Robinson Ellis.

The tenth Declamation of (pseudo) Quintilian; a lecture delivered in the hall of Corpus Christi College on Thursday, May 11, 1911 online

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Online LibraryRobinson EllisThe tenth Declamation of (pseudo) Quintilian; a lecture delivered in the hall of Corpus Christi College on Thursday, May 11, 1911 → online text (page 1 of 2)
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rhe Tenth Declamation of
(Pseudo) Quintilian









OXFORD: 116 High Street

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The Tenth Declamation of
(Pseudo) Quintilian






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OXFORD: 116 High Street

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Two motives have induced me to turn into English and
deliver as a public lecture one of the 1 9 larger Declamations
ascribed to Quintilian, but now believed to be the work of
a much later date. The Xth of these rhetorical exercita-
tions occupies a prominent place in the collection owing to
its subject, the (supposed) return from the grave and appear-
ance to his mother of a young man on the evening of the
day on which he had been cremated and several evenings
following. In other words, the declamation is interesting
spiritualiatically. I do not suppose any ghost story has
ever been recorded so circumstantially, and this is my chief
reason for selecting it,
^ A subordinate motive may be found, as an Oxford friend
^ has reminded me, in its resemblance to one of Wordsworth's
I"* more famous poems. The Ajjiictlon of Margaret, especially
stanza 9 : —

I look for ghosts; but none will force
d Their way to me : 'tis falsely said

That there was ever intercourse
Between the living and the dead ;
For, surely, then I should have sight
Of him I wait for day and night,
With love and longings infinite.

I may observe that in the same poem the preceding
stanza (8): —

Perhaps some dungeon hears thee groan,
Maimed, mangled by inhuman men ;
Or thou upon a desert thrown
Inheritest tlie lion's flcn.

points in my opinion to our great poet's familiarity with the
19 declamations as a whole: for in these the cruelties in-
flicted by pirates on those who fell into their liaiid.s are one


of the most constantly recurring topics from first to last.
And even if the Latin of the Declamations is sufficiently
difficult to make it doubtful whether they were studied
by the English poet, it is not impossible that the English
translation by Mr. John Warr (1686) was accessible to him,
the more so that its homely and simple style might perhaps
give it an additional recommendation.

The work is entitled in the MSS. Sepulcrum incantatum,
the tomb laid under a spell. The story is as follows : —

A young man, the only son of his parents, is seized by a
severe illness and dies. On the evening of the day on which
his body has been burnt, he appears in all his beauty and
perfection of form to his mother, who, at first incredulous
that it can be her son, is at last convinced and remains
talking with him till he retires at the approach of dawn.
The visit is repeated for several successive nights, during
which time the mother keeps silence as to what she has
seen. At last she makes a confession to her husband, who,
unwilling that his house should be haunted by such appari-
tions, calls in an adept of the magic art, who laj^s the tomb
in which the young man is buried under a solemn incanta-
tion, accompanied by magic rites, with iron bars and clamps
to make it impossible for the shade to escape from his con-
finement. The mother, deprived in this way of the
consolatory presence of her son, brings an action for cruelty
(malae tractationis) against her husband.


Although, judges, among those who, left forlorn by
the death of their children, have seen all their vows, all
the hopes they had stored up in preparation for old age,
disappear rapidly before them, this saddest form of con-
flicting rivalry is usual — I mean, that each one of them
believes his sorrows and tears receive an accession of
dignity if he is thought the miserablest of men ; still,
the lady before you, calling as she does for pity by
a kind of sorrow which is neither well known nor
ordinary, is acting no immodest part if in the throng of
mothers, who like her have lost a loving son that was
either an only child or still young, she claims a pre-
eminence, and, so to speak, a first place among mourners by
the strange novelty of her misfortune. Alone of all women,
she has had the incredible unhappiness of enduring a
douVjle bereavement in the loss of a single son. The first
bereavement (her son's death) as shared with the rest
of mankind and inseparable from our allotted destiny, she
bore with such fortitude as she could. Not only had she
lost no part of her son's company except the hours of
daylight, she had besides ceased to fear any possibility of
death coming to him of whose society she was in full
possession. I hope to give no offence if I say she was
over sparing of her tears and lamentations, sorrow not
even all owing itself to mourn for one whose arrival was

