Zanoni, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter 2

And Abaris, so far from esteeming Pythagoras, who taught these things, a necromancer or wizard, rather revered and admired him as something divine.

Iamblich., “Vit. Pythag.”

The attendants whom Mejnour had engaged for his strange abode were such as might suit a philosopher of few wants. An old Armenian whom Glyndon recognised as in the mystic’s service at Naples, a tall, hard-featured woman from the village, recommended by Maestro Paolo, and two long-haired, smooth-spoken, but fierce-visaged youths from the same place, and honoured by the same sponsorship, constituted the establishment. The rooms used by the sage were commodious and weather-proof, with some remains of ancient splendour in the faded arras that clothed the walls, and the huge tables of costly marble and elaborate carving. Glyndon’s sleeping apartment communicated with a kind of belvedere, or terrace, that commanded prospects of unrivalled beauty and extent, and was separated on the other side by a long gallery, and a flight of ten or a dozen stairs, from the private chambers of the mystic. There was about the whole place a sombre and yet not displeasing depth of repose. It suited well with the studies to which it was now to be appropriated.

For several days Mejnour refused to confer with Glyndon on the subjects nearest to his heart.

“All without,” said he, “is prepared, but not all within; your own soul must grow accustomed to the spot, and filled with the surrounding nature; for Nature is the source of all inspiration.”

With these words Mejnour turned to lighter topics. He made the Englishman accompany him in long rambles through the wild scenes around, and he smiled approvingly when the young artist gave way to the enthusiasm which their fearful beauty could not have failed to rouse in a duller breast; and then Mejnour poured forth to his wondering pupil the stores of a knowledge that seemed inexhaustible and boundless. He gave accounts the most curious, graphic, and minute of the various races (their characters, habits, creeds, and manners) by which that fair land had been successively overrun. It is true that his descriptions could not be found in books, and were unsupported by learned authorities; but he possessed the true charm of the tale-teller, and spoke of all with the animated confidence of a personal witness. Sometimes, too, he would converse upon the more durable and the loftier mysteries of Nature with an eloquence and a research which invested them with all the colours rather of poetry than science. Insensibly the young artist found himself elevated and soothed by the lore of his companion; the fever of his wild desires was slaked. His mind became more and more lulled into the divine tranquillity of contemplation; he felt himself a nobler being, and in the silence of his senses he imagined that he heard the voice of his soul.

It was to this state that Mejnour evidently sought to bring the neophyte, and in this elementary initiation the mystic was like every more ordinary sage. For he who seeks to DISCOVER must first reduce himself into a kind of abstract idealism, and be rendered up, in solemn and sweet bondage, to the faculties which CONTEMPLATE and IMAGINE.

Glyndon noticed that, in their rambles, Mejnour often paused, where the foliage was rifest, to gather some herb or flower; and this reminded him that he had seen Zanoni similarly occupied. “Can these humble children of Nature,” said he one day to Mejnour — “things that bloom and wither in a day, be serviceable to the science of the higher secrets? Is there a pharmacy for the soul as well as the body, and do the nurslings of the summer minister not only to human health but spiritual immortality?”

“If,” answered Mejnour, “a stranger had visited a wandering tribe before one property of herbalism was known to them; if he had told the savages that the herbs which every day they trampled under foot were endowed with the most potent virtues; that one would restore to health a brother on the verge of death; that another would paralyse into idiocy their wisest sage; that a third would strike lifeless to the dust their most stalwart champion; that tears and laughter, vigour and disease, madness and reason, wakefulness and sleep, existence and dissolution, were coiled up in those unregarded leaves — would they not have held him a sorcerer or a liar? To half the virtues of the vegetable world mankind are yet in the darkness of the savages I have supposed. There are faculties within us with which certain herbs have affinity, and over which they have power. The moly of the ancients is not all a fable.”

The apparent character of Mejnour differed in much from that of Zanoni; and while it fascinated Glyndon less, it subdued and impressed him more. The conversation of Zanoni evinced a deep and general interest for mankind — a feeling approaching to enthusiasm for art and beauty. The stories circulated concerning his habits elevated the mystery of his life by actions of charity and beneficence. And in all this there was something genial and humane that softened the awe he created, and tended, perhaps, to raise suspicions as to the loftier secrets that he arrogated to himself. But Mejnour seemed wholly indifferent to all the actual world. If he committed no evil, he seemed equally apathetic to good. His deeds relieved no want, his words pitied no distress. What we call the heart appeared to have merged into the intellect. He moved, thought, and lived like some regular and calm abstraction, rather than one who yet retained, with the form, the feelings and sympathies of his kind.

Glyndon once, observing the tone of supreme indifference with which he spoke of those changes on the face of earth which he asserted he had witnessed, ventured to remark to him the distinction he had noted.

“It is true,” said Mejnour, coldly. “My life is the life that contemplates — Zanoni’s is the life that enjoys: when I gather the herb, I think but of its uses; Zanoni will pause to admire its beauties.”

“And you deem your own the superior and the loftier existence?”

“No. His is the existence of youth — mine of age. We have cultivated different faculties. Each has powers the other cannot aspire to. Those with whom he associates live better — those who associate with me know more.”

“I have heard, in truth,” said Glyndon, “that his companions at Naples were observed to lead purer and nobler lives after intercourse with Zanoni; yet were they not strange companions, at the best, for a sage? This terrible power, too, that he exercises at will, as in the death of the Prince di — and that of the Count Ughelli, scarcely becomes the tranquil seeker after good.”

“True,” said Mejnour, with an icy smile; “such must ever be the error of those philosophers who would meddle with the active life of mankind. You cannot serve some without injuring others; you cannot protect the good without warring on the bad; and if you desire to reform the faulty, why, you must lower yourself to live with the faulty to know their faults. Even so saith Paracelsus, a great man, though often wrong. (‘It is as necessary to know evil things as good; for who can know what is good without the knowing what is evil?’ etc. — Paracelsus, ‘De Nat. Rer.,’ lib. 3.) Not mine this folly; I live but in knowledge — I have no life in mankind!”

Another time Glyndon questioned the mystic as to the nature of that union or fraternity to which Zanoni had once referred.

“I am right, I suppose,” said he, “in conjecturing that you and himself profess to be the brothers of the Rosy Cross?”

“Do you imagine,” answered Mejnour, “that there were no mystic and solemn unions of men seeking the same end through the same means before the Arabians of Damus, in 1378, taught to a wandering German the secrets which founded the Institution of the Rosicrucians? I allow, however, that the Rosicrucians formed a sect descended from the greater and earlier school. They were wiser than the Alchemists — their masters are wiser than they.”

“And of this early and primary order how many still exist?”

“Zanoni and myself.”

“What, two only! — and you profess the power to teach to all the secret that baffles Death?”

“Your ancestor attained that secret; he died rather than survive the only thing he loved. We have, my pupil, no arts by which we CAN PUT DEATH OUT OF OUR OPTION, or out of the will of Heaven. These walls may crush me as I stand. All that we profess to do is but this — to find out the secrets of the human frame; to know why the parts ossify and the blood stagnates, and to apply continual preventives to the effects of time. This is not magic; it is the art of medicine rightly understood. In our order we hold most noble — first, that knowledge which elevates the intellect; secondly, that which preserves the body. But the mere art (extracted from the juices and simples) which recruits the animal vigour and arrests the progress of decay, or that more noble secret, which I will only hint to thee at present, by which HEAT, or CALORIC, as ye call it, being, as Heraclitus wisely taught, the primordial principle of life, can be made its perpetual renovater — these I say, would not suffice for safety. It is ours also to disarm and elude the wrath of men, to turn the swords of our foes against each other, to glide (if not incorporeal) invisible to eyes over which we can throw a mist and darkness. And this some seers have professed to be the virtue of a stone of agate. Abaris placed it in his arrow. I will find you an herb in yon valley that will give a surer charm than the agate and the arrow. In one word, know this, that the humblest and meanest products of Nature are those from which the sublimest properties are to be drawn.”

“But,” said Glyndon, “if possessed of these great secrets, why so churlish in withholding their diffusion? Does not the false or charlatanic science differ in this from the true and indisputable — that the last communicates to the world the process by which it attains its discoveries; the first boasts of marvellous results, and refuses to explain the causes?”

“Well said, O Logician of the Schools; but think again. Suppose we were to impart all our knowledge to all mankind indiscriminately — alike to the vicious and the virtuous — should we be benefactors or scourges? Imagine the tyrant, the sensualist, the evil and corrupted being possessed of these tremendous powers; would he not be a demon let loose on earth? Grant that the same privilege be accorded also to the good; and in what state would be society? Engaged in a Titan war — the good forever on the defensive, the bad forever in assault. In the present condition of the earth, evil is a more active principle than good, and the evil would prevail. It is for these reasons that we are not only solemnly bound to administer our lore only to those who will not misuse and pervert it, but that we place our ordeal in tests that purify the passions and elevate the desires. And Nature in this controls and assists us: for it places awful guardians and insurmountable barriers between the ambition of vice and the heaven of the loftier science.”

Such made a small part of the numerous conversations Mejnour held with his pupil — conversations that, while they appeared to address themselves to the reason, inflamed yet more the fancy. It was the very disclaiming of all powers which Nature, properly investigated, did not suffice to create, that gave an air of probability to those which Mejnour asserted Nature might bestow.

Thus days and weeks rolled on; and the mind of Glyndon, gradually fitted to this sequestered and musing life, forgot at last the vanities and chimeras of the world without.

One evening he had lingered alone and late upon the ramparts, watching the stars as, one by one, they broke upon the twilight. Never had he felt so sensibly the mighty power of the heavens and the earth upon man; how much the springs of our intellectual being are moved and acted upon by the solemn influences of Nature. As a patient on whom, slowly and by degrees, the agencies of mesmerism are brought to bear, he acknowledged to his heart the growing force of that vast and universal magnetism which is the life of creation, and binds the atom to the whole. A strange and ineffable consciousness of power, of the SOMETHING GREAT within the perishable clay, appealed to feelings at once dim and glorious — like the faint recognitions of a holier and former being. An impulse, that he could not resist, led him to seek the mystic. He would demand, that hour, his initiation into the worlds beyond our world — he was prepared to breathe a diviner air. He entered the castle, and strode the shadowy and starlit gallery which conducted to Mejnour’s apartment.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31