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"She stood upon the steps to welcome me, Calm, in black garb. I clung about her neck
Young babes, who catch at every shred of Wool
To draw the new light closer, catch and cling Less blindly. In my ears, my father's word Hummed ignorantly, as the sea in shells, 'Love, love, my child.' She, black there with my grief,
Might feel my love-she was his sister onceI clung to her. A moment, she seemed moved,
Kissed me with cold lips, suffered me to cling, And drew me feebly through the hall, into The room she sate in.
There, with some strange spasm Of pain and passion, she wrung loose my hands
Imperiously, and held mo at arm's length, And with two gray-steel, naked-bladed eyes Searched through my face-ay, stabbed it through and through,
Through brows, and cheeks, and chin, as if to find
A wicked murderer in my innocent face, If not here, there, perhaps. Then, drawing breath,
She struggled for her ordinary calm,
And missed it rather told me not to shrink,
"I understood her meaning afterward;
And made him mad, alike by life and death,
Became bate, too, and all the idealism
And wrinkled her smooth conscience with a
Of disputable virtue (say not, sin) When Christian doctrine was enforced at church.
"And thus my father's sister was to me My mother's hater."
Fancy the life that the Italian child was to live with this British aunt, and you will strike the key-note of all the story of Aurora Leigh.
It did not kill her, this life, as it does so many, chilling all the warm woman's soul within them, nor did it drive her mad. What it did do for her, her cousin Romney Leigh learned, one June day, when he surprised her crowning her own brows with ivy-leaves, and would have taken her in his hand to be his dear and docile wife, and help him in his philanthropic works. He was a proud, calm, earnest man, this cousin Romney, the unwilling heir of all the Leighs, a dreamer of dreams, not for himself but for his race, and sleepless at heart until, by personal sacrifice, and personal toil, he should have done something to bridge over the dreadful chasm between the helpless horrible multitudes of the poor and vile, and his own stately order of the rich and great. He asks his cousin's hand to help him in his work, and when she speaks to him of her own dreams, of that artistic life she longs for, that service of beauty to which she had vowed herself when her soul,
"At poetry's divine first finger-touch, Let go conventions and sprang up surprised, Convicted of the great eternities Between two worlds,"
he smiles sadly, as upon the folly of a child, and speaks of woman's sphere in the old-fashioned, maddening way, and so, unconsciously, reěchoing with his deep voice the tedious, dreary drawlings of her dismal aunt, rouses all the scornful soul within Aurora's heart, and wins for himself a dismissal as poignant and as positive as ever man received.
Unutterable is the wrath of the dismal aunt on hearing this, and very sharply does she set before Aurora the facts, that all her father's fortune, by the conditions of the entail in the house of Leigh, must pass away to Romney, since no child of a foreign marriage could inherit of their race. And so the aunt and the niece face each other at last; but, before either can give way, death comes and drops his baton on the tourney. In the night the aunt
dies, and, in the morning, they find her sitting upright near her bed, and holding in her hand a letter with unbroken seal. This letter contains a deed of gift, from Romney to his aunt, of thirty thousand pounds, intended by him to be left for a provision to the else disinherited Aurora. But Aurora will have no such gifts; and, as the letter had never been opened, she resolutely refuses to regard it as received, and, putting back her cousin's purse as she had put back his hand, she goes her way to London, there to win for herself the bread of daily life, and the ivy-wreath of immortality.
Romney, meanwhile, pursues his dream with equal faith and equal hope. He becomes a leader of the "Christian Socialists;" ;" is foremost in every effort, anywhere made, to raise the fallen, and to steady the tottering, and consecrates his gifts, his fortune, and his life to the poor.
The cousins do not meet till one day there comes to Aurora's study a certain lovely widow-Lady Waldemarwho, holding her gay booth in May Fair, has seen and loved the high-souled Romney, and now seeks his cousin's intervention to save him from contracting a marriage with a poor outcast girl, Marian Erle. Romney, it seems, means to wed this Marian, partly as a protest against the wicked spirit of caste, and partly because he has found her to be a noble-hearted, pure-souled, affectionate and obedient girl, who is ready to worship him, and to do his generous will. Aurora goes to see Marian, finds her in the dismalest places-herself a flower of spring-loves her for her gentleness, pities her for her terrible story, and, when Romney comes in upon their interview, gives him her hand, and welcomes his humble bride to the haughty house of Leigh. The wedding is appointed to take place at St. James's church, where all the fashion of London are convened to meet all London's wretchedness, and witness this strange union. The guests arrive, rich and poor, fine and foul. The parson comes and the bridegroom; but they wait and look and wait in vain for the bride, who appears not. She has gone, it seems, gone away with some evil woman, and brought to shame the proud philanthropy of Romney.
