects of our social system; making that man of a better sort of clay than the amusing lacquey was, and the produce of a more artificial grade of society. The book I mean would be a sadder one than Le Sage's but equally faithful to life."
"And it would have more of romance, if I rightly understand what you mean?"
"Precisely: romance of idea as well as incident—natural romance. By the way, how few know what natural romance is: so that you feel the ideas in a book or play are true and faithful to the characters they are ascribed to, why mind whether the incidents are probable? Yet common readers only go by the incidents; as if the incidents in three-fourths of Shakspeare's plays were even ordinarily possible! But people have so little nature in them, that they don't know what is natural!"
Thus Fanny ran on, in no very connected manner; stringing together those remarks which, unless I am mistaken, show how much better an uneducated, clever girl, whose very nature is a quick perception of art, can play the critic, then the pedants who assume the office.
But it was only for the moment that the heavy heart of Godolphin could forget its load. It was in vain that he sought to be amused while yet smarting under the freshness of regret. A great shock had been given to his nature; he had loved against his will; and as we have seen, on his return to the Priory, he had even resolved on curing himself of a passion so unprofitable and unwise. But the jealousy of a night had shivered into dust a prudence which never of right belonged to a very ardent and generous nature: that jealousy was soothed, allayed; but how fierce, how stunning was the blow that succeeded it! Constance had confessed love, and yet had refused him—for ever! Clear and noble as to herself her motives might seem in that refusal, it was impossible that they should appear in the same light to Godolphin. Unable to penetrate into the effect which her father's death-bed and her own oath had produced on the mind of Constance; how indissolubly that remembrance had united itself with all her schemes and prospects for the future; how marvellously, yet how naturally, it had converted worldly ambition into a sacred duty;—unable, I say, to comprehend all these various, and powerful, and governing motives, Godolphin beheld in her refusal only the aversion to share his slender income, and the desire for loftier station. He considered, therefore, that sorrow was a tribute to her unworthy of himself; he deemed it a part of his dignity to strive to forget. That hallowed sentiment which, in some losses of the heart, makes it a duty to remember, and preaches a soothing and soft lesson from the very text of regret, was not for the wrung and stricken soul of Godolphin. He only strove to dissipate his grief, and shut out from his mental sight the charmed vision of the first, the only woman he had deeply loved.
Godolphin felt, too, that the sole impulse which could have united the fast-expiring energy and enterprise of his youth to the ambition of life was for ever gone. With Constance—with the proud thoughts that belonged to her—the aspirings after earthly honours were linked, and with her were broken. He felt his old philosophy—the love of ease, the profound contempt for fame,—close, like the deep waters over those glittering hosts for whose passage they had been severed for a moment—whelming the crested and gorgeous visions for ever beneath the wave! Conscious of his talents—nay, swayed to and fro by the unquiet stirrings of no common genius—Godolphin yet foresaw that he was not henceforth destined to play a shining part in the crowded drama of life. His career was already closed; he might be contented, prosperous, happy, but never great. He had seen enough of authors, and of the thorns that beset the paths of literature, to experience none of those delusions which cheat the blinded aspirer into the wilderness of publication—that mode of obtaining fame and hatred to which those who feel unfitted for more bustling concerns are impelled. Write he might: and he was fond (as disappointment increased his propensities to dreaming) of brightening his solitude with the golden palaces and winged shapes that lie glassed within the fancy—the soul's fairy-land. But the vision with him was only evoked one hour to be destroyed the next. Happy had it been for Godolphin, and not unfortunate perhaps for the world, had he learned at that exact moment the true motive for human action which he afterwards, and too late, discovered. Happy had it been for him to have learned that there is an ambition to do good—an ambition to raise the wretched as well as to rise.
Alas!—either in letters or in politics, how utterly poor, barren, and untempting, is every path that points upward to the mockery of public eminence, when looked upon by a soul that has any real elements of wise or noble; unless we have an impulse within, which mortification chills not—a reward without, which selfish defeat does not destroy.
But, unblest by one friend really wise or good, spoilt by the world, soured by disappointment, Godolphin's very faculties made him inert, and his very wisdom taught him to be useless. Again and again—as the spider in some cell where no winged insect ever wanders, builds and rebuilds his mesh,—the scheming heart of the Idealist was doomed to weave net after net for those visions of the Lovely and the Perfect which can never descend to the gloomy regions wherein mortality is cast. The most common disease to genius is nympholepsy—the saddening for a spirit that the world knows not. Ah! how those outward disappointments which should cure, only feed the disease!
The dinner at Saville's was gay and lively, as such entertainments with such participators usually are. If nothing in the world is more heavy than your formal banquet,—nothing, on the other hand, is more agreeable than those well-chosen laissez aller feasts at which the guests are as happily selected as the wines; where there is no form, no reserve, no effort; and people having met to sit still for a few hours are willing to be as pleasant to each other as if they were never to meet again. Yet the conversation in all companies not literary turns upon persons rather than things; and your wits learn their art only in the School for Scandal.
"Only think, Fanny," said Saville, "of Clavers turning beau in his old age! He commenced with being a jockey; then he became an electioneerer; then a Methodist parson; then a builder of houses; and now he has dashed suddenly up to London, rushed into the clubs, mounted a wig, studied an ogle, and walks about the Opera House swinging a cane, and, at the age of fifty-six, punching young minors in the side, and saying tremulously, 'We young fellows!'"
"He hires pages to come to him in the Park with three-cornered notes," said Fanny, "he opens each with affected nonchalance; looks full at the bearer; and cries aloud-'Tell your mistress I cannot refuse her:'—then canters off, with the air of a man persecuted to death!"
"But did you see what an immense pair of whiskers Chester has mounted?"
"Yes," answered a Mr. De Lacy; "A—— says he has cultivated them in order to 'plant out' his ugliness."
"But vy you no talk, Monsieur de Dauphin?" said the Linettini gently, turning to Percy; "you ver silent."
"Unhappily, I have been so long out of town that these anecdotes of the day are caviare to me."
"But so," cried Saville, "would a volume of French Memoirs be to any one that took it up for the first time; yet the French Memoirs amuse one exactly as much as if one had lived with the persons written of. Now that ought to be the case with conversations upon persons. I flatter myself, Fanny, that you and I hit off characters so well by a word or two, that no one who hears us wants to know anything more about them."
"I believe you," said Godolphin; "and that is the reason you never talk of yourselves."
"Bah! Apropos of egoism, did you meet Jack Barabel in Rome?"
"Yes, writing his travels. 'Pray,' said he to me (seizing me by the button) in the Coliseum, 'What do you think is the highest order of literary composition?' 'Why, an epic, I fancy,' said I; 'or perhaps a tragedy, or a great history, or a novel like Don Quixote.' 'Pooh!' quoth Barabel, looking important, 'there's nothing so high in literature as a good book of travels;' then sinking his voice into a whisper and laying his finger wisely on his nose, he hissed out, 'I have a quarto, sir, in the press!'"
"Ha! ha!" laughed Stracey, the old wit, picking his teeth, and speaking for the first time; "if you tell Barabel you have seen a handsome woman, he says, mysteriously frowning, 'Handsome, sir! has she travelled?—answer me that!'"
"But have you seen Paulton's new equipage? Brown carriage, brown liveries, brown harness, brown horses, while Paulton and his wife sit within dressed in brown cap-a-pie. The best of it is that Paulton went to his coachmaker, to order his carriage, saying, 'Mr. Houlditch, I am growing old—too old to be eccentric any longer; I must have something remarkably plain;' and to this hour Paulton goes brown-ing about the town, crying out to every one, 'Nothing like simplicity, believe me.'"
"He discharged his coachman for wearing white gloves instead of brown," said Stracey. "'What do you mean, sir,' cried he, 'with your d—d showy vulgarities?—don't you see me toiling my soul out to be plain and quiet, and you must spoil all, by not being brown enough!'"
"Ah, Godolphin, you seem pensive," whispered Fanny; "yet we are tolerably amusing, too."
"My dear Fanny," answered Godolphin, rousing himself, "the dialogue is gay, the actors know their parts, the lights are brilliant; but—the scene—the scene cannot shift for me! Call it what you will, I am not deceived. I see the paint and the canvas, but—and yet, away these thoughts! Shall I fill your glass, Fanny?"
AN EVENT OF GREAT IMPORTANCE TO THE PRINCIPAL ACTORS IN THIS HISTORY.—GODOLPHIN A SECOND TIME LEAVES ENGLAND.
Goldolphin was welcomed with enthusiasm by the London world. His graces, his manners, his genius, his bon ton, and his bonnes fortunes, were the theme of every society. Verses imputed to him,—some erroneously, some truly,—were mysteriously circulated from hand to hand; and every one envied the fair inspirers to whom they were supposed to be addressed.
It is not my intention to reiterate the wearisome echo of novelists, who descant on fashion and term it life. No description of rose-coloured curtains and buhl cabinets—no miniature paintings of boudoirs and salons—no recital of conventional insipidities, interlarded with affected criticisms, and honoured by the name of dramatic dialogue, shall lend their fascination to these pages. Far other and far deeper aims are mine in stooping to delineate the customs and springs of polite life. The reader must give himself wholly up to me; he must prepare to go with me through the grave as through the gay, and unresistingly to thread the dark and subtle interest which alone I can impart to these memoirs, or—let him close the book at once. I promise him novelty; but it is not, when duly scanned, a novelty of a light and frivolous cast.
But throughout that routine of dissipation in which he chased the phantom Forgetfulness, Godolphin sighed for the time he had fixed on for leaving the scenes in which it was pursued. Of Constance's present existence he heard nothing; of her former triumphs and conquests he heard everywhere. And when did he ever meet one face, however fair, which could awaken a single thought of admiration? while hers was yet all faithfully glassed in his remembrance. I know nothing that so utterly converts society into "the gallery of pictures," as the recollection of one loved and lost. That recollection has but two cures—Time and the hermitage. Foreigners impute to us the turn for sentiment; alas! there are no people who have it less. We seek for ever after amusement; and there is not one popular prose-book in our language in which the more tender and yearning secrets of the heart form the subject-matter. The Corinne and the Julie weary us, or we turn them into sorry jests!
One evening, a little before his departure from England—that a lingering and vague hope, of which Constance was the object, had considerably protracted beyond the allotted time—Godolphin was at a house in which the hostess was a relation to Lord Erpingham.
"Have you heard," asked Lady G——, "that my cousin Erpingham is to be married?"
"No, indeed; to whom?" said Godolphin, eagerly. "To Miss Vernon."
Sudden as was the shock, Godolphin heard, and changed neither hue nor muscle.
"Are you certain of this?" asked a lady present.
"Quite: Lady Erpingham is my authority; I received the news from herself this very day."
"And does she seem pleased with the match?"
"Why, I can scarcely say, for the letter contradicts itself in every passage. Now, she congratulates herself on having so charming a daughter-in-law; now, she suddenly stops short to observe what a pity it is that young men should be so precipitate! Now, she says what a great match it will be for her dear ward! and now, what a happy one it will be for Erpingham! In short, she does not know whether to be pleased or vexed; and that, pour dire vrai, is my case also."
"Why, indeed," observed the former speaker, "Miss Vernon has played her cards well. Lord Erpingham would have been a great match in himself, with his person and reputation. Ah! she was always an ambitious girl."
"And a proud one," said Lady G——. "Well, I suppose Erpingham House will be the rendezvous to all the blues, and wits, and savans. Miss Vernon is another Aspasia, I hear."
"I hate girls who are so designing," said the lady who spoke before, and had only one daughter, very ugly, who, at the age of thirty-five, was about to accept her first offer, and marry a younger son in the Guards. "I think she's rather vulgar; for my part, I doubt if—I shall patronise her."
"Well, what do you think of it, Mr. Godolphin?—you have seen Miss Vernon?"
Godolphin was gone.
It was about ten days after this conversation that Godolphin, waiting at a hotel in Dover the hour at which the packet set sail for Calais, took up the Morning Post; and the first passage that met his eye was the one which I transcribe:—
"Marriage in High Life.—On Thursday last, at Wendover Castle, the Earl of Erpingham, to Constance, only daughter of the celebrated Mr. Vernon. The bride was dressed, &c., ——" And then followed the trite, yet pompous pageantry of words—the sounding nothings—with which ladies who become countesses are knelled into marriage.
"The dream is over!" said Godolphin mournfully, as the paper fell to the ground; and, burying his face within his hands, he remained motionless till they came to announce the moment of departure.
And thus Percy Godolphin left, for the second time, his native shores. When we return to him, what changes will the feelings now awakened within him, have worked in his character! The drops that trickle within the cavern harden, yet brighten into spars as they indurate. Nothing is more polished, nothing more cold, than that wisdom which is the work of former tears, of former passions, and is formed within a musing and solitary mind!
THE BRIDE ALONE.—A DIALOGUE POLITICAL AND MATRIMONIAL.—CONSTANCE GENIUS FOR DIPLOMACY.—THE CHARACTER OF HER ASSEMBLIES.—HER CONQUEST OVER LADY DELVILLE.
"Bring me that book; place that table nearer; and leave me."
The Abigail obeyed the orders, and the young Countess of Erpingham was alone. Alone! what a word for a young and beautiful bride in the first months of her marriage! Alone! and in the heart of that mighty city in which rank and wealth—and they were hers—are the idols adored by millions.
It was a room fancifully and splendidly decorated. Flowers and perfumes were, however, its chief luxury; and from the open window you might see the trees in the old Mall deepening into the rich verdure of June. That haunt, too—a classical haunt for London—was at the hour I speak of full of gay and idle life; and there was something fresh and joyous in the air, the sun, and the crowd of foot and horse that swept below.
Was the glory gone from your brow, Constance?—or the proud gladness from your eye? Alas! are not the blessings of the world like the enchanted bullets?—that which pierces our heart is united with the gift which our heart desired!
Lord Erpingham entered the room. "Well, Constance," said he, "shall you ride on horseback to-day?"
"I think not."
"Then I wish you would call on Lady Delville. You see Delville is of my party: we sit together. You should be very civil to her, and I did not think you were so the other night."
"You wish Lady Delville to support your political interest; and, if I mistake not, you think her at present lukewarm?"
"Then, my dear lord, will you place confidence in my discretion? I promise you, if you will leave me undisturbed in my own plans, that Lady Delville shall be the most devoted of your party before the season is half over: but then, the means will not be those you advise."
"Why, I advised none."
"Yes—civility; a very poor policy."
"D—n it, Constance! why, you would not frown a great person like Lady Delville into affection for us?"
"Leave it to me."
"My dear lord, only try. Three months is all I ask. You will leave the management of politics to me ever afterwards! I was born a schemer. Am I not John Vernon's daughter?"
"Well, well, do as you will," said Lord Erpingham; "but I see how it will end. However, you will call on Lady Delville to-day?"
"If you wish it, certainly."
Lady Delville was a proud, great lady; not very much liked and not so often invited by her equals as if she had been agreeable and a flirt.
