The Ring and the Book, by Robert Browning

Count Guido Franceschini

Thanks, Sir, but, should it please the reverend Court,

I feel I can stand somehow, half sit down

Without help, make shift to even speak, you see,

Fortified by the sip of . . . why, ’tis wine,

Velletri — and not vinegar and gall,

So changed and good the times grow! Thanks, kind Sir!

Oh, but one sip’s enough! I want my head

To save my neck, there’s work awaits me still.

How cautious and considerate . . . aie, aie, aie,

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Not your fault, sweet Sir! Come, you take to heart

An ordinary matter. Law is law.

Noblemen were exempt, the vulgar thought,

From racking, but, since law thinks otherwise,

I have been put to the rack: all’s over now,

And neither wrist — what men style, out of joint:

If any harm be, ’tis the shoulder-blade,

The left one, that seems wrong i’ the socket — Sirs,

Much could not happen, I was quick to faint,

Being past my prime of life, and out of health.

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In short I thank you — yes, and mean the word.

Needs must the Court be slow to understand

How this quite novel form of taking pain,

This getting tortured merely in the flesh,

Amounts to almost an agreeable change

In my case, me fastidious, plied too much

With opposite treatment, used (forgive the joke)

To the rasp-tooth toying with this brain of mine,

And, in and out my heart, the play o’ the probe.

Four years have I been operated on

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I’ the soul, do you see — its tense or tremulous part —

My self-respect, my care for a good name,

Pride in an old one, love of kindred — just

A mother, brothers, sisters, and the like,

That looked up to my face when days were dim,

And fancied they found light there — no one spot,

Foppishly sensitive, but has paid its pang.

That, and not this you now oblige me with,

That was the Vigil-torment, if you please!

The poor old noble House that drew the rags

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O’ the Franceschini’s once superb array

Close round her, hoped to slink unchallenged by —

Pluck off these! Turn the drapery inside out

And teach the tittering town how scarlet wears!

Show men the lucklessness, the improvidence

Of the easy-natured Count before this Count,

The father I have some slight feeling for,

Who let the world slide, nor foresaw that friends

Then proud to cap and kiss the patron’s shoe,

Would, when the purse he left held spider-webs,

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Properly push his child to wall one day!

Mimic the tetchy humour, furtive glance

And brow where half was furious half fatigued,

O’ the same son got to be of middle age,

Sour, saturnine — your humble servant here; —

When things go cross and the young wife, he finds

Take to the window at a whistle’s bid,

And yet demurs thereon, preposterous fool! —

Whereat the worthies judge he wants advice

And beg to civilly ask what’s evil here,

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Perhaps remonstrate on the habit they deem

He’s given unduly to, of beating her

. . . Oh, sure he beats her — why says John so else,

Who is cousin to George who is sib to Tecla’s self

Who cooks the meal and combs the lady’s hair?

What? ’Tis my wrist you merely dislocate

For the future when you mean me martyrdom?

— Let the old mother’s economy alone,

How the brocade-strips saved o’ the seamy side

O’ the wedding-gown buy raiment for a year?

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— How she can dress and dish up — lordly dish

Fit for a duke, lamb’s head and purtenance —

With her proud hands, feast household so a week?

No word o’ the wine rejoicing God and man

The less when three-parts water? Then, I say,

A trifle of torture to the flesh, like yours,

While soul is spared such foretaste of hell-fire,

Is naught. But I curtail the catalogue

Through policy — a rhetorician’s trick —

Because I would reserve some choicer points

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O’ the practice, more exactly parallel —

(Having an eye to climax) with what gift,

Eventual grace the Court may have in store

I’ the way of plague — my crown of punishments.

When I am hanged or headed, time enough

To prove the tenderness of only that,

Mere heading, hanging — not their counterpart,

Not demonstration public and precise

That I, having married the mongrel of a drab,

Am bound to grant that mongrel-brat, my wife,

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Her mother’s birthright-licence as is just —

Let her sleep undisturbed, i’ the family style,

Her sleep out in the embraces of a priest,

Nor disallow their bastard as my heir!

Your sole mistake — dare I submit so much

To the reverend Court? — has been in all this pains

To make a stone roll down hill — rack and wrench

And rend a man to pieces, all for what?

Why — make him ope mouth in his own defence,

Show cause for what he has done, the irregular deed,

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(Since that he did it, scarce dispute can be)

And clear his fame a little, beside the luck

Of stopping even yet, if possible,

Discomfort to his flesh from noose or axe —

For that, out come the implements of law!

May it content my lords the gracious Court

To listen only half so patient-long

As I will in that sense profusely speak,

And — fie, they shall not call in screws to help!

I killed Pompilia Franceschini, Sirs;

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Killed too the Comparini, husband, wife,

Who called themselves, by a notorious lie,

Her father and her mother to ruin me.

There’s the irregular deed: you want no more

Than right interpretation of the same,

And truth so far — am I to understand?

To that then, with convenient speed — because

Now I consider — yes, despite my boast,

There is an ailing in this omoplat

May clip my speech all too abruptly close,

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Whatever the good-will in me. Now for truth!

I’ the name of the indivisible Trinity!

Will my lords, in the plentitude of their light,

Weigh well that all this trouble has come on me

Through my persistent treading in the paths

Where I was trained to go — wearing that yoke

My shoulder was predestined to receive,

Born to the hereditary stoop and crease?

Noble, I recognised my nobler still,

The church, my suzerain; no mock-mistress, she;

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The secular owned the spiritual: mates of mine

Have thrown their careless hoofs up at her call

“Forsake the clover and come drag my wain!”

There they go cropping: I protruded nose

To halter, bent my back of docile beast,

And now am whealed, one wide wound all of me,

For being found at the eleventh hour o’ the day

Padding the mill-track, not neck-deep in grass:

— My one fault, I am stiffened by my work,

— My one reward, I help the Court to smile!

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I am representative of a great line,

One of the first of the old families

In Arezzo, ancientest of Tuscan towns.

When my worst foe is fain to challenge this,

His worst exception runs — not first in rank

But second, noble in the next degree

Only; not malice ’self maligns me more.

So, my lord opposite has composed, we know,

A marvel of a book, sustains the point

That Francis boasts the primacy ’mid saints;

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Yet not inaptly hath his argument

Obtained response from yon my other lord

In thesis published with the world’s applause

— Rather ’tis Dominic such post befits:

Why, at the worst, Francis stays Francis still,

Second in rank to Dominic it may be,

Still, very saintly, very like our Lord;

And I at least descend from a Guido once

Homager to the Empire, nought below —

Of which account as proof that, none o’ the line

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Having a single gift beyond brave blood,

Or able to do aught but give, give, give

In blood and brain, in house and land and cash,

Not get and garner as the vulgar may,

We become poor as Francis or our Lord.

Be that as it likes you, Sirs — whenever it chanced

Myself grew capable anyway of remark,

(Which was soon — penury makes wit premature)

This struck me, I was poor who should be rich

Or pay that fault to the world which trifles not

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When lineage lacks the flag yet lifts the pole:

Therefore I must make more forthwith, transfer

My stranded self, born fish with gill and fin

Fit for the deep sea, now left bare-backed

In slush and sand, a show to crawlers vile

Reared of the low-tide and aright therein.

The enviable youth with the old name,

Wide chest, stout arms, sound brow and pricking veins,

A heartful of desire, man’s natural load,

A brainful of belief, the noble’s lot —

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All this life, cramped and gasping, high and dry

I’ the wave’s retreat — the misery, good my lords,

Which made you merriment at Rome of late —

It made me reason, rather — muse, demand

— Why our bare dropping palace, in the street

Where such-an-one whose grandfather sold tripe

Was adding to his purchased pile a fourth

Tall tower, could hardly show a turret sound?

Why Beatrice Countess, whose son I am,

Cowered in the winter-time as she spun flax,

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Blew on the earthen basket of live ash.

Instead of jaunting forth in coach and six

Like such-another widow who ne’er was wed?

I asked my fellows, how came this about?

“Why, Jack, the suttler’s child, perhaps the camp’s,

“Went to the wars, fought sturdily, took a town

“And got rewarded as was natural.

“She of the coach and six — excuse me there!

“Why, don’t you know the story of her friend?

“A clown dressed vines on somebody’s estate,

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“His boy recoiled from muck, liked Latin more,

“Stuck to his pen, and got to be a priest,

“Till one day . . . don’t you mind that telling tract

“Against Molinos, the old Cardinal wrote?

“He penned and dropped it in the patron’s desk

“Who, deep in thought and absent much of mind,

“Licensed the thing, allowed it for his own;

“Quick came promotion — suum cuique, Count!

“Oh, he can pay for coach and six, be sure!”

“— Well, let me go, do likewise: war’s the word —

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“That way the Franceschini worked at first,

“I’ll take my turn, try soldiership.”—“What, you?

“The eldest son and heir and prop o’ the house,

“So do you see your duty? Here’s your post,

“Hard by the hearth and altar. (Roam from roof,

“This youngster, play the gypsy out of doors,

“And who keeps kith and kin that fall on us?)

“Stand fast, stick tight, conserve your gods at home!”

“— Well then, the quiet course, the contrary trade!

“We had a cousin amongst us once was Pope,

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“And minor glories manifold. Try the Church,

“The tonsure, and — since heresy’s but half-slain

“Even by the Cardinal’s tract he thought he wrote —

“Have at Molinos!”—“Have at a fool’s head!

“You a priest? How were marriage possible?

“There must be Franceschini till time ends —

“That’s your vocation. Make your brothers priests,

“Paul shall be porporate, and Girolamo step

“Red- stockinged in the presence when you choose,

“But save one Franceschini for the age!

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“Be not the vine but dig and dung its root,

“Be not a priest but gird up priesthood’s loins,

“With one foot in Arezzo stride to Rome,

“Spend yourself there and bring the purchase back!

“Go hence to Rome, be guided!”

So I was.

I turned alike from the hill-side zig-zag thread

Of way to the table-land a soldier takes,

Alike from the low-lying pasture-place

Where churchmen graze, recline, and ruminate,

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— Ventured to mount no platform like my lords

Who judge the world, bear brain I dare not brag —

But stationed me, might thus the expression serve,

As who should fetch and carry, come and go,

Meddle and make i’ the cause my lords love most —

The public weal, which hangs to the law, which holds

By the Church, which happens to be through God himself.

Humbly I helped the Church till here I stand —

Or would stand but for the omoplat, you see!

Bidden qualify for Rome, I, having a field,

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Went, sold it, laid the sum at Peter’s foot:

Which means — I settled home-accounts with speed,

Set apart just a modicum should suffice

To keep the villa’s head above the waves

Of weed inundating its oil and wine,

And prop roof, stanchion wall o’ the palace so

It should keep breath i’ the body, hold its own

Amid the advance of neighbouring loftiness —

(People like building where they used to beg)—

Till succoured one day — shared the residue

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Between my mother and brothers and sisters there,

Black-eyed babe Donna This and Donna That,

As near to starving as might decently be,

— Left myself journey-charges, change of suit,

A purse to put i’ the pocket of the Groom

O’ the Chamber of the patron, and a glove

With a ring to it for the digits of the niece

Sure to be helpful in his household — then

Started for Rome, and led the life prescribed.

Close to the Church, though clean of it, I assumed

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Three or four orders of no consequence,

They cast out evil spirits and exorcise,

For example; bind a man to nothing more,

Give clerical savour to his layman’s-salt,

Facilitate his claim to loaf and fish

Should miracle leave, beyond what feeds the flock,

Fragments to brim the basket of a friend —

While, for the world’s sake, I rode, danced, and gamed,

Quitted me like a courtier, measured mine

With whatsoever blade had fame in fence,

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— Ready to let the basket go its round

Even though my turn was come to help myself,

Should Dives count on me at dinner-time

As just the understander of a joke

And not immoderate in repartee.

Utrique sic paratus, Sirs, I said

“Here,” (in the fortitude of years fifteen,

So good a pedagogue is penury)

“Here wait, do service — serving and to serve!

“And, in due time, I nowise doubt at all,

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“The recognition of my service comes.

“Next year I’m only sixteen. I can wait.”

I waited thirty years, may it please the Court:

Saw meanwhile many a denizen o’ the dung

Hop, skip, jump o’er my shoulder, make him wings

And fly aloft — succeed, in the usual phrase.

Every one soon or late comes round by Rome:

Stand still here, you’ll see all in turn succeed.

Why, look you, so and so, the physician here,

My father’s lacquey’s son we sent to school,

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Doctored and dosed this Eminence and that,

Salved the last Pope his certain obstinate sore,

Soon bought land as became him, names it now:

I grasp bell at his griffin-guarded gate,

Traverse the half-mile avenue — a term,

A cypress, and a statue, three and three —

Deliver message from my Monsignor,

With varletry at lounge i’ the vestibule

I’m barred from, who bear mud upon my shoe.

My father’s chaplain’s nephew, Chamberlain —

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Nothing less, please you! — courteous all the same,

— He does not see me though I wait an hour

At his staircase-landing ’twixt the brace of busts,

A noseless Sylla, Marius maimed to match,

My father gave him for a hexastich

Made on my birth-day — but he sends me down,

To make amends, that relic I prize most —

The unburnt end o’ the very candle, Sirs,

Purfled with paint so prettily round and round,

He carried in such state last Peter’s day —

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In token I, his gentleman and squire,

Had held the bridle, walked his managed mule

Without a tittup the procession through.

Nay, the official — one you know, sweet lords! —

Who drew the warrant for my transfer late

To the New Prisons from Tordinona — he

Graciously had remembrance —“Francesc . . . ha?

“His sire, now — how a thing shall come about! —

“Paid me a dozen florins above the fee,

“For drawing deftly up a deed of sale

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“When troubles fell so thick on him, good heart,

“And I was prompt and pushing! By all means!

“At the New Prisons be it his son shall lie —

“Anything for an old friend!” and thereat

Signed name with triple flourish underneath.

These were my fellows, such their fortunes now,

While I— kept fasts and feasts innumerable,

Matins and vespers, functions to no end

I’ the train of Monsignor and Eminence,

As gentleman-squire, and for my zeal’s reward

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Have rarely missed a place at the table- foot

Except when some Ambassador, or such like,

Brought his own people. Brief, one day I felt

The tick of time inside me, turning-point

And slight sense there was now enough of this:

That I was near my seventh climacteric,

Hard upon, if not over, the middle life,

And, although fed by the east-wind, fulsome- fine

With foretaste of the Land of Promise, still

My gorge gave symptom it might play me false;

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Better not press it further — be content

With living and dying only a nobleman,

Who merely had a father great and rich,

Who simply had one greater and richer yet,

And so on back and back till first and best

Began i’ the night; I finish in the day.

“The mother must be getting old,” I said,

“The sisters are well wedded away, our name

“Can manage to pass a sister off, at need,

“And do for dowry: both my brothers thrive —

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“Regular priests they are, nor, hat-like, ’bide

“’Twixt flesh and fowl with neither privilege.

“My spare revenue must keep me and mine.

“I am tired: Arezzo’s air is good to breathe;

“Vittiano — one limes flocks of thrushes there;

“A leathern coat costs little and lasts long:

“Let me bid hope good-bye, content at home!”

Thus, one day, I disbosomed me and bowed.

Whereat began the little buzz and thrill

O’ the gazers round me; each face brightened up:

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As when at your Casino, deep in dawn,

A gamester says at last, “I play no more,

“Forego gain, acquiesce in loss, withdraw

“Anyhow:” and the watchers of his ways,

A trifle struck compunctious at the word,

Yet sensible of relief, breathe free once more,

Break up the ring, venture polite advice —

“How, Sir? So scant of heart and hope indeed?

“Retire with neither cross nor pile from play? —

“So incurious, so short-casting? — give your chance

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“To a younger, stronger, bolder spirit belike,

“Just when luck turns and the fine throw sweeps all?”

Such was the chorus: and its good will meant —

“See that the loser leave door handsomely!

“There’s an ill look — it’s sinister, spoils sport,

“When an old bruised and battered year-by-year

“Fighter with fortune, not a penny in poke,

“Reels down the steps of our establishment

“And staggers on broad daylight and the world,

“In shagrag beard and doleful doublet, drops

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“And breaks his heart on the outside: people prate

“‘Such is the profit of a trip upstairs!’

“Contrive he sidle forth, baulked of the blow

“Best dealt by way of moral, bidding down

“No curse but blessings rather on our heads

“For some poor prize he bears at tattered breast,

“Some palpable sort of kind of good to set

“Over and against the grievance: give him quick!”

Whereon protested Paul, “Go hang yourselves!

“Leave him to me. Count Guido and brother of mine,

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“A word in your ear! Take courage since faint heart

“Ne’er won . . . aha, fair lady, don’t men say?

“There’s a sors, there’s a right Virgilian dip!

“Do you see the happiness o’ the hint? At worst,

“If the Church want no more of you, the Court

“No more, and the Camp as little, the ingrates — come,

“Count you are counted: still you’ve coat to back,

“Not cloth of gold and tissue, as we hoped,

“But cloth with sparks and spangles on its frieze

“From Camp, Court, Church, enough to make a shine,

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“Entitle you to carry home a wife

“With the proper dowry, let the worst betide!

“Why, it was just a wife you meant to take!”

Now, Paul’s advice was weighty: priests should know:

And Paul apprised me, ere the week was out,

That Pietro and Violante, the easy pair,

The cits enough, with stomach to be more,

Had just the daughter and exact the sum

To truck for the quality of myself: “She’s young,

“Pretty and rich: you’re noble, classic, choice.

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“Is it to be a match?” “A match,” said I.

Done! He proposed all, I accepted all,

And we performed all. So I said and did

Simply. As simply followed, not at first

But with the outbreak of misfortune, still

One comment on the saying and doing —“What?

“No blush at the avowal you dared buy

“A girl of age beseems your granddaughter,

“Like ox or ass? Are flesh and blood a ware?

“Are heart and soul a chattel?”

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        Softly, Sirs!

Will the Court of its charity teach poor me

Anxious to learn, of any way i’ the world,

Allowed by custom and convenience, save

This same which, taught from my youth up, I trod?

Take me along with you; where was the wrong step?

If what I gave in barter, style and state

And all that hangs to Franceschinihood,

Were worthless — why, society goes to ground,

Its rules are idiot’s-rambling. Honour of birth —

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If that thing has no value, cannot buy

Something with value of another sort,

You’ve no reward nor punishment to give

I’ the giving or the taking honour; straight

Your social fabric, pinnacle to base,

Comes down a-clatter like a house of cards.

Get honour, and keep honour free from flaw,

Aim at still higher honour — gabble o’ the goose!

Go bid a second blockhead like myself

Spend fifty years in guarding bubbles of breath,

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Soapsuds with air i’ the belly, gilded brave,

Guarded and guided, all to break at touch

O’ the first young girl’s hand and first old fool’s purse!

All my privation and endurance, all

Love, loyalty, and labour dared and did,

Fiddle-de-dee! — why, doer and darer both —

Count Guido Franceschini had hit the mark

Far better, spent his life with more effect,

As a dancer or a prizer, trades that pay!

On the other hand, bid this buffoonery cease,

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Admit that honour is a privilege,

The question follows, privilege worth what?

Why, worth the market-price — now up, now down,

Just so with this as with all other ware:

Therefore essay the market, sell your name,

Style and condition to who buys them best!

“Does my name purchase,” had I dared inquire,

“Your niece, my lord?” there would have been rebuff

Though courtesy, your lordship cannot else —

“Not altogether! Rank for rank may stand:

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“But I have wealth beside, you — poverty;

“Your scale flies up there: bid a second bid,

“Rank too, and wealth too!” Reasoned like yourself!

But was it to you I went with goods to sell?

This time ’twas my scale quietly kissed the ground,

Mere rank against mere wealth — some youth beside,

Some beauty too, thrown into the bargain, just

As the buyer likes or lets alone. I thought

To deal o’ the square: others find fault, it seems:

The thing is, those my offer most concerned,

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Pietro, Violante, cried they fair or foul?

What did they make o’ the terms? Preposterous terms?

Why then accede so promptly, close with such

Nor take a minute to chaffer? Bargain struck,

They straight grew bilious, wished their money back,

Repented them, no doubt: why, so did I,

So did your lordship, if town-talk be true,

Of paying a full farm’s worth for that piece

By Pietro of Cortona — probably

His scholar Ciro Ferri may have retouched —

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You caring more for colour than design —

Getting a little tired of cupids too.

That’s incident to all the folk who buy!

I am charged, I know, with gilding fact by fraud;

I falsified and fabricated, wrote

Myself down roughly richer than I prove,

Rendered a wrong revenue — grant it all!

Mere grace, mere coquetry such fraud, I say:

A flourish round the figures of a sum

For fashion’s sake, that deceives nobody.

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The veritable back-bone, understood

Essence of this same bargain, blank and bare,

Being the exchange of quality for wealth —

What may such fancy-flights be? Flecks of oil

Flirted by chapmen where plain dealing grates.

I may have dripped a drop —“My name I sell;

“Not but that I too boast my wealth”— as they,

“— We bring you riches; still our ancestor

“Was hardly the rapscallion, folks saw flogged,

“But heir to we know who, were rights of force!”

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They knew and I knew where the back-bone lurked

I’ the writhings of the bargain, lords, believe!

I paid down all engaged for, to a doit,

Delivered them just that which, their life long,

They hungered in the hearts of them to gain —

Incorporation with nobility thus

In word and deed: for that they gave me wealth.

But when they came to try their gain, my gift,

Quit Rome and qualify for Arezzo, take

The tone o’ the new sphere that absorbed the old,

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Put away gossip Jack and goody Joan

And go become familiar with the Great,

Greatness to touch and taste and handled now —

Why, then — they found that all was vanity,

Vexation, and what Solomon describes!

The old abundant city-fare was best,

The kindly warmth o’ the commons, the glad clap

Of the equal on the shoulder, the frank grin

Of the underling at all so many spoons

Fire-new at neighbourly treat — best, best and best

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Beyond compare! — down to the loll itself

O’ the pot-house settle — better such a bench

Than the stiff crucifixion by my dais

Under the piece-meal damask canopy

With the coroneted coat of arms a-top!

Poverty and privation for pride’s sake,

All they engaged to easily brave and bear —

With the fit upon them and their brains a-work —

Proved unendurable to the sobered sots.

A banished prince, now, will exude a juice

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And salamander-like support the flame:

He dines on chestnuts, chucks the husks to help

The broil o’ the brazier, pays the due baioc,

Goes off light-hearted: his grimace begins

At the funny humours of the christening-feast

Of friend the money-lender — then he’s touched

By the flame and frizzles at the babe to kiss!

Here was the converse trial, opposite mind:

Here did a petty nature split on rock

Of vulgar wants predestinate for such —

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One dish at supper and weak wine to boot!

The prince had grinned and borne: the citizen shrieked,

Summoned the neighbourhood to attest the wrong,

Made noisy protest he was murdered — stoned

And burned and drowned and hanged — then broke away,

He and his wife, to tell their Rome the rest.

And this you admire, you men o’ the world, my lords?

This moves compassion, makes you doubt my faith?

Why, I appeal to . . . sun and moon? Not I!

Rather to Plautus, Terence, Boccaccio’s Book,

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My townsman, frank Ser Franco’s merry Tales —

To all who strip a vizard from a face,

A body from its padding, and a soul

From froth and ignorance it styles itself —

If this be other than the daily hap

Of purblind greed that dog-like still drops bone,

Grasps shadow, and then howls the case is hard!

So much for them so far: now for myself,

My profit or loss i’ the matter: married am I:

Text whereon friendly censors burst to preach.

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Ay, at Rome even, long ere I was left

To regulate her life for my young bride

Alone at Arezzo, friendliness outbroke

(Sifting my future to predict its fault)

“Purchase and sale being thus so plain a point

“How of a certain soul bound up, may-be,

“I’ the barter with the body and money- bags?

“From the bride’s soul what is it you expect?”

Why, loyalty and obedience — wish and will

To settle and suit her fresh and plastic mind

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To the novel, nor disadvantageous mould!

Father and mother shall the woman leave,

Cleave to the husband, be it for weal or woe:

There is the law: what sets this law aside

In my particular case? My friends submit

“Guide, guardian, benefactor — fee, faw, fum,

“The fact is you are forty-five years old,

“Nor very comely even for that age:

“Girls must have boys.” Why, let girls say so then,

Nor call the boys and men, who say the same,

590

Brute this and beast the other as they do!

Come, cards on table! When you chaunt us next

Epithalamium full to overflow

With praise and glory of white womanhood,

The chaste and pure — troll no such lies o’er lip!

Put in their stead a crudity or two,

Such short and simple statement of the case

As youth chalks on our walls at spring of year!

No! I shall still think nobler of the sex,

Believe a woman still may take a man

600

For the short period that his soul wears flesh,

And, for the soul’s sake, understand the fault

Of armour frayed by fighting. Tush, it tempts

One’s tongue too much! I’ll say — the law’s the law:

With a wife, I look to find all wifeliness,

As when I buy, timber and twig, a tree —

I buy the song o’ the nightingale inside.

Such was the pact: Pompilia from the first

Broke it, refused from the beginning day

Either in body or soul to cleave to mine,

610

And published it forthwith to all the world.

No rupture — you must join ere you can break —

Before we had cohabited a month

She found I was a devil and no man —

Made common cause with those who found as much,

Her parents, Pietro and Violante — moved

Heaven and earth to the rescue of all three.

In four months’ time, the time o’ the parents’ stay,

Arezzo was a-ringing, bells in a blaze,

With the unimaginable story rife

620

I’ the mouth of man, woman, and child — to wit

My misdemeanour. First the lighter side,

Ludicrous face of things — how very poor

The Franceschini had become at last,

The meanness and the misery of each shift

To save a soldo, stretch and make ends meet.

Next, the more hateful aspect — how myself

With cruelty beyond Caligula’s

Had stripped and beaten, robbed and murdered them.

The good old couple, I decoyed, abused,

630

Plundered and then cast out, and happily so,

Since — in due course the abominable comes —

Woe worth the poor young wife left lonely here!

Repugnant in my person as my mind,

I sought — was ever heard of such revenge?

— To lure and bind her to so cursed a couch,

Such co-embrace with sulphur, snake and toad,

That she was fain to rush forth, call the stones

O’ the common street to save her, not from hate

Of mine merely, but . . . must I burn my lips

640

With the blister of the lie? . . . the satyr-love

Of who but my own brother, the young priest,

Too long enforced to lenten fare belike,

Now tempted by the morsel tossed him full

I’ the trencher where lay bread and herbs at best.

Mark, this yourselves say! — this, none disallows,

Was charged to me by the universal voice

At the instigation of my four-months’ wife! —

And then you ask “Such charges so preferred,

“(Truly or falsely, here concerns us not)

650

“Pricked you to punish now if not before? —

“Did not the harshness double itself, the hate

“Harden?” I answer “Have it your way and will!”

Say my resentment grew apace: what then?

Do you cry out on the marvel? When I find

That pure smooth egg which, laid within my nest,

Could not but hatch a comfort to us all,

Issues a cockatrice for me and mine,

Do you stare to see me stamp on it? Swans are soft:

Is it not clear that she you call my wife,

660

That any wife of any husband, caught

Whetting a sting like this against his breast —

Speckled with fragments of the fresh-broke shell,

Married a month and making outcry thus —

Proves a plague-prodigy to God and man?

She married: what was it she married for,

Counted upon and meant to meet thereby?

“Love” suggests some one, “love, a little word

“Whereof we have not heard one syllable.”

So, the Pompilia, child, girl, wife, in one,

670

Wanted the beating pulse, the rolling eye,

The frantic gesture, the devotion due

From Thyrsis to Neæra! Guido’s love —

Why not provençal roses in his shoe,

Plume to his cap, and trio of guitars

At casement, with a bravo close beside?

Good things all these are, clearly claimable

When the fit price is paid the proper way.

Had it been some friend’s wife, now, threw her fan

At my foot, with just this pretty scrap attached,

680

“Shame, death, damnation — fall these as they may,

“So I find you, for a minute! Come this eve!”

— Why, at such sweet self-sacrifice — who knows?

I might have fired up, found me at my post,

Ardent from head to heel, nor feared catch cough.

Nay, had some other friend’s . . . say, daughter, tripped

Upstairs and tumbled flat and frank on me,

Bareheaded and barefooted, with loose hair

And garments all at large — cried “Take me thus!

“Duke So-and-So, the greatest man in Rome —

690

“To escape his hand and heart have I broke bounds,

“Traversed the town and reached you!”— Then, indeed,

The lady had not reached a man of ice!

I would have rummaged, ransacked at the word

Those old odd corners of an empty heart

For remnants of dim love the long disused,

And dusty crumblings of romance! But here,

We talk of just a marriage, if you please —

The every-day conditions and no more;

Where do these bind me to bestow one drop

700

Of blood shall dye my wife’s true-love-knot pink?

Pompilia was no pigeon, Venus’ pet,

That shuffled from between her pressing paps

To sit on my rough shoulder — but a hawk,

I bought at a hawk’s price and carried home

To do hawk’s service — at the Rotunda, say,

Where, six o’ the callow nestlings in a row,

You pick and choose and pay the price for such.

I have paid my pound, await my penny’s worth,

So, hoodwink, starve, and properly train my bird,

710

And, should she prove a haggard — twist her neck!

Did I not pay my name and style, my hope

And trust, my all? Through spending these amiss

I am here! ’Tis scarce the gravity of the Court

Will blame me that I never piped a tune,

Treated my falcon-gentle like my finch.

The obligation I incurred was just

To practise mastery, prove my mastership:—

Pompilia’s duty was — submit herself,

Afford me pleasure, perhaps cure my bile.

720

Am I to teach my lords what marriage means,

What God ordains thereby and man fulfils

Who, docile to the dictate, treads the house?

My lords have chosen the happier part with Paul

And neither marry nor burn — yet priestliness

Can find a parallel to the marriage-bond

In its own blessed special ordinance

Whereof indeed was marriage made the type:

The Church may show her insubordinate,

As marriage her refractory. How of the Monk

730

Who finds the claustral regimen too sharp

After the first month’s essay? What’s the mode

With the Deacon who supports indifferently

The rod o’ the Bishop when he tastes its smart

Full four weeks? Do you straightway slacken hold

Of the innocents, the all-unwary ones

Who, eager to profess, mistook their mind? —

Remit a fast-day’s rigour to the Monk

Who fancied Francis’ manna meant roast quails,

Concede the Deacon sweet society,

740

He never thought the levite-rule renounced —

Or rather prescribe short chain and sharp scourge

Corrective of such peccant humours? This —

I take to be the Church’s mode, and mine,

If I was over-harsh — the worse i’ the wife

Who did not win from harshness as she ought,

Wanted the patience and persuasion, lore

Of love, should cure me and console herself.

Put case that I mishandle, flurry, and fright

My hawk through clumsiness in sportsmanship,

750

Twitch out five pens where plucking one would serve —

What, shall she bite and claw to mend the case?

And, if you find I pluck five more for that,

Shall you weep “Now he roughs the turtle there?”

Such was the starting; now of the further step.

In lieu of taking penance in good part,

The Monk, with hue and cry, summons a mob

To make a bonfire of the convent, say —

And the Deacon’s pretty piece of virtue (save

The ears o’ the Court! I try to save my head)

760

Instructed by the ingenuous postulant,

Taxes the Bishop with adultery (mud

Needs must pair off with mud, and filth with filth)—

Such being my next experience: who knows not —

The couple, father and mother of my wife,

Returned to Rome, published before my lords,

Put into print, made circulate far and wide

That they had cheated me who cheated them?

Pompilia, I supposed their daughter, drew

Breath first ’mid Rome’s worst rankness, through the deed

770

Of a drab and a rogue, was bye-blow bastard-babe

Of a nameless strumpet, passed off, palmed on me

As the daughter with the dowry. Daughter? Dirt

O’ the kennel! Dowry? Dust o’ the street! Nought more,

Nought less, nought else but — oh — ah — assuredly

A Franceschini and my very wife!

Now take this charge as you will, for false or true —

This charge, preferred before your very selves

Who judge me now — I pray you, adjudge again,

Classing it with the cheats or with the lies,

780

By which category I suffer most!

But of their reckoning, theirs who dealt with me

In either fashion — I reserve my word,

Justify that in its place; I am now to say,

Whichever point o’ the charge might poison most,

Pompilia’s duty was no doubtful one.

You put the protestation in her mouth

“Henceforward and forevermore, avaunt

“Ye fiends, who drop disguise and glare revealed

“In your own shape, no longer father mine

790

“Nor mother mine! Too nakedly you hate

“Me whom you looked as if you loved once — me

“Whom, whether true or false, your tale now damns,

“Divulged thus to my public infamy,

“Private perdition, absolute overthrow.

“For, hate my husband to your hearts’ content,

“I, spoil and prey of you from first to last,

“I who have done you the blind service, lured

“The lion to your pit-fall — I, thus left

“To answer for my ignorant bleating there,

800

“I should have been remembered and withdrawn

“From the first o’ the natural fury, not flung loose

“A proverb and a byeword men will mouth

“At the cross-way, in the corner, up and down

“Rome and Arezzo — there, full in my face,

“If my lord, missing them and finding me,

“Content himself with casting his reproach

“To drop i’ the street where such impostors die.

“Ah, but — that husband, what the wonder were! —

“If, far from casting thus away the rag

810

“Smeared with the plague, his hand had chanced upon,

“Sewn to his pillow by Locusta’s wile —

“Far from abolishing, root, stem, and branch,

“The misgrowth of infectious mistletoe

“Foisted into his stock for honest graft —

“If he, repudiate not, renounce nowise,

“But, guarding, guiding me, maintain my cause

“By making it his own (what other way?)

“— To keep my name for me, he call it his,

“Claim it of who would take it by their lie —

820

“To save my wealth for me — or babe of mine

“Their lie was framed to beggar at the birth —

“He bid them loose grasp, give our gold again:

“Refuse to become partner with the pair

“Even in a game which, played adroitly, gives

“Its winner life’s great wonderful new chance —

“Of marrying, to- wit, a second time —

“Ah, did he do thus, what a friend were he!

“Anger he might show — who can stamp out flame

“Yet spread no black o’ the brand? — yet, rough albeit

830

“In the act, as whose bare feet feel embers scorch.

“What grace were his, what gratitude were mine!”

Such protestation should have been my wife’s.

Looking for this, do I exact too much?

Why, here’s the — word for word so much, no more —

Avowal she made, her pure spontaneous speech

To my brother the Abate at first blush,

Ere the good impulse had begun to fade —

So did she make confession for the pair,

So pour forth praises in her own behalf.

840

“Ay, the false letter,” interpose my lords —

“The simulated writing — ’twas a trick:

“You traced the signs, she merely marked the same,

“The product was not hers but yours.” Alack,

I want no more impulsion to tell truth

From the other trick, the torture inside there!

I confess all — let it be understood —

And deny nothing! If I baffle you so,

Can so fence, in the plenitude of right,

That my poor lathen dagger puts aside

850

Each pass o’ the Bilboa, beats you all the same —

What matters inefficiency of blade?

Mine and not hers the letter — conceded, lords!

Impute to me that practice! — take as proved

I taught my wife her duty, made her see

What it behoved her see and say and do,

Feel in her heart and with her tongue declare,

And, whether sluggish or recalcitrant,

Forced her to take the right step, I myself

Marching in mere marital rectitude!

860

And who finds fault here, say the tale be true?

Would not my lords commend the priest whose zeal

Seized on the sick, morose, or moribund,

By the palsy-smitten finger, made it cross

His brow correctly at the critical time?

— Or answered for the inarticulate babe

At baptism, in its stead declared the faith,

And saved what else would perish unprofessed?

True, the incapable hand may rally yet,

Renounce the sign with renovated strength —

870

The babe may grow up man and Molinist —

And so Pompilia, set in the good path

And left to go alone there, soon might see

That too frank-forward, all too simple- strait

Her step was, and decline to tread the rough,

When here lay, tempting foot, the meadow-side,

And there the coppice called with singing-birds!

Soon she discovered she was young and fair,

That many in Arezzo knew as much —

Yes, this next cup of bitterness, my lords,

880

Had to begin go filling, drop by drop,

Its measure up of full disgust for me,

Filtered into by every noisome drain —

Society’s sink toward which all moisture runs.

Would not you prophesy —“She on whose brow is stamped

“The note of the imputation that we know —

“Rightly or wrongly mothered with a whore —

“Such an one, to disprove the frightful charge,

“What will she but exaggerate chastity,

“Err in excess of wifehood, as it were,

890

“Renounce even levities permitted youth,

“Though not youth struck to age by a thunderbolt?

“Cry ‘wolf’ i’ the sheepfold, where’s the sheep dares bleat,

“Knowing the shepherd listens for a growl?”

So you expect. How did the devil decree?

Why, my lords, just the contrary of course!

It was in the house from the window, at the church

From the hassock — where the theatre lent its lodge,

Or staging for the public show left space —

That still Pompilia needs must find herself

900

Launching her looks forth, letting looks reply

As arrows to a challenge; on all sides

Ever new contribution to her lap,

Till one day, what is it knocks at my clenched teeth

But the cup full, curse- collected all for me?

And I must needs drink, drink this gallant’s praise,

That minion’s prayer, the other fop’s reproach,

And come at the dregs to — Caponsacchi! Sirs,

I— chin deep in a marsh of misery,

Struggling to extricate my name and fame

910

And fortune from the marsh would drown them all,

My face the sole unstrangled part of me —

I must have this new gad-fly in that face,

Must free me from the attacking lover too!

Men say I battled ungracefully enough —

Was harsh, uncouth and ludicrous beyond

The proper part o’ the husband: have it so!

Your lordships are considerate at least —

You order me to speak in my defence

Plainly, expect no quavering tuneful trills

920

As when you bid a singer solace you —

Nor look that I shall give it, for a grace,

Stans pede in uno: — you remember well

In the one case, ’tis a plainsong too severe,

This story of my wrongs — and that I ache

And need a chair, in the other. Ask you me

Why, when I felt this trouble flap my face,

Already pricked with every shame could perch —

When, with her parents, my wife plagued me too —

Why I enforced not exhortation mild

930

To leave whore’s-tricks and let my brows alone,

With mulct of comfits, promise of perfume?

“Far from that! No, you took the opposite course,

“Breathed threatenings, rage and slaughter!” What you will!

And the end has come, the doom is verily here,

Unhindered by the threatening. See fate’s flare

Full on each face of the dead guilty three!

Look at them well, and now, lords, look at this!

Tell me: if on that day when I found first

That Caponsacchi thought the nearest way

940

To his church was some half-mile round by my door,

And that he so admired, shall I suppose,

The manner of the swallows’ come-and- go

Between the props o’ the window over-head —

That window happening to be my wife’s —

As to stand gazing by the hour on high,

Of May-eves, while she sat and let him smile —

If I— instead of threatening, talking big,

Showing hair-powder, a prodigious pinch,

For poison in a bottle — making believe

950

At desperate doings with a bauble-sword,

And other bugaboo-and-baby-work —

Had, with the vulgarest household implement,

Calmly and quietly cut off, clean thro’ bone,

But one joint of one finger of my wife,

Saying “For listening to the serenade,

“Here’s your ring-finger shorter a full third:

“Be certain I will slice away next joint,

“Next time that anybody underneath

“Seems somehow to be sauntering as he hoped

960

“A flower would eddy out of your hand to his

“While you please fidget with the branch above

“O’ the rose-tree in the terrace!”— had I done so,

Why, there had followed a quick sharp scream, some pain,

Much calling for plaister, damage to the dress,

A somewhat sulky countenance next day,

Perhaps reproaches — but reflections too!

I don’t hear much of harm that Malchus did

After the incident of the ear, my lords!

Saint Peter took the efficacious way;

970

Malchus was sore but silenced for his life:

He did not hang himself i’ the Potter’s Field

Like Judas, who was trusted with the bag

And treated to sops after he proved a thief.

So, by this time, my true and obedient wife

Might have been telling beads with a gloved hand;

Awkward a little at pricking hearts and darts

On sampler possibly, but well otherwise:

Not where Rome shudders now to see her lie.

I give that for the course a wise man takes;

980

I took the other however, tried the fool’s,

The lighter remedy, brandished rapier dread

With cork-ball at the tip, boxed Malchus’ ear

Instead of severing the cartilage,

Called her a terrible nickname, and the like

And there an end: and what was the end of that?

What was the good effect o’ the gentle course?

Why, one night I went drowsily to bed,

Dropped asleep suddenly, not suddenly woke,

But did wake with rough rousing and loud cry,

990

To find noon in my face, a crowd in my room,

Fumes in my brain, fire in my throat, my wife

Gone God knows whither — rifled vesture-chest,

And ransacked money-coffer. “What does it mean?”

The servants had been drugged too, stared and yawned.

“It must be that our lady has eloped!”

—“Whither and with whom?”—“With whom but the Canon’s self?

“One recognises Caponsacchi there!”—

(By this time the admiring neighbourhood

Joined chorus round me while I rubbed my eyes)

1000

“’Tis months since their intelligence began —

“A comedy the town was privy to —

“He wrote and she wrote, she spoke, he replied,

“And going in and out your house last night

“Was easy work for one . . . to be plain with you . . .

“Accustomed to do both, at dusk and dawn

“When you were absent — at the villa, you know,

“Where husbandry required the master-mind.

“Did not you know? Why, we all knew, you see!”

And presently, bit by bit, the full and true

1010

Particulars of the tale were volunteered

With all the breathless zeal of friendship —“Thus

“Matters were managed: at the seventh hour of night” . . .

—“Later, at daybreak” . . . “Caponsacchi came” . . .

—“While you and all your household slept like death,

“Drugged as your supper was with drowsy stuff” . . .

—“And your own cousin Guillichini too —

“Either or both entered your dwelling-place,

“Plundered it at their pleasure, made prize of all,

“Including your wife . . . ”—“Oh, your wife led the way,

“Out of doors, on to the gate . . . ”—“But gates are shut,

1021

“In a decent town, to darkness and such deeds:

“They climbed the wall — your lady must be lithe —

“At the gap, the broken bit . . . ”—“Torrione, true!

“To escape the questioning guard at the proper gate,

“Clemente, where at the inn, hard by, ‘the Horse,’

“Just outside, a calash in readiness

“Took the two principals, all alone at last,

“To gate San Spirito, which o’erlooks the road,

“Leads to Perugia, Rome and liberty.”

1030

Bit by bit thus made-up mosaic- wise,

Flat lay my fortune — tesselated floor,

Imperishable tracery devils should foot

And frolic it on, around my broken gods,

Over my desecrated hearth.

        So much

For the terrible effect of threatening, Sirs!

Well, this way I was shaken wide awake,

Doctored and drenched, somewhat unpoisoned so;

Then, set on horseback and bid seek the lost,

1040

I started alone, head of me, heart of me

Fire, and each limb as languid . . . ah, sweet lords,

Bethink you! — poison-torture, try persuade

The next refractory Molinist with that! . . .

Floundered thro’ day and night, another day

And yet another night, and so at last,

As Lucifer kept falling to find hell,

Tumbled into the court-yard of an inn

At the end, and fell on whom I thought to find,

Even Caponsacchi — what part once was priest,

1050

Cast to the winds now with the cassock-rags:

In cape and sword a cavalier confessed,

There stood he chiding dilatory grooms,

Chafing that only horseflesh and no team

Of eagles would supply the last relay,

Whirl him along the league, the one post more

Between the couple and Rome and liberty.

’Twas dawn, the couple were rested in a sort,

And though the lady, tired — the tenderer sex —

Still lingered in her chamber — to adjust

1060

The limp hair, look for any blush astray —

She would descend in a twinkling — “Have you out

“The horses therefore!”

        So did I find my wife.

Is the case complete? Do your eyes here see with mine?

Even the parties dared deny no one

Point out of all these points.

        What follows next?

“Why, that then was the time,” you interpose,

“Or then or never, while the fact was fresh,

1070

“To take the natural vengeance: there and thus

“They and you — somebody had stuck a sword

“Beside you while he pushed you on your horse —

“’Twas requisite to slay the couple, Count!”

Just so my friends say —“Kill!” they cry in a breath,

Who presently, when matters grow to a head

And I do kill the offending ones indeed —

When crime of theirs, only surmised before,

Is patent, proved indisputably now —

When remedy for wrong, untried at the time,

1080

Which law professes shall not fail a friend,

Is thrice tried now, found threefold worse than null —

When what might turn to transient shade, who knows?

Solidifies into a blot which breaks

Hell’s black off in pale flakes for fear of mine —

Then, when I claim and take revenge —“So rash?”

They cry —“so little reverence for the law?”

Listen, my masters, and distinguish here!

At first, I called in law to act and help:

Seeing I do so, “Why, ’tis clear,” they cry,

1090

“You shrank from gallant readiness and risk,

“Were coward: the thing’s inexplicable else.”

Sweet my lords, let the thing be! I fall flat,

Play the reed, not the oak, to breath of man.

Only, inform my ignorance! Say I stand

Convicted of the having been afraid,

Proved a poltroon, no lion but a lamb —

Does that deprive me of my right of lamb

And give my fleece and flesh to the first wolf?

Are eunuchs, women, children, shieldless quite

1100

Against attack their own timidity tempts?

Cowardice were misfortune and no crime!

— Take it that way, since I am fallen so low

I scarce dare brush the fly that blows my face,

And thank the man who simply spits not there —

Unless the Court be generous, comprehend

How one brought up at the very feet of law

As I, awaits the grave Gamaliel’s nod

Ere he clench fist at outrage — much less, stab!

— How, ready enough to rise at the right time,

1110

I still could recognise no time mature

Unsanctioned by a move o’ the judgment-seat,

So, mute in misery, eyed my masters here

Motionless till the authoritative word

Pronounced amercement. There’s the riddle solved:

This is just why I slew nor her nor him,

But called in law, law’s delegate in the place,

And bade arrest the guilty couple, Sirs!

We had some trouble to do so — you have heard

They braved me — he with arrogance and scorn,

1120

She, with a volubility of curse,

A conversancy in the skill of tooth

And claw to make suspicion seem absurd,

Nay, an alacrity to put to proof

At my own throat my own sword, teach me so

To try conclusions better the next time —

Which did the proper service with the mob.

They never tried to put on mask at all:

Two avowed lovers forcibly torn apart,

Upbraid the tyrant as in a playhouse scene,

1130

Ay, and with proper clapping and applause

From the audience that enjoys the bold and free.

I kept still, said to myself, “There’s law!” Anon

We searched the chamber where they passed the night,

Found what confirmed the worst was feared before,

However needless confirmation now —

The witches’ circle intact, charms undisturbed

That raised the spirit and succubus — letters, to- wit,

Love-laden, each the bag o’ the bee that bore

Honey from lily and rose to Cupid’s hive —

1140

Now, poetry in some rank blossom-burst,

Now, prose — “Come here, go there, wait such a while,

“He’s at the villa, now he’s back again:

“We are saved, we are lost, we are lovers all the same!”

All in order, all complete — even to a clue

To the drowsiness that happed so opportune —

No mystery, when I read “Of all things, find

“What wine Sir Jealousy decides to drink —

“Red wine? Because a sleeping-potion, dust

“Dropped into white, discolours wine and shows.”

1150

—“Oh, but we did not write a single word!

“Somebody forged the letters in our name! —”

Both in a breath protested presently.

Aha, Sacchetti again! —“Dame,” quoth the Duke,

“What meaneth this epistle, counsel me,

“I pick from out thy placket and peruse,

“Wherein my page averreth thou art white

“And warm and wonderful ’twixt pap and pap?”

“Sir,” laughed the Lady “’tis a counterfeit!

“Thy page did never stroke but Dian’s breast,

1160

“The pretty hound I nurture for thy sake:

“To lie were losel — by my fay, no more!”

And no more say I too, and spare the Court.

Ah, the Court! yes, I come to the Court’s self;

Such the case, so complete in fact and proof

I laid at the feet of law — there sat my lords,

Here sit they now, so may they ever sit

In easier attitude than suits my haunch!

In this same chamber did I bare my sores

O’ the soul and not the body — shun no shame,

1170

Shrink from no probing of the ulcerous part,

Since confident in Nature — which is God —

That she who, for wise ends, concocts a plague,

Curbs, at the right time, the plague’s virulence too:

Law renovates even Lazarus — cures me!

Cæsar thou seekest? To Cæsar thou shalt go!

Cæsar’s at Rome; to Rome accordingly!

The case was soon decided: both weights, cast

I’ the balance, vibrate, neither kicks the beam,

Here away, there away, this now and now that.

1180

To every one o’ my grievances law gave

Redress, could purblind eye but see the point,

The wife stood a convicted runagate

From house and husband — driven to such a course

By what she somehow took for cruelty,

Oppression and imperilment of life —

Not that such things were, but that so they seemed:

Therefore, the end conceded lawful (since

To save life there’s no risk should stay our leap)

It follows that all means to the lawful end

1190

Are lawful likewise — poison, theft, and flight,

As for the priest’s part, did he meddle or make,

Enough that he too thought life jeopardised;

Concede him then the colour charity

Casts on a doubtful course — if blackish white

Or whitish black, will charity hesitate?

What did he else but act the precept out,

Leave, like a provident shepherd, his safe flock

To follow the single lamb and strayaway?

Best hope so and think so — that the ticklish time

1200

I’ the carriage, the tempting privacy, the last

Somewhat ambiguous accident at the inn,

— All may bear explanation: may? then, must!

The letters — do they so incriminate?

But what if the whole prove a prank o’ the pen,

Flight of the fancy, none of theirs at all,

Bred of the vapours of my brain belike,

Or at worst mere exercise of scholar’s-wit

In the courtly Caponsacchi: verse, convict?

Did not Catullus write less seemly once?

1210

Yet doctus and unblemished he abides.

Wherefore so ready to infer the worst?

Still, I did righteously in bringing doubts

For the law to solve — take the solution now!

“Seeing that the said associates, wife and priest,

“Bear themselves not without some touch of blame

“— Else why the pother, scandal, and outcry

“Which trouble our peace and require chastisement?

“We, for complicity in Pompilia’s flight

“And deviation, and carnal intercourse

1220

“With the same, do set aside and relegate

“The Canon Caponsacchi for three years

“At Civita in the neighbourhood of Rome:

“And we consign Pompilia to the care

“Of a certain Sisterhood of penitents

“I’ the city’s self, expert to deal with such.”

Word for word, there’s your judgment! Read it, lords,

Re- utter your deliberate penalty

For the crime yourselves establish! Your award —

Who chop a man’s right- hand off at the wrist

1230

For tracing with forefinger words in wine

O’ the table of a drinking-booth that bear

Interpretation as they mocked the Church!

— Who brand a woman black between the breasts

For sinning by connection with a Jew:

While for the Jew’s self — pudency be dumb!

You mete out punishment such and such, yet so

Punish the adultery of wife and priest!

Take note of that, before the Molinists do,

And read me right the riddle, since right must be!

1240

While I stood rapt away with wonderment,

Voices broke in upon my mood and muse.

“Do you sleep?” began the friends at either ear,

“The case is settled — you willed it should be so —

“None of our counsel, always recollect!

“With law’s award, budge! Back into your place!

“Your betters shall arrange the rest for you.

“We’ll enter a new action, claim divorce:

“Your marriage was a cheat themselves allow:

“You erred i’ the person — might have married thus

1250

“Your sister or your daughter unaware.

“We’ll gain you, that way, liberty at least,

“Sure of so much by law’s own showing. Up

“And off with you and your unluckiness —

“Leave us to bury the blunder, sweep things smooth!”

I was in humble frame of mind, be sure!

I bowed, betook me to my place again.

Station by station I retraced the road,

Touched at this hostel, passed this post-house by,

Where, fresh-remembered yet, the fugitives

1260

Had risen to the heroic stature: still —

“That was the bench they sat on — there’s the board

“They took the meal at — yonder garden-ground

“They leaned across the gate of,”— ever a word

O’ the Helen and the Paris, with “Ha! you’re he,

“The . . . much-commiserated husband?” Step

By step, across the pelting, did I reach

Arezzo, underwent the archway’s grin,

Traversed the length of sarcasm in the street,

Found myself in my horrible house once more,

1270

And after a colloquy . . . no word assists!

With the mother and the brothers, stiffened me

Strait out from head to foot as dead man does,

And, thus prepared for life as he for hell,

Marched to the public Square and met the world.

Apologise for the pincers, palliate screws?

Ply me with such toy-trifles, I entreat!

Trust who has tried both sulphur and sops-in-wine!

I played the man as I best might, bade friends

Put non-essentials by and face the fact.

1280

“What need to hang myself as you advise?

“The paramour is banished — the ocean’s width,

“Or the suburb’s length — to Ultima Thule, say,

“Or Proxima Civitas, what’s the odds of name

“And place? He’s banished, and the fact’s the thing.

“Why should law banish innocence an inch?

“Here’s guilt then, what else do I care to know?

“The adulteress lies imprisoned — whether in a well

“With bricks above and a snake for company,

“Or tied by a garter to a bed-post — much

1290

“I mind what’s little — least’s enough and to spare!

“The little fillip on the coward’s cheek

“Serves as though crab-tree cudgel broke his pate.

“Law has pronounced there’s punishment, less or more:

“And I take note o’ the fact and use it thus —

“For the first flaw in the original bond,

“I claim release. My contract was to wed

“The daughter of Pietro and Violante. Both

“Protest they never had a child at all.

“Then I have never made a contract: good!

1300

“Cancel me quick the thing pretended one.

“I shall be free. What matter if hurried over

“The harbour-boom by a great favouring tide,

“Or the last of a spent ripple that lifts and leaves?

“The Abate is about it. Laugh who wins!

“You shall not laugh me out of faith in law!

“I listen, through all your noise, to Rome!”

        Rome spoke.

In three months letters thence admonished me

“Your plan for the divorce is all mistake.

1310

“It would hold, now, had you, taking thought to wed

“Rachel of the blue eye and golden hair,

“Found swarth-skinned Leah cumber couch next day:

“But Rachel, blue-eyed golden-haired aright,

“Proving to be only Laban’s child, not Lot’s,

“Remains yours all the same for ever more.

“No whit to the purpose is your plea: you err

“I’ the person and the quality — nowise

“In the individual — that’s the case in point!

“You go to the ground — are met by a cross-suit

1320

“For separation, of the Rachel here,

“From bed and board — she is the injured one,

“You did the wrong and have to answer it.

“As for the circumstance of imprisonment

“And colour it lends to this your new attack,

“Never fear, that point is considered too!

“The durance is already at an end;

“The convent-quiet preyed upon her health,

“She is transferred now to her parents’ house

“— No-parents, when that cheats and plunders you,

1330

“But parentage again confessed in full,

“When such confession pricks and plagues you more —

“As now — for, this their house is not the house

“In Via Vittoria wherein neighbours’ watch

“Might incommode the freedom of your wife,

“But a certain villa smothered up in vines

“At the town’s edge by the gate i’ the Pauline way,

“Out of eye-reach, out of ear-shot, little and lone,

“Whither a friend — at Civita, we hope,

“A good half-dozen-hours’ ride off — might, some eve,

1340

“Betake himself, and whence ride back, some morn,

“Nobody the wiser: but be that as it may,

“Do not afflict your brains with trifles now.

“You have still three suits to manage, all and each

“Ruinous truly should the event play false.

“It is indeed the likelier so to do,

“That brother Paul, your single prop and stay,

“After a vain attempt to bring the Pope

“To set aside procedures, sit himself

“And summarily use prerogative,

1350

“Afford us the infallible finger’s tact

“To disentwine your tangle of affairs,

“Paul — finding it moreover past his strength

“To stem the irruption, bear Rome’s ridicule

“Of . . . since friends must speak . . . to be round with you . . .

“Of the old outwitted husband, wronged and wroth,

“Pitted against a brace of juveniles —

“A brisk priest who is versed in Ovid’s art

“More than his Summa, and a gamesome wife

“Able to act Corinna without book,

1360

“Beside the waggish parents who played dupes

“To dupe the duper —(and truly divers scenes

“Of the Arezzo palace, tickle rib

“And tease eye till the tears come, so we laugh;

“Nor wants the shock at the inn its comic force,

“And then the letters and poetry — merum sal!)

“— Paul, finally, in such a state of things,

“After a brief temptation to go jump

“And join the fishes in the Tiber, drowns

“Sorrow another and a wiser way:

1370

“House and goods, he has sold all off, is gone,

“Leaves Rome — whether for France or Spain, who knows?

“Or Briton almost divided from our orb.

“You have lost him anyhow.”

        Now — I see my lords

Shift in their seat — would I could do the same!

They probably please expect my bile was moved

To purpose, nor much blame me: now, they judge,

The fiery titillation urged my flesh

Break through the bonds. By your pardon, no, sweet Sirs!

1380

I got such missives in the public place;

When I sought home — with such news, mounted stair

And sat at last in the sombre gallery,

(’Twas Autumn, the old mother in bed betimes,

Having to bear that cold, the finer frame

Of her daughter-in-law had found intolerable —

The brother, walking misery away

O’ the mountain-side with dog and gun belike)

As I supped, ate the coarse bread, drank the wine

Weak once, now acrid with the toad’s-head-squeeze,

1390

My wife’s bestowment — I broke silence thus:

“Let me, a man, manfully meet the fact,

“Confront the worst o’ the truth, end, and have peace!

“I am irremediably beaten here —

“The gross illiterate vulgar couple — bah!

“Why, they have measured forces, mastered mine,

“Made me their spoil and prey from first to last.

“They have got my name — ’tis nailed now fast to theirs,

“The child or changeling is anyway my wife;

“Point by point as they plan they execute,

1400

“They gain all, and I lose all — even to the lure

“That led to loss — they have the wealth again

“They hazarded awhile to hook me with,

“Have caught the fish and find the bait entire:

“They even have their child or changeling back

“To trade with, turn to account a second time.

“The brother, presumably might tell a tale

“Or give a warning — he, too, flies the field,

“And with him vanish help and hope of help.

“They have caught me in the cavern where I fell,

1410

“Covered my loudest cry for human aid

“With this enormous paving-stone of shame.

“Well, are we demigods or merely clay?

“Is success still attendant on desert?

“Is this, we live on, heaven and the final state,

“Or earth which means probation to the end?

“Why claim escape from man’s predestined lot

“Of being beaten and baffled? — God’s decree,

“In which I, bowing bruised head, acquiesce.

“One of us Franceschini fell long since

1420

“I’ the Holy Land, betrayed, tradition runs,

“To Paynims by the feigning of a girl

“He rushed to free from ravisher, and found

“Lay safe enough with friends in ambuscade

“Who flayed him while she clapped her hands and laughed:

“Let me end, falling by a like device.

“It will not be so hard. I am the last

“O’ my line which will not suffer any more.

“I have attained to my full fifty years,

“(About the average of us all, ’tis said,

1430

“Though it seems longer to the unlucky man)

“— Lived through my share of life; let all end here,

“Me and the house and grief and shame at once.

“Friends my informants — I can bear your blow!”

And I believe ’twas in no unmeet match

For the stoic’s mood, with something like a smile,

That, when morose December roused me next,

I took into my hand, broke seal to read

The new epistle from Rome. “All to no use!

“Whate’er the turn next injury take,” smiled I,

1440

“Here’s one has chosen his part and knows his cue.

“I am done with, dead now; strike away, good friends!

“Are the three suits decided in a trice?

“Against me — there’s no question! How does it go?

“Is the parentage of my wife demonstrated

“Infamous to her wish? Parades she now

“Loosed of the cincture that so irked the loin?

“Is the last penny extracted from my purse

“To mulct me for demanding the first pound

“Was promised in return for value paid?

1450

“Has the priest, with nobody to court beside,

“Courted the Muse in exile, hitched my hap

“Into a rattling ballad-rhyme which, bawled

“At tavern-doors, wakes rapture everywhere,

“And helps cheap wine down throat this Christmas time,

“Beating the bagpipes? Any or all of these!

“As well, good friends, you cursed my palace here

“To its old cold stone face — stuck your cap for crest

“Over the shield that’s extant in the Square —

“Or spat on the statue’s cheek, the impatient world

1460

“Sees cumber tomb-top in our family church:

“Let him creep under covert as I shall do,

“Half below-ground already indeed. Good-bye!

“My brothers are priests, and childless so; that’s well —

“And, thank God most for this, no child leave I—

“None after me to bear till his heart break

“The being a Franceschini and my son!”

“Nay,” said the letter, “but you have just that!

“A babe, your veritable son and heir —

“Lawful — ’tis only eight months since your wife

1470

“Left you — so, son and heir, your babe was born

“Last Wednesday in the villa — you see the cause

“For quitting Convent without beat of drum,

“Stealing a hurried march to this retreat

“That’s not so savage as the Sisterhood

“To slips and stumbles: Pietro’s heart is soft,

“Violante leans to pity’s side — the pair

“Ushered you into life a bouncing boy:

“And he’s already hidden away and safe

“From any claim on him you mean to make —

1480

“They need him for themselves — don’t fear, they know

“The use o’ the bantling — the nerve thus laid bare

“To nip at, new and nice, with finger-nail!”

Then I rose up like fire, and fire-like roared.

What, all is only beginning not ending now?

The worm which wormed its way from skin through flesh

To the bone and there lay biting, did its best,

What, it goes on to scrape at the bone’s self,

Will wind to inmost marrow and madden me?

There’s to be yet my representative,

1490

Another of the name shall keep displayed

The flag with the ordure on it, brandish still

The broken sword has served to stir a jakes?

Who will he be, how will you call the man?

A Franceschini — when who cut my purse,

Filched my name, hemmed me round, hustled me hard

As rogues at a fair some fool they strip i’ the midst,

When these count gains, vaunt pillage presently:—

But a Caponsacchi, oh, be very sure!

When what demands its tribute of applause

1500

Is the cunning and impudence o’ the pair of cheats,

The lies and lust o’ the mother, and the brave

Bold carriage of the priest, worthily crowned

By a witness to his feat i’ the following age —

And how this three-fold cord could hook and fetch

And land leviathan that king of pride!

Or say, by some mad miracle of chance,

Is he indeed my flesh and blood, this babe?

Was it because fate forged a link at last

Betwixt my wife and me, and both alike

1510

Found we had henceforth some one thing to love,

Was it when she could damn my soul indeed

She unlatched door, let all the devils o’ the dark

Dance in on me to cover her escape?

Why then, the surplusage of disgrace, the spilth

Over and above the measure of infamy,

Failing to take effect on my coarse flesh

Seasoned with scorn now, saturate with shame —

Is saved to instil on and corrode the brow,

The baby-softness of my first-born child —

1520

The child I had died to see though in a dream,

The child I was bid strike out for, beat the wave

And baffle the tide of troubles where I swam,

So I might touch shore, lay down life at last

At the feet so dim and distant and divine

Of the apparition, as ’twere Mary’s babe

Had held, through night and storm, the torch aloft —

Born now in very deed to bear this brand

On forehead and curse me who could not save!

Rather be the town-talk true, Square’s jest, street’s jeer

1530

True, my own inmost heart’s confession true,

And he’s the priest’s bastard and none of mine!

Ay, there was cause for flight, swift flight and sure!

The husband gets unruly, breaks all bounds

When he encounters some familiar face,

Fashion of feature, brow and eyes and lips

Where he least looked to find them — time to fly!

This bastard then, a nest for him is made,

As the manner is of vermin, in my flesh —

Shall I let the filthy pest buzz, flap, and sting,

1540

Busy at my vitals and, nor hand nor foot

Lift, but let be, lie still and rot resigned?

No, I appeal to God — what says Himself,

How lessons Nature when I look to learn?

Why, that I am alive, am still a man

With brain and heart and tongue and right-hand too —

Nay, even with friends, in such a cause as this,

To right me if I fail to take my right.

No more of law; a voice beyond the law

Enters my heart, Quis est pro Domino?

1550

Myself, in my own Vittiano, told the tale

To my own serving-people summoned there:

Told the first half of it, scarce heard to end

By judges who got done with judgment quick

And clamoured to go execute her ’hest —

Who cried “Not one of us that dig your soil

“And dress your vineyard, prune your olive-trees,

“But would have brained the man debauched our wife,

“And staked the wife whose lust allured the man,

“And paunched the Duke, had it been possible,

1560

“Who ruled the land, yet barred us such revenge!”

I fixed on the first whose eyes caught mine, some four,

Resolute youngsters with the heart still fresh,

Filled my purse with the residue o’ the coin

Uncaught-up by my wife whom haste made blind,

Donned the first rough and rural garb I found,

Took whatsoever weapon came to hand,

And out we flung and on we ran or reeled

Romeward, I have no memory of our way,

Only that, when at intervals the cloud

1570

Of horror about me opened to let in life,

I listened to some song in the ear, some snatch

Of a legend, relic of religion, stray

Fragment of record very strong and old

Of the first conscience, the anterior right,

The God’s-gift to mankind, impulse to quench

The antagonistic spark of hell and tread

Satan and all his malice into dust,

Declare to the world the one law, right is right.

Then the cloud re-encompassed me, and so

1580

I found myself, as on the wings of winds,

Arrived: I was at Rome on Christmas Eve.

Festive bells — everywhere the Feast o’ the Babe,

Joy upon earth, peace and good will to man!

I am baptised. I started and let drop

The dagger. “Where is it, His promised peace?”

Nine days o’ the Birth-Feast did I pause and pray

To enter into no temptation more.

I bore the hateful house, my brother’s once,

Deserted — let the ghost of social joy

1590

Mock and make mouths at me from empty room

And idle door that missed the master’s step —

Bore the frank wonder of incredulous eyes,

As my own people watched without a word,

Waited, from where they huddled round the hearth

Black like all else, that nod so slow to come —

I stopped my ears even to the inner call

Of the dread duty, heard only the song

“Peace upon earth,” saw nothing but the face

O’ the Holy Infant and the halo there

1600

Able to cover yet another face

Behind it, Satan’s which I else should see.

But, day by day, joy waned and withered off:

The Babe’s face, premature with peak and pine,

Sank into wrinkled ruinous old age,

Suffering and death, then mist-like disappeared,

And showed only the Cross at end of all,

Left nothing more to interpose ’twixt me

And the dread duty — for the angel’s song,

“Peace upon earth,” louder and louder pealed

1610

“O Lord, how long, how long be unavenged?”

On the ninth day, this grew too much for man.

I started up —“Some end must be!” At once,

Silence: then, scratching like a death-watch-tick,

Slowly within my brain was syllabled,

“One more concession, one decisive way

“And but one, to determine thee the truth —

“This way, in fine, I whisper in thy ear:

“Now doubt, anon decide, thereupon act!”

“That is a way, thou whisperest in my ear!

1620

“I doubt, I will decide, then act,” said I—

Then beckoned my companions: “Time is come!”

And so, all yet uncertain save the will

To do right, and the daring aught save leave

Right undone, I did find myself at last

I’ the dark before the villa with my friends,

And made the experiment, the final test,

Ultimate chance that ever was to be

For the wretchedness inside. I knocked — pronounced

The name, the predetermined touch for truth,

1630

“What welcome for the wanderer? Open straight —”

To the friend, physician, friar upon his rounds,

Traveller belated, beggar lame and blind? —

No, but —“to Caponsacchi!” And the door

Opened.

        And then — why, even then, I think,

I’ the minute that confirmed my worst of fears,

Surely — I pray God that I think aright! —

Had but Pompilia’s self, the tender thing

Who once was good and pure, was once my lamb

1640

And lay in my bosom, had the well-known shape

Fronted me in the door-way — stood there faint

With the recent pang, perhaps, of giving birth

To what might, though by miracle, seem my child —

Nay more, I will say, had even the aged fool

Pietro, the dotard, in whom folly and age

Wrought, more than enmity or malevolence,

To practise and conspire against my peace —

Had either of these but opened, I had paused.

But it was she the hag, she that brought hell

1650

For a dowry with her to her husband’s house,

She the mock-mother, she that made the match

And married me to perdition, spring and source

O’ the fire inside me that boiled up from heart

To brain and hailed the Fury gave it birth —

Violante Comparini, she it was,

With the old grin amid the wrinkles yet,

Opened: as if in turning from the Cross,

With trust to keep the sight and save my soul,

I had stumbled, first thing, on the serpent’s head

1660

Coiled with a leer at foot of it.

        There was the end!

Then was I rapt away by the impluse, one

Immeasurable everlasting wave of a need

To abolish that detested life. ’Twas done:

You know the rest and how the folds o’ the thing,

Twisting for help, involved the other two

More or less serpent-like: how I was mad,

Blind, stamped on all, the earth-worms with the asp,

And ended so.

1670

        You came on me that night,

Your officers of justice — caught the crime

In the first natural frenzy of remorse?

Twenty miles off, sound sleeping as a child

On a cloak i’ the straw which promised shelter first,

With the bloody arms beside me — was it not so?

Wherefore not? Why, how else should I be found?

I was my own self, had my sense again,

My soul safe from the serpents. I could sleep:

Indeed and, dear my lords, I shall sleep now,

1680

Spite of my shoulder, in five minutes’ space,

When you dismiss me, having truth enough!

It is but a few days are passed, I find,

Since this adventure. Do you tell me, four?

Then the dead are scarce quiet where they lie,

Old Pietro, old Violante, side by side

At the church Lorenzo — oh, they know it well!

So do I. But my wife is still alive,

Has breath enough to tell her story yet,

Her way, which is not mine, no doubt at all.

1690

And Caponsacchi, you have summoned him —

Was he so far to send for? Not at hand?

I thought some few o’ the stabs were in his heart,

Or had not been so lavish — less had served.

Well, he too tells his story — florid prose

As smooth as mine is rough. You see, my lords,

There will be a lying intoxicating smoke

Born of the blood — confusion probably —

For lies breed lies — but all that rests with you!

The trial is no concern of mine; with me

1700

The main of the care is over: I at least

Recognise who took that huge burthen off,

Let me begin to live again. I did

God’s bidding and man’s duty, so, breathe free;

Look you to the rest! I heard Himself prescribe,

That great Physician, and dared lance the core

Of the bad ulcer; and the rage abates,

I am myself and whole now: I prove cured

By the eyes that see, the ears that hear again,

The limbs that have relearned their youthful play,

1710

The healthy taste of food and feel of clothes

And taking to our common life once more,

All that now urges my defence from death.

The willingness to live, what means it else?

Before — but let the very action speak!

Judge for yourselves, what life seemed worth to me

Who, not by proxy but in person, pitched

Head-foremost into danger as a fool

That never cares if he can swim or no —

So he but find the bottom, braves the brook.

1720

No man omits precaution, quite neglects

Secresy, safety, schemes not how retreat,

Having schemed he might advance. Did I so scheme?

Why, with a warrant which ’tis ask and have,

With horse thereby made mine without a word,

I had gained the frontier and slept safe that night.

Then, my companions — call them what you please,

Slave or stipendiary — what need of one

To me whose right-hand did its owner’s work?

Hire an assassin yet expose yourself?

1730

As well buy glove and then thrust naked hand

I’ the thorn-bush. No, the wise man stays at home,

Sends only agents out, with pay to earn:

At home, when they come back — he straight discards

Or else disowns. Why use such tools at all

When a man’s foes are of his house, like mine,

Sit at his board, sleep in his bed? Why noise,

When there’s the acquetta and the silent way?

Clearly my life was valueless.

        But now

1740

Health is returned, and sanity of soul

Nowise indifferent to the body’s harm.

I find the instinct bids me save my life;

My wits, too, rally round me; I pick up

And use the arms that strewed the ground before,

Unnoticed or spurned aside: I take my stand,

Make no defence. God shall not lose a life

May do Him further service, while I speak

And you hear, you my judges and last hope!

You are the law: ’tis to the law I look.

1750

I began life by hanging to the law,

To the law it is I hang till life shall end.

My brother made appeal to the Pope, ’tis true,

To stay proceedings, judge my cause himself

Nor trouble law — some fondness of conceit

That rectitude, sagacity sufficed

The investigator in a case like mine,

Dispensed with the machine of law. The Pope

Knew better, set aside my brother’s plea

And put me back to law — referred the cause

1760

Ad judices meos, — doubtlessly did well.

Here, then, I clutch my judges — I claim law —

Cry, by the higher law whereof your law

O’ the land is humbly representative —

Cry, on what point is it, where either accuse,

I fail to furnish you defence? I stand

Acquitted, actually or virtually,

By every intermediate kind of court

That takes account of right or wrong in man,

Each unit in the series that begins

1770

With God’s throne, ends with the tribunal here.

God breathes, not speaks, his verdicts, felt not heard,

Passed on successively to each court I call

Man’s conscience, custom, manners, all that make

More and more effort to promulgate, mark

God’s verdict in determinable words,

Till last come human jurists — solidify

Fluid result — what’s fixable lies forged,

Statute — the residue escapes in fume,

Yet hangs aloft, a cloud, as palpable

1780

To the finer sense as word the legist welds.

Justinian’s Pandects only make precise

What simply sparkled in men’s eyes before,

Twitched in their brow or quivered on their lip,

Waited the speech they called but would not come,

These courts then, whose decree your own confirms —

Take my whole life, not this last act alone,

Look on it by the light reflected thence!

What has Society to charge me with?

Come, unreservedly — favour nor fear —

1790

I am Guido Franceschini, am I not?

You know the courses I was free to take?

I took just that which let me serve the Church,

I gave it all my labour in body and soul

Till these broke down i’ the service. “Specify?”

Well, my last patron was a Cardinal.

I left him unconvicted of a fault —

Was even helped, by way of gratitude,

Into the new life that I left him for,

This very misery of the marriage — he

1800

Made it, kind soul, so far as in him lay —

Signed the deed where you yet may see his name.

He is gone to his reward — dead, being my friend

Who could have helped here also — that, of course!

So far, there’s my acquittal, I suppose.

Then comes the marriage itself — no question, lords,

Of the entire validity of that!

In the extremity of distress, ’tis true,

For after-reasons, furnished abundantly,

I wished the thing invalid, went to you

1810

Only some months since, set you duly forth

My wrong and prayed your remedy, that a cheat

Should not have force to cheat my whole life long.

“Annul a marriage? ’Tis impossible!

“Though ring about your neck be brass not gold,

“Needs must it clasp, gangrene you all the same!”

Well, let me have the benefit, just so far,

O’ the fact announced — my wife then is my wife,

I have allowance for a husband’s right.

I am charged with passing right’s due bound — such acts

1820

As I thought just, my wife called cruelty,

Complained of in due form — convoked no court

Of common gossipry, but took her wrongs —

And not once, but so long as patience served —

To the town’s top, jurisdiction’s pride of place,

To the Archbishop and the Governor.

These heard her charge with my reply, and found

That futile, this sufficient: they dismissed

The hysteric querulous rebel, and confirmed

Authority in its wholesome exercise,

1830

They, with directest access to the facts.

“— Ay, for it was their friendship favoured you,

“Hereditary alliance against a breach

“I’ the social order: prejudice for the name

“Of Franceschini!”— So I hear it said:

But not here. You, lords, never will you say

“Such is the nullity of grace and truth,

“Such the corruption of the faith, such lapse

“Of law, such warrant have the Molinists

“For daring reprehend us as they do —

1840

“That we pronounce it just a common case,

“Two dignitaries, each in his degree

“First, foremost, this the spiritual head, and that

“The secular arm o’ the body politic,

“Should, for mere wrongs’ love and injustice’ sake,

“Side with, aid and abet in cruelty

“This broken beggarly noble — bribed perhaps

“By his watered wine and mouldy crust of bread —

“Rather than that sweet tremulous flower-like wife

“Who kissed their hands and curled about their feet

1850

“Looking the irresistible loveliness

“In tears that takes man captive, turns” . . . enough!

Do you blast your predecessors? What forbids

Posterity to trebly blast yourselves

Who set the example and instruct their tongue?

You dreaded the crowd, succumbed to the popular cry,

Or else, would nowise seem defer thereto

And yield to public clamour though i’the right!

You riddled your eye of my unseemliness,

The noble whose misfortune wearied you —

1860

Or, what’s more probable, made common cause

With the cleric section, punished in myself

Maladroit uncomplaisant laity,

Defective in behaviour to a priest

Who claimed the customary partnership

I’ the house and the wife. Lords, any lie will serve!

Look to it — or allow me freed so far!

Then I proceed a step, come with clean hands

Thus far, re-tell the tale told eight months since.

The wife, you allow so far, I have not wronged,

1870

Has fled my roof, plundered me and decamped

In company with the priest her paramour:

And I gave chase, came up with, caught the two

At the wayside inn where both had spent the night,

Found them in flagrant fault, and found as well,

By documents with name and plan and date,

The fault was furtive then that’s flagrant now,

Their intercourse a long established crime.

I did not take the license law’s self gives

To slay both criminals o’ the spot at the time,

1880

But held my hand — preferred play prodigy

Of patience which the world calls cowardice,

Rather than seem anticipate the law

And cast discredit on its organs — you —

So, to your bar I brought both criminals,

And made my statement: heard their counter-charge

Nay — their corroboration of my tale,

Nowise disputing its allegements, not

I’ the main, not more than nature’s decency

Compels men to keep silence in this kind —

1890

Only contending that the deeds avowed

Would take another colour and bear excuse.

You were to judge between us; so you did.

You disregard the excuse, you breathe away

The colour of innocence and leave guilt black,

“Guilty” is the decision of the court,

And that I stand in consequence untouched,

One white intergity from head to heel.

Not guilty? Why then did you punish them?

True, punishment has been inadequate —

1900

’Tis not I only, not my friends that joke,

My foes that jeer, who echo “inadequate”—

For, by a chance that comes to help for once,

The same case simultaneously was judged

At Arezzo, in the province of the Court

Where the crime had beginning but not end.

They then, deciding on but half o’ the crime,

The effraction, robbery — features of the fault

I never cared to dwell upon at Rome —

What was it they adjudged as penalty

1910

To Pompilia — the one criminal o’ the pair

Amenable to their judgment, not the priest

Who is Rome’s? Why, just imprisonment for life

I’ the Stinche. There was Tuscany’s award

To a wife that robs her husband: you at Rome

Having to deal with adultery in a wife

And, in a priest, breach of the priestly vow,

Give gentle sequestration for a month

In a manageable Convent, then release,

You call imprisonment, in the very house

1920

O’ the very couple, the sole aim and end

Of the culprits’ crime was — there to reach and rest

And there take solace and defy me: well —

This difference ’twixt their penalty and yours

Is immaterial: make your penalty less —

Merely that she should henceforth wear black gloves

And white fan, she who wore the opposite —

Why, all the same the fact o’ the thing subsists.

Reconcile to your conscience as you may,

Be it on your own heads, you pronounced one half

1930

O’ the penalty for heinousness like hers

And his, that’s for a fault at Carnival

Of comfit-pelting past discretion’s law,

Or accident to handkerchief in Lent

Which falls perversely as a lady kneels

Abruptly, and but half conceals her neck!

I acquiesce for my part — punished, though

By a pin-point scratch, means guilty: guilty means

— What have I been but innocent hitherto?

Anyhow, here the offence, being punished, ends.

1940

Ends? — for you deemed so, did you not, sweet lords?

That was throughout the veritable aim

O’ the sentence light or heavy — to redress

Recognised wrong? You righted me, I think?

Well then — what if I, at this last of all,

Demonstrate you, as my whole pleading proves,

No particle of wrong received thereby

One atom of right? — that cure grew worse disease?

That in the process you call “justice done”

All along you have nipped away just inch

1950

By inch the creeping climbing length of plague

Breaking my tree of life from root to branch,

And left me, after all and every act

Of your interference — lightened of what load?

At liberty wherein? Mere words and wind!

“Now I was saved, now I should feel no more

“The hot breath, find a respite from fixed eye

“And vibrant tongue!” Why, scarce your back was turned,

There was the reptile, that feigned death at first,

Renewing its detested spire and spire

1960

Around me, rising to such heights of hate

That, so far from mere purpose now to crush

And coil itself on the remains of me,

Body and mind, and there flesh fang content.

Its aim is now to evoke life from death,

Make me anew, satisfy in my son

The hunger I may feed but never sate,

Tormented on to perpetuity —

My son, whom, dead, I shall know, understand,

Feel, hear, see, never more escape the sight

1970

In heaven that’s turned to hell, or hell returned

(So, rather, say) to this same earth again —

Moulded into the image and made one,

Fashioned of soul as featured like in face,

First taught to laugh and lisp and stand and go

By that thief, poisoner, and adulteress

I call Pompilia, he calls . . . sacred name,

Be unpronounced, be unpolluted here!

And last led up to the glory and prize of hate

By his . . . foster-father, Caponsacchi’s self,

1980

The perjured priest, pink of conspirators,

Tricksters and knaves, yet polished, superfine,

Manhood to model adolescence by . . .

Lords, look on me, declare — when, what I show,

Is nothing more nor less than what you deemed

And doled me out for justice — what did you say?

For reparation, restitution and more —

Will you not thank, praise, bid me to your breasts

For having done the thing you thought to do,

And thoroughly trampled out sin’s life at last?

I have heightened phrase to make your soft speech serve,

1991

Doubled the blow you but essayed to strike,

Carried into effect your mandate here

That else had fallen to ground: mere duty done,

Oversight of the master just supplied

By zeal i’ the servant: I, being used to serve,

Have simply . . . what is it they charge me with?

Blackened again, made legible once more

Your own decree, not permanently writ,

Rightly conceived but all too faintly traced —

2000

It reads efficient, now, comminatory,

A terror to the wicked, answers so

The mood o’ the magistrate, the mind of law.

Absolve, then, me, law’s mere executant!

Protect your own defender — save me, Sirs!

Give me my life, give me my liberty,

My good name and my civic rights again!

It would be too fond, too complacent play

Into the hands o’ the devil, should we lose

The game here, I for God: a soldier-bee

2010

That yields his life, exenterate with the stroke

O’ the sting that saves the hive. I need that life,

Oh, never fear! I’ll find life plenty use

Though it should last five years more, aches and all!

For, first thing, there’s the mother’s age to help —

Let her come break her heart upon my breast,

Not on the blank stone of my nameless tomb!

The fugitive brother has to be bidden back

To the old routine, repugnant to the tread,

Of daily suit and service to the Church —

2020

Thro’ gibe and jest, those stones that Shimei flung!

Ay, and the spirit-broken youth at home,

The awe- struck altar-ministrant, shall make

Amends for faith now palsied at the source,

Shall see truth yet triumphant, justice yet

A victor in the battle of this world!

Give me — for last, best gift, my son again,

Whom law makes mine — I take him at your word,

Mine be he, by miraculous mercy, lords!

Let me lift up his youth and innocence

2030

To purify my palace, room by room

Purged of the memories, lend from his bright brow

Light to the old proud paladin my sire

Shrunk now for shame into the darkest shade

O’ the tapestry, showed him once and shrouds him now!

Then may we — strong from that rekindled smile —

Go forward, face new times, the better day.

And when, in times made better through your brave

Decision now — might but Utopia be! —

Rome rife with honest women and strong men,

2040

Manners reformed, old habits back once more,

Customs that recognise the standard worth —

The wholesome household rule in force again,

Husbands once more God’s representative,

Wives like the typical Spouse once more, and Priests

No longer men of Belial, with no aim

At leading silly women captive, but

Of rising to such duties as yours now —

Then will I set my son at my right hand

And tell his father’s story to this point,

2050

Adding “The task seemed superhuman, still

“I dared and did it, trusting God and law:

“And they approved of me: give praise to both!”

And if, for answer, he shall stoop to kiss

My hand, and peradventure start thereat —

I engage to smile “That was an accident

“I’ the necessary process — just a trip

“O’ the torture-irons in their search for truth —

“Hardly misfortune, and no fault at all.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/browning/robert/ring/book5.html

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