Scott’s Monthly Magazine (Atlanta, GA: J. J. Toon) 4:1 (July 1867) , p537-546.
OWEN MEREDITH'S LUCILE
"Such is our pride, our folly, or our cru,
That only those who can not write REVIEW.”
Come, thou mystic Nine, clad in all thy robes of classic and antique grandeur, and impart to my pen that electric thrill, that rapture divine, which can alone give warmth and coloring to every line, and make me render that homage which is due to this exquisite creation of genius! Mount, Pegasus, mount! Leave for awhile thy classic retreat upon Mount Helicon; go forth upon barbed steed to the very skies, and returning to me, bring with thee the most delicate tints of rosy dawn, the most gorgeous colors of golden sunsets, together with the brilliance of the stars, to inspire me to do justice to my theme! Go scale the Parnassian hights [sic], O my Muse! and, dipping the tip of my pen in the classic and immortal fount which crowns that illustrious summit, return it quickly to me, that I may write, with inspiration divine, of those "thoughts that breathe, and words that burn," in every page of Lucile! Long poems have, generally speaking, proven failures, and to the reader are tiresome and prosy. Not so is this production, fresh from the brilliant mind and fertile imagination of Robert Bulwer Lytton; and they who peruse it can only exclaim that the mantle of the father, the great Sir E. Bulwer Lytton, has fallen in all its glory upon the son. In the dedication, which is to his father, he says: "I dedicate to you a work which is submitted to the public with a diffidence and hesitation proportioned to the novelty of the effort it represents. For in this poem I have abandoned those forms of verse with which I had most familiarized my thoughts, and have endeavored to follow a path in which I could discover no footprints before me, either to guide or warn." This is indeed true; and as its novelty of style is one of its chief attractions, so is its meter, which changes to suit every speaker, its greatest novelty. For instance, we find "Cousin John" addressing us in that devil-may-care style so well suited to his "jolly" nature; Lord Alfred Vargrave in that polished, insouciant, ennuyéed manner peculiar to a courtier surfeited with the world; the Duc de Luvois speaks with all that empressement and bonhommie of a French gentleman; Lucile, with all that exquisite sadness, touching pathos, irresistible fascination, and piquante raillerte, which made her so charming, but which, made you feel, while her sweet voice lingered in your ears, that there was something kept back behind the scenes over which she strove to throw the vail of gayety; while Matilda speaks in that quiet, gentle, sweet, and amiable manner which stamps her at once what she is—a simple child of nature, confiding in every one, suspecting no one.
Thus we have, commingled in one book, the sentiment of Moore, the despair of Shelley, the recklessness of Byron, and the fantasy of Coleridge, together with the musical rhythm of Scott, the piquancy of Jerrold, and the scathing sarcasm of Carlyle; added to which is the most thorough knowledge of the classics, and a foresight which reads with the prophetic vision of a seer the deepest thoughts within the human breast. Thus, while the book enchains the person who reads it for mere pastime, it is a study for the scholar.
Now, a word to my "dear reader," (for when was a reader not dear?} I wish to beseech him not to turn away in disgust, and say, "Pshaw," "Not worth reading," etc., when he discovers the theme of the poem to be love; for if it is, as some say, the most divine passion that ever swayed the human breast, then it should rightly be the song to inspire a poet's lay. Others say it makes gods of men and etherealizes women, and carrying them beyond this "vale of tears," gives them a foretaste of that far-off Eden to which the human heart is ever turning. Again, it is said to be a fountain, ever bubbling up fresh and sparkling, of whose nectar the soul might sip and never weary. This class concur in saying that " to love and be loved" is the sum totum of earthly bliss; and I ween there is no one grown so callous now who has not, at some period of his life, felt the thrill of love's ecstatic power. The disappointed lover from, his hermit's cell tells the world "it is an empty sound—the modern fair one's jest." The philosopher acknowledges no warmer feeling than a Platonic regard. The cynic sneeringly calls it a "myth." Willis says it "is a lamp unseen, burning to waste; or, if its light is found, nursed for an idle hour, then idly broken." Moore says" there's nothing half so sweet in life as love's young dream." Byron, who perhaps knew it in every phase, and speaks from experience, says: "Oh, love! what is it in this world of ours which makes it fatal to be loved?"—thus sustaining the Shakspearian doctrine that "the course of true love never did run smooth," for smooth roads lead only to happiness, while rugged ones end in misery; and thus it is that love's rosy bowers, as poets call them, are "wreathed with cypress branches, and love’s best interpreter is a sigh."
I do not propose to assail or defend any of these various assertions in regard to a feeling which has found a resting-place in the human heart ever since the "morning stars sang together in Paradise." I only know that this same reeling called love has been capable of driving men to desperation, to suicide, to the wine cup, to the gambling saloon, while women have sought to drown their grief and forget the "loved and lost" within the cloistered walls of convents, or as sisters of charity upon the battle field. It was this same feeling that Eloise and Abelard entertained for each other, and because cruelly separated, retired to convents, where it was no sin to dream of and love each other the same, aid from the cells of which quiet retreats came those world renowned letters which Pope has rendered immortal in verso. It was this same feeling which made the lovely but deserted and abandoned Sappho plead so piteously for cruel Phaon to return to her. But not even the pathos of the Sapphic verse could melt his heart or move him to return, and her fatal passion caused her to leap from the Leucadian rock, with the hope that she might be cured of so hopeless a love. It was love which made Antony "madly throw away a world," and bound him in chains to the "star-eyed Egyptian, glorious sorceress of the Nile," which neither honor, the tears of Octavia, or the love of country could break. It was love the most unwavering, intense, and never-changing, which Petrarch felt for Laura during a whole lifetime. It was this same feeling which plunged the dagger of Charlotte Corday to the heart of the brutal Murat, to avenge her lover's death. Mais assez. I might go on ad finitum, citing incidents in favor of the "divine passion," and refuting the cynic's idea that it is only a myth, a creation of the imagination. So, as human nature has not changed, let us suppose that love and proofs of constancy exist in this utilitarian age.
Eh bien! be it whatever it may—a myth, a jest, a phantom, a lamp unseen—this same love it is that sways the hearts of the dramatis personae of Lucile. It is this that brings a smile to the lip, a tear to the eye, a sigh from the heart. What the peculiar and special fascination in Lucile is, I do not know. I only know that it holds you spellbound; and as oft as you turn its pages, it is but to discover new beauties. In Lucile, too, we have another striking evidence of what love will prompt woman to do. The reader discovers—though Lucile will not acknowledge it—that she is a life-long victim to the divine passion. Thus she plays hide and seek with her own soul, and never discovers why she has missed the thing for which she lived—why the brightest sunshine shed its glorious rays across her path in vain—why the sweetest strains cloy so soon—why, amidst the gayest revels, she still is unsatisfied, and cries, "Give, give," until too late. She is represented as being proud, brilliant, gifted, and beautiful. All exclaim then, Why was she not happy? We quote the author's words in reply:
"Alas! why is Genius forever at strife
With the world—which, despite the world's self, it ennobles?
Why is it that Genius perplexes, and troubles,
And offends the effete life it comes to renew?
'Tis the terror of Truth! 'tis that Genius is true!”
Thus, if genius be the essence and soul of truth, it must remain forever at war with the world, because, forsooth, that world considers it its moral duty to stretch forth the rod of rebuke over all who do not render willing homage to the miserable forms and conventionalities by which it is governed. And start not, O gentle reader, when I tell you that one of the first lessons to be learned in that world is deceit; and while it would have you believe it was the soul of truth, it is false—false to the core.
Thus, while, the genius of Lucile made her soar far above the common herd that throng the earth—while she "pined for the hill-tops, the clouds, and the stars,"—she unconsciously "offended the world, which in turn wounded her:
"For the world is a nettle: disturb it, it stings—
Grasp it firmly, it stings not. On one of two things,
If you would not be stung, it behooves you to settle:
Avoid it, or crush it. She crush'd not the nettle,
For she could not; nor would she avoid it: she tried
With the weak hand of woman to thrust it aside,
And it stung her. A woman is too slight a thing
To trample the world without feeling its sting."
This eyrie, whither she had flown to get rid of the world and her foes,
"She unconsciously made her bulwark and tower,
And built in it her refuge, whence lightly she hurled
Her contempt at the fashions and forms of the world."
Her "scorn of the world, to whose usages woman is born," seems to have been her chief fault—the cause of the "anathema maranathas" which were hurled in torrents upon her young head. "Ah! what will the world say?" with her was a query never uttered; but woe, woe to the woman who thus disregards public opinion: she will be dragged down, though she should climb to the stars!
Lucile's brilliancy of intellect, and that gift so fatal to woman—beauty—drew around her the brightest minds and the most polished wits of her day. But admired, courted, flattered, feted as she was, she was not happy; and she yearned, longed, in her inmost soul, in the secret depths of her woman's heart, to be loved, caressed, idolized—as what woman does not? She was dying for one manly voice to whisper in her ear, "I love you—you only—for all time."
" Had her life but been blended
With some man's whoso heart had her own comprehended,
All its wealth at his feet would have lavishly thrown:
For him she had then been ambitious alone—
For him had aspired, in him had transfused
All the gladness and grace of her nature, and used
For him only the spells of its delicate power."
But, alas! women can only be "what they are, not what they would be," and men alone have the glorious privilege of choosing whom they will.
Lucile's life, like that of so many others, had been blighted in early youth, and she strove in vain to drown the pleadings of her heart by plunging most recklessly into the gayeties which surrounded her. "The world knows not that grief can give the lip its brightest smile," for it was "the mirth of despair" that gave brightness to her eye, poignancy to her wit, and whispered to her aching heart, "Be still." But her thraldom was lifelong, and today Lord Alfred Vargrave was as complete master of her heart as he had been during the ten long years that had intervened since they met. No time, change, or circumstance had been able to tear the image of the "loved and lost" from its shrine in her "heart of hearts." Alas! why is it that we never analyze ourselves until it is too late?—when the Rubicon is once passed, why look back?—when we are exiled from Paradise, why weep and say "it might have been" so different? This little couplet is sufficient to immortalize the poet who so truly expressed the sad refrain which the human heart is ever wailing forth:
"Of all the sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: it might have been."
And Lucile did not feel this more keenly than Lord Alfred did, as he sat in his room after that fatal interview, in which each had returned to the other those letters written in their youth and retained until he was to be married. That interview was doubly fatal, for it had revealed to each one the true state of their feelings: in Lucile's heart it had but deepened the love that for years had been consuming her very being; in Lord Alfred it had but served to arouse the volcano which slept. Here sat this insouciant, listless man of the world, outwardly calm, while a perfect whirlpool of passion was rushing over his soul, threatening to engulf him in its maelstrom. He knew not until this moment, when he was upon the eve of marriage with Miss Darcy, that Lucile was the only being in all the wide world who could arouse or awaken one emotion of pleasure in his heart. She was indeed "the river to the ocean of his thoughts," but he was pledged to another; his honor must be
sustained, though his heart break in the struggle.
"And Lucile was alone; and the men of the world
Were gone back to the world; and the world's self was furl'd
Far away from the heart of the woman. Her hand
Droop'd, and from it, unloosed from their frail silken band,
Fell those early love-letters, strewn, scatter'd and shed
At her feet—life's lost blossoms! Dejected, her head
On her bosom was bow'd. Her gaze vaguely stray'd o'er
Those strewn records of passionate moments no more;
From each page to her sight leapt some word that belied
The composure with which she that day had denied
Every claim on her heart to those poor perished years.
They avenged themselves now, and she burst into tears."
O life! what art thou?—a mystery, a contradiction, or "one vast question without a reply!"
There are so many questions of this kind that pass
My perplexed comprehension, that were I to place them
On record, no volume would ever encase them.
There is heaven above us: we see it each day;
But what is the reason—can any one say?—
Why what we see most of we least comprehend?
Again, if our eyes on earth only we bend.
What suggests that strange doubt—this appealing creation
Which says, Eat, drink, be full? Is it only temptation?"
Why do we ever impose this Tantalus fate upon ourselves? Why do we permit the waters and the fruits to recede—the moment that could have made us happy go by—and then, when it is too late, murmur "it might have been"? Yes! had the hour, the time, the being we loved best upon earth—" life of our life, soul of our soul"—met, then we might have been happy. Here were two beings, bound to each other by ties that should not be disregarded—for God, not man, had joined their hearts—living apart, exhausting their hearts' treasures upon each other, yet not confessing it even to themselves. Separated by indifference on one side, and pique on the other—for Lord Alfred frankly owned to "Cousin John" that Lucile "loved him: in brief, she loved him too much." He became indifferent; she chided; he grew angry; she broke off the engagement in a huff; he left her; she fell ill and raved of him; he flew to her, and besought her on his knees to renew the engagement; she refused; they parted, swearing to be friends, each one keeping their love-letters— those sweet messengers of love, but fatal reminders of the past. Ten years roll by, and the work of these years has been with each one to forget and banish from their heart and mind the other: they only succeed in deceiving each other; they meet but to add fuel to the flame, which they thought was extinguished. Well, the letters are returned; they have said " good-bye;" Lord Alfred is enjoying an intensely suicidal reverie in his hotel, while his betrothed, Miss Darcy is anxiously awaiting his return, and "Cousin John" is giving vent to a few "pious ejaculations " at his prolonged stay; Lucile is in tears, and her suitor, the Duc de Luvois, is enjoying a foretaste of Hades at the suspense in which Lucile keeps him. Will they meet again? They thought they had parted forever. And how much better for them if they had! Scarce twenty-four hours had elapsed before they were again thrown together in place and circumstance undreamed of. Lord Alfred, with heavy heart, was returning to fulfill his destiny; Lucile, with a gay party—herself escorted by the Duc de Luvois—were going for a day to the mountains. What fate could have decreed that these two beings, who were so closely allied, yet so widely separated, should have met here, is past all comprehension. Lord Alfred had scarcely joined the party before black darkness enveloped the heavens, and they were startled by the vivid flashes of lightning which leapt from crag to crag, and by the thunder which rolled and reverberated, and made the earth to tremble, until it seemed the whole "artillery of heaven" was let loose. But this storm, by which all nature was convulsed, was tame in comparison with that storm which reigned within the breasts of Lucile and Lord Alfred. As nothing but to witness the grandeur of a storm in the mountains could exceed the description by the author, I extract a portion of it:
"And the Storm is abroad in the mountains! He fills
The crouch'd hollows and all the oracular hills
With dread voices of power. A roused million or more
Of wild echoes reluctantly rise from their hoar
Immemorial ambush, and roll in the wake
Of the cloud, whose reflection leaves livid the lake.
And the wind, that wild robber, for plunder descends
From invisible lands o'er those black mountain ends:
He howls as he hounds down his prey; and his lash
Tears the hair of the timorous wild mountain ash,
That clings to the rocks, with her garments all torn,
Like a woman in fear; then he blows his hoarse horn.
And is off, the fierce guide of destruction and terror,
Up the desolate hights, 'mid an intricate error
Of mountain and mist. There is war in the skies!
Lo! the black-winged legions of tempest arise
O'er those sharp splinter'd rocks that are gleaming below
In the soft light, so fair and so fatal, as though
Some seraph burn'd through them, the thunderbolt searching
Which the black cloud unbosomed just now. Lo! the lurching
And shivering pine-trees, like phantoms, that seem
To waver above in the dark ; and yon stream--
How it hurries and roars on its way to the white
And paralyzed lake there, appall'd at the sight
Of the things seen in heaven!"
Through the darkness and awe that surrounded them, and while the blue lightning encircled every thing in its lurid embrace, Lord Alfred sprang to the feet of Lucile and besought her again to "be his wife, his guide, his good angel, his all upon earth."Lucile's only reply, as her cheek flushed with passion, was, "And your pledge to another?"
"’Hush, hush!' he exclaimed;
'My honor will live where my love lives, unshamed,
"T’were poor honor, indeed, to another to give
That life of which you keep the heart. Could I live
In the light of those young eyes, suppressing a lie?
Alas, no! your hand holds my whole destiny.
I can never recall what my lips have avow'd!
In your love lies whatever can render mc proud.
For the great crime of all my existence hath been
To have known you in vain. And the duty best seen
And most hallow'd—the duty most sacred and sweet—
Is that which hath led me, Lucile, to your feet.
O speak! and restore me the blessing I lost
When I lost you, my pearl of all pearls beyond cost!
And restore to your own life its youth, and restore
The vision, the passion, the rapture of yore!
Ere our brows had been dimm'd in the dust of the world—
When our souls their white wings yet exulting unfurl'd!
For your eyes rest no more on the unquiet man.
The wild star of whose course its pale orbit outran,
"Whom the formless, indefinite future of youth.
With its lying allurements, distracted. In truth,
I have wearily wander'd the world, and I feel
That the least of your lovely' regards, O Lucile!
Is worth all the world can afford, and the dream
Which, though follow'd forever, forever doth seem
As fleeting, and distant, and dim, as of yore,
When it brooded in twilight, at dawn, on the shore
Of life's untravers'd ocean! I know the sole path
To repose which my desolate destiny hath,
Is the path by whose course to your feet I return.
And who else, O Lucile I will so truly discern,
And so deeply revere all the passionate strength,
The sublimity in you, as he whom at length
These have saved from himself, for the truth they reveal
To his worship?"
In this earnest appeal we find all that perfect abandon of the lover who would renounce his pledges to another, forfeit his honor, and make all things subservient to his deep and heartfelt passion. Thus, while all of our sympathy: is enlisted for the lover, we must regret that the man is so vacillating in character. Lucile spoke not; but from the "passionate softness then beaming from under the languid, mysterious fringe of her dark eyes," Lord Alfred hoped for the best. The storm was over; the setting sun shot forth one brilliant ray, then sank; and a single star glimmered in the sky as the party, remounting their horses, turned homeward. Lord Alfred, buoyant with hope, rode by Lucile's side, and asked himself if he might not trust that the ray of sunlight, the twinkling star, were smiling on him and were omens of good. Burning jealousy filled the heart of the Duc de Luvois as he rode silently along. Poor Matilda was forgotten as Lord Alfred attended Lucile to her châlet in silence, too happy for words. At parting, she whispered him "Good-night!—not good-bye; abide my answer to-morrow." Oh! that fatal "to-morrow!" How many fond hearts have hoped against hope, to see "to-morrow" bring desolation, disappointment, despair. Prisoners have looked for "to-morrow" to open the doors of their cells; anxious maidens have hoped that "to-morrow" would bring the wandering lover back; the condemned victim hopes that "to-morrow" will bring him a reprieve: but none of these have looked more anxiously for "to-morrow" to come than did Lord Alfred—to the moment which should make him the happiest or most miserable of men. That hour came—the parting hour at last; but it brought no tears, no sighs, no spoken farewells—only a letter. But that letter contained enough of moral heroism to have carried the writer to the stake—to have made her sacrifice all her heart's treasures upon the altar of duty, without shrinking. Noble woman that she was, and although she loved him more than life itself, yet she could not be the instrument through which he forfeited his word and brought sorrow upon another heart, who perhaps had more claims upon him than she had. She begged him to "return to his young, living love, from whom if he had wandered only for a moment, 'twas but to bury more deeply the past love." She assured him she would be happy in the bliss which she foresaw was in store for him. God alone knew what a Herculean task poor Lucile had performed, and He alone could have given her the strength to have performed it. When she had written, sealed, and sent the letter, she sat down to a desolate future, wherein she could not discern one ray of light. When Lord Alfred had read it, he thought to walk like a martyr to his fate; but upon re-reading it, he saw a glimmer of hope—he fancied from her manner that if he were free to offer her his hand and heart, she would accept it. He would rush to Matilda and tell her all—beg her to release him from the engagement, and fly to lay his heart, his life once more at the feet of Lucile.
"Ah well! for us all some sweet hope lies
Deeply buried from human eyes.''
. . . . . .
"Up! forth again, Pegasus! Many's the slip,
Hath the proverb well said, 'twixt the cup and the lip!
Who can sit down and say, What I will be, I will?
Who stand up and affirm, What I was, I am still?
Who is it that must not, if questioned, say, What
I would have remain'd or become, I am not?
We are ever behind, or beyond, or beside
Our intrinsic existence—forever at bide
And seek with our souls. Not in Hades alone
Doth Sisyphus roll, ever frustrate, the stone—
Do the Danoids ply, ever vainly, the sieve:
Tasks as futile does earth to its denizens give.
Yet there's none so uuhappy but what he hath been
Just about to be happy at some time, I ween;
And none so beguiled and defrauded by chance
But what, once in his life, some minute circumstance
Would have fully sufficed to secure him the bliss
Which, missing it then, he forever must miss.
And to most of us, ere we go down to the grave,
Life, relenting, accords the good gift we would have;
But, as though by some strange imperfection in fate,
The good gift, when it comes, comes a moment too late.
The Future's great vail our breath fitfully flaps,
And behind it broods ever the mighty Perhaps.
Yes! there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip;
But while o'er the brim of life's beaker I dip,
Tho' the cup may next moment be shatter'd, the wine
Spilt, one deep health I'll pledge, and that health shall be thine,
O being of beauty and bliss! seen and known
In the deeps of my soul, and possess'd there alone!
My days know thee not, and my lips name thee never :
Thy place in my poor life is vacant forever.
We have met;we have parted. So more is recorded
In my annals on earth. This alone was afforded
To the man whom men know me or deem me to be.
But, fur down in the depths of my life's mystery
Thou abidest and reignest forever, O Queen
Of that better world which thou surveyest unseen!
My one perfect mistress! my all things in all!
Thee by no vulgar name known to men do I call;
For the seraphs have named thee to me in my sleep,
And that name is a secret I sacredly keep.
But, wherever this nature of mine is most fair,
And its thoughts are the purest, belov'd, thou art there;
And whatever is noblest in aught that I do,
Is done to exalt and to worship thee too.
The, world gave thee not to me—no! and the world
Can not take thee away from me now. I have furl'd
The wings of my spirit about thy bright head;
At thy feet are my soul’s immortalities spread.
Thou mightest have been much to me: thou art more;
And in silence I worship, in darkness adore.
If life be not that which without us we find—
Chance, accident, merely—but rather the mind,
And the soul which, within us, surviveth these things;
If our real existence have truly its springs
Less in that which we do than iu that which we feel—
Not in vain do I worship, not hopeless I kneel!
For then, tho I name thee not mistress or wife,
Thou art mine, and mine only, O life of my life!
And tho' many's the slip 'twixt the cup and the lip,
Yet, while o'er the brim of life's beaker I dip,
While there's life on the lip, while there's warmth in the wine,
One deep health I'll pledge, and that health shall be thine."
If any thing can be more exquisitely beautiful than this, either in thought, conception, or expression, it has never been my good fortune to see it. It is so full of sublime resignation to that fate which, struggle as we will, no one can avert—so replete with that blind idolatry which a man should feel for the woman he weds—and so exactly what a woman of Lucile’s fervent, intense nature demanded, craved for, and could appreciate and return. But I must on with my story. With this remnant of hope, which stirred his whole being, Lord Alfred started again in pursuit of Lucile, but to meet his rival, the Duc de Luvois, returning, and — as his jealousy prompted him to imagine—with a smile of triumph upon his face: whether it was or not, time shall reveal. Lord Alfred returns with all speed this time to poor, neglected Matilda, and, as if to make amends for his long absence, has the Gordian Knot tied as soon as possible. The Duc de Lnvois returns to the gay world, and soon forgets (!) this sweet dream.
"And here the first part
Of this drama is over. The curtain falls furl'd
On the actors within it—the Heart and the World.
Woo'd and wooer have play'd with the riddle of life:
Have they solved it? Appear! answer, Husband and Wife! "
"Yet, ere bidding farewell to Lucile de Nevers,
Hear her own heart's farewell in this letter of hers."
THE COUNTESS DE NEVERS TO A FRIEND IN INDIA.
"I come—a sad woman, defrauded of rest;
I bear to you only a laboring breast;
My heart is a storm-beaten ark, wildly hurl'd
O'er the whirlpools of time, with the wrecks of a world;—
The dove from my bosom hath flown far away:
It is flown, and returns not, though many a day
Have I watch'd from the windows of life for its coming.
Friend, I sigh for repose; I am weary of roaming;
I know not what Ararat rises for me
Far away o'er the waves of the wandering sea;
I know not what rainbow may yet, from far hills,
Lift the promise of hope, the cessation of ills.
But a voice, like the voice of my youth, in my breast
Wakes and whispers me on—to the East! to the East!
Shall I find the child's heart that I left there—or find
The lost youth I recall with its pure peace of mind?
Alas! who shall number the drops of the rain,
Or give to the dead leaves their greenness again?
Who shall seal up the caverns the earthquake bath rent?
Who shall bring forth the winds that within them are pent?
To a voice who shall render an image? or who
From the heats of the noontide shall gather the dew?
I have burn'd out within me the fuel of life:
Wherefore lingers the flame? Rest is sweet after strife:
I would sleep for awhile : I am weary."
Thus did poor, dejected, heart-broken Lucile, with all the sadness of the plaintive Philomel, in wailing accents, pour into the ear of her friend all that grief which was crushing her young life out—taking the bloom from her cheek, the luster from her eye—thus making her old in youth. How many, like poor Lucile, have "grown weary ere half thro' the journey of life," and are sighing for some Ararat upon which to repose! And yet "life goes: the heart dies;" and who shall say why or wherefore, or command the turbid waters to "be still?"
Exeunt Omnes.—Curtain falls.
END ACT I.
. . . . . .
I trust if my dear reader is, like my hero and heroine, “weary," that it does not proceed from reading this article. Have you never had your heart to leap for joy, and drawn a long breath of relief, when a speaker who had tried your patience sorely took out his watch to consult the time? You felt that the end was near. So let it thrill now: take a breath of relief. Our tragedy will soon have ended.
Spring had come again with its buds and blossoms, its green leaves, its chirping birds, its balmy days, and had deepened into summer. Alas! it had come only to Nature—not to the hearts of our dramatis persona: for, sad to tell, no second spring comes to the human heart; it blossoms but to die—it knows no second waking. It was the season of the year when all the gay world quitted the dust and heat of city life for the quiet retirement of the country. And this season no baths were so fashionable or more resorted to than Ems. Here were to be seen the fashionable belles and beaux of le beau monde, the reckless gamester, the blasé man of the world, the maneuvering intriguante, gray-haired sires, match-making mammas, the astute politician, M.P.'s, D.D.'s, M.D.'s, patrician and plebeian, young and old, gay and sad. But let us see if, in this numerous crowd, we do not find some familiar faces.
"Amongst these were a young English husband and wife,
Grown weary ere half thro' the journey of life:
A gray-headed infant, defrauded of youth.
The lady, in truth,
Was young, fair, and gentle; and never was given
To more heavenly eyes the pure azure of heaven;
Never yet did the sun touch to ripples of gold
Tresses brighter than those which her soft hand unroll'd.
Love, roaming, shall meet
But rarely a nature more sound or more sweet:
Eyes brighter, brows whiter, a figure more fair,
Or lovelier lengths of more radiant hair—
Than thine, Lady Alfred!
Let some one explain—
Who may know more than I of the intimate life
Of the pearl with the oyster—why yet in his wife,
In despite of her beauty, and most when he felt
His soul to the sense of her loveliness melt,
Lord Alfred miss'd something he sought for: indeed
The more that he miss'd it, the greater the need.
Till it seem'd to himself he could willingly spare
All the charms that he found for the one charm not there."
"Alfred Vargrave, in wedding with Beauty and Youth, had embraced both Ambition and Wealth;" but the heart, the heart—was it satisfied, too?
"The lady grew pale,
As silent her lord grew; and both, as they ey'd
Each the other askance, turn'd and secretly sigh'd.
Ah! wise friend, what avails all experience can give?
True, we know what life is; but alas! do we live!
The grammar of life we have gotten by heart,
But life's self we have made a dead language—an art, not a voice."
And still the world marries, and men think to purchase their hearts' silence by wedding youth, beauty, ambition, wealth, or .social position. "Experience is the best teacher"—so says the wise man; but experience comes too late. Can it stifle the groans of a broken heart? Is it any consolation to the dying man to reflect on what "might have been?" does it not rather irritate than soothe? The praise and flattery that followed Matilda did not purchase content. The world noticed not the silence that had sprung up between man and wife; and occasionally when Lord Alfred would praise her loveliness, she would turn away and say, " Yes! he loves me; this is love, then?—and yet---"
"Ah, that YET!—fatal word! 'tis the moral of all
Thought and felt, seen or done, in this world since the Fall!"
"To the waters of Ems, from the waters of Marah," two other "worn pilgrims" had come. And the "idler from England" shook hands with the "idler from France," in whom we recognize our old friend, the Duc de Luvois. These men, who had been so nearly foes in past days, now met and talked as friends, never referring to the "things that were."
"Was it fact? was it fable?
Was it a dream? was it waking? Across the green table,
That face, with its features so fatally known—
Those eyes, whose deep gaze answer'd strangely his own—
What was it? Some ghost from its grave come again?
Some cheat of a feverish, fanciful brain?
Or was it herself, with those deep eyes of hers,
And that face uuforgotten—Lucille de Nevers?"
. . . . . . . .
" Back she came from her long hiding-place, at the source
Of the sunrise—still oppressed
With the same hungry heart, and unpeaceable breast—
The same to the same things! The world she had quitted
With a sigh, with a sigh she re-entered. Soon flitted
Through the salons and clubs, to the great satisfaction
Of Paris, the news of a novel attraction:
The enchanting Lucile, the gay Countess, once more
To her old friend, the World, had re-open'd her door."
Her genius and wit brought around her the first men of the age; but
"She knew herself friendless—
That her path led from peace, and that path appear'd endless!
That even her beauty had been but a snare,
And her wit sharpened only the edge of despair."
And so Lord Alfred and Lucile met again—he all flushed by surprise and excited by emotions he could not suppress, she as calm and unmoved as a marble statue. Not the
slightest color came into her pale cheeks as she replied cold[l]y and indifferently to his almost incoherent questions. Could an outsider have peeped into her heart he would
have had an explanation for the outward calm; he would have seen that all the life-
blood had rushed to the heart to sustain her in this hour of meeting. Women are better
actors than men, at least in affaires du coeur, and Lucile played her rôle to perfection.
Lord Alfred knew not what to conclude by her composure, and continually asked himself, "Is this woman changed to diamond or ice?" " Life is two-fold;" so says Byron: I add, it is, but not alone in the matter of waking and sleeping, but of the false and the true. We bear about with us two characters. Our false we carry without for the world—our true
within for ourselves. Thus did Lucile appear ice to Lord Alfred, when her heart was on fire and she loved him with all the blind idolatry of former years, hightened by absence, suspense and suffering. This was love, the true, the genuine, the unchanging, the divine, the immortelle, which had bloomed never to die. And yet the world sneers contemptuously, shrugs its shoulders, and says "there's no such thing." This meeting had
not been unnoticed by the Duc de Luvois, who was conversing with Lady Alfred, and, as he sat there apparently calm and quiet, he was suffering all the tortures of the damned, from jealousy. But, horrible to tell, in the same moment a fiendish idea seized upon him, and he swore to put it into execution. Why might he not arouse Matilda's jealousy, and perhaps win her to him, as he had no doubt Lucile and Lord Alfred would again renew their early protestations. No sooner conceived than he began to execute it. But the villain will be foiled, if he does add to the misery of the world.
Of course, it was as might have been expected. Lord Alfred would have remained at Lucile's side all the time had not her good sense triumphed and bid him begone. The passion which he had felt for her in former days was now increased ten-fold by the impassable gulf which separated them and by the unwavering devotion he believed she felt for him, try to conceal it as she would.
Matilda became jealous and miserable of course, encouraged as she was by the Duc de Luvois, whose accusations were as false as they were infamous. Lucile, with a woman's keen perception, saw at a glance all that was going on around her, and determined again to leave a spot which was fatal to her so long as it contained Lord Alfred. In this, as in all else, her true nobleness shone out, and her sense of duty overcame the great sacrifice she must make. Thus a second time self was immolated upon the altar of duty. No sooner had she taken the resolve than she imparted it to Lord Alfred. He besought her not to be so unkind; if the Fates had cruelly separated them, to remain near him anyhow; there could be no harm in it; nothing would come of it. But Lucile, with that irresistible power and charm which she possessed in such a high degree, talked to him long and earnestly, and finally convinced him of all the evil that would accrue from it. She bade him return to his young and lovely wife, and learn from that child's pure virtue the secret of happiness. For her the dreams of life had fled and departed the days when with innocence they could discuss dreams like these. He must return, and she would follow the way Heaven should direct, far away from all the places in which they had met or might meet—far away, onward, upward.
The Due de Luvois now renewed his suit, but, as before, Lucile turned a deaf ear to all his entreaties. She was already wed, and "for all time" would worship at the same shrine her heart had erected, and whereon her idol had been placed never to be removed. But she aroused in him, by that same irresistible sway she held over the hearts of men, all his manhood, that had been latent so long she feared it might be extinguished. She stirred in him a desire to be great, a determination to abandon the effeminate life he had always led. Through Lucile's influence—noble woman that she was—a husband, contrite and repentant, returned to a miserable and lovely wife, but to ask her forgiveness to receive it. Lucile sought the injured wife, and told her all her sad life, and how her husband had returned, to wander no more. And now, poor Lucile, "the pupil of sorrow" as she called herself, sad and lonely, alone and friendless, wandered forth once more. The same hour that restored Lord Alfred to his wife brought the news of the loss of their entire fortune. Lord Alfred, effeminate and idle in prosperity, now rose superior to and defying adversity, called into action all his powers that but slept, and triumphed.
. . . . . . . .
Time rolls on. The scene changes, and when next we see Lucile it is in the garb of a Sister of Charity, upon a battle field. Here she flits about from tent to tent, and is, in truth, a ministering angel to the wounded and dying that strew the field. She is known as "La Soeur Seraphine."
But stay. Who is the general, the chieftain, upon whose brow "sits greatness," around which clings the laurel-wreath? It is our old friend, the Duc de Luvois. Animated and spurred into new life by Lucile's parting words, he had joined the army but to become a conquering hero, and as he rode down the ranks every voice cried out, "Vive le Général!" and loud huzzahs almost rent the air. But who is the pale, beautiful but wounded and dying boy reclining upon a pallet of straw? In him we behold the son of Alfred Vargrave; and that "truth is stranger than fiction" none can doubt when they know that the kind sister who sits by his bedside is Lucile de Nevers.
But once more. Now we see Lucile in the character of a petitioner. She stands within the tent of the commanding general, pleading for a Vargrave. This boy is in love with the niece, the adopted child of the Duc de Luvois, and Lucile pleads that all objections may be removed, so that they may wed if he lives—so that he may die in peace if he dies. The Duke swears it shall never be, and says he would rather bury her than see her a Vargrave. He taunts Lucile with being true to the blood that has wrecked her life, and sneeringly admires her devotion to the son of her former lover. Then Lucile tells him that but for his infamy she might now be a loving and beloved wife and not a wandering nun—a happy mother, and the mistress of a happy home. He thinks, hesitates, then relents, and rising leads the way to the tent of this noble boy. He forgives him and tells him to "live to wed Constance and be happy." Alas! this commander of armies had the power to command the obedience of his conquering hosts, but even he could not stay the life which was fast ebbing away, and he had scarcely left the tent before the son of the lover breathed his last upon the breast of the beloved.
Great, good and noble was Lucile, and while the reader will murmur "Poor Lucile," and have all his sympathy enlisted in her behalf, if he will only reflect he will see that she was purified through these sorrows and tribulations which call forth our tears and pity. Her whole life was one grand sacrifice of feeling to duty. She stood the test, and, like gold, came out of the furnace every time brighter and brighter, rid of all dross, and refined through suffering. Nothing can be more exquisitely beautiful, and our only regret is that in this short space we can not do this magnificent work justice. But if we have aroused in one heart a desire to read it, and enjoy its innumerable beauties, we are more than repaid.
"Now the vapors close 'round, and we shall see her no more,
For her mission, accomplished on earth, is o'er."
Bell rings—Curtain drops.
Last revised: 26 September 2011