Constance knew with whom she had to treat. She called on Lady Delville that day. Lady Delville was at home: a pretty and popular Mrs. Trevor was with her.
Lady Delville received her coolly—Constance was haughtiness itself.
"You go to the Duchess of Daubigny's to-night?" said Lady Delville in the course of their broken conversation.
"Indeed I do not. I like agreeable society. It shall be my object to form a circle that not one displeasing person shall obtain access to. Will you assist me, my dear Mrs. Trevor?"—and Constance turned, with her softest smile, to the lady she addressed.
Mrs. Trevor was flattered: Lady Delville drew herself up.
"It is a small party at the duchess's," said the latter; "merely to meet the Duke and Duchess of C——."
"Ah, few people are capable of giving a suitable entertainment to the royal family."
"But surely none more so than the Duchess of Daubigny—her house so large, her rank so great!"
"These are but poor ingredients towards the forming of an agreeable party," said Constance, coldly. "The mistake made by common minds is to suppose titles the only rank. Royal dukes love, above all other persons, to be amused; and amusement is the last thing generally provided for them."
The conversation fell into other channels. Constance rose to depart. She warmly pressed the hand of Mrs. Trevor, whom she had only seen once before.
"A few persons come to me to-morrow evening," said she; "do waive ceremony, and join us. I can promise you that not one disagreeable person shall be present; and that the Duchess of Daubigny shall write for an invitation and be refused."
Mrs. Trevor accepted the invitation.
Lady Delville was enraged beyond measure. Never was female tongue more bitter than hers at the expense of that insolent Lady Erpingham! Yet Lady Delville was secretly in grief; for the first time in her life, she was hurt at not having been asked to a party: and being hurt because she was not going, she longed most eagerly to go.
The next evening came. Erpingham House was not large, but it was well adapted to the description of assembly its beautiful owner had invited. Statues, busts, pictures, books, scattered or arranged about the apartments, furnished matter for intellectual conversation, or gave at least an intellectual air to the meeting.
About a hundred persons were present. They were selected from the most distinguished ornaments of the time. Musicians, painters, authors, orators, fine gentlemen, dukes, princes, and beauties. One thing, however, was imperatively necessary in order to admit them—the profession of liberal opinions. No Tory, however wise, eloquent or beautiful, could, that evening, have obtained the sesame to those apartments.
Constance never seemed more lovely, and never before was she so winning. The coldness and the arrogance of her manner had wholly vanished. To every one she spoke; and to every one her voice, her manner, were kind, cordial, familiar, but familiar with a soft dignity that heightened the charm. Ambitious not only to please but to dazzle, she breathed into her conversation all the grace and culture of her mind. They who admired her the most were the most accomplished themselves.
Now exchanging with foreign nobles that brilliant trifling of the world in which there is often so much penetration, wisdom, and research into character; now with a kindling eye and animated cheek commenting, with poets and critics, on literature and the arts; now, in a more remote and quiet corner, seriously discussing, with hoary politicians, those affairs in which even they allowed her shrewdness and her grasp of intellect; and combining with every grace and every accomplishment a rare and dazzling order of beauty—we may readily imagine the sensation she created, and the sudden and novel zest which so splendid an Armida must have given to the tameness of society.
The whole of the next week, the party at Erpingham House was the theme of every conversation. Each person who had been there had met the lion he had been most anxious to see. The beauty had conversed with the poet, who had charmed her; the young debutant in science had paid homage to the great professor of its loftiest mysteries; the statesman had thanked the author who had defended his measures; the author had been delighted with the compliment of the statesman. Every one then agreed that, while the highest rank in the kingdom had been there, rank had been the least attraction; and those who before had found Constance repellent, were the very persons who now expatiated with the greatest rapture on the sweetness of her manners. Then, too, every one who had been admitted to the coterie dwelt on the rarity of the admission; and thus, all the world were dying for an introduction to Erpingham House—partly, because it was agreeable—principally, because it was difficult.
It soon became a compliment to the understanding to say of a person, "He goes to Lady Erpingham's!" They who valued themselves on their understandings moved heaven and earth to become popular with the beautiful countess. Lady Delville was not asked; Lady Delville was furious: she affected disdain, but no one gave her credit for it. Lord Erpingham teased Constance on this point.
"You see I was right; for you have affronted Lady Delville. She has made Delville look coolly on me; in a few weeks he will be a Tory; think of that, Lady Erpingham!"
"One month more," answered Constance, with a smile, "and you shall see."
One night, Lady Delville and Lady Erpingham met at a large party. The latter seated herself by her haughty enemy; not seeming to heed Lady Delville's coolness, Constance entered into conversation with her. She dwelt upon books, pictures, music: her manner was animated, and her wit playful. Pleased, in spite of herself, Lady Delville warmed from her reserve.
"My dear Lady Delville," said Constance, suddenly turning her bright countenance on the countess with an expression of delighted surprise, "will you forgive me?—I never dreamed before that you were so charming a person! I never conceal my sentiments: and I own with regret and shame that, till this moment, I had never seen in your mind—whatever I might in your person—those claims to admiration which were constantly dinned into my ear."
Lady Delville actually coloured.
"Pray," continued Constance, "condescend to permit me to a nearer acquaintance. Will you dine with us on Thursday?—we shall have only nine persons beside yourself: but they are the nine persons whom I most esteem and admire."
Lady Delville accepted the invitation. From that hour, Lady Delville—who had at first resented, from the deepest recess of her heart, Constance Vernon's accession to rank and wealth,—who, had Constance deferred to her early acquaintance, would have always found something in her she could have affected to despise; from that hour, Lady Delville was the warmest advocate, and a little time after, the sincerest follower, of the youthful countess.
AN INSIGHT INTO THE REAL GRANDE MONDE;—BEING A SEARCH BEHIND THE ROSE-COLOURED CURTAINS.
The time we now speak of was the most brilliant the English world, during the last half century, has known. Lord Byron was in his brief and dazzling zenith; De Stael was in London; the Peace had turned the attention of rich idlers to social enjoyment and to letters. There was an excitement, and a brilliancy, and a spirituality, about our circles, which we do not recognise now. Never had a young and ambitious woman—a beauty and a genius—a finer moment for the commencement of her power. It was Constance's early and bold resolution to push to the utmost—even to exaggeration—a power existing in all polished states, but now mostly in this,—the power of fashion! This mysterious and subtle engine she was eminently skilled to move according to her will. Her intuitive penetration into character, her tact, and her grace, were exactly the talents Fashion most demands; and they were at present devoted only to that sphere. The rudeness that she mingled, at times, with the bewitching softness and ease of manner she could command at others, increased the effect of her power. It is much to intimidate as well as to win. And her rudeness in a very little while grew popular; for it was never exercised but on those whom the world loves to see humbled. Modest merit in any rank; and even insolence, if accompanied with merit, were always safe from her satire. It was the hauteur of foolish duchesses or purse-proud roturiers that she loved, and scrupled not, to abase.
And the independence of her character was mixed with extraordinary sweetness of temper. Constance could not be in a passion: it was out of her nature. If she was stung, she could utter a sarcasm; but she could not frown or raise her voice. There was that magic in her, that she was always feminine. She did not stare young men out of countenance; she never addressed them by their Christian names; she never flirted—never coquetted: the bloom and flush of modesty was yet all virgin upon her youth. She, the founder of a new dynasty, avoided what her successors and contemporaries have deemed it necessary to incur. She was the leader of fashion; but—it is a miraculous union—she was respectable!
At this period, some new dances were brought into England. These dances found much favour in the eves of several great ladies young enough to dance them. They met at each other's houses in the morning to practise the steps. Among these was Lady Erpingham; her house became the favourite rendezvous.
The young Marquis of Dartington was one of the little knot. Celebrated for his great fortune, his personal beauty, and his general success, he resolved to fall in love with Lady Erpingham. He devoted himself exclusively to her; he joined her in the morning in her rides—in the evening in her gaieties. He had fallen in love with her?—yes!—did he love her?—not the least. But he was excessively idle!—what else could he do?
Constance early saw the attentions and designs of Lord Dartington. There is one difficulty in repressing advances in great society—one so easily becomes ridiculous by being a prude. But Constance dismissed Lord Dartington with great dexterity. This was the occasion:—
One of the apartments in Erpingham House communicated with a conservatory. In this conservatory Constance was alone one morning, when Lord Dartington, who had entered the house with Lord Erpingham, joined her. He was not a man who could ever become sentimental; he was rather the gay lover—rather the Don Gaolor than the Amadis; but he was a little abashed before Constance. He trusted, however, to his fine eyes and his good complexion—plucked up courage; and, picking a flower from the same plant Constance was tending, said,—
"I believe there is a custom in some part of the world to express love by flowers. May I, dear Lady Erpingham, trust to this flower to express what I dare not utter?"
Constance did not blush, nor look confused, as Lord Dartington had hoped and expected. One who had been loved by Godolphin was not likely to feel much agitation at the gallantry of Lord Dartington; but she looked gravely in his face, paused a little before she answered, and then said, with a smile that abashed the suitor more than severity could possibly have done:—
"My dear Lord Dartington, do not let us mistake each other. I live in the world like other women, but I am not altogether like them. Not another word of gallantry to me alone, as you value my friendship. In a crowded room pay me as many compliments as you like. It will flatter my vanity to have you in my train. And now, just do me the favour to take these scissors and cut the dead leaves off that plant."
Lord Dartington, to use a common phrase, "hummed and hawed." He looked, too, a little angry. An artful and shrewd politician, it was not Constance's wish to cool the devotion, though she might the attachment, of a single member of her husband's party. With a kind look—but a look so superior, so queen-like, so free from the petty and coquettish condescension of the sex, that the gay lord wondered from that hour how he could ever have dreamed of Constance as of certain other ladies—she stretched her hand to him.
"We are friends, Lord Dartington?—and now we know each other, we shall be so always."
Lord Dartington bowed confusedly over the beautiful hand he touched; and Constance, walking into the drawing-room, sent for Lord Erpingham on business—Dartington took his leave.
THE MARRIED STATE OF CONSTANCE.
Constance, Countess of Erpingham, was young, rich, lovely as a dream, worshipped as a goddess. Was she happy? and was her whole heart occupied with the trifles that surrounded her?
Deep within her memory was buried one fatal image that she could not exorcise. The reproaching and mournful countenance of Godolphin rose before her at all times and seasons. The charm of his presence no other human being could renew. His eloquent and noble features, living, and glorious with genius and with passion, his sweet deep voice, his conversation, so rich with mind and knowledge, and the subtle delicacy with which he applied its graces to some sentiment dedicated to her, (delicious flattery, of all flatteries the most attractive to a sensitive and intellectual woman!)—these occurred to her again and again, and rendered all she saw around her flat, wearisome, insipid. Nor was this deep-seated and tender weakness the only serpent—if I may use so confused a metaphor—in the roses of her lot.
And here I invoke the reader's graver attention. The fate of women in all the more polished circles of society is eminently unnatural and unhappy. The peasant and his dame are on terms of equality—equality even of ambition: no career is open to one and shut to the other;—equality even of hardship, and hardship is employment: no labour occupies the whole energies of the man, but leaves those of the woman unemployed. Is this the case with the wives in a higher station?—the wives of the lawyer, the merchant, the senator, the noble? There, the men have their occupations; and the women (unless, like poor Fanny, work-bags and parrots can employ them) none. They are idle. They employ the imagination and the heart. They fall in love and are wretched; or they remain virtuous, and are either wearied by an eternal monotony or they fritter away intellect, mind, character, in the minutest frivolities—frivolities being their only refuge from stagnation. Yes! there is one very curious curse for the sex which men don't consider! Once married, the more aspiring of them have no real scope for ambition: the ambition gnaws away their content, and never find elsewhere wherewithal to feed on.
This was Constance's especial misfortune. Her lofty, and restless, and soaring spirit pined for a sphere of action, and ballrooms and boudoirs met it on every side. One hope she did indeed cherish; that hope was the source of her intriguings and schemes, of her care for seeming trifles, the waste of her energies on seeming frivolities. This hope, this object, was to diminish—to crush, not only the party which had forsaken her father, but the power of that order to which she belonged herself; which she had entered only to humble. But this hope was a distant and chill vision. She was too rational to anticipate an early and effectual change in our social state, and too rich in the treasures of mind to be the creature of one idea. Satiety—the common curse of the great;—crept over her day by day. The powers within her lay stagnant—the keen intellect rusted in its sheath.
"How is it," said she to the beautiful Countess of ——, "that you seem always so gay and so animated; that with all your vivacity and tenderness, you are never at a loss for occupation? You never seem weary—ennuyee—why is this?"
"I will tell you," said the pretty countess, archly; "I change my lovers every month." Constance blushed, and asked no more.
Many women in her state, influenced by contagious example, wearied by a life in which the heart had no share; without children, without a guide; assailed and wooed on all sides, in all shapes;—many women might have ventured, if not into love, at least into coquetry. But Constance remained as bright and cold as ever—"the unsunned snow!" It might be, indeed, that the memory of Godolphin preserved her safe from all lesser dangers. The asbestos once conquered by fire can never be consumed by it; but there was also another cause in Constance's very nature—it was pride!
Oh! if men could but dream of what a proud woman endures in those caresses which humble her, they would not wonder why proud women are so difficult to subdue. This is a matter on which we all ponder much, but we dare not write honestly upon it. But imagine a young, haughty, guileless beauty, married to a man whom she neither loves nor honours; and so far from that want of love rendering her likely to fall hereafter, it is more probable that it will make her recoil from the very name of love.
About this time the Dowager Lady Erpingham died; an event sincerely mourned by Constance, and which broke the strongest tie that united the young countess to her lord. Lord Erpingham and Constance, indeed, now saw but little of each other. Like most men six feet high, with large black whiskers, the earl was vain of his person; and, like most rich noblemen, he found plenty of ladies who assured him he was irresistible. He had soon grown angry at the unadmiring and calm urbanity of Constance; and, living a great deal with single men, he formed liaisons of the same order as they do. He was, however, sensible that he had been fortunate in the choice of a wife. His political importance the wisdom of Constance had quadrupled; at the least; his house she had rendered the most brilliant in London, and his name the most courted in the lists of the peerage. Though munificent, she was not extravagant; though a beauty, she did not intrigue; neither, though his inconstancy was open, did she appear jealous; nor, whatever the errors of his conduct, did she ever disregard his interest, disobey his wishes, or waver from the smooth and continuous sweetness of her temper. Of such a wife Lord Erpingham could not complain: he esteemed her, praised her, asked her advice, and stood a little in awe of her.
Ah, Constance! had you been the daughter of a noble or a peasant—had you been the daughter of any man but John Vernon—what a treasure beyond price, without parallel, would that heart, that beauty, that genius have been!
THE PLEASURE OF RETALIATING HUMILIATION.—CONSTANCE'S DEFENCE OF FASHION.—REMARKS ON FASHION.—GODOLPHIN'S WHEREABOUT.—FANNY MILLINGER'S CHARACTER OF HERSELF.—WANT OF COURAGE IN MORALISTS.
It was a proud moment for Constance when the Duchess of Winstoun and Lady Margaret Midgecombe wrote to her, worried her, beset her, for a smile, a courtesy, an invitation, or a ticket to Almack's.
They had at first thought to cry her down; to declare that she was plebeian, mad, bizarre, and a blue. It was all in vain. Constance rose every hour. They struggled against the conviction, but it would not do. The first person who confounded them with a sense of their error was the late King, then Regent; he devoted himself to Lady Erpingham for a whole evening, at a ball given by himself. From that hour they were assured they had been wrong: they accordingly called on her the next day. Constance received them with the same coldness she had always evinced; but they went away declaring they never saw any one whose manners were so improved. They then sent her an invitation! she refused it; a second! she refused; a third, begging her to fix the day!!! she fixed the day, and disappointed them. Lord bless us!—how sorry they were, how alarmed, how terrified!—their dear Lady Erpingham must be ill!—they sent every day for the next week to know how she was!
"Why," said Mrs. Trevor to Lady Erpingham,—"why do you continue so cruel to these poor people? I know they were very impertinent, and so forth, once; but it is surely wiser and more dignified now to forgive; to appear unconscious of the past: people of the world ought not to quarrel with each other."
"You are right, and yet you are mistaken," said Constance: "I do forgive, and I don't quarrel; but my opinion, my contempt, remain the same, or are rather more disdainful than ever. These people are not worth losing the luxury we all experience in expressing contempt. I continue, therefore, but quietly and without affectation, to indulge that luxury. Besides, I own to you, my dear Mrs. Trevor, I do think that the mere insolence of titles must fairly and thoroughly be put down, if we sincerely wish to render society agreeable; and where can we find a better example for punishment than the Duchess of Winstoun?"
"But, my dear Lady Erpingham, you are thought insolent: your friend, Lady ——, is called insolent, too;—are you sure the charge is not merited?"
"I allow the justice of the charge; but you will observe, ours is not the insolence of rank: we have made it a point to protect, to the utmost, the poor and unfriended of all circles. Are we ever rude to governesses or companions, or poor writers, or musicians? When a man marries below him, do we turn our backs on the poor wife? Do we not, on the contrary, lavish our attention on her, and throw round her equivocal and joyless state the protection of Fashion? No, no! our insolence is Justice! it is the chalice returned to the lips which prepared it; it is insolence to the insolent; reflect, and you will allow it."
The fashion that Constance set and fostered was of a generous order; but it was not suited to the majority; it was corrupted by her followers into a thousand basenesses. In vain do we make a law, if the general spirit is averse to the law. Constance could humble the great; could loosen the links of extrinsic rank; could undermine the power of titles; but that was all! She could abase the proud, but not elevate the general tone: for one slavery she only substituted another,—people hugged the chains of Fashion, as before they hugged those of Titular Arrogance.
Amidst the gossip of the day Constance heard much of Godolphin, and all spoke of him with interest—even those who could not comprehend his very intricate and peculiar character. Separated from her by lands and seas, there seemed no danger in allowing herself the sweet pleasure of hearing his actions and his mind discussed. She fancied she did not permit herself to love him; she was too pure not to start at such an idea; but her mind was not so regulated, so trained and educated in sacred principle, that she forbade herself the luxury to remember. Of his present mode of life she heard little. He was traced from city to city; from shore to shore; from the haughty noblesse of Vienna to the gloomy shrines of Memphis, by occasional report, and seemed to tarry long in no place. This roving and unsettled life, which secretly assured her of her power, suffused his image in all tender and remorseful dyes. Ah! where is that one person to been vied, could we read the heart?
The actress had heard incidentally from Saville of Godolphin's attachment to the beautiful countess. She longed to see her; and when, one night at the theatre, she was informed that Lady Erpingham was in the Lord Chamberlain's box close before her, she could scarcely command her self-possession sufficiently to perform with her wonted brilliancy of effect.
She was greatly struck by the singular nobleness of Lady Erpingham's face and person: and Godolphin rose in her estimation, from the justice of the homage he had rendered to so fair a shrine. What a curious trait, by the by, that is in women;—their exaggerated anxiety to see one who has been loved by the man in whom they themselves take interest: and the manner which the said man rises or falls in their estimation, according as they admire, or are disappointed in, the object of his love.
"And so," said Saville, supping one night with the actress, "you think the world does not overlaud Lady Erpingham?"
"No: she is what Medea would have been, if innocent—full of majesty, and yet of sweetness. It is the face of a queen of some three thousand years back. I could have worshipped her."
"My little Fanny, you are a strange creature. Methinks you have a dash of poetry in you."
"Nobody who has not written poetry could ever read my character," answered Fanny, with naivete, yet with truth. "Yet you have not much of the ideal about you, pretty one."
"No; because I was so early thrown on myself, that I was forced to make independence my chief good. I soon saw that if I followed my heart to and fro, wherever it led me, I should be the creature of every breath—the victim of every accident: I should have been the very soul of romance; lived on a smile; and died, perhaps, in a ditch at last. Accordingly, I set to work with my feelings, and pared and cut them down to a convenient compass. Happy for me that I did so! What would have become of me if, years go, when I loved Godolphin, I had thrown the whole world of my heart upon him?"
"Why, he has generosity; he would not have deserted you."
"But I should have wearied him," answered Fanny; "and that would have been quite enough for me. But I did love him well, and purely—(ah! you may smile!)—and disinterestedly. I was only fortified in my resolution not to love any one too much, by perceiving that he had affection but no sympathy for me. His nature was different from mine. I am woman in everything, and Godolphin is always sighing for a goddess!"
"I should like to sketch your character, Fanny. It is original, though not strongly marked. I never met with it in any book; yet it is true to your sex, and to the world."
"Few people could paint me exactly," answered Fanny. "The danger is that they would make too much or too little of me. But such as I am, the world ought to know what is so common, and, as you think, so undescribed."
And now, beautiful Constance, farewell for the present! I leave you surrounded by power, and pomp, and adulation. Enjoy as you may that for which you sacrificed affection!
THE VISIONARY AND HIS DAUGHTER—AN ENGLISHMAN, SUCH AS FOREIGNERS IMAGINE THE ENGLISH.
We must now present the reader to characters very different from those which have hitherto passed before his eye. Without the immortal city, along the Appia Via, there dwelt a singular and romantic visionary, of the name of Volktman. He was by birth a Dane; and nature had bestowed on him that frame of mind which might have won him a distinguished career, had she placed the period of his birth in the eleventh century. Volktman was essentially a man belonging to the past time: the character of his enthusiasm was weird and Gothic; with beings of the present day he had no sympathy; their loves, their hatreds, their politics, their literature, awoke no echo in his breast. He did not affect to herd with them; his life was solitude, and its occupation study—and study of that nature which every day unfitted him more and more for the purposes of existence. In a word, he was a reader of the stars; a believer in the occult and dreamy science of astrology. Bred up to the art of sculpture, he had early in life sought Rome, as the nurse of inspiration; but even then he had brought with him the dark and brooding temper of his northern tribe. The images of the classic world; the bright, and cold, and beautiful divinities, whose natures as well as shapes the marble simulation of life is so especially adapted to represent; spoke but little to Volktman's pre-occupied and gloomy imagination. Faithful to the superstitions and the warriors of the North, the loveliness and majesty of the southern creations but called forth in him the desire to apply the principles by which they were formed to the embodying those stern visions which his haggard and dim fancies only could invoke. This train of inspiration preserved him, at least, from the deadliest vice in a worshipper of the arts—commonplace. He was no servile and trite imitator; his very faults were solemn and commanding. But before he had gained that long experience which can alone perfect genius, his natural energies were directed to new channels. In an illness which prevented his applying to his art, he had accidentally sought entertainment in a certain work upon astrology. The wild and imposing theories of the science—if science it may be called—especially charmed and invited him. The clear bright nights of his fatherland were brought back to his remembrance; he recalled the mystic and unanalysed impressions with which he had gazed upon the lights of heaven; and he imagined that the very vagueness of his feelings was a proof of the certainty of the science.
The sons of the North are pre-eminently liable to be affected by that romance of emotion which the hushed and starry aspect of night is calculated to excite. The long-broken luxurious silence that, in their frozen climate, reigns from the going down of the sun to its rise; the wandering and sudden meteors that disport, as with an impish life, along the noiseless and solemn heaven; the peculiar radiance of the stars; and even the sterile and severe features of the earth, which those stars light up with their chill and ghostly serenity, serve to deepen the effect of the wizard tales which are instilled into the ear of childhood, and to connect the less known and more visionary impulses of life with the influences, or at least with the associations, of Night and Heaven.
To Volktman, more alive than even his countrymen are wont to be, to superstitious impressions, the science on which he had chanced came with an all-absorbing interest and fascination. He surrendered himself wholly to his new pursuit. By degrees the block and the chisel were neglected, and, though he still worked from time to time, he ceased to consider the sculptor's art as the vocation of his life and the end of his ambition. Fortunately, though not rich, Volktman was not without the means of existence, nor even without the decent and proper comforts: so that he was enabled, as few men are, to indulge his ardour for unprofitable speculations, albeit to the exclusion of lucrative pursuits. It may be noted, that when a man is addicted to an occupation that withdraws him from the world, any great affliction tends to confirm, without hope of cure, his inclinations to solitude. The world, distasteful, in that it gave no pleasure, becomes irremediably hateful when it is coupled with the remembrance of pain. Volktman had married an Italian, a woman who loved him entirely, and whom he loved with that strong though uncaressing affection common to men of his peculiar temper. Of the gay and social habits and constitution of her country, the Italian was not disposed to suffer the astrologer to dwell only among the stars. She sought, playfully and kindly, to attract him towards human society; and Volktman could not always resist—as what man earth-born can do?—the influence of the fair presider over his house and hearth. It happened, that on one day in which she peculiarly wished his attendance at some one of those parties in which Englishmen think the notion of festivity strange—for it includes conversation—Volktman had foretold the menace of some great misfortune. Uncertain, from the character of the prediction, whether to wish his wife to remain at home or to go abroad, he yielded to her wish, and accompanied her to her friend's house. A young Englishman lately arrived at Rome, and already celebrated in the circles of that city for eccentricity of life and his passion for beauty, was of the party. He appeared struck with the sculptor's wife; and in his attentions, Volktman, for the first and the last time, experienced the pangs of jealousy; he hurried his wife away.
On their return home, whether or not a jewel worn by the signora had attracted the cupidity of some of the lawless race who live through gaining, and profiting by, such information, they were attacked by two robbers in the obscure and ill-lighted suburb. Though Volktman offered no resistance, the manner of their assailants was rude and violent. The signora was fearfully alarmed; her shrieks brought a stranger to their assistance; it was the English youth who had so alarmed the jealousy of Volktman. Accustomed to danger in his profession of a gallant, the Englishman seldom, in those foreign lands, went from home at night without the protection of pistols. At the sight of firearms, the ruffians felt their courage evaporate; they fled from their prey; and the Englishman assisted Volktman in conveying the Italian to her home. But the terror of the encounter operated fatally on a delicate frame; and within three weeks from that night Volktman was a widower.
His marriage had been blessed with but one daughter, who at the time of this catastrophe was about eight years of age. His love for his child in some measure reconciled Volktman to life; and as the shock of the event subsided, he returned with a pertinacity which was now subjected to no interruption, to his beloved occupations and mysterious researches. One visitor alone found it possible to win frequent ingress to his seclusion; it was the young English man. A sentiment of remorse at the jealous feelings he had experienced, and for which his wife, though an Italian, had never given him even the shadow of a cause, had softened—into a feeling rendered kind by the associations of the deceased, and a vague desire to atone to her for an acknowledged error,—the dislike he had at first conceived against the young man. This was rapidly confirmed by the gentle and winning manners of the stranger, by his attentions to the deceased, to whom he had sent an English physician of great skill, and, as their acquaintance expanded, by the animated interest which he testified in the darling theories of the astrologer.
It happened also that Volktman's mother had been the daughter of Scotch parents. She had taught him the English tongue; and it was the only language, save his own, which he spoke as a native. This circumstance tended greatly to facilitate his intercourse with the traveller; and he found in the society of a man ardent, sensitive, melancholy, and addicted to all abstract contemplation, a pleasure which, among the keen, but uncultivated intellects of Italy, he had never enjoyed.
Frequently, then, came the young Englishman to the lone house on the Appia Via; and the mysterious and unearthly conversation of the starry visionary afforded to him, who had early learned to scrutinise the varieties of his kind, a strange delight, heightened by the contrast it presented to the worldly natures with which he usually associated, and the commonplace occupations of a life in pursuit of pleasure.
And there was one who, child as she was, watched the coming of that young and beautiful stranger with emotion beyond her years. Brought up alone; mixing, since her mother's death, with no companions of her age; catching dim and solemn glimpses of her father's wild but lofty speculations; his books, filled with strange characters and imposing "words of mighty sound," open for ever to her young and curious gaze; it can scarce be matter of wonder that something strange and unworldly mingled with the elements of character which Lucilla Volktman early developed—a character that was nature itself, yet of a nature erratic and bizarre. Her impulses she obeyed spontaneously, but none fathomed their origin. She was not of a quiet and meek order of mind; but passionate, changeful, and restless. She would laugh and weep without apparent cause; and the colour on her cheek never seemed for two minutes the same; and the most fitful changes of an April heaven were immutability itself compared with the play and lustre of expression that undulated in her features and her wild, deep, eloquent eyes.
Her person resembled her mind; it was beautiful; but the beauty struck you less than the singularity of its character. Her eyes were of a darkness that at night seemed black; but her hair was of the brightest and purest auburn; her complexion, sometimes pale, sometimes radiant even to the flush of a fever, was delicate and clear; her teeth and mouth were lovely beyond all words; her hands and feet were small to a fault; and as she grew up (for we have forestalled her age in this description) her shape, though wanting in height, was in such harmony and proportion, that the mind of the sculptor would sometimes escape from the absorption of the astrologer and Volktman would gaze upon her with the same admiration that he would have bestowed, in spite of the subject, on the goddess-forms of Phidias or Canova. But then, this beauty was accompanied with such endless variety of gesture, often so wild, though always necessarily graceful, that the eye ached for that repose requisite for prolonged admiration.
When she was spoken to, she did not often answer to the purpose, but rather appeared to reply as to some interrogatory of her own; in the midst of one occupation, she would start up to another; leave that, in turn, undone, and sit down in silence lasting for hours. Her voice, in singing, was exquisitely melodious; she had too, an intuitive talent for painting; and she read all the books that came in her way with an avidity that bespoke at once the restlessness and the genius of her mind.
This description of Lucilla must, I need scarcely repeat, be considered as applicable to her at some years distant from the time in which the young Englishman first attracted her childish but ardent imagination. To her, that face, with its regular and harmonious features, its golden hair, and soft, shy, melancholy aspect, seemed as belonging to a higher and brighter order of beings than those who, with exaggerated lineaments and swarthy hues, surrounded and displeased her. She took a strange and thrilling pleasure in creeping to his side, and looking up, when unobserved, at the countenance which, in his absence, she loved to imitate with her pencil by day; and to recall in her dreams at night. But she seldom spoke to him, and she shrank, covered with painful blushes, from his arms, whenever he attempted to bestow on her those caresses which children are wont to claim as an attention. Once, however, she summoned courage to ask him to teach her English, and he complied. She learned that language with surprising facility; and as Volktman loved its sound she grew familiar with its difficulties, by always addressing her father in a tongue which became inexpressibly dear to her. And the young stranger delighted to hear that soft and melodious voice, with its trembling, Italian accent, make music from the nervous and masculine language of his native land. Scarce accountably to himself, a certain tender and peculiar interest in the fortunes of this singular and bewitching child grew up within him—peculiar and not easily accounted for, in that it was not wholly the interest we feel in an engaging child, and yet was of no more interested nor sinister order. Were there truth in the science of the stars, I should say that they had told him her fate was to have affinity with his; and with that persuasion, something mysterious and more than ordinarily tender, entered into the affection he felt for the daughter of his friend.
The Englishman was himself of a romantic character. He had been self-taught; and his studies, irregular though often deep, had given directions to his intellect frequently enthusiastic and unsound. His imagination preponderated over his judgment; and any pursuit that attracted his imagination won his entire devotion, until his natural sagacity proved it deceitful. If at times, living as he did in that daily world which so sharpens our common sense, he smiled at the persevering fervour of the astrologer, he more often shared it; and he became his pupil in "the poetry of heaven," with a secret but deep belief in the mysteries cultivated by his master. Carrying the delusion to its height, I fear that the enthusiast entered upon ground still more shadowy and benighted;—the old secrets of the alchymist, and perhaps even of those arcana yet more gloomy and less rational, were subjected to their serious contemplation; and night after night, they delivered themselves wholly up to that fearful and charmed fascination which the desire and effort to overleap our mortal boundaries produce even in the hardest and best regulated minds. The train of thought so long nursed by the abstruse and solitary Dane was, perhaps, a better apology for the weakness of credulity, than the youth and wandering fancy of the Englishman. But the scene around—not alluring to the one—fed to overflowing the romantic aspirations of the other.
On his way home, as the stars (which night had been spent in reading) began to wink and fade, the Englishman crossed the haunted Almo, renowned of yore for its healing virtues, and in whose stream the far-famed simulacrum, (the image of Cybele), which fell from heaven, was wont to be laved with every coming spring: and around his steps, till he gained his home, were the relics and monuments of that superstition which sheds so much beauty over all that, in harsh reasoning, it may be said to degrade; so that his mind, always peculiarly alive to external impressions, was girt, as it were, with an atmosphere favourable both to the lofty speculation and the graceful credulities of romance.
The Englishman remained at Rome, with slight intervals of absence, for nearly three years. On the night before the day in which he received intelligence of an event that recalled him to his native country, he repaired at an hour accidentally later than usual to the astrologer's abode.
A CONVERSATION LITTLE APPERTAINING TO THE NINETEENTH CENTURY.—RESEARCHES INTO HUMAN FATE.—THE PREDICTION.
On entering the apartment he found Lucilla seated on a low stool beside the astrologer. She looked up when she heard his footsteps; but her countenance seemed so dejected, that he turned involuntarily to that of Volktman for explanation. Volktman met his gaze with a steadfast and mournful aspect.
"What has happened?" asked the Englishman: "you seem sad,—you do not greet me as usual."
"I have been with the stars," replied the visionary.
"They seem but poor company," rejoined the Englishman; "and do not appear to have much heightened your spirits."
"Jest not, my friend," said Volktman; "it was for the loss of thee I looked sorrowful. I perceive that thou wilt take a journey soon, and that it will be of no pleasant nature."
"Indeed!" answered the Englishman, smilingly. "I ask leave to question the fact: you know better than any man how often, through an error in our calculations, through haste, even through an over-attention, astrological predictions are exposed to falsification; and at present I foresee so little chance of my quitting Rome, that I prefer the earthly probabilities to the celestial."
"My schemes are just, and the Heavens wrote their decrees in their clearest language," answered the astrologer. "Thou art on the eve of quitting Rome."
"On what occasion?"
The astrologer hesitated—the young visitor pressed the question.
"The lord of the fourth house," said Volktman, reluctantly, "is located in the eleventh house. Thou knowest to whom the position portends disaster."
"My father!" said the Englishman, anxiously, and turning pale; "I think that position would relate to him."
"It doth," said the astrologer, slowly.
"Impossible! I heard from him to-day; he is well—let me see the figures."
The young man looked over the mystic hieroglyphics of the art, inscribed on a paper that was placed before the visionary, with deep and scrutinising attention. Without bewildering the reader with those words and figures of weird sound and import which perplex the uninitiated, and entangle the disciple of astrology, I shall merely observe that there was one point in which the judgment appeared to admit doubt as to the signification. The Englishman insisted on the doubt; and a very learned and edifying debate was carried on between pupil and master, in the heat of which all recollection of the point in dispute (as is usual in such cases) evaporated.
"I know not how it is," said the Englishman, "that I should give any credence to a faith which (craving your forgiveness) most men out of Bedlam concur, at this day, in condemning as wholly idle and absurd. For it may be presumed that men only incline to some unpopular theory in proportion as it flatters or favours them; and as for this theory of yours—of ours, if you will—it has foretold me nothing but misfortune."
"Thy horoscope," replied the astrologer, "is indeed singular and ominous: but, like my daughter, the exact minute (within almost a whole hour) of thy birth seems unknown; and however ingeniously we, following the ancients, have contrived means for correcting nativities, our predictions (so long as the exact period of birth is not ascertained) remain, in my mind, always liable to some uncertainty. Indeed, the surest method of reducing the supposed time to the true—that of 'Accidents,' is but partially given, as in thy case; for, with a negligence that cannot be too severely blamed or too deeply lamented, thou hast omitted to mark down, or remember, the days on which accidents—fevers, broken limbs, &c.—occurred to thee; and this omission leaves a cloud over the bright chapters of fate——"
"Which," interrupted the young man, "is so much the happier for me, in that it allows me some loophole for hope."
"Yet," renewed the astrologer, as if resolved to deny his friend any consolation, "thy character, and the bias of thy habits, as well as the peculiarities of thy person—nay even the moles upon thy skin—accord with thy proposed horoscope."
"Be it so!" said the Englishman, gaily. "You grant me, at least, the fairest of earthly gifts—the happiness of pleasing that sex which alone sweetens our human misfortunes. That gift I would sooner have, even accompanied as it is, than all the benign influences without it."
"Yet," said the astrologer, "shalt thou even there be met with affliction; for Saturn had the power to thwart the star Venus, that was disposed to favour thee, and evil may be the result of the love thou inspirest. There is one thing remarkable in our science, which is especially worthy of notice in thy lot. The ancients, unacquainted with the star of Herschel, seem also scarcely acquainted with the character which the influence of that wayward and melancholy orb creates. Thus, the aspect of Herschel neutralises, in great measure, the boldness and ambition, and pride of heart, thou wouldst otherwise have drawn from the felicitous configuration of the stars around the Moon and Mercury at thy birth. That yearning for something beyond the narrow bounds of the world, that love for reverie, that passionate romance, yea, thy very leaning, despite thy worldly sense, to these occult and starry mysteries;—all are bestowed on thee by this new and potential planet."
"And hence, I suppose," said the Englishman, interested (as the astrologer had declared) in spite of himself, "hence that opposition in my nature of the worldly and romantic; hence, with you, I am the dreaming enthusiast; but the instant I regain the living and motley crowd, I shake off the influence with ease, and become the gay pursuer of social pleasures."
"Never at heart gay," muttered the astrologer; "Saturn and Herschel make not sincere mirth-makers." The Englishman did not hear or seem to hear him.
"No," resumed the young man, musingly, "no! it is true that there is some counteraction of what, at times, I should have called my natural bent. Thus, I am bold enough, and covetous of knowledge, and not deaf to vanity; and yet I have no ambition. The desire to rise seems to me wholly unalluring: I scorn and contemn it as a weakness. But what matters it? so much the happier for me if, as you predict, my life be short. But how, if so unambitious and so quiet of habit, how can I imagine that my death will be violent as well as premature?"
It was as he spoke that the young Lucilla, who, with fixed eyes and lips apart, had been drinking in their conversation suddenly rose and left the room. They were used to her comings in and her goings out without cause or speech, and continued their conversation.
"Alas!" said the visionary; "can tranquillity of life, or care, or prudence, preserve us from our destiny? No sign is more deadly, whether by accident or murder, than that which couples Hyleg with Orion and Saturn. Yet, thou mayest pass the year in which that danger is foretold thee; and, beyond that time, peace, honour, good fortune, await thee. Better to have the menace of ill in early life than in its decline. Youth bears up against misfortune; but it withers the heart, and crushes the soul of age!"
"After all," said the young guest, haughtily, "we must do our best to contradict the starry evils by our own internal philosophy. We can make ourselves independent of fate; that independence is better than prosperity!" Then, changing his tone, he added,—"But you imagine that, by the power of other arts, we may control and counteract the prophecies of the stars——"
"How meanest thou?" said the astrologer, hastily. "Thou dost not suppose that alchymy, which is the servant of the heavenly host, is their opponent?"
"Nay," answered the disciple, "but you allow that we may be enabled to ward off evils, and to cure diseases, otherwise fatal to us, by the gift of Uriel and the charm of the Cabala?"
"Surely," replied the visionary; "but then I opine that the discovery of these precious secrets was foretold to us by the Omniscient Book at our nativity; and, therefore, though the menace of evils be held out to us, so also is the probability of their correction or our escape. And I must own (pursued the enthusiast) that, to me, the very culture of those divine arts hath given a consolation amidst the evils to which I have been fated; so true seems it, that it is not in the outer nature, in the great elements, and in the bowels of the earth, but also within ourselves that we must look for the preparations whereby we are to achieve the wisdom of Zoroaster and Hermes. We must abstract ourselves from passion and earthly desires. Lapped in a celestial reverie, we must work out, by contemplation, the essence from the matter of things: nor can we dart into the soul of the Mystic World until we ourselves have forgotten the body; and by fast, by purity, and by thought, have become, in the flesh itself, a living soul."
Much more, and with an equal wildness of metaphysical eloquence, did the astrologer declare in praise of those arts condemned by the old Church; and it doth indeed appear from reference to the numerous works of the alchymists and magians yet extant, somewhat hastily and unjustly. For those books all unite in dwelling on the necessity of virtue, subdued passions and a clear mind, in order to become a fortunate and accomplished cabalist—a precept, by the way, not without its policy; for, if the disciple failed, the failure might be attributed to his own fleshly imperfections, not to any deficiency in the truth of the science.
The young man listened to the visionary with an earnest and fascinated attention. Independent of the dark interest always attached to discourses of supernatural things more especially, we must allow, in the mouth of a fervent and rapt believer, there was that in the language and very person of the astrologer which inexpressibly enhanced the effect of the theme. Like most men acquainted with the literature of a country, but not accustomed to daily conversation with its natives, the English words and fashion of periods that occurred to Volktman were rather those used in books than in colloquy; and a certain solemnity and slowness of tone accompanied with the frequent, almost constant use of the pronoun singular—the thou and the thee, gave a strangeness and unfamiliar majesty to his dialect that suited well with the subjects on which he so loved to dwell. He himself was lean, gaunt, and wan; his cheeks were drawn and hollow; and thin locks, prematurely bleached to grey, fell in disorder round high, bare temples, in which the thought that is not of this world had paled the hue and furrowed the surface. But, as may be noted in many imaginative men, the life that seemed faint and chill in the rest of the frame, collected itself, as in a citadel, within the eye. Bright, wild, and deep, the expression of those blue large orbs told the intense enthusiasm of the mind within; and, even somewhat thrillingly, communicated a part of that emotion to those on whom they dwelt. No painter could have devised, nor even Volktman himself, in the fulness of his northern phantasy, have sculptured forth a better image of those pale and unearthly students who, in the darker ages, applied life and learning to one unhallowed vigil, the Hermes or the Gebir of the alchymist's empty science—dreamers, and the martyrs of their dreams.
In the discussion of mysteries which to detail would only weary while it perplexed the reader, the enthusiasts passed the greater portion of the night; and when at length the Englishman rose to depart, it cannot be denied that a solemn and boding emotion agitated his breast.
"We have talked," said he, attempting a smile, "of things above this nether life; and here we are lost, uncertain. On one thing, however, we can decide; life itself is encompassed with gloom; sorrow and anxiety await even those upon whom the stars shed their most golden influence. We know not one day what the next shall bring!—no; I repeat it; no—in spite of your scheme, and your ephemeris, and your election of happy moments. But, come what will, Volktman, come all that you foretell to me; crosses in my love, disappointment in my life, melancholy in my blood, and a violent death in the very flush of my manhood,—Me: at least, Me! my soul, my heart, my better part, you shall never cast down, nor darken, nor deject. I move in a certain and serene circle; ambition cannot tempt me above it, nor misfortune cast me below!"
Volktman looked at the speaker with surprise and admiration; the enthusiasm of a brave mind is the only fire broader and brighter than that of a fanatical one.
"Alas! my young friend," he said, as he clashed the hand of his guest, "I would to Heaven that my predictions may be wrong: often and often they have been erroneous," added he bowing his head humbly; "they may be so in their reference to thee. So young, so brilliant, so beautiful too; so brave, yet so romantic of heart, I feel for all that may happen to thee—ay, far, far more deeply than aught which may be fated to myself; for I am an old man now, and long inured to disappointment; all the greenness of my life is gone: even could I attain to the Grand Secret the knowledge methinks would be too late. And, at my birth, my lot was portioned out unto me in characters so clear, that, while I have had time to acquiesce in it, I have had no hope to correct and change it. For Jupiter in Cancer, removed from the Ascendant, and not impedited of any other star, betokened me indeed some expertness in science, but a life of seclusion, and one that should bring not forth the fruits that its labour deserved. But there is so much in thy fate that ought to be bright and glorious, that it will be no common destiny marred, should the evil influences and the ominous seasons prevail against thee. But thou speakest boldly—boldly, and as one of a high soul, though it be sometimes clouded and led astray. And I, therefore, again and again impress upon thee, it is from thine own self, thine own character, thine own habits, that all evil, save that of death, will come. Wear, then, I implore thee, wear in thy memory, as a jewel, the first great maxim of alchymist and magian:—'Search thyself—correct thyself—subdue thyself:' it is only through the lamp of crystal that the light will shine duly out."