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Fri Sep 09, 2011 11:39 am

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Stay there for me! I will not fail.
To meet you in that hollow vale.

[Exequy the death of his wife, by Henry King, Bishop of Chichester.]

Ill-fated and mysterious man! - Bewildered in the glow of your own imagination, and fallen in the flames of your own childhood! In fancy I see you! Once again, your form has risen for me! - Not - oh not as thou - in the cold valley and shadow, but if you would be - squandering away a life of magnificent meditation in that city of dim visions, your own Venice - which is a star-beloved Elysium of the sea, and the large windows of whose Palladian palaces look down with a deep and bitter sense of the secrets of her silent waters. Yes! I repeat - if you would be. There are surely other worlds than this - other thoughts than the thoughts of the masses - other speculations than the speculations of the sophist. Who will call into question your behavior? who blame you for your visionary hours, or termination of these occupations as a wasting away of life, but with the overflow of your everlasting energies?

It was in Venice, under the covered walkway, there is the Ponte di Sospiri, that I met for the third or fourth time the person from whom I speak. It is a confused recollection that I bring to mind the circumstances of that meeting. Yet I remember - ah! How can I forget? - The deep midnight, the Bridge of Sighs, the beauty of women, and the Genius of Romance that stalked up and down the narrow canal.

It was an evening of unusual darkness. The great clock of the Piazza had sounded the fifth hour of the Italian evening. The square of the Campanile lay silent and deserted, and the lights in the old Ducal Palace were dying fast. I was returning home from the Piazzetta, through the Grand Canal. But as my gondola arrived opposite the mouth of the canal San Marco, a female voice from the recesses broke suddenly on the night in a wild, hysterical, and I kept screaming. Startled by the noise, I jumped on my feet: while the gondolier, slip his single oar, lost in the dark pitchy than a chance of recovery, and we were left to the leadership of the current which here sets from the larger ones in the smaller channels. Like a number of large and sable-feathered condor, we were slowly drifting down to the Bridge of Sighs, when a thousand Flambeaux flashing of windows and down the staircases of the Ducal Palace, turned all at once that deep gloom In a furious day and supernatural.

A child, slipping from the arms of her mother, had fallen from an upper window of the lofty structure into the dark and deep moat. The quiet calm waters had closed over their victim, and although my own gondola was the only one in sight, many a strong swimmer, already in the stream, searched in vain on the surface, the treasure, which could be found, alas! only within the abyss. In the broad black marble tiles at the entrance of the palace, and a few steps above the water, stood a figure which none who then saw can have since forgotten. It was the Marchesa Aphrodite adoration of all Venice - the gayest of the gay - the best, where all were beautiful - but still the young wife of the old and intriguing Mentoni, and the mother of that fair child, her first and only , who now deep beneath the murky water, was thinking in bitterness of heart at her sweet caresses, and exhausting its little life in the struggle to call her name.

She stood alone. Her small, bare feet and silver gleamed in the black mirror of marble beneath her. Her hair, yet more than half off for the night from its ball-room array, clustered, amid a shower of diamonds, round and round her classical head, curls like those of the young hyacinth. A snowy-white and gauze-like curtain was almost alone in her delicate form, but the mid-summer and midnight air was hot, sullen, and still, and there is no movement in the frame-like shape itself , stirred even the folds of that raiment of very vapor which hung around it as the heavy marble hangs around the Niobe. But - strange to say! - Her great shining eyes were not turned downwards to the grave, where her brightest hope lay buried - but riveted in a different direction! The prison of the Old Republic, I think, the most elegant building in all Venice - but how could that lady gaze so tightly to it, when beneath her lay stifling her only child? Yon dark, gloomy niche too, yawns right opposite her chamber window - what, then in the shadows - in its architecture - in the ivy-wreathed and solemn cornices - that the Marchesa di Mentoni had not wondered at a thousand times before? Nonsense! - Who does not remember that at such a time as this, the eye, like a broken mirror, multiplies the images of her grief, and sees in innumerable far places, the wo which is close at hand?

Many steps above the Marchesa, and within the arch of the water-gate, stood in full dress, the Satyr-like figure of Mentoni itself. He had occasionally engaged in a roaring guitar, and seemed ennuye the very death, as at intervals he gave directions for the recovery of his child. Stupified and stunned, I had myself no power to the upright position I had taken at the first hearing the cry, and be presented to the eyes of the agitated group a spectral and ominous appearance, as with pale face and limbs I floated down among them in that funereal voice gondola.

All efforts proved in vain. Many of the most energetic in the search were relaxing their efforts, and yielding to a gloomy sorrow. There seemed little hope for the child (! How much less than for the mother), but now, from the interior of that dark niche which has been mentioned as a part of the Old Republican prison, and fronting the lattice of the Marchesa, a figure muffled in a cloak, stepped out within reach of the light, and, pausing a moment on the edge of the giddy descent, plunged headlong into the canal. If, in an instant later, he stood with the still living and breathing child within his reach, on the marble tiles on the part of the Marquise, his cloak, heavy with the soaking water was released, and falling in folds about his feet , discovered the wonder struck spectators the graceful person of a very young man, with the sound of whose name most of Europe was then ringing.

No word spoke the deliverer. But the Marchesa! She will get her child - she will press her heart - she will maintain its small shape and smother it with her caresses. Alas! another's arms have taken from the unknown - another's arms have taken it away and carried it far, unnoticed, into the palace! And the Marchesa! Her lip - her beautiful lip trembles: - ". Soft and almost liquid" tears gathering in her eyes, those eyes which, like Pliny the acanthus, are Yes! tears are gathering in those eyes - and see! The whole woman power in the soul, and the image started in life! The pallor of the marble countenance, the swelling of the marble bosom, the very purity of the marble base, suddenly we behold washed over with a tide of ungovernable crimson, and a slight shudder quivers about her delicate frame, as a gentle air at Napoli about the rich silver lilies in the grass.

Why should that lady blush! On this question, no answer - except that, after leaving in the eager haste and terror of the heart of a mother, the privacy of her own boudoir, she has failed to captivate her little feet in their slippers, and utterly forgotten to throw over her Venetian shoulders that drapery which is their right. What other possible reason could there have been for her so blushing? - For the look of those wild appealing eyes? for the unusual tumult of that throbbing bosom? - For the convulsive pressure of that trembling hand? - That the hand which fell, as Mentoni turned into the palace, accidentally, on the hand of the stranger. What reason could there have been low - the remarkably low tone of those senseless words which the lady hastily said goodbye to offer him? "Thou hast conquered," she said, or the murmur of the water deceived me, "thou hast conquered - one hour after sunrise - we shall meet - so let it be!"

* * *

The tumult had subsided, the lights had died away in the palace, and the stranger, who I recognized, stood alone on the flags. He shook with inconceivable agitation, and his eye glanced around in search of a gondola. I could not do less than offer him the service of my own, and he took the courtesy. After obtaining an oar in the water-gate, we went to his home, but he quickly recovered his composure, and spoke of our former slight acquaintance in terms of great apparent cordiality.

There are a number of themes that I enjoy being minutes. The person of the stranger - let him this title, the world was still a stranger - the person of the stranger is one of these topics. In height he was rather lower than have been above the average size: although there were moments of intense passion when his image really expanded and belied the assertion. The light, almost slender symmetry of his figure, promised more of that ready activity which he evinced at the Bridge of Sighs, than those of Hercules strength he has to use a known without effort, on occasions of more dangerous emergency. The mouth and chin of a deity - singular, wild, full, liquid eyes, whose shadows varied from pure hazel to intense and brilliant jet - and an abundance of curly black hair, from which a forehead of unusual breadth again shone intermittently all light and ivory - his were features than which I have seen none more classically regular, except, perhaps, the marble of the emperor Commodus. Yet his face was nevertheless one of those people have all seen at some period of their lives, and have never seen again. It was not special - they had no settled predominant expression to be attached to the memory, a vision appeared and instantly forgotten - but forgotten with a vague and never-ending desire to recall to mind. Not that the spirit of each rapid passion failed, at any time in its own image cast on the mirror of that face - but the mirror, mirror-like, retained no trace of passion, when the passion was gone.

