Gryll Grange, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter 20

Algernon and Morgana — Opportunity and Repentance — The Forest in Winter

Les violences qu’on se fait pour s’empêcher d’aimer sont souvent plus cruelles que les rigueurs de ce qu’on aime.

— La Rochefoucauld.

The winter set in early. December began with intense frost. Mr. Falconer, one afternoon, entering the inner drawing-room, found Miss Gryll alone. She was reading, and on the entrance of her visitor, laid down her book. He hoped he had not interrupted her in an agreeable occupation. ‘To observe romantic method,’ we shall give what passed between them with the Christian names of the speakers.

Morgana. I am only reading what I have often read before, Orlando Innamorato; and I was at the moment occupied with a passage about the enchantress from whom my name was borrowed. You are aware that enchantresses are in great favour here.

Algernon. Circe and Gryllus, and your name, sufficiently show that And not your name only, but —— I should like to see the passage, and should be still better pleased if you would read it to me.

Morgana. It is where Orlando, who had left Morgana sleeping by the fountain, returns to seek the enchanted key, by which alone he can liberate his friends.

Il Conte, che d’ intrare havea gran voglia,

Subitamente al fonte ritornava:

Quivi trovô Morgana, che con gioglia

Danzava intorno, e danzando cantava.

Ne pui leggier si move al vento foglia

Come ella sanza sosta si voltava,

Mirando hora a la terra ed hora al sole;

Ed al suo canto usa va tal parole:

‘Qualonque cerca al mondo haver thesoro,

Over diletto, o segue onore e stato,

Ponga la mano a questa chioma d’ oro,

Ch’ io porto in fronte, e quel fara beato.

Ma quando ha il destro a far cotal lavoro,

Non prenda indugio, che ‘l tempo passato

Più non ritorna, e non si trova mai;

Ed io mi volto, e lui lascio con guai.’

Cosi cantava d’ intorno girando

La bella Fata a quella fresca fonte;

Ma come gionto vide il Conte Orlando,

Subitamente rivoltô la fronte:

Il prato e la fontana abbandonando,

Prese il viaggio suo verso d un monte,

Quai chiudea la Valletta picciolina:

Quivi fuggendo Morgana cammina.1

Algernon. I remember the passage well. The beautiful Fata, dancing and singing by the fountain, presents a delightful picture.

Morgana. Then, you know, Orlando, who had missed his opportunity of seizing the golden forelock while she was sleeping, pursues her a long while in vain through rocky deserts, La Penitenza following him with a scourge. The same idea was afterwards happily worked out by Machiavelli in his Capitolo del Occasion.

Algernon. You are fond of Italian literature? You read the language beautifully. I observe you have read from the original poem, and not from Bemi’s rifacciamento.

Morgana. I prefer the original. It is more simple, and more in earnest. Bemi’s playfulness is very pleasant, and his exordiums are charming; and in many instances he has improved the poetry. Still, I think he has less than the original of what are to me the great charms of poetry, truth and simplicity. Even the greater antiquity of style has its peculiar appropriateness to the subject. And Bojardo seems to have more faith in his narrative than Berni. I go on with him with ready credulity, where Berni’s pleasantry interposes a doubt.

Algernon. You think that in narratives, however wild and romantic, the poet should write as if he fully believed in the truth of his own story.

Morgana. I do; and I think so in reference to all narratives, not to poetry only. What a dry skeleton is the history of the early ages of Rome, told by one who believes nothing that the Romans believed! Religion pervades every step of the early Roman history; and in a great degree down at least to the Empire; but, because their religion is not our religion, we pass over the supernatural part of the matter in silence, or advert to it in a spirit of contemptuous incredulity. We do not give it its proper place, nor present it in its proper colours, as a cause in the production of great effects. Therefore, I like to read Livy, and I do not like to read Niebuhr.

Algernon. May I ask if you read Latin?

Morgana. I do; sufficiently to derive great pleasure from it. Perhaps, after this confession, you will not wonder that I am a spinster.

Algernon. So far, that I think it would tend to make you fastidious in your choice. Not that you would be less sought by any who would be worthy your attention. For I am told you have had many suitors, and have rejected them all in succession. And have you not still many, and among them one very devoted lover, who would bring you title as well as fortune? A very amiable person, too, though not without a comic side to his character.

Morgana. I do not well know. He so far differs from all my preceding suitors that in every one of them I found the presence of some quality that displeased me, or the absence of some which would have pleased me: the want, in the one way or the other, of that entire congeniality in taste and feeling which I think essential to happiness in marriage. He has so strong a desire of pleasing, and such power of acquisition and assimilation, that I think a woman truly attached to him might mould him to her mind. Still, I can scarcely tell why, he does not complete my idealities. They say, Love is his own avenger: and perhaps I shall be punished by finding my idealities realised in one who will not care for me.

Algernon. I take that to be impossible.

Morgana blushed, held down her head, and made no reply. Algernon looked at her in silent admiration. A new light seemed to break in on him. Though he had had so many opportunities of forming a judgment on the point, it seemed to strike him for the first time with irresistible conviction that he had never before heard such a sweet voice, nor seen such an expressive and intelligent countenance. And in this way they continued like two figures in a tableau vivant, till the entrance of other parties broke the spell which thus had fixed them in their positions.

A few minutes more, and their destinies might have been irrevocably fixed. But the interruption gave Mr. Falconer the opportunity of returning again to his Tower, to consider, in the presence of the seven sisters, whether he should not be in the position of a Roman, who was reduced to the dilemma of migrating without his household deities, or of suffering his local deities to migrate without him; and whether he could sit comfortably on either of the horns of this dilemma. He felt that he could not. On the other hand, could he bear to see the fascinating Morgana metamorphosed into Lady Curryfin? The time had been when he had half wished it, as the means of restoring him to liberty. He felt now that when in her society he could not bear the idea; but he still thought that in the midst of his domestic deities he might become reconciled to it.

He did not care for horses, nor keep any for his own use. But as time and weather were not always favourable to walking, he had provided for himself a comfortable travelling-chariot, without a box to intercept the view, in which, with post-horses after the fashion of the olden time, he performed occasional migrations. He found this vehicle of great use in moving to and fro between the Grange and the Tower; for then, with all his philosophy, Impatience was always his companion: Impatience on his way to the Grange, to pass into the full attraction of the powerful spell by which he was drawn like the fated ship to the magnetic rock in the Arabian Nights: Impatience on his way to the Tower, to find himself again in the ‘Regions mild of pure and serene air,’ in which the seven sisters seemed to dwell, like Milton’s ethereal spirits ‘Before the starry threshold of Jove’s court.’ Here was everything to soothe, nothing to irritate or disturb him: nothing on the spot: but it was with him, as it is with many, perhaps with all: the two great enemies of tranquillity, Hope and Remembrance, would still intrude: not like a bubble and a spectre, as in the beautiful lines of Coleridge:

Who late and lingering seeks thy shrine,

On him but seldom, Power divine,

Thy spirit rests. Satiety,

And sloth, poor counterfeits of thee,

Mock the tired worldling. Idle Hope,

And dire Remembrance, interlope,

And vex the feverish slumbers of the mind:

The bubble floats before: the spectre stalks behind.

— Coleridge’s Ode to Tranquillity.

for the remembrance of Morgana was not a spectre, and the hope of her love, which he cherished in spite of himself, was not a bubble: but their forces were not less disturbing, even in the presence of his earliest and most long and deeply cherished associations.

He did not allow his impatience to require that the horses should be put to extraordinary speed. He found something tranquillising in the movement of a postilion in a smart jacket, vibrating on one horse upwards and downwards, with one invariable regulated motion like the cross-head of a side-lever steam-engine, and holding the whip quietly arched over the neck of the other. The mechanical monotony of the movement seemed less in contrast than in harmony with the profound stillness of the wintry forest: the leafless branches heavy with rime frost and glittering in the sun: the deep repose of nature, broken now and then by the traversing of deer, or the flight of wild birds: highest and loudest among them the long lines of rooks: but for the greater part of the way one long deep silence, undisturbed but by the rolling of the wheels and the iron tinkling of the hoofs on the frozen ground. By degrees he fell into a reverie, and meditated on his last dialogue with Morgana.

‘It is a curious coincidence,’ he thought, ‘that she should have been dwelling in a passage, in which her namesake enchantress inflicted punishment on Orlando for having lost his opportunity. Did she associate Morgana with herself and Orlando with me? Did she intend a graceful hint to me not to lose my opportunity? I seemed in a fair way to seize the golden forelock, if we had not been interrupted. Do I regret that I did not? That is just what I cannot determine. Yet it would be more fitting, that whatever I may do should be done calmly, deliberately, philosophically, than suddenly, passionately, impulsively. One thing is clear to me. It is now or never: this or none. The world does not contain a second Morgana, at least not of mortal race. Well: the opportunity will return. So far, I am not in the predicament in which we left Orlando. I may yet ward off the scourge of La Penitenza?

But his arrival at home, and the sight of the seven sisters, who had all come to the hall-door to greet him, turned his thoughts for awhile into another channel.

He dined at his usual hour, and his two Hebes alternately filled his glass with Madeira. After which the sisters played and sang to him in the drawing-room; and when he had retired to his chamber, had looked on the many portraitures of his Virgin Saint, and had thought by how many charms of life he was surrounded, he composed himself to rest with the reflection: ‘I am here like Rasselas in the Happy Valley: and I can now fully appreciate the force of that beautiful chapter: The wants of him who wants nothing?

1 Bojardo: 1. ii. c. 8. Ed. Vinegia; 1544.

With earnest wish to pass the enchanted gate,

Orlando to the fount again advanced,

And found Morgana, all with joy elate,

Dancing around, and singing as she danced.

As lightly moved and twirled the lovely Fate

As to the breeze the lightest foliage glanced,

With looks alternate to the earth and sky,

She thus gave out her words of witchery:

‘Let him, who seeks unbounded wealth to hold,

Or joy, or honour, or terrestrial state,

Seize with his hand this lock of purest gold,

That crowns my brow, and blest shall be his fate.

But when time serves, behoves him to be bold,

Nor even a moment’s pause interpolate:

The chance, once lost, he never finds again:

I turn, and leave him to lament in vain.’

Thus sang the lovely Fate in bowery shade

Circling in joy around the crystal fount;

But when within the solitary glade

Glittered the armour of the approaching Count,

She sprang upon her feet, as one dismayed,

And took her way towards a lofty mount

That rose the valley’s narrow length to bound:

Thither Morgana sped along the ground.

I have translated Fata, Fate. It is usually translated Fairy. But the idea differs essentially from ours of a fairy. Amongst other things there is no Fato, no Oberon to the Titania. It does not, indeed, correspond with our usual idea of Fate, but it is more easily distinguished as a class; for our old acquaintances the Fates are an inseparable three. The Italian Fata is independent of her sisters. They are enchantresses; but they differ from other enchantresses in being immortal. They are beautiful, too, and their beauty is immortal: always in Bojardo. He would not have turned Alcina into an old woman, as Ariosto did; which I must always consider a dreadful blemish on the many charms of the Orlando Furioso.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59