Edward Robert Bulwer Lytton Lytton.

Orval, or, The fool of time : and other imitations and paraphrases online

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of essentially different things by one and the same
term. It is said that, whilst tradesmen, lawyers
and literary men make no demand for increased
leisure, it is most unreasonable that working men
should do so. As regards tradesmen, their appre-
ciation of leisure must, of course, be relative to
their appreciation of money -making. If they value

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money-making more than mind-making, if they rate
the acquisition of wealth higher than the acquisition
of anything which interrupts the acquisition of
wealth, undoubtedly they will esteem leisure as a
profitless waste of time, and neither desire nor
demand it. That is a question for their own con-
sideration, in the decision of which they need neither
the protection, nor the exhortation, of other classes.
But it cannot be denied that this excessive devotion
to money-making " at any price," is accompanied
by an ugliness of social life, a narrowness and coarse-
ness of intelligence, a deficiency of moral indepen-
dence, and a slavish self-surrender to clap-trap,
which are by no means agreeable characteristics of
the lower stratum of the middle class in England.

As regards the intellectual classes, however, the
case is obviously different. Their labour is labour
of the mind. It exercises all the highest faculties
of the understanding. The labour of the working
man is labour of the hand only. It involves only the
minimum of mental activity, and occasions no intel-
lectual development. Leisure for the lawyer, the
writer, the statesman, means relaxation of the intel-


lect. Leisure for the operative means cultivation of
the intellect. A society which says to the vast
majority of its members " You shall exercise
and cultivate to the utmost the mechanical fa-
culty of your hands, in order that you may in-
crease the wealth of the community, but you
shall never either exercise or cultivate the in-
tellectual faculty of your minds, whereby you might
increase the intelligence and morality of the com-
munity," is a society condemned out of its own
mouth, and doomed by the justice of events to
radical transformation. A governing class which
says this, is unfit to be a governing class : and the
demand of the working man for leisure, that is, for
means to complete his moral and intellectual being,
means to become a man instead of a human ma-
chine, is assuredly a demand that cannot conscien-
tiously be rejected by any community of Christians.
It astonishes me that the clergy who, as representa-
tives of upper-class morality, profess so anxious a
solicitude for the souls of the lower orders, should,
in the main, evince so little concern for the minds
and the bodies of them; and that Lord Shaftesbury's


wise warnings should have failed to teach them
that the one is not more important than the other.
Do they suppose that a high condition of morality is
compatible with a low condition of intelligence, or
that morality can rest on any other basis than
men's intellectual conception of what morality is ?
Do they hope that men whose most pressing wants
are physical wants can be persuaded that the best
means of securing the joys of Heaven is to place
implicit faith in the doctrines of those whom they
find to be indifferent to, or ignorant of, the best
means of securing to them the commonest and most
necessary comforts of earth 1 *

* I remember being, as a boy, powerfully and painfully im-
pressed by the circumstances of a police case which I read in the
newspapers. A ruffian, living in the back slums of London,
had, being rnad with drink and jealousy, horribly murdered his
wife in a paroxysm of brutal fury. He was tried for the crime
and condemned to death on the clearest evidence. Owing to
various circumstances his execution was postponed. In the
short time which elapsed between the man's condemnation and
his death, certain Bible-readers and other philanthropic persons
who had access to this condemned felon, succeeded in teaching
him to read, and, in some degree, to think. The man's natural
intelligence, when unobscured by the fumes of alcohol, and
withdrawn from the customary savageries of a dissolute and
desperate life, appears to have been extraordinarily receptive.


It is said, however, that the wants and demands
of the whole community at large forbid the satis-
faction of this particular demand on the part of the
working man, without injury to the entire structure
of society.

If this were true, would it not be a serious
defect in the entire structure of society? But
is it true ? Is it true that, of all the organs with
which nature has provided him, the only ones
which the working man can use without injuring
the general welfare of the whole community, are
his ten fingers ; and that these he must use inces-
santly without hope of relaxation, now when Provi-
dence appears to have furnished him with two great

It was reported of him that, under the care of these teachers,
he learned to read so well that, before he went to the scaffold,
he could read the Bible without assistance. His first page of
that Book was read, and (so the public was informed) his first
prayer was breathed, almost within sound of the nails which
were being driven into the gibbet on which he was about to
perish. Certain persons were so strongly impressed by these
facts that they forwarded to Lord Palmerston, who was then
Secretary for the Home Department, a petition for mitigation
of sentence. But the crime was atrocious, clearly proved, and
without " extenuating circumstances. " The man was hanged.
At that time the Church was vehement in her demand for ex-


means of diminishing manual labour machinery
and combination ?

The foregoing remarks are no digression from the
essential subject of this preface : and if, in making
them, I have interrupted the outline of a poem
which it is the purpose of this preface to describe,
it is only in order to explain the ideas which that
poem was intended to illustrate. The opening-
scenes of the poem were occupied by the action
of the three characters whose false position towards
each other has been already denned. Behind the
misplaced images of the two young lovers should
have been perceptible to the reader the hostile pre-
sence of all those social sanctions and prohibitions

elusive jurisdiction over the education of the people. Reading
this horrible story, one naturally asked, "In Heaven's name,
what is the Church about ? " The question was answered at
length by the "Times" newspaper, which contained the report
of this man's execution. The greater portion of that paper
the space of several columns at least was occupied by an
elaborate discussion between the Rev. Mr. Grorham and His
Grace the Bishop of Exeter, as to the vital church question of
the time whether or not an unbaptized infant is after death
consigned by the Deity whom Christians worship, to a place of
eternal torment, in punishment of the omission by its parents
of a prescribed ecclesiastical ceremony. This needs no comment.


which derive their jurisdiction from the reiterated
assent of generations, and are the virtual executors
of the will of ages. These are clearly recognized
by the third character in the group that of the
young workman, who is never deluded by the
notion that the separation of classes may be re-
moved by simply disregarding it. His warnings
and remonstrances are, of course, neglected ; and
he goes forth, under an excessive sense of intoler-
able wrong, and with an unquenchable thirst for
vengeance, upon his crusade against a society
which he has learned to regard as the great cor-
rupter of human nature, vitiating one half of man-
kind by want and the other by wealth. To the
acquired graces and artificial refinements of this
society, which is reproached with having aban-
doned the simplicity and equality of an imaginary
state of nature, he attributes the ruin of all that
was dear to him ; and it is, therefore, from the
total dissolution of existing society that he de-
mands the salvation of mankind. Thus, he falls
into that reactionary asceticism which was so dis-
astrous to the Revolution of which he afterwards


becomes the leader ; an asceticism which sought to
exterminate one portion of society for the benefit of
the remainder, and recall mankind to the repub-
lican simplicity of the Golden Age by means of the
Reign of Terror.

This episode is abruptly terminated by an event
which places the young noble at the head of an
ancient and powerful house, invested suddenly with
all the responsibilities and privileges of a great social
station, and furnished with a vast field for personal
ambition. In the blaze of a prospect so splendid,
the faint impressions of a boyish fancy are soon
effaced ; and together with new interests, new sen-
timents and opinions are formed. A man whose
personal position society has made so comfortable
is easily persuaded that society must on no account
be disturbed. The aristocrat has already reached
that stage of life at which the horizon of it ap-
pears bounded by certain definite and attainable
objects. These objects are fixed and formed by
the world as it is, and not by the world as it
might be, or should be. For the attainment of
them, a man takes stock of his faculties and op-


portunities ; lie ceases to dream and begins to plan ;.
impulse settles into purpose. But, in order to make
the world, as it is, bear fruit to him, in the form of
personal success, a man must cultivate the world
as it is. To the ambitious noble the best means of
extending his personal influence upon the estab-
lished order of things, by most effectually placing
him in personal harmony therewith, is a marriage
which perfectly accords with all the requirements
of his social status. The wife he selects is a model
of domestic virtue, with strong affections and few
ideas, a woman of bounded faculty, though wor-
thily representing all the personal graces of the
class to which she belongs, and devoted to her
husband, because he is her husband, whilst unable
either to understand, or to sympathise with, his-
imaginative temperament and complex character..
The charm of his previous illegitimate passion was
its impulsive rebellion against the unacknowledged,
supremacy of the fitness of things. The charm of
this legitimate union is its persuasive and gracious-
reconciliation with all that has now become attrac-
tive in the acknowledged fitness of things. In,


both instances, the man himself is the sport of his
own imagination ; and on both occasions he, for the
time being, sincerely believes himself to be perma-
nently enamoured of the realization of his fugitive,
and ever changing, ideal of life.

Amid all the splendid festivities with which
this marriage is celebrated, the outraged friend of
the deceived and forsaken girl endeavours to win
access to the bridegroom, as the bearer of a last
message from her dying lips, recommending to his
paternal protection the illegitimate fruit of their
ill-fated union; who is a son. But the man's
ragged appearance, and excited manner, expose him
to ridicule and outrage. He is hustled in the doors,
beaten by the lackies, insulted by the guests, and,
in a paroxysm of exasperated feeling, he strikes a
noble, is arrested, and thrown into prison.

There, he is visited by the priest ; who comes to
administer the customary conventional dose of exhor-
tation and admonition ; but departs silenced and
troubled by the terrible reproaches, the brutal
truths, and stabbing questions which he finds him-
self unable to answer. The priest is an honest,


gentle-hearted, and well-intentioned man ; whose-
life has been passed in laying down the theo-
retical law of conventional morality to misbehaved
intellectual children. Suddenly, for the first time,
he is confronted, in this capacity, with a man of
massive intellect, and justly outraged feelings; who,
treating him as the childish recipient of untested
doctrines devised for the convenience of a hypocri-
tical and vicious society, subjects him to a scathing
catechism, and leaves him pricked in conscience,
and disturbed in mind. From this priest the bride-
groom learns the name of his prisoner, and the ob-
ject of the man's visit. In great agitation, over-
whelmed with self-reproach, he hastens to release
the friend of his youth, and, so far as may be,
repair the past. But the generous impulse is
awakened too late. The prisoner has mysteri-
ously escaped, bearing with him, into the obscurity
from which he will only reissue at the head of the
armed Revolution, the secret he had come to
reveal, and the yet unwritten verdict of the Revo-
lution against all which it has condemned and is about
to destroy. Thus the past remains irreparable.


But, in the soul of the wrongdoer, retribution
has already commenced. This incident has sud-
denly evoked, in palpable form, the ghost of his
own youth. It rises before him wearing the image
-of the wronged object of his early love, and clothed
in eternal accusation. Immediately he is again
thrown out of harmony with life. From his eyes
drops the magic veil of his own imagination, and
-with it, from the woman he has wedded, all the
imaginary charm of her presence in his life. Once
more he believes himself enamoured of the woman
he has lost, because he has lost her. When love is
only the growth of the imagination, the sentiment
which succeeds to it is always pitiless. The hus-
band neglects and insults the wife whom he now
unjustly accuses of her failure to represent an ideal
with which, unknown to her, he has fancifully asso-
ciated the happiness of his existence. To him, the
faculties of expression and action afford relief from
the intensity of sufferings artificially occasioned.
To her, no such relief is possible ; and she dies,
broken-hearted, bequeathing to her husband one
child a son, the sole inheritor of his name and


titles, the sole depository of Ins hopes and schemes,
but sickly in mind and body, incapable of pro-
moting the ambition, or perpetuating the power,
of his father, the feeble product and representa-
tive of a class already degenerate and soon to

