"O Adon-Ai," said the Chaldean, as, circumfused in the splendour of the visitant, a glory more radiant than human beauty settled round his form, and seemed already to belong to the eternity of which the Bright One spoke, "as men, before they die, see and comprehend the enigmas hidden from them before (The greatest poet, and one of the noblest thinkers, of the last age, said, on his deathbed, "Many things obscure to me before, now clear up, and become visible."—See the 'Life of Schiller.'), "so in this hour, when the sacrifice of self to another brings the course of ages to its goal, I see the littleness of Life, compared to the majesty of Death; but oh, Divine Consoler, even here, even in thy presence, the affections that inspire me, sadden. To leave behind me in this bad world, unaided, unprotected, those for whom I die! the wife! the child!—oh, speak comfort to me in this!"
"And what," said the visitor, with a slight accent of reproof in the tone of celestial pity,—"what, with all thy wisdom and thy starry secrets, with all thy empire of the past, and thy visions of the future; what art thou to the All-Directing and Omniscient? Canst thou yet imagine that thy presence on earth can give to the hearts thou lovest the shelter which the humblest take from the wings of the Presence that lives in heaven? Fear not thou for their future. Whether thou live or die, their future is the care of the Most High! In the dungeon and on the scaffold looks everlasting the Eye of HIM, tenderer than thou to love, wiser than thou to guide, mightier than thou to save!"
Zanoni bowed his head; and when he looked up again, the last shadow had left his brow. The visitor was gone; but still the glory of his presence seemed to shine upon the spot, still the solitary air seemed to murmur with tremulous delight. And thus ever shall it be with those who have once, detaching themselves utterly from life, received the visit of the Angel FAITH. Solitude and space retain the splendour, and it settles like a halo round their graves.
Dann zur Blumenflor der Sterne Aufgeschauet liebewarm, Fass' ihn freundlich Arm in Arm Trag' ihn in die blaue Ferne. —Uhland, "An den Tod."
Then towards the Garden of the Star Lift up thine aspect warm with love, And, friendlike link'd through space afar, Mount with him, arm in arm, above. —Uhland, "Poem to Death."
He stood upon the lofty balcony that overlooked the quiet city. Though afar, the fiercest passions of men were at work on the web of strife and doom, all that gave itself to his view was calm and still in the rays of the summer moon, for his soul was wrapped from man and man's narrow sphere, and only the serener glories of creation were present to the vision of the seer. There he stood, alone and thoughtful, to take the last farewell of the wondrous life that he had known.
Coursing through the fields of space, he beheld the gossamer shapes, whose choral joys his spirit had so often shared. There, group upon group, they circled in the starry silence multiform in the unimaginable beauty of a being fed by ambrosial dews and serenest light. In his trance, all the universe stretched visible beyond; in the green valleys afar, he saw the dances of the fairies; in the bowels of the mountains, he beheld the race that breathe the lurid air of the volcanoes, and hide from the light of heaven; on every leaf in the numberless forests, in every drop of the unmeasured seas, he surveyed its separate and swarming world; far up, in the farthest blue, he saw orb upon orb ripening into shape, and planets starting from the central fire, to run their day of ten thousand years. For everywhere in creation is the breath of the Creator, and in every spot where the breath breathes is life! And alone, in the distance, the lonely man beheld his Magian brother. There, at work with his numbers and his Cabala, amidst the wrecks of Rome, passionless and calm, sat in his cell the mystic Mejnour,—living on, living ever while the world lasts, indifferent whether his knowledge produces weal or woe; a mechanical agent of a more tender and a wiser will, that guides every spring to its inscrutable designs. Living on,—living ever,—as science that cares alone for knowledge, and halts not to consider how knowledge advances happiness; how Human Improvement, rushing through civilisation, crushes in its march all who cannot grapple to its wheels ("You colonise the lands of the savage with the Anglo-Saxon,—you civilise that portion of THE EARTH; but is the SAVAGE civilised? He is exterminated! You accumulate machinery,—you increase the total of wealth; but what becomes of the labour you displace? One generation is sacrificed to the next. You diffuse knowledge,—and the world seems to grow brighter; but Discontent at Poverty replaces Ignorance, happy with its crust. Every improvement, every advancement in civilisation, injures some, to benefit others, and either cherishes the want of to-day, or prepares the revolution of to-morrow."—Stephen Montague.); ever, with its Cabala and its number, lives on to change, in its bloodless movements, the face of the habitable world!
And, "Oh, farewell to life!" murmured the glorious dreamer. "Sweet, O life! hast thou been to me. How fathomless thy joys,—how rapturously has my soul bounded forth upon the upward paths! To him who forever renews his youth in the clear fount of Nature, how exquisite is the mere happiness TO BE! Farewell, ye lamps of heaven, and ye million tribes, the Populace of Air. Not a mote in the beam, not an herb on the mountain, not a pebble on the shore, not a seed far-blown into the wilderness, but contributed to the lore that sought in all the true principle of life, the Beautiful, the Joyous, the Immortal. To others, a land, a city, a hearth, has been a home; MY home has been wherever the intellect could pierce, or the spirit could breathe the air."
He paused, and through the immeasurable space his eyes and his heart, penetrating the dismal dungeon, rested on his child. He saw it slumbering in the arms of the pale mother, and HIS soul spoke to the sleeping soul. "Forgive me, if my desire was sin; I dreamed to have reared and nurtured thee to the divinest destinies my visions could foresee. Betimes, as the mortal part was strengthened against disease, to have purified the spiritual from every sin; to have led thee, heaven upon heaven, through the holy ecstasies which make up the existence of the orders that dwell on high; to have formed, from thy sublime affections, the pure and ever-living communication between thy mother and myself. The dream was but a dream—it is no more! In sight myself of the grave, I feel, at last, that through the portals of the grave lies the true initiation into the holy and the wise. Beyond those portals I await ye both, beloved pilgrims!"
From his numbers and his Cabala, in his cell, amidst the wrecks of Rome, Mejnour, startled, looked up, and through the spirit, felt that the spirit of his distant friend addressed him.
"Fare thee well forever upon this earth! Thy last companion forsakes thy side. Thine age survives the youth of all; and the Final Day shall find thee still the contemplator of our tombs. I go with my free will into the land of darkness; but new suns and systems blaze around us from the grave. I go where the souls of those for whom I resign the clay shall be my co-mates through eternal youth. At last I recognise the true ordeal and the real victory. Mejnour, cast down thy elixir; lay by thy load of years! Wherever the soul can wander, the Eternal Soul of all things protects it still!"
Il ne veulent plus perdre un moment d'une nuit si precieuse. Lacretelle, tom. xii.
(They would not lose another moment of so precious a night.)
It was late that night, and Rene-Francois Dumas, President of the Revolutionary Tribunal, had re-entered his cabinet, on his return from the Jacobin Club. With him were two men who might be said to represent, the one the moral, the other the physical force of the Reign of Terror: Fouquier-Tinville, the Public Accuser, and Francois Henriot, the General of the Parisian National Guard. This formidable triumvirate were assembled to debate on the proceedings of the next day; and the three sister-witches over their hellish caldron were scarcely animated by a more fiend-like spirit, or engaged in more execrable designs, than these three heroes of the Revolution in their premeditated massacre of the morrow.
Dumas was but little altered in appearance since, in the earlier part of this narrative, he was presented to the reader, except that his manner was somewhat more short and severe, and his eye yet more restless. But he seemed almost a superior being by the side of his associates. Rene Dumas, born of respectable parents, and well educated, despite his ferocity, was not without a certain refinement, which perhaps rendered him the more acceptable to the precise and formal Robespierre. (Dumas was a beau in his way. His gala-dress was a BLOOD-RED COAT, with the finest ruffles.) But Henriot had been a lackey, a thief, a spy of the police; he had drunk the blood of Madame de Lamballe, and had risen to his present rank for no quality but his ruffianism; and Fouquier-Tinville, the son of a provincial agriculturist, and afterwards a clerk at the Bureau of the Police, was little less base in his manners, and yet more, from a certain loathsome buffoonery, revolting in his speech,—bull-headed, with black, sleek hair, with a narrow and livid forehead, with small eyes, that twinkled with a sinister malice; strongly and coarsely built, he looked what he was, the audacious bully of a lawless and relentless Bar.
Dumas trimmed the candles, and bent over the list of the victims for the morrow.
"It is a long catalogue," said the president; "eighty trials for one day! And Robespierre's orders to despatch the whole fournee are unequivocal."
"Pooh!" said Fouquier, with a coarse, loud laugh; "we must try them en masse. I know how to deal with our jury. 'Je pense, citoyens, que vous etes convaincus du crime des accuses?' (I think, citizens, that you are convinced of the crime of the accused.) Ha! ha!—the longer the list, the shorter the work."
"Oh, yes," growled out Henriot, with an oath,—as usual, half-drunk, and lolling on his chair, with his spurred heels on the table,—"little Tinville is the man for despatch."
"Citizen Henriot," said Dumas, gravely, "permit me to request thee to select another footstool; and for the rest, let me warn thee that to-morrow is a critical and important day; one that will decide the fate of France."
"A fig for little France! Vive le Vertueux Robespierre, la Colonne de la Republique! (Long life to the virtuous Robespierre, the pillar of the Republic!) Plague on this talking; it is dry work. Hast thou no eau de vie in that little cupboard?"
Dumas and Fouquier exchanged looks of disgust. Dumas shrugged his shoulders, and replied,—
"It is to guard thee against eau de vie, Citizen General Henriot, that I have requested thee to meet me here. Listen if thou canst!"
"Oh, talk away! thy metier is to talk, mine to fight and to drink."
"To-morrow, I tell thee then, the populace will be abroad; all factions will be astir. It is probable enough that they will even seek to arrest our tumbrils on their way to the guillotine. Have thy men armed and ready; keep the streets clear; cut down without mercy whomsoever may obstruct the ways."
"I understand," said Henriot, striking his sword so loudly that Dumas half-started at the clank,—"Black Henriot is no 'Indulgent.'"
"Look to it, then, citizen,—look to it! And hark thee," he added, with a grave and sombre brow, "if thou wouldst keep thine own head on thy shoulders, beware of the eau de vie."
"My own head!—sacre mille tonnerres! Dost thou threaten the general of the Parisian army?"
Dumas, like Robespierre, a precise atrabilious, and arrogant man, was about to retort, when the craftier Tinville laid his hand on his arm, and, turning to the general, said, "My dear Henriot, thy dauntless republicanism, which is too ready to give offence, must learn to take a reprimand from the representative of Republican Law. Seriously, mon cher, thou must be sober for the next three or four days; after the crisis is over, thou and I will drink a bottle together. Come, Dumas relax thine austerity, and shake hands with our friend. No quarrels amongst ourselves!"
Dumas hesitated, and extended his hand, which the ruffian clasped; and, maudlin tears succeeding his ferocity, he half-sobbed, half-hiccoughed forth his protestations of civism and his promises of sobriety.
"Well, we depend on thee, mon general," said Dumas; "and now, since we shall all have need of vigour for to-morrow, go home and sleep soundly."
"Yes, I forgive thee, Dumas,—I forgive thee. I am not vindictive,—I! but still, if a man threatens me; if a man insults me—" and, with the quick changes of intoxication, again his eyes gleamed fire through their foul tears. With some difficulty Fouquier succeeded at last in soothing the brute, and leading him from the chamber. But still, as some wild beast disappointed of a prey, he growled and snarled as his heavy tread descended the stairs. A tall trooper, mounted, was leading Henriot's horse to and fro the streets; and as the general waited at the porch till his attendant turned, a stranger stationed by the wall accosted him:
"General Henriot, I have desired to speak with thee. Next to Robespierre, thou art, or shouldst be, the most powerful man in France."
"Hem!—yes, I ought to be. What then?—every man has not his deserts!"
"Hist!" said the stranger; "thy pay is scarcely suitable to thy rank and thy wants."
"That is true."
"Even in a revolution, a man takes care of his fortunes!"
"Diable! speak out, citizen."
"I have a thousand pieces of gold with me,—they are thine, if thou wilt grant me one small favour."
"Citizen, I grant it!" said Henriot, waving his hand majestically. "Is it to denounce some rascal who has offended thee?"
"No; it is simply this: write these words to President Dumas, 'Admit the bearer to thy presence; and, if thou canst, grant him the request he will make to thee, it will be an inestimable obligation to Francois Henriot.'" The stranger, as he spoke, placed pencil and tablets in the shaking hands of the soldier.
"And where is the gold?"
With some difficulty, Henriot scrawled the words dictated to him, clutched the gold, mounted his horse, and was gone.
Meanwhile Fouquier, when he had closed the door upon Henriot, said sharply, "How canst thou be so mad as to incense that brigand? Knowest thou not that our laws are nothing without the physical force of the National Guard, and that he is their leader?"
"I know this, that Robespierre must have been mad to place that drunkard at their head; and mark my words, Fouquier, if the struggle come, it is that man's incapacity and cowardice that will destroy us. Yes, thou mayst live thyself to accuse thy beloved Robespierre, and to perish in his fall."
"For all that, we must keep well with Henriot till we can find the occasion to seize and behead him. To be safe, we must fawn on those who are still in power; and fawn the more, the more we would depose them. Do not think this Henriot, when he wakes to-morrow, will forget thy threats. He is the most revengeful of human beings. Thou must send and soothe him in the morning!"
"Right," said Dumas, convinced. "I was too hasty; and now I think we have nothing further to do, since we have arranged to make short work with our fournee of to-morrow. I see in the list a knave I have long marked out, though his crime once procured me a legacy,—Nicot, the Hebertist."
