網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

he appears in the first of these dramas : in the second we have him, after a considerable interval of time, moving among different persons, and in a state of moral decline, as well as with adverse fortunes to encounter.

As regards the temperament of Artevelde, the aim seems to have been to represent the combination of energy with equanimity; the energy chiefly, indeed, intellectual; the composure, in a great degree, matter of mere temperament. It is here that the author, as indeed he hints in his preface—we wish he had spared that preface altogether-has been most desirous of opposing bimself, point-blank, to the practice of one of the most popular of recent poets, Lord Byron. Artevelde is, indeed, as unlike any one of Byron's heroes as they are all, in the main, like each other. Our author in this preface daringly describes them as 'creatures abandoned to their passions, and, therefore, weak of mind; ..... beings in whom there is no strength except that of their intensely selfish passions-in whom all is vanity; their exertions being for vanity under the name of love, or revenge, and their sufferings for vanity under the name of pride. This language is over-pitched, but it is quite intelligible, and contains truth, though not the whole truth; and Artevelde is accordingly pourtrayed as having indeed a large fund of feeling and even of passion in his nature, but as minded and nerved so as to command his passion. It is not superficially excitable, nor liable to escape in sudden ebullitions or uncontrollable sallies. He is, though not strictly and completely, yet, having regard to the circumstances in which he is placed, very adequately self-governed. His generosity, like his severity, is always well-considered ; his acts of vigour proceed in no instance from a restless or superfluous activity of disposition ; they are evoked by the occasion, and commensurate with it, and his administration of affairs is not more signalized by them, than by a steady diligence and attention to business— the watchfulness and carefulness of a mind calmly and equably strong.

The love of such a man, though partaking of the fullness and largeness of his nature, was not to be inordinately passionate. It belonged to him to be rather the idol than the prey of such a passion. His heroines devote themselves to him with as ardent a sentiment as the poet has been able to pourtray; he, on the other hand,

' smiles with superior love;' and may be imagined to have looked on the daughters of Eveeven in his earlier and better day both of heart and of fortune-in the spirit of that admonition which was conveyed to the lover of Eve herself-as

• Fair,

Fair, no doubt, and worthy well
His cherishing, his honouring, and his love,

Not his subjectionSuch is a general sketch of this character, according to our un. derstanding of the poet's meaning and design. The effect of it, as contrasted by the surrounding groups of vain, narrow, and barbarous men, reminds one of the noblest feature in the aspect of your old Flemish city-its tall massive tower rising into the clear air above a wilderness of black roofs and quaint gables. It is time, however, to come to the story of the Romance itself. .

We must pass rather hastily over the First Part, in which the youthful Philip, being suddenly tempted out of his calm and sequestered course of life, and happy, though as yet unspoken, love, becomes captain of Ghent by the election of the prevailing war-faction of the White-hoods;' develops the magnificent talents for command which had hitherto slumbered within him; and, Ghent being reduced at length to extreme misery by the closened lines of the Earl of Flanders, persuades the citizens to make a bold sally; guides them to the gates of the Earl's capital, Bruges ; defeats the forces of the sovereign, seizes his metropolis, and all but masters his own person in a midnight sack. Of this part, in itself a performance of great beauty and interest, we can afford our readers but a few brief specimens. We select passages in which we have been particularly struck with the style of our author's execution; the nervous vigour of his language; the stately ease of his versification; and his extraordinary skill in introducing profoundly meditative year, without interrupting the flow of passion or action. .

The immediate cause of Artevelde's elevation is the depressed condition of Ghent, after the defeat and death of one of her captains, Launoy; and the necessity which the White-hoods then perceive of either yielding to the peace-party within the city, and submitting to the earl—or summoning to the post of power some one of high name, whose interference (he being, as yet, personally uncompromised in the rebellion) shall overawe the populace by the impression that it must needs be purely patriotic. The fate of Launoy is told, closely after Froissart, in these energetic lines :Second Dean. Beside Nivelle the earl and Launoy met.

Six thousand voices shouted with the last
“Ghent the good town! Ghent and the Chaperons Blancs !"
But from that force thrice-told there came the cry
Of “ Flanders, with the Lion of the Bastard !”
So then the battle joined, and they of Ghent
Gave back and opened after three hours' fight;
And hardly flying had they gained Nivelle,

When

When the earl's vanguard came upon their rear
Ere they could close the gate, and entered with them.
Then all were slain save Launoy and his guard,
Who, barricaded in the minster tower,
Made desperate resistance; whereupon

The earl waxed wrothful, and bade fire the church.
First Burgher. Say'st thou ? Oh sacrilege accursed! Was't done?
Second Dean. 'Twas done,-and presently was heard a yell,

And after that the rushing of the flames !
Then Launoy from the steeple cried aloud
“A ransom!" and held up his coat to sight
With florins filled, but they without but laughed
And mocked him, saying, " Come amongst us, John,
And we will give thee welcome ;-make a leap
Come out at window, John."—With that the flames
Rose up and reached him, and he drew his sword,
Cast his rich coat behind him in the fire,
And shouting, “ Ghent, ye slaves !” leapt freely forth,
When they below received him on their spears.

