Obrazy na stronie

SCENE IV. A Hall of the Prison. Enter CAMillo and BERNARDo.

CAMILL0. The Pope is stern ; not to be moved or bent. He looked as calm and keen as is the engine Which tortures and which kills, exempt itself From aught that it inflicts; a marble form, A rite, a law, a custom ; not a man. He frowned, as if to frown had been the trick Of his machinery, on the advocates Presenting the defences, which he tore And threw behind, muttering with hoarse, harsh

Volce : “Which among ye defended their old father Killed in his sleep " Then to another: “Thou Dost this in virtue of thy place; 'tis well.” He turned to me then, looking deprecation, And o three words, coldly: “They must le. BERNARDO.

And yet you left him not

I urged him still ;

Pleading, as I could guess, the devilish wrong
Which prompted your unnatural parent's death.
And he replied, “Paolo Santa Croce
Murdered his mother yester evening,
And he is fled. Parricide grows so rife,
That soon, for some just cause no doubt, the young
Will strangle us all, dozing in our chairs.
Authority, and power, and hoary hair
Are grown crimes capital. You are my nephew,
You come to ask their pardon : stay a moment
Here is their sentence; never see me more
Till, to the letter, it be all fulfilled.”

Bern Ardo. O, God, not so I did believe indeed That all you said was but sad preparation For happy news. O, there are words and looks To bend the sternest purpose Once I knew them, Now I forget them at my dearest need. What think you if I seek him out, and bathe His feet and robe with hot and bitter tears Importune him with prayers, vexing his brain With my perpetual cries, until in rage He strike me with his pastoral cross, and trample Upon my prostrate head, so that my blood May stain the senseless dust on which he treads, And remorse waken mercy I will do it ! 0, wait till I return 1 [Rushes out.

CAMILL0. Alas! poor boy A wreck-devoted seaman thus might pray To the deaf sea.

Enter Lucartia, BEATRice, and Giacomo, guardca.

BEATRICE. I hardly dare to fear That thou bring'st other news than a just pardon.

CAM illo. May God in heaven be less inexorable To the Pope's prayers, than he has been to mine. Here is the sentence and the warrant.

BEATRICE (wildly).

My God l Can it be possible I have
To die so suddenly So young to go
Under the obscure, cold, rotting, wormy ground !
To be nailed down into a narrow place;
To see no more sweet sunshine; hear no more
Blithe voice of living thing ; muse not again
Upon familiar thoughts, sad, yet thus lost
How fearful to be nothing ! Or to be—
What? 0, where am I ? Let me not go mad :
Sweet Heaven, forgive weak thoughts . If there
should be
No God, no Heaven, no Earth in the void world;
The wide, grey, lampless, deep, unpeopled world !
If all things then should be—my father's spirit,
His eye, his voice, his touch surrounding me;
The atmosphere and breath of my dead life
If sometimes, as a shape more like himself,
Even the form which tortured me on earth,

Masked in grey hairs and wrinkles, he should come, o

And wind me in his hellish arms, and fix His eyes on mine, and drag me down, down, down For was he not alone omnipotent On Earth, and ever present even though dead, Does not his spirit live in all that breathe, | And work for me and mine still the same ruin, Scorn, pain, despair : Who ever yet returned To teach the laws of death's untrodden realm ? Unjust perhaps as those which drive us now, | O, whither, whither LUCR eti A. | Trust in God's sweet love, The tender promises of Christ: ere night Think we shall be in Paradise. BeAtriCE. 'Tis past! | Whatever comes, my heart shall sink no more. And yet, I know not why, your words strike chill: How tedious, false, and cold seem all things . I Have met with much injustice in this world; No difference has been made by God or man, Or any power moulding my wretched lot, "Twixt good or evil, as regarded me. I am cut off from the only world I know, From light, and life, and love, in youth'ssweet prime. You do well telling me to trust in God; I hope I do trust in him. In whom else Can any trust And yet my heart is cold. [During the latter speches GAcomo has retired conversing with CAMillo, who now goes out; Glacoxo advances. Gi AcOMO. Know you not, mother—sister, know you not? Bernardo even now is gone to implore The Pope to grant our pardon.

Child, perhaps

It will be granted. We may all then live
To make these woes a tale for distant years:
O, what a thought ! It gushes to my heart
Like the warm blood.


