Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

down, would be quoted as indicating a noble contempt for superstition, and an ardour for liberal plans and scientific experiment. But while preaching innovators were still employed in explaining the superior excellence and utility of their system, the wise and calm observer was lamenting the effect of their pedantic and fallacious reasoning, and applying the complaint of the poet to the character of his own age :

φεύ, του θανόντος ως ταχεία τις βροτοίς

χάρις διαρρεί και προδουσαλίσκεται. ) XI. The forgiveness of injuries was a duty required by the laws of chivalry, as well as by religion, though in a frivolous and corrupt age men learned to think otherwise. “I have known many men,” says Brantome, in his life of Charles IX., "who never revenged their injuries. The most strict and reformed Christians praise them for this, and assert that it is right to forget offences, according to the word of God. That may well become Hermits and Franciscans, but not those who make profession of true nobility, of carrying a sword by their side, and their honour on the point. Unless, indeed, they hang a crucifix from their bed, and absolutely enter some religious order, as many have done, and have been therefore excused by this good cloak of devotion.” This became the language of the modern world, and it would appear that it was the sentiment of uncorrected nature. Storza, the African rebel, fell in a single combat before the gates of Carthage; but he smiled in the agonies of death, when he was informed that his own javelin had reached the heart of his antagonist ; and Crebillon seems to express the feelings which are common to human nature, when he makes Atrée exclaim;

Un ennemi qui peut pardonner une offense,
Ou manque de courage, ou manque de puissance.?

2

Sophocles, Ajax, 1283.

εκ γαρ ευτυχούς ήδιστον εχθρόν άνδρα δυστυχούνθ' οράν, , says the messenger in the play (Eurip. Heracl. 934). But Thucydides has expressed it in still stronger terms : ’Avtitluwpho aodai te Tivà tepi aelovos hv, aŭrdy un aporaleiv, iii. 82. Yet this is adduced by the great historian as an evidence of the extreme corruption consequent upon civil war,

But it would not be difficult to prove that here the opinion of the vulgar class of mankind is founded upon a mistake, that the difficulty of the virtue only renders it more noble; and that “ the rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance." For though it be the coat-armour pertaining to a right ancient family, to bear three dexter arms and hands conjoined and clenched, to signify a treble offer of revenge for some injury done to a former bearer, yet still, as Juvenal saith,

-Infirmi est animi exiguique voluptas Ultio. This is the dictate of natural magnanimity. Ælian, though a heathen, thought that nothing was more admirable than the forgiveness of injuries shewn by Phocion. The same sentiment appears in the answer of the Emperor Adrian to the man who had given him offence before his accession, “ Approach, you have nothing to fear from me; I am Emperor ;” and in the argument by which Phænix endeavours to persuade Achilles :

αλλ', 'Αχιλεύ, δάμασον θυμόν μέγαν ουδέ τι σε χρή
νηλεές ήτορ έχειν" στρεπτοί δέ τε και θεοι αυτοί, ,

των περ και μείζων αρετή, τιμή τε, βίη τε. Philip-le-Bel, who, to be sure, of all men in the world, had the least right to affect a noble sentiment, replied to his courtiers, who were exciting him to punish a Prelate who was obnoxious, " Je sais que je puis me venger; mais il est beau de le pouvoir et de ne le pas faire." Descartes also speaks like a Stoic: “Quand on me fait une injure, je tâche d'élever mon ame si haut que l'offense ne parvienne pas jusqu'à moi.” Richard of England, Cæur de Lion, was mortally wounded before the castle of Chalons by an arrow shot from the walls. The castle was taken by assault, and the archer who had wounded the king was conducted into his presence. “ Malheureux,” said the king, “que t'avois-je fait pour tobliger à me donner la mort?

“ Ce que tu m'as fait,” replied the prisoner, “ je vais te le dire, sans aucune crainte des horribles tourmens que tu me prepares. Je les souffrirai avec joie, puisque j'ai été assez heureux pour venger la mort de mon père et

1 Var. Hist. xii. 49.

de mes frères, que tu as tués de ta propre main.” Richard was of a temper so prone to fury and excitement, that when delivered from prison, the King of France wrote to King John, Prenez garde à vous ; le diable est déchainé.” This lion-hearted warrior was now bleeding from the wound which in a few hours was to deprive him of his kingdom and his life, and the man who had inflicted it was before him, and in his power ; but at this moment religion had an authority to which he submitted. His anger instantly passed over, and he said to the prisoner, “ Mon ami, je te pardonne.” He then ordered his chains to be taken off, and that he should have liberty to depart. The words of Henry IV. of France, to Schomberg, on the morning of the battle of Ivri, are well known; and the last sentence of Louis XVI., upon the scaffold, is for ever memorable, “ I forgive my enemies.” These are the examples of a hero, and of a religious monarch ; and if it be true what has been said, that “ it is more easy to forgive four hundred and ninety times than once to ask pardon of an inferior," these instances will serve to shew that it was the hero, and not the saint, who made the greatest sacrifice of feeling to the duty of his religion. The anecdote of Henry IV. to which I allude is so well known, that I refrain from relating it at length. It is sufficient to observe, that the king was troubled by the reflection that he had uttered reproachful words against a brave, deserving officer, the German general Schomberg. They had been uttered in a moment of impatience and anxiety; but the remembrance was a weight upon his spirits. Immediately before the commencement of the battle, Henry rode up to the general: he stated what were his feelings, that there was a possibility of his not surviving the day, and that he should be sorry to die without making amends to a brave gentleman whose honour he had injured. He concluded with an entreaty to be forgiven : “ Je vous prie de me pardonner.” What words for a king to utter! os Il est vrai, sire,” replied the generous and gallant soldier, “que votre majesté me blessa l'autre jour, mais aujourd'hui elle me tue ; car l'honneur qu'elle me fait m'oblige de mourir en cette occasion pour son service.' He was killed fighting by the side of his master. In the romance of Huon of Bordeaux, when that hero laments the malice which has

sa table.”

banished him from France, he apostrophises his country, and exclaims, “Je prie nostre Seigneur Jesu Christ que le pardon vous en fasse;" and when he confesses himself to Oberon the dwarf, he says, “Sire, scachez qu'au mieux que j'ay peu me suis confessé de tous mes pechez, je suis repentant et dolent que tant en ay fait, et ne sçay homme vivant à qui je ne pardonne quelque injure qu'il m'aye fait, aussi je ne sens que à nul aye fait tort, et ne hays aujourd’huy homme qui vive.”

Robert, king of France, was informed, at Compiegne, that twelve ruffians were resolved to assassinate him. They had been arrested, and their trial was commenced ; but in the mean time the pious king, upon their confession and repentance, gave secret orders that they should receive the blessed sacrament. He then admitted them to the honour of dining at his table, when he pronounced a solemn pardon, and then sent them back to inform the judges, “ qu'il ne pouvoit se résoudre à se venger de ceux que son maitre avoit

reçus
à

Let it be remembered also, that he was an excellent king, always alive to the interest of his people, and justly celebrated for his moderation and wisdom. In perfect conformity with this spirit, the poet makes De Wilton in Marmion say of Austin, that on his dying bed—

He begged of me a boon :
If e'er my deadliest enemy
Beneath my brand should conquered lie,
Even then my mercy should awake,

And spare his life for Austin's sake. Marmion owed his life to the fulfilment of this promise. In the battle of Xeres, when the Christians gained that glorious victory over the Moors, in which they thought the apostle St. James had appeared mounted on a white horse, it was remarked, that the only knight who fell on their side was one who had refused to forgive an injury. I only adduce this as a proof of the opinion then prevalent respecting the duty of forgiveness. When Constantia of Arragon, who governed Sicily in her husband's absence, terrified by the ferocious clamours of the populace, who, on the destruction of the other French prisoners, demanded the execution also of the Prince of Salerno, sent a messenger on the Friday to her captive, bidding him prepare

M

for death; he received the intelligence with an unmoved countenance, calmly replying, “I am well content to die, remembering that our Lord and Saviour on this day voluntarily suffered his death and passion.” Constantia, recalled to a sense of her Christian duty by these words, sent immediately to tell him, “That if he for respect to that day would suffer death so contentedly, she, for the love of Him who on that day had pardoned his enemies, would pardon him.” She succeeded in having him safely conducted to Arragon.

Of bearing injuries Turenne furnished noble instances. Witness the short and noble reply which he made to the cruel letter of the Elector Palatine, rallying him on his late conversion to the Catholic faith. Under inferior circumstances he exhibited the same nobleness of nature. He seldom went to the theatre. On on occasion, however, being present in a box alone, some country people entered, and not knowing him, insisted on his giving up the front seat. Upon his refusal, they had the insolence to fling his hat and gloves into the pit. Turenne quietly begged a young lord of the first quality to bring them to him ; those who had insulted him, discovering who he was, were about to make many humble apologies and to withdraw, but he would not suffer them, saying, “S'ils vouloient s'arranger, il y avoit place pour tous.' St. John Gualbert, a Florentine noble of the eleventh century, who, in his later years, founded the great monastery of Vallombrosa near that city, cherished a deadly vengeance against a gentleman who had murdered his only brother Hugo. It happened that, riding home to Florence on Good-Friday, he met his enemy in so narrow a passage, that it was impossible for either of them to avoid the other. John, seeing the murderer, drew his sword, and was going to despatch him ; but the other alighting from his horse, fell upon his knees, and, with his arms across, besought him, by the passion of Christ, who suffered on that day, to spare his life. The remembrance of Christ, who prayed for his murderers on the cross, overcame the young nobleman, and meekly raising the suppliant from the ground, he said, “I can refuse nothing that is asked of me for the sake of Jesus Christ.

* Ramsay, tom. i. p. 515.

« PoprzedniaDalej »