But now she has lost her solace, and finds herself dis-
appointed in her belief. So long as slie fancied that if
she was able to see her son, he could not be dead, she
played the ungrateful part of robbing that son of a new
title to the name. Tlie hapless youth, but fur his con-

A 2

finonient, wouUI by this time liavc returned from the
dead to his father as well. On her side the unhappy-
lady claims one thing and one only : you are not to think
her private r^rief out of proportion to the real gravity of
her loss. It was no phantom of an empty imagination, no
creation of a mourners fancy, tliat returned from the dead,
no tleeting semblance disturbed her broken sleep. It was
not even a countenance defaced by the ashes of the (funeral)
pyre or a head darkened to a cinderous hue,' that was
making its rounds on the nights when it was permitted to
roam ; it was a son, such as he had at one time been, young
and beautiful of mien, who, not satisfied with being looked
at or gazed upon, if you may believe the longings of his
unhappy mother (for no one else saw him), embraced and
kissed her, and lived a second life as long as the darkness

C. 2.

If this was really permitted to her, it was much the
unhappy mother lost, and not much less if she only
believed it to be so. Whereas now, lying awake by the
side of her sleeping husband, and alP but abandoned to
herself, she measures out the hours of blank darkness and
the nights so tedious to a mourner. It was no creation of
longing fancy, no shape coloured by imagination, nor
such as lying dreams present to the eye ; fact proved
to her that the man does not wholly die, and therefore
she looks for the arrival of that part which flames do not
burn, ashes do not quench, cinerary urns and tombs are not
able to confine. At this time her thoughts are of the soul
locked in its prison-house, of her son struggling against
the magician's iron bars. Unhappiest of all mothers
known, she believes her son to be something more than
a mere ghost, ever since it was found that he might be
kept close in his grave ; nor is it her own punishment, her
own suffering, that consumes her in her desolation and

^ in/uruum or infectum, for infernum of MSS.
* tantum non for ta7itum.

tears open the wound the love of her child inflicted ; it is
her deeper anguish that her son is not allowed to come
to her despite his own wish. At this time throughout
the night hours he is knocking against the earth, which
a barbaric incantation has made heavy, and his ghost is
wondering that it cannot roll away the sepulchre that lies
upon it, that ghost which before used to disperse the very
powers of the inferno. I pity him, shut in as he is, not
by words of incantation alone — through these he might
possibly have made his way — but because he has been
brought back again to the state of the dead by solid
fastenings and chains of iron.


Imagine the dismalness of his imprisonment, when even
the wish to complain could not make him come back.
I pity the woman to jealousy of whom the whole shameful
deed is set down. For, in confining his son's ghost, the
father acted on the plea that the mother complained of
her repose being broken by his visits. Let no one there-
fore, judges, be surprised to find that the ghost declines
to visit a father so cruel, so remorseless. It knew where
the tears and sobs were to be found, which of the two
parents most missed their son. The father had a breast
of iron, a heart of flint ; he could feel no emotion at the
loss of his child. Where indeed shall we look for cruelty,
for inhumanity beyond his? He grudged the mother of
his son tlie enjoyment of her son's society. And this
he did, not because he preferred to see him himself ; for
even when he was alive and in no danger he never showed
him any such dues of tenderness as to be thought likely
when he was dead to retain any affectionate feeling now
that his son was in his grave.

All the more unrestrained was the mother, as discharging
her own and her husband's duty successively. She it was
who blanched most at the apprehension of danger, was most
ready to make vows for her son's recovery, never for a
moment to forget her fears either by day or night. And the

unhappy youtli knew wliich of his parents showed the
readier and prompter affection. This was why he clung to
this woman's kisses and hung on her neck. As it would be
tedious to discuss when they are over kind offices which are
the dues of parental affection, in tliat very illness by which
her son lost his frail and perishable body, think with what
distracted, what admirable fondness, the woman would at
one time be hanging over his death-pale features and
tearing her woe-begone eyes, at another complaining that it
was all in vain that her breast had been drained to suckle
him, then again would aim blows at the womb which could
survive the death of its offspring. In his dying hour he
noted all this and instructed his departing spirit which of
his parents it was that was to be advantaged by his death.^
Show me now the man who bids us stop our tears, who dis-
approves of lingering out the time of mourning. The shade
repaid his mother's fondness. I am well assured that when
the dead body is lying surrounded by mourners, when it
seems to have bid adieu to every care, it still retains some
feeling, some perception, still passes judgement on its kin.
I would say with all earnestness to those who have lost their
children, be freer in your tears, more lavish in your con-
duct of the funeral, never believe that death has finally
set in. If there be any father to whom his son's ghost
does not appear, it is a sign that the ghost is angry [and
therefore retains its feelings after death].

C. 4.

By this time the body had chilled and the sluggish blood
in it had tightened all the veins for death and the last
gleam of brightness in the unsteady eyes was disappearing,
the father had begun to believe the assurance of the
physicians that the case was beyond hope, yet still the
mother thought her son was breathing, and if her kisses
ha^I withdrawn the chill from any part of his body,
piteously protested the vital warmth had returned. The

* See note at the end. Cui seems here to be used for ulri.

death flames, the funeral pyre, were a loathing to her, she
would have the body put aside for a time, the limbs kept
as they were. And still the unhappy mother feels a more
consumincr regret that her son was buried, since after burial
he was permitted to return.

I need not tell you, judges, how laboriously the day of
the funeral was lengthened out, how long she clung to her
son's body when the flames were playing about it. How
indeed could she possibly hope to be allowed another sight
of him ? to have eyes which tears for the loss of a son
could not blind % Such was her misery, she was already
looking out for an adept to evoke her son's shade.

The rest of the story it should have been for you,
unhappy mother, to tell the judges; and were it not that
your words were changed to groans by your loss and
by the tears you shed, far better were it to bemoan those
nights of sorrow in your own words. I will, however,
complete the task as best I can.

Satiate thyself to the full, unhappy lady, with the
memory, if with nothing besides, of that day when we
formed a funeral procession to thy only son's grave.

I had ceased, she says, by this time to mourn or weep,
and was rejoicing that the hours of unbroken darkness
were setting in. Tired out, the condolences of kinsmen
had ceased, the lamentations of the household had given
way to profound sleep.


Let no one, I implore, put such an affront upon my
motherly feelings as to assert that it was in sleep I saw
my son. Miserable as I was, what could have made
sleep possible in that hour? Of my husband's absence
I have no cause to complain. He would have been
severely punished if he had consented to share my tears
through the weary hours of night. Then he would at least
have .seen him, not as unsubstantial semblances of things
a.ssume a body to our thought, when illusory ideas take
shape in the absence of the soul ; rather you would have

seen your very child, as he was in his most winning form,
such as, if he be allowed to leave his confinement, I still
liope to see him again. In a moment the darkness
opened and he stood before me, not the pallid figure of my
memory, not exhausted with a distressing malady, not as
he was seen upon the funeral pyre and the flames, but
in vigorous youth, and of a presence undoubtedly beautiful.

All traces of death he had left in some region unknown :
his hair was not singed by the fire, his face was not
blackened with the ashes of the funeral, the fire had not
left its unsightly traces on the still new ghost, whose
embers were only just laid to rest (in the urn). An
unhappy mother might well have raised a cry of joy, even
if the sight of a son so blooming had been only momentary.

At first the shade merely stood still, allowing itself to
be recognized. Then it was that my astonishment was at
its height, I did not venture to kiss or embrace him. In
my fear that he might escape, I lost the first happy night
of reunion. Husband, do you think this a fancy, a delu-
sion of my melancholy mood ? Be assured, whatever
charm a son possesses, is never so potent with the mother
as when it is at the point to disappear. Would you, in
few words, know what it was you forced your wife to
lose ? From a dead son she has nothing left to hope for.

C. 6.

Another night had come and with the first approach of
darkness my son was in attendance, not, as on the day
before, at some distance and only visible to the sight, but
more boldly and nearer and, as it were, an actual body
coming close up to his mother's hands.

