The Ring and the Book, by Robert Browning

The Book and The Ring

Here were the end, had anything an end:

Thus, lit and launched, up and up roared and soared

A rocket, till the key o’ the vault was reached,

And wide heaven held, a breathless minute-space,

In brilliant usurpature: thus caught spark,

Rushed to the height, and hung at full of fame

Over men’s upturned faces, ghastly thence,

Our glaring Guido: now decline must be.

In its explosion, you have seen his act,

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By my power — may-be, judged it by your own —

Or composite as good orbs prove, or crammed

With worse ingredients than the Wormwood Star.

The act, over and ended, falls and fades:

What was once seen, grows what is now described,

Then talked of, told about, a tinge the less

In every fresh transmission; till it melts,

Trickles in silent orange or wan grey

Across our memory, dies and leaves all dark,

And presently we find the stars again.

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Follow the main streaks, meditate the mode

Of brightness, how it hastes to blend with black!

After that February Twenty-two,

Since our salvation, Sixteen-Ninety-Eight,

Of all reports that were, or may have been,

Concerning those the day killed or let live,

Four I count only. Take the first that comes.

A letter from a stranger, man of rank,

Venetian visitor at Rome — who knows,

On what pretence of busy idleness?

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Thus he begins on evening of that day.

“Here are we at our end of Carnival;

“Prodigious gaiety and monstrous mirth,

“And constant shift of entertaining show:

“With influx, from each quarter of the globe,

“Of strangers nowise wishful to be last

“I’ the struggle for a good place presently

“When that befalls, fate cannot long defer.

“The old Pope totters on the verge o’ the grave:

“You see, Malpichi understood far more

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“That Tozzi how to treat the ailments: age,

“No question, renders these inveterate.

“Cardinal Spada, actual Minister,

“Is possible Pope; I wager on his head,

“Since those four entertainments of his niece

“Which set all Rome a-stare: Pope probably —

“Though Colloredo has his backers too,

“And San Cesario makes one doubt at times:

“Altieri will be Chamberlain at most.

“A week ago the sun was warm like May,

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“And the old man took daily exercise

“Along the river- side; he loves to see

“That Custom-house he built upon the bank,

“For, Naples-born, his tastes are maritime:

“But yesterday he had to keep in-doors

“Because of the outrageous rain that fell.

“On such days the good soul has fainting-fits,

“Or lies in stupor, scarcely makes believe

“Of minding business, fumbles at his beads.

“They say, the trust that keeps his heart alive

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“Is that, by lasting till December next,

“He may hold Jubilee a second time,

“And, twice in one reign, ope the Holy Doors.

“By the way, somebody responsible

“Assures me that the King of France has writ

“Fresh orders: Fenelon will be condemned:

“The Cardinal makes a wry face enough,

“Having a love for the delinquent: still,

“He’s the ambassador, must press the point.

“Have you a wager too dependent here?

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“Now, from such matters to divert awhile,

“Hear of to-day’s event which crowns the week,

“Casts all the other wagers into shade.

“Tell Dandolo I owe him fifty drops

“Of heart’s blood in the shape of gold zecchines!

“The Pope has done his worst: I have to pay

“For the execution of the Count, by Jove!

“Two days since, I reported him as safe,

“Re-echoing the conviction of all Rome:

“Who could suspect the one deaf ear — the Pope’s?

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“But prejudices grow insuperable,

“And that old enmity to Austria, that

“Passion for France and France’s pageant-king

“(Of which, why pause to multiply the proofs

“Now scandalously rife in Europe’s mouth?)

“These fairly got the better in the man

“Of justice, prudence, and esprit de corps,

“And he persisted in the butchery.

“Also, ’tis said that in his latest walk

“To that Dogana-by-the-Bank, he built,

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“The crowd — he suffers question, unrebuked —

“Asked, ‘Whether murder was a privilege

“‘Only reserved for nobles like the Count?’

“And he was ever mindful of the mob.

“Martinez, the Cæsarian Minister,

“— Who used his best endeavours to spare blood,

“And strongly pleaded for the life ‘of one,’

“Urged he, ‘I may have dined at table with!’—

“He will not soon forget the Pope’s rebuff,

“— Feels the slight sensibly, I promise you!

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“And but for the dissuasion of two eyes

“That make with him foul weather or fine day,

“He had abstained, nor graced the spectacle:

“As it was, barely would he condescend

“Look forth from the palchetto where he sat

“Under the Pincian: we shall hear of this!

“The substituting, too, the People’s Square

“For the out-o’-the-way old quarter by the Bridge,

“Was meant as a conciliatory sop

“To the mob; it gave one holiday the more.

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“But the French Embassy might unfurl flag —

“Still the good luck of France to fling a foe!

“Cardinal Bouillon triumphs properly!

Palchetti were erected in the Place,

“And houses, at the edge of the Three Streets,

“Let their front windows at six dollars each:

“Anguisciola, that patron of the arts,

“Hired one; our Envoy Contarini too.

“Now for the thing; no sooner the decree

“Gone forth — ’tis four-and-twenty hours ago —

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“Than Acciaioli and Panciatichi,

“Old friends, indeed compatriots of the man,

“Being pitched on as the couple properest

“To intimate the sentence yesternight,

“Were closeted ere cock-crow with the Count.

“They both report their efforts to dispose

“The unhappy nobleman for ending well,

“Despite the natural sense of injury,

“Were crowned at last with a complete success:

“And when the Company of Death arrived

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“At twenty-hours — the way they reckon here —

“We say, at sunset, after dinner-time —

“The Count was led down, hoisted up on car,

“Last of the five, as heinousest, you know:

“Yet they allowed one whole car to each man.

“His intrepidity, nay, nonchalance,

“As up he stood and down he sat himself,

“Struck admiration into those who saw.

“Then the procession started, took the way

“From the New Prisons by the Pilgrim’s Street,

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“The street of the Governo, Pasquin’s Street,

“(Where was stuck up, ’mid other epigrams,

“A quatrain . . . but of all that, presently!)

“The Place Navona, the Pantheon’s Place,

“Place of the Column, last the Corso’s length,

“And so debouched thence at Mannaia’s foot

“I’ the Place o’ the People. As is evident,

“(Despite the malice — plainly meant, I fear,

“By this abrupt change of locality —

“The Square’s no such bad place to head and hang)

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“We had the titillation as we sat

“Assembled, (quality in conclave, ha?)

“Of, minute after minute, some report

“How the slow show was winding on its way.

“Now did a car run over, kill a man,

“Just opposite a pork-shop numbered Twelve:

“And bitter were the outcries of the mob

“Against the Pope: for, but that he forbids

“The Lottery, why, twelve were Tern Quatern!

“Now did a beggar by Saint Agnes, lame

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“From his youth up, recover use of leg,

“Through prayer of Guido as he glanced that way:

“So that the crowd near crammed his hat with coin.

“Thus was kept up excitement to the last,

“— Not an abrupt out-bolting, as of yore,

“From Castle, over Bridge and on to block,

“And so all ended ere you well could wink!

“Guido was last to mount the scaffold-steps

“Here also, as atrociousest in crime.

“We hardly noticed how the peasants died,

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“They dangled somehow soon to right and left,

“And we remained all ears and eyes, could give

“Ourselves to Guido undividedly,

“As he harangued the multitude beneath.

“He begged forgiveness on the part of God,

“And fair construction of his act from men,

“Whose suffrage he entreated for his soul,

“Suggesting that we should forthwith repeat

“A Pater and an Ave, with the hymn

Salve Regina Cœli, for his sake.

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“Which said, he turned to the confessor, crossed

“And reconciled himself, with decency,

“Oft glancing at Saint Mary’s opposite

“Where they possess, and showed in shrine to-day,

“The Blessed Umbilicus of our Lord,

“(A relic ’tis believed no other church

“In Rome can boast of)— then rose up, as brisk

“Knelt down again, bent head, adapted neck,

“And, with the name of Jesus on his lips,

“Received the fatal blow.

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        “The headsman showed

“The head to the populace. Must I avouch

“We strangers own to disappointment here?

“Report pronounced him fully six feet high,

“Youngish, considering his fifty years,

“And, if not handsome, dignified at least.

“Indeed, it was no face to please a wife!

“His friends say, this was caused by the costume:

“He wore the dress he did the murder in,

“That is, a just-a-corps of russet serge,

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“Black camisole, coarse cloak of baracan

“(So they style here the garb of goat’s-hair cloth)

“White hat and cotton cap beneath, poor Count,

“Preservative against the evening dews

“During the journey from Arezzo. Well,

“So died the man, and so his end was peace;

“Whence many a moral were to meditate.

“Spada — you may bet Dandolo — is Pope!

“Now for the quatrain!”

        No, friend, this will do!

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You’ve sputtered into sparks. What streak comes next?

A letter: Don Giacinto Arcangeli,

Doctor and Proctor, him I made you mark

Buckle to business in his study late,

The virtuous sire, the valiant for the truth,

Acquaints his correspondent — Florentine,

By name Cencini, advocate as well,

Socius and brother-in-the-devil to match —

A friend of Franceschini, anyhow,

And knit up with the bowels of the case —

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Acquaints him, (in this paper that I touch)

How their joint effort to obtain reprieve

For Guido had so nearly nicked the nine

And ninety and one over — he would say,

At Tarocs — or succeeded — in our phrase.

To this Cencini’s care I owe the Book,

The yellow thing I take and toss once more

— How will it be, my four-years’-intimate,

When thou and I part company anon? —

’Twas he, the “whole position of the case,”

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Pleading and summary, were put before;

Discreetly in my Book he bound them all,

Adding some three epistles to the point.

Here is the first of these, part fresh as penned,

The sand, that dried the ink, not rubbed away,

Though penned the day whereof it tells the deed:

Part — extant just as plainly, you know where,

Whence came the other stuff, went, you know how,

To make the ring that’s all but round and done.

“Late they arrived, too late, egregious Sir,

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“Those same justificative points you urge

“Might benefit His Blessed Memory

“Count Guido Franceschini now with God:

“Since the Court — to state things succinctly — styled

“The Congregation of the Governor,

“Having resolved on Tuesday last our cause

“I’ the guilty sense, with death for punishment,

“Spite of all pleas by me deducible

“In favour of said Blessed Memory —

“I, with expenditure of pains enough,

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“Obtained a respite, leave to claim and prove

“Exemption from the law’s award — alleged

“The power and privilege o’ the Clericate:

“To which effect a courier was despatched.

“But ere an answer from Arezzo came,

“The Holiness of our Lord the Pope (prepare!)

“Judging it inexpedient to postpone

“The execution of such sentence passed,

“Saw fit, by his particular chirograph,

“To derogate, dispense with privilege,

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“And wink at any hurt accruing thence

“To Mother Church through damage of her son;

“Also, to overpass and set aside

“That other plea on score of tender age,

“Put forth by me to do Pasquini good,

“One of the four in trouble with our friend.

“So that all five, to-day, have suffered death

“With no distinction save in dying — he,

“Decollated by way of privilege,

“The rest hanged decently and in order. Thus

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“Came the Count to his end of gallant man,

“Defunct in faith and exemplarity:

“Nor shall the shield of his great House lose shine,

“Nor its blue banner blush to red thereby.

“This, too, should yield sustainment to our hearts —

“He had commiseration and respect

“In his decease from universal Rome,

Quantum est hominum venustiorum,

“The nice and cultivated everywhere:

“Though, in respect of me his advocate,

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“Needs must I groan o’er my debility,

“Attribute the untoward event o’ the strife

“To nothing but my own crass ignorance

“Which failed to set the valid reasons forth,

“Find fit excuse: such is the fate of war!

“May God compensate us the direful blow

“By future blessings on his family

“Whereof I lowly beg the next commands;

“— Whereto, as humbly, I confirm myself . . . ”

And so forth — follow name and place and date:

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On the next leaf —

        “Hactenus senioribus!

“There, old fox, show the clients t’other side

“And keep this corner sacred, I beseech!

“You and your pleas and proofs were what folks call

“Pisan assistance, aid that comes too late,

“Saves a man dead as nail in post of door.

“Had I but time and space for narrative!

“What was the good of twenty Clericates

“When somebody’s thick headpiece once was bent

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“On seeing Guido’s drop into the bag?

“How these old men like giving youth a push!

“So much the better: next push goes to him,

“And a new Pope begins the century.

“Much good I get by my superb defence!

“But argument is solid and subsists,

“While obstinacy and ineptitude

“Accompany the owner to his tomb;

“What do I care how soon? Beside, folks see!

“Rome will have relished heartily the show,

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“Yet understood the motives, never fear,

“Which caused the indecent change o’ the People’s Place

“To the People’s Playground — stigmatise the spite

“Which in a trice precipitated things!

“As oft the moribund will give a kick

“To show they are not absolutely dead,

“So feebleness i’ the socket shoots its last,

“A spirt of violence for energy!

“But thou, Cencini, brother of my breast,

“O fox, whose home is ’mid the tender grape,

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“Whose couch in Tuscany by Themis’ throne,

“Subject to no such . . . but I shut my mouth

“Or only open it again to say,

“This pother and confusion fairly laid,

“My hands are empty and my satchel lank.

“Now then for both the Matrimonial Cause

“And the case of Gomez! Serve them hot and hot!

Reliqua differamus in crastinum!

“The impatient estafette cracks whip outside:

“Still, though the earth should swallow him who swears

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“And me who make the mischief, in must slip

“— My boy, your godson, fat-chaps Hyacinth,

“Enjoyed the sight while Papa plodded here.

“I promised him, the rogue, a month ago,

“The day his birthday was, of all the days,

“That if I failed to save Count Guido’s head,

“Cinuccio should at least go see it chopped

“From trunk —‘So, latinize your thanks!’ quoth I:

“‘That I prefer, hoc malim,’ raps me out

“The rogue: you notice the subjunctive? Ah!

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“Accordingly he sat there, bold in box,

“Proud as the Pope behind the peacock-fans:

“Whereon a certain lady-patroness

“For whom I manage things (my boy in front,

“Her Marquis sat the third in evidence;

“Boys have no eyes nor ears save for the show)

“‘This time, Cintino,’ was her sportive word,

“When whiz and thump went axe and mowed lay man

“And folks could fall to the suspended chat,

“‘This time, you see, Bottini rules the roast,

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“‘Nor can Papa with all his eloquence

“‘Be reckoned on to help as heretofore!’

“Whereat Cinone pouts; then, sparkishly —

“‘Papa knew better than aggrieve his Pope,

“‘And baulk him of his grudge against our Count,

“‘Else he’d have argued-off Bottini’s’ . . . what?

“‘His nose,’— the rogue! well parried of the boy!

“He’s long since out of Cæsar (eight years old)

“And as for tripping in Eutropius . . . well,

“Reason the more that we strain every nerve

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“To do him justice, mould a model-mouth,

“A Bartolus-cum-Baldo for next age:

“For that I purse the pieces, work the brain,

“And want both Gomez and the marriage-case,

“Success with which shall plaster aught of pate

“That’s broken in me by Bottini’s flail,

“And bruise his own, belike, that wags and brags.

Adverti supplico humiliter

Quod, don’t the fungus see, the fop divine

“That one hand drives two horses, left and right?

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“With this rein did I rescue from the ditch

“The fortune of our Franceschini, keep

“Unsplashed the credit of a noble House,

“And set the fashionable cause of Rome

“A-prancing till bystanders shouted ‘’ware!’

“The other rein’s judicious management

“Suffered old Somebody to keep the pace,

“Hobblingly play the roadster: who but he

“Had his opinion, was not led by the nose

“In leash of quibbles strung to look like law!

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“You’ll soon see — when I go to pay devoir

“And compliment him on confuting me —

“If, by a back-swing of the pendulum,

“Grace be not, thick and threefold, consequent!

“‘I must decide as I see proper, Don!

“‘The Pope, I have my inward lights for guide,

“‘Had learning been the matter in dispute,

“‘Could eloquence avail to gainsay fact,

“‘Yours were the victory, be comforted!’

“Cinuzzo will be gainer by it all.

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“Quick then with Gomez, hot and hot next case!”

Follows, a letter, takes the other side.

Tall blue-eyed Fisc whose head is capped with cloud,

Doctor Bottini — to no matter who,

Writes on the Monday two days afterward.

Now shall the honest championship of right,

Crowned with success, enjoy at last, unblamed,

Moderate triumph! Now shall eloquence

Poured forth in fancied floods for virtue’s sake,

(The print is sorrowfully dyked and dammed,

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But shows where fain the unbridled force would flow,

Finding a channel)— now shall this refresh

The thirsty donor with a drop or two!

Here has been truth at issue with a lie:

Let who gained truth the day have handsome pride

In his own prowess! Eh? What ails the man?

“Well, it is over, ends as I foresaw:

“Easily proved, Pompilia’s innocence!

“Catch them entrusting Guido’s guilt to me!

“I had, as usual, the plain truth to plead.

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“I always knew the clearness of the stream

“Would show the fish so thoroughly, child might prong

“The clumsy monster: with no mud to splash,

“Small credit to lynx-eye and lightning-spear!

“This Guido — (much sport he contrived to make,

“Who at first twist, preamble of the cord,

“Turned white, told all, like the poltroon he was!)—

“Finished, as you expect, a penitent,

“Fully confessed his crime, and made amends,

“And, edifying Rome last Saturday,

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“Died like a saint, poor devil! That’s the man

“The gods still give to my antagonist:

“Imagine how Arcangeli claps wing,

“And crows! ‘Such formidable facts to face,

“‘So naked to attack, my client here,

“‘And yet I kept a month the Fisc at bay,

“‘And in the end had foiled him of the prize

“‘By this arch-stroke, this plea of privilege,

“‘But that the Pope must gratify his whim,

“‘Put in his word, poor old man — let it pass!’

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“— Such is the cue to which all Rome responds.

“What with the plain truth given me to uphold,

“And, should I let truth slip, the Pope at hand

“To pick up, steady her on legs again,

“My office turns a pleasantry indeed!

“Not that the burly boaster did one jot

“O’ the little was to do — young Spreti’s work!

“But for him — mannikin and dandiprat,

“Mere candle-end and inch of cleverness

“Stuck on Arcangeli’s save-all — but for him

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“The spruce young Spreti, what is bad were worse!

“I looked that Rome should have the natural gird

“At advocate with case that proves itself;

“I knew Arcangeli would grin and brag:

“But what say you to one impertinence

“Might move a man? That monk, you are to know,

“That barefoot Augustinian whose report

“O’ the dying woman’s words did detriment

“To my best points it took the freshness from,

“— That meddler preached to purpose yesterday

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“At San Lorenzo as a winding-up

“O’ the shows, have proved a treasure to the church.

“Out comes his sermon smoking from the press:

“Its text —‘Let God be true, and every man

“‘A liar’— and its application, this,

“The longest- winded of the paragraphs,

“I straight unstitch, tear out and treat you with:

“’Tis piping hot and posts through Rome to-day.

“Remember it, as I engage to do!

“But if you rather be disposed to see

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“In the result of the long trial here —

“This dealing doom to guilt and doling praise

“To innocency — any proof that truth

“May look for vindication from the world,

“Much will you have misread the signs, I say,

“God, who seems acquiescent in the main

“With those who add ‘So will He ever sleep’—

“Flutters their foolishness from time to time,

“Puts forth His right-hand recognisably;

“Even as, to fools who deem He needs must right

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“Wrong on the instant, as if earth were heaven,

“He wakes remonstrance —‘Passive, Lord, how long?’

“Because Pompilia’s purity prevails,

“Conclude you, all truth triumphs in the end?

“So might those old inhabitants of the ark,

“Witnessing haply their dove’s safe return,

“Pronounce there was no danger all the while

“O’ the deluge, to the creature’s counterparts,

“Aught that beat wing i’ the world, was white or soft —

“And that the lark, the thrush, the culver too,

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“Might equally have traversed air, found earth,

“And brought back olive-branch in unharmed bill.

“Methinks I hear the Patriarch’s warning voice —

“‘Though this one breast, by miracle, return,

“‘No wave rolls by, in all the waste, but bears

“‘Within it some dead dove-like thing as dear,

“‘Beauty made blank and harmlessness destroyed!’

“How many chaste and noble sister-fames

“Wanted the extricating hand, and lie

“Strangled, for one Pompilia proud above

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“The welter, plucked from the world’s calumny,

“Stupidity, simplicity — who cares?

“Romans! An elder race possessed your land

“Long ago, and a false faith lingered still,

“As shades do, though the morning-star be out.

“Doubtless, some pagan of the twilight-day

“Has often pointed to a cavern- mouth,

“Obnoxious to beholders, hard by Rome,

“And said — nor he a bad man, no, nor fool —

“Only a man, so, blind like all his mates —

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“‘Here skulk in safety, lurk, defying law,

“‘The devotees to execrable creed,

“‘Adoring — with what culture . . . Jove, avert

“‘Thy vengeance from us worshippers of thee! . . .

“‘What rites obscene — their idol-god, an Ass!’

“So went the word forth, so acceptance found,

“So century re- echoed century,

“Cursed the accursed — and so, from sire to son,

“You Romans cried ‘The offscourings of our race

“‘Corrupt within the depths there: fitly, fiends

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“‘Perform a temple-service o’er the dead:

“‘Child, gather garment round thee, pass nor pry!’

“So groaned your generations: till the time

“Grew ripe, and lightning hath revealed, belike —

“Thro’ crevice peeped into by curious fear —

“Some object even fear could recognise

“I’ the place of spectres; on the illumined wall,

“To-wit, some nook, tradition talks about,

“Narrow and short, a corpse’s length, no more:

“And by it, in the due receptacle,

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“The little rude brown lamp of earthenware,

“The cruse, was meant for flowers, but held the blood,

“The rough-scratched palm-branch, and the legend left

Pro Christo. Then the mystery lay clear:

“The abhorred one was a martyr all the time,

“A saint whereof earth was not worthy. What?

“Do you continue in the old belief?

“Where blackness bides unbroke, must devils be?

“Is it so certain, not another cell

“O’ the myriad that make up the catacomb,

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“Contains some saint a second flash would show?

“Will you ascend into the light of day

“And, having recognised a martyr’s shrine,

“Go join the votaries that gape around

“Each vulgar god that awes the market-place?

“Be these the objects of your praising? See!

“In the outstretched right hand of Apollo, there,

“Is screened a scorpion: housed amid the folds

“Of Juno’s mantle, lo, a cockatrice!

“Each statue of a god was fitlier styled

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“Demon and devil. Glorify no brass

“That shines like burnished gold in noonday glare,

“For fools! Be otherwise instructed, you!

“And preferably ponder, ere ye pass,

“Each incident of this strange human play

“Privily acted on a theatre,

“Was deemed secure from every gaze but God’s —

“Till, of a sudden, earthquake lays wall low

“And lets the world see the wild work inside,

“And how, in petrifaction of surprise,

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“The actors stand — raised arm and planted foot —

“Mouth as it made, eye as it evidenced,

“Despairing shriek, triumphant hate — transfixed,

“Both he who takes and she who yields the life.

“As ye become spectators of this scene —

“Watch obscuration of a fame pearl-pure

“In vapoury films, enwoven circumstance,

“— A soul made weak by its pathetic want

“Of just the first apprenticeship to sin,

“Would thenceforth make the sinning soul secure

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“From all foes save itself, that’s truliest foe —

“For egg turned snake needs fear no serpentry —

“As ye behold this web of circumstance

“Deepen the more for every thrill and throe,

“Convulsive effort to disperse the films

“And disenmesh the fame o’ the martyr — mark

“How all those means, the unfriended one pursues,

“To keep the treasure trusted to her breast,

“Each struggle in the flight from death to life,

“How all, by procuration of the powers

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“Of darkness, are transformed — no single ray,

“Shot forth to show and save the inmost star,

“But, passed as through hell’s prism, proceeding black

“To the world that hates white: as ye watch, I say,

“Till dusk and such defacement grow eclipse

“By — marvellous perversity of man! —

“The inadequacy and inaptitude

“Of that self-same machine, that very law

“Man vaunts, devised to dissipate the gloom,

“Rescue the drowning orb from calumny,

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“— Hear law, appointed to defend the just,

“Submit, for best defence, that wickedness

“Was bred of flesh and innate with the bone

“Borne by Pompilia’s spirit for a space,

“And no mere chance fault, passionate and brief:

“Finally, when ye find — after this touch

“Of man’s protection which intends to mar

“The last pin- point of light and damn the disc —

“One wave of the hand of God amid the worlds

“Bid vapour vanish, darkness flee away,

590

“And leave the vexed star culminate in peace

“Approachable no more by earthly mist —

“What I call God’s hand — you, perhaps — this chance

“Of the true instinct of an old good man

“Who happens to hate darkness and love light —

“In whom too was the eye that saw, not dim,

“The natural force to do the thing he saw,

“Nowise abated — both by miracle —

“All this well pondered — I demand assent

“To the enunciation of my text

600

“In face of one proof more that ‘God is true

“‘And every man a liar’— that who trusts

“To human testimony for a fact

“Gets this sole fact — himself is proved a fool;

“Man’s speech being false, if but by consequence

“That only strength is true; while man is weak,

“And, since truth seems reserved for heaven not earth,

“Should learn to love what he may speak one day.

“For me, the weary and the worn, who prompt

“To mirth or pity, as I move the mood —

610

“A friar who glide unnoticed to the grave,

“Bare feet, coarse robe and rope-grit waist of mine —

“I have long since renounced your world, ye know:

“Yet weigh the worth of worldly prize foregone,

“Disinterestedly judge this and that

“Good ye account good: but God tries the heart.

“Still, if you question me of my content

“At having put each human pleasure by,

“I answer, at the urgency of truth,

“As this world seems, I dare not say I know

620

“— Apart from Christ’s assurance which decides —

“Whether I have not failed to taste some joy.

“For many a dream would fain perturb my choice —

“How love, in those the varied shapes, might show

“As glory, or as rapture, or as grace:

“How conversancy with the books that teach,

“The arts that help — how, to grow great, in fine,

“Rather than simply good, and bring thereby

“Goodness to breathe and live, nor, born i’ the brain,

“Die there — how these and many another gift

630

“May well be precious though abjured by me.

“But, for one prize, best meed of mightiest man,

“Arch-object of ambition — earthly praise,

“Repute o’ the world, the flourish of loud trump,

“The softer social fluting — Oh, for these,

“— No, my friends! Fame — that bubble which, world-wide

“Each blows and bids his neighbour lend a breath,

“That so he haply may behold thereon

“One more enlarged distorted false fool’s-face,

“Until some glassy nothing grown as big

640

“Send by a touch the imperishable to suds —

“No, in renouncing fame, the loss was light,

“Choosing obscurity, the chance was well!”

Didst ever touch such ampollosity

As the man’s own bubble, let alone its spite?

What’s his speech for, but just the fame he flouts —

How he dares reprehend both high and low?

Else had he turned the sentence “God is true

“And every man a liar — save the Pope

“Happily reigning — my respects to him!”

650

— So, rounded off the period. Molinism

Simple and pure! To what pitch get we next?

I find that, for first pleasant consequence,

Gomez, who had intended to appeal

From the absurd decision of the Court,

Declines, though plain enough his privilege,

To call on help from lawyers any more —

Resolves the liars may possess the world,

Till God have had sufficiency of both:

So may I whistle for my job and fee!

660

But, for this virulent and rabid monk —

If law be an inadequate machine,

And advocacy, so much impotence,

We shall soon see, my blatant brother! That’s

Exactly what I hope to show your sort!

For, by a veritable piece of luck,

True providence, you monks round period with,

All may be gloriously retrieved. Perpend!

That Monastery of the Convertites

Whereto the Court consigned Pompilia first,

670

— Observe, if convertite, why, sinner then,

Or where the pertinency of award? —

And whither she was late returned to die,

— Still in their jurisdiction, mark again! —

That thrifty Sisterhood, for perquisite,

Claims every paul where of may die possessed

Each sinner in the circuit of its walls.

Now, this Pompilia, seeing that by death

O’ the couple, all their wealth devolved on her,

Straight utilised the respite ere decease

680

By regular conveyance of the goods

She thought her own, to will and to devise —

Gave all to friends, Tighetti and the like,

In trust for him she held her son and heir,

Gaetano — trust to end with infancy:

So willing and devising, since assured

The justice of the Court would presently

Confirm her in her rights and exculpate,

Re-integrate and rehabilitate —

Station as, through my pleading, now she stands.

690

But here’s the capital mistake: the Court

Found Guido guilty — but pronounced no word

About the innocency of his wife:

I grounded charge on broader base, I hope!

No matter whether wife be true or false,

The husband must not push aside the law,

And punish of a sudden: that’s the point!

Gather from out my speech the contrary!

It follows that Pompilia, unrelieved

By formal sentence from imputed fault,

700

Remains unfit to have and to dispose

Of property, which law provides shall lapse:

Wherefore the Monastery claims its due.

And whose, pray, whose the office, but the Fisc’s?

Who but I institute procedure next

Against the person of dishonest life,

Pompilia, whom last week I sainted so?

I, it is, teach the monk what scripture means,

And that the tongue should prove a two-edged sword,

No axe sharp one side, blunt the other way,

710

Like what amused the town at Guido’s cost!

Astræa redux! I’ve a second chance

Before the self-same Court o’ the Governor

Who soon shall see volte-face and chop, change sides!

Accordingly, I charge you on your life,

Send me with all despatch the judgment late

O’ the Florence Rota Court, confirmative

O’ the prior judgment at Arezzo, clenched

Again by the Granducal signature,

Wherein Pompilia is convicted, doomed,

720

And only destined to escape through flight

The proper punishment. Send me the piece —

I’ll work it! And this foul-mouthed friar shall find

His Noah’s-dove that brought the olive back,

Is turned into the other sooty scout,

The raven, Noah first of all put forth the ark,

And never came back, but ate carcasses!

No adequate machinery in law?

No power of life and death i’ the learned tongue?

Methinks I am already at my speech,

730

Startle the world with “Thou, Pompilia, thus?

“How is the fine gold of the Temple dim!”

And so forth. But the courier bids me close,

And clip away one joke that runs through Rome,

Side by side with the sermon which I send —

How like the heartlessness of the old hunks

Arcangeli! His Count is hardly cold,

His client whom his blunders sacrificed,

When somebody must needs describe the scene —

How the procession ended at the church

740

That boasts the famous relic: quoth our brute,

“Why, that’s just Martial’s phrase for ‘make an end’—

Ad umbilicum sic perventum est!

The callous dog — let who will cut off head,

He cuts a joke, and cares no more than so!

I think my speech shall modify his mirth:

“How is the fine gold dim!”— but send the piece!

Alack, Bottini, what is my next word

But death to all that hope? The Instrument

Is plain before me, print that ends my Book

750

With the definitive verdict of the Court,

Dated September, six months afterward,

(Such trouble and so long, the old Pope gave!)

“In restitution of the perfect fame

“Of dead Pompilia, quondam Guido’s wife,

“And warrant to her representative

“Domenico Tighetti, barred hereby,

“While doing duty in his guardianship,

“From all molesting, all disquietude,

“Each perturbation and vexation brought

760

“Or threatened to be brought against the heir

“By the Most Venerable Convent called

“Saint Mary Magdalen o’ the Convertites

“I’ the Corso.”

        “Justice done a second time!

Well judged, Marc Antony, Locum-tenens

O’ the Governor, a Venturini, too!

For which I save thy name — last of the list!

Of rule in Rome, died Innocent my Pope

770

— By some accounts, on his accession-day.

If he thought doubt would do the next age good,

’Tis pity he died unapprised what birth

His reign may boast of, be remembered by —

Terrible Pope, too, of a kind — Voltaire.

And so an end of all i’ the story. Strain

Never so much my eyes, I miss the mark

There lived or died that Gaetano, child

Of Guido and Pompilia: only find,

Immediately upon his father’s death,

780

A record in the annals of the town

That Porzia, sister of our Guido, moved

The Priors of Arezzo and their head

Its Gonfalonier to give loyally

A public attestation to the right

O’ the Franceschini to men’s reverence —

Apparently because of the incident

O’ the murder — there’s no mention made of crime,

But what else caused such urgency to cure

The mob, just then, of chronic greediness

790

For scandal, love of lying vanity,

And appetite to swallow crude reports

That bring annoyance to their betters? — Bane

Which, here, was promptly met by antidote.

I like and shall translate the eloquence

Of nearly the worst Latin ever writ:

“Since antique time whereof the memory

“Holds the beginning, to this present hour,

“Our Franceschini ever shone, and shine,

“Still i’ the primary rank, supreme amid

800

“The lustres of Arezzo, proud to own

“In this great family — her flag-bearer,

“Guide of her steps and guardian against foe —

“As in the first beginning, so to- day!”

There, would you disbelieve stern History,

Trust rather to the babble of a bard?

I thought, Arezzo, thou hadst fitter souls,

Petrarch — nay, Buonarroti at a pinch,

To do thee credit as vexillifer!

Was it mere mirth the Patavinian meant,

810

Making thee out, in his veracious page,

Founded by Janus of the Double Face?

Well, proving of such perfect parentage,

Our Gaetano, born of love and hate,

Did the babe live or die? — one fain would find!

What were his fancies if he grew a man?

Was he proud — a true scion of the stock —

Of bearing blason, shall make bright my Book —

Shield, Azure, on a Triple Mountain, Or,

A Palm-tree,

        Proper, whereunto is tied

820

A Greyhound, Rampant, striving in the slips?

Or did he love his mother, the base-born,

And fight i’ the ranks, unnoticed by the world?

Such, then, the final state o’ the story. So

Did the Star Wormwood in a blazing fall

Frighten awhile the waters and lie lost:

So did this old woe fade from memory,

Till after, in the fulness of the days,

I needs must find an ember yet unquenched,

And, breathing, blow the spark to flame. It lives,

830

If precious be the soul of man to man.

So, British Public, who may like me yet,

(Marry and amen!) learn one lesson hence

Of many which whatever lives should teach:

This lesson, that our human speech is naught,

Our human testimony false, our fame

And human estimation words and wind.

Why take the artistic why to prove so much?

Because, it is the glory and good of Art,

That Art remains the one way possible

840

Of speaking truth, to mouths like mine, at least.

How look a brother in the face and say

“Thy right is wrong, eyes hast thou yet art blind,

“Thine ears are stuffed and stopped, despite their length,

“And, oh, the foolishness thou countest faith!”

Say this as silverly as tongue can troll —

The anger of the man may be endured,

The shrug, the disappointed eyes of him

Are not so bad to bear — but here’s the plague

That all this trouble comes of telling truth,

850

Which truth, by when it reaches him, looks false,

Seems to be just the thing it would supplant,

Nor recognisable by whom it left —

While falsehood would have done the work of truth.

But Art — wherein man nowise speaks to men,

Only to mankind — Art may tell a truth

Obliquely, do the thing shall breed the thought,

Nor wrong the thought, missing the mediate word.

So may you paint your picture, twice show truth,

Beyond mere imagery on the wall —

860

So, note by note, bring music from your mind,

Deeper than ever the Andante dived —

So write a book shall mean, beyond the facts,

Suffice the eye and save the soul beside.

And save the soul! If this intent save mine —

If the rough ore be rounded to a ring,

Render all duty which good ring should do,

And, failing grace, succeed in guardianship —

Might mine but lie outside thine, Lyric Love,

870

Thy rare gold ring of verse (the poet praised)

Linking our England to his Italy!

ornament

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32