Meanwhile, unknown to the father, his child by
the woman he seduced, also a son, born in the hovel,
nurtured on the heath, motherless, and virtually
fatherless, without kindred, without a home or a
name, grows up in orphanage and want, yet hardy
and vigorous, and feeling within him all the young
life and savage hunger of the Revolution ; which
adopts him as its child, acknowledges him as its
heir, and recognizes in his birth a wrong to be
avenged. Throughout the conflict of classes and
principles which is to follow,, the two children are
gradually brought to the knowledge of each other
and of their common parentage ; and, at the close
of the poem, they would have been the last figures
left visible amidst the ruins of all around them
standing hand in hand, and looking forward, con-
scious at last that they are brothers. Thus, no


sooner does social anarchy begin to subside, than
the conception of the Family re-emerges, as the
permanent archetype of all society, which suffers
by the disorder, and revives in the recognition, of
that eldest and holiest of human organizations.
For it is only in Love that Equality can co- exist
with Authority, and only by the supremacy of the
moral, over the intellectual faculties, that the just
equilibrium of social interests can be peacefully and
permanently maintained. The Hearth was the
earliest altar. The Father was the earliest ruler.
With the Family, History begins : from the Family,
Religion arises : and the Family it is, which, link-
ing the generations to each other by the bond of
brotherhood, preserves from age to age, with the
pattern of legitimate Authority, the principle of
legitimate Obedience.

There was in this sketch only one other cha-
racter which I need particularize ; that of the
Priest. It appeared to me that in the opening
action of such a drama as this which I am describ-
ing, the central position should be occupied by that
august and venerable image. I wished to show


him, yet undisturbed in the possession of his here-
ditary place as the social representative of spiritual
authority, presiding over the whole course of
human life, from birth, through marriage, to death.
Receding from the foreground as the action ad-
vances, he would have reappeared, towards the
close of it, under an altered aspect. Having so
long been recognized as an integral and necessary
part of the constituted order of things, it is not till
that order is shaken to its foundations that he is
compelled to examine for himself the validity of his
title to the place in that order which he must now
either surrender or justify. And this, at a moment
when all the conditions of thought are distracted
by the necessity of immediate action ! The very
implements of warfare have to be remodelled under
the fire of the foe. The security, no longer supplied
by custom, must now be won from conscience by
the agony of the soul. The age is a sharp ques-
tioner, and no longer tolerates commonplaces.
Those who would escape the devouring jaw of the
Sphynx must answer her enigma without equivoca-
tion ; and, what is yet more difficult, without hesi-



tation. The Priest's authority is challenged, its
claims are disputed, its origin is denied. The op-
ponents of it are not to be silenced by deductions
from an hypothesis which is the very thing in dis-
pute. It must either be justified by argument, or
maintained by force. But the honest man will
shrink from maintaining by force what he cannot, to
his own conscience, justify by argument. And when
doubt first arises in the moment that calls for de-
cision, between right and wrong, I can conceive no
more terribly tragic situation. On the one side are
the claims of class, on the other those of con-
science : on the one side honour, on the other
honesty. However cruel may be the position in
which a man is placed if the best action of his
life should appear in the eyes of others to be its
basest, his case is certainly not bettered if the most
decisive action of his life should appear to his own
conscience to be a deliberate suppression of the
truth in himself. And, therefore, when the mere
ambitious politician, who now feels the want, not
of a creed, but of a cry, and looks upon the priest
only as a political institution, with the fortunes of


which his own material interests and ambition
happen to have become associated by the force of
circumstances, when he comes to demand from the
priest a solemn blessing in the name of God upon
the battle flag he is about to unfurl in defence of
church property and priestly power, then the
tragedy reaches its crisis in the old man's heart-
broken cry of despair.

It is not without strong reasons, which will pre-
sently be apparent, that I have dwelt at such
length upon the general scope and character of a
conception that was never satisfactorily worked
out, and has long since been abandoned. A
mere accident discovered to me the existence of a
poem, which, with a power and felicity that have
left me thoroughly dissatisfied with my own work,
gives expression to an idea singularly similar to the
one which that work was intended to embody. In
an old number of the Revue des Deux Mondes,
I found by chance a prose translation of The
Infernal Comedy, a Polish poem, published
anonymously (I think in 1835), by Count Sigis-
mund Krasinski, the author (as I have since ascer-