Yet both will soon be cold :

O, trample out that thought ! Worse than despair,

[ocr errors]

Worse than the bitterness of death, is hope :
It is the only ill which can find place –

Upon the giddy, sharp, and narrow hour
Tottering beneath us. Plead with the swift frost
That it should spare the eldest flower of spring :
Plead with awakening earthquake, o'er whose couch
Even now a city stands, strong, fair, and free ;
Now stench and blackness yawns, like death. O,
With famine, or wind-walking pestilence, [plead
Blind lightning, or the deaf sea, not with man
Cruel, cold, formal man ; righteous in words,
In deeds a Cain. No, Mother, we must die :
Since such is the reward of innocent lives ;
Such the alleviation of worst wrongs.
And whilst our murderers live, and hard, cold men,
Smiling and slow, walk through a world of tears
To death, as to life's sleep ; ’twere just the grave

Were somestrangejoy forus. Come, obscure Death,

And wind me in thine all-embracing arms
Like a fond mother hide me in thy bosom,
And rock me to the sleep from which none wake.
Live ye, who live, subject to one another
As we were once, who now—

BERNARD0 rushes in.


O, horrible ! That tears, that looks, that hope poured forth in Even till the heart is vacant and despairs,[prayer, Should all be vain . The ministers of death Are waiting round the doors. I thought I saw Blood on the face of one—what if 'twere fancy Soon the heart's blood of all I love on earth Will sprinkle him, and he will wipe it off As if 'twere only rain. O, life O, world ! Cover me! let me be no more 1 To see That perfect mirror of pure innocence Wherein I gazed, and grew happy and good, Shivered to dust ' To see thee, Beatrice, Who made all lovely thou didst look upon— Thee, light of life—dead, dark while I say, sister, To hear I have no sister; and thou, Mother, Whose love was a bond to all our loves— Dead . The sweet bond broken

Enter CAMILLo and Guards.

, They come ! Let me Kiss those warm lips before their crimson leaves Are blighted—white—cold. Say farewell, before Death chokes that gentle voice O let me hear You speak || BEATRICE.

Farewell, my tender brother. Of our sad fate with gentleness, as now : And let mild, pitying thoughts lighten for thee Thy sorrow's load. Err not in harsh despair, But tears and patience. One thing more, my child: For thine own sake be constant to the love Thou bearest us; and to the faith that I, Though wrapt in a strange cloud of crime and

Lived ever holy and unstained. And though
Ill tongues shall wound me, and our common

Be as a mark stamped on thine innocent brow
For men to point at as they pass, do thou
Forbear, and never think a thought unkind
Of those who perhaps love thee in their graves.
So mayest thou die as I do ; fear and pain
Being subdued. Farewell ! Farewell Farewell !


Bernar Do. I cannot say farewell !

O, Lady Beatrice

BEATRICE. Give yourself no unnecessary pain, My dear Lord Cardinal. Here, Mother, tie My girdle for me, and bind up this hair In any simple knot : ay, that does well. And yours I see is coming down. How often Have we done this for one another now We shall not do it any more. My Lord, We are quite ready. Well, 'tis very well.



The sort of mistake that Shelley made, as to the extent of his own genius and powers, which led him deviously at first, but lastly into the direct track that enabled him fully to develop them, is a curious instance of his modesty of feeling, and of the methods which the human mind uses at once to deceive itself, and yet, in its very delusion, to make its way out of error into the path which nature has marked out as its right one. He often incited me to attempt the writing a tragedy—he conceived that I possessed some dramatic talent, and he was always most earnest and energetic in his exhortations that I should cultivate any talent I possessed, to the utmost. I entertained a truer estimate of my powers; and, above all, though at that time not exactly aware of the fact, I was far too young to have any chance of succeeding, even moderately, in a species of composition, that requires a greater scope of experience in, and sympathy with, human passion than could then have fallen to my lot, or than any perhaps, except Shelley, ever possessed, even at the age of twentysix, at which he wrote the Cenci.

On the other hand, Shelley most erroneously conceived himself to be destitute of this talent. He believed that one of the first requisites was the capacity of forming and following up a story or plot. He fancied himself to be defective in this portion of imagination—it was that which gave him least pleasure in the writings of others—though he laid great store by it, as the proper framework to support the sublimest efforts of poetry. He asserted that he was too metaphysical and abstract—too fond of the theoretical and the ideal, to succeed as a tragedian. It perhaps is not strange that I shared this opinion with himself, for he had hitherto shown no inclination for, nor given any specimen of his powers in framing and supporting the interest of a story, either in prose or verse. Once or twice, when he attempted susch, he had speedily thrown it aside, as being even disagreeable to him as an occupation.

The subject he had suggested for a tragedy was Charles I., and he had written to me, “Remember, remember Charles I. I have been already imagining how you would conduct some scenes.

The second volume of St. Leon begins with this proud and true sentiment, ‘There is nothing which the human mind can conceive which it may not execute.” Shakspeare was only a human being.” These words were written in 1818, while we were in Lombardy, when he little thought how soon a work of his own would prove a proud comment on the passage he quoted. When in Rome, in 1819, a friend put into our hands the old manuscript account of the story of the Cenci. We visited the Colonna and Doria palaces, where the portraits of Beatrice were to be found ; and her beauty cast the reflection of its own grace over her appalling story. Shelley's imagination became strongly excited, and he urged the subject to me as one fitted for a tragedy. More than ever I felt my incompetence; but I entreated him to write it instead; and he began and proceeded swiftly, urged on by intense sympathy with the sufferings of the human beings whose passions, so long cold in the tomb, he revived, and gifted with poetic language. This tragedy is the only one of his works that he communicated to me during its progress. We talked over the arrangement of the scenes together. I speedily saw the great mistake we had made, and triumphed in the discovery of the new talent brought to light from that mine of wealth, never, alas! through his untimely death, worked to its depths—his richly-gifted mind.

We suffered a severe affliction in Rome by the loss of our eldest child, who was of such beauty and promise as to cause him deservedly to be the idol of our hearts. We left the capital of the world, anxious for a time to escape a spot associated too intimately with his presence and loss". Some friends of ours were residing in the neighbourhood of Leghorn, and we took a small house, Villa Walsovano, about half-way between the town and Monte Nero, where we remained during the

* Such feelings haunted him when, in the Cenci, he makes Beatrice speak to Cardinal Camillo of that fair blue-eyed child, Who was the load-star of your life. And say— All see, since his most piteous death, That day and night, and heaven and earth, and time, And all the things hoped for, or done therein, Are changed to you, through your exceeding grief.

[blocks in formation]

At the top of the house, there was a sort of terrace. There is often such in Italy, generally roofed. This one was very small, yet not only roofed but glazed ; this Shelley made his study ; it looked out on a wide prospect of fertile country, and commanded a view of the near sea. The storms that sometimes varied our day showed themselves most picturesquely as they were driven across the ocean ; sometimes the dark lurid clouds dipped towards the waves, and became waterspouts, that churned up the waters beneath, as they were chased onward, and scattered by the tempest. At other times the dazzling sunlight and heat made it almost intolerable to every other; but Shelley basked in both, and his health and spirits revived under their influence. In this airy cell he wrote the principal part of The Cenci. He was making a study of Calderon at the time, reading his best tragedies with an accomplished lady living near us, to whom his letter from Leghorn was addressed during the following year. He admired Calderon, both for his poetry and his dramatic genius; but it shows his judg

by his first acquaintance with the Spanish poet, none of his peculiarities crept into the composition of The Cenci ; and there is no trace of his new studies, except in that passage to which he himself alludes, as suggested by one in El Purgatorio de San Patricio.

Shelley wished The Cenci to be acted. He was not a play-goer, being of such fastidious taste that he was easily disgusted by the bad filling up of the | inferior parts. While preparing for our departure from England, however, he saw Miss O'Neil several times; she was then in the zenith of her glory, and Shelley was deeply moved by her impersonation of several parts, and by the graceful sweetness, the intense pathos, and sublime vehemence of passion she displayed. She was often in histhoughtsas he wrote, and when he had finished, he became anxious that his tragedy should be acted, and receive the advantage of having this | accomplished actress to fill the part of the heroine. With this view he wrote the following letter to a friend in London —

ment and originality, that, though greatly struck

“The object of the present letter is to ask a favour of you. I have written a tragedy on a story well known in Italy and, in my conception, eminently dramatic. I have taken some pains to make my play fit for representation, and those who have already seen it judge favourably. It is written without any of the peculiar feelings and opinions which characterise my other compositions; I having attended simply to the impartial development of such characters as it is probable the persons represented really were, together with the greatest degree of popular effect to be produced by such a development. I send you a translation of the Italian MS. on which my play is founded ; the chief circumstance of which I have touched very delicately ; for my principal doubt as to whether it would succeed, as an acting play, hangs entirely on the question as to whether any such a thing as incest in this shape, however treated, would be admitted on the stage. I think, however, it will form no objection, considering, first, that the facts are matter of history, and, secondly, the peculiar delicacy with which I have treated it *.

“I am exceedingly interested in the question of whether this attempt of mine will succeed or not. I am strongly inclined to the affirmative at present; founding my hopes on this, that as a composition it is certainly not inferior to any of the modern plays that have been acted, with the exception of “Remorse ;’ that the interest of the plot is incre. dibly greater and more real, and that there is nothing beyond what the multitude are contented to believe that they can understand, either in imagery, opinion, or sentiment. I wish to preserve a complete incognito, and can trust to you that, whatever else you do, you will at least favour me on this point. Indeed this is essential, deeply essential to its success. After it had been acted and successfully, (could I hope for such a thing) I would own it if I pleased, and use the celebrity it might acquire to my own purposes.