"And young Andre Chenier, the poet? Ah, I forgot; we be headed HIM to-day! Revolutionary virtue is at its acme. His own brother abandoned him." (His brother is said, indeed, to have contributed to the condemnation of this virtuous and illustrious person. He was heard to cry aloud, "Si mon frere est coupable, qu'il perisse" (If my brother be culpable, let him die). This brother, Marie-Joseph, also a poet, and the author of "Charles IX.," so celebrated in the earlier days of the Revolution, enjoyed, of course, according to the wonted justice of the world, a triumphant career, and was proclaimed in the Champ de Mars "le premier de poetes Francais," a title due to his murdered brother.)
"There is a foreigner,—an Italian woman in the list; but I can find no charge made out against her."
"All the same we must execute her for the sake of the round number; eighty sounds better than seventy-nine!"
Here a huissier brought a paper on which was written the request of Henriot.
"Ah! this is fortunate," said Tinville, to whom Dumas chucked the scroll,—"grant the prayer by all means; so at least that it does not lessen our bead-roll. But I will do Henriot the justice to say that he never asks to let off, but to put on. Good-night! I am worn out—my escort waits below. Only on such an occasion would I venture forth in the streets at night." (During the latter part of the Reign of Terror, Fouquier rarely stirred out at night, and never without an escort. In the Reign of Terror those most terrified were its kings.) And Fouquier, with a long yawn, quitted the room.
"Admit the bearer!" said Dumas, who, withered and dried, as lawyers in practice mostly are, seemed to require as little sleep as his parchments.
The stranger entered.
"Rene-Francois Dumas," said he, seating himself opposite to the president, and markedly adopting the plural, as if in contempt of the revolutionary jargon, "amidst the excitement and occupations of your later life, I know not if you can remember that we have met before?"
The judge scanned the features of his visitor, and a pale blush settled on his sallow cheeks, "Yes, citizen, I remember!"
"And you recall the words I then uttered! You spoke tenderly and philanthropically of your horror of capital executions; you exulted in the approaching Revolution as the termination of all sanguinary punishments; you quoted reverently the saying of Maximilien Robespierre, the rising statesman, 'The executioner is the invention of the tyrant:' and I replied, that while you spoke, a foreboding seized me that we should meet again when your ideas of death and the philosophy of revolutions might be changed! Was I right, Citizen Rene-Francois Dumas, President of the Revolutionary Tribunal?"
"Pooh!" said Dumas, with some confusion on his brazen brow, "I spoke then as men speak who have not acted. Revolutions are not made with rose-water! But truce to the gossip of the long-ago. I remember, also, that thou didst then save the life of my relation, and it will please thee to learn that his intended murderer will be guillotined to-morrow."
"That concerns yourself,—your justice or your revenge. Permit me the egotism to remind you that you then promised that if ever a day should come when you could serve me, your life—yes, the phrase was, 'your heart's blood'—was at my bidding. Think not, austere judge, that I come to ask a boon that can affect yourself,—I come but to ask a day's respite for another!"
"Citizen, it is impossible! I have the order of Robespierre that not one less than the total on my list must undergo their trial for to-morrow. As for the verdict, that rests with the jury!"
"I do not ask you to diminish the catalogue. Listen still! In your death-roll there is the name of an Italian woman whose youth, whose beauty, and whose freedom not only from every crime, but every tangible charge, will excite only compassion, and not terror. Even YOU would tremble to pronounce her sentence. It will be dangerous on a day when the populace will be excited, when your tumbrils may be arrested, to expose youth and innocence and beauty to the pity and courage of a revolted crowd."
Dumas looked up and shrunk from the eye of the stranger.
"I do not deny, citizen, that there is reason in what thou urgest. But my orders are positive."
"Positive only as to the number of the victims. I offer you a substitute for this one. I offer you the head of a man who knows all of the very conspiracy which now threatens Robespierre and yourself, and compared with one clew to which, you would think even eighty ordinary lives a cheap purchase."
"That alters the case," said Dumas, eagerly; "if thou canst do this, on my own responsibility I will postpone the trial of the Italian. Now name the proxy!"
"You behold him!"
"Thou!" exclaimed Dumas, while a fear he could not conceal betrayed itself through his surprise. "Thou!—and thou comest to me alone at night, to offer thyself to justice. Ha!—this is a snare. Tremble, fool!—thou art in my power, and I can have BOTH!"
"You can," said the stranger, with a calm smile of disdain; "but my life is valueless without my revelations. Sit still, I command you,—hear me!" and the light in those dauntless eyes spell-bound and awed the judge. "You will remove me to the Conciergerie,—you will fix my trial, under the name of Zanoni, amidst your fournee of to-morrow. If I do not satisfy you by my speech, you hold the woman I die to save as your hostage. It is but the reprieve for her of a single day that I demand. The day following the morrow I shall be dust, and you may wreak your vengeance on the life that remains. Tush! judge and condemner of thousands, do you hesitate,—do you imagine that the man who voluntarily offers himself to death will be daunted into uttering one syllable at your Bar against his will? Have you not had experience enough of the inflexibility of pride and courage? President, I place before you the ink and implements! Write to the jailer a reprieve of one day for the woman whose life can avail you nothing, and I will bear the order to my own prison: I, who can now tell this much as an earnest of what I can communicate,—while I speak, your own name, judge, is in a list of death. I can tell you by whose hand it is written down; I can tell you in what quarter to look for danger; I can tell you from what cloud, in this lurid atmosphere, hangs the storm that shall burst on Robespierre and his reign!"
Dumas grew pale; and his eyes vainly sought to escape the magnetic gaze that overpowered and mastered him. Mechanically, and as if under an agency not his own, he wrote while the stranger dictated.
"Well," he said then, forcing a smile to his lips, "I promised I would serve you; see, I am faithful to my word. I suppose that you are one of those fools of feeling,—those professors of anti-revolutionary virtue, of whom I have seen not a few before my Bar. Faugh! it sickens me to see those who make a merit of incivism, and perish to save some bad patriot, because it is a son, or a father, or a wife, or a daughter, who is saved."
"I AM one of those fools of feeling," said the stranger, rising. "You have divined aright."
"And wilt thou not, in return for my mercy, utter to-night the revelations thou wouldst proclaim to-morrow? Come; and perhaps thou too—nay, the woman also—may receive, not reprieve, but pardon."
"Before your tribunal, and there alone! Nor will I deceive you, president. My information may avail you not; and even while I show the cloud, the bolt may fall."
"Tush! prophet, look to thyself! Go, madman, go. I know too well the contumacious obstinacy of the class to which I suspect thou belongest, to waste further words. Diable! but ye grow so accustomed to look on death, that ye forget the respect ye owe to it. Since thou offerest me thy head, I accept it. To-morrow thou mayst repent; it will be too late."
"Ay, too late, president!" echoed the calm visitor.
"But, remember, it is not pardon, it is but a day's reprieve, I have promised to this woman. According as thou dost satisfy me to-morrow, she lives or dies. I am frank, citizen; thy ghost shall not haunt me for want of faith."
"It is but a day that I have asked; the rest I leave to justice and to Heaven. Your huissiers wait below."
Und den Mordstahl seh' ich blinken; Und das Morderauge gluhn! "Kassandra."
(And I see the steel of Murder glitter, And the eye of Murder glow.)
Viola was in the prison that opened not but for those already condemned before adjudged. Since her exile from Zanoni, her very intellect had seemed paralysed. All that beautiful exuberance of fancy which, if not the fruit of genius, seemed its blossoms; all that gush of exquisite thought which Zanoni had justly told her flowed with mysteries and subtleties ever new to him, the wise one,—all were gone, annihilated; the blossom withered, the fount dried up. From something almost above womanhood, she seemed listlessly to sink into something below childhood. With the inspirer the inspirations had ceased; and, in deserting love, genius also was left behind.
She scarcely comprehended why she had been thus torn from her home and the mechanism of her dull tasks. She scarcely knew what meant those kindly groups, that, struck with her exceeding loveliness, had gathered round her in the prison, with mournful looks, but with words of comfort. She, who had hitherto been taught to abhor those whom Law condemns for crime, was amazed to hear that beings thus compassionate and tender, with cloudless and lofty brows, with gallant and gentle mien, were criminals for whom Law had no punishment short of death. But they, the savages, gaunt and menacing, who had dragged her from her home, who had attempted to snatch from her the infant while she clasped it in her arms, and laughed fierce scorn at her mute, quivering lips,—THEY were the chosen citizens, the men of virtue, the favourites of Power, the ministers of Law! Such thy black caprices, O thou, the ever-shifting and calumnious,—Human Judgment!
A squalid, and yet a gay world, did the prison-houses of that day present. There, as in the sepulchre to which they led, all ranks were cast with an even-handed scorn. And yet there, the reverence that comes from great emotions restored Nature's first and imperishable, and most lovely, and most noble Law,—THE INEQUALITY BETWEEN MAN AND MAN! There, place was given by the prisoners, whether royalists or sans-culottes, to Age, to Learning, to Renown, to Beauty; and Strength, with its own inborn chivalry, raised into rank the helpless and the weak. The iron sinews and the Herculean shoulders made way for the woman and the child; and the graces of Humanity, lost elsewhere, sought their refuge in the abode of Terror.
"And wherefore, my child, do they bring thee hither?" asked an old, grey-haired priest.
"I cannot guess."
"Ah, if you know not your offence, fear the worst!"
"And my child?"—for the infant was still suffered to rest upon her bosom.
"Alas, young mother, they will suffer thy child to live.'
"And for this,—an orphan in the dungeon!" murmured the accusing heart of Viola,—"have I reserved his offspring! Zanoni, even in thought, ask not—ask not what I have done with the child I bore thee!"
Night came; the crowd rushed to the grate to hear the muster-roll. (Called, in the mocking jargon of the day, "The Evening Gazette.") Her name was with the doomed. And the old priest, better prepared to die, but reserved from the death-list, laid his hands on her head, and blessed her while he wept. She heard, and wondered; but she did not weep. With downcast eyes, with arms folded on her bosom, she bent submissively to the call. But now another name was uttered; and a man, who had pushed rudely past her to gaze or to listen, shrieked out a howl of despair and rage. She turned, and their eyes met. Through the distance of time she recognised that hideous aspect. Nicot's face settled back into its devilish sneer. "At least, gentle Neapolitan, the guillotine will unite us. Oh, we shall sleep well our wedding-night!" And, with a laugh, he strode away through the crowd, and vanished into his lair.
She was placed in her gloomy cell, to await the morrow. But the child was still spared her; and she thought it seemed as if conscious of the awful present. In their way to the prison it had not moaned or wept. It had looked with its clear eyes, unshrinking, on the gleaming pikes and savage brows of the huissiers. And now, alone in the dungeon, it put its arms round her neck, and murmured its indistinct sounds, low and sweet as some unknown language of consolation and of heaven. And of heaven it was!—for, at the murmur, the terror melted from her soul; upward, from the dungeon and the death,—upward, where the happy cherubim chant the mercy of the All-loving, whispered that cherub's voice. She fell upon her knees and prayed. The despoilers of all that beautifies and hallows life had desecrated the altar, and denied the God!—they had removed from the last hour of their victims the Priest, the Scripture, and the Cross! But Faith builds in the dungeon and the lazar-house its sublimest shrines; and up, through roofs of stone, that shut out the eye of Heaven, ascends the ladder where the angels glide to and fro,—PRAYER.
And there, in the very cell beside her own, the atheist Nicot sits stolid amidst the darkness, and hugs the thought of Danton, that death is nothingness. ("Ma demeure sera bientot LE NEANT" (My abode will soon be nothingness), said Danton before his judges.)) His, no spectacle of an appalled and perturbed conscience! Remorse is the echo of a lost virtue, and virtue he never knew. Had he to live again, he would live the same. But more terrible than the death-bed of a believing and despairing sinner that blank gloom of apathy,—that contemplation of the worm and the rat of the charnel-house; that grim and loathsome NOTHINGNESS which, for his eye, falls like a pall over the universe of life. Still, staring into space, gnawing his livid lip, he looks upon the darkness, convinced that darkness is forever and forever!
Place, there! place! Room yet in your crowded cells. Another has come to the slaughter-house.
As the jailer, lamp in hand, ushered in the stranger, the latter touched him and whispered. The stranger drew a jewel from his finger. Diantre, how the diamond flashed in the ray of the lamp! Value each head of your eighty at a thousand francs, and the jewel is more worth than all! The jailer paused, and the diamond laughed in his dazzled eyes. O thou Cerberus, thou hast mastered all else that seems human in that fell employ! Thou hast no pity, no love, and no remorse. But Avarice survives the rest, and the foul heart's master-serpent swallows up the tribe. Ha! ha! crafty stranger, thou hast conquered! They tread the gloomy corridor; they arrive at the door where the jailer has placed the fatal mark, now to be erased, for the prisoner within is to be reprieved a day. The key grates in the lock; the door yawns,—the stranger takes the lamp and enters.
CHAPTER 7.XVII. The Seventeenth and Last.
Cosi vince Goffredo! "Ger. Lib." cant. xx.-xliv.
(Thus conquered Godfrey.)
And Viola was in prayer. She heard not the opening of the door; she saw not the dark shadow that fell along the floor. HIS power, HIS arts were gone; but the mystery and the spell known to HER simple heart did not desert her in the hours of trial and despair. When Science falls as a firework from the sky it would invade; when Genius withers as a flower in the breath of the icy charnel,—the hope of a child-like soul wraps the air in light, and the innocence of unquestioning Belief covers the grave with blossoms.
In the farthest corner of the cell she knelt; and the infant, as if to imitate what it could not comprehend, bent its little limbs, and bowed its smiling face, and knelt with her also, by her side.
He stood and gazed upon them as the light of the lamp fell calmly on their forms. It fell over those clouds of golden hair, dishevelled, parted, thrown back from the rapt, candid brow; the dark eyes raised on high, where, through the human tears, a light as from above was mirrored; the hands clasped, the lips apart, the form all animate and holy with the sad serenity of innocence and the touching humility of woman. And he heard her voice, though it scarcely left her lips: the low voice that the heart speaks,—loud enough for God to hear!
