Obrazy na stronie



faulty the accent or how incorrect the idiom in which we talk nothings; but if we utter any of the poetry within us, we shudder at the risk of the most trifling solecism.

This was especially the case with Maltravers ; for besides being now somewhat ripened from his careless boyhood into a proud and fastidious man, he had a natural love for the becoming. This love was unconsciously visible in trifles : it is the natural parent of good taste. And it was indeed an inborn good taste which redeemed Ernest's natural carelessness in those personal matters in which young men usually take a pride. An habitual and soldier-like neatness of dress, and a love of order and symmetry, stood with him in the stead of elaborate attention to equipage and dress.

Maltravers had not thought twice in his life whether he was handsome or not; and, like most men who have a knowledge of the gentler sex, he knew that beauty had little to do with engaging the love of women. The air, the manner, the tone, the conversation, the something that interests, and something to be proud of, these are the attributes of the man made to be loved. And the beauty-man is, nine times out of ten, little more than the oracle of his aunts, and the “sitch a love" of the housemaids !

To return from this digression-Maltravers was glad that he could talk in his own language to Madame de St. Ventadour; and the conversation between them generally began in French, and glided away into Eng. lish. Madame de St. Ventadour was eloquent, and so was Maltravers; yet a more complete contrast in their mental views and conversational peculiarities can scarcely be conceived. Madame de St. Ventadour viewed everything as a woman of the world; she was brilliant, thoughtful; and not without delicacy and tenderness of sentiment; still all was cast in a worldly mould. She had been formed by the influences of society, and her mind betrayed its education. At once witty and melancholy: (no uncommon union), she was a disciple of the sad but caustic philosophy produced by satiety. In the life she led, neither her heart nor her head was engaged; the faculties of both were irritated, not satisfied or employed. She felt somewhat too sen. sitively the hollowness of the great world, and had a low opinion of human nature. In fact, she was a



woman of the French memoirs-one of those charming and spirituelles Aspasias of the boudoir who interest us by their subtlety, tact, and grace, their exquisite tone of refinement, and are redeemed from the superficial and frivolous-partly by a consummate knowledge of the social system in which they move, and partly by a halfconcealed and touching discontent of the trifles on which their talents and affections are wasted. These are the women who, after a youth of false pleasure, often end by an old age of false devotion. They are a class peculiar to those ranks and countries in which shines and saddens that gay and unhappy thing—a woman without a home!

Now this was a specimen of life--this Valerie de St. Ventadour—that Maltravers had never yet contemplated, and Maltravers was perhaps equally new to the Frenchwoman. They were delighted with each other's society, although it so happened that they never agreed.

Madame de St. Ventadour rode on horseback, and Maltravers was one of her usual companions: one of them-for she had too great a regard for the bienséances to permit a cavalier seul. And oh, the beautiful landscapes through which their daily excursions lay!

Maltravers was an admirable scholar. The stores of the immortal dead were as familiar to him as his own language. The poetry, the philosophy, the manner of thought and habits of life-of the graceful Greek and the luxurious Roman-were a part of knowledge that constituted a common and household portion of his own associations and peculiarities of thought. He had saturated his intellect with the Pactolus of old-and the grains of gold came down from the classic Tmolus with every tide. This knowledge of the dead, often so useless, has an inexpressible charm when it is applied to the places where the dead lived. We care nothing about the ancients on Highgate Hill—but at Baiæ, Pompeii, by the Virgilian Hades, the ancients are society with which we thirst to be familiar. To the animated and curious Frenchwoman what a cicerone was Ernest Maltravers! How eagerly she listened to accounts of a life more elegant than that of Paris !-of a civilization which the world never can know again-tant mieux, for it was rotten at the core, though most glorious in the complexion. Those cold names and unsubstantial shadows which Madame de St. Ventadour had been accustomed to yawn over in skeleton histories, took from the




eloquence of Maltravers the breath of life—they glowed and moved-they feasted and made love-were wise and foolish, merry and sad, like living things. On the other hand, Maltravers learned a thousand new secrets of the existing and actual world from the lips of the accomplished and observant Valerie. What a new stepin the philosophy of life does a young man of genius make when he first compares his theories and experience with the intellect of a clever woman of the world! Perhaps it does not elevate him, but how it enlightens and refines! What numberless minute yet important mysteries in human character and practical wisdom does he drink unconsciously from the sparkling persiflage of such a companion! Our education is hardly ever complete without it.

“ And so you think these stately Romans were not, after all, so dissimilar to ourselves ?" said Valerie, one day, as they looked over the same arth and ocean along which had roved the eyes of the voluptuous but august Lucullus.

