Page images
PDF
EPUB

Has stopt to scrawl a ship, an armed man;
And in a tablet on the wall we read
Of shows ere-long to be) a sculptor wrought,
Nor meanly; blocks, half-chisell❜d into life,
Waiting his call. Here long, as yet attests
The trodden floor, an olive-merchant drew
From many an ample jar, no more replenish'd;
And here from his a vintner served his guests
Largely, the stain of his o'erflowing cups
Fresh on the marble. On the bench, beneath,
They sate and quaff'd, and look'd on them that pass'd,
Gravely discussing the last news from Rome.

But lo, engraven on a threshold-stone,
That word of courtesy, so sacred once,
Hail! At a master's greeting we may enter.
And lo, a fairy palace! everywhere,
As through the courts and chambers we advance,
Floors of mosaic, walls of arabesque,
And columns clustering in Patrician splendor.
But hark, a footstep! May we not intrude?
And now, methinks, I hear a gentle laugh,
And gentle voices mingling as in converse!
-And now a harp-string as struck carelessly,
And now-along the corridor it comes-
I cannot err, a filling as of baths!

-Ah, no, 't is but a mockery of the sense,
Idle and vain! We are but where we were;
Still wandering in a City of the Dead!

XVI.

THE BAG OF GOLD.

I DINE very often with the good old Cardinal *** and, I should add, with his cats; for they always sit at his table, and are much the gravest of the company. His beaming countenance makes us forget his age; nor did I ever see it clouded till yesterday, when, as we were contemplating the sun-set from his terrace, he happened, in the course of our conversation, to allude to an affecting circumstance in his early life.

unwilling to hear it, for it bears some resemblance to that of the Merchant of Venice.

He had just left the University of Palermo and was entering the army, when he became acquainted with a young lady of great beauty and merit, a Sicilian of a family as illustrious as his own. Living near each other, they were often together; and, at an age like theirs, friendship soon turns to love. But his father, for what reason I forget, refused his consent to their union; till, alarmed at the declining health of his son, he promised to oppose it no longer, if, after a separation of three years, they continued as much in love as ever.

We were now arrived at a pavilion that commanded one of the noblest prospects imaginable; the mountains, the sea, and the islands illuminated by the last beams of day; and, sitting down there, he proceeded with his usual vivacity; for the sadness, that had come across him, was gone.

There lived in the fourteenth century, near Bologna, a widow-lady of the Lambertini family, called Madonna Lucrezia, who in a revolution of the state had known the bitterness of poverty, and had even begged her bread; kneeling day after day like a statue at the gate of the cathedral; her rosary in her left hand and her right held out for charity; her long black veil concealing a face that had once adorned a court, and had received the homage of as many sonnets as Petrarch has written on Laura.

But fortune had at last relented; a legacy from a distant relation had come to her relief; and she was now the mistress of a small inn at the foot of the Apennines; where she entertained as well as she could, and where those only stopped who were contented with a little. The house was still standing, when in my youth I passed that way; though the sign of the White Cross, the Cross of the Hospitallers, was no longer to be seen over the door; a sign which she had taken, if we may believe the tradition there, in honor of a maternal uncle, a grand-master of that Order, whose achievements in Palestine she would sometimes relate. A mountain-stream ran through the garden; and at no great distance, where the road turned on its way to Bologna, stood a little chapel, in which a lamp was always burning before a picture of the Virgin, a picture of great antiquity, the work of some Greek artist.

Here she was dwelling, respected by all who knew her; when an event took place, which threw her into the deepest affliction. It was at noon-day in September that three foot-travellers arrived, and, seating themselves on a bench under her vine-trellis, were supplied with a flagon of Aleatico by a lovely girl, her only child, the image of her former self. The eldest spoke like a Venetian, and his beard was short and pointed after the fashion of Venice. In his demeanor he affected great courtesy, but his look inspired little confidence; for when he smiled, which he did continually, it was with his lips only, not with his eyes; and they were always turned from yours. His companions were bluff and frank in their manner, and on their tongues had many a soldier's oath. Relying on that promise, he said, I set out on a In their hats they wore a medal, such as in that age long journey, but in my absence the usual arts were was often distributed in war; and they were eviresorted to. Our letters were intercepted; and false dently subalterns in one of those Free Bands which rumors were spread-first of my indifference, then were always ready to serve in any quarrel, if a serof my inconstancy, then of my marriage with a rich vice it could be called, where a battle was little more heiress of Sienna; and, when at length I returned than a mockery; and the slain, as on an opera-stage, to make her my own, I found her in a convent of were up and fighting to-morrow. Overcome with the Ursuline Nuns. She had taken the veil; and I, said heat, they threw aside their cloaks; and, with their he with a sigh-what else remained for me?—I went gloves tucked under their belts, continued for some into the church. time in earnest conversation.

At length they rose to go; and the Venetians thus addressed their Hostess. "Excellent Lady, may we

Yet many, he continued, as if to turn the conversation, very many have been happy though we were not; and, if I am not abusing an old man's privilege, leave under your roof, for a day or two, this bag of let me tell you a story with a better catastrophe. It gold ?" "You may," she replied gaily. "But remem was told to me when a boy; and you may not be ber, we fasten only with a latch. Bars and bolts,

we have none in our village; and, if we had, where curtain, lest her beauty should divert their thoughts; would be your security?"

a precaution in this instance at least unnecessary, Lorenzo having lost his heart to another.'

"In your word, Lady."

"But what if I died to-night? Where would it be then?” said she, laughing. "The money would go to the Church; for none could claim it."

To him she flies in her necessity; but of what assistance can he be? He has just taken his place at the bar, but he has never spoken; and how stand up

"Perhaps you will favor us with an acknowledg-alone, unpractised and unprepared as he is, against ment." an array that would alarm the most experienced ?— Were I as mighty as I am weak," said he, "my fears for you would make me as nothing. But I will be there, Gianetta; and may the Friend of the

66

"If you will write it."

An acknowledgment was written accordingly, and she signed it before Master Bartolo, the village physician who had just called by chance to learn the news Friendless give me strength in that hour! Even now of the day; the gold to be delivered when applied my heart fails me; but, come what will, while I have for, but to be delivered (these were the words) not to a loaf to share, you and your mother shall never want. one-nor to two-but to the three; words wisely I will beg through the world for you."

introduced by those to whom it belonged, knowing| what they knew of each other. The gold they had just released from a miser's chest in Perugia; and they were now on a scent that promised more. They and their shadows were no sooner departed, tion of some minutes, the Judges are proceeding to than the Venetian returned, saying, "Give me leave give judgment, silence having been proclaimed in to set my seal on the bag, as the others have done;" the court, when Lorenzo rises and thus addresses and she placed it on a table before him. But in that them.

The day arrives, and the court assembles. The claim is stated, and the evidence given. And now the defence is called for-but none is made; not a syllable is uttered; and, after a pause and a consulta

moment she was called away to receive a Cavalier, "Reverend Signors. Young as I am, may I venture who had just dismounted from his horse; and, when to speak before you? I would speak in behalf of one she came back, it was gone. The temptation had who has none else to help her; and I will not keep proved irresistible; and the man and the money had you long. vanished together.

"Much has been said; much on the sacred nature of the obligation—and we acknowledge it in its full force. Let it be fulfilled, and to the last letter. It is what we solicit, what we require. But to whom is the bag of gold to be delivered? What says the bond? Not to one-not to two-but to the three. Let the three stand forth and claim it."

"Wretched woman that I am!" she cried, as in an agony of grief she fell on her daughter's neck, "What will become of us? Are we again to be cast out into the wide world?—Unhappy child, would that thou hadst never been born!" and all day long she lamented; but her tears availed her little. The others were not slow in returning to claim their due; and From that day, (for who can doubt the issue?) none there were no tidings of the thief: he had fled far were sought, none employed, but the subtle, the eloaway with his plunder. A process against her was quent Lorenzo. Wealth followed Fame; nor need I instantly begun in Bologna; and what defence could say how soon he sat at his marriage-feast, or who sat she make?—how release herself from the obligation beside him. of the bond? Wilfully or in negligence she had parted with it to one, when she should have kept it for all; and inevitable ruin awaited her!