"And if never more to see him, O Father! Canst Thou not make the love that will not die, minister, even beyond the grave, to his earthly fate? Canst Thou not yet permit it, as a living spirit, to hover over him,—a spirit fairer than all his science can conjure? Oh, whatever lot be ordained to either, grant—even though a thousand ages may roll between us—grant, when at last purified and regenerate, and fitted for the transport of such reunion—grant that we may meet once more! And for his child,—it kneels to Thee from the dungeon floor! To-morrow, and whose breast shall cradle it; whose hand shall feed; whose lips shall pray for its weal below and its soul hereafter!" She paused,—her voice choked with sobs.
"Thou Viola!—thou, thyself. He whom thou hast deserted is here to preserve the mother to the child!"
She started!—those accents, tremulous as her own! She started to her feet!—he was there,—in all the pride of his unwaning youth and superhuman beauty; there, in the house of dread, and in the hour of travail; there, image and personation of the love that can pierce the Valley of the Shadow, and can glide, the unscathed wanderer from the heaven, through the roaring abyss of hell!
With a cry never, perhaps, heard before in that gloomy vault,—a cry of delight and rapture, she sprang forward, and fell at his feet.
He bent down to raise her; but she slid from his arms. He called her by the familiar epithets of the old endearment, and she only answered him by sobs. Wildly, passionately, she kissed his hands, the hem of his garment, but voice was gone.
"Look up, look up!—I am here,—I am here to save thee! Wilt thou deny to me thy sweet face? Truant, wouldst thou fly me still?"
"Fly thee!" she said, at last, and in a broken voice; "oh, if my thoughts wronged thee,—oh, if my dream, that awful dream, deceived,—kneel down with me, and pray for our child!" Then springing to her feet with a sudden impulse, she caught up the infant, and, placing it in his arms, sobbed forth, with deprecating and humble tones, "Not for my sake,—not for mine, did I abandon thee, but—"
"Hush!" said Zanoni; "I know all the thoughts that thy confused and struggling senses can scarcely analyse themselves. And see how, with a look, thy child answers them!"
And in truth the face of that strange infant seemed radiant with its silent and unfathomable joy. It seemed as if it recognised the father; it clung—it forced itself to his breast, and there, nestling, turned its bright, clear eyes upon Viola, and smiled.
"Pray for my child!" said Zanoni, mournfully. "The thoughts of souls that would aspire as mine are All PRAYER!" And, seating himself by her side, he began to reveal to her some of the holier secrets of his lofty being. He spoke of the sublime and intense faith from which alone the diviner knowledge can arise,—the faith which, seeing the immortal everywhere, purifies and exalts the mortal that beholds, the glorious ambition that dwells not in the cabals and crimes of earth, but amidst those solemn wonders that speak not of men, but of God; of that power to abstract the soul from the clay which gives to the eye of the soul its subtle vision, and to the soul's wing the unlimited realm; of that pure, severe, and daring initiation from which the mind emerges, as from death, into clear perceptions of its kindred with the Father-Principles of life and light, so that in its own sense of the Beautiful it finds its joy; in the serenity of its will, its power; in its sympathy with the youthfulness of the Infinite Creation, of which itself is an essence and a part, the secrets that embalm the very clay which they consecrate, and renew the strength of life with the ambrosia of mysterious and celestial sleep. And while he spoke, Viola listened, breathless. If she could not comprehend, she no longer dared to distrust. She felt that in that enthusiasm, self-deceiving or not, no fiend could lurk; and by an intuition, rather than an effort of the reason, she saw before her, like a starry ocean, the depth and mysterious beauty of the soul which her fears had wronged. Yet, when he said (concluding his strange confessions) that to this life WITHIN life and ABOVE life he had dreamed to raise her own, the fear of humanity crept over her, and he read in her silence how vain, with all his science, would the dream have been.
But now, as he closed, and, leaning on his breast, she felt the clasp of his protecting arms,—when, in one holy kiss, the past was forgiven and the present lost,—then there returned to her the sweet and warm hopes of the natural life, of the loving woman. He was come to save her! She asked not how,—she believed it without a question. They should be at last again united. They would fly far from those scenes of violence and blood. Their happy Ionian isle, their fearless solitudes, would once more receive them. She laughed, with a child's joy, as this picture rose up amidst the gloom of the dungeon. Her mind, faithful to its sweet, simple instincts, refused to receive the lofty images that flitted confusedly by it, and settled back to its human visions, yet more baseless, of the earthly happiness and the tranquil home.
"Talk not now to me, beloved,—talk not more now to me of the past! Thou art here,—thou wilt save me; we shall live yet the common happy life, that life with thee is happiness and glory enough to me. Traverse, if thou wilt, in thy pride of soul, the universe; thy heart again is the universe to mine. I thought but now that I was prepared to die; I see thee, touch thee, and again I know how beautiful a thing is life! See through the grate the stars are fading from the sky; the morrow will soon be here,—The MORROW which will open the prison doors! Thou sayest thou canst save me,—I will not doubt it now. Oh, let us dwell no more in cities! I never doubted thee in our lovely isle; no dreams haunted me there, except dreams of joy and beauty; and thine eyes made yet more beautiful and joyous the world in waking. To-morrow!—why do you not smile? To-morrow, love! is not TO-MORROW a blessed word! Cruel! you would punish me still, that you will not share my joy. Aha! see our little one, how it laughs to my eyes! I will talk to THAT. Child, thy father is come back!"
And taking the infant in her arms, and seating herself at a little distance, she rocked it to and fro on her bosom, and prattled to it, and kissed it between every word, and laughed and wept by fits, as ever and anon she cast over her shoulder her playful, mirthful glance upon the father to whom those fading stars smiled sadly their last farewell. How beautiful she seemed as she thus sat, unconscious of the future! Still half a child herself, her child laughing to her laughter,—two soft triflers on the brink of the grave! Over her throat, as she bent, fell, like a golden cloud, her redundant hair; it covered her treasure like a veil of light, and the child's little hands put it aside from time to time, to smile through the parted tresses, and then to cover its face and peep and smile again. It were cruel to damp that joy, more cruel still to share it.
"Viola," said Zanoni, at last, "dost thou remember that, seated by the cave on the moonlit beach, in our bridal isle, thou once didst ask me for this amulet?—the charm of a superstition long vanished from the world, with the creed to which it belonged. It is the last relic of my native land, and my mother, on her deathbed, placed it round my neck. I told thee then I would give it thee on that day WHEN THE LAWS OF OUR BEING SHOULD BECOME THE SAME."
"I remember it well."
"To-morrow it shall be thine!"
"Ah, that dear to-morrow!" And, gently laying down her child,—for it slept now,—she threw herself on his breast, and pointed to the dawn that began greyly to creep along the skies.
There, in those horror-breathing walls, the day-star looked through the dismal bars upon those three beings, in whom were concentrated whatever is most tender in human ties; whatever is most mysterious in the combinations of the human mind; the sleeping Innocence; the trustful Affection, that, contented with a touch, a breath, can foresee no sorrow; the weary Science that, traversing all the secrets of creation, comes at last to Death for their solution, and still clings, as it nears the threshold, to the breast of Love. Thus, within, THE WITHIN,—a dungeon; without, the WITHOUT,—stately with marts and halls, with palaces and temples; Revenge and Terror, at their dark schemes and counter-schemes; to and fro, upon the tide of the shifting passions, reeled the destinies of men and nations; and hard at hand that day-star, waning into space, looked with impartial eye on the church tower and the guillotine. Up springs the blithesome morn. In yon gardens the birds renew their familiar song. The fishes are sporting through the freshening waters of the Seine. The gladness of divine nature, the roar and dissonance of mortal life, awake again: the trader unbars his windows; the flower-girls troop gayly to their haunts; busy feet are tramping to the daily drudgeries that revolutions which strike down kings and kaisars, leave the same Cain's heritage to the boor; the wagons groan and reel to the mart; Tyranny, up betimes, holds its pallid levee; Conspiracy, that hath not slept, hears the clock, and whispers to its own heart, "The hour draws near." A group gather, eager-eyed, round the purlieus of the Convention Hall; to-day decides the sovereignty of France,—about the courts of the Tribunal their customary hum and stir. No matter what the hazard of the die, or who the ruler, this day eighty heads shall fall!
And she slept so sweetly. Wearied out with joy, secure in the presence of the eyes regained, she had laughed and wept herself to sleep; and still in that slumber there seemed a happy consciousness that the loved was by,—the lost was found. For she smiled and murmured to herself, and breathed his name often, and stretched out her arms, and sighed if they touched him not. He gazed upon her as he stood apart,—with what emotions it were vain to say. She would wake no more to him; she could not know how dearly the safety of that sleep was purchased. That morrow she had so yearned for,—it had come at last. HOW WOULD SHE GREET THE EVE? Amidst all the exquisite hopes with which love and youth contemplate the future, her eyes had closed. Those hopes still lent their iris-colours to her dreams. She would wake to live! To-morrow, and the Reign of Terror was no more; the prison gates would be opened,—she would go forth, with their child, into that summer-world of light. And HE?—he turned, and his eye fell upon the child; it was broad awake, and that clear, serious, thoughtful look which it mostly wore, watched him with a solemn steadiness. He bent over and kissed its lips.
"Never more," he murmured, "O heritor of love and grief,—never more wilt thou see me in thy visions; never more will the light of those eyes be fed by celestial commune; never more can my soul guard from thy pillow the trouble and the disease. Not such as I would have vainly shaped it, must be thy lot. In common with thy race, it must be thine to suffer, to struggle, and to err. But mild be thy human trials, and strong be thy spirit to love and to believe! And thus, as I gaze upon thee,—thus may my nature breathe into thine its last and most intense desire; may my love for thy mother pass to thee, and in thy looks may she hear my spirit comfort and console her. Hark! they come! Yes! I await ye both beyond the grave!"
The door slowly opened; the jailer appeared, and through the aperture rushed, at the same instant, a ray of sunlight: it streamed over the fair, hushed face of the happy sleeper,—it played like a smile upon the lips of the child that, still, mute, and steadfast, watched the movements of its father. At that moment Viola muttered in her sleep, "The day is come,—the gates are open! Give me thy hand; we will go forth! To sea, to sea! How the sunshine plays upon the waters!—to home, beloved one, to home again!"
"Citizen, thine hour is come!"
"Hist! she sleeps! A moment! There, it is done! thank Heaven!—and STILL she sleeps!" He would not kiss, lest he should awaken her, but gently placed round her neck the amulet that would speak to her, hereafter, the farewell,—and promise, in that farewell, reunion! He is at the threshold,—he turns again, and again. The door closes! He is gone forever!
She woke at last,—she gazed round. "Zanoni, it is day!" No answer but the low wail of her child. Merciful Heaven! was it then all a dream? She tossed back the long tresses that must veil her sight; she felt the amulet on her bosom,—it was NO dream! "O God! and he is gone!" She sprang to the door,—she shrieked aloud. The jailer comes. "My husband, my child's father?"
"He is gone before thee, woman!"
"To the guillotine!"—and the black door closed again.
It closed upon the senseless! As a lightning-flash, Zanoni's words, his sadness, the true meaning of his mystic gift, the very sacrifice he made for her, all became distinct for a moment to her mind,—and then darkness swept on it like a storm, yet darkness which had its light. And while she sat there, mute, rigid, voiceless, as congealed to stone, A VISION, like a wind, glided over the deeps within,—the grim court, the judge, the jury, the accuser; and amidst the victims the one dauntless and radiant form.
"Thou knowest the danger to the State,—confess!"
"I know; and I keep my promise. Judge, I reveal thy doom! I know that the Anarchy thou callest a State expires with the setting of this sun. Hark, to the tramp without; hark to the roar of voices! Room there, ye dead!—room in hell for Robespierre and his crew!"
They hurry into the court,—the hasty and pale messengers; there is confusion and fear and dismay! "Off with the conspirator, and to-morrow the woman thou wouldst have saved shall die!"
"To-morrow, president, the steel falls on THEE!"
On, through the crowded and roaring streets, on moves the Procession of Death. Ha, brave people! thou art aroused at last. They shall not die! Death is dethroned!—Robespierre has fallen!—they rush to the rescue! Hideous in the tumbril, by the side of Zanoni, raved and gesticulated that form which, in his prophetic dreams, he had seen his companion at the place of death. "Save us!—save us!" howled the atheist Nicot. "On, brave populace! we SHALL be saved!" And through the crowd, her dark hair streaming wild, her eyes flashing fire, pressed a female form, "My Clarence!" she shrieked, in the soft Southern language native to the ears of Viola; "butcher! what hast thou done with Clarence?" Her eyes roved over the eager faces of the prisoners; she saw not the one she sought. "Thank Heaven!—thank Heaven! I am not thy murderess!"
Nearer and nearer press the populace,—another moment, and the deathsman is defrauded. O Zanoni! why still upon THY brow the resignation that speaks no hope? Tramp! tramp! through the streets dash the armed troop; faithful to his orders, Black Henriot leads them on. Tramp! tramp! over the craven and scattered crowd! Here, flying in disorder,—there, trampled in the mire, the shrieking rescuers! And amidst them, stricken by the sabres of the guard, her long hair blood-bedabbled, lies the Italian woman; and still upon her writhing lips sits joy, as they murmur, "Clarence! I have not destroyed thee!"
On to the Barriere du Trone. It frowns dark in the air,—the giant instrument of murder! One after one to the glaive,—another and another and another! Mercy! O mercy! Is the bridge between the sun and the shades so brief,—brief as a sigh? There, there,—HIS turn has come. "Die not yet; leave me not behind; hear me—hear me!" shrieked the inspired sleeper. "What! and thou smilest still!" They smiled,—those pale lips,—and WITH the smile, the place of doom, the headsman, the horror vanished. With that smile, all space seemed suffused in eternal sunshine. Up from the earth he rose; he hovered over her,—a thing not of matter, an IDEA of joy and light! Behind, Heaven opened, deep after deep; and the Hosts of Beauty were seen, rank upon rank, afar; and "Welcome!" in a myriad melodies, broke from your choral multitude, ye People of the Skies,—"welcome! O purified by sacrifice, and immortal only through the grave,—this it is to die." And radiant amidst the radiant, the IMAGE stretched forth its arms, and murmured to the sleeper: "Companion of Eternity!—THIS it is to die!"
"Ho! wherefore do they make us signs from the house-tops? Wherefore gather the crowds through the street? Why sounds the bell? Why shrieks the tocsin? Hark to the guns!—the armed clash! Fellow-captives, is there hope for us at last?"
So gasp out the prisoners, each to each. Day wanes—evening closes; still they press their white faces to the bars, and still from window and from house-top they see the smiles of friends,—the waving signals! "Hurrah!" at last,—"Hurrah! Robespierre is fallen! The Reign of Terror is no more! God hath permitted us to live!"
Yes; cast thine eyes into the hall where the tyrant and his conclave hearkened to the roar without! Fulfilling the prophecy of Dumas, Henriot, drunk with blood and alcohol, reels within, and chucks his gory sabre on the floor. "All is lost!"
"Wretch! thy cowardice hath destroyed us!" yelled the fierce Coffinhal, as he hurled the coward from the window.
Calm as despair stands the stern St. Just; the palsied Couthon crawls, grovelling, beneath table; a shot,—an explosion! Robespierre would destroy himself! The trembling hand has mangled, and failed to kill! The clock of the Hotel de Ville strikes the third hour. Through the battered door, along the gloomy passages, into the Death-hall, burst the crowd. Mangled, livid, blood-stained, speechless but not unconscious, sits haughty yet, in his seat erect, the Master-Murderer! Around him they throng; they hoot,—they execrate, their faces gleaming in the tossing torches! HE, and not the starry Magian, the REAL Sorcerer! And round HIS last hours gather the Fiends he raised!
They drag him forth! Open thy gates, inexorable prison! The Conciergerie receives its prey! Never a word again on earth spoke Maximilien Robespierre! Pour forth thy thousands, and tens of thousands, emancipated Paris! To the Place de la Revolution rolls the tumbril of the King of Terror,—St. Just, Dumas, Couthon, his companions to the grave! A woman—a childless woman, with hoary hair—springs to his side, "Thy death makes me drunk with joy!" He opened his bloodshot eyes,—"Descend to hell with the curses of wives and mothers!"
The headsmen wrench the rag from the shattered jaw; a shriek, and the crowd laugh, and the axe descends amidst the shout of the countless thousands, and blackness rushes on thy soul, Maximilien Robespierre! So ended the Reign of Terror.
Daylight in the prison. From cell to cell they hurry with the news,—crowd upon crowd; the joyous captives mingled with the very jailers, who, for fear, would fain seem joyous too; they stream through the dens and alleys of the grim house they will shortly leave. They burst into a cell, forgotten since the previous morning. They found there a young female, sitting upon her wretched bed; her arms crossed upon her bosom, her face raised upward; the eyes unclosed, and a smile of more than serenity—of bliss—upon her lips. Even in the riot of their joy, they drew back in astonishment and awe. Never had they seen life so beautiful; and as they crept nearer, and with noiseless feet, they saw that the lips breathed not, that the repose was of marble, that the beauty and the ecstasy were of death. They gathered round in silence; and lo! at her feet there was a young infant, who, wakened by their tread, looked at them steadfastly, and with its rosy fingers played with its dead mother's robe. An orphan there in a dungeon vault!
"Poor one!" said a female (herself a parent), "and they say the father fell yesterday; and now the mother! Alone in the world, what can be its fate?"
The infant smiled fearlessly on the crowd, as the woman spoke thus. And the old priest, who stood amongst them, said gently, "Woman, see! the orphan smiles! THE FATHERLESS ARE THE CARE OF GOD!"
The curiosity which Zanoni has excited among those who think it worth while to dive into the subtler meanings they believe it intended to convey, may excuse me in adding a few words, not in explanation of its mysteries, but upon the principles which permit them. Zanoni is not, as some have supposed, an allegory; but beneath the narrative it relates, TYPICAL meanings are concealed. It is to be regarded in two characters, distinct yet harmonious,—1st, that of the simple and objective fiction, in which (once granting the license of the author to select a subject which is, or appears to be, preternatural) the reader judges the writer by the usual canons,—namely, by the consistency of his characters under such admitted circumstances, the interest of his story, and the coherence of his plot; of the work regarded in this view, it is not my intention to say anything, whether in exposition of the design, or in defence of the execution. No typical meanings (which, in plain terms are but moral suggestions, more or less numerous, more or less subtle) can afford just excuse to a writer of fiction, for the errors he should avoid in the most ordinary novel. We have no right to expect the most ingenious reader to search for the inner meaning, if the obvious course of the narrative be tedious and displeasing. It is, on the contrary, in proportion as we are satisfied with the objective sense of a work of imagination, that we are inclined to search into its depths for the more secret intentions of the author. Were we not so divinely charmed with "Faust," and "Hamlet," and "Prometheus," so ardently carried on by the interest of the story told to the common understanding, we should trouble ourselves little with the types in each which all of us can detect,—none of us can elucidate; none elucidate, for the essence of type is mystery. We behold the figure, we cannot lift the veil. The author himself is not called upon to explain what he designed. An allegory is a personation of distinct and definite things,—virtues or qualities,—and the key can be given easily; but a writer who conveys typical meanings, may express them in myriads. He cannot disentangle all the hues which commingle into the light he seeks to cast upon truth; and therefore the great masters of this enchanted soil,—Fairyland of Fairyland, Poetry imbedded beneath Poetry,—wisely leave to each mind to guess at such truths as best please or instruct it. To have asked Goethe to explain the "Faust" would have entailed as complex and puzzling an answer as to have asked Mephistopheles to explain what is beneath the earth we tread on. The stores beneath may differ for every passenger; each step may require a new description; and what is treasure to the geologist may be rubbish to the miner. Six worlds may lie under a sod, but to the common eye they are but six layers of stone.
Art in itself, if not necessarily typical, is essentially a suggester of something subtler than that which it embodies to the sense. What Pliny tells us of a great painter of old, is true of most great painters; "their works express something beyond the works,"—"more felt than understood." This belongs to the concentration of intellect which high art demands, and which, of all the arts, sculpture best illustrates. Take Thorwaldsen's Statue of Mercury,—it is but a single figure, yet it tells to those conversant with mythology a whole legend. The god has removed the pipe from his lips, because he has already lulled to sleep the Argus, whom you do not see. He is pressing his heel against his sword, because the moment is come when he may slay his victim. Apply the principle of this noble concentration of art to the moral writer: he, too, gives to your eye but a single figure; yet each attitude, each expression, may refer to events and truths you must have the learning to remember, the acuteness to penetrate, or the imagination to conjecture. But to a classical judge of sculpture, would not the exquisite pleasure of discovering the all not told in Thorwaldsen's masterpiece be destroyed if the artist had engraved in detail his meaning at the base of the statue? Is it not the same with the typical sense which the artist in words conveys? The pleasure of divining art in each is the noble exercise of all by whom art is worthily regarded.
