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Such circumstantial minuteness in the description of garniture would be tiresome if it were merely fanciful, but here it is the result of research, and has all the value of antiquarian veracity, enabling us to look on the express images of departed beings, that same veracity which gives a charm to the delineation of dresses in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
The traits of Desmond's character, that was splendid in its elements, but imperfect in their combination, and full of constitutional virtues that too often caught the contagion of adjoining vices, are sketched with very natural probability, and easily harmonize with our conception of the influence whieh his circumstances and semi-barbarous age would exercise in moulding the shape of his mind. He spoke the English tongue with fluency, but always thought in Irish, and this gave a metaphorical tone and a tincture of enthusiasm to his dialect, which was naturally eloquent and persuasive, though rudely magnificent. By a former marriage with the widow of the preceding Earl of Ormond, he was the father of Geraldine, who was consequently the cousin of Lord Thurles, the youthful hero of the story ; but the Desmond had married again and become the father of an infant son. In these domestic relationships the benevolent qualities of the heroine's heart are richly developed in the ascendency of her sense and suavity oyer an envious stepmother, and in the warmth of her fondness for her little brother. But the attachments that are the main-springs of her earliest trials, that call forth her deepest tenderness and highest heroism, that bring nature and duty to their most fearful conflict, and that tie the Gordian knot of her fate-are the filial instinct that will brook no severing from her father; the religious faith, that will make no compromise with its devotion; and her womanly love, that looked with the true gratitude of woman, to her manly and devoted Thurles, across the gulph of adverse faith and faction which divided them.
Stinted in the limits of our present notice, we look with some distraction over the many chapters of pictures and narrative that court our choice. Almost at random, we revert to the spectacle of old Desmond himself, in his feudal palace, though reluctantly passing over the landscape of the castle, and the portraiture of its ill-starred and mysterious inmate, the Jesuit Allan, in the chapters that precede the following scene. The time is sunset, when it threw its rays on the forest tops and pointed turrets of the antique edifice, leaving all the rest of it in partial gloom.
The evening hour was generally the signal for the commencement of that clamorous wassail and boisterous mirth which distinguished the revels of the Chieftain, when with feudal magnificence he regaled at his festive board the numerous clansmen of his house. Of his kindred and surname alone, the Earl could enume. rate above five hundred gentlemen, who, attended by an interminable train of gallowglasses, kerns, foresters, and gossips, formed a multitudinous and imposing assembly, of which in later times we can scarcely conceive an adequate idea. The banqueting hall was an apartment of prodigious extent, the walls of which were completely covered with ancient armour, pikes, spears, and battle-axes, hostile weapons of various workmanship, hunting instruments, and shields, or targets, curiously emblazoned on the outside with the bearings of the principal nobility and gentry of the kingdom.
" In imitation of the manner in which in former davs the triennial Parliaments of Ireland had been conducted in the Royal Palace of Tara, a principal herald was appointed to regulate the order of precedency, which was ever carefully observed. Down the middle of the hall, long tables were set, that were loaded with substantial viands ; such as boar's flesh, beeves, and fallow deer, as well as with quantities of fish, and the more esteemed luxuries of pheasants, and game of every description. Low forms, covered with the furred skins of beasts that had been killed in the chase, were placed on each side of the tables ; and at the head of the centre one, on an elevated chair of state, and under a splendid canopy, which was looped up by the gigantic horns of the Cervus Megaceros, sat the Earl of Desmond. Two magnificent Irish wolf-dogs lay at his feet, and a cuphearer and page stood on either side of their lord. On his right his nearest of kin were placed; on his left, seated beneath their respective shields, were those chiefs, who, in case the revolutionary notions of the period terminated in open war, had been appointed to hold the rank of commanding
officers in the Irish army, then in process of organization. In the middle of each of the long tables enormous salt-cellars were fixed, beneath which crowds of inferior guests and clansmen were indiscriminately seated. An extraordinary display of gold and silver vessels glittered among utensils of a rude and common description, some of which were made of baked clay, others of pewter and wood. The latter, how. ever mean in che material of their composition, were often so singularly beautiful in their designs, that they nearly approached the antique form, which, in the present day, is termed classical.
16 Immediately facing the Chieftain's throne, there was a sort of gallery, or orchestra, filled by a numerous band of musicians, over whom Cutholin, the Ollamhre-Sænacha, or chief minstrel of the Desmond, presided with an air of conscious authority. The other bards occasionally struck their harps to swell the chorus of a national air, while celebrating with the fire of song the fame of departed heroes, whose actions were shielded from oblivion by the banners of victory.
66 At the opposite end of the table, the hobillers, or Irish cavalry, the gallowglasses, or foot-soldiers, and the kerns, or light-armed infantry, were placed, ac. cording to their military rank. They presented a very martial and striking appear. ance, as the rays of golden light which yet illumined the western sky, darting through the high gothic windows of the hall, blazed on the lances of the cavalry, played on the javelins of the infantry, and fell powerfully on the stern and warlike countenances of the gallowglasses. Those men were clothed in linen vests, stained in saffron, which had long and open sleeves, surcharged by a short military harness. They were armed with large battle-axes ; their heads were bare, and their long curling locks Howed on their shoulders, from whence depended a loose cloak. The costume was picturesque, and aided by its strong effect the groupings of a scene, which produced some portraits worthy to create the inspiration of the most exalted genius.
• There was a wild and fearless, but shrewd and penetrating expression developed in the faces of the last class of soldiers, on which the philosopher might dwell with interest, or the painter linger with delight ; for even the barbarism of ignorance had failed to quench the intellectual light that Nature had bestowed, which communi. cated a powerful intelligence to the stern but finely-moulded features of the gallowglasses; who' (to use the words of Stanihurst) were men of huge stature, ablebodied beyond the generality of men, brave swordsmen, but blood-thirsty, and strangers to mercy. They wore weapons of a foot in dimensions, not unlike hatchets, double, and sharp as the keenest knife, which were affixed to halberts somewhat longer, and with these they wounded desperately whomsoever they struck. Before any one was admitted into the order, he was obliged to swear a solemn oath that he would never turn his back on his enemy in the field of battle, although time should have slackened the rigour of this usage. He also swore, that if in any fierce and sharp contest he should come to close conflict, he should either be killed himself, or kill his adversary.'
“ The effect of this political institute might be traced in every action of the Irish gallowglasses ; and as the Desmond surveyed his noble adherents, his heart beat high with pride, and a haughty spirit flashed from his eye, when having received from his cupbearer an antique goblet sparkling with piment, and he quickly circulated it, and turning to his bard Cutholin, demanded a strain of the deeds of heroes."
The song invoked the Star of the West, or his chief, Desmond, to arise for the deliverance of Ireland, and was received by the whole clan with shouts of exultation and the waving of swords.
« An instant's pause (continues the narrative) succeeded the glorious animation of the preceding moment; and during that absorption of spirit which over-excitement had created, a long, shrill trumpet-blast was heard. Every eye turned to the great archway, from whence the piercing note had issued. In the same instant, the massive oak doors of the banqueting-hall flew open, and a knight, clad in complete ar. mour, entered, preceded by a flag of truce, and bearing on his shield the insignia of the House of Ormond ; which was, Or, a Chief indented Azure, with an Augmentation Coat of the Three Cups, surmounted by the crest of a falcon within a plume of feathers. By a word, the Desmond recalled his wolf-dogs as they furiously bounded forward, and with a look he controlled the storm of conflicting feelings that raged in the breasts of his clansmen': while with dignity he turned to the stranger, and said, • Sir Knight, your own courage and the laws of honour prove your safeguard within these walls; yet this intrusion on our hour of revelry requires explanation. Speak
who are you?-whence do you come?-and upon what errand ?'
** Chieftain,' replied the Knight, my name is Eustace Butler. I come from Thomas Earl of Ormond. My errand is to declare, on his behalf, that in revenge for your Lordship's late unjust attempts to charge the Decies with coign and livery, black rents and coshierings after the Irish manner, my Lord of Ormond hath levied his forces for the defence of the country; and in case that reparation for those wrongs be now refused, he means to give you battle at Affane, where be awaits your answer.'
My answer is here !' exclaimed the Desmond, starting from his seat, and unsheathing his sword, which, leaping from its scabbard, seemed to flash the light of vengeance.
“ And here and here !' shouted a thousand voices, as with the precipitation of outraged feelings and indignant heroism the whole assembly rose, and dispersed to prepare for the approaching contest, with all that ardour which men generally evince, when engaging in a cause which they conceive to be associated with the preservation of their rights and the honour of their country.”
The Desmond takes the field, is overpowered by the troops of England and of Ormond, carried a prisoner to Ormond Castle, and there visited by his daughter Geraldine, whose beauty makes an indelible impression on the son of the captor, her kinsman, Lord Thurles. On her father's removal to the Tower of London, she follows him, in company with her uncle, Sir John Desmond; but, before sharing his confinement, she is taken by her kinsman Sir John to visit and consult Dr. Dee the Astrologer, and the description of this extraordinary personage's residence, together with the reception of the visitant by Dr. Dee, and the sudden appearance of Queen Elizabeth in the astrologer's house, constitutes, we think, the most striking and original chapter of the volume.
In the second volume we have the trial of the Desmond for high treason at Westminster-hall-an imaginary event, for he was only examined before the council—as well as a view of Elizabeth's court, and of her splendid tournaments and entertainments. From thence we are not unwillingly brought back to Ireland again, and presented with a battle between the Irish insurgents and the forces of England, more vividly described than any that we remember to have seen in description since the Flodden of Scott's Marmion. We shall only give the conclusion of it, which has a peculiar novelty of circumstance.