Henceforward it was only in settled daylight and when
the stars had disappeared that he vanished reluctantly from
my eyes, halting repeatedly, often looking back and with
the mien of one who promised to return on the following
evening. All occasion for mourning was now over ; the
woman saw her son by night, could hope to see him by day.

Why recount each particular ? So long as I said nothing


about it, guilty creature that I was, no evening brought
its disappointment. I took my fill of kisses, of embraces,
I conversed with him, I listened to his voice. Have
pity on me, I lost more than I can tell, even if no one
believes what I say. Unfeeling husband, I was beginning
to plead for you, and was asking the youth to present
himself for a joyous interview to his father's ej^^es as he
had to mine.

For half the night, ungrateful man that you are, I was
ready to give way to you. He for his part was ready to
promise he would come. It was this reliance on what he
said that led me to the fatal step of confessing.

Tell me, could there be anything more proper in a woman,
in a mother ? Rejoice, husband, rejoice : you have a
chance of seeing your son to-morrow night, that son whom
you burnt on the cruel pyre, of whom ashes and bones
alone remain, you shall see still young, and perhaps may
hope to meet even by day. I, at any rate, with each return
of night, am his mother : I see him, enjoy his society,
aye, tell the story to yourself. You ask, judges, what was
the outcome of the father's aflfection. He was afraid to
see his son.


Thus it was that, unknown to the mother, this contriver
of a double death called in an adept whose hideous
muttering and commanding spells torture the gods in
heaven and the world of spirits, not with any purpose of
drawinir (ghosts from their ijraves, not to evoke the shade
by nocturnal shrieks and force it to hasten from its confine-
ment whei'cver it might l)e, but believing that a grave was
not enough to hold him down, or that the weight of a tomb
was too light.

My son's dcatli, said lie, is n(jt (|uite as complete Jis it
.should have been ; he still participates in the bright light
of the stars and shares the night of ns the living. l''or
when day wanes he puts an end to his dying, returns to
his home, and scares his mother from her sleep. You nnist
find, I say yon iiinst fin<l, somo words of incnilaiion to

A 3


biml him, and this by the whole resources of your art, the
whole expenditure of your toil. It will be a high dis-
tinction to yourself if you can keep in his grave a son who
even after he is dead comes back to his mother.

The deadly incantation was drawn round the tomb.
Then it was that the mouth of the urn was closed up with
words of dread, then this unhappy son for the first time
passed into the state of death and the condition of a shade.
Believe now, if you can, that the mother's consolations had
been unreal. If she had seen her son merely as a creature of
thought and empty delusion, she would be seeing him still.
But, O ! think how severe was her punishment on the very
first niirht after the incantation. The whole mansion and
household were sunk in their first sleep, and the silent
darkness had brought the hour most welcome to the mother's
heart. Sleepless, restless she lay, saying, ' In a moment he
will present himself, will be here ; and yet he never
came so slowly before. Woe's me ! last night, my son, you
were already here. See, the stars have half finished their
circuits. I am enraged and angry. Only one thing can
you do to make amends ; if you have been with your father.
Alas ! the sky begins to brighten with the unfriendly light
of dawn. When will you come ? By this time you ought
to have been with me again.'

C. 8.

But when the forlorn lady had passed a second and
third night in ineffectual lamentation, then it was that
a deeper sadness, a real mourning set in, then she found a
greater pleasure in robes of mourning, then her shoulders,
which were recovering their healthy condition, ran with
blood under renewed blows. I know no unhappiness so
great as the unhappiness of a mother who having first
Ijuried her .son has afterwards found in him something
to again (i, e. the power of seeing him after death).
But when she di.scovered the young man had lost his
liours of meeting her by the magic constraint of iron
bars laid under a .spell, how wildly did she beat with


