Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

it is that carries keys more than papals at her girdle, which open every cottage and every palace. She, to my knowledge, sate all last summer by the bedside of that blind beggar, him that so often and so gladly I talked with, whose pious daughter, eight years old, with the sunny countenance, resisted the temptations of play and village mirth, to travel all day long on dusty roads with her afflicted father. For this did God send her a great reward, In the spring time of the year, and whilst yet her own spring was budding, He recalled her to Himself. But her blind father mourns for ever over her; still he dreams at midnight that the little guiding hand is locked within his own; and still he wakens to a darkness that is now within—a second and a deeper darkness. This Mater Lachrymarum also has been sitting all this winter of 1844-5 within the bedchamber of the Czar, bringing before his eyes a daughter (not less pious) that vanished to God not less suddenly, and left behind her a darkness not less profound. By the power of the Keys it is that Our Lady of Tears glides a ghostly intruder into the chambers of sleepless men, sleepless women, sleepless children, from Ganges to the Nile, from Nile to Mississippi. And her, because she is the first-born of her house, and has the widest empire, let us honour with the title of “Madonna.”

The second sister is called Mater Suspiriorum Our Lady of Sighs. She never scales the clouds, nor walks abroad upon the winds. She wears no diadem. And her eyes, if they were ever seen, would be neither sweet nor subtle; no man could read their story; they would be found filled with perishing dreams, and with wrecks of forgotten delirium. But she raises not her eyes; her head, on which sits a dilapidated turban, droops for ever, for ever fastens on the dust. She weeps not. She groans not. But she sighs inaudibly at intervals. Her sister, Madonna, is oftentimes stormy and frantic, raging in the highest against heaven, and demanding back her darlings. But Our Lady of Sighs never clamours, never defies, dreams not of rebellious aspirations. She is humble to abjectness. Hers is the meekness that belongs to the hopeless. Murmur she may, but it is in her sleep. Whisper she may, but it is to herself in the twilight. Mutter she does at times, but it is in solitary places that are desolate as she is desolate, in ruined cities, and when the sun has gone down to his rest. This sister is the visitor of the Pariah,4 of the Jew,5 of the bondsman to the oar in the Mediterranean galleys; of the English criminal in Norfolk Island, blotted out from the books of remembrance in sweet far-off England; of the baffled penitent reverting his eyes for ever on a solitary grave, which to him seems the altar overthrown of some past and bloody sacrifice, on which altar no oblations can now be awaiting, whether towards pardon that he might implore, or towards reparation that he might attempt. Every slave that at noonday looks up to the tropical sun with timid reproach, as he points with one hand to the earth, our general mother, but for him a stepmother,-as he points with the other hand to the Bible, our general teacher, but against him sealed and sequestered ;-every woman sitting in darkness, without love to shelter her head, or hope to illumine her solitude, because the heavenborn instincts kindling in her nature germs of holy affections, which God implanted in her womanly bosom, having been stifled by social necessities, now burn sullenly to waste, like scpulchral lamps amongst the ancients; every nun defrauded of her unreturning May-time by wicked kinsman, whom God will judge; every captive in every dungeon; all that are betrayed, and all that are rejected ; outcasts by traditionary law, and children of hereditary disgrace,-all these walk with Our Lady of Sighs. She also carries a key; but she needs it little. For her kingdom is chiefly amongst the tents of Shem, and the houseless vagrant of every clime. Yet in the very highest ranks of man she finds chapels of her own; and even in glorious England there are some that, to the world, carry their heads as proudly as the reindeer, who yet secretly have received her mark upon their foreheads.

But the third sister who is also the youngest ! Hush! whisper whilst we talk of her! Her kingdom is not large, or else no flesh should live; but within that kingdom all power is hers. Her head, turreted like that of Cybele, rises almost beyond the reach of sight. She droops not; and her eyes rising so high might be hidden by distance. But, being what they are, they cannot be hidden; through the treble veil of crape which she wears, the fierce light of a blazing misery, that rests not for matins? or for vespers, for noon of day or noon of night, for ebbing or for flowing tide, may be read from the very ground. She is the defier of God. She also is the mother of lunacies, and the suggestress of suicides. Deep lie the roots of her power; but narrow is the nation that she rules. For she can approach only those in whom a profound nature has been upheaved by central convulsions; in whom the heart trembles and the brain rocks under conspiracies of tempest from without and tempest from within. Madonna moves with uncertain steps, fast or slow, but still with tragic grace.

Our Lady of Sighs creeps timidly and stealthily. But this youngest sister moves with incalculable motions, bounding and with a tiger's leaps. She carries no key; for, though coming rarely amongst men, she storms all doors at which she is permitted to enter at all. And her name is Mater Tenebrarum,–Our Lady of Darkness.

Thomas De Quincey.

VII.

THE SINKING OF THE SHIP.

'Twas twilight, and the sunless day went down

Over the waste of waters; like a veil, Which, if withdrawn, would but disclose the frown

Of one whose hate is mask'd but to assail. Thus to their hopeless eyes the night was shown,

And grimly darkled o'er the faces pale, And the dim desolate deep; twelve days had Fear Been their familiar, and now Death was here,

[ocr errors]

At half-past eight o'clock booms, hencoops, spars,

And all things, for a chance, had been cast loose, That still could keep afloat the struggling tars,

For yet they strove, although of no great use: There was no light in heaven but a few stars,

The boats put off, o'ercrowded with their crews; She gave a heel, and then a lurch to port,

And, going down head foremost-sunk, in short.

Then rose from sea to sky the wild farewell

Then shriek'd the timid, and stood still the brave, Then some leap'd overboard with dreadful yell,

As eager to anticipate their grave;
And the sea yawn'd around her like a hell,

And down she suck'd with her the whirling wave,
Like one who grapples with his enemy,
And strives to strangle him before he die.

And first one universal shriek there rush'd,

Louder than the loud ocean, like a crash Of echoing thunder; and then all was hush’d,

Save the wild wind and the remorseless dash
Of billows; but at intervals there gush’d,

Accompanied with a convulsive splash,
A solitary shriek, the bubbling cry
Of some strong swimmer in his agony.

Lord Byron.

[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsett »