Lucile's a coquette to the end of her fingers,
I will stake my last farthing. Perhaps the wish lingers
To recall the once reckless, indifferent lover
To the feet he has left; let intrigue now recover
What truth could not keep. 'Twere a vengeance, no doubt -
A triumph; - but why must YOU bring it about?
You are risking the substance of all that you schemed
To obtain; and for what? some mad dream you have dream'd.
But there's nothing to risk. You exaggerate, Jack,
You mistake. In three days, at the most, I am back.
Ay, but how?... discontented, unsettled, upset,
Bearing with you a comfortless twinge of regret.
Preoccupied, sulky, and likely enough
To make your betroth'd break off all in a huff.
Three days, do you say? But in three days who knows
What may happen? I don't, nor do you, I suppose.
Of all the good things in this good world around us,
The one most abundantly furnish'd and found us,
And which, for that reason, we least care about,
And can best spare our friends, is good counsel, no doubt.
But advice, when 'tis sought from a friend (though civility
May forbid to avow it), means mere liability
In the bill we already have drawn on Remorse,
Which we deem that a true friend is bound to indorse.
A mere lecture on debt from that friend is a bore.
Thus, the better his cousin's advice was, the more
Alfred Vargrave with angry resentment opposed it.
And, having the worst of the contest, he closed it
With so firm a resolve his bad ground to maintain,
That, sadly perceiving resistance was vain,
And argument fruitless, the amiable Jack
Came to terms and assisted his cousin to pack
A slender valise (the one small condescension
Which his final remonstrance obtain'd), whose dimension
Excluded large outfits; and, cursing his stars, he
Shook hands with his friend and return'd to Miss Darcy.
Lord Alfred, when last to the window he turn'd,
Ere he lock'd up and quitted his chamber, discern'd
Matilda ride by, with her cheek beaming bright
In what Virgil has call'd, "Youth's purpureal light"
(I like the expression, and can't find a better).
He sigh'd as he look'd at her. Did he regret her?
In her habit and hat, with her glad golden hair,
As airy and blithe as a blithe bird in air,
And her arch rosy lips, and her eager blue eyes,
With her little impertinent look of surprise,
And her round youthful figure, and fair neck, below
The dark drooping feather, as radiant as snow, -
I can only declare, that if I had the chance
Of passing three days in the exquisite glance
Of those eyes, or caressing the hand that now petted
That fine English mare, I should much have regretted
Whatever might lose me one little half-hour
Of a pastime so pleasant, when once in my power.
For, if one drop of milk from the bright Milky Way
Could turn into a woman, 'twould look, I dare say,
Not more fresh than Matilda was looking that day.
But, whatever the feeling that prompted the sigh
With which Alfred Vargrave now watched her ride by,
I can only affirm that, in watching her ride,
As he turned from the window he certainly sigh'd.
LETTER FROM LORD ALFRED VARGRAVE TO THE COMTESSE DE NEVERS.
"Your note, Madam, reach'd me to-day, at Bigorre,
And commands (need I add?) my obedience. Before
The night I shall be at Luchon - where a line,
If sent to Duval's, the hotel where I dine,
Will find me, awaiting your orders. Receive
In an hour."
In an hour from the time he wrote this
Alfred Vargrave, in tracking a mountain abyss,
Gave the rein to his steed and his thoughts, and pursued,
In pursuing his course through the blue solitude,
The reflections that journey gave rise to.
(Because, without some such precaution, I fear
You might fail to distinguish, them each from the rest
Of the world they belong to; whose captives are drest,
As our convicts, precisely the same one and all,
While the coat cut for Peter is pass'd on to Paul)
I resolve, one by one, when I pick from the mass
The persons I want, as before you they pass,
To label them broadly in plain black and white
On the backs of them. Therefore whilst yet he's in sight,
I first label my hero.
The age is gone o'er
When a man may in all things be all. We have more
Painters, poets, musicians, and artists, no doubt,
Than the great Cinquecento gave birth to; but out
Of a million of mere dilettanti, when, when
Will a new LEONARDO arise on our ken?
He is gone with the age which begat him. Our own
Is too vast, and too complex, for one man alone
To embody its purpose, and hold it shut close
In the palm of his hand. There were giants in those
Irreclaimable days; but in these days of ours,
In dividing the work, we distribute the powers.
Yet a dwarf on a dead giant's shoulders sees more
Than the 'live giant's eyesight availed to explore;
And in life's lengthen'd alphabet what used to be
To our sires X Y Z is to us A B C.
A Vanini is roasted alive for his pains,
But a Bacon comes after and picks up his brains.
A Bruno is angrily seized by the throttle
And hunted about by thy ghost, Aristotle,
Till a More or Lavater step into his place:
Then the world turns and makes an admiring grimace.
Once the men were so great and so few, they appear,
Through a distant Olympian atmosphere,
Like vast Caryatids upholding the age.
Now the men are so many and small, disengage
One man from the million to mark him, next moment
The crowd sweeps him hurriedly out of your comment;
And since we seek vainly (to praise in our songs)
'Mid our fellows the size which to heroes belongs,
We take the whole age for a hero, in want
Of a better; and still, in its favor, descant
On the strength and the beauty which, failing to find
In any one man, we ascribe to mankind.
Alfred Vargrave was one of those men who achieve
So little, because of the much they conceive:
With irresolute finger he knock'd at each one
Of the doorways of life, and abided in none.
His course, by each star that would cross it, was set,
And whatever he did he was sure to regret.
That target, discuss'd by the travellers of old,
Which to one appear'd argent, to one appear'd gold,
To him, ever lingering on Doubt's dizzy margent,
Appear'd in one moment both golden and argent.
The man who seeks one thing in life, and but one,
May hope to achieve it before life be done;
But he who seeks all things, wherever he goes,
Only reaps from the hopes which around him he sows
A harvest of barren regrets. And the worm
That crawls on in the dust to the definite term
Of its creeping existence, and sees nothing more
Than the path it pursues till its creeping be o'er,
In its limited vision, is happier far
Than the Half-Sage, whose course, fix'd by no friendly star
Is by each star distracted in turn, and who knows
Each will still be as distant wherever he goes.
Both brilliant and brittle, both bold and unstable,
Indecisive yet keen, Alfred Vargrave seem'd able
To dazzle, but not to illumine mankind.
A vigorous, various, versatile mind;
A character wavering, fitful, uncertain,
As the shadow that shakes o'er a luminous curtain,
Vague, flitting, but on it forever impressing
The shape of some substance at which you stand guessing:
When you said, "All is worthless and weak here," behold!
Into sight on a sudden there seem'd to unfold
Great outlines of strenuous truth in the man:
When you said, "This is genius," the outlines grew wan,
And his life, though in all things so gifted and skill'd,
Was, at best, but a promise which nothing fulfill'd.
In the budding of youth, ere wild winds can deflower
The shut leaves of man's life, round the germ of his power
Yet folded, his life had been earnest. Alas!
In that life one occasion, one moment, there was
When this earnestness might, with the life-sap of youth,
Lusty fruitage have borne in his manhood's full growth;
But it found him too soon, when his nature was still
The delicate toy of too pliant a will,
The boisterous wind of the world to resist,
Or the frost of the world's wintry wisdom.
That occasion, too rathe in its advent.
He had made it a law, in his commerce with men,
That intensity in him, which only left sore
The heart it disturb'd, to repel and ignore.
And thus, as some Prince by his subjects deposed,
Whose strength he, by seeking to crush it, disclosed,
In resigning the power he lack'd power to support
Turns his back upon courts, with a sneer at the court,
In his converse this man for self-comfort appeal'd
To a cynic denial of all he conceal'd
In the instincts and feelings belied by his words.
Words, however, are things: and the man who accords
To his language the license to outrage his soul,
Is controll'd by the words he disdains to control.
And, therefore, he seem'd in the deeds of each day
The light code proclaim'd on his lips to obey;
And, the slave of each whim, follow'd wilfully aught
That perchance fool'd the fancy, or flatter'd the thought.
Yet, indeed, deep within him, the spirits of truth,
Vast, vague aspirations, the powers of his youth,
Lived and breathed, and made moan - stirr'd themselves - strove to start
Into deeds - though deposed, in that Hades, his heart.
Like those antique Theogonies ruin'd and hurl'd,
Under clefts of the hills, which, convulsing the world,
Heaved, in earthquake, their heads the rent caverns above,
To trouble at times in the light court of Jove
All its frivolous gods, with an undefined awe,
Of wrong'd rebel powers that own'd not their law.
For his sake, I am fain to believe that, if born
To some lowlier rank (from the world's languid scorn
Secured by the world's stern resistance) where strife,
Strife and toil, and not pleasure, gave purpose to life,
He possibly might have contrived to attain
Not eminence only, but worth. So, again,
Had he been of his own house the first-born, each gift
Of a mind many-gifted had gone to uplift
A great name by a name's greatest uses.
He stood isolated, opposed, as it were,
To life's great realities; part of no plan;
And if ever a nobler and happier man
He might hope to become, that alone could be when
With all that is real in life and in men
What was real in him should have been reconciled;
When each influence now from experience exiled
Should have seized on his being, combined with his nature,
And form'd as by fusion, a new human creature:
As when those airy elements viewless to sight
(The amalgam of which, if our science be right,
The germ of this populous planet doth fold)
Unite in the glass of the chemist, behold!
