Изображения страниц

the Euxine Sea. To tell the truth, it is rather a military outpost than a well-ordered town. The houses are few and scattered, and greatly inferior to the very worst that I ever saw in the Suburra.* That which has been set apart for my habitation is, I daresay, the most wretched of these miserable hovels, and least calculated to resist the long-continued and bitter intensity of the cold of these northern regions. It is such a hovel as tradition has assigned to the youthful Romulus while yet the cattle grazed upon the seven hills. But youth submits to, nay, takes pleasure in, hardships which old age are cannot endure.

Glasst is a luxury here unknown, and the little aperture which admits the light into my apartment, would also admit the biting wind, were it not for a curious transparent substance which the ingenuity of the natives has discovered. It is not quite so colourless as glass, neither can it be broken so readily, but it is nearly as transparent. If the gods spare my life till the ensuing summer, I shall send thee home a fragment of it by the first Roman ship that touches at this inhospitable anchorage. My hut is miserably damp, and as it had not been occupied for some time previous to my arrival, it is in a sad state of ruin and disrepair; indeed, should there come a violent storm of wind, I fear it may fall altogether. Meanwhile the rude Scythian blasts are howling dismally through the many chinks and crevices of the walls, and the pitiless sleet is drifting through the ill-thatched roof. The chilly icicles are hanging from the rafters, which in Italy would be supporting the pendent clusters of the straggling vine. Ah me! my daughter, the humblest hind on my father's estate at Sulmo, possesses comforts, nay, luxuries, which I can never hope to enjoy, till the wrath of the offended emperor be appeased. No tessellated pavements are here,―no carpets from the luxu rious East,-no fire-place heaped with the good logs of Algidus; but a bare, damp, earthen floor, and a little bundle of half-dried reeds, which emit more smoke than heat. The extreme severity of the cold has compelled me to adopt the costume of the natives, (of whom more anon) which though sufficiently uncouth, is nevertheless a tolerably efficient safe-guard against the terrible rigour of the climate. Unless I knew thee well, my beloved Perilla, I should be apt to think that this dismal picture of my misfortunes and miseries might be as irksome for thee to read as it is harrowing for me to write. But I am fully assured, that whatever the fondest of parents shall find in his heart to write, will not be thrown away upon the most dutiful of children. Besides, it is no small consolation to me to reflect, that though the great have cast me off, and the humble shed no tears at my mishaps; though friends,-old

The "Suburra" is that part of Rome which corresponds to the High Street or West Port of our own city. Juvenal represents Hannibal as saying that he will not consider his conquests complete till" media rexillum pono Suburra."

The time at which glass was invented, and the earliest circumstances of its history are unknown. The manufacture of glass was long carried on at Alexandria, from which city the Romans were supplied with that material; but before the time of Pliny the manufacture had been introduced into Italy, France, and Spain. The application of glass to the glazing of windows is of comparatively nodern introduction, at least in Northern and Western Europe.

The substance, now known as Mica, Muscovy-glass, Falk, &c.

friends and tried-have failed and forsaken me,-though relatives once dearly loved have cast my fallen fortunes in my teeth, there is one gentle heart, at least, unchanged, to which I may pour forth my tale of sorrows, to which I may still look for sympathy. It is a rude shock to my aspirings, to consider how majestic Rome, throned on her seven hills, contains but one poor soul that delights to hear the melody that lingers on the remaining chords of my once well-strung lyre. This, my child, is a dread awakening from the bright fancies of the poet's dream, to the cold realities of a selfish world. Where are now the thousands who were wont to greet me with respectful smiles and well-feigned civility? Alas! my daughter, thou canst not make the advancing waves flow back; nor the ebbing tide return. I am like a star that has fallen from his place in the firmament. While fortune was propitious, I shone like the moon among the lesser fires; now that my time to set has come, I set alone. But be of good cheer, my daughter; there is no quarter of the world which the sun does not sometimes illume. Even here there are pleasures of which not the anger of all the potentates on earth can deprive me. For, I have that within me, which, as Cæsar did not give, so neither can he take away. I have no fear, sweetest, (I speak it not in boasting,) but that my strains will live in the breast of a yet far distant posterity, long after the mighty emperor has been numbered among things that were. He has indeed banished me to a remote and dreary land; but, in spite of the hills and seas that separate us, my child, thy father is still in Rome. I can visit my native Sulmo;-I can join in the merry laugh of the friends of my youth, and take part in the sober converse of maturer years. I can hear my Horace chaunt his flowing odes, and the elegies of my Propertius still fall pathetic on my ear. These and other such pleasures, I say, as Cæsar did not give, so neither can he take away. This earthly tenement of clay keeps me enchained at Tomis; but my spirit loves to roam in places where the head of Casar would grow giddy, and my soul careers, free as the wind, over the unbounded heaven of imagination, like a star that rolls for ever onwards through the regions of infinity. Pardon this digression, my daughter; old age is ever prone to garrulity; how much more the old age of a poet. I shall now, as I promised above, give thee a brief outline of the economy of my life.

Sometimes I sit from morn till night, musing over my precious parchments, which, I believe, I wet less often with my ink than with my tears. Sometimes I set me down vigorously in the forenoon to my work, purposing to add some lines to my unfinished Fasti; but alas! the past ever recurs, and lures me from my desk with the bright vision of joys that are gone, never to return. Night often sees the work as far from its completion as the morning did. At other times I take up my pen without any anxiety to compose, but the numbers come spontaneously, like the flow of many waters from a perennial spring.

I took a stroll some days ago beyond my usual limits, and in a somewhat different direction. A dismal solitude of swamps extends, far as the eye can reach, whence here and there tall bulrushes emerge like the spears of an unseen army, and dank water-lilies protrude in clusters

their ungainly heads. The melancholy willows spread their long drooping arms over the green-grown waters of the half-stagnant rivulets, as if bewailing the desolation of the scene. One thing alone I saw, which interested my fancy or piqued my curiosity, and this was a lonely oak which reared its majestic head high above the surrounding wilderness. Thou hast not forgotten the dear old tree that crowned the height adjoining our hereditary mansion at Sulmo? It was, thou wilt remember, the sole survivor of a goodly forest. Indeed, I can scarcely call it survivor-for I fear that, by this time, its moss-grown trunk has been levelled with the earth. Such another is that which I have here discovered; but how it took root and flourished in this most dreary clime I cannot guess, and no one here can understand why I should inquire so tenderly for an old tree. I hailed the solitary stranger with as much joy as ever did traveller the oasis in the great Lybian desert. Methought I had found a great treasure-a companion as it were in my adversity. Doubtless the Nymphs with the Satyrs have once danced under its shade in a more genial clime. Perhaps, too, the Dryads, famed in song, have sported among its boughs, and drunk the dew out of its acorn-cups, pouring out a rare libation to their shadowy queen. Except this unaccountable stranger, I saw nothing in the course of my ramble to cheer or interest me save a few water-fowls pluming themselves beside an unfrozen spring. Scared by my approach, they flew away with outstretched neck to some far distant sanctuary where the foot of man may never dare to penetrate. I was amused at the terrified confusion with which they tumbled over each other in their eagerness to escape. I am told by my friend the centurion, that the malaria arising from these marshes during the hot season of summer, causes every year the death of two or three soldiers of his scanty garrison. A slow wasting fever, followed by an ague, is the form which the disease commonly assumes; and unless the symptoms be promptly treated, the patient, if he survives, generally lapses into a state of hopeless imbecility. No one who has recovered from the attack has ever been restored to his pristine health and vigour. But why need I pursue this ungracious theme? What will it avail to vex thy tender heart, and keep thee in constant suspense for the life of an old singer of songs? I pray-do thou help me with thy prayers-that the gods may avert such loathsome pestilence from the head of thy poor old father. What my crime is, I may not tell even thee-but let the immortal gods judge if my punishment be not greater than I deserve. We have already, in this age of ours, seen the right go unrewarded, and the wrong unpunished. I am not doting when I fear that every age may see the same till time has ceased to be. You will readily imagine that this is not the land of corn-still less is it the land of the vine. Here the autumn sun has never shone on fields of waving corn,-no feet of laughing girls have ever trodden the clusters of the too ripe grape,-no sound of the busy flail has ever reached my ears,-no vintage ever foams in vats that overflow. My friend the centurion has recently presented me with a small cask of wine. When the anniversary of thy natal day comes round I shall pour out an unusual libation to the gods, and pledge thee, sweetest, in an overflowing bumper.

The natives of this country are the Getæ, a most rude and savage

people, in stature and general appearance not unlike the German gladiators whom we used sometimes to see on the arena of the circus. The. wildness of their appearance is greatly enhanced by the uncouth nature of the clothing which the severity of the climate compels them to adopt. They wear for the most part the skins of wild beasts, and in these they envelope themselves so completely as to leave nothing uncovered except their eyes. They serve at once as defences against the cold, and as trophies of their skill and prowess in the chase. You may smile incredulously, when I tell you that there glows in the breasts of these barbarians a spirit of patriotism as strong as ever animated the Greeks of old against the Persian invaders-or made our forefathers rise in arms to a man against the Tuscan Porsena. I verily believe that they would not exchange this wretched swamp of theirs for the vine-clad slopes of the Campanian hills, or the fat corn fields on the banks of Galesus. Would that every Roman had as sacred and sincere a love for his country as these untaught barbarians have for the place of their nativity. I was myself an eye-witness to a notable instance of their heroism the other day. Beyond the Ister dwell the Sarmatæ, a tribe more savage and uncultivated than the Geta themselves. They paint their bodies all over with different colours, and on the eve of battle they raise such horrid shouts, and brandish their arms so fiercely, that they are sometimes victorious without striking a blow. I am told that, by the laws of their community, no one is allowed to marry who cannot produce to his be trothed a certain number of the skulls of enemies slain in war. They subsist upon plunder, and for this purpose they lead a purely Nomadic life. Woe to the merchant whom necessity compels to travel through their land! No sooner is the river frozen, than these barbarians, hitherto unable to cross for want of boats, come pouring down upon us in hordes. On the present occasion they thought to have taken us by surprize, but the precautions of the Roman governor averted the danger, and, I may say, saved the town. The inhabitants, relying on his assistance, rushed out against the enemy in the direst confusion, armed with clubs and other such weapons as chance threw in the way. A battle was fought under my own eyes, Perilla, in such strange fashion as I had never even heard of-now on land and now on the frozen sea-now this side victorious-now that-the most hideous shouts being kept up all the while by both parties. The town's people had like to have paid the penalty of their rashness; for the enemy succeeded by superior numbers in driving them back, and the retreat would speedily have become a rout, had not the arrival of the garrison changed the aspect of affairs. Roman valour and Roman discipline soon proved more than a match for the ill regulated ferocity of the assailants, and they, in their turn, were compelled to flee. The Getæ, now re-assured, returned to the charge with redoubled fury, and made a terrible havoc among the fugitives. All this I witnessed with my own eyes, from my station on the ramparts of the town. The idea of mercy-of sparing a conquered foe never once seemed to occur either to the town's people or their assailants. War to the knife was the cry of both, and they followed it up with a ferocity of which barbarians alone are capable. The townsmen, now victorious, and maddened by the recollection of former wrongs, rushed

after the retreating foe, slaying, and stripping without pity, every one. that they could overtake. Night at last put an end to the pursuit. Shortly after retiring to rest, I was awakened by the hideous shouts of the conquerors, marching through the town in a kind of triumphal procession, laden with the spoils of the foe and bearing aloft their dissevered heads on their long pikes. The rest of the night was spent in the most uncouth dancing and singing.

They brought back, it is true, from the pursuit, no long array of fettered captives,-no waggons filled with precious gold and silver, at once the token and reward of victory,-no flocks of votive sheep or herds of cattle for a sacrifice. Yet the spirit of their procession, rude and savage as it was, recalled vividly to my recollection that splendid triumph which great Cæsar celebrated on his return from the Parthian. war, laden with the spoils of the subjugated east, and followed by a train so vast, that the third day had elapsed ere the rear emerged from the shadow of the triumphal gate. I hope I weary not thy patience, sweetest, with this rambling narrative-nay, I feel assured that no scene can be devoid of interest to thee in which thy father bore however small a share.

I have so far mastered the language of the natives as to converse in it with tolerable facility; indeed, on two or three occasions, I have amused my friend the centurion by reciting to him some poetical attempts of my own in this outlandish dialect. Though, for the most part harsh and impure, the language is not altogether destitute of a certain poetical capability; nor are the natives without some interesting traditions. To recount all these would be tedious, but I shall narrate one, which indeed I came by rather curiously. Some evenings ago, as my wont is, I sauntered listlessly to the door of my little cot to admire the beauty of the heavens. Not a cloud was to be seen on the horizon, but the moon in mid-heaven was shedding her pale dazzling light on all around; while a host of stars, such as I never saw in Italy, were twinkling and glowing like the diamond eyes of the Phidian Juno. I had not stood long when I noticed a figure approach me; such another as I could imagine the Cumaan Sybil to have been when she accosted the haughty Tarquin. There was a strange fire in her eye; and as she became animated in the recital of her ancient lore, her form seemed to dilate, and her carriage rose into dignity. She sang how in ages long gone by, a mighty ship had swept past these very shores with its broad white sails swelling before the wind. And when the natives crowded to the beach, a resounding pæan rose from its wide decks, as a hundred warriors, armed all save the uncovered head, chaunted a hymn of victory to an unknown god in an unknown tongue. At the sound of it the wild men bowed themselves in superstitious awe, but the ship held on its way and harmed them not. The moon had three times risen and three times waned, when a woman, fairer than mortal to behold, rode past in a chariot of fire drawn by storm-swift horses. Her mien was haggard and her eyes were bright with an unearthly radiance. Her face was flushed-but

• Referring to the Argonautic expedition and the story of Medea.

Η Ώρα τιν νωμαν φυγά ποδα σθεναρώτερον ἀελλάδων ίππων.—First Chorus of the Edipus Tyrannus.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »