Review of Valperga
Valperga; or the Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca. By the Author of "Frankenstein." In Three Volumes. London: Printed for G. and W.B. Whittaker, Ave-Maria-Lane. 1823.
We opened the packet, which we knew to contain this book, with great expectations. Frankenstein, at the time of its appearance, we certainly did not suspect to be the work of a female hand; the name of Shelly was whispered, and we did not hesitate to attribute the book to Mr Shelley. Soon, however, we were set right. We learned that Frankenstein was written by Mrs Shelley; and then we most undoubtedly said to ourselves, "For a man it was excellent, but for a woman it is wonderful." What we chiefly admired, in that wild production, was vigour of imagination and strength of language; these were unquestionable attributes, and they redeemed the defects of an absurd groundwork and an incoherent fable; and, moreover, they tempted us, and every body else, to forgive the many long passages of feeble conception and feeble execution, with which the vigorous scenes were interwoven.
The history of Castruccio Castracani, on the other hand, had been long familiar to us in the glowing and energetic sketch of Machiavelli. Perhaps, on the whole, we should have been more rejoiced in the prospect of meeting Mrs Shelley again on the same dark territory, where she had first displayed so many striking powers; but the story of Castruccio we were willing to consider as not unlikely to furnish, in such hands, the basis and materials of a most romantic fiction. The bitter sarcasm that peeped out here and there in Frankenstein, will be displayed, said we, with the utmost advantage; for here the authoress has chosen for her hero, one who was not only the first soldier of his time, but the first satirist also. The marvellous rise of such a man to sovereign and tyrannic power, his preservation of all his original manners in that high estate, his deep ambition, his fiery valour, his sportive wit, his searing ironies, his untimely death, and the calm mockeries with which he prepared to meet it — here, said we, are noble materials, such as might well engage the fancy of the most gifted author. We must confess, that in much of what we looked for, we have been disappointed; but yet, even here at the outset, we do not hesitate to say, that if we have not met with what we expected, we have met with other things almost as good.
Our chief objection, indeed, may be summed up in one word. — Mrs Shelley has not done justice to the character of Castruccio. The life of him, by Machiavel, does not cover more than twenty or thirty duodecimo pages; yet, one rises from that brief sketch with a much more lively and perfect notion of the man, than from the perusal of the three closely printed volumes now on our table. There is not one spark of wit in all this book, and yet the keen Italian wit of Castruccio was one of the most striking features in his real character, and ought to have been among the most prominent in a work representing him throughout, in action and conversation. Machiavel, in two or three pages, tells stories enough to have suggested the true "Castruccoio vein." Who does not remember that famous one of his rebuking a young man, whom he met coming out of a house of ill fame, and who blushed on being recognized? "It was when you went in that you should have coloured," said Castruccio, "not when you come out." Who does not remember his behaviour in the storm at sea? Castruccio expressing some alarm, was rebuked by a stupid fool, who said, that for him he did not value his own life a farthing. "Everybody," quoth Castruccio, "makes the best estimate of his own wares." When a thick-skulled wine-bibber boasted that he could drink such and such quantities without being the worse of it — it was Castruccio who answered, "Aye, and your ox could drink still more if he had a mind." It was the sagacious Castruccio, who, when some sage friend abused him for the extravagances he had been guilty of at a debauch, made answer, "He that is held for a wise man by day, will hardly be taken for a fool at night." It was he that dumbfounded an orator, who concluded a long speech, by a wordy apology for his wordiness, with these consolatory words, "Pain not thyself, my dear sir, I was attending to my spaniel." — It was he, who, when he saw a certain envious one smiling to himself, asked, "Is it that some good hath befallen thee, or that some evil hath befallen another?" It was Castruccio, finally, who, when they came to his bedside, during his last illness, and asked his directions about his funeral, said, "Lay me on my face in the coffin — for everything will be reversed ere long after my departure."
Of all this sort of thing we have no trace in Mrs Shelley's book; and yet she appears to have contemplated a very full development of Castruccio's character. She gives us his infancy, his boyhood, his manhood, all in complete detail. The attempt, whether successful or not, certainly is made to depict the slow and gradual formation of a crafty and bloody Italian tyrant of the middle ages, out of an innocent, open-hearted and deeply-feeling youth. We suspect, that in the whole of this portraiture, far too much reliance has been laid on thoughts and feelings, not only modern, but modern and feminine at once. Perhaps we might say more; nay, perhaps we should not be saying too much, if we plainly expressed the opinion, that a very great part of Mrs Shelley's book has no inspiration, but that of a certain school, which is certainly a very modern, as well as a very mischievous one, and which ought never, of all things, to have numbered ladies among its disciples. But, in spite even of this, we have closed the book with no feelings but those of perfect kindness — and we shall say no more of matters that will, perhaps, suggest themselves to our readers quite strongly enough, without our giving ourselves any trouble.
Laying out of view Antelminelli's real life and character, we can have no hesitation in saying, that Mrs Shelley has given us a clever and amusing romance. Not doubting, that she will in due time make more attempts in the same way, we would fain point out, to so clever a person, faults which she might easily avoid in future, and which here, even more, perhaps, than in Frankenstein, neutralize much of her power. But, on further reflection, we believe the best way will be to leave all this to the working of experience. A very little consideration must be enough to shew such a writer the absurdity of introducing so many pure episodes. The framer of an historical romance should not be reminding us at every turn, that his principal object is to shew off his own knowledge of strange manners, or power of fine writing. If quaint manners are to be quaintly and strongly represented, the incidents, with which these are connected, ought to have a strict connexion with, and influence over, the progress of the fable, or at least the development of the principal characters of the fable. We cannot stand the stepping aside for ten pages, merely for the purpose of letting us see, that the writer knows the way in which the Mysteries of the middle ages were represented, either on, or off the Arno — we cannot spare four days of the life of Castruccio Castraccani to singers and tale-tellers, and so forth, with whom he and his story have nothing to do — we abhor all unnecessary prosing about religious sects, and we are mortally sick of "orange-tinted skies," "dirges," and "Dante."
Another thing we are very sick of, is this perpetual drumming at poor Buonaparte. That singular character is already the hero of fifty romances. Wherever one turns, he is sure to be met by the same sort of lame, impotent, and abortive attempts to shadow out Napoleon under the guise and semblance of some greater or smaller usurper of ancient days. On one hand we have that shallow "gentleman of the press," M. Jouy, labouring to bring him out en Sylla. On the other, there is an, if possible, still greater and more frothy goose, "M. le Vicompte d'Arlincourt," hammering away at Charles Martel and his RENEGADE. Here we find Mrs Shelley flinging over the grey surtout and cocked hat of the great captain of France, the blazoned mantle of a fierce Condottiere of Lucca. — Anon, no question, we shall have this same crambe recocta served up à la Cromwell, à la Cæsar, à la Tamerlane! Will nothing persuade all these rhapsodists to let a great man's ashes repose, at least until they have had time to cool in the urn? As for Jouy and the Viscount d'Arlincourt, they are apparently two perfect ninnies, so let them rave away about anything they please, — even though the Quarterly, descending from its usual high character, should puff their vile crudities and passionless rant, no human being blessed with half an eye will waste three minutes' thought upon them — But Mrs Shelley has talents which cannot be perverted with so much impunity. She is capable, and she is worthy of other things; and were it but that she is the daughter of Godwin, we should be sorry to find her persisting in the chase of such claptraps. For heaven's sake, leave all this nonsense to the "grande pensée" of little Jouy, the "Imagination haute et sublime" of the noble Viscount, and the "legs and impudence" of "Le Docteur O'Meara," — and for heaven's sake, let us have no more puffs of such stuff from any quarter more reputable than Sir Pythagoras.
But enough of preliminaries. We have ventured, throwing a thousand defects out of view, to recommend Valperga, as, on the whole, a clever novel. It must now be our business to justify ourselves and our opinion, by a few extracts from the book. And, following a plan which we would always wish to adhere to, in reviewing novels, we shall endeavour to do what is necessary for our own purposes, without interfering to any considerable extent with the pleasure which our Readers may hereafter seek for in the pages of VALPERGA itself. That is to say, we shall keep to one particular part of the story, leaving all the wide stream of Mrs Shelley's narrative pure and untouched, for the refreshment of those whose thirst it ought to be our business to excite, not to assuage.
In order to make our extracts in some degree intelligible, Valperga is the name of a castle and small independent territory not far from Lucca. Euthanasia, Countess of Valperga, is in her own person a sovereign princess, but a warm lover of freedom, and much attached, by family connexions, to Florence, the capital of the Guelphic cause in Italy. She had been the companion of Castruccio's boyhood — she meets him while his manhood is opening in glory, and she loves him because she believes he is, and is to be, all that is good, as well as all that is glorious. The Ghibelline Castruccio, however, becomes in time a prince, a tyrant, the conqueror of half Tuscany, the dreadful threatener of annihilation to Florence. Euthanasia discovering this, will not marry him as she had promised. — From less to more she even becomes his enemy, in all but the heart ; — he takes her castle from her — and reduces her to a private station : — in a word, the author has sought the chief materials of interest for her story, in the play of passions called into action by the various relations in which the usurper and this charming lady, the love of his youth, appear throughout the narrative.
By far the most striking part of this history, however, and indeed we may add, by far the finest part of the book, is that in which the loves of Castruccio and Euthanasia are broken and disturbed by those of Castruccio and a certain Beatrice of Ferrara.
This Beatrice is a most exquisite beauty of seventeen — invested in her own eyes, and in the superstitious eyes of all about her, with certain mysterious attributes. This beautiful maiden has the enthusiasm, and the pride, and the daring confidence of a priestess, a martyr, and a prophetess. She conceives herself to have been sent into the world and gifted by God for the accomplishment of some high and holy work. She expounds the language of the stars — her dark eyes kindle the souls of congregated men — she is worshipped, adored, reverenced — no one dreams or dares of connecting the idea of love with that of the "ANCILLA DEI."
Castruccio comes to Ferrara for the purpose of arranging a political revolution, in which Beatrice plays a distinguished part. They meet continually; he reveres her as a nun, but cannot be blind to her excessive beauty. She reveres him as the chosen warrior of what she imagines to be the cause of right — the man of the age, the hero of the world. Her soul is bathed in the flood of a new and overmastering passion, and boldly indeed does Mrs Shelley paint her feelings and her actions.
" Thus many hours passed, and when at length the prophetess retired, it was to feverish meditation, and thoughts burning with passion, rendered still more dangerous from her belief in the divine nature of all that suggested itself to her mind. She prayed to the Virgin to inspire her; and again giving herself up to reverie, she wove a subtle web, whose materials she believed heavenly, but which were indeed stolen from the glowing wings of love. Kneeling, her eyes raised to heaven, she felt the same commotion in her soul, which she had felt before, and had recognised as divine inspiration; she felt the same uncontrollable transport and burst of imaginative vision, which she believed to flow immediately from the invisible ray of heaven-derived prophecy. She felt her soul, as it were, fade away, and incorporate itself with another and a diviner spirit, which whispered truth and knowledge to her mind, and then slowly receding, left her human nature, agitated, joyful, and exhausted ; —— these were her dreams — alas ! to her they were realities.
"The following morning she again met Castruccio in the chamber of the bishop. She now looked upon him fearlessly; and, if the virgin modesty of her nature had not withheld her, her words would have been as frank as she innocently believed them to be inspired. But, although she was silent, her looks told that she was changed. Her manner the day before had been soft, concentrated, and retiring ; now she was unconstrained; her eyes sparkled, and a joyous expression dwelt in every feature. Her manner towards her guardian was endearing, nor was the affectionate modulation of her voice different when she addressed his guest. Castruccio started to hear it. It reminded him of the accents of Euthanasia, whom for a while he had forgotten; and, looking at Beatrice, he thought, "How lovely she is, and yet how unlike!"
" Several days passed thus; Beatrice became embarrassed; it seemed as if she wished to speak to Castruccio, and yet dared not; when she approached, she blushed, and again drew back, and would again seek him, but again vainly. She had framed the mode of her address, conned and reconned the words she should say; but, when an opportunity occurred to utter them, her voice failed her, the memory of what she was about to utter deserted her, and it was not until the approach of a third person took from her the possibility of speaking, that speech again returned, and the lost occasion was uselessly lamented. At night she sought the counsels of heaven, and gave herself up to her accustomed ecstasies; they always told her the same things, until to her bewildered and untamed mind it seemed as if the spirit that had power over her, reprimanded her hesitation, her little trust in the promises of Heaven, and her reluctance to follow the path it pointed out.
" 'Surely, oh! most certainly,' she thought, 'thus I am commanded by the Power who has so often revealed his will to me. Can I penetrate his hidden designs? Can I do more than execute his decrees? Did I not feel thus, when, with prophetic transport, I foretold distant events that surely came to pass? When I foresaw, yet afar off, the death of Lorenzo, that lovely child blooming in health, when every one called me a false-prophet? And yet he died. And now, the Marquess's return? Nay, am I not approved by Heaven? Did I not escape from the malice of enemies through its miraculous interposition Oh! I will no longer scan with presumptuous argument purposes that are ruled by mightier hands than mine; I will resign myself to the guidance of what has ever conducted me aright, and which now points out the path to happiness.'"
"The next morning, her cheeks flushed, her eyes weighed down. trembling and abashed, she sought Castruccio. It is impossible that there should not have been much tenderness in his manner towards this lovely girl; her history, her strange and romantic contemplations and impulses, and the great intimacy which had arisen between them, were sufficient for this. He regarded her also as a nun; and this made him feel less restraint in the manner of his address, since he feared not to be misconstrued; while at the same time it gave an elevation and unusual tone to his ideas concerning her, that made him watch her every motion with interest. She now approached; and he said playfully, 'Where is thy mark, prophetess? Art thou no longer the Maiden of God? For some days thou hast cast aside the hallowed diadem.'
" 'I still have it,' she replied; 'but I have dismissed it from my brow; I will give it you; come, my lord, this evening at midnight to the secret entrance of the Viscountess's palace.' Saying these words, she fled to hide her burning blushes in solitude, and again to feel the intoxicating delusions that led her on
"Castruccio came. If it were in human virtue to resist the invitation of this angelic girl, his was not the mind, strictly disciplined to right, self-examining and jealous of its own integrity, that should thus weigh its actions, and move only as approved by conscience. He was frank and noble in his manner; his nature was generous; and, though there lurked in his heart the germ of an evil-bearing tree, it was yet undeveloped and inanimated ;and, in obeying the summons of Beatrice, he passively gave himself up to the strong excitements of curiosity and wonder.
"He went again and again. When the silent night was spread over every thing, and the walls of the town stood black and confused amidst the overshadowing trees, whose waving foliage was diversified by no gleam of light, but all was formless as the undistinguishable air; or if a star were dimly seen, it just glistened on the waters of the marsh, and then swiftly the heavy web of clouds hid both star and water; when the watch dogs were mute, unawakened by the moon, and the wind that blew across the plain alone told to the ear the place of the trees; when the bats and the owls were lulled by the exceeding darkness ; it was on such nights as these that Castruccie sought the secret entrance of the Viscountess's palace, and was received by thc beautiful Beatrice, enshrined in an atmosphere of love and joy.
"She was a strange riddle to him. Without vow, without even that slight shew of distrust which is the child of confidence itself; — without seeking the responsive professions of eternal love, she surrendered herself to his arms. And, when the first maiden bashfulness had passed away, all was deep tenderness and ardent love. Yet there was a dignity and a trusting affection in her most unguarded moments, that staggered him; a broken expression would sometimes fall from her lips, that seemed to say that she believed him indissolubly hers, which made him start, as if he feared that he had acted with perfidy; yet he had never solicited, never promised - What could she mean? What was she? He loved her as he would have loved any thing that was surpassingly beautiful; and, when these expressions, that intimated somewhat of enduring and unchangeable in their intercourse, intruded themselves, they pained and irritated him; he turned to the recollection of Euthanasia, his pure, his high-minded, and troth-plight bride; — she seemed as if wronged by such an idea ; -and yet he hardly dared think her purer than poor Beatrice, whose soul, though given up to love, was imbued in its very grain and texture with delicate affections and honourable feelings all that makes the soul and living spark of virtue. If she had not resisted the impulses of her soul, it was not that she wanted the power; but that, deluded by the web of deceit that had so long wound itself about her, she believed them not only lawful, but inspired by the special interposition of Heaven."
The following short scene where Beatrice is first awakened to the nature of her dreams about Castruccio, is very fine:
" They sat in her apartment at the Malvezzi palace; she radiant, beautiful, and happy; and, twirling her lovely arms around Castruccio, she said, 'The moon will set late to-morrow night, and you must not venture here; and indeed for several nights it will spread too glaring a beam. But tell me, are you become a citizen of Ferrara? They averred that you were the head of a noble city; but I see they must have been mistaken, or the poor city must totter strangely, so headless as your absence must make it. How is this, my only friend? Are you not Antelinelli? Are we not to go to Lucca?'
"Castruccio could not stand the questioning of her soft yet earnest eyes; he withdrew himself from her arms, and, taking her hands in his, kissed them silently. 'How is my noble lord?' she repeated; 'have you had ill news? Are you again banished? that cannot be, or methinks my heart would have told me the secret, Yet, if you are, be not unhappy, — your own Beatrice, with prophetic words, and signs from heaven that lead the multitude, will conduct you to greater glory and greater power than you before possessed. My gentle love, you have talked less about yourself, and about your hopes and desires, than I should have wished : — Do not think me a foolish woman, tied to an embroidery frame, or that my heart would not beat high at the news of your success, or that with my whole soul I should not enter into your plans, and tell you how the stars looked upon your intents. In truth my mind pants for fitting exertion; and, in being joined to thee, dearest love, I thought that I had found the goal for which Heaven had destined me. Nay, look not away from me; I do not reproach thee; I know that, in finding thee, in being bound to thy fate, mine is fulfilled; and I am happy. Now speak — tell me what has disturbed thy thoughts.'
" 'Sweetest Beatrice, I have nothing to tell; yet I have for many days wished to speak; for in truth I must return to Lucca.'
"The quick sensations of Beatrice could not be deceived. The words of Castruccio were too plain; she looked at him, as if she would read the secret in his soul, — she did read it ; — his downcast eyes, confused air, and the words he stammered out in explanation, told her every thing. The blood rushed to her face, her neck, her hands; and then as suddenly receding, left even her lips pale. She withdrew her arms from the soft caress she had bestowed; playfully she had bound his head with her own hair and the silken strings entangled with his; she tore her tresses impatiently to disengage herself from him; then, trembling, white, and chilled, she sat down and said not a word. Castruccio looked on with fear; he attempted consolation.
" 'I shall visit, thee again, my own Beatrice; for a time we must part ; — the viscountess — the good bishop — you cannot leave them — fear not but that we shall meet again.'
" 'We shall meet again!' she exclaimed with a passionate voice; ' Never!'
Her tone, full of agitation and grief, sunk into the soul of Castruccio. He took her hand; it was lifeless; he would have kissed her; but she drew back coldly and sadly. his words had not been those of the heart; he had hesitated and paused: But now compassion, and the memory of' what she had been, awoke his powers, and he said warmly, and with a voice whose modulations seemed tuned by love: 'You mistake me, Beatrice; indeed you do. I love you ; — who could help loving one so true, so gentle, and so trusting ? — we part for a while ; — this is necessary. Does not your character require it ? the part you act in the world? every consideration of honour and delicacy ? — Do you think that I can ever forget you? does not your own heart tell you, that your love, your caresses, your sweet eyes, and gentle words, have woven a net which must keep me for ever? You will remain here, and I shall go; but a few suns, a few moons, and we shall meet again, and the joy of that moment will make you were forget our transient separation.
"How cold were these words to the burning heart of the prophetess; she, who thought that Heaven had singled out Castruccio to unite him to her, who thought that the Holy Spirit had revealed himself to bless their union, that, by the mingled strength of his manly qualities, and her Divine attributes, some great work might be fulfilled on earth; who saw all as God's command, and done by his special interposition; to find this heavenly tissue swept away, beaten down, and destroyed! It was to his fortunes, good or bad, that she had bound herself, to share his glory or sooth his griefs; and not to be the mistress of the passing hour, the distaff of the spinning Hercules. It was her heart, her whole soul she had given; her understand.. lug, her prophetic powers, all the little universe that with her ardent spirit she grasped and possessed, she had surrendered, fully, and without reserve; but, alas! the most worthless part alone had been accepted, and the rest cast as dust upon the winds, flow in this moment did she long to be a winged soul, that her person heedlessly given, given only as a part of that to the whole of which lie had an indefeasible right, and which was now despised, might melt a way from the view of the despiser, and be seen no more! The words of her lover brought despair, not comfort; she shook her head in silence; Castruccio spoke again and again; but many words are dangerous where there is much to conceal, and every syllable he uttered laid bare some new forgery of her imagination, and shewed her more and more dearly the harsh reality. She was astounded, and drank in his words eagerly, though she answered not; she was impatient when he was silent, for she longed to know the worst; yet she dared not direct the course of his explanations by a single inquiry: She was as a mother, who reads the death-warrant of her child on the physician's brow, yet, blindly trusting that she decyphers ill, will not destroy the last hope by a question. Even so she listened to the assurances of Castruccio, each word being a fresh assurance of her misery, yet not stamping the last damning seal on her despair'.
"At length grey dawn appeared; she was silent, motionless, and wan; she marked it not; but he did; and rising hastily, he cried, ' I must go, or you are lost! Farewell, Beatrice!'
"Now she awoke, her eyes glared, her lovely features became even distorted by the strength of her agony — she started up — 'Not yet, not yet — one word more! Do you - love another?'
"Her tone was that of command ; — her flashing eyes demanded the truth, and seemed as if they would, by their excessive force, strike the falsehood dead, if be dared utter it. He was subdued, impelled to reply -
" ' I do.'
" 'Her name?'
" 'Enough! I will remember that name in my prayers. Now, go! seek not to come again; the entrance will be closed; do not endeavour to see me at the house of' the bishop; I shall fly you as a basilisk and, if I see you, your eyes will kill me. Remember these are my words; they are as true, as that I am all a lie. It will kill me; but I swear by all my hopes, never to see you more. Oh, never, never!'
"She again sank down pale and lifeless, pressing her hands upon her eyes, as if the more speedily to fulfil her vow. Castruccio dared stay no longer; he fled as the daemon might have fled from the bitter sorrows of despoiled Paradise; he left her aghast, overthrown, annihilated."
Beatrice, after a time spent in the utmost prostration and repentance and misery, goes on a pilgrimage to Rome. On her way she comes to the castle of' Valperga, and sees Euthanasia; she will tell nothing of her story, but she had just come, she said, to see and bless the lady. Having done so, she quits the castle alone, barefooted, needing everything, and refusing everything. The Countess, who had in vain endeavoured to detain and to question her, had been so deeply interested by the poor girl's appearance,that she alluded to it the next time" Castruccio came to visit her.
"Castruccio listened earnestly; and, when he heard what had been her last.' words, he cried, 'It must be she! It is the poor Beatrice!'
" 'Beatrice! Who is Beatrice?'
"Castruccio endeavoured to evade the question, and afterwards to answer it by the relation of a few slight circumstances; but Euthanasia, struck by his manner, questioned him so seriously, that he ended by relating the whole story. Euthanasia was deeply moved; and earnest pity succeeded to her first astonishment — astonishment for her powers and strange errors, and then compassion for her sorrows and mighty fall. Castruccio, led on by the memory of her enchantments, spoke with ardour, scarcely knowing to whom be spoke; and, when he ended, Euthanasia cried, ' She must be followed, brought back, consoled; her misery is great; but there is a cure for it.'
"She then concerted with Castruccio the plan for tracing her steps, and inducing her to return . Messengers were sent on the road to Rome, who were promised high rewards if they succeeded in finding her; others were sent to Ferrara, to learn if her friends there had any knowledge of her course. These researches occupied several weeks; but they were fruitless. The messengers from Ferrara brought word, that she had left that city early in the preceding In a pilgrimage to Rome, and that she had never since been heard of. The Lady Marchesana, inconsolable for her departure had since died; and the good bishop Marsilio, who had not returned from France, where he had been made a cardinal, was at too great a distance to understand the circumstances of her departure, or to act upon them. Nor were the tidings brought from Rome more satisfactory: She was traced from Lucca to Pisa, Florence, Arezzo, Perugia, Foligno, Spoletto, and even to Terni; but there all trace was lost. It appeared certain that she had never arrived in Rome; none of the priests had heard of her; every church and convent was examined; but no trace of her could be found. Every exertion was vain: it appeared as if she had sunk into the bowels of the earth.
"During the period occupied by these researches, a great change had taken place in the mind of Euthanasia. Before, though her atmosphere had been torn by storms, and blackened by the heaviest clouds, her Jove had ever borne her on towards one point with resistless force; and it seemed as if, body and soul, she would in the end be its victim. Now the tide ebbed, and left her, as a poor wretch upon one point of rock, when the rising ocean suddenly subsides, and restores him unexpectedly to life. She had loved Castruccio; and, as is ever the case with pure and exalted minds, she had separated the object of her love from all other beings, and, investing him with a glory, he was no longer to her as one among the common herd, nor ever for a moment could she confound him and class him with his fellow men. It is this feeling that is the essence and life of love, and that, still subsisting even after esteem and sympathy had been destroyed, had caused the excessive grief in which she had been plunged. She had separated herself from the rest as his chosen one; she had been selected from the whole world for him to love, and therefore was there a mighty barrier between her and all things else; no senitment could pass through her mind unmingled with his image, no thought that did not bear his stamp to distinguish it from all other thoughts; as the moon in heaven shines bright, because the sun illumines her with his rays, so did she proceed on her high path in serene majesty, protected through her love for him from all meaner cares or joys; her very person was sacred, since she had dedicated herself to him; but, the god undeified, the honours of the priestess fell to the dust. The story of Beatrice dissolved the charm; she looked on him now in the common light of day; the illusion and exhalation of love was dispelled for ever; and, although disappointment, and the bitterness of destroyed hope, robbed her of every sensation of enjoyment, it was no longer that mad despair, that. clinging to the very sword that cut her, which before had tainted her cheek with the hues of death. Her old feelings of duty, benevolence, and friendship, returned; all was not now, as before, referred to love alone; the trees, the streams, the mountains, and the stars, no longer told one never-varying tale of disappointed passion; before, they had oppressed her heart by reminding her, through every change and every form, of what she had once seen in joy; and they lay as so heavy and sad a burthen on her soul,, that she would exclaim as a modern poet has since done
Thou, thrush, that singest long, and loud and free,
Into yon row of willows flit,
Upon that alder sit.
Or sing another song, or choose another tree!
Roll back, sweet nil, back to thy mountain bounds,
And there for ever be thy waters chained!
For thou dost haunt the air with sounds
That cannot be sustain'd.
* * * *
Be any-thing, sweet nil, but that which thou art now.
But now these feverish emotions ceased. Sorrow sat on her downcast eye, restrained her light step, and slept in the unmoved dimples of her fair cheek; but the wildness of grief had died, the fountain of selfish tears flowed no more, and she was restored from death to life. She considered Castruccio as bound to Beatrice; bound by the deep love and anguish of the fallen prophetess, by all her virtues, even by her faults; bound by his falsehood to her who was then his betrothed, and whom he carelessly wronged, and thus proved how little capable he was of participating in her own exalted feelings. She believed that be would be far happier in the passionate and unquestioning love of this enthusiast, than with her, who had lived too long to be satisfied alone with the affection of him she loved, but required in him a conformity of tastes to those she had herself cultivated, which in Castruccio was entirely wanting. She felt half glad, half sorry, for the change she was aware had been operated in her heart; for the misery that she before endured was not without its momentary intervals, which busy love filled with dreams and hopes, that caused a wild transport, which, although it destroyed her, was still joy, still delight. But now -there was no change; one steady hopeless blank was before her; the very energies of her mind were palsied; her imagination furled its wings, and the owlet, reason, was the only dweller that found sustenance and a being in her benighted soul."
Beatrice, in the progress of her sad story, undergoes all the miseries of madness. She consorts with a hideous witch — the original enthusiasm of her imagination, brooding over her own griefs, leads her into a thousand extravagancies; and after a long interval, she is discovered by Euthanasia, a prisoner in the dungeons of the Inquisition at Lucca.
Euthanasia, who, despoiled of her principality, and irritated, or rather alienated by the ambitious proceedings of Castruccio against Florence and Freedom, has had for some time no intercourse with her former lover, re- pairs now in person to his palace, and ventures into his cabinet, that she may procure from him an order for the instant release of her whose calamities had originated in love for himself. Castruccio grants this without hesitation, and perceiving that Euthanasia will not hear from him any renewal of his vows to herself, continues to keep up the intercourse thus recommenced, by sending every now and then to make inquiry 'after the health of poor Beatrice, to whom, on quitting the dungeon, the fair Countess had given shelter in her own home.
We shall not pursue Beatrice through the long train of agonies that terminate in her death; but we must make room for one extract from the chapter which Mrs S. entitles "Beatrice, her creed, and her love." It is impossible to read it without admiration of the eloquence with which it is written, or without sorrow, that any English lady should be capable of clothing such thoughts in such words. We are aware that it may be said, as it has often been done by sophists, ancient and modern, "Aeschylus paints Clytemnestra — Shakespeare paints lago." We would be very happy indeed, if we could believe that it is so, this author paints this part of her Beatrice; but, alas! what is here put into the mouth of a frantic girl, mad with love and misery, has been of late put forth so frequently, and in so many different forms, by the writers of that school, with which the gifted person has the misfortune to be associated, that we should only be trifling with our readers, if we hesitated to say that we do not believe any matter. We are not going to preach, however; this is not the sort of opportunity we choose for warring with Manicheism, or with any thing quod exit in ism. We wish to shew what Mrs S. can do. — Euthanasia and Beatrice are sitting together — the former perceiving that the latter is strangely agitated by the intenseness of her recollections; prays her to forget the past - "forget everything that you once were."
" 'Aye, you say right; I must forget every thing, or to be what I am must torture me to despair. Poor, misled, foolish, insensate Beatrice! I can accuse myself alone for my many ills; myself, and that, power who sits on high, and scatters evil like dew upon the earth, a killing, blighting honey dew.'
" 'Hush! my poor girl, do not talk thus; indeed I must not have you utter, these sentiments.'
" 'Oh! let me speak; before all others I must hide my bursting feelings, deep, deep. Yet for one moment let me curse!'
"Beatrice arose; she pointed to heaven; she stood in the same attitude, as when she had prophesied to the people of Ferrara under the portico of the church of St Anna; but how changed! Her form thin; her face care-worn; her love-formed lips withered; her hands and arms, then so round and fair, now wrinkled and faded; her eyes were not the same; they had lost that softness which, mingling with their fire, as something wonderful in brilliancy and beauty: they now, like the sun from beneath a thunder cloud, glared fiercely under her dark and scattered hair that shaded her brow; but even now, as in those times, she spoke with tumultous eloquence.
" 'Euthanasia, you are much deceived; you either worship a useless shadow, or fiend in the clothing of a god. Listen to me, while I announce to you the eternal and victorious influence of evil, which circulates like air about us, clinging to our flesh like a poisonous garment, eating into us, and destroying us. Are you blind, that you see it not? Are you deaf, that you hear no groans? Are you insensible, that you feel no misery? Open your eyes, and you will behold all of which I speak, standing in hideous array before you. Look around! Is there not war, violation of treaties, and hardhearted cruelty? Look at the societies of men. Are not our fellow-creatures tormented one by the other in an endless circle of pain? Some shut up in iron cages, starved and destroyed ; cities float in blood, and the hopes of the husbandman are manured by his own mangled limbs: remember the times of our fathers, the extirpation of the Albigenses ; — the cruelties of Ezzelin, when troops of the blind, and the lame, and the mutilated, the scum of his prisons, inundated the Italian states. Remember the destruction of the Templars. Did you never glance in thought into the tower of famine of Ugolino; or into the hearts of the armies of exiles, that each day the warring citizens banish from their homes? Did you never reflect on the guilty policy of the Popes, those ministers of the reigning King of heaven? Remember the Sicilian vespers; the death of the innocent Conradin; the myriads whose bones are now bleached beneath the sun of Asia; they went in honour of His name, and thus He rewards them.
" 'Then reflect upon domestic life, on the strife, hatred, and uncharitableness, that, as sharp spears, pierce one's bosom at every turn; think of jealousy, midnight murders, envy, want of faith, calumny, ingratitude, cruelty, and all which man in his daily sport inflicts upon man. Think upon disease, plague, famine, leprosy, fever, and all the aching pains our limbs suffer withal; visit in thought the hospital, the lazar house. Oh! surely God's hand is the chastening hand of a father, that thus torments his children! His children? his eternal enemies! Look, I am one! He created the seeds of disease, maremma, thirst, want; he created man, — that most wretched of slaves; oh! know you not what a wretch man is! and what a store-house of infinite pain is this much-vaunted human soul? Look into your own heart; or, if that be too peaceful, gaze on mine; I will tear it open for your inspection. There is remorse, hatred, grief — overwhelming, mighty, and eternal misery. God created me; am I the work of a beneficent being? Oh, what spirit mingled in my wretched frame love, hope, energy, confidence, — to find indifference, to be blasted to despair, to be as weak as the fallen leaf, to be betrayed by all! Now I am changed, — I hate; — my energy is spent in curses, and if I trust, it is to be the more deeply wounded.