XVII.

A CHARACTER.

"Go, Gianetta," said she to her daughter, "take ONE of two things Montrioli may have, this veil which your mother has worn and wept My envy or compassion. Both he cannot. under so often, and implore the Counsellor Calderino Yet on he goes, numbering as miseries, to plead for us on the day of trial. He is generous, What least of all he would consent to lose, and will listen to the unfortunate. But, if he will What most indeed he prides himself upon, not, go from door to door; Monaldi cannot refuse us. And, for not having, most despises me. Make haste, my child; but remember the chapel as "At morn the minister exacts an hour; you pass by it. Nothing prospers without a prayer." At noon the king. Then comes the council-board; And then the chase, the supper. When, ah! when, The leisure and the liberty I sigh for? Not when at home; at home a miscreant-crew, That now no longer serve me, mine the service. And then that old hereditary bore,

Alas, she went, but in vain. These were retained against them; those demanded more than they had to give; and all bade them despair. What was to be done? No advocate; and the cause to come on to-morrow!

Now Gianetta had a lover; and he was a student The steward, his stories longer than his rent-roll, of the law, a young man of great promise, Lorenzo Who enters, quill in ear, and, one by one, Martelli. He had studied long and diligently under As though I lived to write and wrote to live, that learned lawyer, Giovanni Andreas, who, though Unrolls his leases for my signature." little of stature, was great in renown, and by his contemporaries was called the Arch-doctor, the Rabbi of Doctors, the Light of the World. Under him he had studied, sitting on the same bench with Petrarch; and also under his daughter, Novella, who would often lecture to the scholars, when her father was otherwise engaged, placing herself behind a small

He clanks his fetters to disturb my peace.
Yet who would wear them, and become the slave

1 Ce pourroit être, says Bayle, la matière d'un joli problême. on pourroit examiner si cette fille avançoit, ou si elle retardoit le profit de ses auditeurs, en leur cachant son beau visage. Ily auroit cent choses à dire pour et contre là-dessus.

Of wealth and power, renouncing willingly
His freedom, and the hours that fly so fast,
A burden or a curse when misemploy'd,
But to the wise how precious!-every day
A little life, a blank to be inscribed
With gentle deeds, such as in after-time
Console, rejoice, whene'er we turn the leaf
To read them? All, wherever in the scale,
Have, be they high or low, or rich or poor,
Inherit they a sheep-hook or a sceptre,
Much to be grateful for; but most has he,
Born in that middle sphere, that temperate zone,
Where Knowledge lights his lamp, there most secure,
And Wisdom comes, if ever, she who dwells
Above the clouds, above the firmament,
That Seraph sitting in the heaven of heavens.

And they, the few, that have it ere they earn it,
Having by favor or inheritance,

These dangerous gifts placed in their idle hands,
And all that should await on worth well-tried,
All in the glorious days of old reserved
For manhood most mature or reverend age,
Know not, nor ever can, the generous pride
That glows in him who on himself relies,
Entering the lists of life.

Then were the nations by her wisdom sway'd;
And every crime on every sea was judged
According to her judgments. In her port
Prows, strange, uncouth, from Nile and Niger met,
People of various feature, various speech;

What men most covet, wealth, distinction, power, And in their countries many a house of prayer,
Are baubles nothing worth, that only serve
To rouse us up, as children in the schools
Are roused up to exertion. The reward
Is in the race we run, not in the prize;

XVIII.
SORRENTO.

HE who sets sail from Naples, when the wind
Blows fragrance from Posilipo, may soon,
Crossing from side to side that beautiful lake,
Land underneath the cliff, where once among
The children gathering shells along the shore,
One laugh'd and play'd, unconscious of his fate;1
His to drink deep of sorrow, and, through life,
To be the scorn of them that knew him not,
Trampling alike the giver and his gift,
The gift a pearl precious, inestimable,
A lay divine, a lay of love and war,
To charm, ennoble, and, from age to age,
Sweeten the labor, when the oar was plied
Or on the Adrian or the Tuscan sea.

There would I linger-then go forth again,
And hover round that region unexplored,
Where to Salvator (when, as some relate,
By chance or choice he led a bandit's life,
Yet oft withdrew, alone and unobserved,
To wander through those awful solitudes)
Nature reveal'd herself. Unveil'd she stood,
In all her wildness, all her majesty,
As in that elder time, ere Man was made.

There would I linger-then go forth again;
And he who steers due east, doubling the cape,
Discovers, in a crevice of the rock,
The fishing-town, Amalfi. (165) Haply there

1 Tasso.

A heaving bark, an anchor on the strand,
May tell him what it is; but what it was,
Cannot be told so soon.

The time has been,
When on the quays along the Syrian coast,
'T was ask'd and eagerly, at break of dawn,
"What ships are from Amalfi ?" when her coins,
Silver and gold, circled from clime to clime;
From Alexandria southward to Sennaar,
And eastward, through Damascus and Cabul
And Samarcand, to thy, great wall, Cathay.

And many a shelter, where no shelter was,
And many a well, like Jacob's in the wild,
Rose at her bidding. Then in Palestine,
By the way-side, in sober grandeur stood
An Hospital, that, night and day, received
The pilgrims of the west; (166) and, when 't was

ask'd,

"Who are the noble founders ?" every tongue
At once replied, "The merchants of Amalfi."
That Hospital, when Godfrey scaled the walls,
Sent forth its holy men in complete steel;
And hence, the cowl relinquish'd for the helm,
That chosen band, valiant, invincible,
So long renown'd as champions of the Cross,
In Rhodes, in Malta.

For three hundred years,
There, unapproach'd but from the deep, they dwelt,
Assail'd for ever, yet from age to age
Acknowledging no master. From the deep
They gather'd in their harvests; bringing home,
In the same ship, relics of ancient Greece, (167)
That land of glory where their fathers lay,
Grain from the golden vales of Sicily, (168)
And Indian spices. When at length they fell,
Losing their liberty, they left mankind
A legacy, compared with which the wealth
Of Eastern kings-what is it in the scale?-
The mariner's compass.

They are now forgot,
And with them all they did, all they endured,
Struggling with fortune. When Sicardi stood,
And, with a shout like thunder, cried, "Come forth,
And serve me in Salerno!" forth they came,
Covering the sea, a mournful spectacle;
The women wailing, and the heavy oar
Falling unheard. Not thus did they return,
The tyrant slain; (169) though then the grass of years
Grew in their streets.

There now to him who sails
Under the shore, a few white villages,
Scatter'd above, below, some in the clouds,
Some on the margin of the dark-blue sea,
And glittering through their lemon-groves, announce
The region of Amalfi. Then, half-fallen,
A lonely watch-tower on the precipice,
Their ancient land-mark, comes. Long may it last;
And to the seaman in a distant age,
Though now he little thinks how large his debt,
Serve for their monument! (170)

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

XIX.
PÆSTUM

THEY stand between the mountains and the sea;
Awful memorials, but of whom we know not!!
The seaman, passing, gazes from the deck.
The buffalo-driver, in his shaggy cloak,
Points to the work of magic and moves on.
Time was they stood along the crowded street,
Temples of Gods! and on their ample steps
What various habits, various tongues beset
The brazen gates for prayer and sacrifice!
Time was perhaps the third was sought for Justice;

And here the accuser stood, and there the accused;
And here the judges sate, and heard, and judged.
All silent now!-as in the ages past,
Trodden under foot and mingled, dust with dust.

