Che non vuol che ‘l destrier piu vada in alto,
Poi lo lega nel margine marino
A un verde mirto in mezzo un lauro E Un Pino.
“Orlando Furioso,” c. vi. xxiii.
(As he did not wish that his charger (the hippogriff) should take any further excursions into the higher regions for the present, he bound him at the sea-shore to a green myrtle between a laurel and a pine.)
O Musician! art thou happy now? Thou art reinstalled at thy stately desk — thy faithful barbiton has its share in the triumph. It is thy masterpiece which fills thy ear; it is thy daughter who fills the scene — the music, the actress, so united, that applause to one is applause to both. They make way for thee, at the orchestra — they no longer jeer and wink, when, with a fierce fondness, thou dost caress thy Familiar, that plains, and wails, and chides, and growls, under thy remorseless hand. They understand now how irregular is ever the symmetry of real genius. The inequalities in its surface make the moon luminous to man. Giovanni Paisiello, Maestro di Capella, if thy gentle soul could know envy, thou must sicken to see thy Elfrida and thy Pirro laid aside, and all Naples turned fanatic to the Siren, at whose measures shook querulously thy gentle head! But thou, Paisiello, calm in the long prosperity of fame, knowest that the New will have its day, and comfortest thyself that the Elfrida and the Pirro will live forever. Perhaps a mistake, but it is by such mistakes that true genius conquers envy. “To be immortal,” says Schiller, “live in the whole.” To be superior to the hour, live in thy self-esteem. The audience now would give their ears for those variations and flights they were once wont to hiss. No! — Pisani has been two-thirds of a life at silent work on his masterpiece: there is nothing he can add to THAT, however he might have sought to improve on the masterpieces of others. Is not this common? The least little critic, in reviewing some work of art, will say, “pity this, and pity that;” “this should have been altered — that omitted.” Yea, with his wiry fiddlestring will he creak out his accursed variations. But let him sit down and compose himself. He sees no improvement in variations THEN! Every man can control his fiddle when it is his own work with which its vagaries would play the devil.
And Viola is the idol, the theme of Naples. She is the spoiled sultana of the boards. To spoil her acting may be easy enough — shall they spoil her nature? No, I think not. There, at home, she is still good and simple; and there, under the awning by the doorway — there she still sits, divinely musing. How often, crook-trunked tree, she looks to thy green boughs; how often, like thee, in her dreams, and fancies, does she struggle for the light — not the light of the stage-lamps. Pooh, child! be contented with the lamps, even with the rush-lights. A farthing candle is more convenient for household purposes than the stars.
Weeks passed, and the stranger did not reappear; months had passed, and his prophecy of sorrow was not yet fulfilled. One evening Pisani was taken ill. His success had brought on the long-neglected composer pressing applications for concerti and sonata, adapted to his more peculiar science on the violin. He had been employed for some weeks, day and night, on a piece in which he hoped to excel himself. He took, as usual, one of those seemingly impracticable subjects which it was his pride to subject to the expressive powers of his art — the terrible legend connected with the transformation of Philomel. The pantomime of sound opened with the gay merriment of a feast. The monarch of Thrace is at his banquet; a sudden discord brays through the joyous notes — the string seems to screech with horror. The king learns the murder of his son by the hands of the avenging sisters. Swift rage the chords, through the passions of fear, of horror, of fury, and dismay. The father pursues the sisters. Hark! what changes the dread — the discord — into that long, silvery, mournful music? The transformation is completed; and Philomel, now the nightingale, pours from the myrtle-bough the full, liquid, subduing notes that are to tell evermore to the world the history of her woes and wrongs. Now, it was in the midst of this complicated and difficult attempt that the health of the over-tasked musician, excited alike by past triumph and new ambition, suddenly gave way. He was taken ill at night. The next morning the doctor pronounced that his disease was a malignant and infectious fever. His wife and Viola shared in their tender watch; but soon that task was left to the last alone. The Signora Pisani caught the infection, and in a few hours was even in a state more alarming than that of her husband. The Neapolitans, in common with the inhabitants of all warm climates, are apt to become selfish and brutal in their dread of infectious disorders. Gionetta herself pretended to be ill, to avoid the sick-chamber. The whole labour of love and sorrow fell on Viola. It was a terrible trial — I am willing to hurry over the details. The wife died first!
One day, a little before sunset, Pisani woke partially recovered from the delirium which had preyed upon him, with few intervals, since the second day of the disease; and casting about him his dizzy and feeble eyes, he recognised Viola, and smiled. He faltered her name as he rose and stretched his arms. She fell upon his breast, and strove to suppress her tears.
“Thy mother?” he said. “Does she sleep?”
“She sleeps — ah, yes!” and the tears gushed forth.
“I thought — eh! I know not WHAT I have thought. But do not weep: I shall be well now — quite well. She will come to me when she wakes — will she?”
Viola could not speak; but she busied herself in pouring forth an anodyne, which she had been directed to give the sufferer as soon as the delirium should cease. The doctor had told her, too, to send for him the instant so important a change should occur.
She went to the door and called to the woman who, during Gionetta’s pretended illness, had been induced to supply her place; but the hireling answered not. She flew through the chambers to search for her in vain — the hireling had caught Gionetta’s fears, and vanished. What was to be done? The case was urgent — the doctor had declared not a moment should be lost in obtaining his attendance; she must leave her father — she must go herself! She crept back into the room — the anodyne seemed already to have taken benign effect; the patient’s eyes were closed, and he breathed regularly, as in sleep. She stole away, threw her veil over her face, and hurried from the house.
Now the anodyne had not produced the effect which it appeared to have done; instead of healthful sleep, it had brought on a kind of light-headed somnolence, in which the mind, preternaturally restless, wandered about its accustomed haunts, waking up its old familiar instincts and inclinations. It was not sleep — it was not delirium; it was the dream-wakefulness which opium sometimes induces, when every nerve grows tremulously alive, and creates a corresponding activity in the frame, to which it gives a false and hectic vigour. Pisani missed something — what, he scarcely knew; it was a combination of the two wants most essential to his mental life — the voice of his wife, the touch of his Familiar. He rose — he left his bed, he leisurely put on his old dressing-robe, in which he had been wont to compose. He smiled complacently as the associations connected with the garment came over his memory; he walked tremulously across the room, and entered the small cabinet next to his chamber, in which his wife had been accustomed more often to watch than sleep, when illness separated her from his side. The room was desolate and void. He looked round wistfully, and muttered to himself, and then proceeded regularly, and with a noiseless step, through the chambers of the silent house, one by one.
He came at last to that in which old Gionetta — faithful to her own safety, if nothing else — nursed herself, in the remotest corner of the house, from the danger of infection. As he glided in — wan, emaciated, with an uneasy, anxious, searching look in his haggard eyes — the old woman shrieked aloud, and fell at his feet. He bent over her, passed his thin hands along her averted face, shook his head, and said in a hollow voice —
“I cannot find them; where are they?”
“Who, dear master? Oh, have compassion on yourself; they are not here. Blessed saints! this is terrible; he has touched me; I am dead!”
“Dead! who is dead? Is any one dead?”
“Ah! don’t talk so; you must know it well: my poor mistress — she caught the fever from you; it is infectious enough to kill a whole city. San Gennaro protect me! My poor mistress, she is dead — buried, too; and I, your faithful Gionetta, woe is me! Go, go — to — to bed again, dearest master — go!”
The poor musician stood for one moment mute and unmoving, then a slight shiver ran through his frame; he turned and glided back, silent and spectre-like, as he had entered. He came into the room where he had been accustomed to compose — where his wife, in her sweet patience, had so often sat by his side, and praised and flattered when the world had but jeered and scorned. In one corner he found the laurel-wreath she had placed on his brows that happy night of fame and triumph; and near it, half hid by her mantilla, lay in its case the neglected instrument.
Viola was not long gone: she had found the physician; she returned with him; and as they gained the threshold, they heard a strain of music from within — a strain of piercing, heart-rending anguish. It was not like some senseless instrument, mechanical in its obedience to a human hand — it was as some spirit calling, in wail and agony from the forlorn shades, to the angels it beheld afar beyond the Eternal Gulf. They exchanged glances of dismay. They hurried into the house; they hastened into the room. Pisani turned, and his look, full of ghastly intelligence and stern command, awed them back. The black mantilla, the faded laurel-leaf, lay there before him. Viola’s heart guessed all at a single glance; she sprung to his knees; she clasped them — “Father, father, I am left thee still!”
The wail ceased — the note changed; with a confused association — half of the man, half of the artist — the anguish, still a melody, was connected with sweeter sounds and thoughts. The nightingale had escaped the pursuit — soft, airy, bird-like, thrilled the delicious notes a moment, and then died away. The instrument fell to the floor, and its chords snapped. You heard that sound through the silence. The artist looked on his kneeling child, and then on the broken chords . . . “Bury me by her side,” he said, in a very calm, low voice; “and THAT by mine.” And with these words his whole frame became rigid, as if turned to stone. The last change passed over his face. He fell to the ground, sudden and heavy. The chords THERE, too — the chords of the human instrument were snapped asunder. As he fell, his robe brushed the laurel-wreath, and that fell also, near but not in reach of the dead man’s nerveless hand.
Broken instrument, broken heart, withered laurel-wreath! — the setting sun through the vine-clad lattice streamed on all! So smiles the eternal Nature on the wrecks of all that make life glorious! And not a sun that sets not somewhere on the silenced music — on the faded laurel!
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06