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bitter experience had taught him the real value of the homage and caresses of the world.
In her society, though an exile from every other, Henry wore away two months at Spires in a fruitless solicitation to the Pope to receive him in Italy as a penitent suitor for reconcilement with the Church. December had now arrived ; and, in less than ten weeks, would be fulfilled the term, when, if still excommunicate, he must, according to the sentence of Tribur, finally resign, not the prerogatives alone, but with them the title and rank of Head of the Empire. No sacrifices seemed too great to avert this danger; and history tells of none more singular than those to which the heir of the Franconian dynasty was constrained to submit. In the garb of a pilgrim, and in a season so severe as, during more than four months, to have converted the Rhine into a solid mass of ice, Henry and his faithful Bertha, carrying in her arms their infant child, undertook to cross the Alps, with no escort but such menial servants as it was yet in his power to hire for that desperate encerprise. Among the courtiers who had so lately thronged his palace, not one would become the companion of his toil and dangers. Among the neighbouring princes who had so lately solicited his alliance, not one would grant him the poor boon of a safe conduct and a free passage through their states. Even his wife's mother exacted from him large territorial cessions as the price of allowing him and her own daughter to scale one of the Alpine passes, apparently that of the Great St Bernard. Day by day, peasants cut out an upward path through the long windings of the mountain. In the descent from the highest summit, when thus at length gained, Henry had to encounter fatigues and dangers from which the chamois-hunter would have turned aside. Vast trackless wastes of snow were traversed, sometimes by mere crawling, at other times by the aid of rope-ladders, or still ruder contrivances, and not seldom by a sheer plunge along the inclined steep; the Empress and her child being enveloped, on those occasions, in the raw skins of beasts slaughtered on the march.
At Canossa there appeared the German Emperor, not the leader of the rumoured host of Lombard invaders, but surrounded by a small and unarmed retinue—mean in his apparel, and contrite in outward aspect, a humble suppliant for pardon and acceptance to the communion of the faithful. Long centuries had passed away since the sceptre of the West had been won by Italian armies in Italian fields, and Henry declined to put the issue of this great contest on the swords of his Milanese vassals. He well knew that, to break the alliance of patriotism, cupidity, and superstition, which had degraded him at Tribur, it was necessary to rescue himself from the anathema which he had but too justly incurred, and that his crown must be redeemed, not by force, but by submission to his formidable antagonist. And Hildebrand! fathomless as are the depths of the human heart, who can doubt that, amidst the conflict of emotions which now agitated him, the most dominant was the exulting sense of victory over the earth's greatest monarch ? His rival at his feet, his calumniator self-condemned, the lips which had rudely summoned him to abdicate the Apostolic crown now suing to him for the recovery of the Imperial diadem, the exaltation in his person of decrepit age over fiery youth, of mental over physical power, of the long-enthralled Church over the long-tyrannising world, all combined to form a triumph too intoxicating even for that capacious intellect.
The veriest sycophant of the Papal Court, even in that superstitious age, would scarcely have ventured to describe, as a serious act of sacramental devotion, the religious masquerade which followed between the high priest and the Imperial penitent; or to extol, as politic and wise, the base indignities to which the Pontiff subjected his prostrate enemy, and of which his own pastoral letters contain the otherwise incredible record. Had it been his object to compel Henry to drain to its bitterest dregs the cup of unprofitable humiliation —to exasperate to madness the Emperor himself, and all who would resent as a personal wrong an insult to their sovereign-and to transmit to the latest age a monument and a hatred alike imperishable, of the extravagances of spiritual despotism,--he could have devised no fitter course.
Environed by many of the greatest princes of Italy who owed fealty and allegiance to the Emperor, Gregory affected to turn a deaf ear to his solicitations. His humblest offers were spurned ; his most unbounded acknowledgments of the sacerdotal authority over the kings and kingdoms of the world were rejected. For the distress of her royal kinsman, Matilda felt as woman and as monarchs feel; but even her entreaties seemed to be fruitless. Day by day, the same cold stern appeal to the future decisions of the Diet to be convened at Augsburg repelled the suit even of that powerful intercessor. The critical point, at which prayers for reconcilement would give way to indignation and defiance, had been almost reached. Then, and not till then, the Pope condescended to offer his ghostly pardon, on the condition that Henry would surrender into his hands the custody of the crown, the sceptre, and the other ensigns of royalty, and acknowledge himself unworthy to bear the royal title. This, however, was a scandal on which not even the proud spirit of the now triumphant Priest dared to insist, and to which not even the now abject heart of the Emperor could be induced to submit. But the shame which was spared to the Sovereign, was inflicted with relentless severity on the Man.
It was towards the end of January. The earth was covered with snow, and the mountain streams were arrested by the keen frost of the Apennines, when, clad in a thin penitential garment of white linen, and bare of foot, Henry, the descendant of so many kings, and the ruler of so many nations, ascended slowly and alone the rocky path which led to the outer gate of the fortress of Canossa. With strange emotions of pity, of wonder, and of scorn, the assembled crowd gazed on his majestic form and noble features, as, passing through the first and the second gateway, he stood in the posture of humiliation before the third, which remained inexorably closed against his further progress. The rising sun found him there fasting; and there the setting sun left him stiff with cold, faint with hunger, and devoured by shame and ill-suppressed resentment. A second day dawned and wore tardily away, and closed in a continuance of the same indignities, poured out on Europe at large, in the person of her chief, by the Vicar of the meek, the lowly, and the compassionate Redeemer. A third day came, and, still irreverently trampling on the hereditary lord of the fairer half of the civilised world, Hildebrand once more compelled him to prolong till nightfall this profane and hollow parody on the real workings of the broken and contrite heart.
Nor was he unwarned of the activity and the strength of the indignation aroused by this protracted outrage on every natural sentiment and every honest prejudice of mankind. Lamentations and reproaches rang through the castle of Canossa. Murmurs from Henry's inveterate enemies, and his own zealous adherents, upbraided Gregory as exhibiting rather the cruelty of a tyrant than the rigour of an apostle. But the endurance of the sufferer was the only measure of the inflexibility of the tormentor; nor was it till the unhappy monarch had burst away from the scene of his mental and bodily anguish, and sought shelter in a neighbouring convent, that the Pope, yielding at length to the instances of Matilda, would admit the degraded suppliant into his presence. It was the fourth day on which he had borne the humiliating garb of an affected penitence, and, in that sordid raiment, he drew near on his bare feet to the more than Imperial Majesty of the Church, and prostrated himself, in more than servile deference, before the diminutive and emaciated old man, “from the terrible glance of whose countenance,” we are told, “the eye of every beholder recoiled as from the lightning.” Hunger, cold, nakedness, and shame had, for the moment, crushed the gallant spirit of the sufferer. He wept and cried for mercy, again and again renewing his entreaties, until he had reached the lowest level of abasement to which his own enfeebled heart, or the haughtiness of his great antagonist, could depress him. Then, and not till then, did the Pope condescend to revoke the anathema of the Vatican.
ON THE MASSACRE AT PIEDMONT.
Lie scatter'd on the Alpine mountains cold;
When all our fathers worshipp'd stocks and stones,
sway The triple tyrant: that from these may grow A hundredfold, who, having learn’d Thy
way, Early may fly the Babylonian woe.