When, in a little while after this sad business, Aurora goes to Franoe, she
leaves Romney on the point of being wedded, at last, to Lady Waldemar.
In Paris, Aurora, wandering on the quays, meets Marian-Marian, but ah! how changed! A shame-faced, sorrowstricken shadow of that fair young Marian she had known before, and bearing in her arms the sad burden of a fatherless child. How came she there, and in such plight? Prose must not tell the dreadful tale from which the muse herself recoils with shuddering. Enough that she is there, betrayed beyond redemption, trampled, excommunicate of men and women, and there, because a lovely widow, the Lady Waldemar must have her way and wed the man she willed to love. Aurora, as the reader of discretion will have long ago tnferred, is neither meek nor over mild of temper, and when she takes her pen to write the things which she has seen and heard, to her friend and the friend of Romney, the painter, Vincent Carrington, she puts such words upon the paper as well prepare the way for the indescribable letter that follows to the address of "Lady Waldemar.”
From Paris to Italy she then wends her way, back to her Italy, her mother's and her father's grave, and takes with her the hapless Marian and Marian's poor child. In that fair land of light and fragrance, she breathes a while from the feverish activity of her life and the multitude of her emotions. And there again June finds her-June, that once brought to her its freshest roses, when she turned from them to clasp her ivywreath-June comes again with more immortal roses, and now not in vain. Romney Leigh stands before her, humbled, but more manly proud than ever. His dreams have faded-the creatures, before whom the pearls of his life were thrown by him, with lavish hands, have turned again and rent him; the society he would have healed has spurned him. Leigh Hall has been laid in ashes by the besotted mob, and he, its lord, has come to take for his own wife, before the world, that desolate Marian, wronged beyond redress through him and, for his own that fatherless child of shame.
But Marian has learned something in this strange, dreadful life as well as he, and she knows now too well what love is, not to know that never did she love the Romney, whom she had so blindly worshiped, so well as when she refuses to be his, and puts back the hand he
proudly offers her, with a pride more subtle yet and more serene. To her her child remains: to Romney-what? The roses of that old June-day made now immortal! Blinded in the fire which had consumed, in one flame, the home of his fathers and the dream of his youth, the high-souled Romney sees with clearer inward sight than ever. And Aurora sees, too-sees the meaning of her life as she would not see it in those old, defiant days, when she had all things yet to prove, and, more, herself to try. And, seeing, she comes to Romney, and lays her hand in his, and, lo! "the morning and the evening made his day." Upon which day let no clouded words of ours intrude, but only the song of Aurora's self, singing
"O, great mystery of love!-In which absorbed, loss, anguish, treason's self Enlarges rapture,-as a pebble, dropt In some full wine-cup, over-brims the wine! While we two sate together, leaned that night So close, my very garments crept and thrilled With strange electric life; and both my cheeks Grew red, then pale, with touches from my hair In which his breath was; while the golden moon Was hung before our faces as the badge Of some sublime inherited despair, Since ever to be seen by only oneA voice said, low and rapid as a sigh, Yet breaking, I felt conscious. from a smile'Thank God, who made me blind to make me Bee!
Shine on, Aurora, dearest light of souls, Which rul'st for evermore both day and night! I am happy.'"
Thus was crowned the life of Aurora Leigh-thus were the June roses twined with the ivy in her wreath.
Tamely enough have we passed over the way which the poet treads with fierywinged feet! We have but sought to show you, reader, what manner of way it is, and in what company you shall journey upon it. Taking in either hand the hand of Aurora and of Romney, you will not find the road tedious nor the end of it unprofitable.
So much for the story's significance! Shall we be ungracious, now, and quarrel a little with our poet? Since she is our poet, we think we must.
And let us begin by saying the worst thing we have to say of Aurora Leigh. The poem is too long, and this not because the story is diffusely toldfor the absolute narrative of the work is singularly concise and nervous, nor encumbered with a dozen superfluous adjectives in the whole-but, because too many things are told besides the story.
It is not well that Aurora Leigh should so often interrupt the interest of her passionate and earnest narrative with reflections artistic and philosophical, which, however good in themselves, only disturb the reader's mind and importune him, like bores at a marriagefeast. Neither is it well that Mrs. Browning, after casting away so many of her old quaintnesses of speech, should adopt new phrases, to which no objection can be made, indeed, on the score of their pedantry, but which are only too flatly and coarsely vernacular. If these phrases were fewer in number than they are, and, still more, if they were not accompanied by images of the same kind, we should have made no allusion to their existence. But, as it is. we cannot help taking them as evidence that Mrs. Browning has picked up somewhere a realistic theory of her art, which is sure to lead her, unless she quickly abandons it, into some new and very positive faults. Nothing but a theory, for instance, we are sure could have induced a woman of genius and fine perceptions to compare the human soul and its little obstinacies to a dog snapping at a bone, in spite of all the slaps of reason and nature! Mrs. Browning should remember her own fine defense of the living age, and reflect that if, in Homer's time, men washed neither their hands nor their words, in our time, men wash both, yet need not, for that, be less heroic than Achilles, nor less poetic than a Homer.
What shall we say, too, of the injustice which Mrs. Browning, no doubt unintentionally, does to the "Christian Socialists" of England, in her portraiture of the opinions and purposes of Romney Leigh? Simply that it is unintentional, and yet much to be regretted. It is clear that Mrs. Browning's acquaintance with Englishmen of that stamp must be very slight and superficial, or she could never have imagined that her odd compound of Owenism, Fourierism and St. Simonism, represented the doctrines of the high-spirited, clear-headed, Christian gentlemen, of whom Frederic Denison Maurice may be taken as the type.
This philosophic blunder brings with it an artistic imperfection; for nobody ever held such notions as Romney Leigh is made to hold, and yet worked such work for others and for himself. The thing is out of nature. Out of nature,
too, do we hold it to be, that Aurora Leigh should have supposed that Romney had married Lady Waldemar when he came to her in Florence. Perhaps it was necessary, for the purposes of the poem, that Aurora should be made to misunderstand him in so abject a way; but we cannot help entering our masculine protest against the customary depreciation of masculine magnanimity in which all our lady-writers indulge.
Doubtless, we men are a very selfish set of creatures; but are we so utterly incapable, as a body, of high-souled actions, that a young lady, herself of very noble mind, should be fairly represent ed as doing violence to the language of a very intellectual man, in order to interpret it away from its natural and simply noble significance? We do not explain our allusion more fully, because we leave it to our readers to judge from
an immediate perusal of the poem itself, whether we are in the right or in the wrong.
For, however they may pass upon our criticisms we are confident that they will agree with us in our commendation of this earnest and beautiful work. They will rejoice that we have anticipated, by quotation, so little of the pleasure reserved for them in its pages; they will believe, with us, that the age cannot be so very hopeless an age after all, in which such a woman as Mrs. Browning can live such a life as is borne witness to by fruits like the noble thoughts and glorious aspirations of "Aurora Leigh;" and they will echo our hope that many a Christmas yet to come may be gladdened, and many a New Year made memorable, by new songs from one who sings so wisely, so womanly, and so well.
ODORS OF PLANTS.
"Myriads of flowers, like gay dressed suitors, there
THERE is a weird old legend, such as
the children of the North delight to hear, that tells of the revenge some flowers took on a fair maiden. She lies sweetly slumbering on her couch, and by her side stands the vase filled with fragrant flowers. And, as night sinks deeper and deeper on all that lives upon earth, the silence is suddenly broken by a gentle rustling and rushing among the flowers. Dressed in garments not woven by human hands, and crowned with golden diadems, strange, unearthly beings flutter faintly through the chamber. From the crimson bosom of the rose there rises a lofty lady, her curls unloosened and strewn with pearls as if with bright dew-drops. From the helmet of the blue aconite, a knight steps forth with bold brow, his sword shining brightly, his crest crimson with bloody plumes. A gentle maiden glides softly from the lily's white chalice, veiled with a silky, gossamer web; but the proud tulip sends forth a dark blackamoor, and high on his green turban glistens a golden crescent. The crown imperial opens its gates to a stately monarch with sceptre in hand, and all the irises around send well-armed sword-bearers to guard him. But from the
sweet-scented leaves of the narcissus there starts a bold boy with eager glance, and he steps up to the maid and presses his hot kisses upon her half-parted lips. His friends and companions surround them and sing their plaintive song, how they rested so warm on their mother's bosom, where the bright sun played with their leaves, where gentle breezes cooled their heated crowns, and dew and blessed rains fed them with heavenly food, until the cruel maid came and tore them from their beloved home. And they sing, and they whisper, and dance around her couch, until morning dawns and they vanish in the dim twilight. But when the sun's first rays gild the maiden's soft cheek, they fall upon life no more-a faded flower, she has joined her withered sisters, and the morning breeze has borne with their last sweet fragrance her soul also to hea
Weird is the legend and wild, and yet there is truth in it, as in most of the stories that live on the lips of the people, and follow a race, through long ages, from one generation to another. For, sweet as the fragrance of flowers is all day long, it becomes poison at
night, and fatal to life. A single magnolia-blossom, a single daphne, even, placed in a bedroom, is said to suffice to cause death in a night. How few of us, however, are aware of the strange and powerful effect which even the common exhalations of plants have upon our health and our minds. We hardly ever remember that the atmosphere affects our physical well-being and our temper mainly through the agency of plants. Travelers notice it first, of course, where the contrasts are most surprising. Thus there are parts of our globe entirely destitute of all vegetable life, like the African deserts, those true seas of sand, made still more desolate by the wooded shores clothed with perpetual verdure that surround them on all sides. On the coast of the Pacific, also, similar regions, deprived of all life, stretch far along the lofty chains of the Andes. The impression produced by such dead and rigid deserts, like that of the wide expanse of the melancholy ocean, is so grand and severe, that an uneasy sensation will soon creep over the most joyous traveler, although at first the breathing of a free, pure air may appear like a relief from heavier duties. Even the air, that has long been hanging over the burning sands or the silent waves, and is then carried off upon the wings of the storm, has a wearying, exhausting effect, and rests heavily both upon body and mind. A still, stagnant atmosphere, such as we feel before the coming of a thunderstorm, is ever oppressive and painful, and this is the permanent condition of the air that rests on plantless regionsit is not kept in healthy activity by the life of the vegetable kingdom beneath it. Do we not feel the same difference even in common life? During daytime, whilst all plants exhale life-giving oxygen in blessed abundance, we breathe an air of strength and comfort. How different is it at night! The heaven-born mind, it is true, will struggle long and bravely against the influences of the material world, but, bound as it is to this physical body, it can never entirely shake off its fetters. No activity at night-brief and spasmodic efforts alone excepted-will bear the character of that energy and hearty good-will, which is supplied to us only by the bright light and healthy air of the day. It is the struggle of despair, or, at best, a blind, stubborn exertion,
and even the boldest and bravest cannot but feel, when he passes at night through a dense underwood, or an ancient forest, that oppressive and anxious feeling, which is the result of the immense mass of nitrogen exhaled from such hosts of living and breathing plants.
The children of Flora, however, are not the same at the varying seasons of the year, and hence, the atmosphere also will, by the force of those ties which bind even "lifeless nature" together in sweet friendship, assume a different quality, and exert a different influence on our mind. Every season has not only its own peculiar colors, as represented by the changing hues woven in the carpet that covers our earth, by spring, summer, and autumn, but it has likewise its own and exclusive fragrance. How could it be otherwise, when, as we know, plants are the very lungs of our globelungs not carefully hidden, as with man, within the secret parts of the body, but freely laid open, and ever active, within the reach of all our senses. Through them this mighty earth breathes out in the daytime her superfluous oxygen; through them, at night, the fatal nitrogen, and so also, in every season of the year, whatever she has then been producing in her dark bosom. It is true we cannot seize it with hands, nor weigh it with balancos, but it is there, and centres only the more thoroughly, because so secretly and unconsciously, into all our life. Our blood and our nerves, now lulled into dull, drowsy slumber, and now raised to their full, healthy activity by the varied influences of the vegetable world, thus represent in each of us the pulsations of our great mother earth. Whose heart does not swell with high hopes in spring; who has not felt the exciting effect of long draughts of rich summer air, or the sweet melancholy that is wafted to us in every autumn-breeze! With the soft falling snow, all our exuberance sinks down to the silent earth, and the locked-up ground keeps, with its own riches, also our more boyant feelings for a time in icy fetters.
In like manner, we shall find, when we observe the influence of such apparent trifles with a sharper eye and a warmer heart, that even the presence of large masses of certain plants may be felt in its effect upon the atmosphere. Meadows and forests exhale very much the