How many centuries did the sun go round
From Mount Alburnus to the Tyrrhene sea,
While, by some spell render'd invisible,
Or, if approach'd, approach'd by him alone
Who saw as though he saw not, they remain'd
As in the darkness of a sepulchre,
Waiting the appointed time! All, all within
Proclaims that Nature had resumed her right,
And taken to herself what man renounced;
No cornice, triglyph, or worn abacus,
But with thick ivy hung or branching fern;
Their iron-brown o'erspread with brightest verdure!

From my youth upward have I longed to tread
This classic ground-And am I here at last?
Wandering at will through the long porticoes,
And catching, as through some majestic grove,
Now the blue ocean, and now, chaos-like,
Mountains and mountain gulfs, and, half-way up,
Towns like the living rock from which they grew?
A cloudy region, black and desolate,
Where once a slave withstood a world in arms.

The air is sweet with violets, running wild (171)
'Mid broken friezes and fallen capitals;
Sweet as when Tully, writing down his thoughts,
Those thoughts so precious and so lately lost, (172)
(Turning to thee, divine Philosophy,
Ever at hand to calm his troubled soul)
Sail'd slowly by, two thousand years ago,
For Athens; when a ship, if north-east winds
Blew from the Prestan gardens, slack'd her course.

On as he moved along the level shore,
These temples, in their splendor eminent.
Mid arcs and obelisks, and domes and towers,
Reflecting back the radiance of the west,
Well might He dream of Glory!-Now, coil'd up,
The serpent sleeps within them; the she-wolf
Suckles her young: and, as alone I stand
In this, the nobler pile, the elements
Of earth and air its only floor and covering,
How solemn is the stillness! Nothing stirs

1 The temples of Pæstum are three in number; and have survived, nearly nine centuries, the total destruction of the city. Tradition is silent concerning them; but they must have existed now between two and three thousand years.

2 Spartacus. See Plutarch in the life of Crassus.

Save the shrill-voiced cicala flitting round
On the rough pediment to sit and sing;
And up the fluted shaft with short quick motion,
Or the green lizard rustling through the grass,
To vanish in the chinks that Time has made.

In such an hour as this, the sun's broad disk
Seen at his setting, and a flood of light
Filling the courts of these old sanctuaries,
(Gigantic shadows, broken and confused,
Across the innumerable columns flung)
Led by the mighty Genius of the Place,'
In such an hour he came, who saw and told,

Walls of some capital city first appear'd,
Half razed, half sunk, or scatter'd as in scorn;
-And what within them? what but in the midst
These Three in more than their original grandeur
And, round about, no stone upon another?
As if the spoiler had fallen back in fear,
And, turning, left them to the elements.

"T is said a stranger in the days of old
(Some say a Dorian, some a Sybarite;
But distant things are ever lost in clouds),
"T is said a stranger came, and, with his plow,
Traced out the site; and Posidonia rose, (173)
Severely great, Neptune the tutelar God;
A Homer's language murmuring in her streets,
And in her haven many a mast from Tyre.
Then came another, an unbidden guest.
He knock'd and enter'd with a train in arms;
And all was chang her very name and language
The Tyrian merchant, shipping at his door
Ivory and gold, and silk, and frankincense,
Sail'd as before, but sailing, cried "For Pæstum !"
And now a Virgil, now an Ovid sung
Pæstum's twice-blowing roses; while, within,
Parents and children mourn'd-and, every year,
("T was on the day of some old festival)
Talk'd in the ancient tongue of things gone by.2
Met to give way to tears, and once again,
At length an Arab climb'd the battlements,

Slaying the sleepers in the dead of night;
And from all eyes the glorious vision fled!
Leaving a place lonely and dangerous,
Where whom the robber spares, a deadlier foe3
Strikes at unseen-and at a time when joy
Opens the heart, when summer-skies are blue,
And the clear air is soft and delicate;
For then the demon works-then with that air
The thoughtless wretch drinks in a subtle poison
Lulling to sleep; and, when he sleeps, he dies.

[blocks in formation]

XX.

MONTE CASSINO.

"WHAT hangs behind that curtain ?" (174) "Wouldst thou learn?

If thou art wise, thou wouldst not. "Tis by some
Believed to be his master-work, who look'd
Beyond the grave, and on the chapel-wall,
As though the day were come, were come and past,
Drew the Last Judgment.'-But the Wisest err.
He who in secret wrought, and gave it life,
For life is surely there and visible change, (175)
Life, such as none could of himself impart,
(They who behold it, go not as they came,
But meditate for many and many a day)
Sleeps in the vault beneath. We know not much;
But what we know, we will communicate.
"Tis in an ancient record of the House;
And may it make thee tremble, lest thou fall!

Once on a Christmas-eve-ere yet the roof Rung with the hymn of the Nativity, There came a stranger to the convent-gate, And ask'd admittance; ever and anon, As if he sought what most he fear'd to find, Looking behind him. When within the walls, These walls so sacred and inviolable, Still did he look behind him; oft and long, With haggard eye and curling, quivering lip, Catching at vacancy. Between the fits, For here, 't is said, he linger'd while he lived, He would discourse, and with a mastery, A charm by none resisted, none explain'd, Unfelt before; but when his cheek grew pale, All was forgotten. Then, howe'er employed, He would break off, and start as if he caught A glimpse of something that would not be gone; And turn and gaze, and shrink into himself, As though the Fiend was there, and, face to face, Scowl'd o'er his shoulder.

Most devout he was; Most unremitting in the Services; Then, only then, untroubled, unassail'd; And, to beguile a melancholy hour, Would sometimes exercise that noble art He learnt in Florence; with a master's hand, As to this day the Sacristy attests, Painting the wonders of the Apocalypse.

At length he sunk to rest, and in his cell Left, when he went, a work in secret done, The portrait, for a portrait it must be, That hangs behind the curtain. Whence he drew, None here can doubt: for they that come to catch The faintest glimpse-to catch it and be gone, Gaze as he gazed, then shrink into themselves, Acting the self-same part. But why 'twas drawn, Whether in penance, to atone for Guilt, Or to record the anguish Guilt inflicts, Or haply to familiarize his mind With what he could not fly from, none can say, For none could learn the burden of his soul."

1 Michael Angelo.

XXI.

THE HARPER.

It was a Harper, wandering with his harp, His only treasure; a majestic man, By time and grief ennobled, not subdued; Though from his height descending, day by day, And, as his upward look at once betray'd, Blind as old Homer. At a fount he sate, Well-known to many a weary traveller; His little guide, a boy not seven years old, But grave, considerate beyond his years, Sitting beside him. Each had ate his crust In silence, drinking of the virgin-spring; And now in silence, as their custom was, The sun's decline awaited.

But the child Was worn with travel. Heavy sleep weigh'd down His eye-lids; and the grandsire, when we came, Embolden'd by his love and by his fear, His fear lest night o'ertake them on the road, Humbly besought me to convey them both A little onward. Such small services Who can refuse?-Not I; and him who can, Blest though he be with every earthly gift, I cannot envy. He, if wealth be his, Knows not its uses. So from noon till night, Within a crazed and tatter'd vehicle, (176) That yet display'd, in old emblazonry,

A shield as splendid as the Bardi wear; (177)
We lumber'd on together; the old man
Beguiling many a league of half its length,
When question'd the adventures of his life,
And all the dangers he had undergone;
His shipwrecks on inhospitable coasts,
And his long warfare.

They were bound, he said, To a great fair at Reggio; and the boy, Believing all the world were to be there, And I among the rest, let loose his tongue, And promised me much pleasure. His short trance, Short as it was, had, like a charmed cup, Restored his spirit, and, as on we crawl'd, Slow as the snail (my muleteer dismounting, And now his mules addressing, now his pipe, And now Luigi) he pour'd out his heart, Largely repaying me. At length the sun Departed, setting in a sea of gold;

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »