Zanoni, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter 3

Liebe sonnt das Reich der Nacht.

“Der Triumph der Liebe.”

(Love illumes the realm of Night.)

Letter from Zanoni to Mejnour.

Paris.

Dost thou remember in the old time, when the Beautiful yet dwelt in Greece, how we two, in the vast Athenian Theatre, witnessed the birth of Words as undying as ourselves? Dost thou remember the thrill of terror that ran through that mighty audience, when the wild Cassandra burst from her awful silence to shriek to her relentless god! How ghastly, at the entrance of the House of Atreus, about to become her tomb, rang out her exclamations of foreboding woe: “Dwelling abhorred of heaven! — human shamble-house and floor blood-bespattered!” (Aesch. “Agam.” 1098.) Dost thou remember how, amidst the breathless awe of those assembled thousands, I drew close to thee, and whispered, “Verily, no prophet like the poet! This scene of fabled horror comes to me as a dream, shadowing forth some likeness in my own remoter future!” As I enter this slaughter-house that scene returns to me, and I hearken to the voice of Cassandra ringing in my ears. A solemn and warning dread gathers round me, as if I too were come to find a grave, and “the Net of Hades” had already entangled me in its web! What dark treasure-houses of vicissitude and woe are our memories become! What our lives, but the chronicles of unrelenting death! It seems to me as yesterday when I stood in the streets of this city of the Gaul, as they shone with plumed chivalry, and the air rustled with silken braveries. Young Louis, the monarch and the lover, was victor of the Tournament at the Carousel; and all France felt herself splendid in the splendour of her gorgeous chief! Now there is neither throne nor altar; and what is in their stead? I see it yonder — the GUILLOTINE! It is dismal to stand amidst the ruins of mouldering cities, to startle the serpent and the lizard amidst the wrecks of Persepolis and Thebes; but more dismal still to stand as I— the stranger from Empires that have ceased to be-stand now amidst the yet ghastlier ruins of Law and Order, the shattering of mankind themselves! Yet here, even here, Love, the Beautifier, that hath led my steps, can walk with unshrinking hope through the wilderness of Death. Strange is the passion that makes a world in itself, that individualises the One amidst the Multitude; that, through all the changes of my solemn life, yet survives, though ambition and hate and anger are dead; the one solitary angel, hovering over a universe of tombs on its two tremulous and human wings — Hope and Fear!

How is it, Mejnour, that, as my diviner art abandoned me — as, in my search for Viola, I was aided but by the ordinary instincts of the merest mortal — how is it that I have never desponded, that I have felt in every difficulty the prevailing prescience that we should meet at last? So cruelly was every vestige of her flight concealed from me — so suddenly, so secretly had she fled, that all the spies, all the authorities of Venice, could give me no clew. All Italy I searched in vain! Her young home at Naples! — how still, in its humble chambers, there seemed to linger the fragrance of her presence! All the sublimest secrets of our lore failed me — failed to bring her soul visible to mine; yet morning and night, thou lone and childless one, morning and night, detached from myself, I can commune with my child! There in that most blessed, typical, and mysterious of all relations, Nature herself appears to supply what Science would refuse. Space cannot separate the father’s watchful soul from the cradle of his first-born! I know not of its resting-place and home — my visions picture not the land — only the small and tender life to which all space is as yet the heritage! For to the infant, before reason dawns — before man’s bad passions can dim the essence that it takes from the element it hath left, there is no peculiar country, no native city, and no mortal language. Its soul as yet is the denizen of all airs and of every world; and in space its soul meets with mine — the child communes with the father! Cruel and forsaking one — thou for whom I left the wisdom of the spheres; thou whose fatal dower has been the weakness and terrors of humanity — couldst thou think that young soul less safe on earth because I would lead it ever more up to heaven! Didst thou think that I could have wronged mine own? Didst thou not know that in its serenest eyes the life that I gave it spoke to warn, to upbraid the mother who would bind it to the darkness and pangs of the prison-house of clay? Didst thou not feel that it was I who, permitted by the Heavens, shielded it from suffering and disease? And in its wondrous beauty, I blessed the holy medium through which, at last, my spirit might confer with thine!

And how have I tracked them hither? I learned that thy pupil had been at Venice. I could not trace the young and gentle neophyte of Parthenope in the description of the haggard and savage visitor who had come to Viola before she fled; but when I would have summoned his IDEA before me, it refused to obey; and I knew then that his fate had become entwined with Viola’s. I have tracked him, then, to this Lazar House. I arrived but yesterday; I have not yet discovered him.

. . . .

I have just returned from their courts of justice — dens where tigers arraign their prey. I find not whom I would seek. They are saved as yet; but I recognise in the crimes of mortals the dark wisdom of the Everlasting. Mejnour, I see here, for the first time, how majestic and beauteous a thing is death! Of what sublime virtues we robbed ourselves, when, in the thirst for virtue, we attained the art by which we can refuse to die! When in some happy clime, where to breathe is to enjoy, the charnel-house swallows up the young and fair; when in the noble pursuit of knowledge, Death comes to the student, and shuts out the enchanted land which was opening to his gaze — how natural for us to desire to live; how natural to make perpetual life the first object of research! But here, from my tower of time, looking over the darksome past, and into the starry future, I learn how great hearts feel what sweetness and glory there is to die for the things they love! I saw a father sacrificing himself for his son; he was subjected to charges which a word of his could dispel — he was mistaken for his boy. With what joy he seized the error, confessed the noble crimes of valour and fidelity which the son had indeed committed, and went to the doom, exulting that his death saved the life he had given, not in vain! I saw women, young, delicate, in the bloom of their beauty; they had vowed themselves to the cloister. Hands smeared with the blood of saints opened the gate that had shut them from the world, and bade them go forth, forget their vows, forswear the Divine one these demons would depose, find lovers and helpmates, and be free. And some of these young hearts had loved, and even, though in struggles, loved yet. Did they forswear the vow? Did they abandon the faith? Did even love allure them? Mejnour, with one voice, they preferred to die. And whence comes this courage? — because such HEARTS LIVE IN SOME MORE ABSTRACT AND HOLIER LIFE THAN THEIR OWN. BUT TO LIVE FOREVER UPON THIS EARTH IS TO LIVE IN NOTHING DIVINER THAN OURSELVES. Yes, even amidst this gory butcherdom, God, the Ever-living, vindicates to man the sanctity of His servant, Death!

. . . .

Again I have seen thee in spirit; I have seen and blessed thee, my sweet child! Dost thou not know me also in thy dreams? Dost thou not feel the beating of my heart through the veil of thy rosy slumbers? Dost thou not hear the wings of the brighter beings that I yet can conjure around thee, to watch, to nourish, and to save? And when the spell fades at thy waking, when thine eyes open to the day, will they not look round for me, and ask thy mother, with their mute eloquence, “Why she has robbed thee of a father?”

Woman, dost thou not repent thee? Flying from imaginary fears, hast thou not come to the very lair of terror, where Danger sits visible and incarnate? Oh, if we could but meet, wouldst thou not fall upon the bosom thou hast so wronged, and feel, poor wanderer amidst the storms, as if thou hadst regained the shelter? Mejnour, still my researches fail me. I mingle with all men, even their judges and their spies, but I cannot yet gain the clew. I know that she is here. I know it by an instinct; the breath of my child seems warmer and more familiar.

They peer at me with venomous looks, as I pass through their streets. With a glance I disarm their malice, and fascinate the basilisks. Everywhere I see the track and scent the presence of the Ghostly One that dwells on the Threshold, and whose victims are the souls that would ASPIRE, and can only FEAR. I see its dim shapelessness going before the men of blood, and marshalling their way. Robespierre passed me with his furtive step. Those eyes of horror were gnawing into his heart. I looked down upon their senate; the grim Phantom sat cowering on its floor. It hath taken up its abode in the city of Dread. And what in truth are these would-be builders of a new world? Like the students who have vainly struggled after our supreme science, they have attempted what is beyond their power; they have passed from this solid earth of usages and forms into the land of shadow, and its loathsome keeper has seized them as its prey. I looked into the tyrant’s shuddering soul, as it trembled past me. There, amidst the ruins of a thousand systems which aimed at virtue, sat Crime, and shivered at its desolation. Yet this man is the only Thinker, the only Aspirant, amongst them all. He still looks for a future of peace and mercy, to begin — ay! at what date? When he has swept away every foe. Fool! new foes spring from every drop of blood. Led by the eyes of the Unutterable, he is walking to his doom.

O Viola, thy innocence protects thee! Thou whom the sweet humanities of love shut out even from the dreams of aerial and spiritual beauty, making thy heart a universe of visions fairer than the wanderer over the rosy Hesperus can survey — shall not the same pure affection encompass thee, even here, with a charmed atmosphere, and terror itself fall harmless on a life too innocent for wisdom?

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