her naked hands the clamped enclosure of his tomb, with
what tears drench the sepulchre ! with what groaning
summon u]) — but in vain — the spirit that perhaps was in
hearing and longed to come forth ! Alas for nature's
cruelty ! To think that an expert in magic should have
more power than a mother ! Where now are those who
used to complain of the bitter constraints of death, of fate's
iron ordinances, of the laws of the spirit world of shadows,
that no grief can alter ? Unhappy lady, it was not the earth
laid over the dead that shut in th}' son, not the dense
gloom of eternal night that held him confined, not the
Stygian pool so rife with the fables that poets love, nor
Phlegethon's far-famed torrents of arching fire; these he
passed and repassed, these he traversed by night, making
his death a lighter thing to bear than if he had absented
himself for some journey abroad. And at this moment
he would be in less suflfering if he did not know and
feel the chanije. If he comes back no more, it is that he has
been transferred from his tomb to a kind of dungeon, and
has to endure the witchcrafts practised on the living.
It seems, therefore, that there are heavy chains which
fetter ghosts, and which, however volatile and fleeting the
phantom may be, bind it to the dead and tie up the soul as
if it were the body of a condemned criminal.

Yet to confine with iron and stones, or fasten the
shade itself at one time with chains, at another with
enclosing bars, on the same plan by which we strengthen
gates against warlike attack, is as cruel as it is monstrous
and wicked, at least if it be done by one who believes that
his son will be conscious of his act. And now the unhappy
mother is persuaded that these iron spikes have penetrated
into his body and limbs.


hard-hearted and cruel magician, thou adept in evoking

our tears, I could wish thou hadst given a less painful

specimen of thy art. Thou hast roused our indignation, and

we must needs hatter thee notwithstanding. Whilst thou


J. <%•

wort locking; the i^host in, we could not but be aware that
thou alone hadst the power to evoke it again.

I see then that the unhappy latly is thought to go beyond
the bounds of a dignified sorrow when she brings into Court
such shrewish complaints ; I might say such affectations of
sorrow, as belong to a spoilt lady of position. She makes
no attempt to find gay dresses, or gold ornaments, or finery.
Her bereaved condition is satisfied with its own garb of
mourning. Nor is she constrained by any vexation at
a rival's success ; she makes no complaint of her husband's
silent pleasures, with the petulance, the dissimulation natural
to her sex. Nor yet is it the case of a wife considering
herself slighted and vilipended, and revenging the neglect
and desertion of her marriage bed. Far, very far from this
is the distress her nights bring. Have no fear. Profound
sorrow has a majesty of its own : unhappy as she is, she
complains of nothing but what consorts with her bereaved
situation, nothing but what becomes a mother, and might
well exhaust the eyes of a whole weeping people, or call
for tears even from a stranger.

Perhaps you wish to know the extent of the wrong she
has had to endure from her husband. She is the one only
mother who has lost her son by death, yet cannot reproach
death with his loss. So, judges, before you learn the nature
of her grief, her mourning, or how her indignation broke
out so passionately that, woman as she was, she forgot for
once the welcome darkness, and endured in open Court and
surrounded with the forms of law the glaring brightness of
broad day and the light which was hateful even in the
privacy of home, thus making a spectacle of herself, and
dragged, one might say, from the tombs, — you are, I doubt
not, judges, assured that no imputation of shamelessness or
immodesty or wish to show off ever yet attached to the
outcries of the unhappy. How very real are the sighs of
distress ! how rarely are the groans of the unfortunate
counterfeit or without solid cause ! When a woman holds
up to her judge arms that are running with blood, if she
is brought into Court with torn and mangled cheeks, or


with breasts discoloured by beating, it is violent grief which
forces her to do so, instead of kissing the ashes of the dead
and embracing his urn. The grief of a parent that has lost
a child by death is its own irrefragable attestation.

C. lo.

And now, before I enter on the peculiar wrong to which
she has been unjustly submitted, I turn to the husband and
ask, if she was mother by you of the son she has lost, why
is it that she finds any cause for complaint? Mercilessly
you strike at her forlorn situation with yet a second blow ;
and as if the loss of her only child were not more than
sufficient to make her pine, you forbid her soul to give
itself up to its natural tears — you, the husband whose duty
it is to ofter her your bosom, your society, your embrace.
how truly wretched is the woman who murmurs against
the very thing that should console her.

You say she does not show any large forbearance to


Online LibraryRobinson EllisThe tenth Declamation of (pseudo) Quintilian; a lecture delivered in the hall of Corpus Christi College on Thursday, May 11, 1911 → online text (page 1 of 2)