Where a void seem'd before, there a substance appears,
From the fusion of forces whence issued the spheres!
But the permanent cause why his life fail'd and miss'd
The full value of life was, - where man should resist
The world, which man's genius is call'd to command,
He gave way, less from lack of the power to withstand,
Than from lack of the resolute will to retain
Those strongholds of life which the world strives to gain.
Let this character go in the old-fashion'd way,
With the moral thereof tightly tack'd to it. Say -
"Let any man once show the world that he feels
Afraid of its bark, and 'twill fly at his heels:
Let him fearlessly face it, 'twill leave him alone:
But 'twill fawn at his feet if he flings it a bone."
The moon of September, now half at the full,
Was unfolding from darkness and dreamland the lull
Of the quiet blue air, where the many-faced hills
Watch'd, well-pleased, their fair slaves, the light, foam-footed rills,
Dance and sing down the steep marble stairs of their courts,
And gracefully fashion a thousand sweet sports,
Lord Alfred (by this on his journeying far)
Was pensively puffing his Lopez cigar,
And brokenly humming an old opera strain,
And thinking, perchance, of those castles in Spain
Which that long rocky barrier hid from his sight;
When suddenly, out of the neighboring night,
A horseman emerged from a fold of the hill,
And so startled his steed that was winding at will
Up the thin dizzy strip of a pathway which led
O'er the mountain - the reins on its neck, and its head
Hanging lazily forward - that, but for a hand
Light and ready, yet firm, in familiar command,
Both rider and horse might have been in a trice
Hurl'd horribly over the grim precipice.
As soon as the moment's alarm had subsided,
And the oath with which nothing can find unprovided
A thoroughbred Englishman, safely exploded,
Lord Alfred unbent (as Apollo his bow did
Now and then) his erectness; and looking, not ruder
Than such inroad would warrant, survey'd the intruder,
Whose arrival so nearly cut short in his glory
My hero, and finished abruptly this story.
The stranger, a man of his own age or less,
Well mounted, and simple though rich in his dress,
Wore his beard and mustache in the fashion of France.
His face, which was pale, gather'd force from the glance
Of a pair of dark, vivid, and eloquent eyes.
With a gest of apology, touch'd with surprise,
He lifted his hat, bow'd and courteously made
Some excuse in such well-cadenced French as betray'd,
At the first word he spoke, the Parisian.
I have wander'd about in the world everywhere;
From many strange mouths have heard many strange tongues;
Strain'd with many strange idioms my lips and my lungs;
Walk'd in many a far land, regretting my own;
In many a language groaned many a groan;
And have often had reason to curse those wild fellows
Who built the high house at which Heaven turn'd jealous,
Making human audacity stumble and stammer
When seized by the throat in the hard gripe of Grammar.
But the language of languages dearest to me
Is that in which once, O ma toute cherie,
When, together, we bent o'er your nosegay for hours,
You explain'd what was silently said by the flowers,
And, selecting the sweetest of all, sent a flame
Through my heart, as, in laughing, you murmur'd
The Italians have voices like peacocks; the Spanish
Smell, I fancy, of garlic; the Swedish and Danish
Have something too Runic, too rough and unshod, in
Their accents for mouths not descended from Odin;
German gives me a cold in the head, sets me wheezing
And coughing; and Russian is nothing but sneezing;
But, by Belus and Babel! I never have heard,
And I never shall hear (I well know it), one word
Of that delicate idiom of Paris without
Feeling morally sure, beyond question or doubt,
By the wild way in which my heart inwardly flutter'd
That my heart's native tongue to my heart had been utter'd
And whene'er I hear French spoken as I approve
I feel myself quietly falling in love.
Lord Alfred, on hearing the stranger, appeased
By a something, an accent, a cadence, which pleased
His ear with that pledge of good breeding which tells
At once of the world in whose fellowship dwells
The speaker that owns it, was glad to remark
In the horseman a man one might meet after dark
And thus, not disagreeably impress'd,
As it seem'd, with each other, the two men abreast
Rode on slowly a moment.
I see, Sir, you are
A smoker. Allow me!
Pray take a cigar.
Many thanks!... Such cigars are a luxury here.
Do you go to Luchon?
Yes; and you?
Yes. I fear,
Since our road is the same, that our journey must be
Somewhat closer than is our acquaintance. You see
How narrow the path is. I'm tempted to ask
Your permission to finish (no difficult task!)
The cigar you have given me (really a prize!)
