« AnteriorContinuar »
struct the primeval chaos. The tables, and especially the carpet, were already stained with large spots of various hues, which frequently proclaimed the agency of fire. An electrical machine, an air pump, the galvanic trough, a solar microscope, and large glass jars and receivers, were conspicuous amidst the mass of matter. Upon the table, by his side, were some books lying open, a bundle of new pens, and a bottle of japan ink, with many chips, and a handsome razor, that had been used as a knife. There were bottles of sodawater, sugar, pieces of lemon, and the traces of an effervescent beverage.
"Such, with some variations, was, as they come back on me, the appearance of Shelley and his rooms during this visit to him in the November of 1810.'"
Can Captain Medwin be serious when he classes Shelley with Milton and Pope, or when he makes him form a trio of celebrity with Shakespeare and Schiller, or places him above Collins and Otway? Such comparison is ridiculous. The author of The Pleasures of Hope," boldly declared that Shelley was no poet at all, and there are undeniably many who go to nearly the length of the opinion. Take from Shelley's writings the daring nature of his language, which has an execrable zest for some; take, also, away his prominent connexion with an unworthy class, and his association with Lord Byron, and we maintain that much of his attraction ceases. In proof, how seldom are even his innoxious verses now-a-days read? Shelley's main feature was his infidelity; he was little remarkable without it. Not so Byron, who was in his very essence great his anti-religion, when it occurred, came as a foul deformity. It was the only speck upon his sun-the only dimming spot upon the matchless beauty of his verse. But we digress; let us return to the memoir. The following episode is elegantly written :
"Pwas amico di casa and confessor to a noble family, one of the most distinguished for its antiquity of any at Pisa, where its head then filled a post of great authority. By his first countess he had two grown-up daughters, and in his old age had the boldness, the audacity I might say, to take unto him a wife not much older than either. The lady, whose beauty did not rival that of the Count's children, was naturally jealous of their charms, and deemed them dangerous rivals in the eyes of her Cavaliere; and exerting all her influence over her infatuated husband, persuaded him, though their education was completed, to immure them in two convents (pensions, I should say, or as they are called, conservatorios) in his native city. The Professor, who had known them from infancy, and been their instructor in languages and polite literature, made the Contessinas frequent subjects of conversation. He told us that the father was not over rich, owing to his young wife's extravagance; that he was avaricious withal, and did not like to disburse their dowries, which, as fixed by law, must be in proportion to the father's fortune, and was waiting till some one would take them off his hands without a dote. He spoke most enthuiastically of the beauty and accomplishments of Emilia, the eldest, adding, that she had been confined for two years in the convent of St. A'Poverina,' he said, with a deep sigh, 'she pines like a bird in a cage-ardently longs to escape from her prison-house,-pines with ennui, and wanders about the corridors like an unquiet spirit; she sees her young days glide on without an aim or purpose. She was made for love. Yesterday she was watering some flowers in her cell-she has nothing else to love but her flowers-Yes,' said she, addressing them, you are born to vegetate, but we thinking beings were made for action-not to be penned up in a corner, or set at a window to blow and die.' A miserable place is that convent of St. A-,' he added; and if you had seen, as I have done, the poor pensionnaires shut up in that narrow, suffocating street, in the summer, (for it does rot possess a garden,) and in the winter as now, shivering with cold, being allowed nothing to warm
them but a few ashes, which they carry about in an earthen vase,—you would pity them.'
"This little story deeply interested Shelley, and Ppoet and myself should pay the captive a visit in the parloir.
· proposed that the "The next day, accompanied by the priest, we came in sight of the gloomy, dark convent, whose ruinous and dilapidated condition told too plainly of confiscation and poverty. It was situate in an unfrequented street in the suburbs, not far from the walls. After passing through a gloomy portal, that led to a quadrangle, the area of which was crowded with crosses, memorials of old monastic times, we were soon in the presence of Emilia. The fair recluse reminded me (and with her came the remembrance of Mephisto) of Margaret. "Time seemed to her
To crawl with shackled feet, and at her window
She is as quiet as a child.'
"Emilia was indeed lovely and interesting. Her profuse black hair, tied in the most simple knot, after the manner of a Greek Muse in the Florence gallery, displayed to its full height, her brow, fair as that of the marble of which I speak. "She was also of about the same height as the antique. Her features possessed a rare faultlessness, and almost German contour, the nose and forehead making a straight line, a style of face so rare, that I remember Bartolini's telling Byron that he had scarcely an instance of such in the numerous casts of busts which his studio contained. Her eyes had the sleepy voluptuousness, if not the colour, of Beatrice Cenci's. They had, indeed, no definite colour, changing with the changing feeling, to dark or light, as the soul animated them. Her cheek was pale, too, as marble owing to her confinement and want of air, or perhaps to thought.' There was a lark in the parloir, that had lately been caught. 'Poor prisoner,' said she, looking at it compassionately, 'you will die of grief! How I pity thee! What must thou suffer, when thou hearest in the clouds, the songs of thy parent birds, or some flocks of thy kind on the wing, in search of other skies-of new fields-of new delights! But like me, thou wilt be forced to remain here always-to wear out thy miserable existence here. Why can I not release thee?
"Might not Shelley have taken from this pathetic lamentation, his—
"Poor captive bird! who from thy narrow cage,
and the sequel,
"High spirit-winged heart! who dost for ever
Stains with dear blood its unmaternal nest.'
"Such was the impression of the only visit I paid Emilia; but I saw her some weeks after, at the end of a carnival, when she had obtained leave to visit Mrs. Shelley, accompanied by the abbess. In spite of the contessina's efforts to assume cheerfulness, one might see she was very, very sad; but she made no complaint; she had grown used, to suffering-it had become her element,"
"But Emilia's term of bondage was about to expire; she was affianced to a VOL. IV., NO. XX.
man whom she had never seen, and who was incapable of appreciating ber talents and virtues. She was about to be removed from the scenes of her youth, the place of her birth, her father on whom she doted, and to be buried in the Mahremma. The day of her wedding was fixed, but a short respite took place for a reason mentioned in a letter of Shelley to Mrs. Shelley (from Ravenna), where he says, 'Have you heard anything of my poor Emelia? from whom I got a letter the day of my departure, saying, that her marriage was deferred on account of the illness of her sposo' and in another letter he expresses, what in the fragment of Genevra, too well typified the fate of that unfortunate lady, the poor sacrificed Emilia,-his fears as to what she was destined to suffer. The sacrifice was at length completed, and she was soon as much forgotten as if she had never existed-though not by Shelley.
"I am enabled to detail the consequences of this ill-starred union, to finish her biography. Some years after, P- who had several times during his feverish existence, been reduced to abject poverty and distress, by his reckless extravagance, his rage for travelling, though his journeys never extended beyond Leghorn on the one hand, and Florence on the other, and where he used to indulge in all manner of excesses, and which brought about the same result,. the sequestration of his ecclesiastical preferment, and imprisonment by his creditors till his debts were liquidated-made his appearance at the capital of Tuscany, where I then was. He found at Florence a wider field for his operations, and shewed himself a not less active and busy-body Diavolo incarnato. He did not forget our old acquaintanceship at Shelley's, and haunted me like an unquiet spirit. One day, when at my house, he said mysteriously,— 'I will introduce you to an old friend-come with me.' The coachman was ordered to drive to a part of the city with which I was a stranger, and drew up at a country house in the suburbs. The villa, which at once boasted considerable pretensions, was in great disrepair. The court, leading to it, overgrown with weeds, proved that it had been for some years untenanted. An old woman led us through a number of long passages and rooms, many of the windows in which were broken, and let in the cold blasts from the wind-swept Apennine; and opening at length a door, ushered us into a chamber, where a small bed and a couple of chairs formed the whole furniture. The couch was covered with white gauze curtains, to exclude the gnats; behind them was lying a female form. She immediately recognised me-was, probably, prepared for my visit-and extended her thin hand to me in greeting. So changed that recumbent figure, that I could scarcely recognise a trace of the once beautiful Emilia. Shelley's evil augury had been fulfilled-she had found in her marriage all that he had predicted; for six years she led a life of purgatory, and had at length broken the chain, with the consent of her father; who had lent her this long disused and dilapidated Campagne. I might fill many a page by speaking of the tears she shed over the memory of Shelley,but enough she did not long enjoy her freedom. Shortly after this interview, she was confined to her bed; the seeds of malaria, which had been sown in the Mahremma, combined with that all-irremediable malady-broken-heartedness, brought on rapid consumption.
And so she pined, and so she died forlorn.'
The old woman who had been her nurse, made me a long narration of her last moments, as she wept bitterly. I wept too, when I thought of Shelley's Psyche, and his Epipsychidion."
With this pretty extract, separate from the main course of the work, we conclude our notice, and, in doing so, we reassert that, despite of its able writing and its interest, we should rather have had this book unpublished. While Shakespeare, and Milton, and Cowper, and other pure, undying lights illuminate the land-while Pope and Byron must, too, shine brilliantly on, because of the good and the greatness that lie amongst their evil, we may surely suffer Shelley, and the unsafe emanations of his brain, to be mercifully forgotten.
NEW CURIOSITIES OF LITERATURE AND BOOK OF THE MONTHS. By GEORGE SOANE, B.A. London, E. Churton, 1847.
D'ISRAELI rendered “the Curiosities of Literature" so interesting, that Mr. Soane has done well to avail himself of the attraction the very title affords. Here, however, the resemblance between the two writers ends. Their objects are altogether different, and their plan and style equally dissimilar. For the anecdotal, gossiping pages of the senior illustrator, Mr. Soane offers deep research, great antiquarian knowledge, and a thorough acquaintance with the ceremonies, customs, and manners of the olden time, from which patient investigation and extensive reading have enabled him to elicit facts of the deepest interest to the historical enquirer.
The book comprises twelve divisions, each devoted to a particular month, descriptive of its origin, name, Saints' days, festivals, traditions, and customs; antiquarian and historical illustrations enrich every description, and the whole forms one of the most valuable works that has for a length of time issued from the press.
We can make but one extract, and that shall refer to the coming festival of Christmas :
"CHRISTMAS EVE; December 24th.-In the primitive church Christmas Day was always observed as a Sabbath, and hence, like other Lord's-Days, it was preceded by an Eve or Vigil as an occasion of preparing for the day following. No festival of the church was attended by more popular superstitions and observances, the ceremonies of the Saturnalia from which it was derived being improved upon by Christian and Druidical additions. The day of this Vigil was passed in the ordinary manner, but with the evening the sports began; about seven or eight o'clock hot cakes were drawn from the oven; ale, cyder, and spirits, went freely round; and the carol-singing commenced, which was continued through the greater part of the night.
"The connection of this festival with the Roman Saturnalia has never been disputed by those competent to form a judgment, and in some existing observances in Franconia the traces of it are undeniable. In the nights of the three Thursdays preceding the nativity, the young of either sex go about beating at the doors of the houses singing the near birth of our Saviour, and wishing the inhabitants a happy new year, for which, in return, they are presented with pears, apples, nuts, and money. With what joy in the churches not only the priests, but the people also, receive the birth-day of Christ may be inferred from this, that the image of a new-born child being placed upon the altar, they dance and chaunt as they circle round it, while the elders sing much as the Corybantes are fabled to have exulted about the crying Jove in the cavern of Mount Ida.
"In addition to what has been here advanced, we have the unquestionable authority of Bede for asserting that it had been observed in this country long before by the heathen Saxons. They called it, he says, the Mother-Night, or Night of Mothers, and probably on account of the ceremonies used by them during their vigil. But, in fact, though particular portions of this festival may be traced to the Romans or to the ancient Saxons, the root of the whole affair lies much deeper, and is to be sought in far remoter periods. It was clearly in its origin an astronomical observance to celebrate the Winter Solstice and the consequently approaching prolongation of the days, as is demonstrated by the emblematic Christmas candles and Yule-logs, the symbols of increasing light and heat.
"CHRISTMAS DAY.-December 25. There is much doubt as to the origin of this festival. The earliest churchman who makes any mention of it is Theo
philus, bishop of Antioch, about the year 170, in his paschal letter, and for the first four centuries it was far from being universally celebrated. It is even a matter of great uncertainty when it should be kept, and Cassian tells us that the Egyptians observed the Epiphany, the Nativity, and Baptism of Christ on the same day; while modern chronologists, at the head of whom is Scaliger, agree that Christ was born at the end of September or the beginning of October, about the time of the Jewish Feast of the Tabernacles.
"In the earlier ages this day was called in the Eastern Church the Epiphany, or Manifestation of the Light, a name which was subsequently given to Twelfth Night. On this occasion it was used allusively to the birth of Christ, and hence also came the custom, which prevailed in the ancient church, of lighting up candles at the reading of the gospels even at mid-day, partly to testify the general joy, and partly to symbolize the new light that was shining on mankind. The fact is incidently mentioned by Jerome while defending the worship of relicks and dead men's bones against the attacks of Vigilantius, who, it seems had loudly protested against any such practice on the heretical plea that the intercession of the saints was useless. But Vigilantius was altogether a doubtful character; he maintained that it was idle to burn wax-tapers by day-light, that alms ought not to be sent to Jerusalem, that clerical celibacy was abominable, and the retirement of monks into the deserts and solitudes was no better. No wonder that the wrath of the mild and gentle Jerome should blaze forth as it did against such doctrines as these; a saint may be provoked, if we can believe the proverb.
"This day was also called Theopany, which means much the same thing as Epiphany, but which can hardly be traced beyond the time of St. Basil.
"Christmas would also appear to have been called Noel or Nowel, though this latter word was used with three or four very different meanings.
"First, it signified the season of Christmas, that is to say the time of the festival commemorative of Christ's nativity; thus in the old French proverb, on a tant crie Noël qu'enfin il est venu-literally, we have cried out Christmas so long that it has come at last-but meaning to imply we have talked of a thing so long that at last it has happened.
Secondly, it signifies a carol, when that word is restricted in its use to a song, or hymn upon the nativity, but, as we shall presently see, the carol was sung at other seasons also; thus for example, Les Noëls du Sieur François Colletet sont de plaisans Noëls.
Thirdly, it signifies news or tidings; as for instance,
666 'I come from Heaven to tell
The best nowellis that ever befell;
Fourthly, it was used merely as an exclamation of joy, if, indeed, it would not still seem to be employed as before, News! news! thus,
"Nowell! nowell! nowell! nowell!
Who ys ther that syngyt so, nowell! nowell?'
But though this would appear to be one and the same word, only used in different senses, I cannot help suspecting that we have two words sprung from very different roots and corrupted by time into the same mode of writing and pronouncing. Noël, when signifying 'tidings,' is likely enough to have come from the French nouvelles, though I would not venture to affirm it; but in the other cases, I have no doubt whatever as to its origin; and in defiance of so many opposite derivations assert that Noël is neither more nor less than a corruption of Yole, Yule, Gale, or Ule, for it was written in all these ways; the addition of N to words beginning with a vowel is so common in our old writers that few can be ignorant of it, and the phrase is just as applicable to Christmas as it was to Midsummer, seeing that at either time it bore a reference to the solstice. From having been used to designate Christmas, we may easily imagine how it came to be applied to the songs of the season, and even from frequent repetition to become a mere cry of joy. I am the more confirmed in