William Edmondstoune Aytoun.

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

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And every heart, with inward fingers, counts

A blissful rosaiy of pious j)rayer !

Why should they perish, then ? Is't yet too late?

O shame, Firmilian, on thy coward soul !
AVhat! thou, the poet! — thou, whose mission 'tis
To send vibration down the chord of time,
Until its junction with eternity —
Thou, who hast dared and pondered and endured,
Gathering by piecemeal all the noble thoughts
And tierce sensations of the mind — as one
Who in a garden culls the wholesome rose,
And binds it with the deadly nightshade up ;
Flowers not akiu, and yet, by contrast kind —
Thou, for a touch of what these mundane fools
Whine of as pity, to forego thine aim,

F I K M I L I A N . 77

And never feel the gnawing of remorse,

Like the Promethean vulture on the spleen,

That shall instruct thee to give future voice

To the unuttered agonies of Cain !

Thou, to compare, with that high consequence

The breath of some poor thousand knights and

Who soaring, in the welkin, shall expire !
Shame, shame, Firmilian ! on thy weakness, shame !


Auro dato violari

Virgines prohibuit :
Far in fame, vas in mari

Servat et distribuit :
Qui tiinobant naufragari

Nautis opem tribuit.


A rierht g-ood saint he seems, tliis Xicholas !

78 F I K M I I, I A N .

And over-worked too, if the praise be just,
Which these, his votaries, quaver as his claim.
Yet it is odd he should o'erlook the fact
Tliat underneath this cliurch of his are stored
Some twenty barrels of the dusty grain,
The secret of whose framing, in an hour
Of diabolic jollity and mirth,
()k\ Roger Bacon wormed from Beelzebub !
lie might keep better wardship for his friends ;
J)ut that to me is nothing. JS'ow's the time !
11a! as I take the matchbox in my hand,
A spasm pervades me, and a natural thrill
.Vs though my better genius were at hand,
And strove to ])luck me backwards by the hair.
I must be resolute. Lose this one chance.
Which hours me to tlT Acropolis of guilt,
And this, our age, forgoes its noblest song.
I must be speedy — .

I. I R M I L I A N . 79


A defunctis suscitatur
Fiirtum qui coinmiserat :

Et Judaeus baptizatur
Furtiim qui recuperat :

lUi vita restauratur,
Hie ad fidem properat.


No more was needed to confirm my mind !
That stanza blows all tliouglits of pity off,
As empty straws are scattered hj the wind !
For I have been the victim of the Jews,
Who, by vile barter, have absorbed my means.
Did I not pawn— for that same flagrant stuff,
Which only waits a spark to be dissolved.
And, having done its mission, must disperse
As a thin smoke into the ambient air —
My diamond cross, my goblet, and my books?

80 F I U M I L 1 A N .

AVliat ! would they venture to baptize the Jew?
The cause assumes a holier aspect, then ;
And, as a faithful son of Rome, I dare
To merge my darling passion in the wrong
That is projected against Christendom !
rity, avaunt ! I may not longer stay.

[JExit into the vaults. A short 2)cmse^
after which he reapiyears.
'Tis done ! I vanish like -the lightning bolt.

ORGAN and cHom.

Niciiolai sacerdotum

Decus, honor, gloria :
Plebem omnem, clerum totum —

\The Cathedral is Uown uj).']

F I K iSI I L I A N . 81

Saloon. Pall and Coffin.

Enter Countess, Contessok, Havekillo, and


Weep not, dear lady — he is now at rest !

Nor thundering cannon, nor loud-booming drum,

Nor braying trumpet, nor the clarion's call.

Nor rapid crash of charging chivalry,

Can stir him from his sleep. For liiui no more

Hath the lewd tinkling of tlie amorous lute

Behind a twilight lattice, or the wave

Of a light kerchief in a stealthy hand,

Or lifting of dark eyelids, any charm !

No more shall he, in joyous revelry.

Ply the loose wine cup, or exchange the jest —

And therefore, I beseech von, drv vonr tears.

82 F 1 li M I L I A N .

iiAVEKiLLO. {Aside.)

AVhy, what a ghostly comforter is this !
lie tells her nothing of the yet to be.
But only harps upon the aching past.


Bear up that coffin ! Grief hath had its scope,

And now 'tis time to pause. Bethink thee, lady,

How it may fare with thine Alphonzo's soul.

There's no rich clothing in the world beyond,

Kx) jewc'll'd cup.-, no sparkling costly gems,

No rare display of silver and of gold

Such as your sideboards show on gala-days —

But the poor spirit, shivering and alone,

On the cold sea-beach of eternity,

Must shriek for help to those he left behind.

Say — shall Alphonzo plead to thee in vain?

F I R M I L r A N . 83


man — man — man ! Thy prating drives me mad-
Thy hideous v^oice is loathsome to mine ear,
Albeit I know not what thou croakest there !
Set down the coffin — set it down, I say !

1 have not yet wept half the flood of tears
That I must pour on my Alphonzo's head.
There's a hot deluge seething in my brain,
And I must give it leave to flow, or die !


Poor lady, she is greatly moved ! 'Twere best
To give her passion way. Bethink you, Sir ;
A mother rarely will with patience hear
A true reproach against a living sou,
Far less a taunt directed at the dead.


Who's he that dares usurp my privilege,

84 FIR M I L I .A X .

Or question my discretion? Is't for thee,
Thou silken moth, to flutter round the torch
Of conscience, flaming in a Churchman's hands
And try to smother it? What art thou, sirrali ?
I warrant me some kinsman, with an eye
To those vast lioards of molten vanity.
Which can alone relieve Alphonzo's sotil
Under the guidance of our holy Church.
Out on thee, heretic !


Presumptuous priest!
Wer't thou unfrocked, I'd tell thee that tliou liest.


Hence, vile disturber of the hapless dead !
Thou enemy of souls — thou sordid knave.
That, for a paltry pittance to thyself,
Wouldst bar the gates of Paradise to him
Wlio lies beneath yon ])ull ! Wliat, caititf wretch !

I'- I K M I L I A N . 85

Wilt tliou again presume to answer me?
Let but a word escape thy tainted lips,
And the most fell anathema of Rome,
From which there neither is appeal nor cure,
Shall fulmine on thy head !

As for thee, lady —
If thou regardest him whom thou hast lost
With holier feeling than the tigress shows
When, in her savage and blood-boltered den.
She moans above the carcass of her cubs —
Consume no more the precious hours in grief ;
Each hour is precious to a soul in pain !
Give me the keys of all thy coffered wealth.
That, with a liberal hand, 1 may dispense
Thy hoarded angels to the suffering poor.
Thy jewels also — what hast thou to do
With earthly jewels more ? — give them to me ;
And for each brilliant thou shalt hear a mass
Sung for Alphonzo. Fie on filthy pride !
Is't meet a widow's house should hold such store

86 F I K i\I I L I A N .

Of flagons, cups, and costly chalices,
Of massive salvers and ancestral bowls?
These are the subtile spider-threads of sin
That bind the soul to earth. Away with them !
Thou hast no children now.


Thou crawling wretch —
Thou holy lie — thou gilded sepulchre —
Thou most consummate hypocrite and knave !
liow darest thou take measure of my grief
With thine unnatural hands ? What ! thou a priest.
And, in the hour of desolation, seek'st
For ransom to be paid in gems and gold
For a pure spirit, which, beside thine own,
Would show as glorious as an angel's form
Contrasted with an Ethiopian slave !
What are thy prayers, that I should purchase them ?
Ilast thou not fed, for twenty years and more,
Upon the liberal bounty of our house?

F I K M I L I A N . 87

Have I not seen thee flatter and deceive ;

Fawn like a spaniel ; and, with readiest lie,

Make coverture of thine obscene attempts

Upon my handmaids ? Villain ! there they stand,

The blushing proofs of thine impurity.

Hast thou not stroked my lost Alphonzo's head

A thousand times, protesting that no youth

Gave ever promise of a fairer course ?

And wouldst thou now retract that word of thine.

And, in the presence of my blighted flower,

Deny the glorious perfume that it bore ?

get thee gone ! thou mak'st me wrong the dead,
By wasting moments, consecrate to tears.

In idle railing at a wretch like thee !


This is mere madness ! Think not to escape.

By angry words and frantic declamation.

The righteous claims of the defrauded Church.

1 stir not hence until her dues are paid.

88 F I K M I I. I A N .

If thou witlihold'st thy keys, I warn thee, lady,
That holy Peter will not turn his key
For any of thy race !


Thou cormorant
That screaniest still for garbage ! take thy fill,
And rid me of thy presence. Fabian —
Show him the secret chamber of the Cid,
"Wherein the ransom of the Moors is piled :

There is the key — and let him never more
Pollute my tln-eshold ! O my lost A]2)honzo !



IIo, ho ! I have it now ! The key, the key !
Conic quickly, Master Steward !

\_Exit. Scene closes.



A Gallery. At the end an armed figure hearing a


Enter Confessok and Fabian.


I warrant me thou thinkest, Master Steward,
That I was over urgent with thy dame.
There are some natures, sir, so obstinate
That mildness will not stir them, and for these
The Church enjoins a wholesome stimulant.
Such is 3'our lady.


You are learned, sir.
And doubtless know your duty. Here's the chamber.


What mean von, fellow? There is nothinc; Jiere

90 F 1 K M I L I A N .

Except an effigy in rusted mail.

Beware of trifling with the Holy Church I


That is the guardian of the treasure-room.

I see you marvel — Listen. Long ago,

Pedro, the founder of this ancient house,

Was the dear friend and comrade of the Cid.

Often together in the battle-field

Did they two charge the squadrons of the Moor,

And mow the stalwart unbelievers down.

Seldom they spared a life — yet once, by cliance,

The caliph of Baldracca crossed their jjath,

llini they took captive, with three princes more,

And made them stand to ransom. All the East,

As I have heard — Chaldea, Araby,

Fez, Tunis, Lidia, and the far Cathay —

Was racked for tribute. From the Persian jrulf

There came Imge bags of large and lustrous pearl.

Which in the miiy bottom of tlie sea


The breathless diver found. Then there were opals
Bright as young moons, and diamonds like stars,
Far-blazing rubies, gorgeous carbuncles.
Jacinths and sapphires. And with these there came
Ten camel-loads of curious workmanship,
All wrought in solid gold — a greater ransom
Than ever yet was tendered for a king !


Thy words have oped a fountain in my mouth,
And stirred its waters ! Excellent Fabian —
So half this wealth accrued to D'Aguilar ?


Of that, anon. When all the heap was piled
Before them, then the Campeador said : —
" May not my sin lie heavy on my soul
Upon my dying day ! For I have broke
A vow I made in youth before the shrine
Of San lago, never in the field

92 F I R M I L I A N .

To spare a heathen. Wliat is done, is done —
May be atoned for, but not blotted out.
I will not touch the ransom. Be it given
Entire to thee, my brother D'Aguilar !"


No wonder Spain still glories in tlie Cid !

What ! are the treasures here ? Speak quickly, man 1


Your patience for a moment ! Wlien the knight

Found no persuasion could affect the Cid,

Or sway him from his purpose, then he yielded.

One half the ransom bought the goodly lands

Which still pertain unto the D'Aguilars.

The other half lies in a secret room.

The door of which I'll show you — you've the key.

But first I'll tell you why yon effigy

Stands there to guard it.



What is that to me ?
What do I care about your effigies,
Or mTimbled stories of the knights of old ?
The door, I say !


Yet listen — 'Tis my duty
To make this clear. When Ruy Diaz died.
The knight of D'Aguilar obtained his arms ;
And in remembrance of the bounteous gift
He placed them there before the treasure-room.
'Tis said the mighty spirit of Bivar
Still dwells within that corslet ; and the mace,
Wliich once was called the hammer of the Moor,
Is swayed on high, and will descend on those
Who come to wrong the race of D'Aguilar,
I've heard my father tell, that, ere my birth,
Two reckless villains of Gitano blood,
Lured by the rumor of the treasured wealth,

94 F I R M I L I A K .

Tried, over night, to force that secret door ;
And, in the morning, when the servants came,
They found a brace of battered carcases.
The skulls beat into pulp, upon the floor ;
And yonder mace — how terrible it is !
Was dropping with their blood !


And dost thou thini^
With thy false legends to deter me now,
Thou paralytic slave ? Reserve thy tales
For gaping crones, and idle serving-men !
Can I not make an image stare and wink,
Exhibit gesture witli its painted hands.
Tea, counterfeit tlie action of a saint —
And dost thou hope to scare me with a lie
Where is the door, I say ?


Bear witness, Saints,

F I K M I L I A N . 95

That I am sackless of the coiisequeuce !
You are forewarned —


The door — the door, I say !


Insert the key beneath that pannel tliere !


So — it is mine, all mine ! VVhy, now am I

A king of Ind, an emperor of the earth !

No haste, no haste !— I would not lose the thrill

Qf expectation that entrances me

For half the glorious heap that's stored within !

"Why, for a handful of those orient pearls

I'll buy a bishopric. A dozen rubies

May make me Metropolitan ; and then,

As gems are scarce and highly prized at Rome,

A costly diamond for the noble front

Of the Tiara, may advance my claim

96 F I K M I L I A N .

Unto the title of a Cardinal —

Let me take breath — Lord Cardinal — a Prince

And Magnate of the Church ! What follows next?

Brain, do not lose thyself in ecstasy,

Nor swim to madness at the thought of that

Which lies within my reach — Saint Peter's chair !

Why, half the wealth within this hidden vault

Would bribe the Holy College, and would make

Me — me, the lord of monarchs, and the chief

Of all the rulers over Christendom !

Ha, ha ! to see the mighty world lie down

In homage at my feet, and liear its hail

To me as lord and master !

Is't a dream ?
Oh, no, no, no ! for here, within my hand,
I hold the precious key that shall at once
Admit me to the temple of my hope —
Open, old wards, to him wlio sliall be Pope !
\^IIe attcmjjts to open the Dooi\ and is struck
down hy the Mace of the Ej)i(/i/.'\

F I K M I L I A N . 97


Riglit little moaning need I make for one
"Who died by his own sin ! Poor prostrate fool,
Whom warning would not reach ! Six feet of earth
Is all that even Popes can claim as theirs.
Thy span must yet be less : no funeral bell
May toll for thee — I'll drop thee in a well.

[£/xit with the body.

98 F I R M I L I A N

Sitnimlt of the Pillar of St. Simeoii Stylites.


'Tvvas a grand spectacle ! Tlie solid earth
Seemed from its quaking entrails to eruct
The gathered lava of a thousand years,
Like an imposthume bursting up from hell !
In a red robe of flame, the riven towers,
Pillars and altar, organ-loft and screen.
With a singed swarm of mortals intermixed,
Were whirled in anguish to the shuddering stars.
And all creation trembled at the din.
It was my doing — mine alone ! and I
Stand greater by this deed than the vain fool
That thrust his torch beneath Diana's shrine.
For what was it inspired Erostratus


But a weak vanity to have bis name

Blaze out for arson in the catalogue ?

I have been wiser. No man knows the name

Of me, the pyrotechnist who have given

A new apotheosis to the saint

With lightning blast, and stunning thunder knell !

And yet — and yet — what boots the sacritice ?
I thought to take remorse unto my heart,
As the young Spartan hid the savage fox
Beneath the foldings of his bojash gown.
And let it rive his flesh. Mine is not riven —
My heart is yet unscarred. I've been too coarse
And general in this business. Had there been
Amongst that multitude a sina^le man
"Who loved me, cherished me — to whom I owed
Sweet reciprocity for holy alms.
And gifts of gentle import — had there been
Friend — father — brother, mingled in that crowd.
And I had slain him — then indeed my soul
Might have acquired fruition of its wish.

100 F I R M I L I A N .

And shrieked delirious at the tiiste of sin !
But these — what were the victims unto me ?
Nothing ! Mere human atoms, breathing clods,
Uninspired dullards, unpoetic slaves,
The rag, and tag, and bobtail of mankind ;
"Whom, having scorched to cinders, I no more
Feel ruth for Avhat I did, than if my hand
Had thrust a stick of sulphur in the nest
Of some poor hive of droning humble-bees,
And smoked them into silence !

I must have
A more potential draught of guilt than this,
With more of wormwood in it !

Here I sit,
Perched like a raven on old Simeon's shaft,
With barely needful footing for my limbs —
And one is climbing up the inward coil.
Who was my friend and brother. We have gazed
Together on the midnight map of heaven,
And uuirked the gems in Cassiopea's hair —


Together have we heard the nightingale

Waste the exuberant music of her throat,

And lull the flustering breezes into calm —

Together have we emulously sung

Of Hyacinthus, Daphne, and the rest

Whose mortal weeds Apollo changed to flowers.

Also from him I have derived much aid

In golden ducats, which I fain would pay

Back with extremest usury, were but

Mine own convenience equal to my wish.

Moreover, of his poems he hath sold

Two full editions of a thousand each.

While mine remain neglected on the shelves !

Courage, Firmilian ! for the hour has come

When thou canst know atrocity indeed.

By smiting him that was thy dearest friend.

And think not that he dies a vulgar death —

'Tis poetry demands the sacrifice !

Yet not to him be that revealment made.

He must not know with what a loving hand —


Witli what fraternal charitv of heart

I do devote him to the infernal gods !

I dare not spare him one particular pang,

Nor make the struggle briefer ! Hush — he comes.

IIaverillo, emerging from the staircase.

How now, Firmilian ! — I am scant of breath ;
These steps have pumped the ether from my lungs,
And made the bead-drops cluster on my brow.
A strange, unusual rendezvous is this —
An old saint's ])illar, which no human foot
Hath scaled this hundred years!


Ay — it is strange !


'Faith, sir, the bats considered it as such :
They seem t<^ (lonrisli in the column here.

F I R M I L I A N . 103

And are not over courteous. Ha ! I'm weary :
I shall sleep sound to-night.


You shall sleep sound I


Either there is an echo in the place,
Or your voice is sepulchral.


Seems it so ?


Come, come, Firmilian — Be once more a man !

Leave off these childish tricks, and vapors bred

Out of a too much pampered fantasy.

What are we, after all, but mortal men,

"Who eat, drink, sleep, need raiment and the like,


As well as any jolterhead alive ?

Trust rne, my friend, we canuot feed on dreams,

Or stay the hungry cravings of the maw

By mere poetic banquets.


Say you so ?
Yet have I heard that by some alchemy
(To me unknown as yet) you have transmuted
Your verses to fine gold.


And all that gold
Was lent to you, Firinilian.


You expect,
Doubtless, I will repay you ?



So I do.
You told me yesterday to meet you here,
And you would pay me back with interest.
Here is the note.


A moment. — Do you see
Yon melon-vender's stall down i' the square ?
Methinks the fruit that, close beside the eye.
Would show as largely as a giant's head,
Is dwindled to a heap of gooseberries !
If Justice held no bigger scales than those
Yon pigmy seems to balance in his hands,
Her utmost fiat scarce would weigh a drachm !
How say you ?


Nothing — 'tis a fearful height !


My brmn turns dizzy as I gaze below,
And there's a strange sensation in my soles.


Ay — feel you that ? Ixion felt the same
Ere he was whirled from heaven !


Firmilian !
You carry this too far. Farewell. We'll meet
AVhen you're in better humor.


Tarrv, sir !
I have you here, and thus we shall not part.
I know your meaning well. For that same dross,
Tliat paltry ore of Mammon's mean device
Which I, to honor you, stooped to receive.
You'd set the Alguazils on my heels !
What! have 1 read your thought? Nay, never

F I K M I I. I A N . 107

Nor edge towards the doorway ! You're a scholar !
How was't with Pliaeton ?


Alas ! he's mad.
Hear me, Firmilian ! Here is the receipt —
Take it — I grudge it not ! If ten times more,
It were at j^our sweet service.


Would you do
This kindness unto me '{


Most willingly.


Liar and slave ! There's falsehood in tliine eye !
I read as clearly there, as in a book,
That, if I did allow you to escape,

108 F I K M I I. I A N.

In fifteen minutes you would seek the judge.
Therefore, prepare thee, for thou needs must die !


Madman — stand oft'!


There's but four feet of space
To spare between us. I'm not liasty, I !
Swans sing before their death, and it may be
That dying poets feel that impulse too:
Then, pry thee, be canorous. You may sing
One of those ditties which have won you gold.
And my meek audience of the vapid strain
Shall count with riioebus as a full discharge
For all your ducats. Will you not begin ?


JiCave off" this liorrid jest, Firmilian !

F I R M I L I A N . 109



Jest ! 'Tis no jest ! This pillar's very high —
Shout, and no one can hear you from the square —
Wilt sing, I say ?


Listen, Firmilian !
I have a third edition in the press,
Whereof the proceeds shall be wholly thine —
Spare me !


A third edition ! Atropos —
Forgive me that I tarried!


Mercy ! — Ah !—
[Firmilian hurls him from tJie column.


Square helow the Pillar.

Enter Apollodorus, a Critic.

Why do men call me a presumptuous cur,

A vaporing blockhead, and a turgid fool,

A common nuisance, and a charlatan ?

I've dashed into the sea of metaphor

With as strong paddles as the sturdiest ship

That churns Medusae into liquid light.

And hashed at every object in my way.

My ends are public. I have talked of men

As my familiars, whom I never saw.

Nay — more to raise my credit — I have penned

Epistles to the great ones''of the land,

When some attack might make them slightly sore,

Assuring them, in faith, it was not I.

F I R M I L I A N . Ill

What was their answer ? Marry, shortly this :

" Who, in the name of Zernebock, are yon ?"

I have reviewed myself incessantly —

Yea, made a contract with^ kindred soul

For mutual interchange of puffery.

Gods — how we blew each otlier ! But, 'tis past —

Those halcyon days are gone; and, I suspect,

That, in some fit of loathing or disgust,

As Samuel turned from EIi's coarser son,

Mine ancient playmate hath deserted me.

And yet I am Apollodorus still !

I search for genius, having it myself.

With keen and earnest longings. I survive

To disentangle, from the imping wings

Of our young poets, their crustaceous slough.

I watch them, as the watcher on the brook

Sees the young salmon wrestling from its e^^^

And revels in its future bright career.

Ha ! what seraphic mek)dy is this ?


Enter Sancho, a Costermo7igei\ singing.

Down in the garden behind the wall,
Iklerrily grows the bright-green leek ;

The old sow grnnts as the acorns fall,

The winds blow heavy, the little pigs sqneak.

One for the litter, and tlu'ce for the teat —

Ilark to their nuisic, Juanna my sweet !


Now, heaven be thanked ! here is a genuine bard,

A creature of high impulse, one unsoiled

By coarse conventionalities of rule.

lie labors not to sing, for his bright thoughts

Resolve themselves at once into a strain

Without the aid of balanced artifice.

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Online LibraryWilliam Edmondstoune AytounFirmilian : or, The student of Badajoz. A spasmodic tragedy → online text (page 3 of 5)