“What I want you to do, is to procure for me its presentation at Covent Garden. The principal character, Beatrice, is precisely fitted for Miss O'Neil, and it might even seem to have been written for her, (God forbid that I should see her play it—it would tear my nerves to pieces) and in all respects it is fitted only for Covent Garden. The chief male character I confess I should be very unwilling that any one but Kean should play— that is impossible, and I must be contented with an inferior actor.”

* In speaking of his mode of treating this main incident, Shelley said that it might be remarked that, in the course of the play, he had never mentioned expressly Cenci's worst crime. Every one knew what it must be, but it was never imaged in words—the nearest allusion to it being that portion of Cenci's curse, beginning, “That if she have a child,” &c.

The play was accordingly sent to Mr. Harris. He pronounced the subject to be so objectionable, that he could not even submit the part to Miss O'Neil for perusal, but expressed his desire that the author would write a tragedy on some other subject, which he would gladly accept. Shelley printed a small edition at Leghorn, to insure its correctness; as he was much annoyed by the many mistakes that crept into his text, when distance prevented him from correcting the press.

Universal approbation soon stamped The Cenci as the best tragedy of modern times. Writing concerning it, Shelley said: “I have been cautious to avoid the introducing faults of youthful composition; diffuseness, a profusion of inapplicable imagery, vagueness, generality, and, as Hamlet says, words, words.” There is nothing that is not purely dramatic throughout ; and the character of Beatrice, proceeding from vehement struggle to horror, to deadly resolution, and lastly, to the elevated dignity of calm suffering joined to passionate tenderness and pathos, is touched with hues so vivid and so beautiful, that the poet seems to have read intimately the secrets of the noble heart imaged in the lovely countenance of the unfortunate girl. The Fifth Act is a masterpiece. It is the finest thing he ever wrote, and may claim

proud comparison not only with any contemporary,

but preceding poet. The varying feelings of Beatrice are expressed with passionate, heartreaching eloquence. Every character has a voice that echoes truth in its tones. It is curious, to one acquainted with the written story, to mark the success with which the poet has inwoven the real incidents of the tragedy into his scenes, and yet, through the power of poetry, has obliterated all that would otherwise have shown too harsh or too hideous in the picture. His success was a double triumph ; and often after he was earnestly entreated to write again in a style that commanded popular favour, while it was not less instinct with truth and genius. But the bent of his mind went the other way; and even when employed on subjects whose interest depended on character and incident, he would start off in another direction, and leave the delineations of human passion, which he could depict in so able a manner, for fantastic creations of his fancy, or the expression of those opinions and sentiments with regard to human nature and its destiny; a desire to diffuse which, was the master passion of his soul.

Finding among my papers the account of the case of the Cenci family, translated from the old Roman MS., written at the period when the disastrous events it commemorates occurred, I append it here, as the perusal must interest every reader.




The most wicked life which the Roman nobleman,

Francesco Cenci, led while he lived in this world, not ... only occasioned his own ruin and death, but also that of many others, and brought down the entire destruc

tion of his house. This nobleman was the son of Monsignore Cenci, who, having been treasurer during the pontificate of Pius W., left immense wealth to Francesco, his only son. From this inheritance alone he enjoyed an income of 160,000 crowns, and he increased his fortune by marrying an exceedingly rich lady, who died after she had given birth to seven uufortunate children. He then contracted a second marriage with Lucretia Petroni, a lady of a noble Roman family; but he had no children by her. Sodomy was the least, and atheism the greatest, of the vices of Francesco; as is proved by the tenor of his life; for he was three times accused of sodomy, and paid the sum of 100,000

crowns to government, in commutation of the punishment rightfully awarded to this crime: and concerning his religion, it is sufficient to state, that he never frequented any church; and although he caused a small chapel, dedicated to the apostle St. Thomas, to be built in the court of his palace, his intention in so doing was to bury there all his children, whom he cruelly hated. He had driven the eldest of these, Giacomo, Cristofero, and Rocco, from the paternal mansion, while they were yet too young to have given him any real cause of displeasure. He sent them to the university of Salamanca, but, refusing to remit to them there the money necessary for their maintenance, they desperately returned home. They found that this change only increased their misery, for the hatred and contempt of their father towards them was so aggravated, that he refused to dress or maintain them, so that

« PoprzedniaDalej »