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"Citizen, thine hour is come!"
"Hist! she sleeps! A moment! There, it is done! thank Heaven!-- and STILL she sleeps!" He would not kiss, lest he should awaken her, but gently placed round her neck the amulet that would speak to her, hereafter, the farewell,--and promise, in that farewell, reunion! He is at the threshold,--he turns again, and again. The door closes! He is gone forever!
She woke at last,--she gazed round. "Zanoni, it is day!" No answer but the low wail of her child. Merciful Heaven! was it then all a dream? She tossed back the long tresses that must veil her sight; she felt the amulet on her bosom,--it was NO dream! "O God! and he is gone!" She sprang to the door,-- she shrieked aloud. The jailer comes. "My husband, my child's father?"
"He is gone before thee, woman!"
"To the guillotine!"--and the black door closed again.
It closed upon the senseless! As a lightning-flash, Zanoni's words, his sadness, the true meaning of his mystic gift, the very sacrifice he made for her, all became distinct for a moment to her mind,--and then darkness swept on it like a storm, yet darkness which had its light. And while she sat there, mute, rigid, voiceless, as congealed to stone, A VISION, like a wind, glided over the deeps within,--the grim court, the judge, the jury, the accuser; and amidst the victims the one dauntless and radiant form.
"Thou knowest the danger to the State,--confess!"
"I know; and I keep my promise. Judge, I reveal thy doom! I know that the Anarchy thou callest a State expires with the setting of this sun. Hark, to the tramp without; hark to the roar of voices! Room there, ye dead!--room in hell for Robespierre and his crew!"
They hurry into the court,--the hasty and pale messengers; there is confusion and fear and dismay! "Off with the conspirator, and to-morrow the woman thou wouldst have saved shall die!"
"To-morrow, president, the steel falls on THEE!"
On, through the crowded and roaring streets, on moves the Procession of Death. Ha, brave people! thou art aroused at last. They shall not die! Death is dethroned!--Robespierre has fallen!--they rush to the rescue! Hideous in the tumbril, by the side of Zanoni, raved and gesticulated that form which, in his prophetic dreams, he had seen his companion at the place of death. "Save us!--save us!" howled the atheist Nicot. "On, brave populace! we SHALL be saved!" And through the crowd, her dark hair streaming wild, her eyes flashing fire, pressed a female form, "My Clarence!" she shrieked, in the soft Southern language native to the ears of Viola; "butcher! what hast thou done with Clarence?" Her eyes roved over the eager faces of the prisoners; she saw not the one she sought. "Thank Heaven!--thank Heaven! I am not thy murderess!"
Nearer and nearer press the populace,--another moment, and the deathsman is defrauded. O Zanoni! why still upon THY brow the resignation that speaks no hope? Tramp! tramp! through the streets dash the armed troop; faithful to his orders, Black Henriot leads them on. Tramp! tramp! over the craven and scattered crowd! Here, flying in disorder,--there, trampled in the mire, the shrieking rescuers! And amidst them, stricken by the sabres of the guard, her long hair blood-bedabbled, lies the Italian woman; and still upon her writhing lips sits joy, as they murmur, "Clarence! I have not destroyed thee!"
On to the Barriere du Trone. It frowns dark in the air,--the giant instrument of murder! One after one to the glaive,-- another and another and another! Mercy! O mercy! Is the bridge between the sun and the shades so brief,--brief as a sigh? There, there,--HIS turn has come. "Die not yet; leave me not behind; hear me--hear me!" shrieked the inspired sleeper. "What! and thou smilest still!" They smiled,--those pale lips,--and WITH the smile, the place of doom, the headsman, the horror vanished. With that smile, all space seemed suffused in eternal sunshine. Up from the earth he rose; he hovered over her,--a thing not of matter, an IDEA of joy and light! Behind, Heaven opened, deep after deep; and the Hosts of Beauty were seen, rank upon rank, afar; and "Welcome!" in a myriad melodies, broke from your choral multitude, ye People of the Skies,--"welcome! O purified by sacrifice, and immortal only through the grave,--this it is to die." And radiant amidst the radiant, the IMAGE stretched forth its arms, and murmured to the sleeper: "Companion of Eternity!--THIS it is to die!"
"Ho! wherefore do they make us signs from the house-tops? Wherefore gather the crowds through the street? Why sounds the bell? Why shrieks the tocsin? Hark to the guns!--the armed clash! Fellow-captives, is there hope for us at last?"
So gasp out the prisoners, each to each. Day wanes--evening closes; still they press their white faces to the bars, and still from window and from house-top they see the smiles of friends,-- the waving signals! "Hurrah!" at last,--"Hurrah! Robespierre is fallen! The Reign of Terror is no more! God hath permitted us to live!"
Yes; cast thine eyes into the hall where the tyrant and his conclave hearkened to the roar without! Fulfilling the prophecy of Dumas, Henriot, drunk with blood and alcohol, reels within, and chucks his gory sabre on the floor. "All is lost!"
"Wretch! thy cowardice hath destroyed us!" yelled the fierce Coffinhal, as he hurled the coward from the window.
Calm as despair stands the stern St. Just; the palsied Couthon crawls, grovelling, beneath table; a shot,--an explosion! Robespierre would destroy himself! The trembling hand has mangled, and failed to kill! The clock of the Hotel de Ville strikes the third hour. Through the battered door, along the gloomy passages, into the Death-hall, burst the crowd. Mangled, livid, blood-stained, speechless but not unconscious, sits haughty yet, in his seat erect, the Master-Murderer! Around him they throng; they hoot,--they execrate, their faces gleaming in the tossing torches! HE, and not the starry Magian, the REAL Sorcerer! And round HIS last hours gather the Fiends he raised!
They drag him forth! Open thy gates, inexorable prison! The Conciergerie receives its prey! Never a word again on earth spoke Maximilien Robespierre! Pour forth thy thousands, and tens of thousands, emancipated Paris! To the Place de la Revolution rolls the tumbril of the King of Terror,--St. Just, Dumas, Couthon, his companions to the grave! A woman--a childless woman, with hoary hair--springs to his side, "Thy death makes me drunk with joy!" He opened his bloodshot eyes,--"Descend to hell with the curses of wives and mothers!"
The headsmen wrench the rag from the shattered jaw; a shriek, and the crowd laugh, and the axe descends amidst the shout of the countless thousands, and blackness rushes on thy soul, Maximilien Robespierre! So ended the Reign of Terror.
Daylight in the prison. From cell to cell they hurry with the news,--crowd upon crowd; the joyous captives mingled with the very jailers, who, for fear, would fain seem joyous too; they stream through the dens and alleys of the grim house they will shortly leave. They burst into a cell, forgotten since the previous morning. They found there a young female, sitting upon her wretched bed; her arms crossed upon her bosom, her face raised upward; the eyes unclosed, and a smile of more than serenity--of bliss--upon her lips. Even in the riot of their joy, they drew back in astonishment and awe. Never had they seen life so beautiful; and as they crept nearer, and with noiseless feet, they saw that the lips breathed not, that the repose was of marble, that the beauty and the ecstasy were of death. They gathered round in silence; and lo! at her feet there was a young infant, who, wakened by their tread, looked at them steadfastly, and with its rosy fingers played with its dead mother's robe. An orphan there in a dungeon vault!
"Poor one!" said a female (herself a parent), "and they say the father fell yesterday; and now the mother! Alone in the world, what can be its fate?"
The infant smiled fearlessly on the crowd, as the woman spoke thus. And the old priest, who stood amongst them, said gently, "Woman, see! the orphan smiles! THE FATHERLESS ARE THE CARE OF GOD!"
The curiosity which Zanoni has excited among those who think it worth while to dive into the subtler meanings they believe it intended to convey, may excuse me in adding a few words, not in explanation of its mysteries, but upon the principles which permit them. Zanoni is not, as some have supposed, an allegory; but beneath the narrative it relates, TYPICAL meanings are concealed. It is to be regarded in two characters, distinct yet harmonious,--1st, that of the simple and objective fiction, in which (once granting the license of the author to select a subject which is, or appears to be, preternatural) the reader judges the writer by the usual canons,--namely, by the consistency of his characters under such admitted circumstances, the interest of his story, and the coherence of his plot; of the work regarded in this view, it is not my intention to say anything, whether in exposition of the design, or in defence of the execution. No typical meanings (which, in plain terms are but moral suggestions, more or less numerous, more or less subtle) can afford just excuse to a writer of fiction, for the errors he should avoid in the most ordinary novel. We have no right to expect the most ingenious reader to search for the inner meaning, if the obvious course of the narrative be tedious and displeasing. It is, on the contrary, in proportion as we are satisfied with the objective sense of a work of imagination, that we are inclined to search into its depths for the more secret intentions of the author. Were we not so divinely charmed with "Faust," and "Hamlet," and "Prometheus," so ardently carried on by the interest of the story told to the common understanding, we should trouble ourselves little with the types in each which all of us can detect,--none of us can elucidate; none elucidate, for the essence of type is mystery. We behold the figure, we cannot lift the veil. The author himself is not called upon to explain what he designed. An allegory is a personation of distinct and definite things,--virtues or qualities,--and the key can be given easily; but a writer who conveys typical meanings, may express them in myriads. He cannot disentangle all the hues which commingle into the light he seeks to cast upon truth; and therefore the great masters of this enchanted soil,--Fairyland of Fairyland, Poetry imbedded beneath Poetry,--wisely leave to each mind to guess at such truths as best please or instruct it. To have asked Goethe to explain the "Faust" would have entailed as complex and puzzling an answer as to have asked Mephistopheles to explain what is beneath the earth we tread on. The stores beneath may differ for every passenger; each step may require a new description; and what is treasure to the geologist may be rubbish to the miner. Six worlds may lie under a sod, but to the common eye they are but six layers of stone.
Art in itself, if not necessarily typical, is essentially a suggester of something subtler than that which it embodies to the sense. What Pliny tells us of a great painter of old, is true of most great painters; "their works express something beyond the works,"--"more felt than understood." This belongs to the concentration of intellect which high art demands, and which, of all the arts, sculpture best illustrates. Take Thorwaldsen's Statue of Mercury,--it is but a single figure, yet it tells to those conversant with mythology a whole legend. The god has removed the pipe from his lips, because he has already lulled to sleep the Argus, whom you do not see. He is pressing his heel against his sword, because the moment is come when he may slay his victim. Apply the principle of this noble concentration of art to the moral writer: he, too, gives to your eye but a single figure; yet each attitude, each expression, may refer to events and truths you must have the learning to remember, the acuteness to penetrate, or the imagination to conjecture. But to a classical judge of sculpture, would not the exquisite pleasure of discovering the all not told in Thorwaldsen's masterpiece be destroyed if the artist had engraved in detail his meaning at the base of the statue? Is it not the same with the typical sense which the artist in words conveys? The pleasure of divining art in each is the noble exercise of all by whom art is worthily regarded.
We of the humbler race not unreasonably shelter ourselves under the authority of the masters, on whom the world's judgment is pronounced; and great names are cited, not with the arrogance of equals, but with the humility of inferiors.
The author of Zanoni gives, then, no key to mysteries, be they trivial or important, which may be found in the secret chambers by those who lift the tapestry from the wall; but out of the many solutions of the main enigma--if enigma, indeed, there be--which have been sent to him, he ventures to select the one which he subjoins, from the ingenuity and thought which it displays, and from respect for the distinguished writer (one of the most eminent our time has produced) who deemed him worthy of an honour he is proud to display. He leaves it to the reader to agree with, or dissent from the explanation. "A hundred men," says the old Platonist, "may read the book by the help of the same lamp, yet all may differ on the text, for the lamp only lights the characters,--the mind must divine the meaning." The object of a parable is not that of a problem; it does not seek to convince, but to suggest. It takes the thought below the surface of the understanding to the deeper intelligence which the world rarely tasks. It is not sunlight on the water; it is a hymn chanted to the nymph who hearkens and awakes below.
MEJNOUR:--Contemplation of the Actual,--SCIENCE. Always old, and must last as long as the Actual. Less fallible than Idealism, but less practically potent, from its ignorance of the human heart.
ZANONI:--Contemplation of the Ideal,--IDEALISM. Always necessarily sympathetic: lives by enjoyment; and is therefore typified by eternal youth. ("I do not understand the making Idealism less undying (on this scene of existence) than Science."--Commentator. Because, granting the above premises, Idealism is more subjected than Science to the Affections, or to Instinct, because the Affections, sooner or later, force Idealism into the Actual, and in the Actual its immortality departs. The only absolutely Actual portion of the work is found in the concluding scenes that depict the Reign of Terror. The introduction of this part was objected to by some as out of keeping with the fanciful portions that preceded it. But if the writer of the solution has rightly shown or suggested the intention of the author, the most strongly and rudely actual scene of the age in which the story is cast was the necessary and harmonious completion of the whole. The excesses and crimes of Humanity are the grave of the Ideal.-- Author.) Idealism is the potent Interpreter and Prophet of the Real; but its powers are impaired in proportion to their exposure to human passion.
VIOLA:--Human INSTINCT. (Hardly worthy to be called LOVE, as Love would not forsake its object at the bidding of Superstition.) Resorts, first in its aspiration after the Ideal, to tinsel shows; then relinquishes these for a higher love; but is still, from the conditions of its nature, inadequate to this, and liable to suspicion and mistrust. Its greatest force (Maternal Instinct) has power to penetrate some secrets, to trace some movements of the Ideal, but, too feeble to command them, yields to Superstition, sees sin where there is none, while committing sin, under a false guidance; weakly seeking refuge amidst the very tumults of the warring passions of the Actual, while deserting the serene Ideal,--pining, nevertheless, in the absence of the Ideal, and expiring (not perishing, but becoming transmuted) in the aspiration after having the laws of the two natures reconciled.
(It might best suit popular apprehension to call these three the Understanding, the Imagination, and the Heart.)
CHILD:--NEW-BORN INSTINCT, while trained and informed by Idealism, promises a preter-human result by its early, incommunicable vigilance and intelligence, but is compelled, by inevitable orphanhood, and the one-half of the laws of its existence, to lapse into ordinary conditions.
AIDON-AI:--FAITH, which manifests its splendour, and delivers its oracles, and imparts its marvels, only to the higher moods of the soul, and whose directed antagonism is with Fear; so that those who employ the resources of Fear must dispense with those of Faith. Yet aspiration holds open a way of restoration, and may summon Faith, even when the cry issues from beneath the yoke of fear.
DWELLER OF THE THRESHOLD:--FEAR (or HORROR), from whose ghastliness men are protected by the opacity of the region of Prescription and Custom. The moment this protection is relinquished, and the human spirit pierces the cloud, and enters alone on the unexplored regions of Nature, this Natural Horror haunts it, and is to be successfully encountered only by defiance,--by aspiration towards, and reliance on, the Former and Director of Nature, whose Messenger and Instrument of reassurance is Faith.
NICOT:--Base, grovelling, malignant PASSION.
GLYNDON:--UNSUSTAINED ASPIRATION: Would follow Instinct, but is deterred by Conventionalism, is overawed by Idealism, yet attracted, and transiently inspired, but has not steadiness for the initiatory contemplation of the Actual. He conjoins its snatched privileges with a besetting sensualism, and suffers at once from the horror of the one and the disgust of the other, involving the innocent in the fatal conflict of his spirit. When on the point of perishing, he is rescued by Idealism, and, unable to rise to that species of existence, is grateful to be replunged into the region of the Familiar, and takes up his rest henceforth in Custom. (Mirror of Young Manhood.)
Human Existence subject to, and exempt from, ordinary conditions (Sickness, Poverty, Ignorance, Death).
SCIENCE is ever striving to carry the most gifted beyond ordinary conditions,--the result being as many victims as efforts, and the striver being finally left a solitary,--for his object is unsuitable to the natures he has to deal with.
The pursuit of the Ideal involves so much emotion as to render the Idealist vulnerable by human passion, however long and well guarded, still vulnerable,--liable, at last, to a union with Instinct. Passion obscures both Insight and Forecast. All effort to elevate Instinct to Idealism is abortive, the laws of their being not coinciding (in the early stage of the existence of the one). Instinct is either alarmed, and takes refuge in Superstition or Custom, or is left helpless to human charity, or given over to providential care.
Idealism, stripped of in sight and forecast, loses its serenity, becomes subject once more to the horror from which it had escaped, and by accepting its aids, forfeits the higher help of Faith; aspiration, however, remaining still possible, and, thereby, slow restoration; and also, SOMETHING BETTER.
Summoned by aspiration, Faith extorts from Fear itself the saving truth to which Science continues blind, and which Idealism itself hails as its crowning acquisition,--the inestimable PROOF wrought out by all labours and all conflicts.
Pending the elaboration of this proof,
CONVENTIONALISM plods on, safe and complacent;
SELFISH PASSION perishes, grovelling and hopeless;
INSTINCT sleeps, in order to a loftier waking; and
IDEALISM learns, as its ultimate lesson, that self-sacrifice is true redemption; that the region beyond the grave is the fitting one for exemption from mortal conditions; and that Death is the everlasting portal, indicated by the finger of God,--the broad avenue through which man does not issue solitary and stealthy into the region of Free Existence, but enters triumphant, hailed by a hierarchy of immortal natures.
The result is (in other words), THAT THE UNIVERSAL HUMAN LOT IS, AFTER ALL, THAT OF THE HIGHEST PRIVILEGE.
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Zanoni -by- Edward Bulwer Lytton