We of the humbler race not unreasonably shelter ourselves under the authority of the masters, on whom the world's judgment is pronounced; and great names are cited, not with the arrogance of equals, but with the humility of inferiors.
The author of Zanoni gives, then, no key to mysteries, be they trivial or important, which may be found in the secret chambers by those who lift the tapestry from the wall; but out of the many solutions of the main enigma—if enigma, indeed, there be—which have been sent to him, he ventures to select the one which he subjoins, from the ingenuity and thought which it displays, and from respect for the distinguished writer (one of the most eminent our time has produced) who deemed him worthy of an honour he is proud to display. He leaves it to the reader to agree with, or dissent from the explanation. "A hundred men," says the old Platonist, "may read the book by the help of the same lamp, yet all may differ on the text, for the lamp only lights the characters,—the mind must divine the meaning." The object of a parable is not that of a problem; it does not seek to convince, but to suggest. It takes the thought below the surface of the understanding to the deeper intelligence which the world rarely tasks. It is not sunlight on the water; it is a hymn chanted to the nymph who hearkens and awakes below.
MEJNOUR:—Contemplation of the Actual,—SCIENCE. Always old, and must last as long as the Actual. Less fallible than Idealism, but less practically potent, from its ignorance of the human heart.
ZANONI:—Contemplation of the Ideal,—IDEALISM. Always necessarily sympathetic: lives by enjoyment; and is therefore typified by eternal youth. ("I do not understand the making Idealism less undying (on this scene of existence) than Science."—Commentator. Because, granting the above premises, Idealism is more subjected than Science to the Affections, or to Instinct, because the Affections, sooner or later, force Idealism into the Actual, and in the Actual its immortality departs. The only absolutely Actual portion of the work is found in the concluding scenes that depict the Reign of Terror. The introduction of this part was objected to by some as out of keeping with the fanciful portions that preceded it. But if the writer of the solution has rightly shown or suggested the intention of the author, the most strongly and rudely actual scene of the age in which the story is cast was the necessary and harmonious completion of the whole. The excesses and crimes of Humanity are the grave of the Ideal.—Author.) Idealism is the potent Interpreter and Prophet of the Real; but its powers are impaired in proportion to their exposure to human passion.
VIOLA:—Human INSTINCT. (Hardly worthy to be called LOVE, as Love would not forsake its object at the bidding of Superstition.) Resorts, first in its aspiration after the Ideal, to tinsel shows; then relinquishes these for a higher love; but is still, from the conditions of its nature, inadequate to this, and liable to suspicion and mistrust. Its greatest force (Maternal Instinct) has power to penetrate some secrets, to trace some movements of the Ideal, but, too feeble to command them, yields to Superstition, sees sin where there is none, while committing sin, under a false guidance; weakly seeking refuge amidst the very tumults of the warring passions of the Actual, while deserting the serene Ideal,—pining, nevertheless, in the absence of the Ideal, and expiring (not perishing, but becoming transmuted) in the aspiration after having the laws of the two natures reconciled.
(It might best suit popular apprehension to call these three the Understanding, the Imagination, and the Heart.)
CHILD:—NEW-BORN INSTINCT, while trained and informed by Idealism, promises a preter-human result by its early, incommunicable vigilance and intelligence, but is compelled, by inevitable orphanhood, and the one-half of the laws of its existence, to lapse into ordinary conditions.
AIDON-AI:—FAITH, which manifests its splendour, and delivers its oracles, and imparts its marvels, only to the higher moods of the soul, and whose directed antagonism is with Fear; so that those who employ the resources of Fear must dispense with those of Faith. Yet aspiration holds open a way of restoration, and may summon Faith, even when the cry issues from beneath the yoke of fear.
DWELLER OF THE THRESHOLD:—FEAR (or HORROR), from whose ghastliness men are protected by the opacity of the region of Prescription and Custom. The moment this protection is relinquished, and the human spirit pierces the cloud, and enters alone on the unexplored regions of Nature, this Natural Horror haunts it, and is to be successfully encountered only by defiance,—by aspiration towards, and reliance on, the Former and Director of Nature, whose Messenger and Instrument of reassurance is Faith.
NICOT:—Base, grovelling, malignant PASSION.
GLYNDON:—UNSUSTAINED ASPIRATION: Would follow Instinct, but is deterred by Conventionalism, is overawed by Idealism, yet attracted, and transiently inspired, but has not steadiness for the initiatory contemplation of the Actual. He conjoins its snatched privileges with a besetting sensualism, and suffers at once from the horror of the one and the disgust of the other, involving the innocent in the fatal conflict of his spirit. When on the point of perishing, he is rescued by Idealism, and, unable to rise to that species of existence, is grateful to be replunged into the region of the Familiar, and takes up his rest henceforth in Custom. (Mirror of Young Manhood.)
Human Existence subject to, and exempt from, ordinary conditions (Sickness, Poverty, Ignorance, Death).
SCIENCE is ever striving to carry the most gifted beyond ordinary conditions,—the result being as many victims as efforts, and the striver being finally left a solitary,—for his object is unsuitable to the natures he has to deal with.
The pursuit of the Ideal involves so much emotion as to render the Idealist vulnerable by human passion, however long and well guarded, still vulnerable,—liable, at last, to a union with Instinct. Passion obscures both Insight and Forecast. All effort to elevate Instinct to Idealism is abortive, the laws of their being not coinciding (in the early stage of the existence of the one). Instinct is either alarmed, and takes refuge in Superstition or Custom, or is left helpless to human charity, or given over to providential care.
Idealism, stripped of in sight and forecast, loses its serenity, becomes subject once more to the horror from which it had escaped, and by accepting its aids, forfeits the higher help of Faith; aspiration, however, remaining still possible, and, thereby, slow restoration; and also, SOMETHING BETTER.
Summoned by aspiration, Faith extorts from Fear itself the saving truth to which Science continues blind, and which Idealism itself hails as its crowning acquisition,—the inestimable PROOF wrought out by all labours and all conflicts.
Pending the elaboration of this proof,
CONVENTIONALISM plods on, safe and complacent;
SELFISH PASSION perishes, grovelling and hopeless;
INSTINCT sleeps, in order to a loftier waking; and
IDEALISM learns, as its ultimate lesson, that self-sacrifice is true redemption; that the region beyond the grave is the fitting one for exemption from mortal conditions; and that Death is the everlasting portal, indicated by the finger of God,—the broad avenue through which man does not issue solitary and stealthy into the region of Free Existence, but enters triumphant, hailed by a hierarchy of immortal natures.
The result is (in other words), THAT THE UNIVERSAL HUMAN LOT IS, AFTER ALL, THAT OF THE HIGHEST PRIVILEGE.