Nature, without other tutor, teacheth us how all agents work for some precise end, and to obtain that, do contribute all their endeavours, and make use of all the means that are within the reach of their power. But, herein, natural agents that are guided by an original necessity, have one great advantage over those that have liberty of election of the ends and means: for they are levelled by a certain and never failing rule which was given to all things when their first being was given them, and from the which they cannot depart nor swerve without the immediate and express interessing of him that was their lawgiver, who governs them with infinite justice, wisdom, and goodness. But these being composed of such differing parts, that one may well say they bear about within them a perpetual civil war; the rational part striving to preserve her dignity and the superiority due to her, as being the nobler substance; and the inferior part, wherein reign the mists and clouds of various and inconstant passions, aspiring to overshadow and dim her brightness, and to range at liberty without any curb, they are always in great and almost inevitable hazard of miscarrying, as well in the proposing to themselves the worthiest end as in the election of the sincere and true means to attain unto it. Which hath made me many times retire my looser thoughts within their own centre, and with serious meditation fix them upon this subject, through the desire I have had to direct this my journey in a right way, which is of so much importance, that the least going astray out of the true path brings a continual sickness to the world, and the greatest disorder, that may be among the senses.; the one being then always in unquietness and a tedious expectation of the future, and never contented with the present, like to sick men that being in a high fever do often change their places and; turn from one side to the other, though. with no ease or amendment; and the others grow mutinous and disobedient, seeing that she who ought to be their mistress and governess, is at war within herself, and in as much distemper as they can be in; so that the smallest errors whatsoever do turn into jarring dissonances the music within man, which consisting parts, when they keep exact time together, frameth the sweetest and most pleasing harmony that may be.
At such times then as my soul being delivered of other outward distractions, hath summoned all her faculties to attend this main business, the first consideration that hath occurred to me hath been that the peace and tranquillity of the mind ought principally to be aimed at; the obtaining of which is an infallible token that one is in the right way of attaining to perfect happiness; or rather, these two have so straight and near a relation, as that the one cannot be without the other: for this ethereal form, which by the Almighty Architect was breathed into us, can no more rest when any thing concerning it is out of the due harmony and proportion, than a sensible body can when any of the humours are distempered or unequally distributed; and as a just mixture of these causeth an entire and vigorous health of the body, which is not so well discerned by considering it positively in itself, as by comparing the present state of it with those that are sick; so the due temperature of the mind causeth the health of it and that blessed rest that we all aim at; which is best discovered by conferring it with those that are in the way of ruin, having lost the load-star that should be their guide in the troublesome and tempestuous seas of this short and transitory life.
I have, therefore, gone about to examine by myself the course and tenor of other men’s actions; but in most of them I have found such uncertainty and such unstayedness, that I soon perceived there was nothing to be gathered from them for my direction, more than to avoid treading in those paths where they walked. But at length I perceived that that Infinite Light, which illuminateth all things, is never wanting to illustrate such a mind as with due humility and diligence maketh itself fit to receive it: for it was not long before such an example occurred to me, as satisfied me that in this life a man may enjoy so much happiness, as without anxiety or desire of having any thing besides what he possesseth, he may, with a quiet and peaceable soul, rest with full measure of content and bliss, that I know not whether it be short of it in any thing but the security of continuance. It was the perfect friendship and noble love of two generous persons, that seemed to be born in this age by ordinance of heaven to teach the world anew what it hath long forgotten, the mystery of loving with honour and constancy, between a man and a woman; both of them in the vigour of their youth, and both blessed by nature with eminent endowments, as well of the mind as of the body.
There are so many and so different circumstances requisite to form a perfect example in this kind, that it is no wonder though many ages produce not one complete in all points; the main defect of which is oftentimes on the woman’s part, through the weakness of that sex; which is seldom, and almost but by miracle, capable of so divine a thing as an assured constant friendship, mingled with the fervent heat of love and affection; being that, for the most part, this latter is of the nature of violent things, which are but of short durance; and the other ought to march on with a majestic, settled, and firm pace, without any intermission, coldness, or satiety.
And, besides, because that in exact friendships the wills of the two friends ought to be so drowned in one another, like two flames which are joined, that they become but one, which cannot be unless the faculties of the understanding be equal, they guiding the actions of a regulated will, it cometh to pass, for the most part, that this halteth on the woman’s side, whose notions are not usually so. high and elevated as men’s; and so it seldom happeneth that there is that society between them in the highest and deepest speculations of the mind, which are consequently the most pleasing, as is requisite in a perfect friendship. Which reasons have moved some to place the possibility of such friendship only between man and man; but, certainly, if they had considered how thus they leave out one half of man, and indeed the first motive of affection, being that the understanding can judge only of what is represented to it by the senses, whose objects are corporeal, they would not have concluded their proposition so definitely but that they would have left this exception, to wit, unless a masculine and heroic soul can be found informing the body of a beautiful and fair woman, so to make the blessing of friendship full on every side by an entire and general communication.
If, then, I should be asked where such an example might be found, I must confess that, besides this which I intend to speak of, I could urge none; which it seemeth the Infinite Wisdom, that disposeth all things, deferred until this season, wherein affections are so depraved that they had need of the liveliest pattern and most efficacious means to incite them to mingle honour with their other joys: that so they may entirely possess the height of that happiness which this life can afford, and which representeth notably the infinite blessed state wherein the almighty God reigneth, by uniting two persons, two souls, two wills, in one; which by breathing together produce a divine love; and then their bodies may justly strive to perpetuate that essence by succession, whose durance in themselves is limited: and thus they become types of that trinity and unity living in eternity, which infused the spirit of life into him of whom all men derive themselves, and enjoy in security within themselves the perfection of blessedness and content.
The sweetness of my contemplations have so of a sudden plunged me into an immense ocean, that I can sail no longer in it in the weak bark of human capacity and reason; therefore all that I can do to save myself from shipwreck, will be to make haste back to the shore; where, betaking myself to an easier task, I will set down in the best manner that I can, the beginning, progress, and consummation of that excellent love which only makes me believe that our pilgrimage in this world is not indifferently laid upon all persons for a curse.
In the first place, it giveth me occasion to acknowledge and admire the high and transcendent operations of the celestial bodies, which containing, and moving about the universe, send their influence every way and to all things; and who, although they take not away the liberty of free agents, yet do so strongly, though at the first secretly and insensibly, work upon their spiritual part by means of the corporeal, that they get the mastery before they be perceived; and then it is too late to make any resistance. For from what other cause could proceed this strong knot of affection, which being tied in tender years before any mutual obligations could help to confirm it, could not be torn asunder by long absence, the austerity of parents, other pretenders, false rumours, and other the greatest difficulties and oppositions that could come to blast the budding blossoms of an infant love that hath since brought forth so fair flowers and so mature fruit? Certainly the stars were at the least the first movers; who having ordained that from the affection of these two the world might learn how to love, did link together sundry remote causes to make them all concur in this one effect: and as in sciences the first principles are abstruse and inscrutable, but they being delivered by an unquestionable authority and once received, it is easy to extend them and to build high and elevated conclusions upon them; even so; when the higher powers had by a transcendant manner of operation inclined the hearts of Theagenes and Stelliana to the liking of one another, then straight their understandings, their wills, and all the faculties of their souls applied themselves with all the vehemence that might be to frame a perfect love.
It is evident that their own election had the least part in the beginning of it, for before they had the freedom of that or of judging this fire was kindled, it grew with them, and the first word that they could speak, being yet in the nurse’s arms was, love: which, taking deep root in their tender hearts, and meeting with heroical souls, produced heroical and worthy effects, the relation of which shall be the subject of the ensuing discourse, wherein I will set down, in the liveliest manner that I can, the various fortunes that befell them before they arrived to their wished period; and that in a plain style, and without endearing any thing to the advancement of either of them beyond the reality of truth; knowing that in the first, if I should strive to do otherwise, my mean abilities would come far short of my desire; and in the second, I might seem, unto those that know how near friends they are unto me, to have looked upon them through the glass of affection, and to have delivered them with partiality.
To deduce then this narration from the very beginning, Stelliana being born of parents that in the antiquity and lustre of their houses, and in the goods of fortune, were inferior to none in all Peloponesus; it pleased Heaven, when she was not many months old, to take her mother from her, deeming, as I think the earth, and too negligent a husband, not worthy of so divine a blessing; who dying left the goodness of her soul and the beauty of her body, in both which she surpassed all others of her time, to her infant daughter.
Nearchus then, for that was the name of Stelliana’s father, being like those that through the weakness of their eyes are dazzled with too great a light, and are notable to comprehend it until the absence of it make them lament their loss; began then to be sensible how happy he might formerly have been by the unhappy state wherein he found himself, being deprived of that jewel whose loss would have made the world poor, if out of her ashes another Phoenix had not risen with greater splendour. And then sorrow and discontented thoughts beginning to take possession of his mind, the nature of which is to please themselves in nothing but such objects as may feed and increase them, he retired himself to a private and recollected life, where without the troubles that attend upon great fortunes he might give free scope to his melancholic fantasies: which to enjoy more fully in the way that he desired, he judged it expedient by removing his daughter from him to take away such cumbers as might disturb his course, since it was requisite for the education due to her high birth to have many about her, that would ill agree with his affected solitariness.
Wherefore, as soon as she had attained to such strength as that her remove might be without danger, he sent her to a kinsman of his, whose wife being a grave and virtuous lady, had given him assurance that no care or diligence should be wanting on her part to cultivate those rare natural endowments which did already shine through her tender age. Their house in the country was near to that where Arete the mother of Theagenes lived, whose father was then dead, which gave occasion of frequent interchanging visits between her and Stelliana’s guardians, and the affection of the one to her son, which would not suffer her to be long without him, and the respect of the others to their charge, which made them glad to satisfy her, though yet childish desires, in any thing they could, as in the fondness of going abroad and such like, was the cause that they seldom came together but that the two children had part in the meeting: who the very first time that ever they had sight of one another, grew so fond of each other’s company, that all that saw them said assuredly that something above their tender capacity breathed this sweet affection into their hearts. They would mingle serious kisses among their innocent sports: and whereas other children of like age did delight in fond plays and light toys, these two would spend the day in looking upon each other’s face, and in accompanying these looks with gentle sighs, which seemed to portend that much sorrow was laid up for their more understanding years; and if at any time they happened to use such recreations as were sortable to their age, they demeaned themselves therein so prettily and so affectionately, that one would have said, love was grown a child again and took delight to play with them. And when the time of parting came, they would take their leaves with such abundance of tears and sighs as made it evident that so deep a sorrow could not be borne and nursed in children’s breasts without a nobler cause than the usual fondness in others.
But I should do wrong unto their riper love, to insist too long upon these crude beginnings, therefore, with as much haste as I can I will run these over, to come unto the other that calls upon me to keep myself in breath and to summon together my quickest spirits, that I may be able to represent it in as stately and majestic manner as it deserves. Therefore what I have already said shall suffice for their first innocent years, whiles fortune seemed to conspire with love to unite their hearts: but they were scarcely arrived to the maturity of judging why they loved, and not to love still only because they loved, when she turned about her inconstant wheel in such sort that, if their fates had not been written above in eternal characters, even then their affections had been by a long winter of absence nipped and destroyed in their budding spring. For what is not that able to do in so young hearts, that immediately after have the overtures and pursuits of new and advantageous loves? Yet these kept their first fire alive; and although it may seem in the process of this story that sometime it burned but faintly, yet it was only that those coals wanting fuel, wrought upon themselves, and by their own violence covered themselves over in a bed of ashes, which the first sight raked away, and added plentiful matter to cause a brighter flame than at any time before.
To continue then where I left, Stelliana being of such age that with her tender hand she could scarcely reach to gather the lowest fruit of the loaden boughs; her father, that yielded daily more and more to his discontents, and fainting under the burden of them which age made to seem heavier, sent for her back to his own house, hoping that by the presence of such a daughter, whom fame delivered to excel in all things belonging to a lady of her quality, and that inherited the perfections of her deceased mother, whose loss he lamented still as tenderly as at the first day of her death, he might pass the rest of his drooping days with some more content, and to have in her a lively image of his virtuous wife, that being deeply engraved in his heart, did with the continual exercise of his solitary thoughts upon that one subject, almost wear it out and corrode it through.
He then perceived that his expectations and desires were not frustrated; for Stelliana’s sweet and gentle disposition, that was like a rich soil to sow the best grain in, striving to exceed in capacity the good precepts that were delivered her by those tutors which her guardian’s loving care with singular choice had placed about her, had made her to exceed all others of her age so far, as caused men to doubt that the heavens meaned not to lend her long unto the earth, since she had already arrived to that maturity and perfection that most come short of when they have past a long and tedious life: so that she was ready to change this wearisome pilgrimage for a happier crown before she knew almost what it was to live.
He had not long enjoyed the fruits of this blessed harvest, when the marriage of the King of Morea’s daughter with one of the greatest princes of Achaya, invited all men of eminency to the court, to contribute their particular joys to the great and public solemnities. Wherefore Nearchus being desirous to give his daughter the content of seeing the magnificent entertainments that are usual at such times, and also being glad to let the world now see that fame was nothing too lavish in setting out her perfections, took this occasion to bring her to Corinth the metropolitan city, where her beauty and discretion did soon draw the eyes and thoughts of all men to admiration: so that in this the example of her was singular, that whereas the beauty of other fair ladies used to grace and adorn public feasts and assemblies, hers did so far exceed all others as well in action as in excellence, that it drew to her not only the affections, but also the thoughts of all persons, so that all things else that were provided with greatest splendour and curiosity, passed by unregarded and neglected.
But here one may see how undeservedly that is styled happiness, which subsisteth only in the opinion of others; and how little they are sensible of outward applause, that have their heart fixed upon other objects; for in the midst of these joys where Stelliana was the jewel that crowned them all, she could taste nothing that savoured of content; but as if happiness had been confined to where Theagenes was, in his absence she did languish and think those hours tedious that obliged her by civil respect whiles she was in company to suspend and interrupt her thoughts, whose true centre he was and about which they only desired to move. So that one day Ursatius, a principal nobleman of the court, whose heart was set on fire with the radiant beams that sparkled from her eyes, took the confidence to speak unto her as he sat next to her at a masque, in this manner: “Fair lady,” quoth he, “I shall begin to endear myself to your knowledge by taxing you with that which I am confident you cannot excuse yourself of; for if by the exterior lineaments of the face, and by the habitude of the body, we may conjecture the frame and temper of the mind, certainly yours must be endowed with such perfections, that it is the greatest injustice and ingratitude that may be, for you to imprison your thoughts in silence, and to deny the happiness of your conversation to those whose very souls depend upon every motion that you make: and so you rob Him of the honour due to Him who is the Author of all good; and who in retribution expecteth that they unto whom he hath been most liberal of his favours, should by due communication of them most glorify him.”
Stelliana, who was surprised by this unexpected discourse of one that she knew no otherwise but by name, and being disturbed from her pleasing thoughts, was some time before she could recollect herself: but after she had sate awhile as one amazed, civility called upon her to return some answer to him, that she knew was the person of most respect and note about the king; wherefore at length with a modest blush she thus replied to him: “Sir, if nature had bestowed any exterior recommendations upon me, as I cannot flatter myself that she has, it would be most discretion in me to rely upon the favour that I might gain thereby; since I am so conscious of my other weaknesses, that whensoever I should go about but to excuse them, I should belie any good opinion that others might have entertained of me: but in that you are pleased to express more respect to me than any ways I can deserve, I hold myself obliged to reduce you out of error, though to my own disadvantage, by speaking to you; whereby through my rudeness I am sure you will gather more arguments to make you ashamed of what you say you have conceived of me, than to confirm you in it.”
“I shall never contradict you,” replied he then, “in any thing but in this; since I should acknowledge too great a dulness and stupidity in myself, if I were not in some measure capable of discerning those rare perfections that shine in you, and seeing them, if I did not love and admire them; therefore I make an humble suit unto you, not that you will be pleased to bestow any favour upon me, for I cannot be so presumptuous as to beg any until I have by some means shewn at least an affectionate desire to deserve them, but that you will give me leave to love and adore you, and not be displeased that one of so small merit as I am, should be so ambitious as to style himself your humble servant.”
He had scarcely made an end of saying thus much, when one of the Maskers, they having now ended their set dance, came to take Stelliana by the hand, beseeching her to follow him in a corrente; which delivered her of the trouble of returning any answer to Ursatius, otherwise than with a disdainful look; for going along with him that had taken her out, the other’s greedy ears that expected the sweet sound of her charming voice, were forced of a sudden to resign all their spirits into his eyes, to contemplate her motions, that were so composed of awful majesty and graceful agility, that all the beholders being ravished with delight, said, surely one of the Graces was descended from heaven to honour these nuptials. Which was the cause that when they had seen how skilfully she kept time with her feet to the music’s sound, she was suffered no more to return unto her former seat: for it adding much to the grace of good dancers to have their lady observe due distances, and to move themselves, as it were, by consent in just proportion, every one in their turn beseeched the like favour of her that she had done to their companion, before he could lead her back unto her first place: yet in this they deceived themselves; for her excellency that would brook no partner, engrossed to herself all the commendations, while they had scarce any notice taken of them. But she was wearied with her much exercise, before the beholders could be satisfied with delight; which made time glide away so swiftly and unperceivably, that they heard from abroad the watchful cock warn men to rise up to their daily labours, before they could persuade themselves it was time to go to rest. But then the king adjourning the assembly and the continuance of these recreations to the next night, every one retired; and Stelliana being returned to her lodging, as she was making her unready, related to the gentlewoman that waited upon her in nature of governess, what had passed at court, and what language Ursatius had held to her.
Faustina, for that was the ancient gentlewoman’s name, who only did sit up that night to help her lady to bed, was glad of this occasion to begin to perform that office for Ursatius, that she had promised him; who from the first sight growing every day more and more taken with Stelliana’s beauty, and deeming the honourable way of procuring love by deserts to be too long and tedious, had, with great gifts and greater promises, won Faustina to assure him of her assistance in his pursuit; wherein he had been so unhappy, that until this night he could never get a fit opportunity to express himself a lover to whom he most desired should know it. So that she then interrupting her lady, said thus; “In troth, madam, I wonder that you gave so cold an entertainment to the respects of so noble and deserving a gentleman as Ursatius, who hath the fame of all those that are about the court, to be the discreetest, the most courteous, and the most generous among all the noblemen in this kingdom; and that excelleth them as much in completeness of good parts and the graces of nature, as he doth in the gifts of fortune, and greatness of estate.”
“Dost thou then, Faustina,” answered her lady, “think that any of these considerations can make me false to that affection, that in respect of me had no beginning, for my memory reacheth not to that time, and which I am resolved shall die with me?”
“In all things else,” replied Faustina, “I have found you so discreet, that you may be called the mirror and shame of all the ladies of your age. But in this, madam, pardon me if I speak too boldly, methinks you have no reason at all: for what unthrift would cast away love upon one that is not sensible of it, and regardeth it not!”
“Why do you say so?” answered Stelliana.
“If you could see as far,” quoth Faustina, “into what concerneth you most, as they that are but lookers on, you should not need to ask this question, and you would not sigh all day for Theagenes as you do; for if you had no other cause, methinks the passing of four entire years without so much as hearing from him should make you forget him as much as he doth your love.”
“Alas!” replied Stelliana, “be not so unjust as to tax him with what thou knowest he cannot remedy: it is true, four years have passed, ah! my sorrow keeps too good account, since I have seen him, or have heard from him, but call not that his fault, which is caused only by the rigour of our cruel parents; you know it is so long since the time of their unhappy falling out, who ever since have had so watchful eyes over us, distrusting our affections, that it hath been impossible for so young lovers, that are not yet acquainted with love’s grossest sleights, to find out any means to communicate their passions; and, therefore, I see it is ordained by heaven that I must harbour no other flame within my breast, since this long absence and so many other oppositions have not been able to smother this.”
“Nay, but,” said Faustina, interrupting her, “let not passion blind you altogether; but consider what an advantageous change you may make in embracing Ursatius, who in splendour of nobility, abundance of riches, and favour with his prince, is eminent above all others; for Theagenes, who hath hardly escaped, by his mother’s extreme industry, with the scant relics of a shipwrecked estate, and from his father hath inherited nothing but a foul stain in his blood for attempting to make a fatal revolution in this state.”
“Methinks, Faustina,” replied Stelliana, “you speak in his prejudice with more passion than you can accuse me of in loving him; for I have good reason for this, but you have none to upbraid him with another man’s offence; for although it be the custom of these times to lay a punishment beyond death upon those that conspire against their prince or their government, that so by making it extend to their posterity, it may, perad venture, deter some, who would not be contained by their own single danger, from attempting upon their sacred persons, and from making innovations in the laws; yet it seemeth to be with this condition, that if the son in himself deserve the contrary, he shall be esteemed and cherished according to his own merit, in which the father’s offence is then drowned; so that it rather becomes an incitation to him to do virtuous and worthy actions, than any stain or blemish. Besides this, to speak a little in his father’s behalf, all men know that it was no malicious intent or ambitious desires that brought him into that conspiracy; but his too inviolable faith to his friend, that had trusted him with so dangerous a secret, and his zeal to his country’s ancient liberty; which, being misled by those upon whose advice he relied, was the cause of overthrowing the most generous, discreet, worthy, and hopeful gentleman that ever this country brought forth: to which may be added, that the successful or ruinous events of undertakings of that nature, do for the most part guide the judgments that vulgar men make of the honesty of their intentions. And for his estate, although it were much less than it is, yet it would be plentiful enough for one that loveth him for his better part, which is his mind; besides that I am so much beholden to fortune, that I am myself mistress of so much as may satisfy a heart that can content itself with conveniency, more than which is excess and superfluity; which is too abject and mean a thing to enter into the lowest thoughts of one that is acquainted with the divine light of a noble and heroical love, as mine is. Therefore I am resolved, I will no longer be a patient martyr; but will speedily use some means that he may hear from me, and I have news of him.”
Faustina perceiving her lady to grow more passionate by contradiction, and the guiltiness of her conscience making her doubt that Stelliana saw too far into her heart, thought it most expedient for the present to give way to her lady’s vehemence; which she did, promising her best and faithful service to procure her content, now that she perceived clearly which way it was resolutely bent. Which when she had said, and Stelliana being laid down in her bed, and the curtains drawn, wishing her good rest and joyful dreams, with a low curtsey she took her leave and went into her own chamber; into which, sleep had but an ill welcome that night; for her troubled and divided thoughts kept her awake, until after many doubts and consultations with herself, at length she resolved upon a tragedy, which, with the first conveniency, she intended to put in action. For covetousness, that usually accompanieth aged women, who, from low and mean beginnings, come to have too weighty charges committed to them, and whose minds, for the most part, are then mercenary, as in their youth their bodies were, had so inveigled Faustina with Ursatius’s large promises, that after long debate within herself, at length she swallowed that golden bait; and shutting her eyes to her own infamy, and the betraying of her lady, she resolved now not only to solicit her to her dishonour by persuasions, as at first she had proposed to herself, but, conceiving that would be but time lost, her affection being already so firmly grounded, she lay contriving what artifice she might use to deliver her up into her unworthy lover’s power. So that the next day, when her lady’s being in company gave her the liberty of going abroad, she went privately to Ursatius’s house; unto whom she had early in the morning sent a messenger to desire him to stay at home, for that she had business of importance to speak to him of. He stayed, expecting her coming with much impatience and many unquiet thoughts; yet his hopes outweighed his fears, because he conceived she would not make such haste to bring him ill news, and that she came herself to gain the reward of a joyful message; in which he was the more confirmed by calling to mind what passed between Stelliana and him the last night, when he took it as an argument of much favour from her, that she returned him no harsh answer, nor rude check, for his bold insinuation: so apt men are to flatter themselves with any shadows or imaginations that may nourish in them the hopes of what they vehemently desire. But when Faustina was come and began to speak to him, another passion banished away the former; so that before she had half ended what she had to say, he burst out in this manner: “Ah! then I see Heaven envieth I should be happy; in nothing else it had power to disturb my joys; which now I perceive how low and wretched they are, that one denial of a scornful beauty is enough to make me miserable; I am resolved to take myself out of fortune’s power, and will go to the other world to preach to damned souls that their pains are but imaginary ones in respect of theirs that live in the hell of love.”
“Why,” interrupted Faustina, “do you fall into such despair? I come to teach you how you may be master of what you say you love so much, if you would hear me.”
“Oh, Faustina!” replied Ursatius, “pardon my sorrows that make all things intolerable to me that do but cross my hopes of enjoying the fairest Stelliana; I say I love her; I will proclaim I love her; and that so much, that without her my life will be but a curse and a vexation; therefore make haste and deliver, in short, the sentence of my life or death.”
“Then hear,” quoth Faustina, “it is true I have gained nothing out of her mouth that I may build much hope upon of her consent to your suit.”
“But,” interrupted Ursatius, “without her consent how can I ever be happy?”
“You will not hear me speak,” continued Faustina; “who knows that her heart and her tongue beat the same measure? The art of dissimulation is born with women, who, being by nature ordained to serve men, grow, to be tyrants when they see them humble: therefore remember your own strength, and, by faint wooing, do not bar yourself of what you may be master of.”
“And how should I be master of her,” replied Ursatius, “that would think it happiness enough to do her any acceptable service?”
“Nay,” quoth Faustina, “as long as your ambitions are so low, I hold it fittest for me to be silent, rather than to acquaint you with what I had contrived for your content, which requireth resolution and active spirits for the achieving it.”
“You would do my love wrong.” answered Ursatius, “if you should think fear could detain me from any hazardous enterprise, wherein assurance of obtaining Stelliana were the period of it.”
“Follow then but my directions,” said Faustina, “and I will, before many days pass over my head, put her into your hands by a sleight that I have invented.”
“But if it be a plot of yours without consent on her part,” replied Ursatius, “well may you make me master of her body, but her mind will then be farther from me than before; for now the worst is that she does not love me, and then she will have just reason to hate me as much as I can love her.”
These, and many other speeches to like effect, Faustina used to Ursatius, to wean him from his respective love; who, although he were infinitely perplexed in the very thought of offending whom he so much desired to please, yet, on the other side, seeing nothing but despair in his behalf, or, at least, such difficulties that his impatience would not let him seek to overcome them in an honourable manner, he resolved at length to embrace the offer that Faustina made him to deliver Stelliana into his hands without any resistance or noise. Which, to effect according as she had contrived, she took one day occasion of speaking unto her lady, as she sate in her wonted manner, the sun of her beauty shining through the clouds of sadness; when, seeming to bear a part with her in her sorrows, towards whom she professed to have a natural tenderness, as having been under her charge and care from her infancy, she promised her faith and secrecy in whatsoever might conduce to her content.
Wherewith Stelliana, being much joyed, gave her many thanks, and, after long debate what was fittest to be done, they concluded that Faustina should inquire after Theagenes, and when she had fully informed herself concerning him, that she should send a discreet messenger to him, with a letter from Stelliana.
As soon as this resolution was taken between them, Faustina went abroad, and returned not till night; when, coming to her lady with a cheerful countenance, the messenger of good news, she told her how gracious heaven was to her desires; for, having learned how Theagenes was come the night before to the city, she had sent a messenger to him, who took so fit an opportunity of accosting him, that he had large and private discourse with him; wherein he had concluded that the same servant should come the next day about sunset, to be his guide to the park, that is three miles out of the city, if Stelliana could have conveniency to come then to meet him there.
“How,” replied Stelliana, “should he put that in doubt? I hope he measureth not my flames by his own, when he maketh such a question; for no sea between, nor hell itself, should hinder me from running into those wished arms.”
The excess of her joy suffered her not to make much expression of it in words; for she was so full, that in striving to break out, it locked itself faster in; and as a weak body faints under the strong physic that is prescribed to bring it health, even so her soul, that of a sudden was surprised with so strong a passion, was not able to resist; but, striving to succour itself that had most need, it retired all her faculties to one centre, and left the fairest body that ever was, destitute of due aid; who, taking it unkindly to be so forsaken, expressed in her face a deadly heaviness, mingled with the heavenly sweetness of a tranced angel that is ravished with the contemplation of his Creator’s perfections, and his own joys: and when she was come to herself again, who could have seen her thoughts, would have said that the sufferance which one undergoeth before they attain unto it, exceedeth far the good which, even in wishes and hope, a lover can promise to himself. After she had passed this night and part of the next day with much unquietness, the declining sun, that was ready to plunge himself into his lover’s bosom, summoned her to begin her journey to hers: so that, taking Faustina with her, she went to the back door of the garden, where a coach with four horses stayed, waiting for her; Faustina having advised, for less notice sake, not to make use of her own, but to hire one: so that, under this pretence, the coachman of Ursatius in a disguised livery, with his horses, but a hired coach, was there to begin the first act of the ensuing tragedy.
She was scarce gone half way to the appointed place, when five or six horsemen, well mounted, overtook the coach; who, speaking to the coachman, that was instructed what to do, he stayed his horses, and, two of them alighting, came into the coach to her, and drawing their poignards, threatened her with death if she cried out or made any noise; assuring her withal, that from them she should receive no violence, if she would sit quietly: and therewithal drew the curtains, that none might see who was in the coach as they passed by.
In this agony of distracted thoughts, that represented to her from what hopes of bliss she was fallen into an abyss of sorrow; and, fearing the worst that might happen to an undefended maid that was fallen into rude hands, she travelled till near morning; when the coach staying, she was taken out, and led into a fair lodge that stood in the middle of a pleasant lawn environed with rich groves: and there an ancient woman entertaining her with comfortable speeches, and the assurance of all service intended to her, which she should quickly perceive to be true, brought her into a richly adorned chamber, advising her to repose herself after so tedious and troublesome a night as, of necessity, she must have passed.
After she had helped her to bed, it was some time before sleep could take possession of her fair lids, but, at lengthy it being the nature of extreme grief to oppress the spirits, whereas a tolerable one doth but exasperate them, her heart yielded to the weight of so heavy a burden; and death himself, grown tender in seeing her affliction, sent his brother sleep to charm her wearied eyes that else would have been turned into a flood of tears, and to give some truce to her abundant sorrow. Peradventure he might at length have come himself to seize upon so sweet a mansion, had not Ursatius, impatient of so long delay, towards the evening, come in unto her, who, stumbling at the opening of the door, which he might have taken as an infallible presage of his ensuing repulse, with the much noise wakened her, and frighted away the other’s drowsy harbinger. She, hearing one come into the chamber, rose up half way in her bed, and then, by the glimmering of the light that stole in between the chinks of the drawn curtains, she perceived, as he came near her, that it was Ursatius; who, kneeling down by her bed’s side, after some pause, began in this manner: “Before I came into your presence, fairest Stelliana, I had proposed to myself many things that I would say to you, to excuse my deceiving you in getting you hither; but that divinity that is about you doth so astonish me, that I forget all studied eloquence, and am forced to betake myself to the naked and simple expression of a faultering tongue, that speaketh but the overboilings of a passionate heart. What error I have committed is caused by love; he was my guide, and hath brought me to that pass that, without it be requited by yours, I cannot live.”
“Alas!” replied Stelliana, after a deep sigh, “how ill your deeds and words sort together! you mention love, but perform the effects of extreme hatred! you sue to me for life, and in a treacherous manner have brought mine into your power; but, howsoever, at least I have this content remaining, that I shall find out sundry ways to death, if you attempt any thing upon my honour; the loss of which I am resolved never to outlive: and then my injured ghost shall be a perpetual terror to your guilty soul, which I will so pursue, that I will make you fly to hell to save you from my more tormenting vengeance.”
Ursatius was so amazed, that he was a long time before he replied any thing to her resolute answer; but, at length, like one new coming out of a trance, he called his spirits together, and strived what he could to lessen the error he had committed, laying much of the fault upon Faustina’s instigations, and telling her how she had been the plotter of all; and that, for his part, his intent was never to have used violence; but that he gave way to this action, seeing how negligent her father was of her, that left her so young and in the tuition of so false a servant, to live by herself in a dissolute age, among such as would daily make assaults upon her honour; and besought her to consider herself mistress of all that he had, for, in effect, she should find it so; and assured her that all the means he would use to obtain his desires, should be love and service.
She then, that doubted this was but a cunning invention of his, to try, first, if he could win her consent by fair means, thought it her best course not to overthrow his hopes altogether, but so to suspend them that she might gain time, wherein only consisted the possibility of her safety, and delay as long as she could his proceeding to any ruder attempt. Wherefore she answered him, that in the state she was in, and considering how he had injured her, she could not believe that he intended really what he said; but when, by experience, she should find him to love her as worthily as he professed, that might be an inducement to her to think better of him than yet she did. While they were in their discourse, the woman that Stelliana met when she came into the lodge, brought in supper; after which, none else being; suffered to come in to attend them, Ursatius taking Stelliana by the hand, led her down the stairs into a garden that her chamber window looked into, all the several parts of which she narrowly observed. At length, the sun setting and a gammy dew beginning to fail, Ursatius asked her if she was not tired with walking, which intimation of retiring she taking hold of, they returned again to her chamber, that, by this time, was dressed up, and the bed made to receive her; when Ursatius, perceiving that she had a desire to betake herself to rest, pretending that she laboured yet of her late toil, be took his leave and wished her a quiet and happy night, commanding the old woman to attend diligently upon her; who, having helped her to bed, retired herself into an inner chamber.
When Stelliana was alone, she gave liberty to her sighs and tears, to lament her cruel fate; but, soon recollecting herself, as conceiving those weak expressions unworthy of her generous soul, as long as there was any spark of hope left, she began to cast with herself by what means she might escape out of that tyrant’s hands, whose lustful fury, she was confident, could not be long delayed, when he should perceive that his respect won nothing but words from hen She had observed how, in one corner of the garden, there was an arbour seated upon a mount which overlooked the wall; and, by that place she deemed that she might, most fitly, take her flight. Wherefore, when by her loud snoring, she perceived that her guardian was fast asleep, she rose with as little noise as she could, and, tying her sheets together, made one end of them fast to a bar in the window, and by that let herself down so gently, that she came to touch ground without any hurt; and then going straight to the arbour, she got down the wall by making use of her garters, as before she had done of her sheets; and then, finding herself at liberty in the park, she directed her course one certain way until she came to the pales, which, with some difficulty, she climbed over; and then she wandered about large fields and horrid woods, without meeting with any highway or sign of habitation. After she had wearied herself with going long in much desolation, towards morning, thinking herself now far enough from Ursatius’s lodge, to be safe from his pursuit, she sate her down to take some rest, when a hungry wolf came rushing out of a wood that was close by, and, perceiving her by the increasing twilight, ran at her with open mouth; whom, as soon as she saw, fear made her run away; but to little purpose; for he had soon overtaken her, and, having got her down, would have made that his prey, that was worthy to sway the empire of the world. But, Oh how unsearchable is the Providence of heaven! for Mardontius, a young nobleman that lived not far from thence, having been abroad all night to harbour a stag in that wood, in which exercise he delighted much, hearing the shrieks and doleful cries that Stelliana made, ran speedily thither; when, seeing that tragical spectacle, he made haste to rescue the distressed lady; and, while with one hand he drew his cutlass, with the other he put his horn to his mouth; at the sound of which, several of his servants came to him, accompanied with strong and swift dogs. So that, among them, they quickly made an end of the unhappy beast, that yet was happy in this, that he died in so high an attempt.
Then they took the lady from the ground, that was almost dead with fear, and from the wolfs merciless teeth had received some wounds in several places about her; the pain of which, and loss of blood, and her wearisome journey, made her almost faint: so that, resting her upon a green bank, she told Mardontius who she was, and part of the adventures that had befallen her: and he having requited her with informing her of his name and quality, stood as one amazed, sucking into his veins the fire of love, which was kindled at that beauty, that yet shined with admirable majesty through her bleeding wounds. But he had not been so long, when she drew his thoughts another way, by asking him what palace that was which they saw close by them, and could discern the rising sun gilding the tops of the highest turrets and pinnacles about it? He answered her, that an old lady, famous for her virtue and zeal in religion, dwelt there, whose name was Artesia.
“What!” replied Stelliana, “Artesia, the widow of Auridonio? whose house is . . . . [Here a line and a half is obliterated in the MS.] . . . .
“It is the same,” answered Mardontius, “that you mean.”
“Then,” said Stelliana, “I see that, amidst my miseries, Heaven hath not abandoned all care of me; for this is the place that, of all others, I should have wished to be in; Artesia being my kinswoman, and one that, I am sure, will compassionate my late disasters. Therefore, sir, I shall not be ashamed, since fortune hath made me owe my life unto you, to beg the favour of you to conduct me thither.”
Whereunto, Mardontius answered, “Fairest lady, I must lament my evil fortune that will not permit me to attend you thither; for there is some private cause that makes it very unfit for me to come to that house, but my servants shall wait upon you, and see you safe there; and I hope, in some other place, I shall have the happiness to express the much respect I bear unto you; and, in the mean time, from this hour forwards, I vow myself unto you in the strictest ties of an humble and affectionate servant.”
To which Stelliana replied, “I do not wonder. Sir, that you use this language to me, when I consider it is the custom of generous souls to oblige themselves more by conferring benefits, than by receiving them; but, howsoever, it belongeth to me to acknowledge upon all occasions that I am more your debtor than is in my power to requite.”
Mardontius, that saw in how evil plight she was, deemed it uncivility to detain her any longer; therefore commanding two of his servants to wait upon her to Artesia’s house; with the rest he stayed there expecting their return.
I omit to describe the passages between Artesia and Stelliana at their first salutes, as I do many other particularities that are not essential to this discourse: but time, and Artesia’s care, and her own good order, having made Stelliana well of her wounds, of which remained some light scars, one evening as they two were walking in the garden, she purposely administered occasion to speak of Arete, knowing that between Artesia and her, there was a straight friendship, and of long date, to the end that she might learn some news of Theagenes: who, gladly falling upon that subject, it being the nature of most persons to let the tongue go willingly where the heart draweth it, spoke much in commendation of that lady; extolling with what an admirable wit and understanding she was endued, and how, being left a widow in the flower of her youth, accompanied with a flourishing beauty and a plentiful estate, yet she was so much wedded to her dear husband’s love, that she neglected all the advantageous offers of earnest and great suitors, that she might with the more liberty perform the part of a careful mother to the dear pledges of their virgin affections.
“For by him,” said Artesia, “she had two children, who now, by her industry in bringing them up in all qualities and virtuous exercises, correspondent to their birth, do give assured hopes that they will not degenerate from their father’s worth, nor give their mother cause to think that her great care in their education was ill bestowed. Yet they seem to differ much in their natures, for the eldest, Theagenes, although the great strength and well framing of his body, make him apt for any corporal exercises, yet he pleaseth himself most in the entertainments of the mind, so that having applied himself to the study of philosophy, and other deepest sciences, wherein he hath a preceptor in the house with him, famous beyond all men now living, for solidness and generality of learning, he is already grown so eminent, that I have heard them say, who have insight that way, that if a lazy desire of ease or ambition of public employments, or some other disturbance, do not interrupt him in this course, he is like to attain to great perfection: at least I can discern thus much, that he hath such a temper of complexion and wit, that his friends have reason to pray God that he may take a right way, for it cannot keep itself in mediocrity, but will infallibly fall to some extreme. But the youngest is composed of mildness and sweetness of disposition, answerable to the excellent form of a comely and active body, yet so mingled with courage and strength of mind, that one may expect he will as much exceed most men in being an ornament of the court, and in martial affairs, as he will come short of any, in speculative notions: for withal, he is not an enemy to study, though he be not naturally much addicted to it. Their mother was ever dear to me,” continued she, “and if I can effect what I have affectionately endeavoured and solicited, we shall be able to leave to our posterity the inheritance of our affections as well as of our estates; for I have laboured long, and Arete hath not been wanting on her part, to join in marriage her eldest son, and my grandchild that you see here; who, if partiality deceive me not, besides that she shall inherit a great estate of her father’s, is so much beholding to nature, that she may shew her face among the fairest, when you are away I mean; and with that she smiled.
But Stelliana was far from answering her with the like cheerful countenance, for it seemed to her that death had from Artesia’s lips shot her heart through: but impatience of delay to know the worst of what she feared called up her fainting spirits; and made her ask, “What it was that hindered the effecting it, since you two,” said she, “that are the guiders of it are equally affected with the desire thereof.”
“It is,” answered Artesia, “the backwardness of Theagenes; of which his mother one day complaining to me, told me what an answer he had made to her a little before, as she had solicited him to condescend to her just desire, it being so much for his advantage. “Madam,” quoth he, “the greatest obligation that I have to you, and wherein you express your love most to me, is the liberty that you have left to me in this main business of marriage, upon the good or evil success of which dependeth one’s future happiness or misery: and since you are pleased to enter into discourse of it with me, as advising me what will be most for my good, I beseech you, give me leave to represent unto you how it is a condition that hath nothing but the entrance free; therefore in wisdom it ought to be deferred till one be in the fulness and vigour of judgment to discern best in making a fitting choice; which cannot well be performed by attorney. Besides, to have it complete in all respects, the first motives of it should not be sordid wealth or other conveniencies, but a divine affection, which may make their souls one as the other bond doth their bodies; and I must confess that, although I know this gentlewoman do every way deserve better fortune than I can bring her, I feel not yet this flame in me towards her, which is indeed only a gift of Heaven. And if I should consent to make her my wife, I must resolve to sit still from any action, as being arrived to the period of my ambition: for the relations that follow marriage are such a clog to an active mind, that it is impossible for one that hath not before laid a foundation for his preferment, to raise himself above the pitch that he then is in; whereas as long as he remaineth single and free, the world seemeth to be at his command in choosing what course is like to succeed best to him, and in the process of which he is like then to have least difficulties. Therefore as long as the weakness of our estate obligeth you not yet to sell me to repair that, I beseech you give me leave to look a little while about me, and to please myself awhile with flying abroad before I be put into the mewe. So that,” continued Artesia, “by this speech of his, and knowing his mother’s indulgence to give way to his desire, I doubt much whether what I have so much longed for will ever come to pass. Yet, because I leave nothing unattempted, Arete and myself, when I last saw her, resolved that she should bring him hither, to try if my grandchild’s silent beauty can persuade him to what yet he hath ever been averse; for they say that the blind god shooting from fair eyes, doth sometimes prevail with stubborn hearts more than any reason or discourse can: so that taking the offered occasion of my son’s coming hither, who will be here tomorrow, to communicate with my nearest friends, my content of seeing so dear a son that hath been long absent from me,’ I have invited her to my house, who I expect will be here within these two or three days, together with Theagenes.”
If the first part of Artesia’s speech brought doubts and fears to Stelliana’s soul, the conclusion of it was to her like a gentle gale of wind, that in a burning day creepeth over sweet and flowery meads, and breathes upon the languishing face of the faint traveller that is almost dead with heat. It was well that she had thus much time before-hand to prepare herself to expect his coming; for if she had been surprised with so joyful a sight, it had been impossible for her to disguise her affections, which mainly imported them both, and principally there, to be concealed: for Arete, that had long before perceived much affection in her son to Stelliana, and being now much averse to it, as well because of some unkindnesses passed between Nearchus and her, as that it might be a disturbance to the other that she came about, and infinitely desired; did with watchful eyes, armed with longing, hatred, and jealousy, continually observe all passages between her son and Stelliana; so as the two first days that they were together, they could have no conveniency of free discourse: whilst their fire increasing by presence and each other’s sight, the keeping of it in too narrow a room without any vent, almost smothered their hearts. But what dull wit will not love refine, and subtilize with acutest inventions? Much more so docile a one as Theagenes’s, whose breast was now become love’s school, out of which he might have read a learned lecture to novice affections. And he, now burning with impatience, and fearing lest, like the loadstone, he should always point to his bright north star without ever coming to touch it, he advised himself of a means to instruct Stelliana how they might have, once before they parted, the liberty of breathing their souls’ affections into one another; which was thus.
One day as she had by accident let her glove fall, he took it up, and having a letter ready in his hand, which he had written a day before, and awaited an opportunity of delivering it, did thrust it into the glove, and kissing it, gave her, who putting her hand into it to pull it on, felt a paper there, which, conceiving how it came in, she kept safe till night, that she was retired into her chamber; and then after she was in bed, and had dismissed her servants, she read it by the help of the watch-light, which stood burning by her: and being thereby instructed how she should govern herself when the occasion was presented to procure a fit and secure meeting, sleep stole upon her as she was entertaining her pleased thoughts with the hope of that blessed hour; which happened to be the next day: for Artesia and her son, and all the company that was at her house, were invited to hunt a stag in the forest that was near adjoining; when being in the midst of the chase, and every one attentive to the sport, Stelliana, staying to be among the hindmost, turned her horse down a riding that led another way than where the hounds had gone, which she did in such a manner, as those that were near her might conceive she would have taken him up, as being weary with a long chase, and not desirous to follow it farther, but that he being hot and impatient of the bit, did perforce carry her that way when he was diverted from the other; [Here eight lines are obliterated.] till being so far got from the rest of the company who in such a wild place could not find them out, they alighted and led their horses into a thicket, where lying down whilst they grazed by them, Stelliana, opening her coral lips which shewed, like the opening of heaven when the Lord of it sendeth abroad some blessed angel to do a message of joy, began in this manner. “The confidence that I have of your respect, my dearest Theagenes, in thus exposing my honour into your hands, is, without any other, a sufficient testimony of the love I bear you; yet because the remembrance of past sorrows is the mother of present Ir joy, and that the relation of what I have suffered for your sake, for being constant to you, may make me in some measure seem worthy of the return of your affection, I will, as briefly as I can, run over the sad story of the widow hours that with leaden feet have crept over me, since I had the blessing of seeing you.”
“You would do too great a wrong, fairest Stelliana,” answered Theagenes, “to my clear fame, if at least any injustice can proceed from so divine a hand, in thinking that there were need of any other motive for me to love you but yourself: for angels and souls love where they discover greatest perfections, and I were too blind if I did not discern yours. So that in me, where knowledge and understanding is the ground of a noble and spiritual love, other obligations are scarcely considerable; for that knowledge and love have converted me unto a part of you, and your goodness having united you to me, I can no more give you thanks for any merit towards me, than another man may thank himself for doing himself a good turn: so that, in fine, no action of yours can avail to gain more upon that affection which is already entirely yours.”
“I must yield,” replied Stelliana, “in the planner of expression, to you that have the advantages of wit and learning to clothe your conceptions in the gracefullest attire; but in reality of love I will never yield to you; for I take Heaven to witness, I have tasted of no joy in this long night of absence, but what the thoughts of you have brought me; and have ever resolved no longer to live than I have had hope to enjoy your love.”
“Oh, think not,” answered Theagenes, “that when the heart speaks upon so serious and high a theme, wit or study can have any share in the contexture of what one saith; lovers can speak as effectually in silence, as by the help of weak words, which are but the overflowings of a passionate heart; for intellectual substances communicate themselves by their wills; and mine is so entirely drowned in yours, that it moveth not but as you guide it. Yet dare I not to contend with you who loveth most; for I know that as you surpass me in all excellent faculties of a worthy soul, so you do in the perfection of love; yet in this I think I have much the advantage of you, that I love you as well as I can, and stretch all the powers of my soul to bring my love to the highest pitch that I may, since it hath a worthier object than it can raise itself unto; whereas, on the other side, you not finding in me worth enough to take up as much as you could bestow, roust go with reservation; and thus I, by soaring up to perfections above me, do daily refine myself, whilst you are fain to let yourself down, unless it be when your contemplations, rolling like the heavens about their own centre, do make yourself their object.”
“Fie, fie,” said Stelliana, “stop that mouth, which were it any other but whose it is, I would call it a sacrilegious mouth, that thus blasphemeth against the saint that I adore.” And then went on with the story of her passed troubles for Theagenes; who, when she had ended, requited her with his; the conclusion of which being the earnest and daily solicitation that his mother used to him to match himself with Artesia’s grandchild, he told her how hitherto he had with delays, never using any direct refusal, which might exasperate her, prevented her rigorous pressing him to it; and that he had also contrived to secure himself for the future, in this manner.
By himself and others, upon whose opinions Arete much relied, he had obtained her leave to travel into foreign parts for two or three years, that course being usually followed in the education of the youth of quality and eminency in Morea, that by so conversing with several nations, and observing the natures and manners of men, they might enable themselves with good precepts, drawn from experience, and by variety of observations upon sundry and new emergent occasions, learn to banish admiration, which for the most part accompanieth home-bred minds, and is the daughter of ignorance: “Of which fair pretences,” said Theagenes, “I will make my benefit to get myself free out of these dangers, and then I will stay so long abroad until riper years may in me challenge the disposal of myself: then shall I come home free from those fears that now hold my soul in continual anguish; and enjoying your favour, shall in one short hour recompense all the torments that I have already suffered, and till then shall suffer, for your sake; which happiness, if my constancy be by heaven duly rewarded, must outlast an age. But oh.” continued he with a deep sigh, “something within me whispers to my soul and biddeth me take heed how I build the hopes of my future joy and bliss upon the continuance of a woman’s affection during a long absence.”
“It is,” replied Stelliana, “some wicked fiend sent from the envious enemy of mankind, that would kindle the tormenting fire of jealousy within your heart, if any such fear as you speak of do breathe there; therefore confidently pluck him out from thence, for that sun that is now declining to the west shall alter his course, and rise where soon he will set, and his beams, which are now the authors of life and vegetation, shall dart cold poison and destruction upon the world, before I suffer my clear flame to burn dim, or the heat that is in my breast to grow faint; but who, alas! can ascertain me that the delights which you are going unto, and the variety of great actions which will daily take up your thoughts, and the rare beauty of accomplished and ingenious ladies which you shall see, may not in time make you forget your love, your faith, to a poor maid that hath nothing to plead for her but her infinite love to you:” with the last of which words, her declining lids did let fall some drops of crystal upon her modest crimson cheeks, which shewed like the morning dew upon a bed of roses that seem to weep because the sun maketh no more haste to display their beauty; which Theagenes drying with his lips, was some time before he could frame this answer. “Dearest lady and mistress, from the knowledge of yourself you may have entire certainty of my love and faith; for since the world hath nothing of greater perfection than you are, you need not doubt that the sight of a fairer object can ever dispossess you of your right: besides, the consideration of the nature of love may quiet those thoughts, for it uniteth and transformeth the lover into the object beloved; it is a free gift of the will of the lover to the person beloved, making her the mistress, and giving her absolute power of it; and the will having command and sovereignty over all other faculties and parts of a man, it carrieth them along with it; so that his will being drowned and converting itself into hers, the like doth all the rest, and thus they become one, by the transmutation of the lover into the person beloved; which action not being through natural constraint, nor violent and painful, but free and voluntary, and delightful, it is neither subject to the vicissitudes and changes of natural things, nor to be interrupted or destroyed by any other means, but by the same will that first freely gave it, which in me being now yours as long as you will foster it and keep the knot fast on your side, nothing can untie it or wear it out: therefore continue but what you are in respect of your love to me, and neither time, nor distance, nor other beauties, nor all the conspiracies of hell can make me other than what I am: which is, and in that title I most glory myself, your devoted slave.”
With these and other pleasing discourses of like nature, the two happy lovers passed that afternoon, till the setting sun going down in a cloudy seemed, as being careful in their behalfs, to be angry at their so long stay there; which, by leaving the rest of their company all that while, might give new grounds of jealousies to them that might think absence had worn out all the print of their young and immature love: as indeed it did; for although they had framed a fair excuse to colour their being away as the . . . . [Four lines are here obliterated.] . . . . she was so far gone, and Theagenes, in humanity to help her, beyond their knowledge in the wild forest that they wandered up and down as in a labyrinth, till by chance they met a keeper that put them in a right path; yet Arete would not be persuaded but that it might be some sparks of former love were yet alive in her son’s breast, which by keeping him near the original flame might soon cause a fire too great for her to put out. Therefore, if before she was slow, she now used all the diligence she could to hasten her son’s intended journey to Athens, whither he was first to go, to spend some time in study in that university; and discovering her jealousy to Artesia, who of her own nature was apt enough to receive them, was a means that she demeaned herself with such coldness from thenceforward towards Stelliana, that she, conjecturing the cause of it, did shortly take a fair occasion of leaving her, having first made her a noble present of a jewel that would manifoldly countervail her expenses in entertaining her; and from thence went to Corinth where she might hope best to receive news of her Theagenes, and to have means to convey hers unto him.
Their stars were so favourable to them as to permit them to have there one interview before the departure of Theagenes; when they both renewed the protestations of their affections and vows of constancy; and Theagenes presented her with a diamond ring which he used to wear, entreating her, whensoever she did cast her eyes upon it, to conceive that it told her in his behalf, that his heart would prove as hard as that stone in the admittance of any new affection; and that his to her should be as void of end as that circular figure was; and she desired him to wear for her sake a lock of her hair which she gave him; the splendour of which can be expressed by no earthly thing, but it seemed as though a stream of the sun’s beams had been gathered together and converted into a solid substance. With this precious relic about his arm, whose least hair was sufficient to tie in bonds of love the greatest heart that ever was informed with life, Theagenes took his journey into Attica, and spent some time in Athens, till the heat of the year coming on, and the plague raging in that populous city, so that all those that had any possibility of subsistence in another place, left it, he retired himself to a little city called Marathon, inferior to none in all that country for wholesomeness of air, beauty of buildings, pleasure of situation, abundance of provisions, and courtesy of persons of quality that inhabit there. He had not been long here, enjoying the greatest content that any place could afford him where Stelliana was not present, but the warlike sound of horrid arms, of neighing horses, and of loud trumpets, proclaiming civil dissensions, were heard there to fright away the sweet tranquillity which reigned in this till then happy place: the occasion whereof will not be displeasing to relate from the first beginnings.
The King of Attica being a prince of active spirits, and from his cradle trained in wars, in which he was so fortunate that he had thereby confirmed himself in his kingdom, which had first long wrestled with him, being weary of a long and dull peace, had raised a formidable army, which being every way complete in all other preparations belonging thereunto, and of most terror, because of himself that commanded it; so great was his reputation. Greece and the neighbour world trembled with the expectation where that cloud would disburden itself, for he had made none acquainted with his intentions: when, in the midst of his great thoughts, which certainly balanced empires, and attended by his principal nobility, a poor mean vassal of his, whose name had never been charactered in ink but for this fact, so inglorious he was, delivered the world of many fears, by thrusting a dagger into the King’s heart, as he was going in glory to take a view of his army, and to crown his wife queen with wonted ceremony; intending to leave her regent in his absence. Thus ail these vast preparations vanished, and served for nothing but to express in lively colours the frailty of human designs. His son was immediately proclaimed and crowned king, but being under age, the power and management of affairs remained with his mother, who, being a woman of great judgment and strong parts, carried business with a high hand; which she did the rather, because some of the princes of Attica, being of turbulent spirits, seem to disdain her sex and the rule of a stranger, she being daughter to the prince of Ephesus. And having none there that she might repose confidence in, she cast the beams of her favour upon a gentleman of her country; whom, from a younger brother of an obscure family, she soon raised to the highest degrees of honour that a subject can attain unto. But he, like one whose eyes were dazzled and brain failed by being set in too high a place, forgot his first beginnings, and grew so insolent that the peers of Attica could not brook his greatness; and envy being an inseparable companion to the fortune of a favourite, it was more than whispered abroad that he intended to possess himself of that kingdom, and that the queen entertained him in her favour chiefly to satisfy her loose and unchaste desires; to which the great and untimely familiarity that she used with him, and the comely composure of his body seemed to give credit. Whereupon some of the principal of the nobility possessed the King with fears of his own safety, and a deep apprehension of his mother’s dishonour, which reflected upon him; while the Queen and her favourite nothing doubted the immaturity of his years and the slowness of his nature to be any interruption to their designs. But overmuch security was their overthrow; for by that means he got the marquis into his power, and then by performing an action of much resolution, he gave testimony how slow natures, when they are once thoroughly warmed, retain that heat with much constancy; for he caused the marquis to be slain without any form of process, and confined his mother to a little town two or three days’ journey from the court, with a strong guard upon her. But what cannot fury do in a woman’s breast? for she, being impatient at her imprisonment, at the loss of her friend, at the stain of her honour, and at her sequestration from the government, found soon a means to gain her liberty, by the assistance of one of the princes of that country, that had been very faithful to her husband, and was of great power and in high reputation for a soldier. Being at liberty, after many treaties of accommodation, which in the end proved of little effect, she retired herself to Marathon, where she was confident of a strong party, intending there to raise forces, which she gave out were to remove some evil counsellors that were about the King her son: for pretences of justice and holiness are never wanting to any undertaking, be it never so undue, wicked, and unjust. Her hopes here failed not; for in a small time, she had got together such an army, as was deemed not only sufficient to resist any violence the King could use, but of force enough, without the other succours which were daily expected, to set upon him and work her own conditions: yet the advice of the ancient soldiers prevailed, which was, to expect the coming of the other troops, that they might jointly go with an united and solid strength to prosecute their designs: while in the mean time the King, on his part, used all the diligence that might be to levy forces. But the Queen and her party conceived his difficulties to be so great in that, and themselves so secure in that place, which was compassed in with rivers, and inaccessible when the bridges were broken down, and the passages guarded, that they expected nothing less than the arrival of the King: so that while she was to stay here in expectance of her other troops, she entertained herself with masques, feasts, musics, and such other recreations as might make time slide more pleasingly by her [Here a portion of the Manuscript is obliterated.] Theagenes, coming one masque-night to the court with the company that importuned him to go along with them, was by one of the ladies, that had known him at Athens, taken out to dance; in which he behaved himself in such sort, that whether it were the gracefulness of his gesture, wherein the commendations of art was the least thing he aimed at, or that the heavens had ordained he should be the punisher of the Queen’s affections, she felt at the first sight of him a secret love, which soon grew so violent that it made her forget her own greatness, and compelled Theagenes, in order to preserve his constancy for Stelliana, to quit the court; and he caused it to be reported that he was murdered in the tumult which arose in consequence of the Queen having disbanded her forces, upon her reconciliation with the King her son, after the battle of Marathon. Soon after, he transported himself over the sea into Ionia, intending to spend some time in that pleasant climate, where the sun seemed to cast more propitious beams than upon any other place; for in fruitfulness of the soil it may well be termed the garden of the world; and the cities of it, which are many, being every one under a several lord, the territories of them are so small, and the means of extending themselves, by doing great actions abroad, so little, that those who have noble minds must apply themselves to contemplative and academic studies, wherein their spirits working upon themselves, they are so refined, that for matters of wit, civility, and gentleness, these parts may be the level for the rest of the world to aim at.
Here Theagenes resolved to detain himself some time, as well to give himself the content of noble and learned conversation, as also to practise such exercises as befit a gentleman to have learned, and are the worthiest ornaments of a mind well fraught with interior notions, to attain to perfection, in which here is complete conveniency. Among all these towns, he chose Ephesus for his settled abode; from whence, at his first arrival, he wrote letters to Stelliana to advertise her of his health, and to prevent the rumour of his death, which, happily, might come to her ears. But long and dear experience teacheth us that, in this transitory life, the bad doth manifoldly exceed the good; as, in this particular, it did: for those letters miscarried, and the false news of his death was borne upon the wings of fame with such speed, that, in a very few days after the loss of the battle at Marathon, it was known at Corinth, where it found Stelliana labouring with an impatient desire of hearing of him who was the only object of her loving thoughts. It is too high a task for my rude pen to draw any counterfeit of the deep sorrow which then took possession of her heart; which was of such a heavy nature, that, at the first, it locked up all her senses as in a dull lethargy; so that, with too deep a sense, she became insensible of grief; but after a while, when she seemed to waken out of a dream by the heart’s dispersing abroad of the spirits to be the sad messengers of this doleful news to the other faculties of the soul, that they might bear their part in due mourning, then did her tongue frame such lamentable complaints, as, to have heard them, would have converted the most savage heart into a flood of tears; and yet sorrow sate so sweetly enthroned within her mournful eyes, as would have made the lightest heart in love with those blessed tears, that seemed like the morning dews sprinkled upon Aurora’s face. “Alas!” would she say, “wherein have I offended Death that he thus cruelly should rob me of my dearest jewel? yet, since thy stroke is never to be recalled, I will pardon thee, and, henceforward call thee courteous, if thou wilt level at me thy leaden dart, that so I may be exempted from all the miseries of this life which remain to me, and follow my joys that are gone before me into the other world: but, oh! it seemeth my love was weak, that cannot call sorrow enough to break that heart which ought to have lived only in my Theagenes. However, if love and sorrow cannot do it, nor death will come at a wretch’s call, fury and despair shall bring my cursed life to a wished end; and this hand only, so often made happy with his burning kisses, deserveth to be the instrument of such a glorious act, as will bring me to the enjoyment of my soul’s delight, where it will be out of the power of fortune to cross or disturb my joys. There shall our happy spirits wander in the Elysian fields, and be united together with the holy fire of divine love in that immense and glorious flaming light, which comprehendeth all things. But, ah! me, whither do my wandering fancies carry me into a night of error? I know, alas! I know too well, that the gates which lead souls into the region of bliss, are shut against them that lay violent hands upon themselves; and good reason it is that they should be tormented in eternal darkness, who, through self-love, give up without order or leave the custody of that fort, which God and nature put them in to maintain: and looking with the light of truth and not of passion, what is it but self-love that maketh me thus wish to die? He that I lament, is doubtless enthroned in happiness among the blessed angels that in this life he resembled, and is labouring to get me to him. Shall I then, with immature haste, overthrow those joys which I have reason to hope for? No, no; wretched heart, live on till he call thee to a better state, and in the mean time my life shall be a continual martyrdom, which, I hope, may purge and refine such defects as are natural in me, and make me worthy of that seat, which, I am sure, he will provide for me.”
With such incessant lamentations, proceeding from a deeply wounded soul, she spent many days without any diminution of sorrow; and, pretending indisposition of health,, admitted the visits of none but Mardontius, who, as you have heard, saved her from certain death, when she lay at the mercy of the merciless wolf; who then, at the first sight of her, drank into his bowels the secret flames of a deep affection, which, from that very instant, increased upon him and grew so violent, that he could not rest for thinking of her; and, love making men industrious, he had immediate notice when she went from Artesia’s house to Corinth, whither, with alt speed, he followed her, and applied himself to her service with all the affectionate demonstrations of extreme love, that a young heart, deeply wounded, could express; and had given her some knowledge of the much that, for her sake, he endured, and would have proceeded farther in the begging of her favour, but that, in the very beginning of his passionate discourse, she interrupted him, and told him that, if he did ever again use that language to her, she should estrange herself from his sight and friendship, to the which, if he gave not occasion of the contrary, she held herself in gratitude obliged, as owing her life unto him: and, therefore, ever since that time, she had allotted him so much of her esteem and good-will as a sister may bear to a brother; but that, for matter of affection, he should never hope for any, she not being ashamed to confess ingenuously that it was wholly and only vowed to Theagenes. Wherefore Mardontius, that had been long enough trained to the world to know that women’s passions are not perpetual, but that by how much more violent they are, so much less durance they use to have, gave over those solicitations which he yet saw unseasonable, and would not venture the loss of all by striving to make too sudden a gain of all; but, for the present, contented himself with that part which he had in her good esteem, hoping that time, and the absence of Theagenes, and many other accidents, might one day convert it into affection; while he remained vigilant to make use of all such opportunities of endearing himself to her as fortune, or the revolution of woman’s constancy, might give him overtures of. And thus, by pretending a respective and not affectionate love ever after his check from her, he had insinuated himself so far into her good liking, that, afterward, when she received the news of Theagenes’s death, and that the stormy violence of the first impression of grief was a little over, she admitted him sometimes into her company, when all other was troublesome and hateful to her. He then, like one cunning in the nature and qualities of passions, would not bluntly oppose her sorrow, knowing that such contrasting doth rather farther engage and heat one in it, than any ways diminish it; nor yet go about unseasonably to carry her thoughts, by persuasion or mentioning them, to contrary objects, as of content and pleasure: but as a faithful physician that is not able to purge away some bad humour that, in an infirm body, oppressed some particular part, doth use such medicines as may mingle themselves with it, and so carry it gently to serve some other member, even so did he first seem to bear a part with her in her grief, till he had got so much credit with her, and insensibly won such an inclination in her to like of what he said and did, that, at length, she left her solitary lamenting by herself, and took some contentment in condoling with him her misfortune; and then, by following diligently his begun practice of consolation by diversion, he wrought her so much from the sharpness of her grief, that she took delight in his company; and thus he took the advantage of her sorrow, which had made her heart tender and apt to receive a deeper impression of liking and good-will towards him than before; which she denied not to him, assuring him that, of all men then living, she did, and had most reason to respect him most; with which she. desired him to content himself, and to seek no farther from her, for that, ever since Theagenes’s death, her heart was also dead to all passionate affections.
But, in the mean time, that monster which was begot of some fiend in hell, and feedeth itself upon the infected breaths of the base multitude, Fame! made a false construction of her actions, and did spread abroad a scandalous rumour of the familiarity of Mardontius with her; which, peradventure, be also increased by speaking more lavishly of her favours than he had a real ground for; thinking to do himself honour, by making the world believe him to be dear to her that had engrossed to herself the whole heavenly beauty, and was, accordingly, adored by all those that had any spark of gentleness or nobleness in their hearts; which rumour being once on foot, it was too late for her, that was so young, so beautiful, and at liberty in the world, to suppress it, consisting of a fantastic aerial body that admitteth no hold to be taken of it, nor can be traced to the ground or author thereof; but, having once gotten upon its wings, subsisteth by its own lightness in weak understandings, as the vulgar of men have, who are not able to give any reason for what they believe. This fury then, that will not spare innocence itself, made Stelliana her prey, whose soul was as white and free from spot as virtue is; so that the greatest enemy she had, speaking most sharply to her disadvantage, and truly, could but have said, that if her sorrow for Theagenes were grown more temperate than at the first, it was only because that it exceeded the bounds of what less noble hearts could think, and still remained far greater than was fit for a rational and well tempered mind, that ought to have her will and desires resigned to the will and ordinance of the superior power; and had, in the bitterness of it, made her so much forget her wonted discretion, as through too much indulgency to admit Mardontius, who seemed to applaud her in it, to a nearer familiarity than, in terms or rigour, was fit for her, or than her affection did really call him unto. But she was so deeply engaged in this inconvenience before she was aware, that Mardontius then with much eagerness pressed to draw her from her former resolution of solitariness, not doubting now or fearing the effects of her wonted frowns and rigour, when he intimated any such desire of his; and withal, the nearest of her friends that had a quick sense of her good, importuned her therein as much as he could do; both because it was in secular respects such a fortune to her, as she had no reason to refuse; bat most of all they represented to her, that she had inconsiderately brought herself so much upon the stage, and submitted herself to the world’s censure for Mardontius’s sake, that she could not now retire from him without much dishonour: which last consideration weighed so much with her above all others, that what neither love nor his merits, nor no other motive could, the sense of her honour, which she deemed much dearer than her life, won her unto: 80 that after a year’s, and more, lamenting of her lost Theagenes, she gave a cold and half constrained consent to condescend to Mardontius’s suit; who then immediately took care to provide, with much splendour and magnificence, all things necessary to give an honourable solemnity to their nuptials; having in the mean time begged and obtained from her, leave to have her picture drawn by an excellent workman; which, afterward, he used to shew as a glorious trophy of her conquered affections.
All this while Theagenes, who had written several letters to the goddess of his devotions, the first of which miscarried, and the rest were industriously intercepted and suppressed by his mother, who was jealous of his affection, wondered that he had no return of any of them; so that his doubtful fears, and yet he knew not what to doubt or fear, plunged him into a deep melancholy, from which he daily, upon sundry occasions, interpreted to himself many sad presages of near ensuing disasters. When, at length, the heart-breaking news of Stelliana’s approaching marriage with Mardontius, was brought to him by a gentleman that was lately come from Corinth to Ephesus, intending to spend some time there upon the same occasion that Theagenes did; who, taking it up but upon public fame, delivered it with such circumstances, as went much to the prejudice of her honour. Theagenes then quite forgot the noble temper of his mind, which being by nature composed of an excellent mixture, and, besides, richly cultivated with continual study and philosophical precepts, did formerly stand in defiance of fortune; but now he was so overborne with passion, that he might serve for a clear example to all who may promise most of themselves, that none can be so completely perfect in this life, nor armed against the assaults of passions, but that some one way or other there is an entrance unto him left unguarded, whereby he may be humbled and put in mind, at his own cost, of the frailty of human nature. For his soul was so overburdened with grief, that his reason, and all that he knew and could advise to others upon like occasions, availed him nothing in his own behalf; but, sinking under that insupportable weight, he became equal with the lowest and meanest natures; but he differed from them much in the manner of expressing it, for, whereas they for the most part yield to tenderness, and bemoan themselves, taking their disasters unkindly at fortune’s hands; he, as soon as his shrunk heart began to dilate itself, broke out into a torrent of fury, cursing all womankind for Stelliana’s sake; and was so possessed with anger and disdain, that, if nature had been in his power, he would have turned the world again into a dark chaos. “Oh! miserable condition,” did he say, “of men that must, through the unjust laws of nature, take half their being from this unworthy sex! for how can I style it other, when she, for whose sake alone I was in charity with the rest, proveth false to her own honour, and to me that loved her better than my own soul? Injurious stars! why gave you so fair and beautiful an outside to so foul and deformed a mind? And what secret sin have I committed so great, that I must be made the idolater of such a dire portent? Is it that as death and misery came upon the generality of mankind by the seducement of one woman, so new ruins must, by another, fall upon me, because I strive to raise myself out of this original and fatal hard condition? What do all my pious resolutions now avail me, all my studies to draw me out of the mist of ignorance wherein I was born, and to arm me against the frailty of human nature, since at once a woman’s inconstancy hath overthrown, and, like a ravenous fire, consumed all those seeds of good that began to grow within me? Oh weak aims and fond ambition of men, that so wretched a blast can convert into smoke! But whither doth my passion carry my words cross to my understanding? for I know this can and hath, with me, performed more than all the precepts of divinity and philosophy could; this hath framed a settled mind in me, of an excellent temper, that neither desireth nor feareth any thing, which they but coldly aim at. Now all things and all fortunes are alike to me, for I wish not for good nor fear bad, since she, for whose sake I should do either, deserveth now nothing but dire execrations from my afflicted and restless soul; which yet my melting heart, whensoever I think on her, will not permit me to utter, but smothereth my just curses: yet, thus much I will swear, and call heaven to witness, that, for the future, I will have irreconcilable wars with that perfidious sex; and so blaze through the world their un worthiness and falsehood, that I hope their turn will come to sue to men for their love, and, being denied, despair and die. And thou, once dear pledge of my lady’s virgin affections, but now the magical filtre of her enchanting and siren-like beauty, thou canst witness how I have, day and night, ever since I wore thee, sighed her name; be now her forerunner into the fire, that will one day torment her traitorous soul; and as thou consumest there like a sacrifice to the infernal furies, of whom only vengeance is begged, and that thy grosser element turneth into ashes, may thy lighter and airy parts mingle itself with the wind, and tell her, from me, that when rage and despair have severed my injured soul from my cold limbs, my ghostly shadow shall be every where present to her, and so affright her guilty conscience, that she shall gladly run to death to shelter her from my greater plaguing her.” And, as he spoke these last words, he tore from his arm the bracelet of her hair, which she had given him, and threw it into the fire that was in his chamber; when that glorious relic burning, shewed, by the blue and wan colour of the flame, that it had sense, and took his words unkindly in her behalf. But sorrow and anger had so consumed his spirits, that he could no longer frame his voice into an articulate sound, but, casting himself upon his bed, sighed out. the deep anguishes of his tormented soul all that day and night, and the next. Oh! what would have become of Stelliana’s tenderer heart, if she should have then known in what plight he remained, and to what extremities he was brought for her sake? Certainly death would have taken up the room both of love to him, and of shame for her unfortunate error. But the just heaven, whose judgments are inscrutable, had ordained a happier end to these noble lovers; and as it useth oftentimes to effect the greatest actions by the most unlikely means, so it made her consent to marry Mardontius to be the first cause of dissolving it. For he being a young man of an unstayed spirit, though his much wit could disguise that and many other of his imperfections, and entertaining love no farther than into his eyes, the eagerness of his suit to her proceeded much from the supposed difficulty of the task to gain her consent,, and win her from her former affections; which, when he had done, he soon grew cold in prosecuting it to the utmost and ceremonious performance; and being then some time absent at own house in the country, to prepare it, as he pretended, to receive her according to her worth, his eyes were, during that absence, inveigled with a new rural beauty, his heart delighting most in change, whose favour he solicited with as much fervour as ever he had done his late mistress’s. Which, when Stelliana heard of, a generous disdain enflamed her heart, which made her despise Mardontius, and resolve to sequester herself from the conversation of men; since him, whom only she loved with affection, was taken away from her by the cruel fates, and he, whom she had forced herself to like for other respects, had taken himself from her by his own unworthiness: from which resolution of hers, no persuasion of her friends, nor humble and self-accusing repentance of Mardontius, could draw her. For he then, being wakened out of his fond dream of a second love by her just scorn, did apply himself in the most affectionate manner that he could to regain her favour, not omitting any industry that might conduce thereunto: wherein he gave a full testimony, that in sensual minds love is armed, and, as it were, spurred on by difficulties; and groweth flat and languisheth when it walketh in an easy path. But all his endeavour proved vain in this second suit; so that Stelliana not only withdrew her good liking from him as a person unworthy of it, but armed herself with hatred against him, and answered all his visits and courtesies with harsh affronts; and when he saw no other hope or remedy, he was glad to intermit them, and leave to time and his better fortune hereafter, to mollify her heart, that was now so inflexibly hard towards him.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07