“It was in vain to fight against impossibilities, and Irish rashness yielded to English steadiness. With a heart bursting with indignant desperation, Sir John of Desmond was forced to command the little remnant of his army to retreat. The order was obeyed so slowly, that the Irish, in the act of withdrawing from the field of battle, looked more like a rallying than a routed army.
“ Turning round several times, they resolutely faced their enemies, presenting the determined front of men who, even in the last hour of defeat and ruin, dared to come to the closest quarters with their conquerors. At length they neared their hill of refuge. As they approached still closer to its foot, a shout of exultation broke from the harassed and almost exhausted Irish. It changed to a frantic cry, which was reverberated until it reached the skies. A startling discovery, an awful sight had caused that burst of despair. The mountain was wrapped in a sheet of flame! The wood upon its side had been set on fire by the English. The impetuous elements, aided by a strong wind, blazed from the crackling timber, and with frightful rapidity spread throughout the forest. For an instant each man stood transfixed in horror and surprise, but the next moment another electrical shout broke from the Irish, who, one and all, rushed unhesitatingly into a pass, which, though contiguous to the flames, had partially escaped them.
“ The English pursued, and the tumult raged louder than ever. Yet, even amid the uproar and confusion of the awfully brilliant scene, the figures of two warriors rose pre-eminent. These were Thurles and O'Nial, who, once more closed in fight, were seen struggling together on the edge of a bare and rocky cliff, that jutted considerably outwards from the burning mountain. The top and a great part of the sides of this platform had as yet escaped the conflagration ; but a circle of fire nearly surrounded its base, while in the high background the outbursting element streamed a vivid light upon the combatants, and gave their glowing figures distinctly to the view, as they fought on their rocky pedestal. With a sea of flame beneath, and a fiery heaven above them, Thurles and O'Nial pursued their frantic strife, braving
horrors from which the greatest hero might have shrunk. Danger thickened to destruction. The smoke and heat grew insupportable, as the advancing flames held on their devouring progress. It became difficult, almost impossible, to breathe the stifling atmosphere, and no hope could be rationally entertained of withstanding its baneful influence beyond a few seconds.
" • Yield !' cried Lord Thurles in' a suffocated voice, as he made a desperate attempt to obtain a last and sure revenge.
"* Never! for Geraldine is mine!' burst in a sort of choked articulation from O'Nial. Scarcely had these difficult words found utterance, when an enormous brand of burning oak dropped from a tree which blazed above the heads of the combatants, and falling with a dreadful crash between them, stopped their career of vengeance, which thus, a second time, the hand of Providence suspended. O’Nial, with the swiftness of lightning, leaped across a chasm that was now a gulf of flame, and lighting on a rock which was still untouched by the blazing element, he turned a projecting point, that gave access to a defile of the mountain.
“ Thurles, springing dowu through volumes of smoke and flakes of fire, regained the open plain, from which his soldiers bore him to his tent half-senseless from exhaustion.
“ The unexpected measure of revenge that the English had adopted, but slightly impeded the retreat of the Irish, who, rushing round a small angle of the burning forest, escaped to the depths of the mountain, through a pass that was only partially affected by the fire. The existence of this avenue was unknown to the English, until the instant when the movement of the retreating army rendered it perceptible.”
The patriotism of our authoress has not blinded her to the duty of developing the dark as well as the bright side of the Irish cause, and the mixture of atrocity in a portion of its savage partizans. The assassin, Sir John Desmond, accordingly forms not only a contrast to the polished Ormond, and the chivalrous Thurles, but a foil even to the ruder magnificence of his brother's character; and he has his part as a conniving agent in the abduction of the heroine, an event which, followed by her rescue by Thurles, and her restoration to her father, forms one of the most ardently spirited scenes of the work.
With the same impartiality, though she has not shrunk from showing us the possibility of virtue under a Catholic cowl, she has done full justice to the cunning and malignity of Jesuit bigotry in her portraiture, both borrowed from true history, of Allan and Saunders. Allan redeems his bigotry at least by a brave death; but the fiend Saunders continues to live and to achieve what makes us heartily wish he had obtained the honours of a martial deathbed.
With much difficulty Thurles accomplishes a meeting for the object of pacification between his father and Earl Desmond in the castle of the latter. On its issue the possibility of his union with Geraldine apparently depends, as well as the life of the unfortunate Desmond himself. With what agonizing suspense Geraldine awaits in the adjoining chamber for that issue may be easily imagined. The affair comes so near to a conclusion that Ormond exclaims
•• Let the result of what I have advanced, my Lord of Desmond, be concord ! Consent to the terms I have named, and then your princely person shall assume its proper station near the Throne of England. You will enter on a career of honour and of glory for us all! and the union of our children shall be the cementing bond, to reconcile our feuds for ever!'
