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with a supernatural experience of it. Our human consciousness is
Upon a tygre swift and fierce he rode,
But of such subtile substance and unsound,
That like a ghost he seemed, whose grave-clothes were unbound. Mr. Coleridge in that voyage of his to the brink of all unutterable things, the Ancient Mariner (which works out however a fine sentiment) does not set mere ghosts or hobgoblins to man the ship again, when it's crew are dead; but reanimates, for a while, the crew themselves. There is a striking fiction of this sort in Sale's Notes upon the Koran. Solomon dies during the building of the temple, but his body remains leaning on a staff and overlooking the workmen, as if it were alive ; till a worm knawing though the prop, he falls down. The contrast of the appearance of humanity with something mortal or supernatural, is always the 'more terrible in proportion as it is complete. In the pictures of the temptations of saints and hermits, where the holy person is surrounded, teazed, and enticed, with devils and fantastic shapes, the most shocking phantasm is that of the beautiful woman. To return also to the Ancient Mariner. The most appalling personage in Mr. Coleridge's Ancient Mariner is the Spectre-woman, who is called Life-in-Death. He renders the most hideous abstraction more terrible than it could otherwise have been, by embodying it in it's own reverse.
" Death" not only “ lives" in it; but the « unutterable" becomes uttered. To see such an unearthly passage end in such earthliness, seems at the moment to turn common-place itself into a sort of spectral doubt. The Mariner, after describing the horrible calm, and the rotting sea, in which the ship was stuck, is speaking of a strange sail which he descried in the distance.
The western wave was all a-flame.
Alas! (thought I, and my heart beat lond)
Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Who thicks man's blood with cold. But we must come to Mr. Coleridge's story, with all our imagination upon us.
Now let us put out knees a little nearer the fire, and tell a homelier one about Life in Death. The groundwork of it is in Sandys's Commentary upon Ovid, and quoted from Sabinus. *
A gentleman of Bavaria, of a noble family, was so afflicted at the death of his wife, that unable to bear the company of any other person, he gave himself entirely up to a solitary way of living. This was the more remarkable in him, as he had been a man of jovial habits, fond of his wine and visitors, and impatient of having his numerous indulgencies contradicted. But in the same temper perhaps might be found the cause of his sorrow; for though he would be impatient with his wife, as with others, yet he loved her, as one of the gentlest wills he had; and the sweet and unaffected face which she always turned round upon his anger, might have been a thing more easy for him to trespass upon, while living, than to forget, when dead and gone. His very anger towards her, compared with that towards others, was a relief to him; and rather a wish to refresh himself in the balmy feeling of her patience, than to make her unhappy herself; or to punish her, as some would have done, for that virtuous contrast to his own vice.
But whether he bethought himself, after her death, that this was a very selfish mode of loving; or whether, as some thought, he had wearied out her life with habits so contrary to her own; or whether, as others reported, he had put it to a fatal risk by some lordly piece of self-will, in consequence of which she had caught a fever on the cold river during a night of festivity; he surprised even those who thought that he loved her, by the extreme bitterness of his grief. The
very mention of festivity, though he was patient for the first day or two, afterwards threw him into a passion of rage; but by degrees even his
followed his other old habits. He was gentle, but ever silent. He eat and drank but sufficient to keep him alive; and used to spend the greater part of the day in the spot where his wife was buried.
He was going there one evening, in a very melancholy manner, * The Saxon Latin poet, we presume, Professor of Belles-lettres, at Frankfort. We know nothing of him except from a biographical dictionary.
with his eyes turned towards the earth, and had just entered the rails of the burial ground, when he was accosted by the mild voice of somebody coming to meet him. “ It is a blessed evening, Sir," said the voice. The gentleman looked up. Nobody but himself was allowed to be in the place at that hour ; and yet he saw, with astonishment, a young chorister approaching him. He was going to express some wonder, when, he said, the modest though assured look of the boy, and the extreme beauty of his countenance, which glowed in the setting sun before him, made an irresistible addition to the singular sweetness of his voice; and he asked him with an involuntary calmness, and a gesture of respect, not what he did there, but what he wished. “Only to wish you all good things," answered the stranger, who had now come up; " and to give you this letter.” The gentleman took the letter, and saw upon it, with a beating yet scarcely bewildered heart, the handwriting of his wife. He raised his eyes again to speak to the boy, but he was gone. He cast them far and near round the place, but there were no traces of a passenger. He then opened the letter; and by the divine light of the setting sun, read these words:
dear husband, who sorrows for his wife.
This, with a warm hand, from the living Bertha. Otto (for such, it seems, was the gentleman's name) went instantly, calmly, quickly, yet with a sort of benumbed being, to the public walk. He felt, but with only a half-consciousness, as if he glided without a body. But all his spirit was awake, eager, intensely conscious. It seemed to him as if there had been but two things in the world, -Life and Death; and that Death was dead.
All else appeared to have been a dream. He had awaked from a waking state, and found himself all eye, and spirit, and locomotion.
He said to himself, once, as he went : "This is not a dream. I will ask my great ancestors to-morrow to my new bridal feast, for they are alive." Otto had been calm at first, but something of old and triumphant feelings seemed again to come over him. Was he again too proud and confident! Did his earthly humours prevail again, when he thought them least upon him? We shall see.
The Bavarian arrived at the public walk. It was full of people with their wives and children, enjoying the beauty of the evening. Something like common fear came over him, as he went in and out among them, looking at the benches on each side. It happened that there was only one person, a lady, sitting upon them. She had her veil down ; and his being underwent a fierce but short convulsion as he went near her. Something had a little baffled the calmer inspiration of the angel that had accosted him; for fear prevailed at the instant, and Otto passed on. He returned before he had reached the end of the walk, and approached the lady again. She was still sitting in the same quiet posture, only he thought she looked at him. Again he passed her. On his second return, a grave and sweet courage came upon him, and in an under but firm tone of enquiry, he said “ Bertha?"-" I thought you had forgotten me,” said that wellknown and mellow voice, which he had seemed as far from ever hearing again, as earth is from heaven. He took her hand, which grasped his in turn; and they walked home in silence together, the arm, which was wound within his, giving warmth for warmth.
The neighbours seemed to have a miraculous want of wonder at the lady's reappearance. Something was said about a mock-funeral, and her having withdrawn from his company for awhile: but visitors came as before, and his wife returned to her household -affairs. It was only remarked that she always looked pale and pensive. But she was more kind to all, even than before ; and her pensiveness seemed rather the result of some great internal thought, than of unhappiness.
For a year or two, the Bavarian retained the better temper which he acquired. His fortunes flourished beyond his earliest ambition ; the most aimiable as well as noble persons of the district were frequent visitors; and people said that to be at Otto's house, must be the next thing to being in heaven. But by degrees his self-will returned with his prosperity. He never vented impatience on his wife ; but he again began to shew, that the disquietude it gave her to see it vented on others, was a secondary thing, in his mind, to the indul
Whether it was, that his grief for her loss had been rather remose than affection, and so he held himself secure if he treated her well; or whether he was at all times rather proud of her, than fond ; or whatever was the cause which again set his antipathies above his sympathies, certain it was, that his old habits returned upon him; not so often indeed; but with greater violence and pride, when they did. These were the only times, at which his wife was observed to shew any ordinary symptoms of uneasiness.
At length, one day, some strong rebuff which he had received from an alienated neighbour threw him into such a transport of rage, that he gave way to the most bitter imprecations, crying with a loud voice
- This treatment to me too! To me! To me, who if the world knew all” -At these words, his wife, who had in vain laid her hand upon his, and looked him with dreary earnestness in the face, suddenly glided from the room. He, and two or three who were present, were struck with a dumb horror. They said, she did not walk out, nor vanish suddenly; but glided, as one who could dispense with the use of feet. After a moment’s pause, the others proposed to him to follow her. He made a movement of despair; but they went. There was a short passage, which turned to the right into her favourite
They knocked at the door twice or three times, and received
gence of it.
At last, one of them gently opened it; and looking in, they saw her, as they thought, standing before a fire, which was the only light in the room. Yet she stood so far from it, as rather to be in the middle of the room; only the face was towards the fire, and she seemed looking upon it. They addressed her, but received no
They stepped gently towards her, and still received none. The figure stood dumb and unmoved. At last, one of them went round in front, and instantly fell on the floor. The figure was without body. A hollow hood was left instead of a face. The clothes were standing upright by themselves.
That room was blocked up for ever, for the clothes, if it might be so, to moulder away. It was called the Room of the Lady's Figure. The house, after the gentleman's death, was long uninhabited, and at length burnt by the peasants in an insurrection. As for himself, he died about nine months after, a gentle and child-like penitent. He had never stirred from the house since; and nobody would venture to go near him, but a man who had the reputation of being a reprobate. It was from this man that the particulars of the story came first. He would distribute the gentleman's alms in great abundance to any strange poor who would accept them; for most of the neighbours held them in horror. He tried all he could to get the parents among them to let some of their little children, or a single one of them, go to see his employer. They said he even asked it one day with tears in his eyes. But they shuddered to think of it ; and the matter was not mended, when this profane person, in a fit of impatience, said one day, that he would have a child of his own on purpose. His employer, however, died in a day or two. They did not believe a word he told them of all the Bavarian's gentleness, looking upon the latter as a sort of
agent as little better, though a good natured-looking earnest kind of person. It was said many years after, that this man had been a friend of the Bavarian's when young, and had been deserted by him. And the young believed it, whatever the old might.
THE OLD SKIFF.
From the style of this animated little poem of Catullus, as well as from it's general spirit, the commentators have naturally supposed that it was written in imitation or emulation of the Greeks. "Adeo spirat,” says Doering, “Græcorum indolem, leporem, et in usu metaphorarum audaciam.” The probability is, that Catullus, who was a traveller, wrote it upon some favourite vessel, which after long service he had thus consecrated to the twin stars of Castor and Pollux, and laid up near his beloved house on the peninsula of Sirmio. The reader is to imagine, that the poet, during a visit of some friends, takes them down to a retired bay of the water, and shews them his old skiff laid up in port, like a battered pensioner.