" In the last days of their republic, a coup-d'ail of their social date might convey to us a general notion of our

Their system, like ours—a vast aristocracy rather than a monarchy; an aristocracy, heaved and agitated, but kept ambitious and intellectual by the great democratic ocean which roared below and around it. An immense distinction between rich and poor-a nobility sumptuous, wealthy, cultivated, yet scarcely ele. gant or refined; a people with mighty aspirations for more perfect liberty, but always liable, in a crisis, to be influenced and subdued by a deep-rooted and antique veneration for the very aristocracy against which they struggled; a ready opening through all the walls of custom and privilege for every description of talent and ambition; but so deep and universal a respect for wealth, that the finest spirit grew avaricious, griping, and corrupt almost unconsciously; and the man who rose from the people did not scruple to enrich himself out of the abuses he affected to lament; and the man who would have died for his country could not help thrusting his hands into her pockets. Cassius, the stubborn and thoughtful patriot, with heart of iron, had, you remember, an itching palm. Yet, what a blow to all the hopes and dreams of a world was the overthrow of the free party after the death of Cæsar! What gen



erations of freemen fell at Philippi! In England, perhaps, we may ultimately have the same struggle; in France, too (perhaps a larger stage, with far more inflammable actors), we already perceive the same war of elements which shook Rome to her centre, which finally replaced the generous Julius with the hypocriti. cal Augustus, which destroyed the colossal patricians to make way for the glittering dwarfs of a court, and cheated a people out of the substance with the shadow of liberty. How it may end in the modern world, who shall say! But while a nation has already a fair degree of constitutional freedom, I believe no struggle so perilous and awful as that between the aristocratic and the democratic principle. A people against a despotthat contest requires no prophet; but the change from an aristocratic to a democratic commonwealth is indeed the wide, unbounded prospect upon which rest shadows, clouds, and darkness. If it fail, for centuries is the dial-hand of time put back; if it succeed—"

Maltravers paused.
“ And if it succeed ?" said Valerie.

“Why, then, man will have colonized Utopia!” ex. claimed Maltravers, with sparkling eyes.

“But at least, in modern Europe,” he continued, “ there will be fair room for the experiment. For we have not that curse of slavery which, more than all else, vitiated every system of the ancients, and kept the rich and the poor alternately at war; and we have a press, which is not only the safety-valve of the passions of every party, but the great note-book of the experiments of every hour—the homely, the invaluable leger of losses and of gains. No; the people who keep that tablet well never can be bankrupt. And the society of those old Romans; their daily passions, occupations, humours ! why, the satire of Horace is the glass of our own follies! We may fancy his easy pages written in the Chaussée d'Antin or Mayfair; but there was one thing that will ever keep the ancient world dissimilar from the modern."

And what is that?" "The ancients knew not that delicacy in the affections which characterizes the descendants of the Goths," said Maltravers, and his voice slightly trenibled; "they gave up to the monopoly of the senses what ought to have had an equal share in the reason and the imagina.



tion. Their love was a beautiful and wanton butterfly; but not the butterfly which is the emblem of the soul."

Valerie sighed. She looked timidly into the face of the young philosopher, but his eyes were averted. Perhaps,” she said, after a short pause,

we pass our lives happier without love than with it. And in our modern social system,” she continued, thoughtfully, and with great truth, though it is scarcely the conclusion to which a woman often arrives, “I think we have pampered love to too great a preponderance over the other excitements of life. As children, we are taught to dream of it; in youth, our books, our conversations, our plays are filled with it. We are trained to consider it the essential of life; and yet, the moment we come to actual experience, the moment we indulge this inculcated and stimulated craving, nine times out of ten we find ourselves wretched and undone. Ah, believe me, Mr. Maltravers, this is not a world in which we should preach up, too far, the philosophy of love !"

“And does Valerie de St. Ventadour speak from experience ?" asked Maltravers, gazing earnestly upon the changing countenance of his companion.

“No; and I trust that I never may !" said Valerie, with great energy;

Ernest's lip curled slightly, for his pride was touched.

“I could give up many dreams of the future,” said he, “ to hear Madame de St. Ventadour revoke that senti. ment."

“We have outridden our companions, Mr. Maltravers,” said Valerie, coldly, and she reined in her horse. “Ah, Mr. Ferrers,” she continued, as Lumley and the handsome German baron now joined her,"

you are too gallant; I see you imply a delicate compliment to my horsemanship, when you wish me to believe you can. not keep up with me : Mr. Maltravers is not so polite."

"Nay,” returned Ferrers, who rarely threw away a compliment without a satisfactory return, nay, you and Maltravers appeared lost among the old Romans ; and our friend the baron took that opportunity to tell me of all the ladies who adored him."

Ah, Monsieur Ferrare, que vous êtes malin !” said Schomberg, looking very much confused.

Malin! no; I spoke from no envy: I never was adored, thank Heaven. What a bore it must be !"

[ocr errors]
« PoprzedniaDalej »