‘I have heard,’ said the Squire, ‘that from hell there is no retention.’
For some hours after this exclamation, Melmoth lay silent, his memory returning, — his senses gradually defecated, — the intellectual lord slowly returning to his abdicated throne. —
‘I remember all now,’ he cried, starting up in his bed with a sudden vehemence, that terrified his old nurse with the apprehension of returning insanity; but when she approached the bed, candle in hand, cautiously veiling her eyes with the other, while she threw the full glare of the light on the face of the patient, she saw in a moment the light of sanity in his eyes, and the strength of health in his movements. To his eager inquiries of how he had been saved, how the storm had terminated, and whether any but himself had survived the wreck, she could not deny herself the gratification of answering, though conscious of his weakness, and solemnly charged neither to let him speak or hear, as she valued the recovery of his reason. She had faithfully observed the charge for several days, — a dreadful trial! — and now she felt like Fatima in Cymon, who, when threatened by the magician with the loss of speech, exclaims, ‘Barbarian, will not my death then satisfy you?’
She began her narrative, the effect of which was, to lull Melmoth into a profound repose before half of it was concluded; he felt the full benefit of the invalids mentioned in Spenser, who used to hire Irish story-tellers, and found those indefatigable persons still pursuing the tale when they awoke. At first Melmoth listened with eager attention; soon he was in the situation of him described by Miss Baillie,
‘Who, half asleep, but faintly hears,
The gossip’s tale hum in his ears.’
Soon after his lengthened respiration gave token that she was only ‘vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man;’ while, as she closed the curtain, and shaded the light, the images of her story were faintly painted on his dream, that still seemed half a waking one.
In the morning Melmoth sat up, gazed round, remembered every thing in a moment, though nothing distinctly, but felt the most intense anxiety to see the stranger saved from the shipwreck, who, he remembered the gouvernante had told him, (while her words seemed to falter on the threshold of his closing senses), was still alive, and an inmate in his house, but weak and ill from the bruises he had received, and the exhaustion and terror he had undergone. The opinions of the household on the subject of this stranger were various. The knowledge of his being a Catholic had conciliated their hearts, for the first act of his recovered reason was to request that a Catholic priest might be sent for, and the first use of his speech was to express his satisfaction that he was in a country where he might enjoy the benefits of the rites of his own church. So far all was well; but there was a mysterious haughtiness and reserve about him, that somewhat repelled the officious curiosity of his attendants. He spoke often to himself in a language they did not understand; they hoped relief from the priest on this point, but the priest, after listening long at the invalid’s door, pronounced the language in which he was soliloquizing not to be Latin, and, after a conversation of some hours with him, refused to tell what language the stranger spoke to himself in, and forbid all inquiry on the subject. This was bad enough; but, still worse, the stranger spoke English with ease and fluency, and therefore could have no right, as all the household argued, to torment them with those unknown sounds, that, sonorous and powerful as they were, seemed to their ears like an evocation of some invisible being.
‘He asks for what he wants in English,’ said the harassed housekeeper, ‘and he can call for candle in English, and he can say he’ll go to bed in English; and why the devil can’t he do every thing in English? — He can say his prayers too in English to that picture he’s always pulling out of his breast and talking to, though it’s no saint, I am sure, he prays to, (from the glimpse I got of it), but more like the devil, — Christ save us!’ All these strange rumours, and ten thousand more, were poured into Melmoth’s ears, fast and faster than he could receive them. ‘Is Father Fay in the house,’ said he at last, understanding that the priest visited the stranger every day; ‘if he be, let me see him.’ Father Fay attended him as soon as he quitted the stranger’s apartment.
He was a grave and decent priest, well ‘spoken of by those that were without’ the pale of his own communion; and as he entered the room, Melmoth smiled at the idle tattle of his domestics. ‘I thank you for your attention to this unfortunate gentleman, who, I understand, is in my house.’ — ‘It was my duty.’ — ‘I am told he sometimes speaks in a foreign tongue.’ The priest assented. ‘Do you know what countryman he is?’ ‘He is a Spaniard,’ said the priest. This plain, direct answer, had the proper effect on Melmoth, of convincing him of its veracity, and of there being no mystery in the business, but what the folly of his servants had made.
The priest proceeded to tell him the particulars of the loss of the vessel. She was an English trader bound for Wexford or Waterford, with many passengers on board; she had been driven up the Wicklow coast by stress of weather, had struck on the night of the 19th October, during the intense darkness that accompanied the storm, on a hidden reef of rocks, and gone to pieces. Crew, passengers, all had perished, except this Spaniard. It was singular, too, that this man had saved the life of Melmoth. While swimming for his own, he had seen him fall from the rock he was climbing, and, though his strength was almost exhausted, had collected its last remains to preserve the life of a being who, as he conceived, had been betrayed into danger by his humanity. His efforts were successful, though Melmoth was unconscious of them; and in the morning they were found on the strand, locked in each other’s hold, but stiff and senseless. They shewed some signs of life when an attempt was made to remove them, and the stranger was conveyed to Melmoth’s house. ‘You owe your life to him,’ said the priest, when he had ended. ‘I shall go and thank him for it this moment,’ said Melmoth; but as he was assisted to rise, the old woman whispered to him with visible terror, ‘Jasus’ sake, dear, don’t tell him ye’re a Melmoth, for the dear life! he has been as mad as any thing out of Bedlam, since some jist mintioned the name before him the ither night.’ A sickening recollection of some parts of the manuscript came over Melmoth at these words, but he struggled with himself, and proceeded to the apartment of the stranger.
The Spaniard was a man about thirty, of a noble form and prepossessing manners. To the gravity of his nation was super-added a deeper tint of peculiar melancholy. He spoke English fluently; and when questioned on it by Melmoth, he remarked with a sigh, that he had learnt it in a painful school. Melmoth then changed the subject, to thank him with earnest gratitude for the preservation of his life. ‘Senhor,’ said the Spaniard, ‘spare me; if your life was no dearer to you than mine, it would not be worth thanks.’ ‘Yet you made the most strenuous exertions to save it,’ said Melmoth. ‘That was instinct,’ said the Spaniard. ‘But you also struggled to save mine,’ said Melmoth. ‘That was instinct too at the moment,’ said the Spaniard; then resuming his stately politeness, ‘or I should say, the influence of my better genius. I am wholly a stranger in this country, and must have fared miserably but for the shelter of your roof.’
Melmoth observed that he spoke with evident pain, and he confessed a few moments afterwards, that though he had escaped without any serious injury, he had been so bruised and lacerated, that he still breathed with difficulty, and hardly possessed the use of his limbs. As he concluded the account of his sufferings during the storm, the wreck, and the subsequent struggle for life, he exclaimed in Spanish, ‘God! why did the Jonah survive, and the mariners perish?’ Melmoth, imagining he was engaged in some devotional ejaculation, was going to retire, when the Spaniard detained him. ‘Senhor, I understand your name is — ‘ He paused, shuddered, and with an effort that seemed like convulsion, disgorged the name of Melmoth. ‘My name is Melmoth.’ ‘Had you an ancestor, a very remote one, who was — at a period perhaps beyond family-tradition — It is useless to inquire,’ said the Spaniard, covering his face with both his hands, and groaning aloud. Melmoth listened in mingled excitement and terror. ‘Perhaps, if you would proceed, I could answer you — go on, Senhor.’ ‘Had you,’ said the Spaniard, forcing himself to speak, abruptly and rapidly, ‘had you, then, a relative who was, about one hundred and forty years ago, said to be in Spain.’ ‘I believe — yes, I fear — I had.’ ‘It is enough, Senhor — leave me — to-morrow perhaps — leave me now.’ ‘It is impossible to leave you now,’ said Melmoth, catching him in his arms before he sunk on the floor. He was not senseless, for his eyes were rolling with terrible expression, and he attempted to articulate. They were alone. Melmoth, unable to quit him, called aloud for water; and while attempting to open his vest, and give him air, his hand encountered a miniature portrait close to the heart of the stranger. As he touched it, his touch operated on the patient with all the force of the most powerful restorative. He grasped it with his own cold hand with a force like that of death, and muttered in a hollow but thrilling voice, ‘What have you done?’ He felt eagerly the ribbon by which it was suspended, and, satisfied that his terrible treasure was safe, turned his eyes with a fearful calmness of expression on Melmoth, ‘You know all, then?’ — ‘I know nothing,’ said Melmoth faultering. The Spaniard rose from the ground, to which he had almost fallen, disengaged himself from the arms that supported him, and eagerly, but staggeringly, hurrying towards the candles, (it was night), held up the portrait full before Melmoth’s eye. It was a miniature likeness of that extraordinary being. It was painted in a coarse and unartist-like style, but so faithfully, that the pencil appeared rather held by the mind than by the fingers.
‘Was he — was the original of this — your ancestor? — Are you his descendant? — Are you the depository of that terrible secret which — ‘ He again fell to the ground convulsed, and Melmoth, for whose debilitated state this scene was too much, was removed to his own apartment.
It was several days before he again saw his visitor; his manner was then calm and collected, till he appeared to recollect the necessity of making an apology for his agitation at their last meeting. He began — hesitated — stopped; tried in vain to arrange his ideas, or rather his language; but the effort so obviously renewed his agitation, that Melmoth felt an exertion on his part necessary to avert its consequences, and began most inauspiciously to inquire into the motive of his voyage to Ireland. After a long pause, the Spaniard said, ‘That motive, Senhor, a few days past I believed it was not in mortal power to compel me to disclose. I deemed it incommunicable as it was incredible. I conceived myself to be alone on the earth, without sympathy and beyond relief. It is singular that accident should have placed me within the reach of the only being from whom I could expect either, and perhaps a development of those circumstances which have placed me in a situation so extraordinary.’ This exordium, delivered with a composed but thrilling gravity, had an effect on Melmoth. He sat down and prepared to listen, and the Spaniard began to speak; but after some hesitation, he snatched the picture from his neck, and trampling on it with true continental action, exclaimed, ‘Devil! devil! thou choakest me!’ and crushing the portrait, glass and all, under his feet, exclaimed, ‘Now I am easier.’
The room in which they sat was a low, mean, wretchedly furnished apartment; the evening was tempestuous, and as the windows and doors rattled in the blast, Melmoth felt as if he listened to some herald of ‘fate and fear.’ A deep and sickening agitation shook his frame; and in the long pause that preceded the narrative of the Spaniard, the beating of his heart was audible to him. He rose, and attempted to arrest the narration by a motion of his hand; but the Spaniard mistook this for the anxiety of his impatience, and commenced his narrative, which, in mercy to the reader, we shall give without the endless interruptions, and queries, and anticipations of curiosity, and starts of terror, with which it was broken by Melmoth.
‘I am, Senhor, as you know, a native of Spain, but you are yet to learn I am a descendant of one of its noblest houses, — a house of which she might have been proud in her proudest day, — the house of Monçada. Of this I was not myself conscious during the first years of my life; but during those years, I remember experiencing the singular contrast of being treated with the utmost tenderness, and kept in the most sordid privacy. I lived in a wretched house in the suburbs of Madrid with an old woman, whose affection for me appeared prompted as much by interest as inclination. I was visited every week by a young cavalier and a beautiful female; they caressed me, called me their beloved child, and I, attached by the grace with which my young father’s capa was folded, and my mother’s veil adjusted, and by a certain air of indescribable superiority over those by whom I was surrounded, eagerly returned their caresses, and petitioned them to take me home with them; at these words they always wept, gave a valuable present to the woman I lived with, whose attention was always redoubled by this expected stimulant, and departed.
‘I observed their visits were always short, and paid late in the evening; thus a shadow of mystery enveloped my infant days, and perhaps gave its lasting and ineffaceable tinge to the pursuits, the character, and the feelings of my present existence. A sudden change took place; — one day I was visited, splendidly dressed, and carried in a superb vehicle, whose motion made me giddy with novelty and surprise, to a palace whose front appeared to me to reach the heavens. I was hurried through several apartments, whose splendour made my eyes ache, amid an army of bowing domestics, to a cabinet where sat an old nobleman, whom, from the tranquil majesty of his posture, and the silent magnificence that surrounded him, I felt disposed to fall down and worship as we do those saints, whom, after traversing the aisles of an immense church, we find niched in some remote and solitary shrine. My father and mother were there, and both seemed awed by the presence of that aged vision, pale and august; their awe increased mine, and as they led me to his feet, I felt as if about to be sacrificed. He embraced me, however, with some reluctance and more austerity; and when this ceremony was performed, during which I trembled, I was removed by a domestic, and conducted to an apartment where I was treated like the son of a grandee; in the evening I was visited by my father and mother; they shed tears over me as they embraced me, but I thought I could perceive they mingled the tears of grief with those of fondness. Every thing around appeared so strange, that perhaps I felt something appropriate in this change. I was so much altered myself, that I expected an alteration in others, and the reverse would have struck me as a phenomenon.
‘Change followed change with such rapidity, that it produced on me an effect like that of intoxication. I was now twelve years old, and the contracted habits of my early life had had their usual effect, of exalting my imagination, while they impaired every other faculty. I expected an adventure whenever the door opened, and that was but seldom, to announce the hours of devotion, food, and exercise. On the third day after I was received into the palace of Monçada, the door was opened at an unusual hour, (a circumstance that made me tremble with anticipation), and my father and mother, attended by a number of domestics, entered, accompanied by a youth whose superior height and already distinguished figure, made him appear my senior, though he was in fact a year younger.
‘Alonzo,’ said my father to me, ‘embrace your brother.’ I advanced with all the eagerness of youthful affection, that feels delight from new claims on its store, and half wishes those new claims were endless; but the slow step of my brother, the measured air with which he extended his arms, and declined his head on my left shoulder for a moment, and then raising it, viewed me with eyes in whose piercing and haughty lustre there was not one beam of fraternity, repelled and disconcerted me. We had obeyed our father, however, and embraced. ‘Let me see you hand in hand together,’ said my father, as if he would have enjoyed the sight. I held out my hand to my brother, and we stood thus linked for a few moments, my father and mother remaining at some distance to gaze on us; during these few moments, I had leisure to glance from my parents to my brother, and judge of the comparative effect our appearance thus contrasted might produce on them. The contrast was by no means favourable to me. I was tall, but my brother was much taller; he had an air of confidence, of conquest I might say; the brilliancy of his complexion could be equalled only by that of his dark eyes, which turned from me to our parents, and seemed to say, ‘Chuse between us, and reject me if you dare.’
‘My father and mother advanced and embraced us both. I clung round their necks; my brother submitted to their caresses with a kind of proud impatience, that seemed to demand a more marked recognition.
‘I saw no more of them, — that evening the whole household, which perhaps contain two hundred domestics, were in despair. The Duke de Monçada, that awful vision of anticipated mortality whom I had seen but once, was dead. The tapestry was torn from the walls; every room was filled with ecclesiastics; I was neglected by my attendants, and wandered through the spacious rooms, till I by chance lifted up a curtain of black velvet, and saw a sight which, young as I was, paralyzed me. My father and mother, dressed in black, sat beside a figure which I believed to be my grandfather asleep, but his sleep was very profound; my brother was there too, in a mourning dress, but its strange and grotesque disfigurement could not conceal the impatience with which he wore it, and the flashing eagerness of his expression, and the haughty brilliancy of his eye, shewed a kind of impatience of the part he was compelled to act. — I rushed forward; — I was withheld by the domestics; — I asked, ‘Why am I not permitted to be here, where my younger brother is?’ An ecclesiastic drew me from the apartment. I struggled with him, and demanded, with an arrogance which suited my pretensions better than my prospects, ‘Who I was?’ ‘The grandson of the late Duke of Monçada,’ was the answer. ‘And why am I thus treated?’ To this no answer. I was conveyed to my apartment, and closely watched during the interment of the Duke of Monçada. I was not permitted to attend his funeral. I saw the splendid and melancholy cavalcade depart from the palace. I ran from window to window to witness the funeral pomp, but was not allowed to accompany it. Two days after I was told a carriage waited for me at the gate. I entered it, and was conveyed to a convent of Ex-Jesuits, (as they were well known to be, though no one in Madrid dared to say so), where an agreement had been made for my board and education, and where I became an inmate that very day. I applied myself to my studies, my teachers were pleased, my parents visited me frequently, and gave the usual marks of affection, and all was well; till one day as they were retiring, I heard an old domestic in their suite remark, how singular it was, that the eldest son of the (now) Duke de Monçada should be educated in a convent, and brought up to a monastic life, while the younger, living in a superb palace, was surrounded by teachers suited to his rank. The word ‘monastic life’ thrilled in my ears; it furnished me with an interpretation not only of the indulgence I had experienced in the convent, (an indulgence quite inconsistent with the usual severity of their discipline), but of the peculiar language in which I had been always addressed by the Superior, the brethren, and the boarders. The former, whom I saw once a week, bestowed the most flattering praises on the progress I had made in my studies, (praises that covered me with blushes, for I well knew it was very moderate compared with that of the other boarders), and then gave me his benediction, but never without adding, ‘My God! thou wilt not suffer this lamb to wander from thy fold.’
‘The brethren always assumed before me an air of tranquillity, that eulogized their situation more powerfully than the most exaggerated eloquence. The petty squabbles and intrigues of the convent, the bitter and incessant conflicts of habits, tempers, and interests, the efforts of incarcerated minds for objects of excitement, the struggles to diversify endless monotony, and elevate hopeless mediocrity; — all that makes monastic life like the wrong side of tapestry, where we see only uncouth threads, and the harsh outlines, without the glow of the colours, the richness of the tissue, or the splendour of the embroidery, that renders the external surface so rich and dazzling; all this was carefully concealed. I heard something of it, however, and, young as I was, could not help wondering how men who carried the worst passions of life into their retreat, could imagine that retreat was a refuge from the erosions of their evil tempers, the monitions of conscience, and the accusations of God. The same dissimulation was practised by the boarders; the whole house was in masquerade from the moment I entered it. If I joined the latter at the time of recreation, they went through the few amusements allowed them with a kind of languid impatience, as if it was an interruption of better pursuits to which they were devoted. One of them, coming up to me, would say, ‘What a pity that these exercises are necessary for the support of our frail nature! what a pity we cannot devote its whole powers to the service of God!’ Another would say, ‘I never am so happy as in the choir! What a delightful eulogy was that pronounced by the Superior on the departed Fre Jose! How thrilling was that requiem! I imagined the heavens opened, and angels descending to receive his soul, as I listened to it!’
‘All this, and much more, I had been accustomed to hear every day. I now began to understand it. I suppose they thought they had a very weak person to deal with; but the bare-faced coarseness of their manoeuvres only quickened my penetration, which began to be fearfully awake. I said to them, ‘Are you, then, intended for the monastic life?’ ‘We hope so.’ ‘Yet I have heard you, Oliva, once (it was when you did not think I overheard you) I heard you complain of the length and tediousness of the homilies delivered on the eves of the saints.’ — ‘I was then under the influence of the evil spirit doubtless,’ said Oliva, who was a boy not older than myself; ‘Satan is sometimes permitted to buffet those whose vocation is but commencing, and whom he is therefore more afraid to lose.’ ‘And I have heard you, Balcastro, say you had not taste for music; and to me, I confess, that of the choir appears least likely to inspire a taste for it.’ ‘God has touched my heart since,’ replied the young hypocrite, crossing himself; ‘and you know, friend of my soul, there is a promise, that the ears of the deaf shall be opened.’ ‘Where are those words?’ ‘In the Bible.’ ‘The Bible? — But we are not permitted to read it.’ ‘True, dear Monçada, but we have the word of our Superior and the brethren for it, and that is enough.’ ‘Certainly; our spiritual guides must take on themselves the whole responsibility of that state, whose enjoyments and punishments they reserve in their own hands; but, Balcastro, are you willing to take this life on their word, as well as the next, and resign it before you have tried it?’ ‘My dear friend, you only speak to tempt me.’ ‘I do not speak to tempt,’ said I, and was turning indignantly away, when the bell ringing, produced its usual effect on us all. My companions assumed a more sanctified air, and I struggled for a more composed one.
‘As we went to the church, they conversed in whispers, but those whispers were intended to reach my ear. I could hear them say, ‘It is in vain that he struggles with grace; there never was a more decided vocation; God never obtained a more glorious victory. Already he has the look of a child of heaven; — the monastic gait, — the downcast look; — the motion of his arms naturally imitates the sign of the cross, and the very folds of his mantle arrange themselves, by a divine instinct, into those of a Monk’s habit.’ And all this while my gait was disturbed, my countenance flushed, and often lifted to heaven, and my arms employed in hastily adjusting my cloak, that had fallen off my shoulder from my agitation, and whose disordered folds resembled any thing but those of a Monk’s habit. From that evening I began to perceive my danger, and to meditate how to avert it. I had no inclination for the monastic life; but after vespers, and the evening exercise in my own cell, I began to doubt if this very repugnance was not itself a sin. Silence and night deepened the impression, and I lay awake for many hours, supplicating God to enlighten me, to enable me not to oppose his will, but clearly to reveal that will to me; and if he was not pleased to call me to a monastic life, to support my resolution in undergoing every thing that might be inflicted on me, sooner than profane that state by extorted vows and an alienated mind. That my prayers might be more effectual, I offered them up first in the name of the Virgin, then in that of the Patron-saint of the family, and then of the Saint on whose eve I was born. I lay in great agitation till morning, and went to matins without having closed my eyes, I had, however, I felt, acquired resolution, — at least I thought so. Alas! I knew not what I had to encounter. I was like a man going to sea with a day’s provision, and imagining he is victualled for a voyage to the poles. I went through my exercises (as they were called) with uncommon assiduity that day; already I felt the necessity of imposition, — fatal lesson of monastic institutions. We dined at noon; and soon after my father’s carriage arrived, and I was permitted to go for an hour on the banks of the Manzanares. To my surprise my father was in the carriage, and though he welcomed me with a kind of embarrassment, I was delighted to meet him. He was a layman at least, — he might have a heart.
‘I was disappointed at the measured phrase he addressed me in, and this froze me at once into a rigid determination, to be as much on my guard with him, as I must be within the walls of the convent. The conversation began, ‘You like your convent, my son?’ ‘Very much,’ (there was not a word of truth in my answer, but the fear of circumvention always teaches falsehood, and we have only to thank our instructors). ‘The Superior is very fond of you.’ ‘He seems so.’ ‘The brethren are attentive to your studies, and capable of directing them, and appreciating your progress.’ ‘They seem so.’ ‘And the boarders — they are sons of the first families in Spain, they appear all satisfied with their situation, and eager to embrace its advantages.’ ‘They seem so.’ ‘My dear son, why have you thrice answered me in the same monotonous, unmeaning phrase?’ ‘Because I thought it all seeming.’ ‘How, then, would you say that the devotion of those holy men, and the profound attention of their pupils, whose studies are alike beneficial to man, and redounding to the glory of the church to which they are dedicated — ‘ ‘My dearest father, — I say nothing of them, — but I dare to speak of myself, — I can never be a monk, — if that is your object — spurn me, — order your lacqueys to drag me from this carriage, — leave me a beggar in the streets to cry ’fire and water,’1 — but do not make me a monk.’ My father appeared stunned by this apostrophe. He did not utter a word. He had not expected such a premature development of the secret which he imagined he had to disclose, not to hear disclosed. At this moment the carriage turned into the Prado; a thousand magnificent equipages, with plumed horses, superb caparisons, and beautiful women bowing to the cavaliers, who stood for a moment on the foot-board, and then bowed their adieus to the ‘ladies of their love,’ passed before our eyes. I saw my father, at this moment, arrange his superb mantle, and the silk net in which his long black hair was bound, and give the signal to his lacqueys to stop, that he might mingle among the crowd. I caught this moment, — I grasped his mantle. — ‘Father, you find this world delightful then, — would you ask me to resign it, — me, who am your child.’ — ‘But you are too young for it, my son.’ ‘Oh, then, my father, I am surely much too young for another world, to which you would force me.’ ‘Force you, my child, my firstborn!’ And these words he uttered with such tenderness, that I involuntarily kissed his hands, while his lips eagerly pressed my forehead. It was at this moment that I studied, with all the eagerness of hope, my father’s physiognomy, or what artists would call his physique.
1 ‘Fire for the cigars, and iced-water for drink.’ — A cry often heard in Madrid.
‘He had been my parent before he was sixteen; his features were beautiful, his figure the most graceful and lover-like I ever beheld, and his early marriage had preserved him from all the evils of youthful excess, and spared the glow of feature, and elasticity of muscle, and grace of juvenility, so often withered by vice, almost before they have bloomed. He was now but twenty-eight, and looked ten years younger. He was evidently conscious of this, and as much alive to the enjoyments of youth, as if he were still in its spring. He was at the same moment rushing into all the luxuries of youthful enjoyment and voluptuous splendour, and dooming one, who was at least young enough to be his son, to the frozen and hopeless monotony of a cloister. I laid hold of this with the grasp of a drowning man. But a drowning man never grasped a straw so weak as he who depends on the worldly feeling of another for the support of his own.
‘Pleasure is very selfish; and when selfishness pleads to selfishness for relief, it is like a bankrupt asking his fellow-prisoner to go bail for him. This was my conviction at the moment, yet still I reflected, (for suffering supplies the place of experience in youth, and they are most expert casuists who have graduated only in the school of misfortune), I reflected, that a taste for pleasure, while it renders a man selfish in one sense, renders him generous in another. The real voluptuary, though he would not part with his slightest indulgence to save the world from destruction, would yet wish all the world to be enjoying itself, (provided it was not at his expence), because his own would be increased by it. To this I clung, and intreated my father to indulge me with another view of the brilliant scene before us. He complied, and his feelings, softened by this compliance, and exhilarated by the spectacle, (which interested him more than me, who observed it only for its effect on him), became more favourable than ever. I availed myself of this, and, while returning to the convent, threw the whole power of my nature and intellect into one (almost) shrieking appeal to his heart. I compared myself to the unhappy Esau, deprived of his birthright by a younger brother, and I exclaimed in his language, ‘Hast thou no blessing for me! Bless me, even me also, Oh my father!’ My father was affected; he promised my intreaty every consideration; but he hinted some difficulty to be encountered on my mother’s part, much on that of her Director, who (I afterwards found) governed the whole family, and still more remotely hinted at something insurmountable and inexplicable. He suffered me, however, to kiss his hand at parting, and vainly struggled with his emotions when he felt it damp with my tears.
‘It was not till two days after, that I was summoned to attend my mother’s Director, who was waiting for me in the parlour. I deemed this delay the result of a long family debate, or (as it seemed to me) conspiracy; and I tried to prepare myself for the multifarious warfare in which I had now to engage with parents, directors, superiors, and monks, and boarders, all sworn to win the day, and not caring whether they carried their point by storm, sap, mine, or blockade. I began to measure the power of the assailants, and to try to furnish myself with weapons suited to their various modes of attack. My father was gentle, flexible, and vacillating. I had softened him in my favour, and I felt that was all that could be done with him. But the Director was to be encountered with different arms. As I went down to the parlour, I composed my looks, my gait, I modulated my voice, I adjusted my dress. I was on my guard, body, mind, mien, clothes, every thing. He was a grave, but mild-looking ecclesiastic; one must have had the treachery of Judas to suspect him of treachery. I felt disarmed, I even experienced some compunction. ‘Perhaps,’ said I, ‘I have all this while armed myself against a message of reconciliation.’ The Director began with some trifling inquiries about my health, and my progress in study, but he asked them in a tone of interest. I said to myself, it would not be decorous for him to enter on the subject of his visit too soon; — I answered him calmly, but my heart palpitated with violence. A silence ensued, and then suddenly turning towards me, he said, ‘My dear child, I understand your objections to a monastic life are insurmountable. I do not wonder at it; its habits must appear very unconciliating to youth, and, in fact, I know not to what period of life abstinence, privation, and solitude, are particularly agreeable; it was the wish of your parents doubtless; but’ — This address, so full of candour, almost overpowered me; caution and every thing else forsook me as I exclaimed, ‘But what then, my father?’ ‘But, I was going to observe, how rarely our own views coincide with those which others entertain for us, and how difficult it is to decide which are the least erroneous.’ ‘Was that all?’ said I, shrinking with disappointment. ‘That was all; for instance, some people, (of whom I once happened to be one), might be fanciful enough to imagine, that the superior experience and proved affection of parents should qualify them to decide on this point better than their children; nay, I have heard some carry their absurdity so far, as to talk of the rights of nature, the obligations of duty, and the useful coercion of restraint; but since I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with your resolution, I am beginning to be of opinion, that a youth, not thirteen years of age, may be an incomparable judge in the last resort, particularly when the question bears a trifling relation to his eternal as well as temporal interest; in such a case, he has doubtless the double advantage of dictating both to his spiritual and natural parents.’ ‘My father, I beg you to speak without irony or ridicule; you may be very clever, but I merely wish you to be intelligible and serious.’ ‘Do you wish me, then, to speak seriously?’ and he appeared to collect himself as he asked this question. ‘Certainly.’ ‘Seriously, then, my dear child, do you not believe that your parents love you? Have you not received from your infancy every mark of affection from them? Have you not been pressed to their bosoms from your very cradle?’ At these words I struggled vainly with my feelings, and wept, while I answered, ‘Yes.’ ‘I am sorry, my dear child, to see you thus overpowered; my object was to appeal to your reason, (for you have no common share of reasoning power), — and to your reason I appeal; — can you suppose that parents, who have treated you with such tenderness, who love you as they do their own souls, could act (as your conduct charges them) with causeless and capricious cruelty towards you? Must you not be aware there is a reason, and that it must be a profound one? Would it not be more worthy of your duty, as well as your superior sense, to inquire into, than contend with it?’ ‘Is it founded upon any thing in my conduct, then? — I am willing to do every thing, — to sacrifice every thing.’ — ‘I understand, — you are willing to do every thing but what is required of you, — and to sacrifice every thing but your own inclination.’ ‘But you have hinted at a reason.’ The Director was silent. ‘You urged me to inquire into it.’ The Director was silent still. ‘My father, I adjure you, by the habit you wear, unmuffle this terrible phantom to me; there is nothing I cannot encounter’ — ‘Except the commands of your parents. But am I at liberty to discover this secret to you?’ said the Director, in a tone of internal debate. ‘Can I imagine that you, who have in the very outset outraged parental authority, will revere parental feelings?’ ‘My father, I do not understand you.’ ‘My dear child, I am compelled to act with a caution and reserve unsuited to my character, which is naturally as open as yours. I dread the disclosure of a secret; it is repugnant to my habits of profound confidence; and I dread disclosing any thing to a character impetuous like yours. I feel myself reduced to a most painful situation.’ ‘My father, act and speak with candour, my situation requires it, and your own profession demands it from you. My father, remember the inscription over the confessional which thrilled my very blood to read, ‘God hears thee.’ Remember God hears you always, and will you not deal sincerely with one whom God has placed at your mercy?’ I spoke with much agitation, and the Director appeared affected for a moment; that is, he passed his hand over his eyes, which were as dry as — his heart. He paused for several minutes, and then said, ‘My dear child, dare I trust you? I confess I came prepared to treat you like a boy, but I feel I am disposed to consider you as a man. You have the intelligence, the penetration, the decision of a man. Have you the feelings of one?’ ‘Try me, my father.’ I did not perceive that his irony, his secret, and his parade of feeling, were all alike theatrical, and substitutionary for real interest and sincerity. ‘If I should be inclined to trust you, my dear child,’ — ‘I shall be grateful.’ ‘And secret.’ ‘And secret, my father.’ ‘Then imagine yourself’ — ‘Oh! my father, let me not have to imagine any thing — tell me the truth.’ ‘Foolish boy, — am I then so bad a painter, that I must write the name under the figure.’ ‘I understand you, my father, and shall not interrupt you again.’ ‘Then imagine to yourself the honour of one of the first houses in Spain; the peace of a whole family, — the feelings of a father, — the honour of a mother, — the interests of religion, — the eternal salvation of an individual, all suspended in one scale. What do you think could outweigh them?’ ‘Nothing,’ I replied ardently. ‘Yet, in the opposite scale you throw nothing, — the caprice of a boy not thirteen years old; — this is all you have to oppose to the claims of nature, of society, and of God.’ ‘My father, I am penetrated with horror at what you have said, — does all this depend on me?’ ‘It does, — it does all depend on you.’ ‘But how, then, — I am bewildered, — I am willing to make a sacrifice, — tell me what I am to do.’ ‘Embrace, my dear child, the monastic life; this will accomplish the views of all who love you, ensure your own salvation, and fulfil the will of God, who is calling you at this moment by the voices of your affectionate parents, and the supplications of the minister of heaven, who is now kneeling before you.’ And he sunk on his knees before me.
‘This prostration, so unexpected, so revolting, and so like the monastic habit of artificial humiliation, completely annihilated the effect of his language. I retreated from his arms, which were extended towards me. ‘My father, I cannot, — I will never become a monk.’ ‘Wretch! and you refuse, then, to listen to the call of your conscience, the adjuration of your parents, and the voice of God?’ The fury with which he uttered these words, — the change from a ministering angel to an infuriated and menacing demon, had an effect just contrary to what he expected. I said calmly, ‘My conscience does not reproach me, — I have never disobeyed its calls. My parents have adjured me only through your mouth; and I hope, for their sakes, the organ has not been inspired by them. And the voice of God, echoed from my own heart, bids me not to obey you, by adulterating his service with prostituted vows.’ As I spoke thus, the Director changed the whole character of his figure, his attitude, and his language; — from the extreme of supplication or of terror, he passed in a moment, with the facility of an actor, to a rigid and breathless sternness. His figure rose from the ground before me like that of the Prophet Samuel before the astonished eyes of Saul. He dropt the dramatist, and was the monk in a moment. ‘And you will not take the vows?’ ‘I will not, my father.’ ‘And you will brave the resentment of your parents, and the denunciations of the church.’ ‘I have done nothing to deserve either.’ ‘But you will encounter both, to cherish your horrid resolution of being the enemy of God.’ ‘I am not the enemy of God for speaking the truth.’ ‘Liar and hypocrite, you blaspheme!’ ‘Stop, my father, these are words unbecoming your profession, and unsuited to this place.’ ‘I acknowledge the justice of the rebuke, and submit to it, though uttered by the mouth of a child.’ — And he dropped his hypocritical eyes, folded his hands on his breast, and murmured, ‘Fiat voluntas tua. My dear child, my zeal for the service of God, and the honour of your family, to which I am attached equally by principle and affection, have carried me too far, — I confess it; but have I to ask pardon of you also, my child, for a redundance of that affection and zeal for your house, which its descendant has proved himself destitute of?’ The mingled humiliation and irony of this address had no effect on me. He saw it had not; for after slowly raising his eyes to watch that effect, he saw me standing in silence, not trusting my voice with a word, lest I should utter something rash and disrespectful, — not daring to lift up my eyes, lest their expression should speak without making language necessary.
‘I believe the Director felt his situation rather critical; his interest in the family depended on it, and he attempted to cover his retreat with all the expertness and fertility of manoeuvre which belong to an ecclesiastical tactician. ‘My dear child, we have been both wrong, I from zeal, and you from — no matter what; our business is to exchange forgiveness with each other, and to implore it of God, whom we have both offended. My dear child, let us prostrate ourselves before him, and even while our hearts are glowing with human passion, God may seize that moment to impress the seal of his grace on both, and fix it there for ever. Often the earthquake and the whirlwind are succeeded by the still, small voice, and God is there. — Let us pray.’ I fell on my knees, resolved to pray in my heart; but in a short time, the fervour of his language, the eloquence and energy of his prayers, dragged me along with him, and I felt myself compelled to pray against every dictate of my own heart. He had reserved this display for the last, and he had judged well. I never heard any thing so like inspiration; as I listened, and involuntarily, to effusions that seemed to issue from no mortal lips, I began to doubt my own motives, and search my heart. I had disdained his taunts, I had defied and conquered his passion, but as he prayed, I wept. This going over the same ground with the heart, is one of the most painful and humiliating of all exercises; the virtue of yesterday becomes the vice of to-day; we ask with the desponding and restless scepticism of Pilate, ‘What is truth?’ but the oracle that was so eloquent one moment, is dumb the next, or if it answers, it is with that ambiguity that makes us dread we have to consult again — again — and for ever — in vain.
‘I was now in a state quite fit for the Director’s purpose; but he was fatigued with the part he had played with so little success, and took his leave, imploring me to continue my importunities to Heaven to direct and enlighten me, while he himself would supplicate all the saints in heaven to touch the hearts of my parents, and reveal to them some means of saving me from the crime and perjury of a forced vocation, without involving themselves in a crime, if possible, of blacker dye and greater magnitude. Saying so he left me, to urge my parents, with all his influence, to pursue the most rigorous measures to enforce my adoption of the conventual life. His motives for doing so were sufficiently strong when he visited me, but their strength was increased tenfold before his departure. He had reckoned confidently on the power of his remonstrances; he had been repulsed; the disgrace of such a defeat rankled in the core of his heart. He had been only a partizan in the cause, but he was now a party. What was a matter of conscience before, was now a matter of honour with him; and I rather believe that the Director laid a greater stress on the latter, or made a great havock of confusion between both in his mind. Be that as it may, I passed a few days after his visit in a state of indescribable excitement. I had something to hope, and that is often better than something to enjoy. The cup of hope always excites thirst, that of fruition disappoints or quenches it. I took long walks in the garden alone. I framed imaginary conversations to myself. The boarders observed me, and said to each other, according to their instructions, ‘He is meditating on his vocation, he is supplicating for illuminating grace, let us not disturb him.’ I did not undeceive them; but I reflected with increasing horror on a system that forced hypocracy to a precocity unparalleled, and made the last vice of life the earliest of conventual youth. But I soon forgot reflection, to plunge into reverie. I imagined myself at the palace of my father; I saw him, my mother, and the Director, engaged in debate. I spoke for each, and felt for all. I supplied the passionate eloquence of the Director, his strong representations of my aversion to the habit, his declaration that further importunity on their part would be as impious as it was fruitless. I saw all the impression I once flattered myself I had made on my father revived. I saw my mother yield. I heard the murmur of doubtful acquiescence, — the decision, the congratulations. I saw the carriage approaching, — I heard the convent doors fly open. Liberty, — liberty, — I was in their arms; no, I was at their feet. Let those who smile at me, ask themselves whether they have been indebted most to imagination or reality for all they have enjoyed in life, if indeed they have ever enjoyed any thing. In these internal dramas, however, I always felt that the persons did not speak with the interest I wished; and the speeches I put into their mouths would have been spoken with ten thousand times more animation by myself. Still I felt the most exquisite enjoyment in these reveries, and perhaps it was not diminished by the thought how I was deceiving my companions the whole time. But dissimulation always teaches dissimulation; and the only question is, whether we shall be the masters of the art or its victims? a question soon decided by our self-love.
‘It was on the sixth day that I heard, with a beating heart, a carriage stop. I could have sworn to the sound of its wheels. I was in the hall before I was summoned. I felt I could not be in the wrong, nor was I. I drove to my father’s palace in a delirium, — a vision of repulse and of reconciliation, of gratitude and of despair. I was ushered into a room, where were assembled my father, my mother, and the Director, all seated, and silent as statues. I approached, I kissed their hands, and then stood at a small distance breathless. My father was the first to break silence, but he spoke very much with the air of a man who was repeating a part dictated to him; and the tone of his voice contradicted every word he prepared to utter. ‘My son, I have sent for you, no longer to contend with your weak and wicked obstinacy, but to announce to you my own resolution. The will of Heaven and of your parents has devoted you to its service, and your resistance can only make us miserable, without in the least frustrating that resolution.’ At these words, gasping for breath, my lips involuntarily unclosed; my father imagined this was an attempt to reply, though in fact I was not capable of uttering a syllable, and hastened to prevent it. ‘My son, all opposition in unavailing, all discussion fruitless. Your destiny is decided, and though your struggles may render it wretched, they cannot reverse it. Be reconciled, my child, to the will of Heaven and your parents, which you may insult, but cannot violate. This reverend person can better explain to you the necessity of your obedience than I can.’ And my father, evidently weary of a task which he had reluctantly undertaken, was rising to go away, when the Director detained him. ‘Stay, Senhor, and assure your son before you depart, that, since I last saw him, I have fulfilled my promise, and urged every topic on your mind, and that of the duchess, that I thought might operate for his best interests.’ I was aware of the hypocritical ambiguity of this expression; and, collecting my breath, I said, ‘Reverend father, as a son I seek not to employ an intercessor with my own parents. I stand before them, and if I have not an intercessor in their hearts, your mediation must be ineffectual altogether. I implored you merely to state to them my invincible reluctance.’ They all interrupted me with exclamations, as they repeated my last words, — ‘Reluctance! invincible! Is it for this you have been admitted to our presence? Is it for this we have borne so long with your contumacy, only to hear it repeated with aggravations?’ ‘Yes, my father, — yes, for this or nothing. If I am not permitted to speak, why am I suffered in your presence?’ ‘Because we hoped to witness your submission.’ ‘Allow me to give the proofs of it on my knees;’ — and I fell on my knees, hoping that my posture might soften the effect of the words I could not help uttering. I kissed my father’s hand, — he did not withdraw it, and I felt it tremble. I kissed the skirt of my mother’s robe, — she attempted to withdraw it with one hand, but with the other she hid her face, and I thought I saw tears bursting through her fingers. I knelt to the Director too, and besought his benediction, and struggled, though with revolting lips, to kiss his hand; but he snatched his habit from my hand, elevated his eyes, spread out his fingers, and assumed the attitude of a man who recoils in horror from a being who merits the extreme of malediction and reprobation. Then I felt my only chance was with my parents. I turned to them, but they shrunk from me, and appeared willing to devolve the remainder of the task on the Director. He approached me. ‘My child, you have pronounced your reluctance to the life of God invincible, but may there not be things more invincible even to your resolution? The curses of that God, confirmed by those of your parents, and deepened by all the fulminations of the church, whose embraces you have rejected, and whose holiness you have desecrated by that rejection.’ ‘Father, these are terrible words, but I have no time now but for meanings.’ ‘Besotted wretch, I do not understand you, — you do not understand yourself.’ ‘Oh! I do, — I do!’ I exclaimed. And turning to my father, still on my knees, I cried, ‘My dear father, is life, — human life, all shut up from me?’ ‘It is,’ said the Director, answering for my father. ‘Have I no resource?’ ‘None.’ ‘No profession?’ ‘Profession! degenerate wretch!’ ‘Let me embrace the meanest, but do not make me a monk.’ ‘Profligate as weak.’ ‘Oh! my father,’ still calling on my father, ‘let not this man answer for you. Give me a sword, — send me into the armies of Spain to seek death, — death is all I ask, in preference to that life you doom me to.’ ‘It is impossible,’ said my father, gloomily returning from the window against which he had been leaning; ‘the honour of an illustrious family, — the dignity of a Spanish grandee — ‘ ‘Oh! my father, of how little value will that be, when I am consuming in my early grave, and you die broken-hearted on it, over the flower your own voice has doomed to wither there.’ My father trembled. ‘Senhor, I entreat, — I command you to retire; this scene will unfit you for the devotional duties you must perform this evening.’ ‘And you leave me then?’ I cried as they departed. ‘Yes, — yes,’ — repeated the Director; ‘leave you burdened with the curse of your father.’ ‘Oh no!’ exclaimed my father; but the Director had hold of his hand, and pressed it strongly. ‘Of your mother,’ he repeated. I heard my mother weep aloud, and felt it like a repeal of that curse; but she dared not speak, and I could not. The Director had now two victims in his hands, and the third at his feet. He could not avoid showing his triumph. He paused, collected the full power of his sonorous voice, and thundered forth, ‘And of God!’ And as he rushed from the room, accompanied by my father and mother, whose hands he grasped, I felt as if struck by a thunderbolt. The rushing of their robes, as he dragged them out, seemed like the whirlwind that attends the presence of the destroying angel. I cried out, in my hopeless agony of destitution, ‘Oh! that my brother were here to intercede for me,’ — and, as I uttered these words, I fell. My head struck against a marble table, and I sunk on the floor covered with blood.
‘The domestics (of whom, according to the custom of the Spanish nobility, there were about two hundred in the palace) found me in this situation. They uttered outcries, — assistance was procured, — it was believed that I had attempted to kill myself; but the surgeon who attended me happened to be a man both of science and humanity, and having cut away the long hair clotted with blood, and surveyed the wound, he pronounced it trifling. My mother was of his opinion, for within three days I was summoned to her apartment. I obeyed the summons. A black bandage, severe head-ache, and an unnatural paleness, were the only testimonies of my accident, as it was called; and the Director had suggested to her that this was the time to FIX THE IMPRESSION. How well religious persons understand the secret of making every event of the present world operate on the future, while they pretend to make the future predominate over the present. Were I to outlive the age of man, I should never forget my interview with my mother. She was alone when I entered, and seated with her back to me. I knelt and kissed her hand. My paleness and my submission seemed to affect her, — but she struggled with her emotions, overcame them, and said in a cold dictated tone, ‘To what purpose are those marks of exterior reverence, when your heart disowns them?’ ‘Madam, I am not conscious of that.’ ‘Not conscious! How then are you here? How is it that you have not, long before this, spared your father the shame of supplicating his own child, — the shame, still more humiliating, of supplicating him in vain; spared the Father Director the scandal of seeing the authority of the church violated in the person of its minister, and the remonstrances of duty as ineffectual as the calls of nature? And me, — oh! why have you not spared me this hour of agony and shame?’ and she burst into a flood of tears, that drowned my soul as she shed them. ‘Madam, what have I done that deserves the reproach of your tears? My disinclination to a monastic life is no crime?’ ‘In you it is a crime.’ ‘But how then, dear mother, were a similar choice offered to my brother, would his rejection of it be deemed a crime?’ I said this almost involuntarily, and merely by way of comparison. I had no ulterior meaning, nor the least idea that one could be developed by my mother, except a reference to an unjustifiable partiality. I was undeceived, when she added, in a voice that chilled my blood, ‘There is a great difference between you.’ ‘Yes, Madam, he is your favourite.’ ‘No, I take Heaven to witness, — no;’ and she, who had appeared so severe, so decisive, and so impenetrable before, uttered these words with a sincerity that penetrated to the bottom of my heart; — she appeared to be appealing to Heaven against the prejudices of her child. I was affected — I said, ‘But, Madam, this difference of circumstances is inexplicable.’ ‘And would you have it explained by me? ‘By any one, Madam.’ ‘By me!’ she repeated, not hearing me; then kissing a crucifix that hung on her bosom, ‘My God! the chastisement is just, and I submit to it, though inflicted by my own child. You are illegitimate,’ she added, turning suddenly towards me; ‘you are illegitimate, — your brother is not; and your intrusion into your father’s house is not only its disgrace, but a perpetual monitor of that crime which it aggravates without absolving.’ I stood speechless. ‘Oh! my child,’ she continued, ‘have mercy on your mother. Has not this confession, extorted from her by her own son, been sufficient to expiate her offence?’ ‘Go on, Madam, I can bear any thing now.’ ‘You must bear it, for you have forced me to this disclosure. I am of rank far inferior to your father, — you were our first child. He loved me, and forgiving my weakness as a proof of my devotion to him, we were married, and your brother is our lawful child. Your father, anxious for my reputation, since I was united to him, agreed with me, as our marriage was private, and its date uncertain, that you should be announced as our legitimate offspring. For years your grandfather, incensed at our marriage, refused to see us, and we lived in retirement, — would that I had died there. A few days before his death he relented, and sent for us; it was no time to acknowledge the imposition practised on him, and you were introduced as the child of his son, and the heir of his honours. But from that hour I have never known a moment’s peace. The lie I had dared to utter before God and the world, and to a dying parent, — the injustice done to your brother, — the violation of natural duties and of legal claims, — the convulsions of my conscience, that heavily upbraided me, not only with vice and perjury, but with sacrilege.’ ‘Sacrilege!’ ‘Yes; every hour you delay the assumption of the habit is a robbery of God. Before you were born, I devoted you to him, as the only expiation of my crime. While I yet bore you in my bosom without life, I dared to implore his foregiveness only on the condition of your future intercession for me as a minister of religion. I relied on your prayers before you could speak. I proposed to intrust my penitence to one, who, in becoming the child of God, had atoned for my offence in making him the child of sin. In imagination I knelt already at your confessional, — heard you, by the authority of the church, and the commission of Heaven, pronounce me forgiven. I saw you stand beside my dying bed, — I felt you press the cross to my cold lips, and point to that heaven where I hoped my vow had already secured a seat for you. Before your birth I had laboured to lift you to heaven, and my recompence is, that your obstinacy threatens to drag us both into the gulph of perdition. Oh! my child, if our prayers and intercessions are available to the delivery of the souls of our departed relatives from punishment, hear the adjuration of a living parent, who implores you not to seal her everlasting condemnation!’ I was unable to answer, my mother saw it, and redoubled her efforts. ‘My son, if I thought that my kneeling at your feet would soften your obduracy, I would prostrate myself before them this moment.’ ‘Oh! madam, the sight of such unnatural humiliation ought to kill me.’ ‘And yet you will not yield — the agony of this confession, the interests of my salvation and your own, nay, the preservation of my life, are of no weight with you.’ She perceived that these words made me tremble, and repeated, ‘Yes, my life; beyond the day that your inflexibility exposes me to infamy, I will not live. If you have resolution, I have resolution too; nor do I dread the result, for God will charge on your soul, not on mine, the crime an unnatural child has forced me to — and yet you will not yield. — Well, then, the prostration of my body is nothing to that prostration of soul you have already driven me to. I kneel to my own child for life and for salvation,’ and she knelt to me. I attempted to raise her; she repelled me, and exclaimed, in a voice hoarse with despair, ‘And you will not yield?’ ‘I do not say so.’ ‘And what, then, do you say? — raise me not, approach me not, till you answer me.’ ‘That I will think.’ ‘Think! you must decide.’ ‘I do, then, I do.’ ‘But how?’ ‘To be whatever you would have me.’ As I uttered these words, my mother fell in a swoon at my feet. As I attempted to lift her up, scarce knowing if it was not a corse I held in my arms, I felt I never could have forgiven myself if she had been reduced to that situation by my refusing to comply with her last request.
‘I was overpowered with congratulations, blessings, and embraces. I received them with trembling hands, cold lips, a rocking brain, and a heart that felt turned to stone. Everything passed before me as in a dream. I saw the pageant move on, without a thought of who was to be the victim. I returned to the convent — I felt my destiny was fixed — I had no wish to avert or arrest it — I was like one who sees an enormous engine (whose operation is to crush him to atoms) put in motion, and, stupified with horror, gazes on it with a calmness that might be mistaken for that of one who was coolly analysing the complication of its machinery, and calculating the resistless crush of its blow. I have read of a wretched Jew,1 who, by the command of a Moorish emperor, was exposed in an area to the rage of a lion who had been purposely kept fasting for eight and forty hours. The horrible roar of the famished and infuriated animal made even the executioners tremble as they fastened the rope round the body of the screaming victim. Amid hopeless struggles, supplications for mercy, and shrieks of despair, he was bound, raised, and lowered into the area. At the moment he touched the ground, he fell prostrate, stupefied, annihilated. He uttered no cry — he did not draw a breath — he did not make an effort — he fell contracting his whole body into a ball, and lay as senseless as a lump of earth. — So it fared with me; my cries and struggles were over, — I had been flung into the area, and I lay there. I repeated to myself, ‘I am to be a monk,’ and there the debate ended. If they commended me for the performance of my exercises, or reproved me for my deficiency, I showed neither joy nor sorrow, — I said only, ‘I am to be a monk.’ If they urged me to take exercise in the garden of the convent, or reproved me for my excess in walking beyond the allotted hours, I still answered, ‘I am to be a monk.’ I was showed much indulgence in these wanderings. A son — the eldest son of the Duke de Monçada, taking the vows, was a glorious triumph for the ex-Jesuits, and they did not fail to make the most of it. They asked what books I would like to read, — I answered, ‘what they pleased.’ They saw I was fond of flowers, and vases of porcelain, filled with the most exquisite produce of their garden, (renewed every day), embellished my apartment. I was fond of music, — that they perceived from my involuntary joining in the choir. My voice was good, and my profound melancholy gave an expression to my tones, which these men, always on the watch to grasp at any thing that may aggrandize them, or delude their victims, assured me were like the tones of inspiration.
1 Vide Buffa — Anachronism prepense.
‘Amid these displays of indulgence, I exhibited an ingratitude totally foreign from my character. I never read the books they furnished me with, — I neglected the flowers with which they filled my room, — and the superb organ they introduced into my apartment, I never touched, except to elicit some deep and melancholy chords from its keys. To those who urged me to employ my talents for painting and music, I still answered with the same apathetic monotony, ‘I am to be a monk.’ ‘But, my brother, the love of flowers, of music, of all that can be consecrated to God, is also worthy of the attention of man — you abuse the indulgence of the Superior.’ ‘Perhaps so.’ ‘You must, in gratitude to God, thank him for these lovely works of his creation;’ — the room was at this time filled with carnations and roses; — ‘you must also be grateful to him for the powers with which he has distinguished you in hymning his praises — your voice is the richest and most powerful in the church.’ ‘I don’t doubt it.’ ‘My brother, you answer at random.’ ‘Just as I feel — but don’t heed that.’ ‘Will you take a turn in the garden?’ ‘If you please.’ ‘Or will you seek a moment’s consolation from the Superior?’ ‘If you please.’ ‘But why do you speak with such apathy? are the odour of the flowers, and the consolations of your Superior, to be appreciated in the same breath?’ ‘I believe so.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because I am to be a monk.’ ‘Nay, brother, will you never utter any thing but that phrase, which carries no meaning with it but that of stupefaction or delirium?’ ‘Imagine me, then, stupefied, delirious — what you please — you know I must be a monk.’ At these words, which I suppose I uttered in a tone unlike that of the usual chaunt of monastic conversation, another interposed, and asked what I was uttering in so loud a key? ‘I am only saying,’ I replied, ‘that I must be a monk.’ ‘Thank God it is no worse,’ replied the querist, ‘your contumacy must long ago have wearied the Superior and the brethren — thank God it’s no worse.’ At these words I felt my passions resuscitated, — I exclaimed, ‘Worse! what have I to dread? — am I not to be a monk?’ From that evening, (I forget when it occurred), my liberty was abridged; I was no longer suffered to walk, to converse with the boarders or novices, — a separate table was spread for me in the refectory, — the seats near mine were left vacant at service, — yet still my cell was embellished with flowers and engravings, and exquisitely-wrought toys were left on my table. I did not perceive they were treating me as a lunatic, yet certainly my foolishly reiterated expressions might have justified them in doing so, — they had their own plans in concert with the Director, — my silence went for proof. The Director came often to visit me, and the hypocritical wretches would accompany him to my cell. I was generally (for want of other occupation) attending to my flowers, or gazing at the engravings, — and they would say, ‘You see he is as happy as he wishes to be — he wants for nothing — he is quite occupied in watching those roses.’ ‘No, I am not occupied,’ I returned, ‘it is occupation I want.’ Then they shrugged their shoulders, exchanged mysterious looks with the Director, and I was glad when they were gone, without reflecting on the mischief their absence threatened me with. At this moment, consultation after consultation was held at the palace de Monçada, whether I could be induced to shew sufficient intellect to enable me to pronounce the vows. It seems the reverend fathers were as anxious as their old enemies the Moors, to convert an idiot into a saint. There was now a party combined against me, that it would have required more than the might of man to resist. All was uproar from the palace de Monçada to the convent, and back again. I was mad, contumacious, heretical, idiotical, — any thing — every thing — that could appease the jealous agony of my parents, the cupidity of the monks, or the ambition of the ex-Jesuits, who laughed at the terror of all the rest, and watched intently over their own interests. Whether I was mad or not, they cared very little; to enroll a son of the first house of Spain among their converts, or to imprison him as a madman, or to exorcise him as a demoniac, was all the same to them. There was a coup de theatre to be exhibited, and provided they played first parts, they cared little about the catastrophe. Luckily, during all this uproar of imposture, fear, falsehood, and misrepresentation, the Superior, remained steady. He let the tumult go on, to aggrandize his importance; but he was resolved all the time that I should have sanity enough to enable me to take the vows. I knew nothing of all this, but was astonished at being summoned to the parlour on the last eve of my noviciate. I had performed my religious exercises with regularity, had received no rebukes from the master of the novices, and was totally unprepared for the scene that awaited me. In the parlour were assembled my father, mother, the Director, and some other persons whom I did not recognize. I advanced with a calm look, and equal step. I believe I was as much in possession of my reason as any one present. The Superior, taking my arm, led me round the room, saying, ‘You see — ‘ I interrupted him — ‘Sir, what is this intended for?’ He answered only by putting his finger on his lips, and then desired me to exhibit my drawings. I brought them, and offered them on one knee, first to my mother, and then to my father. They were sketches of monasteries and prisons. My mother averted her eyes — and my father said, pushing them away, ‘I have no taste in those things.’ ‘But you are fond of music doubtless,’ said the Superior; ‘you must hear his performance.’ There was a small organ in the room adjacent to the parlour; my mother was not admitted there, but my father followed to listen. Involuntarily I selected an air from the ‘Sacrifice of Jephtha.’ My father was affected, and bid me cease. The Superior imagined this was not only a tribute to my talent, but an acknowledgement of the power of his party, and he applauded without measure or judgement. Till that moment, I had never conceived I could be the object of a party in the convent. The Superior was determined to make me a Jesuit, and therefore was pledged for my sanity. The monks wished for an exorcism, an auto de fe, or some such bagatelle, to diversify the dreariness of monasticism, and therefore were anxious I should be, or appear, deranged or possessed. Their pious wishes, however, failed. I had appeared when summoned, behaved with scrupulous correctness, and the next day was appointed for my taking the vows.
‘That next day — Oh! that I could describe it! — but it is impossible — the profound stupefaction in which I was plunged prevented my noticing things which would have inspired the most uninterested spectator. I was so absorbed, that though I remember facts, I cannot paint the slightest trace of the feelings which they excited. During the night I slept profoundly, till I was awoke by a knock at my door. — ‘My dear child, how are you employed?’ I knew the voice of the Superior, and I replied, ‘My father, I was sleeping.’ ‘And I was macerating myself at the foot of the altar for you, my child, — the scourge is red with my blood.’ I returned no answer, for I felt the maceration was better merited by the betrayer than the betrayed. Yet I was mistaken; for in fact, the Superior felt some compunction, and had undergone this penance on account of my repugnance and alienation of mind, more than for his own offences. But Oh! how false is a treaty made with God, which we ratify with our own blood, when he has declared there is but one sacrifice he will accept, even that of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world! Twice in the night, I was thus disturbed, and twice answered in the same language. The Superior, I make no doubt, was sincere. He thought he was doing all for God, and his bleeding shoulders testified his zeal. But I was in such a state of mental ossification, that I neither felt, heard, or understood; and when he knocked a second and third time at the door of my cell to announce the severity of his macerations, and the efficacy of his intercessions with God, I answered, ‘Are not criminals allowed to sleep the night before their execution?’ At hearing these words, which must have made him shudder, the Superior fell prostrate before the door of my cell, and I turned to sleep again. But I could hear the voices of the monks as they raised the Superior, and bore him to his cell. They said, ‘He is incorrigible — you humiliate yourself in vain — when he is ours, you shall see him a different being — he shall then prostrate himself before you.’ I heard this, and slept on. The morning came — I knew what it would bring — I dramatized the whole scene in my own mind. I imagined I witnessed the tears of my parents, the sympathy of the congregation. I thought I saw the hands of the priests tremble as they tossed the incense, and even the acolytes shiver as they held their robes. Suddenly my mind changed: I felt — what was it I felt? — a union of malignity, despair, and power, the most formidable. Lightning seemed flashing from my eyes as I reflected, — I might make the sacrificers and the sacrificed change places in one moment, — I might blast my mother as she stood, by a word, — I might break my father’s heart, by a single sentence, — I might scatter more desolation around me, than it was apparently possible for human vice, human power, or human malignity, more potent than both, to cause to its most abject victim. — Yes! — on that morning I felt within myself the struggles of nature, feeling, compunction, pride, malevolence, and despair. — The former I had brought with me, the latter had been all acquired in the convent. I said to those who attended me that morning, ‘You are arraying me for a victim, but I can turn the executioners into the victims if I please’ — and I laughed. The laugh terrified those who were about me — they retreated — they represented my state to the Superior. He came to my apartment. The whole convent was by this time alarmed — their credit was at stake — the preparations had all been made — the whole world was determined I was to be a monk, mad or not.
‘The Superior was terrified, I saw, as he entered my apartment. ‘My son, what means all this?’ ‘Nothing, my father — nothing but a sudden thought that has struck me.’ ‘We will discuss it another time, my son; at present — ‘ ‘At present,’ I repeated with a laugh that must have lacerated the Superior’s ears — ‘At present I have but one alternative to propose — let my father or my brother take my place — that is all. I will never be a monk.’ The Superior, at these words, ran in despair round the cell. I followed him, exclaiming, in a voice that must have filled him with horror, ‘I exclaim against the vows — let those who forced me to it, take the guilt on themselves — let my father, in his own person, expiate his guilt in bringing me into the world — let my brother sacrifice his pride — why must I be the only victim of the crime of the one, and the passions of the other?’ ‘My son, all this was arranged before.’ ‘Yes, I know that — I know that by a decree of the Almighty I was doomed to be cursed even in my mother’s womb, but I will never subscribe that decree with my own hand.’ ‘My son, what can I say to you — you have passed your noviciate.’ ‘Yes, in a state of stupefaction.’ ‘All Madrid is assembled to hear you take your vows.’ ‘Then all Madrid shall hear me renounce them, and disavow them.’ ‘This is the very day fixed on. The ministers of God are prepared to yield you to his arms. Heaven and earth, — all that is valuable in time, or precious in eternity, are summoned, are waiting for the irrevocable words that seal your salvation, and ensure that of those you love. What demon has taken possession of you, my child, and seized the moment you were coming to Christ, to cast you down, and tear you? How shall I— how shall the fraternity, and all the souls who are to escape from punishment by the merit of your prayers, answer to God for your horrible apostacy?’ ‘Let them answer for themselves — let every one of us answer for ourselves — that is the dictate of reason.’ ‘Of reason, my deluded child, — when had reason any thing to do with religion?’ I had sat down, folded my arms on my breast, and forbore to answer a word. The Superior stood with his arms crossed, his head declined, his whole figure in an air of profound and mortified contemplation. Any one else would have imagined him seeking God in the abysses of meditation, but I felt he was only seeking him where he is never to be found, — in the abyss of that heart which is ‘deceitful and desperately wicked.’ He approached — I exclaimed, ‘Come not near me! — you will renew again the story of my submission — I tell you it was artificial; — of my regularity in devotional exercises — it was all mechanism or imposture; — of my conformity to discipline — it was all practised with the hope of escaping from it ultimately. Now, I feel my conscience discharged and my heart lightened. Do you hear, do you understand me? These are the first words of truth I ever uttered since I entered these walls — the only ones that will, perhaps, ever be uttered within them — aye, treasure them up, knit your brows, and cross yourself, and elevate your eyes as you will. Go on with your religious drama. What is there you see before you so horrible, that you recoil, that you cross yourself, that you lift your eyes and hands to heaven? — a creature whom despair has driven to utter desperate truth! Truth may be horrible to the inmates of a convent, whose whole life is artificial and perverted, — whose very hearts are sophisticated beyond the hand even of Heaven (which they alienate by their hypocrisy) to touch. But I feel I am at this moment an object of less horror in the sight of the Deity, than if I were standing at his altar, to (as you would urge me) insult him with vows, which my heart was bursting from my bosom to contradict, at the moment I uttered them.’
‘At these words, which I must have uttered with the most indecent and insulting violence, I almost expected the Superior would have struck me to the earth, — would have summoned the lay-brothers to bear me to confinement, — would have shut me up in the dungeon of the convent, for I knew there was such a place. Perhaps I wished for all this. Driven to extremity myself, I felt a kind of pride in driving others to it in return. Any thing of violent excitement, of rapid and giddy vicissitude, or even of intense suffering, I was prepared for, and equal to, at that moment. But these paroxysms soon exhaust themselves and us by their violence.
‘Astonished by the Superior’s silence, I raised my eyes to him. I said, in a tone of moderation that seemed unnatural to my own ears, ‘Well, let me hear my sentence.’ He was silent still. He had watched the crisis, and now skilfully seized the turn of the mental disease, to exhibit his applications. He was standing before me meek and motionless, his arms crossed, his eyes depressed, not the slightest indication of resentment to be traced in his whole figure. The folds of his habit, refusing to announce his internal agitation, seemed as they were cut out of stone. His silence imperceptibly softened me, — I blamed myself for my violence. Thus men of the world command us by their passions, and men of the other world by the apparent suppression of them. At last he said, ‘My son, you have revolted from God, resisted his Holy Spirit, profaned his sanctuary, and insulted his minister, — in his name and my own I forgive you all. Judge of the various characters of our systems, by their different results on us two. You revile, defame, and accuse, — I bless and forgive; which of us is then under the influence of the gospel of Christ, and within the pale of the church’s benediction? But leaving this question, which you are not at present in a frame to decide, I shall urge but one topic more; if that fails, I shall no longer oppose your wishes, or urge you to prostitute a sacrifice which man would despise, and God must disdain. I add, I will even do my utmost to facilitate your wishes, which are now in fact my own.’ At these words, so full of truth and benignity, I was rushing to prostrate myself at his feet, but fear and experience checked me, and I only bowed. ‘Promise me merely that you will wait with patience till this last topic is urged; whether it succeeds or not I have now little interest, and less care.’ I promised, — he went out. A few moments after he returned. His air was a little more disturbed, but still struggling for a calmness of expression. There was agitation about him, but I knew not whether it was felt on his own account or mine. He held the door half open, and his first sentence astonished me. — ‘My son, you are well acquainted with the classical histories.’ ‘But what is that to the purpose, my father?’ ‘You remember a remarkable story of the Roman general, who spurned from the steps of his tribune, people, senators, and priests, — trampled on all law, — outraged all religion, — but was at last moved by nature, for, when his mother prostrated herself before him, and exclaimed, ‘My son, before you tread the streets of Rome, you must first tread on the body of her who bore you!’ he relented.’ ‘I remember all, but to what does this tend?’ ‘To this,’ and he threw open the door; ‘now, prove yourself, if you can, more obdurate than a heathen.’ As the door opened, across the threshold lay my mother, prostrate on her face. She said in a stifled voice, ‘Advance, — break your vows, — but you must rush to perjury over the body of your mother.’ I attempted to raise her, but she clung to the ground, repeating the same words; and her magnificent dress, that overspread the floor of stone with gems and velvet, frightfully contrasted her posture of humiliation, and the despair that burned in her eyes, as she raised them to me for a moment. Convulsed with agony and horror, I reeled into the arms of the Superior, who seized that moment to bear me to the church. My mother followed, — the ceremony proceeded. I vowed chastity, poverty, and obedience, and in a few moments my destiny was decided.
‘Day followed day for many a month, of which I have no recollections, nor wish to have any. I must have experienced many emotions, but they all subsided like the waves of the sea under the darkness of a midnight sky, — their fluctuation continues, but there is no light to mark their motion, or trace when they rise and fall. A deep stupor pervaded my senses and soul; and perhaps, in this state, I was best fitted for the monotonous existence to which I was doomed. It is certain that I performed all the conventual functions with a regularity that left nothing to be blamed, and an apathy that left nothing for praise. My life was a sea without a tide. The bell did not toll for service with more mechanical punctuality than I obeyed the summons. No automaton, constructed on the most exquisite principles of mechanism, and obeying those principles with a punctuality almost miraculous, could leave the artist less room for complaint or disappointment, than I did the Superior and community. I was always first in my place in the choir. I received no visits in the parlour, — when I was permitted to go, I declined the permission. If penance was enjoined, I submitted; if relaxation was permitted, I never partook of it. I never asked a dispensation from morning prayers, or from vigils. I was silent in the refectory, — in the garden I walked alone. I neither thought, nor felt, nor lived, — if life depends on consciousness, and the motions of the will. I slept through my existence like the Simorgh in the Eastern fable, but this sleep was not to last long. My abstraction and calmness would not do for the Jesuits. My stupor, my noiseless tread, my fixed eyes, my ghastly silence, might indeed have impressed a superstitious community with the idea that it was no human creature who stalked through their cloisters, and haunted their choir. But they had quite different ideas. They considered all this as a tacit reproach to the struggles, the squabbles, the intrigues, and the circumventions, in which they were immersed, body and soul, from morn till night. Perhaps they thought I was lying in reserve, only to watch them. Perhaps there might have been a dearth of some matter of curiosity or complaint in the convent just then, — a very little serves for either. However it was, they began to revive the old story of my being deranged, and resolved to make the most of it. They whispered in the refectory, consulted in the garden, — shook their heads, pointed at me in the cloister, and finally, I faithfully believe, worked themselves into the conviction that what they wished or imagined was actually true. Then they all felt their consciences interested in the investigation; and a select party, headed by an old monk of influence and reputation, waited on the Superior. They stated to him my abstraction, my mechanical movements, my automaton figure, my meaningless words, my stupified devotion, my total alienation from the spirit of the monastic life, while my scrupulous, wooden, jointless exactness in its forms was only a mockery. The Superior heard them with great indifference. He had held secret intelligence with my family, had communicated with the Director, and pledged himself that I should be a monk. He had succeeded by dint of exertions, (the result of which has been seen), and now cared very little whether I was mad or not. With a grave air he forbid their further interference in the matter, and reserved its future cognizance to himself. They retired defeated, but not disappointed, and they all pledged themselves to each other to watch me; that is, to harass, persecute, and torment me into being the very character with which their malice, their curiosity, or their mere industry of idleness and wantonness of unoccupied invention, had invested me already. From that hour the whole convent was in a tumult of conspiracy and combination. Doors were clapped to wherever I was heard to approach; and three or four would stand whispering near where I walked, and clear their throats, and exchange signs, and pass audibly to the most trifling topics in my hearing, as if to intimate, while they affected to conceal it, that their last topic had been me. I laughed at this internally. I said to myself, ‘Poor perverted beings, with what affectation of dramatic bustle and contrivance you labour to diversify the misery of your hopeless vacancy; — you struggle, — I submit.’ Soon the toils they were preparing began to tighten round me. They would throw themselves in my way with an assiduity I could not avoid, and an appearance of kindness I did not willingly repel. They would say, in the blandest tones, ‘My dear brother, you are melancholy, — you are devoured with chagrin, — would to God our fraternal efforts could banish your regrets. But from what arises that melancholy that appears to consume you?’ At these words I could not help fixing on them eyes full of reproaches, and I believe of tears, — but I did not utter a word. The state in which they saw me, was a sufficient cause for the melancholy with which I was reproached.
‘This attack having failed, another method was tried. They attempted to make me a party in the parties of the convent. They told me a thousand things of unjust partialities, — of unjust punishments, daily to be witnessed in the convent. They talked of a sickly brother being compelled to attend matins, while the physician pronounced his attendance on them must be his death, — and he died, — while a young favourite, in the bloom of health, had a dispensation from matins whenever he pleased to lie till nine in the morning; — of complaints that the confessional was not attended to as it ought, — and this might have made some impression on me, till another complainant added, and the turning-box is not attended as it ought to be. This union of dissonant sounds, — this startling transition from a complaint of neglecting the mysteries of the soul in its profoundest communion with God, to the lowest details of the abuses of conventual discipline, revolted me at once. I had with difficulty concealed my disgust till then, and it was now so obvious, that the party gave up their attempt for the moment, and beckoned to an experienced monk to join me in my solitary walk, as I broke from them. He approached, ‘My brother, you are alone.’ ‘I wish to be so.’ ‘But why?’ ‘I am not obliged to announce my reasons.’ ‘True, but you may confide them to me.’ ‘I have nothing to confide.’ ‘I know that, — I would not for the world intrude on your confidence; reserve that for friends more honoured.’ It struck me as rather odd, that he should, in the same breath, ask for my confidence, — declare that he was conscious I had nothing to intrust to him, — and, lastly, request a reserve of my confidence for some more favoured friend. I was silent, however, till he said, ‘But, my brother, you are devoured with ennui.’ I was silent still. ‘Would to God I could find the means to dissipate it.’ I said, looking on him calmly, ‘Are those means to be found within the walls of a convent?’ ‘Yes, my dear brother, — yes, certainly, — the debate in which the convent is now engaged about the proper hour for matins, which the Superior wants to have restored to the original hour.’ ‘What is the difference?’ ‘Full five minutes.’ ‘I confess the importance of the question.’ ‘Oh! if you once begin to feel it, there will be no end of your happiness in a convent. There is something every moment to inquire, to be anxious about, and to contend for. Interest yourself, my dear brother, in these questions, and you will not have a moment’s ennui to complain of.’ At these words I fixed my eyes on him. I said calmly, but I believe emphatically, ‘I have, then, only to excite in my own mind, spleen, malignity, curiosity, every passion that your retreat should have afforded me protection against, to render that retreat supportable. Pardon me, if I cannot, like you, beg of God permission to take his enemy into compact against the corruption which I promote, while I presume to pray against it.’ He was silent, lifted up his hands, and crossed himself; and I said to myself, ‘God forgive your hypocrisy,’ as he went into another walk, and repeated to his companions, ‘He is mad, irrecoverably mad.’ ‘But how, then?’ said several voices. There was a stifled whisper. I saw several heads bent together. I did not know what they were meditating, nor did I care. I was walking alone, — it was a delicious moon-light evening. I saw the moon-beams through the trees, but the trees all looked to me like walls. Their trunks were as adamant, and the interlaced branches seemed to twine themselves into folds that said, ‘Beyond us there is no passing.’ I sat down by the side of a fountain, — there was a tall poplar over it, — I remember their situation well. An elderly priest (who, I did not see, was detached by the party) sat down beside me. He began some common-place observations on the transiency of human existence. I shook my head, and he understood, by a kind of tact not uncommon among Jesuits, that it would not do. He shifted the subject, remarked on the beauty of the foliage, and the limpid purity of the fountain. I assented. He added, ‘Oh that life were pure as that stream!’ I sighed, ‘Oh that life were verdant and fertile to me as that tree!’ ‘But, my son, may not fountains be dried up, and trees be withered?’ ‘Yes, my father, — yes, — the fountain of my life has been dried up, and the green branch of my life has been blasted for ever.’ As I uttered these words, I could not suppress some tears. The father seized on what he called the moment when God was breathing on my soul. Our conversation was very long, and I listened to him with a kind of reluctant and stubborn attention, because I had involuntarily been compelled to observe, that he was the only person in the whole community who had never harassed me by the slightest importunity either before my profession or after; and when the worst things were said of me, never seemed to attend; and when the worst things were predicted of me, shook his head and said nothing. His character was unimpeached, and his religious performances as exemplary and punctual as my own. With all this I felt no confidence in him, or in any human being; but I listened to him with patience, and my patience must have had no trivial trial, for, at the end of an hour, (I did not perceive that our conference was permitted quite beyond the usual hour of retirement), he continued repeating, ‘My dear son, you will become reconciled to the conventual life.’ ‘My father, never, never, — unless this fountain is dried up, and this tree withered, by to-morrow.’ ‘My son, God has often performed greater miracles for the salvation of a soul.’
‘We parted, and I retired to my cell. I know not how he and the others were employed, but, before matins, there was such a tumult in the convent, that one would have thought Madrid was on fire. Boarders, novices, and monks, ran about from cell to cell, up and down the staircase, through all the corridors, unrestrained and unquestioned, — all order was at an end. No bell was rung, no commands for restoring tranquillity issued; the voice of authority seemed to have made peace for ever with the shouts of up-roar. From my window I saw them running through the garden in every direction, embracing each other, ejaculating, praying, and counting their beads with hands tremulous, and eyes uplifted in extacy. The hilarity of a convent has something in it uncouth, unnatural, and even alarming. I suspected some mischief immediately, but I said to myself, ‘The worst is over, they cannot make me more than a monk.’ — I was not long left in doubt. Many steps approached my cell, numerous voices were repeating, ‘Hasten, dear brother, hasten to the garden.’ I was left no choice; they surrounded and almost bore me to the garden.
‘The whole community were assembled there, the Superior among them not attempting to suppress the confusion, but rather encouraging it. There was a suffusion of joy in every countenance, and a kind of artificial light in every eye, but the whole performance struck me as hollow and hypocritical. I was led, or rather hurried to the spot where I had sat and conversed so long the preceding evening. The fountain was dried up, and the tree was withered. I stood speechless with astonishment, while every voice around me repeated, ‘A miracle! a miracle! — God himself has sealed your vocation with his own hand.’ The Superior made a signal to them to stop. He said to me in a calm voice, ‘My son, you are required only to believe the evidence of your own eyes. Will you make infidels of your very senses, sooner than believe God? Prostrate yourself, I adjure you, before him this moment, and, by a public and solemn act of faith, recognise that mercy that has not scrupled a miracle to invite you to salvation.’ I was amazed more than touched by what I saw and heard, but I threw myself on my knees before them all, as I was directed. I clasped my hands, and said aloud, ‘My God, if you have indeed vouchsafed this miracle on my account, you will also doubtless enrich and illuminate me with grace to apprehend and appreciate it. My mind is dark, but you can illuminate it. My heart is hard, but it is not beyond the power of omnipotence to touch and subdue it. An impression made on it this moment, a whisper sent to its recesses, is not less worthy of your mercy than an impression on inanimate matter, which only confounds my senses.’ The Superior interrupted me. He said, ‘Hold, those are not the words you should use. Your very faith is incredulous, and your prayer an ironical insult on the mercy it pretends to supplicate.’ ‘My father, put what words you please in my mouth, and I will repeat them, — if I am not convinced, I am at least subdued.’ ‘You must ask pardon of the community for the offence your tacit repugnance to the life of God has caused them.’ I did so. ‘You must express your gratitude to the community for the joy they have testified at this miraculous evidence of the truth of your vocation.’ I did so. ‘You must also express your gratitude to God, for a visible interposition of supernatural power, not more to the vindication of his grace, than to the eternal honour of this house, which he has been pleased to irradiate and dignify by a miracle.’ I hesitated a little. I said, ‘My father, may I be permitted to utter this prayer internally?’ The Superior hesitated too; he thought it might not be well to push matters too far, and he said at length, ‘As you please.’ I was still kneeling on the ground, close to the tree and the fountain. I now prostrated myself, with my face to the earth, and prayed internally and intensely, while they all stood around me; but the language of my prayer was very different from what they flattered themselves I was uttering. On rising from my knees, I was embraced by half the community. Some of them actually shed tears, the source of whose fountain was surely not in their hearts. Hypocritical joy insults only its dupe, but hypocritical grief degrades the professor. That whole day was passed in a kind of revelry. Exercises were abridged, — the refections embellished with confectionary, — every one had permission to go from cell to cell, without an order from the Superior. Presents of chocolate, snuff, iced water, liqueurs, and (what was more acceptable and necessary than any of them) napkins and towels of the finest and whitest damask, circulated among all the members. The Superior was shut up half the day with two discreet brethren, as they are called, (that is, men who are elected to take part with the Superior, on supposition of their utter, superannuated incapacity, as Pope Sixtus was elected for his (supposed) imbecillity), preparing an authenticated account of the miracle, to be dispatched to the principal convents in Spain. There was no need to distribute the intelligence through Madrid, — they were in possession of it an hour after it happened, — the malicious say an hour before.
‘I must confess the agitating exhilaration of this day, so unlike what I had ever witnessed before in a convent, produced an effect on me I cannot describe. I was caressed, — made the hero of the fete, — (a conventual fete has always something odd and unnatural in it), — almost deified. I gave myself up to the intoxication of the day, — I did verily believe myself the favourite of the Deity for some hours. I said to myself a thousand flattering things. If this deception was criminal, I expiated my crime very soon. The next day every thing was restored to its usual order, and I found that the community could pass from the extreme of disorder in a moment to the rigidity of their usual habits.
‘My conviction of this was certainly not diminished within the few following days. The oscillations of a convent vibrate within a very short interval. One day all is relaxation, another all is inexorable discipline. Some following days I received a striking proof of that foundation on which, in despite of a miracle, my repugnance to a monastic life rested. Some one, it was said, had committed a slight breach of monastic duty. The slight breach was fortunately committed by a distant relation of the Archbishop of Toledo, and consisted merely in his entering the church intoxicated, (a rare vice in Spaniards), attempting to drag the matin preacher from the pulpit, and failing in that, getting astride as well as he could on the altar, dashing down the tapers, overturning the vases and the pix, and trying to scratch out, as with the talons of a demon, the painting that hung over the table, uttering all the while the most horrible blasphemies, and even soliciting the portrait of the Virgin in language not to be repeated. A consultation was held. The community, as may be guessed, was in an uproar while it lasted. Every one but myself was anxious and agitated. There was much talk of the inquisition, — the scandal was so atrocious, — the outrage so unpardonable, — and atonement so impracticable. Three days afterwards the archbishop’s mandate came to stop all proceedings; and the following day the youth who had committed this sacrilegious outrage appeared in the hall of the Jesuits, where the Superior and a few monks were assembled, read a short exercise which one of them had written for him on the pithy word ‘Ebrietas,’ and departed to take possession of a large benefice in the diocese of the archbishop his relative. The very next day after this scandalous scene of compromise, imposture, and profanation, a monk was detected in the act of going, after the permitted hour, to an adjacent cell to return a book he had borrowed. As a punishment for this offence, he was compelled to sit for three days at refection, while we were dining, barefooted and his tunic reversed, on the stone floor of the hall. He was compelled to accuse himself aloud of every crime, and of many not at all fit to be mentioned to our ears, and exclaim at every interval, ‘My God, my punishment is just.’ On the second day, it was found that a mat had been placed under him by some merciful hand. There was an immediate commotion in the hall. The poor wretch was labouring under a complaint that made it worse than death to him to be compelled to sit or rather lie on a stone floor; some merciful being had surreptitiously conveyed to him this mat. An investigation was immediately commenced. A youth whom I had not noticed before, started from the table, and kneeling to the Superior, confessed his guilt. The Superior assumed a stern look, retired with some old monks to consult on this new crime of humanity, and in a few moments the bell was rung, to give every one notice to retire to their cells. We all retired trembling, and while we prostrated ourselves respectively before the crucifix in our cells, wondered who would be the next victim, or what might be his punishment. I saw that youth but once again. He was the son of a wealthy and powerful family, but even his wealth was no balance against his contumacy, in the opinion of the convent, that is, of four monks of rigid principles, whom the Superior consulted that very evening. The Jesuits are fond of courting power, but they are still fonder of keeping it, if they can, to themselves. The result of their debate was, that the offender should undergo a severe humiliation and penance in their presence. His sentence was announced to him, and he submitted to it. He repeated every word of contrition they dictated to him. He then bared his shoulders, and applied the scourge till the blood flowed, repeating between every stroke, ‘My God, I ask pardon of thee for having given the slightest comfort or relief to Fra Paolo, during his merited penance.’ He performed all this, cherishing in the bottom of his soul an intention still to comfort and relieve Fra Paolo, whenever he could find opportunity. He then thought all was over. He was desired to retire to his cell. He did so, but the monks were not satisfied with this examination. They had long suspected Fra Paolo of irregularity, and imagined they might extort the confession of it from this youth, whose humanity increased their suspicion. The virtues of nature are always deemed vices in a convent. Accordingly, he had hardly been in bed when they surrounded him. They told him they came by command of the Superior to enjoin him a further penance, unless he disclosed the secret of the interest he felt for Fra Paolo. It was in vain he exclaimed, ‘I have no interest but that of humanity and compassion.’ Those were words they did not understand. It was in vain he urged, ‘I will inflict whatever penance the Superior is pleased to order, but my shoulders are bleeding still,’ — and he shewed them. The executioners were pitiless. They compelled him to quit his bed, and applied the scourge with such outrageous severity, that at last, mad with shame, rage, and pain, he burst from them, and ran through the corridor calling for assistance or for mercy. The monks were in their cells, none dared to stir, — they shuddered, and turned on their straw pallets. It was the vigil of Saint John the Lesser, and I had been commanded what is called in convents an hour of recollection, which was to be passed in the church. I had obeyed the order, and remained with my face and body prostrate on the marble steps of the altar, till I was almost unconscious, when I heard the clock strike twelve. I reflected the hour had elapsed without a single recollection on my part. ‘And thus it is to be always,’ I exclaimed, rising from my knees; ‘they deprive of the power of thinking, and then they bid me recollect.’ As I returned through the corridor, I heard frightful cries — I shuddered. Suddenly a phantom approached me — I dropt on my knees — I cried, ‘Satana vade retro — apage Satana.’ A naked human being, covered with blood, and uttering screams of rage and torture, flashed by me; four monks pursued him — they had lights. I had shut the door at the end of the gallery — I felt they must return and pass me — I was still on my knees, and trembling from head to foot. The victim reached the door, found it shut, and rallied. I turned, and saw a groupe worthy of Murillo. A more perfect human form never existed than that of this unfortunate youth. He stood in an attitude of despair — he was streaming with blood. The monks, with their lights, their scourges, and their dark habits, seemed like a groupe of demons who had made prey of a wandering angel, — the groupe resembled the infernal furies pursuing a mad Orestes. And, indeed, no ancient sculptor ever designed a figure more exquisite and perfect than that they had so barbarously mangled. Debilitated as my mind was by the long slumber of all its powers, this spectacle of horror and cruelty woke them in a moment. I rushed forward in his defence — I struggled with the monks — I uttered some expressions which, though I hardly was conscious of, they remembered and exaggerated with all the accuracy of malice.
‘I have no recollection of what followed; but the issue of the business was, that I was confined to my cell for the following week, for my daring interference in the discipline of the convent. And the additional penance of the unfortunate novice, for resisting that discipline, was inflicted with such severity, that he became delirious with shame and agony. He refused food, he got no rest, and died the eighth night after the scene I had witnessed. He was of a temper unusually mild and amiable — he had a taste for literature, and even the disguise of a convent could not conceal the distinguished graces of his person and manners. Had he lived in the world, how these qualities would have embellished it! Perhaps the world would have abused and perverted them — true; but would the abuses of the world ever have brought them to so frightful and disastrous a conclusion? — would he have been first lashed into madness, and then lashed out of existence? He was interred in the church of the convent, and the Superior himself pronounced his eulogium — the Superior! by whose order, or else permission, or at least connivance, he had been driven mad, in order to obtain a trivial and imaginary secret.
‘During this exhibition, my disgust arose to a degree incalculable. I had loathed the conventual life — I now despised it; and every judge of human nature knows, that it is harder to eradicate the latter sentiment than the former. I was not long without an occasion for the renewed exercise of both feelings. The weather was intensely hot that year — an epidemic complaint broke out in the convent — every day two or three were ordered to the infirmary, and those who had merited slight penances were allowed, by way of commutation, to attend the sick. I was most anxious to be of the number — I was even resolved, by some slight deviation, to tempt this punishment, which would have been to me the highest gratification. Dare I confess my motive to you, Sir? I was anxious to see those men, if possible, divested of the conventual disguise, and forced to sincerity by the pangs of disease, and the approach of death. I triumphed already in the idea of their dying confession, of hearing them acknowledge the seductions employed to ensnare me, deplore the miseries in which they had involved me, and implore, with convulsed lips, my pardon in — no — not in vain.
‘This wish, though vindictive, was not without its palliations; but I was soon saved the trouble of realizing it at my own expence. That very evening the Superior sent for me, and desired me to attend in the infirmary, allowing me, at the same time, remission from vespers. The first bed I approached, I found Fra Paolo extended on. He had never recovered the effects of the complaint he laboured under at the time of his penance; and the death of the young novice so (fruitlessly incurred) had been mortal to him.
‘I offered him medicines — I attempted to adjust him in his bed. He had been greatly neglected. He repelled both offers, and, feebly waving his hand, said, ‘Let me, at least, die in peace.’ A few moments after, he unclosed his eyes, and recognized me. A gleam of pleasure trembled over his countenance, for he remembered the interest I had shewn for his unfortunate friend. He said, in a voice hardly intelligible, ‘It is you, then?’ ‘Yes, my brother, it is I— can I do any thing for you?’ After a long pause, he added, ‘Yes, you can.’ ‘Tell me then.’ He lowered his voice, which was before almost inaudible, and whispered, ‘Let none of them come near me in my dying moments — it will not give you much trouble — those moments are approaching.’ I pressed his hand in token of acquiescence. But I felt there was something at once terrifying and improper in this request from a dying man. I said to him, ‘My dear brother, you are then dying? — would you not wish an interest in the prayers of the community? — would you not wish the benefit of the last sacraments?’ He shook his head and I fear that I understood him too well. I ceased any further importunity; and a few moments he uttered, in tones I could hardly distinguish, ‘Let them, let me die. — They have left me no power to form another wish.’ His eyes closed, — I sat beside his bed, holding his hand in mine. At first, I could feel he attempted to press it — the attempt failed, his hold relaxed. Fra Paolo was no more.
‘I continued to sit holding the dead hand in mine, till a groan from an adjacent bed roused me. It was occupied by the old monk with whom I had held a long conversation the night before the miracle, in which I still believed most firmly.
‘I have observed, that this man was of a temper and manners remarkably mild and attractive. Perhaps this is always connected with great weakness of intellect, and coldness of character in men. (It may be different in women — but my own experience has never failed in the discovery, that where there was a kind of feminine softness and pliability in the male character, there was also treachery, dissimulation, and heartlessness.) At least, if there he such an union, a conventual life is sure to give it every advantage in its range of internal debility, and external seductiveness. — That pretence of a wish to assist, without the power, or even the wish, that is so flattering both to the weak minds that exercise it, and the weaker on whom it is exercised. This man had been always judged very weak, and yet very fascinating. He had been always employed to ensnare the young novices. He was now dying — overcome by his situation, I forgot every thing but its tremendous claims, and offered him every assistance in my power. ‘I want nothing but to die,’ was his answer. His countenance was perfectly calm, but its calmness was rather that of apathy than of resignation. ‘You are, then, perfectly sure of your approach to blessedness?’ ‘I know nothing about it.’ ‘How, my brother, are those words for a dying man to utter?’ ‘Yes, if he speaks the truth.’ ‘But a monk? — a catholic?’ ‘Those are but names — I feel that truth, at least, now.’ ‘You amaze me!’ ‘I care not — I am on the verge of a precipice — I must plunge from it — and whether the by-standers utter outcries or not, is a matter of little consequence to me.’ ‘And yet, you expressed a willingness to die?’ ‘Willingness! Oh impatience! — I am a clock that has struck the same minutes and hours for sixty years. Is it not time for the machine to long for its winding up? The monotony of my existence would make a transition, even to pain, desirable. I am weary, and would change — that is all.’ ‘But to me, and to all the community, you seemed to be resigned to the monastic life.’ ‘I seemed a lie — I lived a lie — I was a lie — I ask pardon of my last moments for speaking the truth — I presume they neither can refuse me, or discredit my words — I hated the monastic life. Inflict pain on man, and his energies are roused — condemn him to insanity, and he slumbers like animals that have been found inclosed in wood and stone, torpid and content; but condemn him at once to pain and inanity, as they do in convents, and you unite the sufferings of hell and of annihilation. For sixty years I have cursed my existence. I never woke to hope, for I had nothing to do or to expect. I never lay down with consolation, for I had, at the close of every day, only to number so many deliberate mockeries of God, as exercises of devotion. The moment life is put beyond the reach of your will, and placed under the influence of mechanical operations, it becomes, to thinking beings, a torment insupportable.
‘I never ate with appetite, because I knew, that with or without it, I must go to the refectory when the bell rung. I never lay down to rest in peace, because I knew the bell was to summon me in defiance of nature, whether it was disposed to prolong or shorten my repose. I never prayed, for my prayers were dictated to me. I never hoped, for my hopes were founded not on the truth of God, but on the promises and threatenings of man. My salvation hovered on the breath of a being as weak as myself, whose weakness I was nevertheless obliged to flatter, and struggle to obtain a gleam of the grace of God, through the dark distorted medium of the vices of man. It never reached me — I die without light, hope, faith, or consolation.’ — He uttered these words with a calmness that was more terrific than the wildest convulsions of despair. I gasped for breath — ‘But, my brother, you were always punctual in your religious exercises.’ ‘That was mechanism — will you not believe a dying man?’ ‘But you urged me, in a long conversation, to embrace the monastic life: and your importunity must have been sincere, for it was after my profession.’ ‘It is natural for the miserable to wish for companions in their misery. This is very selfish, very misanthropic, you will say, but it is also very natural. You have yourself seen the cages suspended in the cells — are not the tame birds always employed to allure the wild ones? We were caged birds, can you blame us for the deception?’ In these words I could not help recognizing that simplicity of profound corruption,1 — that frightful paralysis of the soul, which leaves it incapable of receiving any impression or making one, — that says to the accuser, Approach, remonstrate, upbraid — I defy you. My conscience is dead, and can neither hear, utter, or echo a reproach. I was amazed — I struggled against my own conviction. I said, ‘But your regularity in religious exercises — ‘ ‘Did you never hear a bell toll?’ ‘But your voice was always the loudest and most distinct in the choir.’ ‘Did you never hear an organ played?’
1 Vide Madame Genlis’s ‘Julien Delmour.’
‘I shuddered, yet I still went on with my queries — I thought I could not know too much. I said, ‘But, my brother, the religious exercises in which you were constantly engaged, must have imperceptibly instilled something of their spirit into you? — is it not so? You must have passed from the forms of religion into its spirit ultimately? — is it not so, my brother? Speak on the faith of a dying man. May I have such a hope! I would undergo any thing — any thing, to obtain it.’ ‘There is no such hope,’ said the dying man, ‘deceive not yourself with it. The repetition of religious duties, without the feeling or spirit of religion, produces an incurable callosity of heart. There are not more irreligious people to be found on earth than those who are occupied always in its externals. I verily believe half our lay-brothers to be Atheists. I have heard and read something of those whom we call heretics. They have people to open their pews, (shocking profanation you will call it, to sell seats in the house of God, and you are right), they have people to ring bells when their dead are to be interred; and these wretches have no other indication of religion to give, but watching during the whole time of service, (in which their duties forbid them to partake), for the fees which they extort, and dropping upon their knees, ejaculating the names of Christ and God, amid the rattling of the pew-doors, which always operates on their associations, and makes them bound from their knees to gape for a hundredth part of the silver for which Judas sold his Saviour and himself. Then their bell-ringers — one would imagine death might humanize them. Oh! no such thing — they extort money in proportion to the depth of the grave. And the bell-ringer, the sexton, and the survivors, fight sometimes a manual battle over the senseless remains, whose torpidity is the most potent and silent reproach to this unnatural conflict.’ I knew nothing of this, but I grasped at his former words, ‘You die, then, without hope or confidence?’ He was silent. ‘Yet you urged me by eloquence almost divine, by a miracle verified before my own eyes.’ He laughed. There is something very horrible in the laugh of a dying man: Hovering on the verge of both worlds, he seems to give the lie to both, and proclaim the enjoyments of one, and the hopes of another, alike an imposture. ‘I performed that miracle myself,’ he said with all the calmness, and, alas! something of the triumph of a deliberate impostor. ‘I knew the reservoir by which the fountain was supplied — by consent of the Superior it was drawn off in the course of the night. We worked hard at it, and laughed at your credulity every pump we drew.’ ‘But the tree — ‘ ‘I was in possession of some chemical secrets — I have not time to disclose them now — I scattered a certain fluid over the leaves of the poplar that night, and they appeared withered by the morning — go look at them a fortnight hence, and you will see them as green as ever.’ ‘And these are your dying words?’ ‘They are.’ ‘And why did you deceive me thus?’ He struggled a short time at this question, and then rising almost upright in his bed, exclaimed, ‘Because I was a monk, and wished for victims of my imposture to gratify my pride! and companions of my misery, to soothe its malignity!’ He was convulsed as he spoke, the natural mildness and calmness of his physiognomy were changed for something that I cannot describe — something at once derisive, triumphant, and diabolical. I forgave him every thing in that horrible moment. I snatched a crucifix that lay by his bed — I offered it to his lips. He pushed it away. ‘If I wanted to have this farce acted, I should choose another actor. You know I might have the Superior and half the convent at my bed-side this moment if I pleased, with their tapers, their holy water, and their preparations for extreme unction, and all the masquerade of death, by which they try to dupe even the dying, and insult God even on the threshold of his own eternal mansion. I suffered you to sit beside me, because I thought, from your repugnance to the monastic life, you might be a willing hearer of its deceptions, and its despair.’
‘Deplorable as had been the image of that life to me before, this representation exceeded my imagination. I had viewed it as excluding all the enjoyments of life, and thought the prospect blasting; but now the other world was weighed in the balance, and found wanting. The genius of monasticism seemed to wield a two-edged sword, and to lift it between and against time and eternity. The blade bore a two-fold inscription — on the side next the world was written the word ‘suffer,’ — on that opposed to eternity, despair.’ In the utter hopelessness of my soul, I still continued to question him for hope — him! while he was bereaving me of its very shadow, by every word he uttered. ‘But, must all be plunged in this abyss of darkness? Is there no light, no hope, no refuge, for the sufferer? May not some of us become reconciled to our situation — first patient of it, then attached to it? Finally, may we not (if our repugnance be invincible) make a merit of it with God and offer to him the sacrifice of our earthly hopes and wishes, in the confidence of an ample and glorious equivalent? Even if we are unable to offer this sacrifice with the unction which would ensure its acceptance, still may we not hope it will not be wholly neglected? — that we may become tranquil, if not happy — resigned, if not content. Speak, tell me if this may be?’ ‘And you wish to extort deception from the lips of death — but you will fail. Hear your doom — Those who are possessed of what may be called the religious character, that is, those who are visionary, weak, morose and ascetic, may elevate themselves to a species of intoxication in the moments of devotion. They may, while clasping the images, work themselves into the delusion, that the dead stone thrills to their touch; that the figures move, assent to their petitions, and turn their lifeless eyes on them with an expression of benignity. They may, while kissing the crucifix, believe that they hear celestial voices pronouncing their pardon; that the Saviour of the world extends his arms to them, to invite them to beatitude; that all heaven is expanded to their view, and the harmonies of paradise are enriched to glorify their apotheosis. But this is a mere inebriation that the most ignorant physician could produce in his patients by certain medicines. The secret of this ecstatic swoon might be traced to an apothecary’s shop, or purchased at a cheaper rate. The inhabitants of the north of Europe procure this state of exaltation by the use of liquid fire — the Turks by opium — the Dervises by dancing — and Christian monks by spiritual pride operating on the exhaustion of a macerated frame. It is all intoxication, with this difference only, that the intoxication of men of this world produces always self-complacency — that of men of the other world, a complacency whose supposed source is derived from God. The intoxication is, therefore, more profound, more delusive, and more dangerous. But nature, violated by these excesses, exacts a most usurious interest for this illicit indulgence. She makes them pay for moments of rapture with hours of despair. Their precipitation from extasy to horror is almost instantaneous. In the course of a few moments, they pass from being the favourites of Heaven to becoming its outcasts. They doubt the truth of their raptures, — the truth of their vocation. They doubt every thing — the sincerity of their prayers, even the efficacy of the Saviour’s atonement, and the intercession of the blessed Virgin. They plunge from paradise to hell. They howl, they scream, they blaspheme. From the bottom of the infernal gulph in which they imagine themselves plunged, they bellow imprecations against their Creator — they denounce themselves as damned from all eternity for their sins, while their only sin is their inability to support preternatural excitement. The paroxysm ceases — they become the elect of God again in their own imaginations. And to those who interrogate them with regard to their late despair, they answer, That Satan was permitted to buffet them — that they were under the hidings of God’s face, &c. All saints, from Mahomet down to Francis Xavier, were only a compound of insanity, pride, and self-imposition; — the latter would have been of less consequence, but that men always revenge their impositions on themselves, by imposing to the utmost on others.’
‘There is no more horrible state of mind than that in which we are forced by conviction to listen on, wishing every word to be false, and knowing every word to be true. Such was mine, but I tried to palliate it by saying, ‘It was never my ambition to be a saint; but is the lot of all, then, so deplorable?’ The monk, who appeared to rejoice in this opportunity to discharge the concentrated malignity of sixty years of suffering and hypocrisy, collected his dying voice to answer. He seemed as if he never could inflict enough, for what had been inflicted on himself. ‘Those who possess strong sensibility, without the religious character, are of all others the most unhappy, but their miseries are soonest terminated. They are harassed by trivial constraints, stupified by monotonous devotion, exasperated by dull insolence and bloated superiority. They struggle, they resist. Penance and punishment are applied. Their own violence justifies increased violence of treatment; and, at all events, it would be applied without this justification, for there is nothing that delights the pride of power, more than a victorious strife with the pride of intellect. The remainder is easily to be conceived by you, who have witnessed it. You saw the unfortunate youth who interfered about Paolo. He was lashed to madness. Tortured first to phrenzy, then to stupefaction, — he died! I was the secret, unsuspected adviser of the whole proceeding.’ ‘Monster!’ I exclaimed, for truth had made us equal now, and even precluded the language that humanity would dictate when uttered to a dying man. — ‘But why?’ — said he, with that calmness which had once attracted, and now revolted me, but which had at all times undisputed possession of his physiognomy; — ‘his sufferings were shorter, do you blame me for diminishing their duration?’ — There was something cold, ironical, and jeering, even in the suavity of this man, that gave a certain force to his simplest observations. It seemed as if he had reserved the truth all his life, to utter it at his dying hour. ‘Such is the fate of those who possess strong sensibility; those who have less languish away in an imperceptible decline. They spend their time in watching a few flowers, in tending birds. They are punctual in their religious exercises, they receive neither blame or praise, — they melt away in torpor and ennui. They wish for death, as the preparation it might put the convent to might produce a short excitement, but they are disappointed, for their state forbids excitement, and they die as they have lived, — unexcited, unawakened. The tapers are lit, they do not see them, — the unction is applied, they do not feel it, — prayers are uttered, they cannot partake in them; — in fact, the whole drama is acted, but the principal performer is absent, — is gone. Others indulge themselves in perpetual reverie. They walk alone in the cloister, — in the garden. They feed themselves with the poison of delicious, innutritive illusion. They dream that an earthquake will shake the walls to atoms, that a volcano will burst forth in the centre of the garden. They imagine a revolution of government, — an attack of banditti, — any thing, however improbable. Then they take refuge in the possibility of a fire, (if a fire bursts out in a convent, the doors are thrown open, and ‘Sauve qui peut,’ is the word). At this thought they conceive the most ardent hope, — they could rush out, — they could precipitate themselves into the streets, into the country, — in fact, they would fly any where to escape. Then these hopes fail, — they begin to get nervous, morbid, restless. If they have interest, they are indulged with remission from their duties, and they remain in their cells, relaxed, — torpid, — idiotical; if they have not interest, they are forced to the punctual performance of their duties, and then idiotism comes on much sooner, as diseased horses, employed in a mill, become blind sooner than those who are suffered to wear out existence in ordinary labour. Some of them take refuge in religion, as they call it. They call for relief on the Superior, but what can the Superior do? He is but human too, and perhaps feels the despair that is devouring the wretches who supplicate him to deliver them from it. Then they prostrate themselves before the images of the saints, — they invoke, they sometimes revile them. They call for their intercession, deplore its inefficacy, and fly to some other, whose merits they imagine are higher in the sight of God. They supplicate for an interest in the intercession of Christ and the Virgin, as their last resort. That resort fails them too, — the Virgin herself is inexorable, though they wear out her pedestal with their knees, and her feet with their kisses. Then they go about the galleries at night, they rouse the sleepers, they knock at every door, — they cry, ‘Brother Saint Jerome, pray for me, — Brother Saint Augustine, pray for me.’ Then the placard is seen fastened to the rails of the altar, ‘Dear brothers, pray for the wandering soul of a monk.’ The next day the placard bears this inscription, ‘The prayers of the community are implored for a monk who is in despair.’ Then they find human intercession as unavailing as divine, to procure them a remission of the sufferings which, while their profession continues to inflict on them, no power can reverse or mitigate. They crawl to their cells, — in a few days the toll of the bell is heard, and the brethren exclaim, ‘He died in the odour of sanctity,’ and hasten to spread their snares for another victim.’ ‘And is this, then, monastic life?’ ‘It is, — there are but two exceptions, that of those who can every day renew, by the aid of imagination, the hope of escape, and who cherish that hope even on their dying bed; and those who, like me, diminish their misery by dividing it, and, like the spider, feel relieved of the poison that swells, and would burst them, by instilling a drop of it into every insect that toils, agonizes, and perishes in their net, — like you.’ At these last words, a glare of malignity flashed on the features of the dying wretch, that appalled me. I retreated from his bed for a moment. I returned, I looked at him, — his eyes were closed, — his hands extended. I touched him, — raised him, — he was dead, — those were his last words. The expression of his features was the physiognomy of his soul, — they were calm and pale, but still a cold expression of derision lingered about the curve of his lips.
‘I rushed from the infirmary. I was at that time indulged, like all the other visitants of the sick, to go to the garden beyond the allotted hours, perhaps to diminish the chance of infection. I was but too ready to avail myself of this permission. The garden, with its calm moon-light beauty, its innocence of heaven, its theology of the stars, was at once a reproach and a consolation to me. I tried to reflect, to feel, — both efforts failed; and perhaps it is in this silence of the soul, this suspension of all the clamorous voices of the passions, that we are most ready to hear the voice of God. My imagination suddenly represented to me the august and ample vault above me as a church, — the images of the saints grew dim in my eyes as I gazed on the stars, and even the altar, over which the crucifixion of the Saviour of the world was represented, turned pale to the eye of the soul, as I gazed on the moon ‘walking in her brightness.’ I fell on my knees. I knew not to whom I was about to pray, but I never felt so disposed to pray. I felt my habit touched at this moment. I at first trembled, from the idea of being detected in a forbidden act. I started up. A dark figure stood beside me, who said in indistinct and faultering tones, ‘Read this,’ and he thrust a paper into my hand; ‘I have worn it sewed into my habit for four days. I have watched you night and day. I had no opportunity but this, — you were in your cell, in the choir, or in the infirmary. Tear it in pieces, throw the fragments into the fountain, or swallow them, the moment you have read it. — Adieu. I have risked every thing for you,’ and he glided away. I recognized his figure as he departed; it was the porter of the convent. I well understood the risk he must have run in delivering this paper, for it was the regulation of the convent, that all letters, whether addressed to or written by boarders, novices, or monks, were first to be read by the Superior, and I never knew an instance of its infringement. The moon gave me sufficient light. I began to read, while a vague hope, that had neither object or basis, trembled at the bottom of my heart. The paper contained these words:
‘My dearest brother, (My God! how I started!) I see you revolt at the first lines which I address to you, — I implore you, for both our sakes, to read them with calmness and attention. We have been both the victims of parental and priestly imposition; the former we must forgive, for our parents are the victims of it too. The Director has their consciences in his hand, and their destiny and ours at his feet. Oh, my brother, what a tale have I to disclose to you! I was brought up, by the Director’s orders, whose influence over the domestics is as unbounded as it is over their unhappy master, in complete hostility against you, as one who was depriving me of my natural rights, and degrading the family by your illegitimate intrusion. May not this palliate, in some degree, my unnatural repulsiveness when we first met? I was taught from my cradle to hate and fear you, — to hate you as an enemy, and fear you as an impostor. This was the Director’s plan. He thought the hold he had over my father and mother too slight to gratify his ambition of domestic power, or realize his hopes of professional distinction. The basis of all ecclesiastical power rests upon fear. A crime must be discovered or invented. The vague reports circulated in the family, my mother’s constant dejection, my father’s occasional agitation, offered him a clue, which he followed with incessant industry through all its windings of doubt, mystery, and disappointment, till, in a moment of penitence, my mother, terrified by his constant denunciations if she concealed any secret of her heart or life from him, disclosed the truth.
‘We were both infants then. He adopted immediately the plan he has since realized at the expence of all but himself. I am convinced he had not, from the first hour of his machinations, the least malignity against you. The aggrandizement of his interest, which ecclesiastics always individualize with that of the church, was his only object. To dictate, to tyrannize, to manage a whole family, and that of rank, by his knowledge of the frailty of one of its members, was all he looked to. Those who by their vows are excluded from the interest which natural affections give us in life, must seek for it in the artificial ones of pride and domination, and the Director found it there. All thenceforth was conducted and inspired by him. It was he who caused us to be kept asunder from our infancy, fearful that nature might frustrate his plans, — it was he who reared me in sentiments of implacable animosity against you. When my mother fluctuated, he reminded her of her vow, with which she had rashly intrusted him. When my father murmured, the shame of my mother’s frailty, the bitter feuds of domestic discussion, the tremendous sounds of imposture, perjury, sacrilege, and the resentment of the church, were thundered in his ears. You may conceive there is nothing this man would shrink at, when, almost in my childhood, he disclosed to me my mother’s frailty, to insure my early and zealous participation in his views. Heaven blast the wretch who could thus contaminate the ears, and wither the heart of a child, with the tale of a parent’s shame, to secure a partizan for the church! This was not all. From the first hour I was able to hear and comprehend him, he poisoned my heart by every channel he could approach. He exaggerated my mother’s partiality for you, which he assured me often contended vainly with her conscience. He represented my father as weak and dissipated, but affectionate; and, with the natural pride of a boy-father, immoveably attached to his eldest offspring. He said, ‘My son, prepare yourself to struggle with a host of prejudices, — the interests of God, as well as of society, demand it. Assume a high tone with your parents, — you are in possession of the secret that corrodes their consciences, make your own use of it.’ Judge the effect of these words on a temper naturally violent, — words, too, uttered by one whom I was taught to regard as the agent of the Divinity.
‘All this time, as I have since been informed, he was debating in his own mind whether he would not adopt your part instead of mine, or at least vacillate between both, so as to augment his influence over our parents, by the additional feature of suspicion. Whatever influenced his determination, the effect of his lessons on me may be easily calculated. I became restless, jealous, and vindictive; — insolent to my parents, and suspicious of all around me. Before I was eleven years of age I reviled my father for his partiality to you, — I insulted my mother with her crime, — I tyrannized over the domestics, — I was the dread and the torment of the whole household; and the wretch who had made me thus a premature demon, had outraged nature, and compelled me to trample on every tie he should have taught me to hallow and cherish, consoled himself with the thought that he was obeying the calls of his function, and strengthening the hands of the church.
‘Scire volunt secreta domus et inde timeri.’
‘On the day preceding our first meeting, (which had not been intended before), the Director went to my father; he said, ‘Senhor, I think it best the brothers should meet. Perhaps God may touch their hearts, and by his merciful influence over them, enable you to reverse the decree that threatens one of them with seclusion, and both with a cruel and final separation.’ My father assented with tears of delight. Those tears did not melt the heart of the Director; he hastened to my apartment, and said, ‘My child, summon all your resolution, your artful, cruel, partial parents, are preparing a scene for you, — they are determined on introducing you to your spurious brother.’ ‘I will spurn him before their faces, if they dare to do so,’ said I, with the pride of premature tyranny. ‘No, my child, that will not do, you must appear to comply with their wishes, but you must not be their victim, — promise me that, my dear child, — promise me resolution and dissimulation.’ ‘I promise you resolution, keep the dissimulation for yourself.’ ‘Well, I will do so, since your interests require it.’ He hurried back to my father. ‘Senhor, I have employed all the eloquence of heaven and nature with your younger son. He is softened, — he melts already, — he longs to precipitate himself into the fraternal embrace, and hear your benediction poured over the united hearts and bodies of your two children, — they are both your children. You must banish all prejudices, and — ‘ ‘I have no prejudices!’ said my poor father; ‘let me but see my children embrace, and if Heaven summoned me at that moment, I should obey it by dying of joy.’ — The Director reproved him for the expressions which gushed from his heart, and, wholly unmoved by them, hurried back to me, full of his commission. ‘My child, I have warned you of the conspiracy formed against you by your own family. You will receive a proof of it to-morrow, — your brother is to be introduced, — you will be required to embrace him, — your consent is reckoned on, but at the moment you do so, your father is resolved to interpret this as the signal, on your part, of the resignation of all your natural rights. Comply with your hypocritical parents, embrace this brother, but give an air of repugnance to the action that will justify your conscience, while it deceives those who would deceive you. Watch the signal-word, my dear child; embrace him as you would a serpent, — his art is not less, and his poison as deadly. Remember that your resolution will decide the event of this meeting. Assume the appearance of affection, but remember you hold your deadliest enemy in your arms.’ At these words, unnatural as I was, I shuddered. I said, ‘My brother!’ ‘Never mind,’ said the Director, ‘he is the enemy of God, — an illegitimate impostor. Now, my child, are you prepared?’ and I answered, ‘I am prepared.’ That night, however, I was very restless. I required the Director to be summoned. I said in my pride, ‘But how is this poor wretch (meaning you) to be disposed of?’ ‘Let him embrace the monastic life,’ said the Director. At these words I felt an interest on your account I had never recognized before. I said decidedly, for he had taught me to assume a tone of decision, ‘He shall never be a monk.’ The Director appeared staggered, yet he trembled before the spirit he had himself raised. ‘Let him go into the army,’ I said; ‘let him inlist as a common soldier, I can supply him with the means of promotion; — let him engage in the meanest profession, I shall not blush to acknowledge him, but, father, he shall never be a monk.’ ‘But, my dear child, on what foundation does this extraordinary objection rest? It is the only means to restore peace to the family, and procure it for the unfortunate being for whom you are so much interested.’ ‘My father, have done with this language. Promise me, as the condition of my obedience to your wishes to-morrow, that my brother shall never be compelled to be a monk.’ ‘Compelled, my dear child! there can be no compulsion in a holy vocation.’ ‘I am not certain of that; but I demand from you the promise I have mentioned.’ The Director hesitated, at last he said, ‘I promise.’ And he hastened to tell my father there was no longer any opposition to our meeting, and that I was delighted with the determination which had been announced to me of my brother eagerly embracing the monastic life. Thus was our first meeting arranged. When, at the command of my father, our arms were entwined, I swear to you, my brother, I felt them thrill with affection. But the instinct of nature was soon superseded by the force of habit, and I recoiled, collected all the forces of nature and passion in the terrible expression that I dared to direct towards our parents, while the Director stood behind them smiling, and encouraging me by gestures. I thought I had acted my part with applause, at least I gave myself enough, and retired from the scene with as proud a step as if I had trampled on a prostrate world, I had only trampled on nature and my own heart. A few days after I was sent to a convent. The Director was alarmed at the dogmatizing tone he himself had taught me to assume, and he urged the necessity of my education being attended to. My parents complied with every thing he required. I, for a wonder, consented; but, as the carriage conveyed me to the convent, I repeated to the Director, ‘Remember, my brother is not to be a monk.’
‘(After these lines several were unintelligible to me, apparently from the agitation under which they were written; — the precipitancy and fiery ardor of my brother’s character communicated itself to his writings. After many a defaced page I could trace the following words.)
‘It was singular enough that you, who were the object of my inveterate hatred before my residence in the convent, became the object of my interest from that moment. I had adopted your cause from pride, I now upheld it from experience. Compassion, instinct, whatever it was, began to assume the character of a duty. When I saw the indignity with which the lower classes were treated, I said to myself, ‘No, he shall never suffer that, — he is my brother.’ When I succeeded in my exercises, and was applauded, I said, ‘This is applause in which he never can share.’ When I was punished, and that was much more frequently, I said, ‘He shall never feel this mortification.’ My imagination expanded. I believed myself your future patron, I conceived myself redeeming the injustice of nature, aiding and aggrandizing you, forcing you to confess that you owed more to me than to your parents, and throwing myself, with a disarmed and naked heart, on your gratitude alone for affection. I heard you call me brother, — I bid you stop, and call me benefactor. My nature, proud, generous, and fiery, had not yet quite emancipated itself from the influence of the Director, but every effort it made pointed, by an indescribable impulse, towards you. Perhaps the secret of this is to be found in the elements of my character, which always struggled against dictation, and loved to teach itself all it wished to know, and inspire itself with the object of its own attachments. It is certain that I wished for your friendship, at the moment I was instructed to hate you. Your mild eyes and affectionate looks haunted me perpetually in the convent. To the professions of friendship repeatedly made me by the boarders, I answered, ‘I want a brother.’ My conduct was eccentric and violent, — no wonder, for my conscience had begun to operate against my habits. Sometimes I would apply with an eagerness that made them tremble for my health; at others, no punishment, however severe, could make me submit to the ordinary discipline of the house. The community grew weary of my obstinacy, violence, and irregularities. They wrote to the Director to have me removed, but before this could be accomplished I was seized with a fever. They paid me unremitting attention, but there was something on my mind no cares of theirs could remove. When they brought me medicine with the most scrupulous punctuality, I said, ‘Let my brother fetch it, and if it be poison I will drink it from his hand; I have injured him much.’ When the bell tolled for matins and vespers, I said, ‘Are they going to make my brother a monk? The Director promised me differently, but you are all deceivers.’ At length they muffled the bell. I heard its stifled sound, and I exclaimed, ‘You are tolling for his funeral, but I, — I am his murderer!’ The community became terrified at these exclamations so often repeated, and with the meaning of which they could not accuse themselves. I was removed in a state of delirium to my father’s palace in Madrid. A figure like yours sat beside me in the carriage, alighted when we stopped, accompanied me where I remained, assisted me when I was placed again in the carriage. So vivid was the impression, that I was accustomed to say to the attendants, ‘Stop, my brother is assisting me.’ When they asked me in the morning how I had rested? I answered, ‘Very well, — Alonzo has been all night at my bed-side.’ I invited this visionary companion to continue his attentions; and when the pillows were arranged to my satisfaction, Would say, ‘How kind my brother is, — how useful, — but why will he not speak?’ At one stage I absolutely refused nourishment, because the phantom appeared to decline it. I said, ‘Do not urge me, my brother, you see, will not accept of it. Oh, I entreat his pardon, it is a day of abstinence, — that is his reason, you see how he points to his habit, — that is enough.’ It is very singular that the food at this house happened to be poisoned, and that two of my attendants died of partaking of it before they could reach Madrid. I mention these circumstances, merely to prove the rivetted hold you had taken both on my imagination and my affections. On the recovery of my intellect, my first inquiry was for you. This had been foreseen, and my father and mother, shunning the discussion and even trembling for the event, as they knew the violence of my temper, intrusted the whole business to the Director. He undertook it, — how he executed it is yet to be seen. On our first meeting he approached me with congratulations on my convalescence, with regrets for the constraints I must have suffered in the convent, with assurances that my parents would make my home a paradise. When he had gone on for some time, I said, ‘What have you done with my brother?’ ‘He is in the bosom of God,’ said the Director, crossing himself. I understood him in a moment, — I rushed past him before he had finished. ‘Where are you going, my son?’ ‘To my parents.’ ‘Your parents, — it is impossible that you can see them now.’ ‘But it is certain that I will see them. Dictate to me no longer, — degrade yourself not by this prostituted humiliation,’ for he was putting himself in a posture of intreaty, — ‘I will see my parents. Procure for me an introduction to them this moment, or tremble for the continuance of your influence in the family.’ At these words he trembled. He did not indeed dread my influence, but he dreaded my passions. His own lessons were bitterly retaliated on him that moment. He had made me fierce and impetuous, because that suited his purpose, but he had neither calculated on, or prepared himself for, this extraordinary direction which my feelings had taken, so opposite to that which he had laboured to give them. He thought, in exciting my passions, he could ascertain their direction. Woe be to those, who, in teaching the elephant to direct his trunk against their foes, forget that by a sudden convolution of that trunk, he may rend the driver from his back, and trample him under his feet into the mire. Such was the Director’s situation and mine. I insisted on going instantly to my father’s presence. He interposed, he supplicated; at last, as a hopeless resource, he reminded me of his continual indulgence, his flattery of my passions. My answer was brief, but Oh that it might sink into the souls of such tutors and such priests! ‘And that has made me what I am. Lead the way to my father’s apartment, or I will spurn you before me to the door of it.’ At this threat, which he saw I was able to execute, (for you know my frame is athletic, and my stature twice that of his), he trembled; and I confess this indication of both physical and mental debility completed my contempt for him. He crawled before me to the apartment where my father and mother were seated, in a balcony that overlooked the garden. They had imagined all was settled, and were astonished to see me rush in, followed by the Director, with an aspect that left them no reason to hope of an auspicious result of our conference. The Director gave them a sign which I did not observe, and which they had not time to profit by, — and as I stood before them livid from my fever, on fire with passion, and trembling with inarticulate expressions, they shuddered. Some looks of reproach were levelled by them at the Director, which he returned, as usual, by signs. I did not understand them, but I made them understand me in a moment. I said to my father, ‘Senhor, is it true you have made my brother a monk?’ My father hesitated; at last he said, ‘I thought the Director had been commissioned to speak to you on that subject.’ ‘Father, what has a Director to do in the concerns of a parent and child? That man never can be a parent, — never can have a child, how then can he be a judge in a case like this?’ ‘You forget yourself, — you forget the respect due to a minister of the church.’ ‘My father, I am but just raised from a death-bed, my mother and you trembled for my life, — that life still depends on your words. I promised submission to this wretch, on a condition which he has violated, which — ‘ ‘Command yourself, Sir,’ said my father, in a tone of authority which ill suited the trembling lips it issued from, ‘or quit the apartment.’ ‘Senhor,’ interposed the Director, in a softened tone, ‘let not me be the cause of dissension in a family whose happiness and honour have been always my object, next to the interests of the church. Let him go on, the remembrance of my crucified Master will sustain me under his insults,’ and he crossed himself. ‘Wretch!’ I cried, grasping his habit, ‘you are a hypocrite, a deceiver!’ and I know not of what violence I might have been guilty, but my father interposed. My mother shrieked with terror, and a scene of confusion followed, in which I recollect nothing but the hypocritical exclamations of the Director, appearing to struggle between my father and me, while he mediated with God for both. He repeated incessantly, ‘Senhor, do not interpose, every indignity I suffer I make a sacrifice to Heaven; it will qualify me to be an intercessor for my traducer with God;’ and, crossing himself, he called on the most sacred names, and exclaimed, ‘Let insults, calumnies, and blows, be added to that preponderance of merit which is already weighed in the scales of heaven against my offences,’ and he dared to mix the claims of the intercession of the saints, the purity of the immaculate Virgin, and even the blood and agony of Jesus Christ, with the vile submissions of his own hypocrisy. The room was by this time filled with attendants. My mother was conveyed away, still shrieking with terror. My father, who loved her, was driven by this spectacle, and by my outrageous conduct, to a pitch of fury — he drew his sword. I burst into a laugh, that froze his blood as he approached me. I expanded my arms, and presented my breast exclaiming, ‘Strike! — this is the consummation of monastic power, — it begun by violating nature, and ends in filicide. Strike! give a glorious triumph to the influence of the church, and add to the merits of the holy Director. You have sacrificed your Esau, your first-born, already, let Jacob be your next victim.’ My father retreated from me, and, revolted by the disfigurement which the violence of my agitation had caused, almost to convulsion, he exclaimed, ‘Demon!’ and stood at a distance viewing, and shuddering at me. ‘And who has made me so? He who fostered my evil passions for his own purposes; and, because one generous impulse breaks out on the side of nature, would represent or drive me mad, to effectuate his purposes. My father, I see the whole power and system of nature reversed, by the arts of a corrupt ecclesiastic. By his means my brother has been imprisoned for life; — by his means our birth has been made a curse to my mother and to you. What have we had in the family since his influence was fatally established in it, but dissension and misery? Your sword was pointed against my heart this moment; was it nature or a monk that armed a parent against his child, whose crime was — interceding for his brother? Dismiss this man, whose presence eclipses our hearts, and let us confer together for a moment as father and son, and if I do not humiliate myself before you, spurn me for ever. My father, for God’s sake examine the difference between this man and me, as we stand before you. We are together at the bar of your heart, judge between us. A dry and featureless image of selfish power, consecrated by the name of the church, occupies his whole soul, — I plead to you by the interests of nature, that must be sincere, because they are contrary to my own. He only wishes to wither your soul, — I seek to touch it. Is his heart in what he says? does he shed a tear? does he employ one impassioned expression? he calls on God, — while I call only on you. The very violence which you justly condemn, is not only my vindication but my eulogy. They who prefer their cause to themselves, need no proof of their advocacy being sincere.’ ‘You aggravate your crime, by laying it on another; you have always been violent, obstinate, and rebellious.’ ‘But who has made me so? Ask himself, — ask this shameful scene, in which his duplicity has driven me to act such a part.’ ‘If you wish to show submission, give me the first proof of it, by promising never to torture me by renewing the mention of this subject. Your brother’s fate is decided, — promise not to utter his name again, and — ‘ ‘Never, — never,’ I exclaimed, ‘never will I violate my conscience by such a vow; and his who could propose it must be seared beyond the power of Heaven to touch it.’ Yet, in uttering these words, I knelt to my father, but he turned from me. I turned in despair to the Director. I said, ‘If you are the minister of Heaven, prove the truth of your commission, — make peace in a distracted family, reconcile my father to both his children. You can effect this by a word, you know you can, yet you will not utter it. My unfortunate brother was not so inflexible to your appeals, and yet were they inspired by a feeling as justifiable as mine.’ I had offended the Director beyond all forgiveness. I knew this, and spoke indeed rather to expose than to persuade him. I did not expect an answer from him, and I was not disappointed, — he did not utter a word. I knelt in the middle of the floor between them. I cried, ‘Deserted by my father and by you, I yet appeal to Heaven. I call on it to witness my vow never to abandon my persecuted brother, whom I have been made a tool to betray. I know you have power, — I defy it. I know every art of circumvention, of imposture, of malignant industry, — every resource of earth and hell, will be set at work against me. I take Heaven to witness against you, and demand only its aid to insure my victory.’ My father had lost all patience; he desired the attendants to raise and remove me by force. This mention of force, so repugnant to my habits of imperious indulgence, operated fatally on intellects scarcely recovering from delirium, and too strongly tried in the late struggle. I relapsed into partial insanity. I said wildly, ‘My father, you know not how mild, generous, and forgiving is the being you thus persecute, — I owe my life to him. Ask your domestics if he did not attend me, step by step, during my journey? If he did not administer my food, my medicines, and smoothe the pillows on which I was supported?’ ‘You rave,’ cried my father, as he heard this wild speech, but he cast a look of fearful inquiry on the attendants. The trembling servants swore, one and all, as well they might, that not a human being but themselves had been suffered to approach me since I quitted the convent, till my arrival at Madrid. The small remains of reason forsook me completely at this declaration, which was however true every word of it. I gave the lie to the last speaker with the utmost fury, — I struck those who were next me. My father, astonished at my violence, suddenly exclaimed, ‘He is mad.’ The Director, who had till then been silent, instantly caught the word, and repeated, ‘He is mad.’ The servants, half in terror, half in conviction, re-echoed the cry.
‘I was seized, dragged away; and this violence, which always excited corresponding violence in me, realized all my father feared, and the Director wished for. I behaved just as a boy, scarce out of a fever, and still totally delirious, might be supposed to behave. In my apartment I tore down the hangings, and there was not a porcelain vase in the room that I did not dash at their heads. When they seized me, I bit their hands; when at length they were compelled to bind me, I gnawed the strings, and finally snapt them by a violent effort. In fact, I completely realized all the hopes of the Director. I was confined to my apartment for several days. During this time, I recovered the only powers that usually revive in a state of isolation, — those of inflexible resolution and profound dissimulation. I had soon exercise enough for both of them. On the twelfth day of my confinement, a servant appeared at the door of my apartment, and, bowing profoundly, announced, that if my health was recovered, my father wished to see me. I bowed in complete imitation of his mechanical movements, and followed him with the steps of a statue. I found my father, armed with the Director at his side. He advanced, and addressed me with an abruptness which proved that he forced himself to speak. He hurried over a few expressions of pleasure at my recovery, and then said, ‘Have you reflected on the subject of our last conversation?’ ‘I have reflected on it? — ‘I had time to do so.’ — ‘And you have employed that time well?’ — ‘I hope so.’ — ‘Then the result will be favourable to the hopes of your family, and the interests of the church.’ The last words chilled me a little, but I answered as I ought. In a few moments after the Director joined me. He spoke amicably, and turned the conversation on neutral topics. I answered him, — what an effort did it cost me! — yet I answered him in all the bitterness of extorted politeness. All went on well, however. The family appeared gratified by my renovation. My father, harassed out, was content to procure peace on any terms. My mother, still weaker, from the struggles between her conscience and the suggestions of the Director, wept, and said she was happy. A month has now elapsed in profound but treacherous peace on all sides. They think me subdued, but * * * * *
‘In fact, the efforts of the Director’s power in the family would alone be sufficient to precipitate my determinations. He has placed you in a convent, but that is not enough for the persevering proselytism of the church. The palace of the Duke de Monçada is, under his influence, turned into a convent itself. My mother is almost a nun, her whole life is exhausted in imploring forgiveness for a crime for which the Director, to secure his own influence, orders her a new penance every hour. My father rushes from libertinism to austerity, — he vacillates between this world and the next; — in the bitterness of exasperated feeling, sometimes reproaches my mother, and then joins her in the severest penance. Must there not be something very wrong in the religion which thus substitutes external severities for internal amendment? I feel I am of an inquiring spirit, and if I could obtain a book they call the Bible, (which, though they say it contains the words of Jesus Christ, they never permit us to see) I think — but no matter. The very domestics have assumed the in ordine ad spiritualia character already. They converse in whispers — they cross themselves when the clock strikes — they dare to talk, even in my hearing, of the glory which will redound to God and the church, by the sacrifice my father may yet be induced to make of his family to its interests.
‘My fever has abated — I have not lost a moment in consulting your interests — I have heard that there is a possibility of your reclaiming your vows — that is, as I have been told, of declaring they were extorted under impressions of fraud and terror. Observe me, Alonzo, I would rather see you rot in a convent, than behold you stand forth as a living witness of our mother’s shame. But I am instructed that this reclamation of your vows may be carried on in a civil court: If this be practicable, you may yet be free, and I shall be happy. Do not hesitate for resources, I am able to supply them. If you do not fail in resolution, I have no doubt of our ultimate success. — Ours I term it, for I shall not know a moment’s peace till you are emancipated. With the half of my yearly allowance I have bribed one of the domestics, who is brother to the porter of the convent, to convey these lines to you. Answer me by the same channel, it is secret and secure. You must, I understand, furnish a memorial, to be put into the hands of an advocate. It must be strongly worded, — but remember, not a word of our unfortunate mother; — I blush to say this to her son. Procure paper by some means. If you find any difficulty, I will furnish you; but, to avoid suspicion, and too frequent recurrences to the porter, try to do it yourself. Your conventual duties will furnish you with a pretext of writing out your confession, — I will undertake for its safe delivery. I commend you to the holy keeping of God, — not the God of monks and directors, but the God of nature and mercy. — I am your affectionate brother,
JUAN DI MONÇADA.’
‘Such were the contents of the papers which I received in fragments, and from time to time, by the hands of the porter. I swallowed the first the moment I had read it, and the rest I found means to destroy unperceived as I received them, — my attendance on the infirmary entitling me to great indulgences.’
At this part of the narrative, the Spaniard became so much agitated, though apparently more from emotion than fatigue, that Melmoth intreated him to suspend it for some days, and the exhausted narrator willingly complied.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57