And so died John of Launoy,
First Burgher.

A brave end. 'Tis certain we must now make peace by times; The city will be starved else. - Will be, said I ? Starvation is upon us.'- vol. i. pp. 27-29. The reflective spirit of Philip van Artevelde is first indicated in his conversation on this incident with his aged preceptor:Van Artevelde. I never looked that he should live so long.

He was a man of that unsleeping spirit,
He seemed to live by miracle: his food
Was glory, which was poison to his mind,
And peril to his body. He was one
Of many thousand such that die betimes,
Whose story is a fragment, known to few.
Then comes the man who has the luck to live,
And he's a prodigy. Compute the chances,
And deem there's ne'er a one in dangerous times,
Who wins the race of glory, but than him
A thousand men more gloriously endowed
Have fallen upon the course; a thousand others
Have had their fortunes foundered by a chance,
Whilst lighter barks pushed past them; to whom add
A smaller tally, of the singular few,
Who, gifted with predominating powers,
Bear yet a temperate will, and keep the peace.

The world knows nothing of its greatest men.
Father John. Had Launoy lived, he might have passed for great,

But not by conquests in the Franc of Bruges.
The sphere-the scale of circumstance is all

Which makes the wonder of the many. Still
An ardent soul was Launoy's, and his deeds
Were such as dazzled many a Flemish dame.

There'll some bright eyes in Ghent be dimmed for him.
Van Artevelde. They will be dim, and then be bright again.

All is in busy, stirring, stormy motion;
And many a cloud drifts by, and none sojourns.
Lightly is life laid down amongst us now,
And lightly is death mourned : a dusk star blinks
As fleets the rack, but look again, and lo!
In a wide solitude of wintry sky
Twinkles the re-illuminated star,
And all is out of sight that smirched the ray.

We have no time to mourn.
Father John.

The worse for us!
He that lacks time to mourn, lacks time to mend.
Eternity mourns that. 'Tis an ill cure
For life's worst ills, to have no time to feel them.
Where sorrow's held intrusive and turned out,
There wisdom will not enter, nor true power,
Nor aught that dignifies humanity.
Yet such the barrenness of busy life!
From shelf to shelf Ambition clambers up,
To reach the naked'st pinnacle of all;
Whilst Magnanimity, absolved from toil,
Reposes self-included at the base.

But this thou know'st.'—pp. 40-43. When the notion of calling on Artevelde to assume the dictatorship of the city is first started, the sequestered habits of his life, and the apparent coldness of his temperament, are objected; but one who had more narrowly observed him, replies,

• There is no game so desperate which wise men
Will not take freely up for love of power,
Or love of fame, or merely love of play.
These men are wise, and then reputed wise,
And so their great repute of wisdom grows,
'Till for great wisdom a great price is bid,
And then their wisdom they do part withal.
Such men must still be tempted with high stakes:

Philip van Artevelde is such a man.'-p. 35. The youth, with all his philosophy, appears to be consider ably wrought upon by the suggestion, that, in the place of power, he might avenge the slaughter of his father :

Is it vain glory that thus whispers me,
That 'tis ignoble to have led my life
In idle meditations—that the times
Demand me, that they call my father's name?

Oh!

Oh! what a fiery heart was his! such souls
Whose sudden visitations daze the world,
Vanish like lightning, but they leave behind
A voice that in the distance far away
Wakens the slumbering ages. Oh! my father!
Thy life is eloquent, and more persuades
Unto dominion than thy death deters;
For that reminds me of a debt of blood
Descended with my patrimony to me,

Whose paying off would clear my soul's estate.'-p. 52.
And again he says, –

• Here on the doorstead of my father's house,

The blood of his they spilt is seen no more.
But when I was a child I saw it there;
For so long as my widow-mother lived,
Water came never near the sanguine stain.
She loved to show it me, and then with awe,
But hoarding still the purpose of revenge,

I heard the tale-which, like a daily prayer
· Repeated, to a rooted feeling grew
How long he fought-how falsely came like friends
The villains Guisebert Grutt and Simon Bette-

All the base murder of the one by many.'-pp. 48, 49. His as yet silent passion for a noble damsel of the same city, Adriana van Merestyn, interposes some scruples. This twilight soliloquy at the gate of her garden-terrace, appears to us masterly. It must remind every reader of the Wallenstein; and yet there is no copying :

• To bring a cloud upon the summer day
Of one so happy and so beautiful,
It is a hard condition. For myself
I know not that the circumstance of life,
In all its changes, can so far afflict me
As makes anticipation much worth while.
But she is younger,-of a sex besides
Whose spirits are to our's as flames to fire,
More sudden and more perishable too;
So that the gust wherewith the one is kindled
Extinguishes the other. Oh she is fair!
As fair as Heaven to look upon! as fair
As ever vision of the Virgin blest,
That weary pilgrim, resting by the fount
Beneath the palm, and dreaming to the tune
Of flowing waters, duped his soul withal.
It was permitted in my pilgrimage
To rest beside the fount beneath the tree,
Beholding there no vision, but a maid

Whose

« 上一頁繼續 »