Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 56

When they assembled again in the saloon there was an addition to their party in the person of a gentleman of distinguished appearance. His age could hardly have much exceeded that of thirty, but time had agitated his truly Roman countenance, one which we now find only in consular and imperial busts, or in the chance visage of a Roman shepherd or a Neapolitan bandit. He was a shade above the middle height, with a frame of well-knit symmetry. His proud head was proudly placed on broad shoulders, and neither time nor indulgence had marred his slender waist. His dark-brown hair was short and hyacinthine, close to his white forehead, and naturally showing his small ears. He wore no whiskers, and his mustache was limited to the centre of his upper lip.

When Theodora entered and offered him her hand he pressed it to his lips with gravity and proud homage, and then their hostess said: “Captain Muriel, let me present you to a prince who will not bear his titles, and whom, therefore, I must call by his name — Romolo Colonna.”

The large folding-doors, richly painted and gilt, though dim from neglect and time, and sustained by columns of precious marbles, were suddenly opened and revealed another saloon, in which was a round table brightly lighted, and to which the princess invited her friends.

Their conversation at dinner was lively and sustained; the travels of the last two days formed a natural part and were apposite to commence with, but they were soon engrossed in the great subject of their lives; and Colonna, who had left Rome only four-and-twenty hours, gave them interesting details of the critical condition of that capital. When the repast was concluded the princess rose, and, accompanied by Lothair, reentered the saloon, but Theodora and Colonna lingered behind, and, finally seating themselves at the farthest end of the apartment in which they had dined, became engaged in earnest conversation.

“You have seen a great deal since we first met at Belmont,” said the princess to Lothair.

“It seems to me now,” said Lothair, “that I knew as much of life then as I did of the stars above us, about whose purposes and fortunes I used to puzzle myself.”

“And might have remained in that ignorance. The great majority of men exist but do not live — like Italy in the last century. The power of the passions, the force of the will, the creative energy of the imagination — these make life, and reveal to us a world of which the million are entirely ignorant You have been fortunate in your youth to have become acquainted with a great woman. It develops all a man’s powers, and gives him a thousand talents.”

“I often think,” said Lothair, “that I have neither powers nor talents, but am, drifting without an orbit.”

“Into infinite space,” said the priestess. “Well, one might do worse than that. But it is not so. In the long-run your nature will prevail, and you will fulfil your organic purpose; but you will accomplish your ends with a completeness which can only be secured by the culture and development you are now experiencing.”

“And what is my nature?” said Lothair. “I wish you would tell me.”

“Has not the divine Theodora told you?”

“She has told me many things, but not that.”

“How, then, could I know,” said the princess, “if she has not discovered it?”

“But perhaps she has discovered it,” said Lothair.

“Oh! then she would tell you,” said the princess, “for she is the soul of truth.”

“But she is also the soul of kindness, and she might wish to spare my feelings.”

“Well, that is very modest, and I dare say not affected. For there is no man, however gifted, even however conceited, who has any real confidence in himself until he has acted.”

“Well, we shall soon act,” said Lothair, “and then I. suppose I shall know my nature.”

“In time,” said the princess, “and with the continued inspiration of friendship.”

“But you too are a great friend of Theodora?”

“Although a woman. I see you are laughing at female friendships, and, generally speaking, there is foundation for the general sneer. I will own, for my part, I have every female weakness, and in excess. I am vain, I am curious, I am jealous, and I am envious; but I adore Theodora. I reconcile my feelings toward her and my disposition in this way. It is not friendship — it is worship. And indeed there are moments when I sometimes think she is one of those beautiful divinities that we once worshipped in this land, and who, when they listened to our prayers, at least vouchsafed that our country should not be the terrible wilderness that you crossed this day.”

In the mean time Colonna, with folded arms and eyes fixed on the ground, was listening to Theodora.

“Thus you see,” she continued, “it comes to this — Rome can only be freed by the Romans. He looks upon the secret societies of his own country as he does upon universal suffrage — a wild beast, and dangerous, but which may be watched and tamed and managed by the police. He listens, but he plays with them. He temporizes. At the bottom of his heart, his Italian blood despises the Gauls. It must be something deeper and more touching than this. Rome must appeal to him, and in the ineffable name.”

“It has been uttered before,” said Colonna, looking up at his companion, “and —” And he hesitated.

“And in vain you would say,” said Theodora. “Not so. There was a martyrdom, but the blood of Felice baptized the new birth of Italian life. But I am not thinking of bloodshed. Had it not been for the double intrigues of the Savoyards it need not then have been shed. We bear him no ill-will — at least not now — and we can make great offers. Make them. The revolution in Gaul is ever a mimicry of Italian thought and life. Their great affair of the last century, which they have so marred and muddied, would never have occurred had it not been for Tuscan reform; 1848 was the echo of our societies; and the Seine will never be disturbed if the Tiber flows unruffled. Let him consent to Roman freedom, and ‘Madre Natura’ will guarantee him against Lutetian barricades.”

“It is only the offer of Mary–Anne in another form,” said Colonna.

“Guarantee the dynasty,” said Theodora. “There is the point. He can trust us. Emperors and kings break treaties without remorse, but he knows that what is registered by the most ancient power in the world is sacred.”

“‘Can republicans guarantee dynasties?” said Colonna, shaking his head.

“Why, what is a dynasty, when we are dealing with eternal things? The casualties of life compared with infinite space? Rome is eternal. Centuries of the most degrading and foreign priestcraft — enervating rites brought in by Hellogabalus and the Syrian emperors — have failed to destroy her. Dynasties! Why, even in our dark servitude we have seen Merovingian and Carlovingian kings, and Capets, and Valois, and Bourbons, and now Bonapartes. They have disappeared, and will disappear like Orgetorix and the dynasties of the time of Caesar. What we want is Rome free. Do not you see that everything has been preparing for that event? This monstrous masquerade of United Italy — what is it but an initiatory ceremony, to prove that Italy without Rome is a series of provinces? Establish the Roman republic, and the Roman race will, as before, conquer them in detail. And, when the Italians are thus really united, what will become of the Gauls? Why, the first Bonaparte said that if Italy were really united the Gauls would have no chance. And he was a good judge of such things.”

“What would you have me do, then?” said Colonna.

“See him — see him at once. Say every thing that I have said, and say it better. His disposition is with us. Convenience, all political propriety, counsel and would justify his abstinence. A return to Rome would seem weak, fitful, capricious, and would prove that his previous retirement was ill-considered and ill-informed. It would disturb and alarm Europe. But you have, nevertheless, to fight against great odds. It is ‘Madre Natura’ against St. Peter’s. Never was the abomination of the world so active as at present. It is in the very throes of its fell despair. To save itself it would poison in the Eucharist.”

“And if I fail?” said Colonna.

“You will not fail. On the whole, his interest lies on our side.”

“The sacerdotal influences are very strong there. When the calculation of interest is fine, a word, a glance, sometimes a sigh, a tear, may have a fatal effect.”

“All depends upon him,” said Theodora. “If he were to disappear from the stage, interference would be impossible.”

“But he is on the stage, and apparently will remain.”

“A single life should not stand between Rome and freedom.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that Romolo Colonna should go to Paris and free his country.”


Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19