In your company.
Charm'd, Sir, to find your road lies
In the way of my own inclinations! Indeed
The dream of your nation I find in this weed.
In the distant Savannahs a talisman grows
That makes all men brothers that use it... who knows?
That blaze which erewhile from the Boulevart out-broke,
It has ended where wisdom begins, Sir, - in smoke.
Messieurs Lopez (whatever your publicists write)
Have done more in their way human kind to unite,
Perchance, than ten Prudhons.
Yes. Ah, what a scene!
Humph! Nature is here too pretentious. Her mien
Is too haughty. One likes to be coax'd, not compell'd,
To the notice such beauty resents if withheld.
She seems to be saying too plainly, "Admire me!"
And I answer, "Yes, madam, I do: but you tire me."
That sunset, just now though...
A very old trick!
One would think that the sun by this time must be sick
Of blushing at what, by this time, he must know
Too well to be shocked by - this world.
Ah, 'tis so
With us all. 'Tis the sinner that best knew the world
At Twenty, whose lip is, at sixty, most curl'd
With disdain of its follies. You stay at Luchon?
A day or two only.
The season is done.
'Twas shorter this year than the last.
Folly soon wears her shoes out. She dances so fast
We are all of us tired.
You know the place well?
I have been there two seasons.
Pray who is the Belle
Of the Baths at this moment?
The same who has been
The belle of all places in which she is seen;
The belle of all Paris last winter; last spring
The belle of all Baden.
An uncommon thing!
Sir, an uncommon beauty!... I rather should say
An uncommon character. Truly, each day
One meets women whose beauty is equal to hers,
But none with the charm of Lucile de Nevers.
Madame de Nevers!
Do you know her?
Or, rather, I knew her - a long time ago.
I almost forget...
What a wit! what a grace
In her language! her movements! what play in her face!
And yet what a sadness she seems to conceal!
You speak like a lover.
I speak as I feel,
But not like a lover. What interests me so
In Lucile, at the same time forbids me, I know,
To give to that interest, whate'er the sensation,
The name we men give to an hour's admiration,
A night's passing passion, an actress's eyes,
A dancing girl's ankles, a fine lady's sighs.
Yes, I quite comprehend. But this sadness - this shade
Which you speak of?... it almost would make me afraid
Your gay countrymen, Sir, less adroit must have grown,
Since when, as a stripling, at Paris, I own
I found in them terrible rivals, - if yet
They have all lack'd the skill to console this regret
(If regret be the word I should use), or fulfil
This desire (if desire be the word), which seems still
To endure unappeased. For I take it for granted,
From all that you say, that the will was not wanted.
The stranger replied, not without irritation:
"I have heard that an Englishman - one of your nation
I presume - and if so, I must beg you, indeed,
To excuse the contempt which I..."
Pray, Sir, proceed
With your tale. My compatriot, what was his crime?
Oh, nothing! His folly was not so sublime
As to merit that term. If I blamed him just now,
It was not for the sin, but the silliness.
I own I hate Botany. Still,... admit,
Although I myself have no passion for it,
And do not understand, yet I cannot despise
The cold man of science, who walks with his eyes
All alert through a garden of flowers, and strips
The lilies' gold tongues, and the roses' red lips,
With a ruthless dissection; since he, I suppose,
Has some purpose beyond the mere mischief he does.
But the stupid and mischievous boy, that uproots
The exotics, and tramples the tender young shoots,
For a boy's brutal pastime, and only because
He knows no distinction 'twixt heartsease and haws, -
One would wish, for the sake of each nursling so nipp'd,
To catch the young rascal and have him well whipp'd!
Some compatriot of mine, do I then understand,
With a cold Northern heart, and a rude English hand,
Has injured your Rosebud of France?
Sir, I know
But little, or nothing. Yet some faces show
The last act of a tragedy in their regard:
Though the first scenes be wanting, it yet is not hard
To divine, more or less, what the plot may have been,
And what sort of actors have pass'd o'er the scene.
And whenever I gaze on the face of Lucile,
With its pensive and passionless languor, I feel
That some feeling hath burnt there... burnt out, and burnt up
Health and hope. So you feel when you gaze down the cup
Of extinguish'd volcanoes: you judge of the fire
Once there, by the ravage you see; - the desire,
By the apathy left in its wake, and that sense
Of a moral, immovable, mute impotence.
Humph!... I see you have finished, at last, your cigar;
Can I offer another?
No, thank you. We are
Not two miles from Luchon.
You know the road well?
I have often been over it.
Here a pause fell
On their converse. Still musingly on, side by side,
In the moonlight, the two men continued to ride
Down the dim mountain pathway. But each for the rest