" 'Did not the power you worship create the passions of man; his desires which possibility, and bring ruin upon his head? Did he not implant the seeds of am.. revenge, and hate? Did he not create love, the tempter; be who keeps the key of that mansion whose motto must ever be
Lasciate agni speranza voi che intrate?
And the imagination, that master-piece of his malice; that spreads honey on the cup that you may drink poison; that strews roses over thorns, thorns sharp and big as spears; that semblance of beauty which beckons you to the desart; that apple of gold with the heart of ashes; that foul image, with the veil of excellence; that mist of the maremma, glowing with roseate hues beneath the sun, that creates it, and beautifies it, to destroy you; that diadem of nettles; that spear, broken in the heart ?'"
But we dare not transcribe an further. (See Vol. III. p. 44.)
To come back to Euthanasia — she, — after Beatrice is dead, becomes more and more weary of Lucca, and she at last seeks and obtains Castruccio's per- mission to retire to Florence. In that city a great conspiracy is in motion against Castruccio — Euthanasia is long and in vain solicited to join in it; for however she detests the bloodshed through which Castruccio has been, and is wading onwards towards the great object of his ambition, the total overthrow of Tuscan liberty, she feels, and feels justly, that nothing but the last extremity could justify her, who had been the love of his youth, in combining with his enemies against him. A terrible act of cruelty, however, in which some of her own Florentine kindred are the sufferers, at last persuades her. But she forms a romantic plan to save Castruccio by, and in his very overthrow. She bargains, ere she takes the oath of the conspirators, that his life is to be held sacred, and dreams a fanciful dream of restoring him to tranquillity and contentment of mind, of soothing him fallen, with the love she had refused to him in his princely splendour, of spending years of quiet bliss with him chastened and purified — in some beautiful Italian solitude, far from the noise and tumult of Tuscany. A scoundrel betrays the conspiracy to Castruccio's lieutenant. The prince, on his return to Lucca, after a short absence, is informed abruptly that a plot against his life has been discovered — that three hundred conspirators are in his prisons - and that one cell holds — Euthanasia of Valperga.
The scene where Castruccio liberates Euthanasia, whom he believes to have meditated his death, is one of the finest in this book. We shall extract a part of it.
"A little before midnight Euthanasia's prison-chamber was unlocked, and the jail.. or entered, with a lamp in his hand, accompanied by one of majestic figure, and a countenance beautiful, but sad, and tarnished by the expression of pride that animated it. ' She sleeps,' whispered the jailor. His companion raised his finger in token of silence; and, taking the lamp from the man's hand, approached her mattress, which was spread upon the floor, and, kneeling down beside it, earnestly gazed upon that face he had known so well in happier days. She made an uneasy motion, as if the lamp which he held disturbed her; he placed. it on the ground, and shaded it with his figure; while, by the soft light that fell upon her, he tried to read the images that were working in her mind.
"She appeared but slightly altered since he had first seen her. If thought had drawn some lines in her brow, the intellect which its beautiful form expressed, effaced them to the eye of the spectator: her golden hair fell over her face and neck: he gently drew it back, while she smiled in her sleep; her smile was ever past description lovely, and one might well exclaim with Dante,
Quel, ch'ella par quando un poco sorride,
Non si puo dicer, ne tenere a mente;
Si e nuovo miracolo, e gentile. *
He gazed on her long; her white arm lay on her black dress, and he imprinted a sad kiss upon it; she awoke, and saw Castruccio gazing upon her.
"She started up; 'What does this mean?' she cried.
"His countenance, which had softened as he looked upon her, now re-assumed its severe expression. 'Madonna,' he replied, "I come to take you from this place.'
"She looked on him, endeavouring to read his purpose in hi-s eyes; hut she saw there no explanation of her doubts 'And whither do you intend to lead me?'
" 'That you will know hereafter.'
"She paused; and he added with a disdainful smile, 'The Countess of Valperga need not fear, while I have the power to protect her, the fate she prepared for me.'
" 'What fate?'
"He spoke in an under tone, but with one of those modulations of voice, which, bringing to her mind scenes of other days, was best fitted to make an impression upon her. She replied, almost unconsciously — ' I did not prepare death for you; God is my witness !"
" 'Well, Madonna, we will not quarrel about words; or, like lawyers, clothe our purposes in such a subtle guise, that it might deceive all, if truth did not destroy the spider's web. I come to lead you from prison.'
" 'Not thus, my lord, not thus will I be saved. I disdain any longer to assert my intentions, since I am not believed. But am I to be liberated alone; or are my friends included in your merciful intentions?'
" 'Your friends are too dangerous enemies of the commonwealth, to be rescued from the fate that awaits them. Your sex, perhaps the memory of our ancient friendship, plead for you; and I do not think that it accords with your wisdom to make conditions with one who has the power that which best pleases him.'
"And yet I will not yield; I will not most unworthily attend to my own safety my associates die. No, my lord, if they are to be sacrificed, the addition of one poor woman will add little to the number of your victims; and I cannot consent to desert them.'
" 'How do you desert them? You will never see or hear of them more, or they 'if you. But this is trifling; and my moments are precious.'
" ' I will not — I dare not follow you. My heart, my conscience tell me to remain. I must not disobey their voice.'
" 'Is your conscience so officious now, and did it say nothing, or did your heart silence it, when you plotted my destruction ?"
" 'Castruccio, this I believe is the last time that I shall ever speak to you. Our hearts are in the hands of the Father of all; and he sees my thoughts. You know me too well, to believe that I plotted your death, or that of any human creature. Now is not the time to explain my motives and plans; but my earnest prayer was that you might live; my best hope, to make that life less miserable, less unworthy, than it had hitherto been.'
"She spoke with deep earnestness; and there was something in her manner, as if the spirit of truth animated all her accents, that compelled assent. Castruccio believed all; and he spoke in a milder and more persuasive manner' Poor Euthanasia! so you were at last cajoled by that arch-traitor, Bondelmonti. Well, I believe, and pardon all; but, as the seal of the purity of your intentions, I now claim your consent to my offers of safety.'
" ' I cannot, indeed I cannot, consent. Be merciful ; be magnanimous; and pardon all; banish us all where our discontent cannot be dangerous to you. But to desert my friends, and basely to save that life you deny to them, I never can.'
"The jailor, who had hitherto stood in the shade near the door, could no longer contain himself. He knelt to Euthanasia, and earnestly and warmly entreated her to save herself, and not with wilful presumption to cast aside those means, which God had brought about for her safety. 'Remember,' he cried, 'your misfortunes will be on the prince's head ; make him not answer for you also. Oh! lady, for his sake, for all our sakes, yield.'
"Castruccio was much moved to see the warmth of this man. He took the hand of Euthanasia, he also knelt. 'Yes, my only and dearest friend, save yourself for my sake. Yield, beloved Euthanasia, to my entreaties. Indeed you will not die; for you well know that your life is dearer to me than my own. But yield to my request, by our former loves, I entreat; by the prayers which you offer up for my salvation, I conjure you as they shall be heard, so also hear me!'
"The light of the solitary lamp fell full upon the countenance of Castruccio. It was softened from all severity; his eyes glistened, and a tear stole silently down his cheek, as he prayed her to yield. They talk of the tears of women; but, when they flow most plenteously, they soften not the heart of man, as one tear from his eyes has power on a woman. Words and looks have been feigned; they say, though I believe them not, that women have feigned tears; but those of a man, which are ever as the last demonstration of a too full heart, force belief, and communicate to her who causes them, that excess of tenderness, that intense depth of passion, of which they are themselves the sure indication.
"Euthanasia had seen Castruccio weep before; it was many years ago, when he departed for the battle of Monte Catini; and he then sympathized too deeply in her sorrows, not to repay her much weeping with one most true and sacred tear. And now this scene was present before her; the gap of years remained unfilled; and she had consented to his request, before she again recalled her thoughts, and saw the dreary prison-chamber, the glimmering lamp, and the rough form of the jailor, who knelt beside Antelminelli. Her consent was scarcely obtained, when Castruccio leapt up, and, bidding her wrap her capuchin about her, led her by the hand down the steep prison-stairs, while the jailor went before them, and unlocked, and drew back the bolts of thc heavy creaking doors.
"At the entrance of the prison they found a man on horseback holding two other horses. It was Mordecastelli. Castruccio assisted Euthanasia to mount, and then sprang on his own saddle; they walked their horses to a gate of the town which was open — they proceeded in silence - at the gate Castruccio said to his companion — 'Here leave us; I shall speedily return.'
"Vanni then turned his horse's head, slightly answering the salute of Euthanasia, which she had involuntarily made at parting for ever with one who had been her intimate acquaintance. A countryman was waiting on horseback outside the gate. — You are our guide?' said Castruccio. — 'Lead on then.'"
It was a frosty cloudless night. Castruccio rides with Euthanasia till she is within sight of the shore. He bids her farewell abruptly, and she soon finds herself embarked in a vessel bound for Sicily.
"About noon they met a Pisan vessel, who bade them beware of a Genoese Squadron, which was cruizing off Corsica; so they bore in nearer to the shore. At sunset that day a fierce scirocco rose, accompanied by thunder and lightning, such as is seldom seen during the winter season. Presently they saw huge dark columns descending from Heaven, and meeting the sea, which boiled beneath; they were borne on by the storm, and scattered by the wind. The rain came down in sheets; and the hail clattered, as it fell to its grave in the ocean — the ocean was lashed into such waves, that, many miles inland, during the pauses of the wind, the hoarse and constant murmurs of the far-off sea, made the well-housed landsman mutter one more prayer for those exposed to its fury.
"Such was the storm, as it was seen from shore. Nothing more was ever known. of the Sicilian vessel which bore Euthanasia. It never reached its destined port, nor. were any of those on board ever after seen. The sentinels who watched near Vado, a tower on the sea beach of the Maremma, found, on the following day, that the waves had washed on shore some of the wrecks of a vessel. They picked up a few planks and a broken mast, round which, tangled with some of its cordage, was a white silk handkerchief, such a one as had bound the tresses of Euthanasia the night that she had embarked, and in its knot were a few golden hairs.
"She was never heard of more; even her name perished. She slept in the oozy cavern of the ocean; the sea-weed was tangled with her shining hair; and the spirits of the deep wondered that the earth had trusted so lovely a creature to the barren bosom of the sea, which, as an evil step-mother, deceives and betrays all committed to her care.
"Earth felt no change when she died; and men forgot her. Yet a lovelier spirit never ceased to breathe, nor was a lovelier form ever destroyed amidst the many it brings forth. Endless tears might well have been shed at her loss; yet for her none wept, save the piteous skies, which deplored the mischief they had themselves committed — none moaned except the sea-birds, that flapped their heavy wings above the ocean-cave wherein she lay — and the muttering thunder alone tolled her passing bell, as she quitted a life, which for her had been replete with change and sorrow."
Castruccio survives this for some time, but the romance of Mrs Shelley terminates here; what comes after is little more than a parcel of translations from historical works, in the hand of every reader of Italian. The work, with all the deductions we have made, undoubtedly reflects no discredit even on the authoress of Frankenstein — although we must once more repeat our opinion, that Valperga is, for a second romance, by no means what its predecessor was for a first one.
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