Upon leaving him on the night of our adventure, he asked me what I thought an urgent manner, to call upon him very early the next morning. Shortly after sunrise, I found myself so at his Palazzo, one of the major structures of the dark, yet fantastic pomp, which tower above the waters of the Grand Canal near the Rialto. I was shown a broad winding staircase of mosaics, into an apartment whose unparalleled splendor burst through the open door with an actual glare, making me blind and dizzy opulence.

I knew that my knowledge rich. Report had spoken of his possessions in terms that I had even ventured to call terms of ridiculous exaggeration. But when I looked about me, I could not count myself to believe that the wealth of any subject in Europe this regal beauty that burned and burned around have made.

Although, as I said, the sun was created, but the room was still brilliantly lighted. I judge from this circumstance, as well as from an air of exhaustion in the face of my friend, that he had retired to bed during the whole of the previous night. In architecture and decoration of the room were obviously design to dazzle and amaze. Little attention was paid to the decoration of what is technically called keeping, or decency of nationality. The eye wandered from object to object, and rested upon none - neither the grotesqueness of the Greek painters, nor the images of the best Italian days, nor the huge carvings of unskilled Egypt. Rich curtains in every part of the room trembled to the vibration of low, melancholy music, whose origin was not to be discovered. The senses were oppressed by mingled and conflicting perfumes, stinking up strange convolute censers, together with the flaring and flickering tongues many of emerald and violet fire. The rays of the newly risen Sun poured in on the whole, through windows formed each of a single pane of crimson-tinted glass. Look back and forth in a thousand reflections, from curtains which rolled from their cornices like cataracts of molten silver, the beams of natural glory mingled extensively disturbed by artificial light, and was welt ring in subdued masses on a carpet of rich, liquid-looking cloth Chilean gold.

"Ha ha ha -! Ha ha ha!" - The owner laughed, gestured me to a chair when I entered the room, and throwing himself back at full length on a footstool. "I see," he said, perceiving that I could not immediately me reconcile the bien seance of so singular a welcome - "I see you're surprised at my apartment to my pictures - my pictures - my originality of conception in architecture and upholstery! absolutely drunk, eh, my beauty? But I forgive, my dear sir, (here the tone of his voice fell to the spirit of cordiality,) pardon me for my uncharitable laughter. You seemed so utterly astonished. Besides, some things are. so completely ridiculous that a man must laugh or die to die laughing, the most glorious of all glorious death, Sir Thomas More - a very fine man was Sir Thomas More - Sir Thomas More died laughing, you remember in.. the absurdities of Ravisius Textor, there is a long list of characters who came to the same great end You know, "he continued thoughtfully," that at Sparta (which is now Palæ, ochori,) at Sparta, I say , west of the citadel, among a chaos of scarcely visible ruins, is a kind of pedestal, which is still legible the letters 7! = 9. They are undoubtedly part of the 7! = 9!. Now, at Sparta were a thousand temples and shrines in a thousand different gods. How very strange that the altar of Laughter should have survived all others! But in this case, "he resumed, with a special change of voice and manner," I have .. . no right to be happy at your expense you might just be surprised as fine as anything Europe can produce them, my little regal cabinet My other apartments are by no means the same order of only -. ultras of fashionable insipidity This is better than fashion - it is not, but this should be seen for the anger to be - that is, those who could afford the expense of their entire heritage, I have kept, but against such a desecration With .. an exception, you're the only person besides me and my servant, who has been admitted into the mysteries of the imperial court, for they are bedizzened as you see! "

I bowed in acknowledgment - for the overpowering sense of splendor and perfume, and music, along with the unexpected eccentricity of his address and manner, prevented me from expressing, in words, my appreciation for what I could have conceived a compliment.

