Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

122

THE ROMAN.*

SYDNEY YENDYS was a name unknown to fame. We had seen indeed occasionally, in a London publication, little copies of verses bearing his signature, and possessing considerable merit; but, like Byron, he "awoke one morning, and found himself famous.” The “Roman" has at once cut his way to victory—a victory prefiguring far greater triumphs, if such as we can at all “certainly divine. It is a poem of great performance, and greater promise, as critics of all varieties have confessed. Yendys is a poet of the purest grain-young, enthusiastic, imaginative, overflowing with brilliant fancy, and possessing a rich, flexible, and most eloquent speech. Many of his passages heave and hurry, and pant along in all the fulness and fury of genuine inspiration; and yet, withal, he is clear, artistic, masculine, free from every trace of affectation, and the smoke and mist of mysticism he has consumed and glorified into living flame. He is a Christian in creed, a Shelley in martyr-like earnestness, and a Byron in fiery, yet melting utterance. His purpose is of the noblest and most declared sort; it is to lift man in a car of poetry and music to virtue and happiness; it is to shake down to the shout of poetry the old Jerichos of evil which obstruct our progress to the promised land; it is to blow a trumpet announcing the approach of the coming one,” and, in the poet's own language, to mingle his voice with the “far shoutings that tell a monarch comes." His present poem is only the "first blast:” those that follow will explain, by accomplishing in part, at least, his noble designs.

Poetry, without purpose, may be likened to the shed leaves of flowers, as beautiful and as helpless. But of poetical purpose, there are divers kinds: one poet seeks elaborately to raise up his reputation; another seeks to satisfy his ideal of the beautiful; a third from a lofty poetical summit to demolish his antagonists, and grin out hyena contempt at the human race below; a fourth to enact the Orpheus, and by his powerful song to shatter the false, to subdue the fierce, and to build up the true acting, however, as the conscious organ of a mightier power behind him.

The last alone is the truly great and worthy purpose, and it is that of the “ Roman." We say not, indeed, that it has been as yet fully accomplished, but it has been fully formed, and the power exhibited is adequate for its achievement. The antennæ, stretched out, are arms of a giant mould, and of briarean grasp. Above all, the enthusiasm of the spirit is as profound as it is sincere; the "eye is single, and the whole body is therefore full of light.” Nor is the talent inferior to the genius, or the art to the nature. Our young Apollo's instep is as finished as the lustre of his hair, and his brow is bright.

From such general commendations, we pass to a rapid analysis of this remarkable

poem. Scene first opens in an ancient battle-field in Italy; the time is evening; the characters are a company of dancers, and Vittorio Santo, a

* The Roman: a Dramatic Poem. By SYDNEY YENDYS. London: Bentley,

missionary of freedom, who, disguised as a monk, has gone forth to preach the unity of Italy, the overthrow of Austrian domination, and the restoration of a great Roman republic. This scene has striking points: the monk accosts the dancers, who have been singing a song of luxurious sweetness, finely touched with imagination, like the down on the soft cheek of a peach; he tells them that they are dancing on their mother's grave. They start, but he explains that their mother's name is Rome, and proceeds in language worthy of Cicero or Brutus to vindicate her claims. His speech is long, and soon ceases to be a speech; it becomes a soliloquy, for first the speaker in his enthusiasm forgets his audience, and next, they leave him alone, and standing in the midst. The words we quote, however, might challenge the attention of the world, Speaking of Italy, the monk says

.

[ocr errors]

“In no imperial feature,
In no sublime perfection, is she less
Than the world's empress, the earth's paragon,
Except these bonds. These bonds? Break them, unbind,
Unbind, Andromeda ! She was not born
To stand and shiver in the northern blast,
Or fester on a foreign rock, or bear
Rude license of the unrespective waves.
She is a queen, a goddess, a king's daughter!

Man unbind her;
And goddess as she is, she owns thee, loves thee,
Crowns thee! And is there none to break thy chains,
My country! Is there none, sons of my mother?
Strike! and the spell is broken. You behold her
Suppliant of suppliants. Strike! and she shall stand
Forth in her awful beauty, more divine
Than death or mortal sorrow; clothing all
The wrecks and ruins of disastrous days
In old world glory, even as the first spring
After the Deluge.”

But by far the best and most effective words of this speech are those uttered after the speaker is left alone. Is it not always thus? Does not the sun shine most sweetly on desert isles or shoreless waters? Do not streams murmur their best when no one hears them? Is not the presence of even the noblest being, and much more of a multitude, a stop or syncope in the music of nature? And have not the most eloquent words ever uttered by man, been uttered when he felt himself alone, with God speaking on his tongue, and with God listening in the silence of nature around him? Thus does the monk soliloquise:

« If the soul never
Can twice be virgin ; if the eye that strikes
Upon the hidden path to the unseen
Is henceforth for two worlds; if the sad fruit
Of knowledge dwells forever on the lip,
And if thy face once seen to me, 0 thou
Unutterable sadness! must henceforth

Look day and night from all things; grant me this,
That thine immortal sorrow will remember
How little we can grieve, who are but dust.
Make me the servant, not the partner, mother,
Of woes, for whose omnipotence of pain
I have no organs. Suffer that I give
Time and endurance for impossible passion ;
Perchance accumulated pangs may teach me
One throe of thy distress. How canst thou think

My soul can contain thine ?” Scene second.—Cast thy bread on the waters, and thou shalt find it.” According to this saying, Vittorio Santo finds the seed of his word growing in a little nook of virgin soil, whither the waters of his fervid oratory had carried it. One maiden had tarried within a thicket to hear his wild solitary musings, while all the rest had fled; her name is Fran

Alas! his eloquence had covered to her, himself, more than his cause, with a quenchless splendour; she loves him not wisely, but too well. The second scene is a conversation between Santo and Francesca, exquisitely delicate, tender, and true to nature. Nowhere do we find the bashful budding of young passion—its timidity, blended with boldness—its impatience, and rapid rush up, as if moments were months its fearless logic—its “ hoping against hope"—its triumphant yielding, like that of the ivy—the beautiful disguises under which it hides, and the rapture with which at last it throws its whole self into the current of the beloved being's purpose-more subtilely and nobly represented than here. Indeed, one of the best poets, and truest judges of poetry in Scotland, has pronounced this scene “Shaksperean," and we cast it as a crust to those critics who, while admitting Sidney's poetic, deny his dramatic, power and skill.

We have only room for Francesca's opening soliloquy-

cesca.

“ While he yet spake, I waited for a pause;

And now, if I could dare to hear my voice
In this most awful silence, it should pray
That he would speak again. You heavens, you heavens,
Lend me your language. This progressive thought-
This unit-bearing speech, whose best exertion
Is but dexterity—the juggler's sleight,
That, with facility of motion, cheats
The eye, whose noblest effort can but haste
The single ball of phantasy, and make
Succession seem coincidence, is not
For such an hour. Lend me some tongue, you heavens,
Worthy of gods, in whose celestial sense
The present, past, and future of the soul
Sink down as one, even as these dews to-night
Fall from a thousand stars."

Scene third. This is laid in the neighbourhood of Milan, during a popular emeute. A great band of insurgents, armed and singing, pass along; their song is a spirited effusion. The monk draws near, and pleads eloquently in behalf of a general republic, with Rome as its centre. They are shouting

Long live the republic,
Long live the commonwealth of Lombardy."
He replies—

“ Long live eternal Rome! long live that Rome
Which is not dead but sleeping! Long live Rome!
Men, this is the great year of resurrection;
All who are in their graves shall hear his voice
And come forth. That which twenty centuries hence
Lay down a hero shall rise up a god.
Shout, countrymen, and wake the graves ! shout, Rome!

Republic ! Rise !" Confusion follows his words; some cry, "Hear him!” others, “Spear him!” others, “Stone him!” The scene closes with the monk saying

“I am a Roman. Let some Vandal

Cast the first stone." Scene fourth. This is an exquisitely tender and poetical scene. Francesca is discovered alone, brooding over her unhappy passion; she mourns over her comparative insensibility to the cause of liberty, and wishes that Santo were but Rome. Her passion bursts out at length in the wild and whirling words—

“ Santo, I love thee-love thee-love thee-love thee!

Santo, I love thee! O thou wild word, love !

Thou bird broke loose !" Soon she finds an opportunity of testing her love. A citizen, named Cecco, enters and informs her that her hero has fallen into the hands of the captain of the insurgent Milanese, Roderigo, the “greatest libertine in Milan,” and is to die at dawn. After a long pause her resolution is formed; she resolves to save Santo at the expense of her own life, or virtue, or both. Cecco is to look that

“ Horses wait

Near the east gate by sunrise.” and, with the port of a Charlotte Corday, Francesca hies to play her brief and glorious part.

A critic objects to Francesca's passion as too rapid in its development. Mr Yendys would reply that “he lives in an orchard country, where the blossoms come before the leaves.” The critic should have remembered, too, that the scene is in the south, where hearts are hotter than with us, and that Juliet's love was as rapid as Francesca's. Even in our cold climate, there is still such a thing as love at first sight. We only regret that this love of hers was not returned. Santo never even alludes to the great sacrifice she made for him; she might as soon have loved a flash of lightning careering across the sky, or a torrent hurrying to the deep.

Scene fifth.-- This is a very bustling and lively scene, as all dramatic scenes laid in inns are, or ought to be. Every face seems shining in the gay light of a kitchen fire, while good cheer is steaming in the background, and the clang of new feet and the-sound of merry voices form an appropriate music. Various characters are introduced, and painted very much in Shakspere's way, by a word or characteristic attitude, which turns their whole nature inside out. Light, too, is cast incidentally on the progress of the story.

“ The young Francesca, at the price
Of her fair body, bought the captive's life;
The priest is free. Do not cry out. Young Rossi
Craved instant payment. She in her superb
High loveliness, whose every look enhanced
The ransom, sent him from her, glad to grant
Another maiden hour for prayer and tears.
Francesca wore a poignard. She is now

A maid for ever.
Hostess ( to one standing by )-How is that, sir?

Student (aside )—Hush! Dead.” But the best passage in the scene, and one of the best in the play, indeed reminding us of some of Shakspere's most masterly descriptions, such as that in "King John” of the effects produced by the news of young Arthur's death, is the description of the progress of Santo through the land, and of the marvellous power and influence of his oratory. We quote a part of it:

“ This strange man,
This cowled evangelist, that Monk is not.

This polyglot of prophets
Roams like a manifold infection, shedding
Through the sick souls of men the strange disease
Of his own spirit; not an art or calling
Wherein men workid in peace, but at his touch
Spreads the indefinite sorrow. In the field,
Halting the team of early husbandman,
He chides him for the German weeds that choke
The Roman crop of glory; bids him seek
The plough of Cincinnatus.

To the rough music,
Setting strong words, he sends with easy skill
Wrongs, hopes, and duties trooping through the soul
Of the stout smith, and there on his own smithy
Blows the rough iron of his heart red-hot.
Seizing the magic time, with sudden hand,
He stamps him to the quick—' Patriot! the hour
Is come to beat our ploughshares into swords,

Our pruning-hooks to spears.'' Scene sixth.—This is perhaps the sweetest and most beautiful of all the nine. The monk approaches a cottage, where sit two happy parents at evening, with their two children, a boy and girl, sporting on the plain. He enters into conversation with them; he stirs them against Austrian oppression; he uses their noble boy as a living argument, growing up to live a slave's life, and die a slave's death, and takes occasion to tell them the story of his brother who had been shot by the Austrians, amid

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »