Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

Certain pon

himself, with the rudeness of a monk con around the Capitol its gray billows of houses, temptuous of women. The chapel was empty. like a dirty sea after a storm. He darted out of the confessional, and with derous monuments rose above the rest here a terrible voice, a magnificent tragic movement and there. Their wet roofs shone feebly in of his great sleeves, exclaimed : Madame de the dawn.” Maucroix ! Understand ! I forbid you to intrude into my life as a priest and interfere

“Let us pray for our brothers ! " in matters which concern Heaven and myself alone.' And he quitted the chapel with

says an aged priest in the company ; majestic step.

and at tbat moment the magistrates “Madame de Maucroix sank upon the pave entrusted with the execution of capital ment. Next day, broken down with grief and sentences emerge from the prison. quite prepared to humiliate herselt, she re

The Christians enter. The head and turned to the convent. The porter informed her that Father Montarcy was absent. The

trunk of the grey - haired consular, Prior, whom she asked to see, announced in Flavius Clemens, are lying there. A freezing tones that he was departed for the patch of blood glistens on the ground Tyrol, where he purposed to spend some

beside him. months in a convent recently founded. She

One of the Christians understood that all was over. She possessed

dips in it the corner of a white linen in Sologne a little old country-house, and cloth, which he folds carefully and thither she took refuge. There she lived for a hides within his tunic. In the next year amid the melancholy of the pinewoods, of the violet heaths and motionless meres

cell lay the corpse of a

man still stained with blood at sunset, passing her days young.

He seemed to have died a in the practice of a minute and mechanical natural death. Even in death his devotion, sleepily plucking the beads of her fine but enigmatic features wore an rosary, chilled, without thoughts, with tearless eyes. In truth, she was dying day by day

air of irony and pride. “The body of of an affection of the liver, aggravated suddenly

Marcus Annæus Serenus !” cries the by her recent emotions. When she saw that gaoler. “He was found dead this her end was near, she begged the sister who morning. The triumvirs thought it nursed her to write to Father Montarcy that

not worth while to decapitate a dead she was going to die. Actually she died next day, and the Father's answer came too late.

body. It is thought he died of poison." It was wanting in simplicity, though perhaps The rude face of the aged priest connot in sincerity : ‘My mother ! my mother! tracted suddenly with a look of all is forgotten. Ah! often have I wept in

surprise, of pain and indignation. the presence of Heaven,' &c., &c.

It was signed, 'Your son.'

Through the midst of the • The good sister, who received the letter, temptuous bystanders the bodies are thought she might open it, and felt somewhat reverently borne away along the Apsurprised and scandalised.

pian Way, well described by M. The peculiar sense of irony which is Lemaitre, to a vast subterranean chamthe closing effect of every one of these

ber, the tomb of Flavius Clemens, where shorter pieces is also the prevailing

the priest Timotheus remains alone for note of Serenus—that more lengthy

a time with the sacred remains. As and weighty narrative, which gives he gazes on the face of Serenus with a pame to the whole volume. It em

look “keen and persistent, as if he bodies the imaginary confession of a would have fathomed to its depths supposed Christian martyr, who was not the mysterious soul which dwelt no in reality a Christian at all, who had in longer in that elegant form,” his hand truth died by his own hand.

rests for a moment on the bosom of At daybreak, on a morning of March, the corpse.

the corpse. He feels something below A.D. 90, a group of Christians bas come

the silken tunic-a roll of parchment. to the Mamertine prison to receive the

He recognises the handwriting of bodies of certain criminals condemned

Serenus. But the characters are small to death.

and fine, impossible to read in that

feeble light. Hardly pausing to cover “It was cold : small rain was falling : towards the pale face, he hastens from the sepulthe east the sky was tinged with an impure and ghastly yellow. The Eternal City,

chre, and returns with the manuscript emerging from the shadows of night, unrolled to his sordid lodging in Rome. Here he

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

draws forth and reads with eagerness lowed by the wind from time to time, allowed the confessions of Serenus.

the horrible faces to be seen, with great open

mouths, though one could not hear the cries. “It is folly perhaps to undertake this con A stench of burnt flesh filled the air. I had a fession. Either it will not be read, or it will nervous attack and was carried home half dead. distress those who read it. Still, it may be, The shock had been too great ; and although that in recounting my story to myself for the at that age the most painful impressions are last time, I shall justify myself in my own quickly effaced, something of it remained with eyes.

Some worthy souls have loved me, but me-a languor of spirit at certain moments, none have really known me. Now, thvugh for a melancholy, an indolence of pulse, rare in a a long time past it has been my pride to live in child." myself, to be impenetrable to every one beside, my secret weighs upon me to-day. A

This was on one side : on the other certain regret comes to me (it is almost remorse) were the varied intellectual interests that I have played so successfully the singular offered to a reflective mind in that part which circumstances and my own curiosity have in posed upon me; and I should wish, by

curious, highly educated, wistful age. way of persuading myself that I could not

In a few effective but sparing traits have acted otherwise, to take up the entire Serenus depicts his intellectual course, chain of my thoughts and actions from my

through the noble dreams of a chaste earliest days to the day on which I am to die.”

Stoicism, through the exquisite material It is a charming figure, certainly, voluptuousness of Epicureanism when which Serenus displays, rich with intel

the natural reaction had come, until, lectual endowments, and a heart that, having exhausted experience, as he amid all the opportunities for cor fancies, he proposes to die. ruption which could beset a fortunate It was an age in which people had patrician in the days of Domitian, carried the art of enjoyment to its never loses its purity to the last height. affectionate, reflective, impressible

“Never before, I think, has the world seen, by pity, with “the gift of tears.”

never again will it see, so small a number of And here is one of his earliest persons absorb and occupy for their own uses experiences.

so large a number of human lives. Some of

my friends had as many as three thousand I was twelve years old when the great fire slaves, and hardly knew the real extent of destruyed one-half of Rome and threw more their riches. And the science of pleasure was than a hundred thousand people on the pave on a level with the resources at its disposition. ments. During two or three years, in spite of Many successive generations of a privileged the enormous distributions of money and bread class had made a study of the means of refining, ordered by the emperor, the misery in Rome varying, multiplying, agreeable sensations. was fearful. The spectacle of so much unde Posterity, assuredly, will hardly couceive the served suffering wounded my heart incurably. kind of life which some of us have known and I conceived a lively notion of the injustice of practised. But as the future will not easily things and the absurdity of men's destinies. imagine the intensity of our physical pleasures, I found it unjust that my father should be the perhaps it willeven less understand the depth of possessor of five hundred slaves while so many our satiety. It will be surprised, in reading our poor people were dying of hunger. I

gave chronicles, at the number of those who in this away all the money I could dispose of. But, ave have committed suicide. After fifteen years with the stiff logic of my age, I considered that of a revel, refined and coarse by turns, my body no thanks were due to me, and avoided people's exhausted, my senses dulled, my heart void to effusive thanks, the coarseness of which shocked the bottom of all belief, and even of illusion, the fine taste of my aristocratic youth. One what was I to do in the world ? It figured to day my tutor took me to a grand festival me as a ridiculous spectacle, and interested me which Nero gave to the people in his gardens. no longer. I had retained that native sweetTo divert the anger of the populace, which ness of temper which came to me from my accused him of being the author of the con father, but only because I found it pleasant flagration, he had caused some hundreds of to be kind ; and even that too was come to be Christians to be arrested. The majority of inditferent to me. For the rest, public employthem had been thrown to the beasts in the ments had become sordid things of purchase, and circus : others, arrayed in sacks steepel in I loathed every form of activity. "I languished resin, were attached to tall stakes at intervals in an immense, an incurable ennui, and having along the broad pathways. At nightfall fire no further motive to live, I wished to die. was applied to them. The crowds pressed with Death had no fears for me. It was the great loud vociferations around the living torches. deliverer. Ouly, I desired to die without The flame which enveloped the culprits, hol suffering.”

The would-be suicide is saved from death by the intervention, at the last moment, of his sister, the youthful Serena, in the retired life of a young orphan girl scarcely known by him hitherto; and her subsequent devotion during the long illness which follows touches him deeply. In reality her devotion is due in part to a motive higher than natural sisterly devotion. On the part of Serenus also, there was something deeper than merely fraternal affection.

"My dear Serenus,' said my sister, as we departed, 'You have now seen what the Christians are. You will love them more and more in proportion as you come to know them. You are unhappy, as I well know. You must become a Christian. The Truth is there. There, also, is the secret of consolation.'

“I will think of it, Serena.'

“It was love of a peculiar kind, such as I had never before experienced in the faintest degree. Serena was so different from all the women I had ever known. It seemed to me that that love evoked from the depths of my past life and brought to new birth within me what had been lost in my earlier days, those ardours of the youthful sage aspiring towards an absolute purity. Then, in proportion as I recovered my mental vigour, my old curiosity returned ; and little by little I introduced into this ardent affection for my sister, the attentive mood of an observer, attracted by the spectacle of an extraordinary soul.

“One day Serena said to me, “Will you give me a great pleasure? Come with me to-morrow morning where I shall take you.'

“I will go where you will, Serena.'

In fact, he takes pains to inform himself on the matter, interested at finding many a familiar thought of ancient pagan wisdom in a new setting. Yes !

“All the virtues which the pagan philo. sophers had already known and preached seemed to me among the disciples of Christ to have been transformed by a sentiment absolutely new-a love of a God who was man, a God crucified-a love burning, full of sensibility, of tears, of confidence, of hope. Clearly, neither the personification of the forces of nature, nor the abstract deity of the Stoics, had ever inspired anything like this. And this love of God, the origin of, and first step towards, all other Christian virtues, communicated to them a purity and sweetness, an unction, and, as it were, a perfume, such as I had never breathed before.'

Serena takes him to see the ceremonies of the Eucharist in a Christian oratory.

[blocks in formation]

I perceived among the company assembled the consul of that year, Flavius Clemens-a circumstance which explained the fact that this meeting took place in one of the burial places of his family. I recognised the wife of Clemensand his niece, and Paulina, the widow of Seneca, pale for ever from having followed her husband more than half way on the road to death. They were deeply veiled. At last I saw in the front rank Acte, the former mistress of Nero, the former friend of my father, still beautiful in spite of her fifty years, but with a little of the cosmetic art, methinks. The rest of the company appeared to be composed of poor people and slaves."

“ The idea which my new brethren entertained of the world about us, and of our life here, jarred upon I know not what sentiment of nature within me. In spite of my own persistent pessimism, I was displeased that men should so despise the only mode of life, after all, of which we are certain. I found them, moreover, far too simple-minded, closed against all artistic impressions, limited, inelegant. Or, perhaps, a certain anxiety awaking in me, I feared for the mischief which might be caused to the empire by a conception of life such as that, if it continued to spreada detachment such as theirs from all civil duties, all profane occupations. Sometimes I was decidedly wjust to them. The religious after-thought which the Christians mingled with their affections, by way of purifying them, seemed to me to chill those affections, in depriving them of their natural liberty, their grace, their spontaneity. To be loved only as redeemed by Christ, and in regard of my eternal salvation, made my heart cold. And

[blocks in formation]

con

then it shocked me that these saintly people rigorous in his zeal. He would have should feel so sure of so many things, and Serenus receive baptism, or depart things so wonderful, while I, for my part, had searched so carefully without finding, had

entirely from the church. It takes doubted so much in my life, and finally made Serenus some time to explain away a pride of my unbelief."

his scruples regarding what seems at

first sight an act of hypocrisy. And But, inconsistently enough, he is

then the trial comes. Partly on the offended at times by the survival of

ground of their religious belief, mainly many a human weakness among the

for an affront to the Emperor, the believers. The consul Clemens, among those brothers who were all equal arrested.

chief members of the community are

Serenus has said adieu to before Heaven, was treated with marked

his sister. He is in prison, awaiting consideration, and welcomed it. Slaves

his end. were still slaves. The woman were rivals for the special attention of the “My gaoler is a good-natured fellow. I had priests. Acte, once the mistress of about me the means of writing, and he has Nero, somewhat exaggerated her piety,

procured me a lamp. He informs me that the

executioner will come about the hour of dayand still retained also many of her break. I have been writing all the night. former artificial manners.

My last link to life is broken ; and death, be

it annihilation, be it the passage to a world “In spite of those little weaknesses, what unknown, has no terrors for me. I have regood, what beautiful souls, I came across there ! placed myself almost exactly in the state of In vain I saiil to myself, these holy persons mind in which I was last year, when I deterare making a bargain ; they reckon on Paradise; mined to die in my baih. But at this last it is in vi-w of a reward that they practise the moment a dread has come upon me for a death most sublime virtues. But to believe at all which soils and disfigures : 1 fear the stroke of in that distant far-off recompense, is not this the axe, which may fail in its aim. In my too itself an act of virtue, since it involves time the science of poisons has reached a high belief in the justice of God, and a perfection, and the hollow pearl in my ring ception of Him, as being that which He contains a colourless drop of liquid which will ought to be?

destroy me in a few minutes, almost without

pain. I have seen the honours Christians pay to And noting sometimes the ardent the burial-place wherein rest the remains of quality of their faith and its appro

the victims of Nero. They will honour me

also as one of their saints. l'an I, at this late priateness to human needs, the needs

hour, undeceive them ? But for what purpose ? especially of the poor and suffering,

I am willing they should guess the fact of my Serenus could not but feel that the suicide, that they should read my confession; future would be with them. If the yet I will do nothing to that end ; for if Serena empire failed, the religion of Christ

knew how I died, in what condition of un

belief, her grief would be too great for her. would flourish on its ruins. Then,

For the rest, I have good hope that Timotheus, what sort of a thing would that new who has no love for me, will allow only a humanity be? More virtuous, doubt limited form of reverence to be paid to my less, and therefore happier, since

bones ; and if some simple hearts revere me happiness comes of the soul; on the

more than I deserve, again what does it

matter? It is their faith will be reckoned to other hand, he thinks (mistakenly, as them, not the merits of the saint they will we know, looking backwards on the invoke. And then, after all, it is not a bad length and breadth of Christian his man whose memory they will honour. I have tory) with less art, and less elegance

sincerely sought for truth. I forced myself in

youth to attain to sanctity as I conceived it. of soul, a feebler understanding of the And if I have been indolent, weak, voluptuous beautiful.

-if I have dore little for other people-at Presently, a certain change takes

least I have always had great indulgence for place in the life of the Christian com

them, a great pity." munity. The influence of Calixtus, a The austere Timotheus, full of priest of the sweeter and more lenient suspicion, pored for hours over the type, is superseded by that of Timo manuscript, which was clear enough theus, lately returned to Rome-a man at the beginning. But the scholarly sincerely good, but narrow-minded and Latin of the young patrician was not

always intelligible to him, towards the passed we are told, in 1793, into the end the handwriting became confused, public library of Beaugency, where it and he remained still in doubt regard was found and read by our author. ing the precise character of the death The reputation of Saint Marc the of Serenus. He might have confided Roman maintained itself till far onthe confession to a more expert reader; wards in the Middle Ages. His but, though profoundly curious on the miracles, like himself of old, were matter, he feared a possible scandal. always considerate, always full of More than suspicious, he would fain “indulgence." allow Serenus the benefit of such doubt The same sort of irony, ther, makes as remained. If he had not died for itself felt, as the final impression of Christ, at least he had been condemned the history of Serenus--the same sort because of Him; and, perhaps, even of irony as that which shaped the at the last moment, some sudden fortunes of M. Lemaitre's other illumination, some gleam of faith had characters—the worthiest of all the come to him. For a moment he thought sisters, who fails to get married : the of burning the manuscript ; but a cer mother who embraces the wrong intain sense of respect for the dead fant: Boun, with her gift of the fairy's restrained him. He replaced the ring, whose last, best miracle of assistmanuscript in a fold of the tunic: ance is but to restore her again to the “Let his sin, or his innocence, remain simplicity of mind and body in which with him. God! who judgest the it had found her. “ She has this heart, I recommend my brother to irony-Dame Nature !"--and in the your goodness!”

recognition of it, supplemented by a It is about eight hundred years later keen sense of what should be the comthat we find Serenus again-Marcus plementary disposition on man's part, Annæus Serenus, by the designation of is the nearest approach which our his tombstone in the catacombs, -as author makes to a philosophy of life. Saint Marc le Romain, at Beaugency- Nature, circumstance, is far from sur-Loire, whither his precious relics pitiful, abounds in mockeries, ip have been brought from Rome by the bafiling surprises and misadventures, Abbot Angelran. Among those relics like a cynical person amused with the tbe Abbot had discovered the manu distresses of children. Over against script, and confided it, still intact, to that cynical humour, it may be our the most learned member of the Bene part to promote in life the mood of the dictine community over which he kindly person, still regarding people presided. With him those old doubts very much as children, but, like of Timotheus became certainty. With Serenus, with “a great pity for them, much labour he deciphers the writing, a great indulgence." and discovers that the supposed martyr M. Lemaitre has many and varied had died a pagan.

interests, a marked individuality of But Saint Marc the Roman had his own amid them all, and great already become popular, and worked literary accomplishments. His success miracles. The learned monk was un in the present volume might well enwilling to trouble the minds of the courage him to undertake a work of faithful, to gratify, moreover, the larger scope,—to add to his other monks of a rival house. Still, he lacked excellent gifts, in the prolonged treatthe

courage to destroy a document so ment of some one of those many insingular, and hid the manuscript in a terests, that great literary gift of corner of the monastic library. It patience.

1

« VorigeDoorgaan »