"Here," he resumed, arising and leaning on my arm as he sauntered around the apartment, "here are paintings from the Greeks to Cimabue, and from Cimabue to the present hour. Many are chosen, as you see, with little respect for the opinions of Virtu .. They are, however, fitting tapestry for a room like this Here are some chefs d'oeuvre of the great unknown, and here unfinished designs by men, celebrated in their day, whose very . names the perspicacity of the academies has left to silence me and what do you think, "he said suddenly as he spoke -" what do you think of this Madonna della Pieta "?

"It is Guido's own!" I said, with all the enthusiasm of my nature, for I had carefully examined her surpassing beauty. "It is Guido's own - how would you obtain? - She is undoubtedly in painting what the Venus is in sculpture."

"! Ha," he said reflectively, "the Venus - the beautiful Venus - the Venus of the Medici -? Them from the small head and the gilded hair part of the left arm (here his voice dropped so to be heard with difficulty,) and the right are restorations, and the coquetry of that right arm lies, I think, the essence artificiality of all Give me the Canova The Apollo is a copy - there can be no doubt about it.! it -! blind fool that I am unable to watch the famous inspiration of the Apollo I can not help - pity me -. I can not help choose the Antinous Was it not Socrates who said the statue statues are found in the block of marble? When Michael Angelo was by no means original in his couplet -

"Non ha l'ottimo Artista alcun Concetto
Marmo che un solo se non circunscriva. ""

It is, or should be noted that, in the manner of the true gentleman, we are always aware of a difference with the bearing of the vulgar, without at once able to determine exactly what such a difference exists. Allowing the remark to have applied in its full force to the outward attitude of my knowledge, I felt it, on that memorable morning, still fully applicable to his moral temperament and character. Nor can I better define that peculiarity of spirit which seemed to him instead, so essentially apart from all other human beings, than by calling it a habit of intense and continual thought, pervading even his most trivial actions penetrate at times of flirtation - and interweaving itself with his very flashes of merriment - like adders which writhe from the eyes of the grinning masks in the cornices around the temples of Persepolis.

I could not help, repeatedly observing, through the mixed tone of levity and solemnity with which he quickly descanted on matters of little importance, a certain air of trepidation - a degree of nervous unction in action and in speech - an unquiet excitability in ways that seemed to me at any time irresponsible, and on some occasions, even filled me with alarm. Often pause in the middle of a sentence whose commencement he had apparently forgotten, he seemed to listen in the deepest attention, as if in temporary or expectation of a visiter, or sounds that must have had existence in his imagination alone.

It was during one of these reveries or pauses of apparent abstraction, that, in turning over a page of the poet and scholar Politian beautiful tragedy "The Orfeo," (the first native Italian tragedy,) which lay near me on an ottoman, I discovered a passage underlined in pencil. It was a passage towards the end of the third act - a passage of the most heart-stirring excitement - a passage which, although contaminated with impurity, no man shall read without a thrill of novel emotion - no woman without a sigh. The entire page is wiped with fresh tears, and, on the opposite Interleaf, the following rules of English, written in a hand so different from the special character of my knowledge, I have some difficulty in recognizing as his own was: -

Thou wast that all to me, love,
For which my soul did pine A green island in the sea, love,
A fountain and a shrine,
All wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers;
And all the flowers were mine.
Ah, dream too bright to last!
Ah, starry Hope, that have created
But to clear!
A voice from the Future cries,
"Forward!" - But o'er the Past
(Dim golf!) My spirit hovering lies
Mute - motionless - shocked!
For alas! alas! me
The light of life is o'er.
"No more - no more - no more,"
(Such language holds the solemn sea
To the sand on the beach)
Will bloom the thunder-blasted tree,
Or the stricken eagle soar!
Now all my hours of his trance;
And all my dreams at night
Where the dark moments,
And when your footstep gleams,
In what ethereal dances,
By what Italian streams.
Alas! for that accursed time
They wore you o'er the waves,
From Love to titled age and crime,
And an unholy pillow! From me, and our foggy climate,
Where weeps the silver willow!

That these lines were written in English - a language I had not believed the author acquainted - gave me much for the surprise. I was too aware of the extent of his gifts, and the singular pleasure he took in concealing them from observation, to be surprised at a similar discovery, but instead of the date, I must confess, caused me no little surprise . It was originally written in London and then carefully overscored - not as effective as the word of a microscope eye to hide. I say, this caused me not a little surprised because I remember that, in a former conversation with a friend, I asked specifically if he at any time met in London the Marchesa di Mentoni, (which for several years prior to her marriage had resided in that city,) when his answer, if I recall correctly, I got to understand that he never had the metropolis of Great Britain visited. I might as well mention here, that I more than once heard, (without, of course, giving credit to a report with so many improbabilities,) that the person from whom I speak, not only by birth, but education, an Englishman.

* * *

"There is a painting," he said, without being aware of my knowledge of the tragedy - "there's a painting that you have not seen." And throwing aside a drapery, he discovered a full-length portrait of the Marchesa Aphrodite.

Human art could have done no more in the delineation of her superhuman beauty. The same ethereal figure which stood before me the previous night on the steps of the Ducal Palace, stood before me again. But in the expression of the face, it was all over with a radiant smile, there still lurked (incomprehensible anomaly!) That restless stain of melancholy which will ever be found inseparable from the perfection of the beautiful. Her right arm lay folded over her bosom. With her left she pointed downward to a curiously fashioned vase. A small, fairy foot, alone visible, barely touched the earth, and, scarcely discernible in the brilliant atmosphere which seemed to surround and lay her loveliness, floated a few of the most delicate imaginary wings. My gaze fell on the painting to the figure of my friend, and the powerful words of Chapman's Bussy d'Amboise, my lips quivered instinctively:

"He is up
There like a Roman statue! He will be
Till Death has made him marble! "

"Come," he finally said, turning to a table of richly enamelled and massive silver, which had a few cups fantastic color, along with two large Etruscan vases, formed in the same extraordinary model as that in the foreground of the portrait, and filled with what I should be St. John Berger. "Come," he said suddenly, "let us drink it is still early - but let us drink it is really early." He continued thoughtfully, like a cherub with a heavy golden hammer made the apartment ring with the first hours after sunrise: "It is indeed early - but what is important to let us drink Let us pour out an offering to solemn Sun which these gaudy lamps and censers so eager to subdue yon," and has made me promise him a bumper, swallowed He rapidly several cups of wine.

"When you dream," he continued, resuming the tone of his incoherent conversation, pointing to the rich light of a censer one of the magnificent vases - "to dream is the company of my life I have therefore framed for myself. As you can see, a bower of dreams. At the heart of Venice could I have a better set? You look around you, it's true, a medley of architectural embellishments. The chastity of Ionia is offended by antediluvian devices, and the Sphinx of Egypt are outstretched in the carpet of gold, but the effect is illogical to the timid alone Proprieties of place, and especially of the time, the Bugbear that terrify mankind from the contemplation of the beautiful Once I was myself a ,..., deco series but that sublimation of folly has palled upon my soul. That is now the fitter for my purpose. Like this Arabesque censers, my spirit is writhing in the fire, and the delirium of this scene is fashioning me for the wilder visions of that land of real dreams whither I am now rapidly departing. "Here he paused abruptly, bent his head to his chest, and seemed to listen to a sound I could not hear. Finally, building his frame, he looked up and called the lines of the Bishop of Chichester:

"Stay there for me, I will not fail
To meet you in that hollow vale. "

In the next instant, confessing the power of the wine, he threw himself at full length on a footstool.

A quick step was heard on the stairs now, and a loud knock at the door rapidly succeeded. I hastened to half fault when a page of the household Mentoni the cracks in the room, and staggered out with a voice choked with emotion response, the incoherent words: "My mistress -! My mistress - Poisoned - poisoned Oh, beautiful - oh beautiful Aphrodite! "

Bewildered, I flew to the ottoman, and endeavored to arouse the sleeper to a sense of the startling intelligence. But his limbs were rigid - his lips were very - have recently shining eyes riveted in death. I stumbled back to the table - my hand fell upon a cracked and blackened goblet - and an awareness of the full and terrible truth flashed suddenly over my soul.



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