William Edmondstoune Aytoun.

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

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All hail, great poet !


Save vou, my nierrv niastei- 1 Need vou unv leeks

F I R M I L I A N . 113

or onions ? Hefe's the priniest cauliflower, though
I say it, in all Badajoz. Set it up at a distance of
some ten yards, and I'll forfeit my ass if it does
not look bigger than the Alcayde's wig. Or would
these radishes suit your turn ? There's nothing
like your radish for cooling the blood and purging
distempered humors.


I do admire thy vegetables much,

But will not buy them. Pray you, pardon me

For one short word of friendly obloquy.

Is't possible a being so endowed

With music, song, and sun-aspiring thoughts.

Can stoop to chaffer idly in the streets.

And, for a huckster's miserable gain,

Kenounce the urgings of his destiny?

Why, man, thine ass should be a Pegasus,

A sun-reared charger snorting at the stars,

And scatterino- all the Pleiads at l\is heels—

114 F I R M I I, I A N .

Thy cart sliould be an orient-tinted car,
Such as Aurora drives into the day,
What time the rosy-fingered Hours awake —
Thy reins —


Lookye, master, I've dusted a better jacket tlian
yours before now, so you had best keep a civil
tongue in your head. Once for all, will you buy
my radishes ?




Then go to the devil and shake yourself!



The foul fiend seize thee and thy cauliflowers !



I was indeed a most egregious ass

To take this lubber clodpole for a bard,

And worship that dull fool. Pythian Apollo !

Hear me — O hear ! Towards the firmament

I gaze with longing eyes ; and. in the name

Of millions thirsting for poetic draughts,

I do beseech thee, send a poet down !

Let him descend, e'en as a meteor falls,

Rushing at noonday —

\IIe is crushed hy the fall of the
hodij of Haverillo.

11(5 F I K M I I, I A N


A Street.

Enter two Gentlemen, meeting.


Save you, brave Cavalier !


The like to you, sir.
I scarce need ask where you have been to-day-
All Badajoz was at the market-place,


You mean the act of faith ? I was too late :
Will you vouchsafe me some i-elution of it?


I've seen a larg-er muster for the stake.

F I R M I L I A N . 11


But never was the public interest

Excited to so vehement a pitch.

Men did not care for Jews or heretics,

Though some of Loth descriptions were produced.

The leading victim was the Graduate,

Whose monstrous deed in blowing up the church,

"Whereby a thousand lives and more were lost,

Stands yet unequalled for atrocity.

Faith, sir ! the Inquisition had hard work

To guard him from his dungeon to the pile.

When he came forth, from twenty thousand throats

There rose so horrid and so fierce a yell

That I was fain to hold my tingling ears.

Mothers, whose sons had perished in the church,

Howled curses at him : old men shook their fists

With palsied vehemence ; and there were some

Who carried naked daggers in theii" hands,

And would have hacked him piecemeal.

118 F I B M I L I A N .


And no wonder —
'Twas a most horrid and unnatural deed ;
My young remembrance cannot parallel
A fellow to it.


Yet was he quite calm :
A little pale, perhaps, but noway moved
By all their hooting. Wlien he reached the pile,
He craved permission of the Inquisitor,
To say a word or two. That being granted,
He turned him straightway to the raging crowdj
Which, at his gesture, stilled itself awhile,
And spoke in parables.


How mean you, sir ?
Did he confess his guilt \

FIKM I L I AN . 110


In faith, not he !
IJis speech was worse than any conimination.
lie curs'd the city, and he curs'd the church ;
lie curs'd the houses, and he curs'd their stones.
He cui-sed, in short, in such miraculous wise,
That nothing was exempted from his ban.
Then, sir, indeed the people's wrath was roused.
And a whole storm of cats came tumbling in.
Combined with baser missiles. I was fain,
Not wishing to be wholly singular.
To add my contribution to the rest.
Yet he cursed on, till the Familiars gagged him —
Bound him unto the stake, and so he died.


You tell the story very pleasantly.

Were there no more of note in the procession ?

120 K I KM I L IAN.


Tliere was a fellow, too, an Anabaptist,

Or something of the sort, from the Low Countries,

Rejoicing in the name of Teufelsdrockh.

I do not know for what particular sin

He stood condemned ; but it was noised abroad

That, in all ways he was a heretic.

Six times the Inquisition held debate

F})on his tenets, and vouchsafed him speech,

Whereof he largely did avail himself.

Ihit they could coin no meaning from his words.

Further than this, that he most earnestly

Denounced all systems, human and divine.

And so, because the weaker sort of men

Are oft misled by babbling, as the bees .^

Hive at the clash of cvmbals, it was deemed

A duty to remove him. He, too, spoke

But never in your life, sir, did you hear

Such hideous jargon ! The distracting screech

F 1 li M 1 L I A N . 121

Of wagon-wheel iiugreased was music to it ;

And as for meaning — wiser beads than mine

Could find no trace of it. 'Twas a tirade

About fire-horses, jotuns, windbags, owls,

Clioctaws and horse-hair, shams and flunkeyism.

Unwisdoms, Tithes, and [Inveracities.

'Faith, ttlien I lieard him railing in crank terms,

And dislocating language in liis howl

At Phantasm Captains, Hair-and-leather Popes,

Terrestrial Law-words, Lords, and Law-bringers,—

I almost wished the Graduate back again :

His style of cursing had some flavor in't ;

The other's was most tedious. By-and-by,

The crowd grew restive ; and no wonder, sir ;

For the eflfect of his discourse was such,

That one poor wench miscarried in aflVight.

I did not tarry longer.


. Your narration

122 !• 1 K M 1 L I A ^.

Makes me rea-ret less heartily the clitiiice

That kept me from the show. Is there nauglit else

Talked of in Badajoz ?


Why, yes, sir — much,
And of strange import: but the cautious lip
Dares not, as yet, give utterance to its thought
In the full measure. Death hath been amougst us,
Not striking at the old, but at the young.
In must unusual fashion. Three young men,
All in strong health, untainted by disease,
Died in a tavern. Marry, sir — 'tis thought
Their cups were spiced. But a few days ago.
Our most aspiring poet, Ilaverillo,
Fell from St. Simeon's colunni — no one knows
What took him to its top; — another life,
I hear, was lost in his abrupt descent,
But no one could identify the corpse.
Then there's a Priest amissing — these are thing-s

F I K M I L I A X ., 123

Portentous in themselves, and very strange.
Further, there's some slight scandal noised abroad
About the niece of an Inquisitor —
I name no names — who may have been, perchance,
Somewhat too credulous. 'Tis a strange w'orld !
Are you acquainted with Firmilian?


But slightly, sir : I've held a bet or so

AVith him upon the bull-iights. Why d'ye ask ?


Because (in coniideiice), I think 'twere wise

To close your book with him. I heard it said,

Not many days ago, that his old uncle.

The Dean of Salamanca, had expired.

And left him all his wealth. Heaven bless you, sir,

1 have a turn for genealogy.

And, by my reckoning, he is no more kin

To the old Dean than to the Holy Pope !


I may be wrong, you know — but in such matters
'Tis prudent to be sure. There are reports,
On whicli I shall not dwell, which ma]<e nic think
Firmilian is not safe. You understand me 2


Your kindly liint hath found a ready way
To a most anxious bosom I Let lis go
Towards the Prado. Tve a little tale
To tell voii of that same Firmilian.




F I R M I L I A N .



The Vaults of the Inquisition .

The Inquisitors are seated on henches. Behind
them Familiars hearing torches.

ThrougJiout this Scene, distant lyeals of thunder



chief inquisitor.
Would I could bid yon welcome, brethren, here !
This wild derangement of the elements,
These fiery gashes in the vanlt of heaven
That stream with flame, and fright the astonied

Are not from natui-al causes: Hell is loose ;
The Prince o' the Air hath called his legions up.
And demons' wings are madly flashing by
On hideous errantry ! There have been deeds
Wrought here among us of so vile a sort —

12(5 !•■ 1 K M I I, T A X .

Sucli impious M-ords liavc pierced tlie iietlier world,
That the fiends, starting from their sulphurous beds,
Have ansM'ered to the summons !


Such a night
There hath not l3een since that in Wittemberg,
When damned Faustus lost his wretched soul.


Yea, reverend brother, it was even so.

And, much T fear me, some in Cadajoz

]Iave, by their practice of unholy arts,

Sinned worse than Faustus. Stand thou forth,

T3althazar ;
And tell us what thou knowest.


Most reverend sirs,
T, and my fellow, Gil of Santillano,

F r R M I L I A N . 127

Botli sworn Familiars of this Holy office,
Receiv^ed of late commission to inquire
Touching the trade of a suspected Jew.
Hia dealing was in philtres, amorous drugs,
Powders of mummy, amulets, and charms,
All which we seized, and brought the caitiff here
^ o be examined. When upon the rack.
He, being urged by subtle questioning,
Confessed that often-times he had procured
Most strange material for a student's use —
As skulls, thigh-bones, a murderer's wasted hand
Hewn from the gibbet, and such other ware
As sorcerers do employ. Besides these things,
He owned that he had purchased from a Moor
A curious work upon geometry.
And sold it to Firmilian,


Can the stars
Ketain their place within the firmament,

12S F I K M I L T A X

When wickedness like this is wrouglit below ?
Proceed, Balthazar.


These particulars
liein*/; in their nature horrid and profane,
Did Mordecai right cheerfully disclose.
Yet we, remonibei"ing what the vulgate saith,
Touching tlie doubtful witness of a Jew
Against a Christian, did esteem it fit
To make more perquisition. For that end,
I, and my comrade, Gil of Santillane,
Sought out Firmiliaii's servant. Ilim we found
Within a wrne-shop —


Mark that well, my masters!
For three score years and ten I've lield my ofiice,
And never did I know the sorcerer yet


Whose servant felt not a perpetual thirst.
I pray you let that fact be noted down.


It shall be noted. Well — what followed next ?


Obedient to our orders, Gil and I,

Albeit habitual shunners of the cup,

Did somewhat deviate from our wonted rule.

And made slight show of wassail. Whereupon,

This Nicodemus, young Firniiliau's knave.

Did gradually to us some part disclose

Of his employer's practice.


Did lie so ?
A servant's tale is damning evidence
Against his lord ! AVhat said this ISTicodemus?
Stand down, Balthazar — Speak tlion, Santillane.

130 F I R M T I. I A N.


He told US this — that long ago, in Wales,

His master had from one Plotinis learned

Most wondrous secrets : that on Wednesday nights

He was attended by an ugly imp,

Whose outward apparition bore the stamp

Of an enormous hedge-hog.


I remember
The like was said of Paracelsus too,
And of Cornelius. I myself have seen
A hedge-pig suckled by a Moorish witch.
That must have been about the year sixteen,
Or two years later. Is it taken down ?
Fur three score years and ten I'v^c held my office,
And never knew a necromancer vet
l>ut dealt in hedge-hogs ! Is it taken down ?

F I K M I I. T A N . 131


It is, my reverend brother. Santillane —
On with yonr story.


- Warily lie talked
Of magic circles, skulls, and fumigations —
Of the great Devil, and his sulphurous stench —
Of phantom beavers, and of bottle imps ;
The bare recital of which monstrous things
Made each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porcupine.
I can depone no further.


Are worse than hedge-hogs !

I.'VJ F I U Ar 1 I, I A N


Is this Nicodemiis
Still safe witliiji your reach ?


liiglit holy sir,

lie is. AVe deemed it wiser to defer

His capture till we knew your reverend pleasure,

In case Firmilian might take sudden wing.

Moreover, I have sometliing yet to tell,

Which, if not touching sorcery, may lean
To worse than heresy.



Thy care is grout.
Thoii art our best Familiar ; ami T think.
E'en as thou speak'st, and lettest out the truth.
The tVightcned fiends desei't the upper sky
And oalni tlicir fhuiKhM- down. Sav out thv sav.

FI KM I LI A. N. 13


I pray your reverend worsliips to believe

I act not as spy. 'Tis not for me

To mark the twinkling of a lady's fan,

To lurk behind church pillars, or to note

The course of fervid glances. Such things lie

Beyond my office ; and I know full well

That they are oftentimes assumed to hide

Most faithful service to our Holy Church ;

And, therefore, I repeat, I am no spy.


I have still found thee — ^as the Church hath done-
Discreet within thy function. Didst thou know
Aught that might appertain to one of us,
Or to the honor of our nearest kin,
I do believe that thou wouldst rather dare
Expose thyself upon the stretching rack
Than speak out openly.

134 K I U M I I. I A N .


We do believe it !


Therein you understand me thoroughly.
I am the poor Familiar of this House,
And for the movements of such holy sirs,
And of tlieir households, have no eyes at all,
Save at their pleasure. But Firmilian's case
Demands a full divulgenient.


Very right!
I <>;ather from this talk tliercVsomethinii: wrontj
About Firmilian's morals. I have been
For three score years and ten Inquisitor ;
And always have observed tliat heretics
Are faulty in their morals. Tell us all.



Three weeks ago — 'twas but a week before

The death of the three students — there appeared

Within a lonely cottage in the wood,

Hard bordering on the skirts of Badajoz,

An Indian maiden. She was dark as night,

And yet not unalluring, as I heard

From Santillane, my comrade —


Holy sirs,
I swear such language ne'er escaped my lips !
I only said that in a heathen's eye
She might find favor.


Doubtless so she would.
I do remember, fifty years ago,
A very comely damsel of that kind,


Purveyed, I think, from inner Africa —
I never saw a more voluptuous shape.
]>ut to your story —


Every day since then
Ilatli young Firmilian stolen to her bower
With utmost secresy. What passeth there
I know not. But men say she sings by night
Mysterious ditties in an unknown tongue,
Of such unnatural and thrilling sort,
That the scared nightingales desert their boughs.
And evil birds of omen flit around
To list the Indian's music.


Is it so ?
Tliat shall be also looked to heedfully.
Tl)e tiend hath many snares, and it may be
That, in the likeness nf a dusky (pieen,

F I R M I r. I A X . 137

lie sends an agent hither. Wliat I know
Of this Finniliau makes me fear the worst :
Yet it were wise to wait. I'll set a trap
Shall lure him to his ruin. Go we hence ;
And in the inner casket of our hearts
Be all our secrets locked. Put out the lights ! "
[The tm^ches are extinguished.

138 riRMILlAN

Among the Mountains.

Enter Firmilian.

Wliy should I strive to comprehend the charm

Of savage nature, or to fill my mind

With thoughts of desolation, meanly filched

From those rude rocks, and chasms, and cataracts ?

AVhy, none but fools affect to seek them now

For the mere sense of grandeur. To a painter,

Von crag might seem magnificent indeed,

With its bold outline. A geologist

AVould but regard it as a pillar left

To mark some age that was pre-Adamite,

And, witli his hammer, excavate the bones

Of brutes that revelled in llie oozy slime,

Ere yet a bud had l)urst in Eden's bower.

F I li M I I. I A X . 139

Here is a terrace on the mountain side.


As stately as the ever-watched approach

Unto the palace of the greatest king.

Your man of science cares not for its sweep,

Nor aught around that might attract the eye ; —

He calls it a sea-margin, and exhumes

The withered fragment of a cockle-shell,

In proof of his averment, with more pride

Than if he stumbled on a costly gem.

O, there is room for infinite debate

In a stray boulder; and the jagged streak

Upon the surface of a harmless stone,

May be the Helen to some future host

Of glacier-theorists !

Such men are wise.
They overlook the outward face of things ;
Seek no sensation from the rude design
Of outward beauty ; but fulfil their task
Like moles, who loathe the gust of upper air.
And burrow underneath !

140 F I ro[ I L I A X .

Tliree days liave I
Been wandering in this desert wilderness
In search of insjiiration. Horrid thonghts,
Phantasms, chiniosras, tortnres, inward spasms,
Disordered spawn of dreams, distracting visions,
Air-shrieks and hannting terrors were my aim —
Yet nothino: comes to fri^-ht me ! How is this?
Grant that my former efforts were in vain ;
At least the death of yon poor Ilaverillo
Might be a mill-stone tied around my neck,
And sink me t(» despair ! It is not so.
I rather feel triumphant in the deed,
And dniw i'resh courage fj'um the tliought of it.
Were all my creditors disposed like him,
Methinks the sunshine would be Nvarmer still !
Hold — Let me reckon closely with myself!
Could my weak hand put l)ack the clock of time
To the same point whereon its index lay
When first the thought of murder crossed my soul —
Could I undo, even by a single word,



All my past actings, and recall to life

The three companions of my earlier years —

The nameless crowd that perished in the chnrcli—

The guileless poetaster — and the rest

Who indirectly owe their deaths to me —

Would I exert the power 'i Most surely not.

Above the pool that lies before my foot

A thousand gnats are hovering — an hour hence

They'll drop into the mud ! Should I lament

That things so sportive, and so full of glee,

So soon must pass away ? In faith, not I !

They all will perish ere the sun goes down,

And yet to-morrow night that self-same pool

Will swarm with thousands more. What's done, is

I'll look on it no further. [done.

But mv work - -
That grand conception of my intellect.
Whereby I thought to take the world by storm-
That firstling of my soul— my tragedy—
What shall become of it i

142 F I K M I L I A N .

Alas ! I fear
I have mista'en my bent ! AVhat's Cain to me,
Or I to Cain ? I cannot realize
His wild sensations — it were madness, then,
For me to persevere. Some other bard
W^ith weaker nerves and fainter heart than mine
Must gird him to the task. Tis not for me
To shrine that page of history in song.
And utter such tremendous cadences,
1'hat the mere babe who liears them at the breast,
Sana comprehension, or tlie power of thought,
Shall be an idiot to its dying hour !
I deemed my verse would make pale Hecate's orb
(irow wau and dark ; and into ashes change
The radiant star-dust of the milky-way.
I deemed that pestilence, disease, and death,
Would follow every strophe — for the power
Of a true poet, prophet as he is,
Siiould rack creation !

Get thee gone, my dream —

^' I U M 1 L I A X


My long-sustaining friend of many days !
Henceforth my l>rain shall be divorced from thee,
Nor keep more memory of the wanton past
Than one who makes a harem of his mind,
And dallies with his thoughts like concubines !

Yet something must be done. 'Twere vile for me
To sink into inaction, or remain
Like a great harp wherein the music lies
Unwakened by the hand. What if I chose
A theme of magic ? That might take the ear,
For men who scarce have eyesight tu discern
What daily passes underneath their nose,
Still peer about for the invisible.
'Twere easy now to weave a subtile tale
Of ghosts and goblins, mermaids, succubi,
Mooncalves and monsters — of enchanted halls.
Wide-waving tapestry, haunted corridors —
Of churchyards shadowed by mysterious yews.
Wherein white women walk and wring their hands —
Of awful caverns underneath the sea,

144: !• 1 K M ILIA i\ .

Lit bj the gliimiier of a demon's eyes —

Of skeletons in armor, phantom knights

Who ride in fairy rings — and so revive

The faded memories of our childish years

With richer color. Bah ! — the time is ])ast

When such-like tales found audience. Children now

Are greatly wiser than their fathers were,

And prattle science in the nursery.

Raw-head-and-bloody-bones no longer scares

The inmate of the cradle into rest ;

And that tremendous spectre of the North,

The chimney-haunting 13oo-man comes no mure,

With hideous answer, to the nurse''s call.

Yet something do I knoAV of magic too,

And might have further sounded in its deep,

But for the terror that o'ermastered nic

In my first essay. Scarcely had I read

Ten lines of incantation, when a light.

Like that of glow-worms pa^hncd upon graves,

(ilurcd from the sockets of ;i Ucslilcss skull.

F I R M I L I A N . 145

And antic shapes ran howling round the ring,
And scared me to distraction. With the fiend
I'll have no further traffic ; for I dread
Both him, and that which is opposed to him,
The ruthless Inquisition. I'll no more
Of magic or its spells !

Wliat other theme
Lies ready to my hand ? what impulse stirs
My being to its depths, and conjures up
(As the young nymphs from sacred fountains rose)
The best and fairest shapes of poetry ?
Why — love, love, love ! — the master of the world —
The blind impetuous boy, whose tiny dart
Is surer than the Parthian javelin —
Love, whose strong best all living things obey —
Love, the lord-paramount and prince of all
The heroes of the whirling universe.
Was it not love that vanquished Hercules,
What time he writhed in Dejanira's gown ?
Was it not love that set old Trov on flame,


14G FIR M I r, I A N .

Withdrew Achilles from the Crrecian camp,
And kept Ulysses bound in Circe's bower?
AVas it not love that held great Sanison lirni
Whilst coy Delilah sheared his lusty locks,
iVnd gave him powerless to the Philistine '{
Was it not love that made Mark Antony


Yield up his kingdoms for one fervid kiss

I'rom Egypt's ripest Queen ? What better theme

Could be proposed than this? A graduate I,

And an expert one too, in Cupid's lore —

What hinders me to raise a richer song

Than ever yet was heard in praise of love?

Let the cold moralists say M'hat they will,

rU set their practice boldly 'gainst my verse.

And so convict them of hypocrisy.

What text-books read their children at the schools?

Derive they Latin from a hymnal source,

Or from the works of rigid anchorites?

Not so ! That hog of Epicurus' stye.

The sensuous IToi-ace, ushers them alonj;


To rancid Ovid. He prepares the way
For loose Catullus, whose voluptuous strain
Is soon dismissed for coarser Juvenal.
Take we the other language — Is there much
Of moral fervor or devout respect
That can be gleaned from old Anacreon's lays,
Or Sappho's burning starts? What pious lore
Can the alembic of the sage extract
From the rank filth of Aristophanes ?
Is Lucian holy reading ? And, if not,
Why, in the name of the old garden-god,
Persist they in their system ? Pure indeed
Must be the minds of those compelled to wade
Through all the dunghills of antiquity.
If they escape without some lasting stain.
What do our moralists? To make things clear
Which otherwise might 'scape the youthful sense,
They write Pantheons — wherein you may read,
In most exact and undisguised detail.
The loves "f ,Iovo with all his -relatives.

148 F I K M I I. I A N .

Resides some less conspicuous amours

With Danae, Europa, and the like.

What merrier jests can move the schoolboy's spleen,

Than the rich talc of Vulcan and of Mars ;

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Online LibraryWilliam Edmondstoune AytounFirmilian : or, The student of Badajoz. A spasmodic tragedy → online text (page 4 of 5)