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ponderating beauties. Without repeating the praise, elsewhere given to the majesty of the poet's versification, and which this piece alone could be sufficient to justify, the reader's attention may be solicited to the colours with which Dryden has drawn a mind wrought up to the highest pitch of despair. Sigismonda is placed in that situation, in which, above all others, the human disposition seems to acquire a sort of supernatural strength or obstinacy; for although guilty of a crime, she is punished in a degree far exceeding the measure of the offence. In such a situation, that acuteness of feeling, which would otherwise waste itself influctuations betwixt shame, fear, and remorse, is willingly and eagerly turned into the channel of resistance and recrimination; and perhaps no readier mode can be discovered of hardening the human heart, even to the consistence of the nether millstone. It is in this state, that Sigismonda resolutely, and even joyfully, embraces death, in order to punish her father, and rejoin her lover. The previous arguments with Tancred, sufficiently, and, in the circumstances, naturally, intimate the tone of her mind, and are a striking instance of Dryden's power in painting passion wrought up to desperation.
The scene is laid in the middle ages, when the principality of Salerno was ruled by a dynasty of Norman princes, deriving their family from the celebrated Robert de Guiscard.
WHILE Norman Tancred in Salerno reign'd,
This prince, of fortune's favour long possess’d,
required, And all his vassals eagerly desired,
With mind averse, he rather underwent
Short were her marriage-joys; for in the prime
space Restored anew, she held a higher place; More loved, and more exalted into grace. This princess, fresh and young, and fair and wise, The worshipp'd idol of her father's eyes, Did all her sex in every grace ex
exceed, And had more wit beside than women need. Youth, health, and ease, and most an amorous
Resolved at last to lose no longer time,
page: To him, the choice of all the shining crowd, Her heart the noble Sigismonda vow'd.
Yet hitherto she kept her love conceal'd, And with clo e glances every day beheld
The graceful youth ; and every day increased
; The raging fire that burn'd within her breast : Some secret charm did all his acts attend, And what his fortune wanted, her's could mend; Till, as the fire will force its outward way, Or, in the prison pent, consume the prey, So long her earnest eyes on his were set, At length their twisted rays together met; And he, surprised with humble joy, survey'd One sweet regard, shot by the royal maid. Not well assured, while doubtful hopes he nursed, A second glance came gliding like the first ; And he, who saw the sharpness of the dart, Without defence received it in his heart. In public, though their passion wanted speech, Yet mutual looks interpreted for each : Time, ways, and means of meeting, were denied ;
, But all those wants ingenious love supplied. The inventive God, who never fails his part, Inspires the wit, when once he warms the heart.
When Guiscard next was in the circle seen, Where Sigismonda held the place of queen, A hollow cane within her hand she brought, But in the concave had inclosed a note; With this she seem'd to play, and, as in sport, Toss'd to her love in presence of the court : Take it, she said ; and when your needs require, This little brand will serve to light your fire.He took it with a bow, and soon divined The seeming toy was not for nought design'd: But when retired, so long with curious eyes He view'd the present, that he found the prize. Much was in little writ; and all convey'd With cautious care, for fear to be betray'd By some false confidant, or favourite maid. The time, the place, the manner how to meet, Were all in punctual order plainly writ:
But since a trust must be, she thought it best
Guiscard (her secret purpose understood)
Near the proud palace of Salerno stood A mount of rough ascent, and thick with wood; Through this a cave was dug with vast expence, The work it seem'd of some suspicious prince, Who, when abusing power with lawless might, From public justice would secure his flight. The passage made by many a winding way, Reach'd even the room in which the tyrant lay. Fit for his purpose, on a lower floor He lodged, whose issue was an iron door ;
' From whence, by stairs descending to the ground, In the blind grot a safe retreat he found. Its outlet ended in a brake o'ergrown With brambles, choked bytime, and now unknown. A rift there was, which from the mountain's height Convey'd a glimmering and malignant light, A breathing place to draw the damps away, A twilight of an intercepted day. The tyrant's den, whose use, though lost to fame, Was now the apartment of the royal dame; The cavern, only to her father known, By him was to his darling daughter shown.
Neglected long she let the secret rest, Till love recall'd it to her labouring breast, And hinted as the way by heaven design'd, The teacher, by the means he taught, to blind. What will not women do, when need inspires Their wit, or love their inclination fires ! Though jealousy of state the invention found, Yet love refined upon the former ground.