William Edmondstoune Aytoun.

Firmilian : or, The student of Badajoz. A spasmodic tragedy online

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Helen Clinton


Kathryn and Edna Greiner







} -






As several passages of the following P<:)cm
have appeared in the pages of periodicals, I
consider it an act of justice to myself to lay
the whole before the public. 1 am not at all
deterred by the fear of hostile criticism — I be-
lieve that no really good thing was ever injured
by criticism ; and, so far from entertaining an
angry feeling towards the gentlemen wlio have
noticed my work, I thank them for having
brought me forward.



It is a common practice, now-a-days, for poets
to appeal to the tender mercies of the public, by
issuing prefaces in which they acknowledge, in
as many words, the weakness and poverty of
their vei"se. If the acknowledgment is sincere,
iiow can they expect the public to sliow them
any favor? If it is a mere hypocritical affec-
tation, it were better omitted. And the practice
is unwise as it is absurd. AVhat would we think
of the manufacturer who should entreat us to
buy his goods, because they were of an inferior
kind, or of the tradesman who should deliber-
ately announce that his stock was of a poor
(quality? For my part, if I conscientiously be-
lieved that my poetrv was not worthy of ad-
miration, I never would commit the impertinence
of asking any one to read it.

There has been, of late, much senseless talk

r K E !• A C E . V

about " schools of poetry ;" and it litis been said,
on the strength of the internal evidence afforded
by some passages in my play, that I have joined
the ranks, and uphold the tenets, of those who
belong to " the Spasmodic School." I deny the
allegation altogether. I belong to no school,
except that of nature ; and I acknowledge the
authority of no living master. But, lest it should
be thought that I stand in terror of a nick-name
— the general bugbear to young authors — I have
deliberately adopted tlie title of " Spasmodic,
and have applied it in the title-page to my
tragedy. It is my firm opinion that all high
poetry is and must be spasmodic. Remove that
element from Lear — from Othello — from Mac-
beth — from any of the great works which refer
to the conflict of the passions — and what would
be the residue i A mere cajjut murtimiii. I


VI r u !•; F A c !•:.

ditier t'ruiii those who regard vei'se tiiul poetry
as being one and the same thing; or who look
upon a collection of glitteruig conceitt^. and
upprojjriate similes as the highest proof ui' poet-
ical accom])lishment. The olHce of poetiT is to
exhibit the passions in that state of excitement
which distinguishes one from the other ; and.
until a dramatic author has learned this secret,
all the fine writing in the woi'ld will a\'ail hiui
nothing. Cato is perhaps the best-written tra-
gedy in the English language ; and yet, what
man in his senses would dream of reading
Cato twice ?

1 have been accused of extravagance, princi-
pally, I presume, on account of the moral obli-
quity of the character of Finuilian. To that 1
reply, that the moral of a play does not depend
upon the morals of any one character depicteti


in it ; and tluit many of the characters drawn by
the magic pencil of Shakespeare are shaded as
deep, or even deeper, than Firmilian. Set In'ui
beside lago, Richard III., or the two Macbeths,
and I venture to say that he Avill not look dark
in comparison. Consider cai-efnlly the character
of Hamlet, and you mmU find that he is very
nearly as selfish as Firmilian. Hamlet is said to
shado"w forth '• Constitutional Irresolution ;"' — my
object in Firmilian has been to typify "Intel-
lect without Principle."

If the extravagance is held to lie in the con-
ception and handling of my subject, then I assert
fearlessly that the same charge may be preferred
with greater reason against Goethe's masterpiece,
the Faust. I have not considered it necessary
to evoke the Devil in my pages — I have not
introduced the reader to the low buftboneries of


Auerbacli's cellar, or to the Witch with her
hybrid apes — nor have I indulged in the weird
revelries and phantasmagoria of the Brocken. I
do not presume to blame Goethe for liis use of
such material, any more than I should think of
impugning Shakespeare for the Ghost in Ilmnlet^
or the Witches in Maeheth. 1 merely wish to
show that the " utter extravagance " vvhich some
writers aftcct to have discovered in my play, is
traceable only to their own defects in high ima-
ginative development.