“ Thurles involuntarily lifted up his hands in the attitude of prayer, and riveting his eyes upon the Desmond, looked a thousand supplications, which no words could have expressed so eloquently as did that full affecting gaze.
“ The Desmond was moved. Parental affection, one of the strongest passions of his soul, now worked within him. Feelings of yearning tenderness came over his heart, and the emotions of the father struggled with those of the misguided patriot.
" The Lords Ormond and Thurles awaited, in speechless agitation, the issue of this inward contest.
A scornful smile had never left the lip of Doctor Saunders, who, during the latter part of this scene, stood like an incarnation of the Evil One, watching for the moment when his machinations might be wielded to the best advantage. He now hastily advanced, and in a deep low voice he muttered in the Desmond's ear, My Lord, the Lady Geraldine should be consulted on a point of such importance to her happiness.'
15o "Tis true-she ought. Father, I pray you, seek my child-tell her what has passed, and bring her quickly here.--Oh, God, direct!'-The Desmond checked the broken exclamation, threw himself on a seat, and pressing his hand to his brow, as if to still the fever of his brain, he sunk into an agitated silence, when the door closed on Doctor Saunders, who with eager haste proceeded on his mission.
“For purposes which will explain themselves hereafter, the priest secreted the chief minstrel of the Desmond in a small room adjoining the audience-chamber ; and after having arranged some future measures with the bard, Saunders hurried to the private sitting-room of the Lady Geraldine. He entered, and found the object of his search alone, and kneeling at a small table. Her eyes were mechanically fixed on the falling sand of an hour-glass that stood before her, and she clasped against her heart a small silver image of her guardian saint, as if silently imploring its protection. There was a settled paleness on the maiden's cheek, that told the agonized suspense which she had suffered during the deliberations of the council in the audience-chamber. The moment Geraldine beheld the Doctor Saunders, she arose and tried to speak ; but her tongue cleaved to the roof of her mouth, and she could only look the inquiry which she wanted power to utter. Saunders obliged her to sit down ; and taking a place beside our heroine, he hastened to give a succinct but most exaggerated statement of the requisitions of Lord Ormond ; studiously concealing all the generous traits of conduct which the Earl and his son had shown, and skilfully magnifying every point that could add a stimulus to the pride and patriotism of his auditress, or which could lead her to adopt the impressions that he laboured to produce. The artful priest marked with joy the inward conflict, where love warred with pride, in the bosom of the Lady Geraldine. He gazed on her without feeling one relenting pang, while proceeding to communicate the permission, which Saunders said the Earl of Ormond had reluctantly yielded to the marriage of his son with the daughter of the Desmond. This information was followed by a distorted statement of the national degradation of Ireland, and the total compromise of the Chieftain's honour, which, according to his confessor's account, were annexed to the execution of the compact that had been suggested.
" The glance of the high-souled Geraldine shot fire. Saunders seized on an ex. cited moment, that seemed propitious to his views, and communicated the Desmond's message. Stating that Geraldine's decision on the proposed question would either preserve or destroy her father's consistency and her country's freedom, the priest implored for a rejection of the specious offers of the Earl of Ormond.
“ Father! I will give the answer you require,' exclaimed our agitated heroine, in a tone in which pride and misery of heart contended. A sickness of the soul succeeded to these words; for Geraldine felt the vast extent of the sacrifice she was about to make, and keenly saw the dangers and the wretchedness which might fol. low it. Her senses swam. A film overspread her sight, and she breathed with difficulty. Saunders threw open a window, applied cold water to her temples, and forced some down her throat. Geraldine struggled with her weakness. After the lapse of a few moments she arose, and leaning heavily on the arm of the priest, she pointed to the door, silently signifying that to obey her father's message, and the wishes of her spiritual guide, formed the immediate impulse of her mind. This was precisely what the Doctor Saunders most desired. He was anxious not to give our heroine time to think or reason. Supporting, or rather carrying, the Lady Geraldine, Saunders hurried her across the passages that led to the audience-chamber, He quickly reached it, and throwing open the door, exultingly exclaimed:--- My Lord of Desmond, I have told your daughter all ;-- she comes to answer for herself!
" The soul flashed forth from Geraldine's dark eyes, as they turned and dwelt on Thurles with a look of anguished love. Deprived of power to advance a single step, she was compelled to pause, and to cling still closer to Saunders's arm ; but finding it inadequate to support her tottering frame, she leant against the door, seeming rooted to the spot on which emotion had enchained her. Geraldine's lips moved
by her side.
“ Thurles stretched out his hands imploringly, every faculty suspended in the intenseness of his feelings; and almost equally agitated, the whole group stood in a state of mute and breathless expectation,