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. For me the world is grown too void and cold,
<< Then suddenly I stood a winged Thought
His realm around one mighty Fane is spread,
Calm dwellings of the free and happy dead,
Sometimes between the wide and flowering meadows,
And ever as we sail'd, our minds were full
Of love and wisdom, which would overflow
And in quick smiles whose light would come and go,
Where I am sent to lead! these winged words she said, Survives all mortal change in lasting loveliness.
A TRAGEDY IN FIVE ACTS.
TO LEIGH HUNT, ESQ.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
escape from what she considered a perpetual contamination both of body and mind, at length plotted with her mother-in-law and brother to murder their common tyrant. The young maiden, who was urged to this tremendous deed by an impulse which overpowered its
I INSCRIBE with your name, from a distant country, and horror, was evidently a most gentle and amiable being;
after an absence whose months have seemed years, this the latest of my literary efforts.
Those writings which I have hitherto published, have been little else than visions which impersonate my own apprehensions of the beautiful and the just. I can also perceive in them the literary defects incidental to youth and impatience; they are dreams of what ought to be, or may be. The drama which I now present to you is a sad reality. I lay aside the presumptuous attitude of an instructor, and am content to paint, with such
colours as my own heart furnishes, that which has been.
Had I known a person more highly endowed than yourself with all that it becomes a man to possess, I had
solicited for this work the ornament of his name. One more gentle, honourable, innocent and brave; one of more exalted toleration for all who do and think evil, and yet himself more free from evil; one who knows better how to receive, and how to confer a benefit though he must ever confer far more than he can re
ceive; one of simpler, and, in the highest sense of the word, of purer life and manners I never knew: had already been fortunate in friendships when
name was added to the list.
A MANUSCRIPT was communicated to me during my travels in Italy which was copied from the archives of the Cenci Palace at Rome, and contains a detailed account of the horrors which ended in the extinction of one of the noblest and richest families of that city during the Pontificate of Clement VIII, in the year, 1599. The story is, that an old man having spent his life in debauchery and wickedness, conceived at length an implacable hatred towards his children; which showed itself towards one daughter under the form of an incestuous passion, aggravated by every circumstance of cruelty and violence. This daughter, after long and vain attempts to
a creature formed to adorn and be admired, and thus violently thwarted from her nature by the necessity of covered; and in spite of the most earnest prayers made circumstance and opinion. The deed was quickly disto the Pope by the highest persons in Rome, the criminals were put to death. The old man had during his life repeatedly bought his pardon from the Pope for capital crimes of the most enormous and unspeakable kind, at the price of a hundred thousand crowns; the death therefore of his victims can scarcely be accounted for by the love of justice. The Pope, among other motives for seerity, probably felt that whoever killed the Count Cenci deprived his treasury of a certain and copious source of revenue. The Papal Government formerly took the facts which offer so tragical a demonstration of its own most extraordinary precautions against the publicity of wickedness and weakness; so that the communication of the M. S. had become, until very lately, a matter of some difficulty. Such a story, if told so as to present it, their hopes and fears, their confidences and misto the reader all the feelings of those who once acted acting upon and with each other, yet all conspiring to givings, their various interests, passions and opinions, one tremendous end, would be as a light to make apparent some of the most dark and secret caverns of the human heart.
On my arrival at Rome I found that the story of the Cenci was a subject not to be mentioned in Italian society without awakening a deep and breathless interest; and that the feelings of the company never failed to incline to a romantic pity for the wrongs, and a passionate exculpation of the horrible deed to which they urged her, who has been mingled two centuries with the common dust. All ranks of people knew the outlines of this history, and participated in the overwhelming interest which it seems to have the magic of exciting in the human heart. I had a copy of Guido's picture of Beatrice which is preserved in the Colonna Palace, and my servant instantly recognized it as the portrait of La Cenci.
This national and universal interest which the story produces and has produced for two centuries, and among all ranks of people in a great City, where the imagination is kept for ever active and awake, first suggested to me the conception of its fitness for a dramatic purpose. In fact it is a tragedy which has already received, from its capacity of awakening and sustaining the sympathy of men, approbation and success. Nothing remained, as I imagined, but to clothe it to the apprehensions of my countrymen in such language and action as would bring it home to their hearts. The deepest and the
sublimest tragic compositions, King Lear and the two plays in which the tale of OEdipus is told, were stories which already existed in tradition, as matters of popular belief and interest, before Shakspeare and Sophocles made them familiar to the sympathy of all succeeding generations of mankind.
whole fabric of life. It is adoration, faith, submission, penitence, blind admiration ; not a rule for moral conduct. It has no necessary connexion with any one virtue. The most atrocious villain may be rigidly devout, and, without any shock to established faith, confess himself to be so. Religion pervades intensely the whole frame of society, and is, according to the temper of the mind which it inhabits, a passion, a persuasion, an excuse; a refuge: never a check. Cenci himself built a chapel in the court of his Palace, and dedicated it to St Thomas the Apostle, and established masses for the peace of his soul. Thus in the first scene of the fourth act Lucretia's design in exposing herself to the consequences of an expostulation with Cenci after having administered the opiate, was to induce him by a feigned tale to confess himself before death; this being esteemed by Catholics as essential to salvation; and she only relinquishes her purpose when she perceives that her perseverance would expose Beatrice to new outrages.
I have avoided with great care in writing this play the introduction of what is commonly called mere poetry, and I imagine there will scarcely be found a detached simile or a single isolated description, unless Beatrice's description of the chasm appointed for her father's mur
This story of the Cenci is indeed eminently fearful and monstrous: any thing like a dry exhibition of it on the stage would be insupportable. The person who would treat such a subject must increase the ideal, and diminish the actual horror of the events, so that the pleasure which arises from the poetry which exists in these tempestuous sufferings and crimes, may mitigate the pain of the contemplation of the moral deformity from which they spring. There must also be nothing attempted to make the exhibition subservient to what is vulgarly termed a moral purpose. The highest moral purpose aimed at in the highest species of the drama, is the teaching the human heart, through its sympathies and antipathies, the knowledge of itself; in proportion to the possession of which knowledge, every human being is wise, just, sincere, tolerant, and kind. If dogmas can do more, it is well: but a drama is no fit place for the enforcement of them. Undoubtedly, no person can be truly dishonoured by the act of another;¦der should be judged to be of that nature.' and the fit return to make to the most enormous injuries is kindness and forbearance, and a resolution to convert the injurer from his dark passions by peace and love. Revenge, retaliation, atonement, are perni-illustration of the latter. Imagination is as the immortal cious mistakes. If Beatrice had thought in this manner she would have been wiser and better; but she would never have been a tragic character: the few whom such an exhibition would have interested, could never have been sufficiently interested for a dramatic purpose, from the want of finding sympathy in their interest among the mass who surround them. It is in the restless and anatomizing casuistry with which men seek the justification of Beatrice, yet feel that she has done what needs justification; it is in the superstitious horror with which they contemplate alike her wrongs and their revenge, that the dramatic character of what she did and suffered consists.
In a dramatic composition the imagery and the passion should interpenetrate one another, the former being reserved simply for the full development and
God which should assume flesh for the redemption of mortal passion. It is thus that the most remote and the most familiar imagery may alike be fit for dramatic purposes when employed in the illustration of strong feeling, which raises what is low, and levels to the apprehension that which is lofty, casting over all the shadow of its own greatness. In other respects I have written more carelessly; that is, without an over-fastidious and learned choice of words. In this respect I entirely agree with those modern critics who assert, that in order to move men to true sympathy we must use the familiar language of men; and that our great ancestors the ancient English poets are the writers, a study of whom might incite us to do that for our own age which they have done for theirs. But it must be the real language of men in general and not that of any particular class to whose society the writer happens to belong. So much for what I have attempted: I need not be assured that success is a very different matter; particularly for one whose attention has but newly been awakened to the study of dramatic literature.
I have endeavoured as nearly as possible to represent the characters as they probably were, and have sought to avoid the error of making them actuated by my own conceptions of right or wrong, false or true: thus under a thin veil converting names and actions of the sixteenth century into cold impersonations of my own mind. They are represented as Catholics, and as Catholics deeply tinged with religion. To a protestant apprehension there will appear something unnatural in the I endeavoured whilst at Rome to observe such monuearnest and perpetual sentiment of the relations between ments of this story as might be accessible to a stranger. God and man which pervade the tragedy of the Cenci. The portrait of Beatrice at the Colonna Palace is most It will especially be startled at the combination of an admirable as a work of art: it was taken by Guido durundoubting persuasion of the truth of the popular re-ing her confinement in prison. But it is most interesting ligion, with a cool and determined perseverance in enormous guilt. But religion in Italy is not, as in protestant countries, a cloak to be worn on particular days; or a passport which those who do not wish to be railed at carry with them to exhibit; or a gloomy passion for penetrating the impenetrable mysteries of our being, which terrifies its possessor at the darkness of the abyss to the brink of which it has conducted him. Religion co-exists, as it were, in the mind of an Italian Catholic with a faith in that of which all men have the most certain knowledge. It is interwoven with the
as a just representation of one of the loveliest specimens of the workmanship of Nature. There is a fixed and pale composure upon the features: she seems sad and stricken down in spirit, yet the despair thus expressed is lightened by the patience of gentleness. Her head is bound with folds of white drapery, from which the yellow strings of her golden hair escape, and fall about her neck. The moulding of her face is exquisitely delicate; the eye-brows
An idea in this speech was suggested by a most sublime passage El Purgatorio de San Patricio of Calderon: the only plagiarism which I have intentionally committed in the whole piece.
are distinct and arched: the lips have that permanent meaning of imagination and sensibility which suffering has not repressed, and which it seems as if death scarcely could extinguish. Her forehead is large and clear; her eyes, which we are told were remarkable for their vivacity, are swollen with weeping and lustreless, but beautifully tender and serene. In the whole mien there is a simplicity and dignity which, united with her exquisite loveliness and deep sorrow, are inexpressibly pathetic. Beatrice Cenci appears to have been one of those rare persons in whom energy and gentleness dwell together without destroying one another: her nature was simple and profound. The crimes and miseries in which she was an actor and a sufferer are as the mask and the mantle in which circumstances clothed her for her impersonation on the scene of the world.
An Apartment in the CENCI Palace.
THAT matter of the murder is hush'd up If you consent to yield his Holiness Your fief that lies beyond the Pincian gate.— It needed all my interest in the conclave To bend him to this point: he said that you The Cenci Palace is of great extent; and though in Bought perilous impunity with your gold; part modernized, there yet remains a vast and gloomy That crimes like yours if once or twice compounded pile of feudal architecture in the same state as during Enrich'd the Church, and respited from hell the dreadful scenes which are the subject of this tragedy. An erring soul which might repent and live :The Palace is situated in an obscure corner of Rome, But that the glory and the interest near the quarter of the Jews, and from the upper win-Of the high throne he fills, little consist dows you see the immense ruins of Mount Palatine half With making it a daily mart of guilt hidden under their profuse overgrowth of trees. There So manifold and hideous as the deeds is a court in one part of the palace (perhaps that in Which you scarce hide from men's revolted eyes. which Cenci built the Chapel to St Thomas), supported by granite columns and adorned with antique friezes of fine workmanship, and built up, according to the ancient Italian fashion, with balcony over balcony of open work. One of the gates of the palace formed of immense stones and leading through a passage, dark and lofty and opening into gloomy subterranean chambers, struck me particularly.
Of the Castle of Petrella, I could obtain no further information than that which is to be found in the manuscript.
The third of my possessions-let it go!
Respited from Hell!-So may the Devil
Respite their souls from Heaven. No doubt Pope Clement,
That the apostle Peter and the saints
Will grant for their sake that I long enjoy
Strength, wealth, and pride, and lust, and length of days
Wherein to act the deeds which are the stewards
Of their revenue.-But much yet remains
To which they show no title.
Oh, Count Cenci!
LUCRETIA, Wife of Cenci, and step-mother of his chil- The shame and misery you have written there.
Where is your wife? Where is your gentle daughter?
Do I behold you in dishonour'd age
And in that hope have saved your life three times.
For which Aldobrandino owes you now
A man you knew spoke of my wife and daughter-
I think they never saw him any more.
Thou execrable man, beware!
Nay this is idle-We should know each other.
And vindicate that right with force or guile,
For you give out that you have half reform'd me,
The third of my possessions! I must use
[Looking around him suspiciously.
I think they cannot hear me at that door;
No.-I am what your theologians call
And heard his groans, and heard his children's groans,