Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

Popish or conscious, purity ; in a word, between innocence and prudery; next, of the struggle between healthy human affection, and the Manichean contempt with which a celibate clergy would have all men regard the names of husband, wife, and parent. To exhibit this latter falsehood in its miserable consequences, when received into a heart of insight and determination sufficient to follow out all belief to its ultimate practice, is the main object of my Poém. That a most degrading and agonizing contradiction on these points must have existed in the mind of Elizabeth, and of all who with similar characters shall have found themselves under similar influences, is a necessity that must be evident to all who know any thing of the deeper affections of men. In the idea of a married Romish saint, these miseries should follow logically from the Romish view of human relations. In Elizabeth's case, their existence is proved equally logically from the acknowledged facts of her conduct.

I may here observe, that if I have in no case made her allude to the Virgin Mary, and exhibited the sense of infinite duty and loyalty to Christ alone, as the mainspring of all her noblest deeds, it is merely in accordance with Dietrich's biography. The omission of all Mariolatry is remarkable. My business is to copy that omission, as I should in the opposite case have copied the introduction of Virgin-worship into the original tale. The business of those who make Mary, to women especially, the complete substitute for the Saviour, - I had almost said, for all Three Persons of the Trinity, is to explain, if they can, her non-appearance in this case.

Lewis, again, I have drawn as I found him, possessed of all virtues but those of action ; in knowledge, in moral courage, in spiritual attainment, infinitely inferior to his wife, and depending on her to be taught to pray ; giving her higher faculties nothing to rest on in himself, and leaving the noblest offices of a husband to be supplied by a spiritual director. He thus becomes a type of the husbands of the Middle Age, and of the womanworship of chivalry. Woman-worship, “ the honour due to the weaker vessel,” is indeed of God, and woe to the nation and to the man in whom it dies. But in the Middle Age, this feeling had no religious root, by which it could connect itself rationally, either with actual wedlock or with the noble yearnings of men's spirits, and it therefore could not but die down into a semi-sensual dream of female-saint-worship, or fantastic idolatry of mere physical beauty, leaving the women themselves an easy prey to the intellectual allurements of the more educated and subtle priesthood.

In Conrad's case, again, I have fancied that I discover, in the various notices of his life, a noble nature warped and blinded by its unnatural exclusions from those family ties through which we first discern or describe God and our relations to Him, and forced to concentrate his whole faculties in the service, not so much of a God of Truth as of a Catholic system. In his character will be found, I hope, some implicit apology for the failings of such

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

truly great men as Dunstan, Becket, and Dominic, and of many more whom, if we hate, we shall never understand, while we shall be but too likely, in our own way, to copy them.

Walter of Varila, a more fictitious character, represents the “healthy animalism" of the Teutonic mind, with its mixture of deep earnestness and hearty merriment. His dislike of priestly sentimentalities is no anachronism. Even in his day, a noble lay-religion, founded on faith in the divine and universal symbolism of humanity and nature, was gradually arising, and venting itself, from time to time, as I conceive, through many most unsuspected channels, through chivalry, through the minne-singers, through the lay-inventors, or rather importers, of pointed architecture, through the German school of painting, through the politics of the free-towns, till it attained complete freedom, in Luther and his associate reformers.

For my fantastic quotations of Scripture, if they shall be deemed irreverent, I can only say, that they were the fashion of the time, from prince to peasant — that there , is scarcely one of them, with which I have not actually met in the writings of the period — that those writings abound with misuse of Scripture, far more coarse, arbitrary, and ridiculous, than any which I have dared to insert — that I had no right to omit so radical a characteristic of the Middle Age.

For the more coarse and homely passages with which the drama is interspersed, I must make the same apology.

I put them there because they were there — because the Middle Age was, in the gross, a coarse, barbarous, and profligate age — because it was necessary, in order to bring out fairly, the beauty of the central character, to show “the crooked and perverse generation,” in which she was “a child of God without rebuke.” It was, in fact, the very ferocity and foulness of the time which, by a natural revulsion, called forth at the same time, the apostolic holiness, and the Manichean asceticism of the Medieval Saints. The world was so bad, that to be Saints at all, they were compelled to go out of the world. It was necessary, moreover, in depicting the poor man's patroness, to show the material on which she worked ; and those who know the poor, know also that we can no more judge truly of their characters in the presence of their benefactors, than we can tell by seeing clay in the potter's hands, what it was in its native pit. These scenes have, therefore, been laid principally in Elizabeth's absence, in order to preserve their only use and meaning

So rough and common life a picture of the Middle Age will, I am afraid, whether faithful or not, be far from acceptable, to those 'who take their notions of that period principally from such exquisite dreams as the fictions of Fouqué, and of certain moderns whose graceful minds, like some enchanted well,

In whose calm depths the pure and beautiful

Alone are mirrored, are, on account of their very sweetness and simplicity, singularly unfitted to convey any true likeness of the coarse and stormy Middle Age. I have been already accused, by others than Romanists, of profaning this whole subject — i. e. of telling the whole truth, pleasant or not, about it. But really, time enough has been lost in ignorant abuse of that period, and time enough, also, lately, in blind adoration of it. When shall we learn to see it as it was ? — the dawning manhood of Europe — rich with all the tenderness, the simplicity, the enthusiasm of youth — but also darkened, alas! with its full share of youth's precipitance and extravagance, fierce passions, and blind self-will — its virtues and its vices colossal, and, for that very reason, always haunted by the twin-imp of the colossal — the caricatured.

Lastly, the many miraculous stories which the biographer of Elizabeth relates of her, I had no right, for the sake of truth, to interweave in the plot, while it was necessary to indicate, at least, their existence. I have, therefore, put such of them as seemed least absurd into the mouth of Conrad, to whom, in fact, they owe their original publication, and have done so, as I hope, not without a just ethical purpose.

Such was my idea ; of the inconsistencies and shortcomings of this its realization, no one can ever be so painfully sensible, as I am already myself. If, however, this book shall cause one Englishman honestly to ask himself, “I, as a Protestant, have been accustomed to assert the purity and dignity of the offices of husband, wife, and parent. Have I ever examined the grounds

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »