Sivut kuvina

minds, whom death occupies as much as life, are singularly attracted by the aspect of that Campagna, where the present times have left no trace; that earth which cherishes only the dead, and covers them in its love with useless flowers-plants which creep along the surface, and never acquire sufficient strength to separate themselves from the ashes, which they have the appearance of caressing."—Corinne, book v. c. 1.

How many travellers have traversed the Appian Way, but how few have felt the deep impressions which these words are fitted to produce !

"The churches of modern Rome," continues the same author, “ are decorated with the magnificence of antiquity, but there is something sombre and striking in the intermingling of these beautiful marbles with the ornaments stripped from the Pagan temples. The columns of porphyry and granite were so numerous at Rome, that they ceased to have any value. At St John Lateran, that church so famous from the councils of which it was the theatre, there were such a quantity of marble columns that many of them were covered with plaster to be converted into pilasters—so completely had the multitude of riches rendered them indifferent. Some of these columns came from the tomb of Adrian, and bear yet upon their capitals the mark of the geese which saved the Roman people. These columns support the ornaments of Gothic churches, and some rich sculptures in the arabesque order. The urn of Agrippa has received the ashes of a pope, for the dead themselves have yielded their place to other dead, and the tombs have changed tenants nearly as often as the mansions of the living.

“Near St John Lateran is the holy stair, transported from Jerusalem. No one is permitted to ascend it but on his knees. In like manner Cæsar and Claudius ascended on their knees the stair which led to the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. Beside St John Lateran is the Baptistery, where Constantine was baptised--in the middle of the Place before the church is an obelisk, perhaps the most ancient monument which exists in the world-an obelisk contemporary with the war of Troy-an obelisk which the barbarian Cambyses respected so much as to stop for its beauty the conflagration of a city-an obelisk for which a king put in pledge the life of his only son. The Romans, in a surprising manner, got it conveyed from the depths of Egypt to Italy—they turned aside the course of the Nile to bring its waters so as to convey it to the sea. Even then that obelisk was covered with hieroglyphics whose secrets have been kept for so many ages, and which still withstand the researches of our most learned scholars. Possibly the Indians, the Egyptians, the antiquity of antiquity, might be revealed to us in these mysterious signs. The wonderful charm of Rome consists, not merely in the beauty of its monuments, but in the interest which they all awaken, and that species of charm increases daily with every fresh study."-Ibid. c. 3.

We add only a feeble prosaic translation of the splendid improvisatore effusion of Corinne on the Cape of Mesinum, surrounded by the marvels of the shore of Baia and the Phlegrian fields.

"Poetry, nature, history, here rival each other in grandeur-here you can embrace in a single glance all the revolutions of time and all its prodigies.

"I see the Lake of Avernus, the extinguished crater of a volcano, whose waters formerly inspired so much terror-Acheron, Phlegethon, which a subterraneous flame caused to boil, are the rivers of the infernals visited by Æneas. VOL. III.


“Fire, that devouring element which created the world, and is destined to consume it, was formerly an object of the greater terror that its laws were unknown. Nature, in the olden times, revealed its secrets to poetry alone.

“ The City of Cumæ, the Cave of the Sibyl, the Temple of Apollo, were placed on that height. There grew the wood whence was gathered the golden branch. The country of Æneas is around you, and the fictions consecrated by genius have become recollections of which we still seek the traces.

“A Triton plunged into these waves the presumptuous Trojan who dared to defy the divinities of the deep by his songs—these water-worn and sonorous rocks have still the character wbich Virgil gave them. Imagination was faithful even in the midst of its omnipotence. The genius of man is creative when he feels Nature-imitative when he fancies he is creating.

“In the midst of these terrible masses, gray witnesses of the creation, we see a new mountain which the volcano has produced. Here the earth is stormy as the ocean, and does not, like it, re-enter peaceably into its limits. The heavy element, elevated by subterraneous fire, fills up valleys, 'rains mountains,' and its petrified waves attest the tempests which once tore its entrails.

“ If you strike on this hill, the subterraneous vault resounds-you would say that the inhabited earth is nothing but a crust ready to open and swallow us up. The Campagna of Naples is the image of human passion-sulphurous, but fruitful ; its dangers and its pleasures appear to grow out of those glowing volcanoes which give to the air so many charms, and cause the thunder to roll beneath our feet.

“Pliny boasted that his country was the most beautiful in existence—he studied nature to be able to appreciate its charms. Seeking the inspiration of science as a warrior does conquest, he set forth from this promontory to observe Vesuvius athwart the flames, and those flames consumed him.

“Cicero lost his life near the promontory of Gaeta, which is seen in the distance. The Triumvirs, regardless of posterity, bereaved it of the thoughts which that great man had conceived-it was on us that his murder was committed.

" Cicero sank beneath the poniards of tyrants-Scipio, more unfortunate, was banished by his fellow-citizens while still in the enjoyment of freedom. He terminated his days near that shore, and the ruins of his tomb are still called the Tower of our Country.' What a touching allusion to the last thought of that great spirit!

“Marius fled into those marshes not far from the last home of Scipio. Thus in all ages the people have persecuted the really great ; but they are avenged by their apotheosis, and the Roman, who conceived their power extended even unto heaven, placed Romulus, Numa, and Cæsar in the firmament-new stars which confound in our eyes the rays of glory and the celestial radiance.

“Oh, Memory! noble power! thy empire is in these scenes ! From age to age, strange destiny ! man is incessantly bewailing what he has lost ! These remote ages are the depositaries in their turn of a greatness which is no more; and while the pride of thought, glorying in its progress, darts into futurity, our soul seems still to regret an ancient country to which the past in some degree brings it back."-Book xii. c. 4.

Enough has now been quoted to give the unlettered reader a conception of the descriptive character of these two great Continental writers—to recall to the learned one some of the most delightful moments of his life. To complete the

[ocr errors]

parallel, we shall now present a few of the finest passages of a similar character from Sir Walter Scott, that our readers may be able to appreciate at a single sitting the varied excellences of the greatest masters of poetic prose who have appeared in modern times.

The first is the well-known opening scene of Ivanhoe. "The sun was setting upon one of the rich grassy glades of that forest, which we have mentioned in the beginning of the chapter. Hundreds of broad-headed, short-stemmed, wide-branched oaks, which had witnessed perhaps the stately march of the Roman soldiery, flung their gnarled arms over a thick carpet of the most delicious greensward ; in some places they were intermingled with beeches, hollies, and copsewood of various descriptions, so closely as totally to intercept the level beams of the sinking sun ; in others they receded from each other, forming those long sweeping vistas in the intricacy of which the eye delights to lose itself, while imagination considers them as the paths to yet wilder scenes of sylvan solitude. Here the red rays of the sun shot a broken and discoloured light, that partially hung upon the shattered boughs and mossy trunks of the trees, and there they illuminated in brilliant patches the portions of turf to which they made their way. A considerable open space, in the midst of this glade, seemed formerly to have been dedicated to the rites of Druidical superstition ; for, on the summit of a hillock, so regular as to seem artificial, there still remained part of a circle of rough unhewn stones, of large dimensions. Seven stood upright; the rest had been dislodged from their places, probably by the zeal of some convert to Christianity, and lay, some prostrate near their former site, and others on the side of the hill. One large stone only had found its way to the bottom, and in stopping the course of a small brook, which glided smoothly round the foot of the eminence, gave, by its opposition, a feeble voice of murmur to the placid and elsewhere silent streamlet."

The next is the equally celebrated description of the churchyard in the introductory chapter of Old Mortality.

" Farther up the narrow valley, and in a recess which seems scooped out of the side of the steep heathy bank, there is a deserted burial-ground which the little cowards are fearful of approaching in the twilight. To me, however, the place has an inexpressible charm. It has been long the favourite termination of my walks, and, if my kind patron forgets not his promise, will (and probably at no very distant day) be my final restingplace after my mortal pilgrimage.

" It is a spot which possesses all the solemnity of feeling attached to a burial-ground, without exciting those of a more unpleasing description. Having been very little used for many years, the few hillocks which rise above the level plain are covered with the same short velvet turf. The monuments, of which there are not above seven or eight, are half sunk in the ground and overgrown with moss. No newly-erected tomb disturbs the sober serenity of our reflections by reminding us of recent calamity, and no rank springing grass forces upon our imagination the recollection, that it owes its dark luxuriance to the foul and festering remnants of mortality which ferment beneath. The daisy which sprinkles the sod, and the harebell which hangs over it, derive their pure nourishment from the dew of heaven, and their growth impresses us with no degrading or disgusting recollections. Death has indeed been here, and its traces are before us;

but they are softened and deprived of their horror by our distance from the period when they have been first impressed. Those who sleep beneath are only connected with us by the reflection, that they have once been what we now are, and that, as their relics are now identified with their mother earth, ours shall, at some future period, undergo the same transformation.

The third is a passage equally well-known, and hardly less beautiful, from the Antiquary.

“ The sun was now resting in his huge disc upon the edge of the level ocean, and gilded the accumulation of towering clouds through which he had travelled the livelong day, and which now assembled on all sides, like misfortunes and disasters around a sinking empire and falling monarch. Still, however, his dying splendour gave a sombre magnificence to the massive congregation of vapours, forming out of their unsubstantial gloom the show of pyramids and towers, some touched with gold, some with purple, some with a hue of deep and dark red. The distant sea, stretched beneath this varied and gorgeous canopy, lay almost portentously still, reflecting back the dazzling and level beams of the descending luminary, and the splendid colouring of the clouds amidst which he was setting. Nearer to the beach, the tide rippled onward in waves of sparkling silver, that imperceptibly, yet rapidly, gained upon the sand.

“ With a mind employed in admiration of the romantic scene, or perhaps on some more agitating topic, Miss Warder advanced in silence by her father's side, whose recently offended dignity did not stoop to open any conversation. Following the windings of the beach, they passed one projecting point or headland of rock after another, and now found themselves under a huge and continued extent of the precipices by which that iron-bound coast is in most places defended. Long projecting reefs of rock, extending under water, and only evincing their existence by here and there a peak entirely bare, or by the breakers which foamed over those that were partially covered, rendered Knockwinnock Bay dreaded by pilots and shipmasters. The crags which rose between the beach and the mainland, to the height of two or three hundred feet, afforded in their crevices shelter for unnumbered sea-fowl, in situations seemingly secured by their dizzy height from the rapacity of man. Many of these wild tribes, with the instinct which sends them to seek the land before a storm arises, were now winging towards their nests with the shrill and dissonant clang which announces disquietude and fear. The disc of the sun became almost totally obscured ere he had altogether sunk below the horizon, and an early and lurid shade of darkness blotted the serene twilight of a summer evening. The wind began next to arise; but its wild and moaning sound was heard for some time, and its effects became visible on the bosom of the sea, before the gale was felt on shore. The mass of waters, now dark and threatening, began to lift itself in larger ridges, and sink in deeper furrows, forming waves that rose high in foam upon the breakers, or burst upon the beach with a sound resembling distant thunder.”

Few objects are less beautiful than a bare sheet of water in heathy hills, but see what it becomes under the inspiration of genius.

“ It was a mild summer day. The beams of the sun, as is not uncommon in Zetland, were moderated and shaded by a silvery haze, which filled the atmosphere, and, destroying the strong contrast of light and shade, gave even to noon the sober livery of the evening twilight. The little lake, not three-quarters of a mile in circuit, lay in profound quiet; its surface undimpled, save when one of the numerous water-fowl, which glided on its surface, dived for an instant under it. The depth of the water gave the whole that cerulean tint of bluish green, which occasioned its being called the Green Loch ; and at present, it formed so perfect a mirror to the bleak hills by which it was surrounded, and which lay reflected on its bosom, that it was difficult to distinguish the water from the land; nay, in the shadowy uncertainty occasioned by the thin haze, a stranger could scarce have been sensible that a sheet of water lay before him. A scene of more complete solitude, having all its peculiarities heightened by the extreme serenity of the weather, the quiet gray composed tone of the atmosphere, and the perfect silence of the elements, could hardly be imagined. The very aquatic birds, who frequented the spot in great numbers, forbore their usual flight and screams, and floated in profound tranquillity upon the silent water."

It is hard to say to which of these mighty masters of description the palm should be awarded. Scott is more simple in his language, more graphic in his details, more thoroughly imbued with the character of the place he is desirous of portraying : Chateaubriand is more resplendent in the images which he selects, more fastidious in the features he draws, more gorgeous from the magnificence with which he is surrounded : Madame de Stael, inferior to both in the powers of delineating nature, is superior to either in rousing the varied emotions dependent on bistorical recollections or melancholy impressions. It is remarkable that, though she is a southern writer, and has thrown into Corinne all her own rapture at the sun and the recollections of Italy, yet it is with a northern eye that she views the scenes it presentsit is not with the living, but the mighty dead, that she holds communion—the chords she loves to strike are those melancholy ones which vibrate more strongly in a northern than a southern heart. Chateaubriand is imbued more largely with the genuine spirit of the south : albeit a Frank by origin, he is filled with the spirit of Oriental poetry. His soul is steeped in the cloudless skies, and desultory life, and boundless recollections of the East. Scott has no decided locality. He has struck his roots into the human heart--he has described Nature with a master's hand, under whatever aspects she is to be seen: but his associations are of Gothic origin; his spirit is of chivalrous descent; the nature which he has in general drawn is the sweet gleam of sunshine in a northern climate.

« EdellinenJatka »