d 2


tained) of many other works no less worthy to be
more generally known than they are. I read, and
read again, this strange poem with ever increas-
ing interest and surprise. Every detail of it re-
mained strongly impressed upon my memory, and
so confused and embarrassed all subsequent at-
tempts to complete my own conception that I
finally resolved to abandon it altogether. I was,
however, unwilling to do this without any record
of the feelings which thus induced me to relin-
quish a work that had long occupied my time
and thoughts : and, while the effect of the Polish
poem was yet fresh on my mind, the following
paraphrase of it was written with a rapidity which
is perhaps the best guarantee for its fidelity.
This paraphrase was not, indeed, then written
with a view to publication ; but I suppose it may
be properly included in a volume which, like the
present, is composed only of paraphrases, imita-
tions, and such like experimental exercises ; and I
confess that I now publish it not altogether without
a hope that it may attract attention to the very ori-
ginal genius of a writer who appears to be almost


unknown out of his own country ; and so, perhaps,
induce some competent Polish scholar to favour all
who are interested in the extension of a weltliteratur,
with a complete and accurate translation of his
works. I was not aware until many months after
this volume had been in print, that a short account
of The Infernal Comedy is to be found in the
second volume of Eastern Europe. It does not,
I think, do full justice to all the merits of the
poem j but if the reader should be pleased to refer
to it, it will at least enable him to judge whether
I have rightly interpreted the conception of the
Polish poet.

In any case, he will now understand why I have
so long detained his attention. It is because I
am most anxious that he should not hastily at-
tribute to the author of The Infernal Comedy
the many defects which he will probably find
in Orval, and am still more anxious to disclaim
for myself any of the merits which, in despite of all
such defects, I hope the genius of the Polish poet
may have bequeathed to this paraphrase of one of
its most striking productions. It has appeared to


me that the best precaution I can take, in order to
prevent the meaning and character of the original
poem from being obscured or distorted by occa-
sional traces, in the paraphrase, of my own previous
conception of the general subject of it, is to place
that conception, as I have now done, fairly before
the reader, and thus enable him to detect all such
traces wherever they may occur. Indeed, long
after these scenes were in print, I withheld them
from publication in the hope of making myself
better acquainted with a poem of which I believe
the present paraphrase to be the first metrical re-
production. But the result of my endeavours
leaves nothing of any great importance to be
changed in what I have written; and as, owing
to some misunderstanding between the English and
American publishers, Orval has already been pub-
lished in the United States, there remains no adequate
reason for any longer postponing the publication of
it in England. If the work should ever reach a
second edition, I shall then endeavour to improve
it ; but I sincerely believe that, in its present form,
it is a tolerably faithful reproduction of a poem


which is unlike . anything that I know of in
English literature, although it must be admitted
that it has not altogether escaped the influence of

All that I have intentionally retained in the par-
aphrase of my own unfinished poem, are the names
of some of the characters, which will probably
sound less unfamiliar to English ears than any purely
Polish appellations. I have not retained the
characters themselves; although that of Orval
strongly resembles the character I had given to
my own sketch of the aristocratic chief. Kegarded
merely as an individual, Orval represents, not
the temperament of the poet, but that form of
the poetic temperament which is produced by a
spurious enthusiasm springing, not from the soul,
but the senses, and ever mistaking the imagination
for the heart. " He that hath a heart shall yet be
saved," is the warning note of his guardian angel ;
and the reason why Orval succumbs to the three
great temptations of his life is, that intellect with-
out heart, passion without love, and power without
sympathy, are satanic and accurst. ft The stars of


heaven encircle thy head," exclaims the poet whose
conception is embodied in the following paraphrase,
" The waves of ocean are at thy feet. Before thee
springs a rainbow that spans the deep and pierces
the cloud. All thine eye beholds is thine, and for
thee only. Nations, cities, men. Thou entwinest

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Online LibraryEdward Robert Bulwer Lytton LyttonOrval, or, The fool of time : and other imitations and paraphrases → online text (page 2 of 20)