If I am told that tlie cliaracter of Firmilian
is not only extravagant, but utterly without a
j)arallel in nature, 1 shall request my critic to
revise his opinion after he has perused the histo-
ries of Madame de Brinvilliers and the Borgias.

I am perfectly aware that this poem is un-
equal, and that some passages of it are inferior,


in interest to others. Such was my object, for
I am convinced that there can be no beauty
without breaks and undulation.

I am not arrogant enough to assert that this
is the finest poem which the age has j^roduced ;
but I shall feel very much obliged to any
gentleman who can make me acquainted with
a better.

Steeatham, July, 1854. y , yx^tU-i-n-


i FiKMiLiAX, 2'Ae Student of Badajoz.
i. Haverillo, a Poet.

S Alphonzo D'Aguilar, \

f Students and Friends of
U Garcia Peeez, V

^ \ Finnilian.

^ Alonzo Oliv-uiez, )

' , Chief Inquisitor.

*^ An Old Inquisitor.

Balthaz^vr, ^

^ Familiars of the Inquisition.
; Gil of Santillaxe, )

NicoDEMUS, Firmilian's Servant.

Priest of St. Nicholas.

A Graduate.

Two Gentlemen of Badajoz.


Fabian, Steward to the Countess D'Aguilar.
, Apollodorus, o 6V27/C.
»*) Sancho, a Costermonger.
{ \ The Countess D'Aguilar.
\ ^ Mariana.
%- Lilian.
\ji Indiana.

The Scene of the Play is Badajoz and its neighborhood.



FiKMiLiAN in his study reading.

Three hours of study — and what gain thereby ?

My brain is reeling to attach the sense

Of what I read, as a drunk mariner

Who, stumbling o'er the bulwark, makes a clutch

At the wild incongruity of ropes.

And topples into mud !

Good Aristotle !
Forgive me if I lay thee lienceforth by.

14 F I K M I I. I A X .

And seek some other teacher. Thou hast been,
For many hundred years, the Lane and curse
Of all the budding intellect of man.
Thine earliest pupil, iVlexander — he
The most impulsive and tumultuous sprite
That ever sjourned old systems at the Iieel,
And dashed the dust of action in the eyes
Of the slow porers over antique shards —
Held thee, at twenty, an especial fool.
And why ? The grand God-impulse in his heart
That drove him over the oblique domain
Of Asia and her kingdoms, and that urged
His meteor leap at Poms' giant throat —
•Or the sul)lime illnsion of the sense
Which gave t<» Thais that tremendous torch
AVhence whole Persepolis was set on tire —
'Was never kindled snrcly Ity such trash
As I, this night, have heaped upon my brain !
ik-nce, vile impostor!

[Flitu/K away the hook.

f I li M I I. 1 A N . 15

Who shall take his place ?
What hoarj dotard of antiquity
Shall I invite to dip his clumsy foot
Within the limpid fountain of my mind,
And stamp it into foulness ? Let me see —
Following Salerno's doctrine, human lore
Divides itself into three faculties.
The Eden rivers of tiie intellect.
There's Law, Theology, and Medicine,
And all bevond their course is barren o-round.
So say the Academics ; and they're right.
If learning's to be measured by its gains.
The lawyer speaks no word without a fee —
The Priest demands his tithes, and will not sing
A gratis mass to help his brother's soul.
The purgatorial key is made of gold :
None else will fit the wards ; — and for the Doctor,
The good kind man who lingers by your couch,
Compounds you pills and potions, feels your pulse,
And takes especial notio(» of vour tongue.

16 FT R M I I. I A N,

If yon allow him once to leave the room
Without the proper greasing of his palm,
Look out for Azrael !

So, then, these three
]\[aintain the sole possession of the schools ,
Whilst, out of doors, amidst the sleet and rain.
Thin-garbed Philosophy sits shivering down,
And shares a mouldy crust with Poetry !

And shall I then take Celsus for my guide,

Confound my brain witli dull Justinian's tomes,

Or stir the dust that lies o'er Augustine ?

Not I, in faith ! I've leaped into the air,

And clove my way through etlier, like a bird

That Hits beneath the glimpses of the moon,

Kiglit eastward, till 1 lighted at the foot

Of holy Helicon, and drank my till

At the clear spout of Aganippe's stream.

Pve rolled my limbs in ecstasy along

The self-same turf <>n which old Homer lay

FI KM I L I AN . 17

That night he dreamed of Helen and of Troy :

And I have heard, at midnight, the sweet strains

Come quiring from the hill-top, where, enshrined

In the rich foldings of a silver cloud.

The ]\Iuses sang Apollo into sleep.

Then came the voice of universal Pan,

The dread earth-whisper, booming in mine ear —

" Eise up, Firmilian — rise in might !" it said ;

" Great youth, baptized to song ! Be it thy task,

Out of the jarring discords of the world,

To recreate stupendous harmonies

More grand in diapason than the roll

Among .the mountains of the thunder-psalm!

Be thou no slave of passion. Let not love,

Pity, remorse, nor any other thrill

That sways the actions of ungifted men,

AflFect thy course. Live for thyself alone.

Let appetite thy ready handmaid be,

And pluck all fruitage from the tree of life,

Be it forbidden or no. ll' any comes

18 !■• 1 K M ILIA i\ .

Between tliee and the purpose of thy l^ent,
Launch tliou the arrow from the string of might
Right to the bosom of the iuijuous wretch,
And let it quiver there ! .Be great in guilt I
If, like Busiris, thou canst rack the heart,
Spare it no pang. So shalt thou be })re[»ared
To make thy song a tempest, and to sliake
The earth to its fnmidation — Go tliy way !"
I woke, anil found myself in iKulajo/.
But from that day, with tVantie might, Tve striven
To give due utterance to the awful shrieks
Of him who first imlnied his hand in gore, -
To paint the mental spasms that tortured Cain !
How have I done it^ Feebly. \Vhat we write
Must be the reflex of the thing we know ;
For who can limn the morning, if his eyes
Have never looked u])on Aurora's face?
Or who describe the cadence of the sea.
Whose ears were never open to the waves
Or the shrill winding of the Triton's horn?

V I K M I I, I A N , 19

What do I know as yet of lioiiiicide ?

Nothing. Fool — fool ! to lose thy precious time

In dreaming of what wi«?/ be, when an act

Easy to plan, and easier to effect,

Can teach thee every thing ! What — craven mind —

Shrink'st thou from doing, lor a noble aim,

W^hat, every hour, some villain, wretch or slave

Dares for a purse of gold i It is resolved —

I'll ope the lattice of some mortal cage,

And let the soul go free !

A draught of wine ! {Drinks.)
Ha ! this revives me I IIow the noct;ir thrills
Like joy through all my frame I There's not a god
In the Pantheon that can rival thee.
Thou purple-lipped Ly^eus ! And thou'rt strong
As thou art bounteous. Were I Ganymede,
To stand beside the pitchers at the feast
Of the Olympian revel, and to give
The foaming cups to Hebe — how I'd laugh
To see thee trip up iron Vulcan's heels,

20 y I ^ ^^ I L I A X .

Prostrate old Neptune, and fling bullying Mars,
With all his weight of armor on his back,
Down with a clatter on the heavenly floor !
Not Jove himself dare risk a fall with thee,
Lord of the panthers ! Lo, I drink again.
And the high purpose of my suul grows firm,
As the sweet venom circles in my veins —
It is resolved ! Come, then, mysterious Guilt,
Thou raven-mother, come — and fill my cup
With thy black beverage ! I am sworn to thee,
And will not falter !

But the victim? That
Requires a pause of thought —

I must begin
With some one dear to me, or else the deed
Would lose its flavor and its poignancy.
Now, let me see. There's Lilian, pretty maid —
The tender, blushing, yielding Lilian-
She loves me but too well. What if I saved
Ilcr young existence fmni all future throes,

F I R M I I. I A N . 21

And laid her pallid on an early bier ?

Why, that were raercj both to her and me,

Not ruthless sacrifice. And, more than this,

She hath an uncle an Inquisitor,

Who might be tempted to make curious quest

About the final ailments of his niece.

Therefore, dear Lilian, live ! I harm thee not.

There's Mariana, she, mine own betrothed.

The blooming mistress of the moated grange,

She loves me well — but we're not married yet.

It will be time enough to think of her

After her lands are mine ; therefore, ni}' own.

My sweet affianced, sleep thou on in peace,

Nor dream of ruffian wrong. Then there's another.

That full-blown beauty of Abassin blood

Whose orient charms are madness ! Shall she die ?

Why, no — not now at least. 'Tis but a week

Since, at the lonely cottage in the wood.

My eyes first rested on that Queen of Ind !

O, she of Sheba was an uoly aj>e

22 K I K M 1 I. I A N .

Coiiipared with Indiana ! — Let her pass.
There's Haverillo, mine especial friend —
A better creature never framed a verse
By dint of finger-scanning-; yet he's deemed
A proper poet by the gaping fools
Who know not nie ! I love him ; for he's kind,
7\.nd very credulous. To send him hence
Would be advancement to a higher sphere —
A gain to him, no loss to poetry.
I think that he's the man : yet, liold awiiile —
• JlSo rashness in this nuittor I lie hath got
Acknowledgments of mine witliiu his desk
For certain sums of money — paltry dross
Which 'tis my way to spurii. I've found him still
A most convenient creditor: ho asks
No instant payment for his fond advance,
Nor yet is clamorous for tlie usulVuct.
How if, he being dead, some sordid slave,
Brother or cousin; who might heir his wealth,
Slmuld ('haiicc to stiiiuhlc on those bonds of min(\

1' 1 1; M I 1. IAN, 23

And sue me for the debt ? Tliat were enouo-li
To break the wanton wings of Pegasus,
And bind him to a stall ! Nor have I yet
Exhausted half his means ; it may be soon
I shall require more counters, and from him
I may depend upon a iVesh supply.
A right good fellow is this Haverillo —
A mine, a storehouse, and a treasury,
My El-Dorado and my Mexico —
Then let him live and thrive !

Are there no more ?
O, yes ! There's Garcia Perez — he's my friend,
And ever*stood above me in the schools.
And there's that young Alphonzo D'Aguilar,
Proud of his Countship and Castilian blood,
He hath vouchsafed me notice, and I love him.
And there's Alonzo Olivarez, too,
That mould of Hercules,. — he's near of kin
To Mariana, and his wealth accrues
Solely to her. I love iiini like a brother.

24 r I u M I 1. 1 A N .

Be these my choice. I sup with them to-morow.

Come down, okl Raymond Liilly, from the shelf,
Thou quaint discourse!* uj^on pharmacy.
Did not Lucretia — not the frigid dame
Who discomposed young Tarquin in her bower,
]3ut the complete and libei-al Borgia-
Consult thy pages for a sedative?
Ay — liere it is ! Tn twent}^ minutes, death ;
The compound tasteless, and beyond the skill
Of any earthly leech to recognize.
Thanks, Raymond, thanks !

How looks the night ? Thou moon.
That in thy perfect and pci-ennial course
Wanderest at will across the fields of heaven —
Thou argent beauty, meditativ^e orb.
That spiest out the secrets of the earth
In the still liours when guilt and murder walk —
To what far region takest thou thy way ?
Not Latmos now allures thee, for the time
When boy Endymion stretclied his tender limbs

F I K M I L I A N . 25

Within the coverture of Dian's bower,

Hath melted into fable. Wilt thoii pass

To Ej)hesus, thy city, glorious once.

But now dust-humbled ; and, for ancient love.

Make bright its ruined shafts, and weed-grown

With molten silver? Or invite thee more
The still witch-haunted plains of Thessaly,
Where, o'er the bones of the Pharsalian dead.
Amidst the gibbering of the Lemures,
Grim women mutter spells, and pale thy face
With monstrous incantation ? Wliat ! already
Shrink'st thou behind the curtain of a cloud
E'en at my looking ? Tlien I know indeed
My destiny is sure ! For I was born
To make thee and thine astral brethren quake,
And I will do it ! Glide thou on thy way —
I will to rest — best slumber while I may !

26 F I R M I L I A N

An Ajpmtment. Mariana and IIaverillo.


You need not fear him, cousin ; for I'm sure
His heart's in the riglit place. He's wayward,

And very often unintelligible,
But that is held to be a virtue now.
Critics and poets both (save I, who cling
To older canons) have discarded sense.
And meaning's at a discount. Our young spirits,
Who call themselves the masters of the age.
Are either robed in philosophic mist,
And, with an air of grand profundity.
Talk metaphysics — which, sweet cousin, means
Nothing but aimless jargon — or they come
Before us in the broad bombastic vein,


"With spasms, and throes, and transcendental flights.
And heap hyperbole on metaphor : [harm ;

"Well ! Heaven be with them, for they do small
And I no more would grudge them their career
Than I would quarrel with a wanton horse
That rolls, on Sundays, in a clover-field.
Depend upon it, ere two years are gone,
Firmilian will be wiser.


Yet you leave
The point on which my soul is racked untouched.
Men read not women's characters aright,
Nor women men's. But I have heard this said,
That woman holds by duty — man by honor.
If that be true, what think you of your friend ?


"Why — ^honor is at best a curious thing.
A very honorable man will drive

28 F I K M I L I A N .

His sword into the bosom of a friend

For having challeni^cd some oblique remark,

Yet will not stand on honor when the road

Lies open for him to his neighbor's wife.

Your honorable man cheats not at cards,

But he will ruin tradesmen, and will sign

A vast abundance of superfluous bills

Without the means to pay them. Honor I humph!

No doubt Firniilian is honorable.


Ay, cousin ; bnt there's something more than that.
Honor in love — How say you ? Do you think
That yon can stand the sponsor for yonr friend?


1 never was a sponsor in my life.

And won't be now. My pretty Mariana,

You should have thought of all such toys as these

Ere the betrothal. You have given your word,

F I R M I L I A N . 29

And cannot well withdraw. And, for your comfort,

You must remember what Firmilian is —

A Poet. He is privileged to sing

A thousand ditties to a thousand maids.

Ten Muses waited at Apollo's beck —

Our modern poets are more amorous,

And far exceed the count of Solomon ;

But 'tis mere fancy ; inspiration all ;

Pure worthless rhyming. — Soft you : hero he comes.

Enter Firmilian.


joy ! to see the partner of my thought
Together with the partner of my soul !
Dear Haverillo ! pardon if before

1 join the pressure of my palm with youi-s,
I lay this tribute on my lady's hand.


Well, we'll not fight about precedency.


And you have come ia time. My cousin here
"Was pressing me too liard.


Upon what point ?


Why, faith, to tell the truth— for I could never
Summon a lie to meet an exigence —
Nay, frown not, cousin !— She's inquisitive
About what men call honor. I have done
My utmost to explain it.


I am glad,
Dear Mariana, that you laid your doubt
Before so wise a judge. Not Badajoz,
Nor Spain, nor Europe, doth contain a man
So stainless in his mind as Ilaverillo ;
And you shall pardon me for saying this


Before your face, for I've especial reason.
You've been to me a true and constant friend.
When I had need of money ('tis no shame
In a poor student to acknowledge this) —
You have supplied me ; and I come to-day
To thank you and repay you. My old uncle,
The Dean of Salamanca, has expired
Quite full of years and honors, and has left
To me, his nephew, all his worldly goods,
Which are, to say the least, considerable.
Therefore, dear Haverillo, let us meet-
Yet not to-day — because some time must pass
Ere I receive the hoards— they say, enormous —
Of that quiescent pillar of the Church —
But at the very speediest point of time
I can select, that I may show my friend
What love I bear him for his trust in me.


You hear him, Mariana ? Dear Firmilian !

32 r I R M I L I A N .

I'm prouder of thy love tliau if I were
The king of Ormus ! So your uncle's clead\
Go you to Salamanca speedily ?


Il' I am summoned, and they send me funds,
I cannot choose but go — nut otherwise.
'Faith, this bequest comes at a lucky time,
For my last ducat slumbers in my purse
"Without a coin to keep it company.


Be that no hindrance. Here are eighty ducats —
TaliC them. Nay, man; is't kindly to refuse?
AVliat a friend proffers, that a friend sliould take
Without compulsion. 'Tis a petty loan
To be repaid at your convenience —
You'll vex me otherwise.



I'd rather dash
My hand, like Scsevola, into the flame,
Than vex my Haverillo ! O dear heaven ;
If those who rail at human nature knew
How many kindly deeds each hour brings forth —
How man by man is cherished and sustained —
They'd leave their carping. I will take your offer,
And hail it as the earliest drop of wealth.
So soon to ripen to a glorious shower.
What says my Mariana ?


That she loves you
More for your yielding to your friend's desire,
Than if you held by pride.


Well put, sweet cousin !


But, dear Firmilian, what liatli clianced of late,

To make you sucli a hermit ? You were once

Gay as the lark, and jocund as the bee ;

First in good-fellowship, and ever prone

To wing occasion with a merry jest.

Now you arc grave and moody, and there hangs

A cloud of mystery about your brow ;

You look like one that wrestles with a thought

And cannot fling it down. Is't poetry

Hath brought you to this pass ? How come you on

With your intended tragedy on Cain?


O, that's abandoned quite ! Tlie subject was
Too gloomy for my handling ; and perhaps,
Out of absorption of my intellect.
It threw a shade on my behavior.
Henceforward I'll be genial — take my place
With the large-hearted men who love their kind


(Whereof there seems a vast abundance now),
And follow your example.


Well said, boy !
Anacreon crowned his hoary locks with flowers.
Blithe-hearted Horace chirped amidst his cups,
Tlien why not we ? Eight glad am I to find
You've done with dismals. Here's a little thing, now,
I wrote the other day, on love and wine,
Quite germain to the matter. Will you hear it ?


I would not listen to Apollo's lute

With greater rapture. But my time is brief —

I had a word to say to Mariana.


I understand. You want to speak of love

36 F I R Jil I I, I A N .

Ill the first person ? 'Faith I was a fool
Not sooner to perceive it ! Fare you well —
Some other time, be sure, I'll claim your ear.



my dear- love, what trouble rends your lieart?
A loving eye hatli instinct in its glance,

And mine discerns in yours a deeper weight
Than yon light-hearted creature could perceive.
Wliat ails my own Firuiilian ?


Mariana —

1 think you love me?


Cruel ! Can you ask
Tbat question of me now ? Three niontiis ago,
l)cside the gentle (luadiana's stream,

F I K M I L I A N . 37

You casked it in a whisper, and I gave
No cold response.


Three months, my Mariana,
Are somewhat in a lifetime, and may give
Large opportunity for altered thoughts.
Three hours may change a sinner to a saint —
Three days a friend into an enemy —
Three weeks a virgin to a courtesan —
Three months a conqueror to a fugitive.
I say not this in challenge of your love,
But as a fixed eternal law of time

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