« PreviousContinue »
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan ;
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards.
But here there is no light,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs ;
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
And mid-May's eldest child,
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
To take into the air my quiet breath ;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
In such an ecstacy!
No hungry generations tread thee down ;
In ancient days by emperor and clown :
The same that oft-times hath
To toll me back from thee to my sole self !
As she is famed to do, deceiving elf.
In the next valley-glades :
ONE NIGHT IN ROME.
From “ Fragments and Fictions."
Know'st thou the pile the colonnade sustains,
DURING those extraordinary times when Nero wantoned in every species of atrocity, a young man, by name Agenor, was brought up in one of the provinces of Italy. He lost both his parents, and finding himself his own master, set out to visit Rome.
It was at dusk, after a fatiguing journey, when he first made his approach to that immense labyrinth of wonders and of crimes. Lights were seen scattered over all the city. The sound of chariot wheels, vociferations, and musical instruments, reached him before his entry, and soon after stunned him, in passing along the streets, where senators and women of rank, flamens, gladiators, knights, thieves, matrons, orators, and debauchees, were strolling together in companies, and conversing in a thousand different tones, of drunkenness, derision, kind. ness, resentment, vulgarity, and high-breeding. In short it was the festival of Cybele, the mother of the gods, and all Rome was in an up
Our youth feels abashed in the metropolis. The number of countenances that wear a look of intelligence
and penetration, without any stamp of moral goodness, dismays and confounds him. He falls into reveries upon the subject and tries to conceive what style of manners would best protect him from ridicule in dealing with such men; or how he could endeavour to match their shrewdness, when it was acompanied by no respect for justice or truth.
In the mean time, a scuffle, took place among some slaves. One of them was wounded, and retired among the pillars of a temple, where he lay down, without receiving the least notice or comfort from any passenger. Agenor went up to the spot and spoke to him. After enquiring into the nature of his hurt, he learnt the name and abode of his master, who was a prætor, and whom he next went to seek, for the purpose of procuring assistance.
It was a magnificent house to which the slave had directed him. The master was out at supper, but his lady was giving an entertainment in his absence, and ere long came in person to learn what intelli. gence our youth had to communicate. She was a noble figure, had some beauty, with a gay look, and an eye full of a thousand meanings. While Agenor was telling his story, she regarded him attentively. Indeed his cheek had a fine bloom, and his locks were as rich and exuber. ant as what we now behold on the forehead of the charming Antinous. As for his manner, it implied the most unbroken simplicity, so that after giving orders for bringing home the wounded slave, she begged in a matronly tone, that he would come up stairs, and partake of a repast along with some of her friends, “ because,” added she, with a smile, - it is the festival of Cybele.” Agenor complied.
There was a good deal of company in her saloon, Among others, a centurion, who did not appear so devout as Cornelius ; an old senator, toothless and half-blind ; a Greek belonging to the theatre ; several married women of the city : And a beautiful young girl, with dark
eyes and modest lips, whose name was Phrosine, a niece of their absent host.
It was upon this young person that our hero's thoughts were principally fixed during supper : although the lady of the livuse never allowed much time to pass without asking him some question, or sending a smile to meet his eye as it wandered over the table; and although she presented him with a sweatmeat, where there was a sprig of myrtle floating in the juice. Phrosine spoke little, but Agenor could observe she never missed any thing he said. This made him talk with animation, and gave his voice that sort of mellowness which quiets the female bosom into a delicious languor, while it penetrates to its very core. An easy gaiety prevailed throughout the company. The perfumes which were burnt in the chamber, together with the occasional strains of music performed by attendants, operated in producing that luxurious indolence which is averse to any sort of contention. Every disagreeable thought was turned aside by some dexterous pleasantry. No altercation had time to occur before it was solved by a jest. The choicest wines of the prætor were circulated with a liberal hand; and the old senator, from time to time, poured forth unmeaning gallantries without knowing exactly to whom they were addressed. Agenor began to perceive the beauty of nonsense, which is almost the only thing that can relax the vigilance of our self love, and enable us to live harmoni. ously together.
In the mean time, a great deal of gossip took place among the married women. Nero's conduct was examined with freedom ; but more
as an object of ridicule than of detestation. The Greek enlarged upon some fine panthers then at the circus. The centurion drank assiduously, and lay in watch for any ambiguities of language that might happen to drop from the company. These he regularly followed up with such remarks as implied his adoption of their worst meaning ; and he shewed an expertness in this exercise, which long practice only could have taught him. Indeed not one sentence escaped from the senator which he did not mould into some equivocal declaration or proposal. The reverend father himself had no suspicion of this, although shouts of laughter were constantly breaking forth among the male part of the company; and therefore he continued slowly bungling forward from one subject to another, while the long chasms between his ideas were filled up and garnished by the centurion, at his own discretion. In those days an old senator was considered as the finest butt in the world.
When the party broke up, Agenor came near Phrosine, and said, for the pleasure of speaking to her, “ How long does the festival of Cybele continue !” Any question will serve to accompany the looks of a lover. Phrosine replied, “ Only two days more ; but in that time you will see much of the nature of Rome;” and then added with a girlish ignorance of her own feelings, “ What a pleasant companion that old senator is ; I never spent a night so happily." “ Nor I," said Agenor, who knew the reason better.
A servant was waiting at the door of the saloon. Agenor followed him ; but instead of being shewn down to the street as he expected, he was left in a solitary chamber, enriched with furniture and paintings of exquisite beauty. Here was an ivory couch, lined with purple ; two Etruscan vases full of roses ; and a Cupid of Parian marble, by one of the first sculptors in Greece. The paintings were all of an amorous description." Satyrs gambolled along the walls, and thoughtless nymphs
were soon very much exposed among the dark recesses of an ancient forest. Agenor endeavoured to find out the meaning of his situation, but could not. Presently the prætor's wife entered. She took his hand with much cordiality, and said, “My dear Agenor, pardon me for this detention. I cannot let you depart, without some ad. vice concerning the perils of this bad city; for I perceive you are a stranger. Young men sometimes endeavour to get near the Emperor in public places, in order to see his person. Beware of doing so. It is impossible to say what might happen if you should attract his notice ; for his power is absolute, and mischief is always in his thoughts. Do not associate with gladiators and charioteers, who seldom leave an obolus in the pockets of their companions ; nor with Greeks, who are sad impostors. Again, your handsome person may chance to captivate some of our matrons, who love gallantry : but although they should smile on you from their windows, and beckon with a look of insinua. tion, do not stop to talk with them; otherwise you will get entangled in a thousand scrapes. You will be left in the lurch, while they go to intrigue with some other person. Avoid all this, and come often back to visit me,” said the prætor's wife, laying her hand upon his shoulder : « Be assured I will prove as good a friend as can be met with in Rome.”
Agenor was a good deal astonished. Perhaps he would have been at a loss what to say ; but the prætor himself was that moment heard lumbering up stairs, and hemming at intervals, in a state of intoxication. His wife started up, and bade Agenor good night. She then opened a private passage down to the street, and gently pushed him out, saying, with a smile, “ Farewell at present; come back to. morrow, and I shall introduce you to the prætor, who is a very worthy man.”
When Agenor came away, the streets were still as crowded as ever ; but afforded more examples of the debaucheries and vices of Rome. The town which Cato loved was now sadly altered. Every god and every virtue had left the place; and although their temples remained as beautiful as in better times, they were filled with scoffing instead of prayer. Agenor had lived as yet uncontaminated ; and the conduct of the prætor's wife that night had not seduced him, because he thought of Phrosine. Phrosine's image engrossed his attention so much that he could scarcely find the house where he meant to sleep ; and when he lay down, the fantastic dreams of youth continued hovering about his pillow.
Next morning he took a walk through the town. He viewed the public buildings, the places noted in history, the books of the Sybils, which he could not understand, and the charming productions of the fine arts, worth all the rest put together. Many a beauteous head, and many a voluptuous form of alabaster awoke in him the softest feelings of delight; many a groupe of Bacchanals taught him a jovial indiffer. ence ; and many a picture bore a motto from the songs of Horace, which told him that life is short, and that we should gather its roses while fate leaves them in our power. Xeno's philosophy had once been his pride ; but a softness of heart now crept in upon him, and the feelings of the Stoics died away before other feelings, which rendered him a fitter inhabitant for modern Rome. In the morning he had scrupled about returning to the prætor's livuso, but now he said, “I must go back to see Phrosine."
In the mean time, as it was yet early in the forenoon, he repair. ed to the circus, where he found the citizens already placed in thousands along its far-spreading benches, and some of them distinguished by very magnificent attire. The games began. Racers and combatants appeared on the vast arena. Trumpets were sounded. A number of tigers, newly brought from confinement, scattered the dust in their terrific gambols. Blood began to be shed, and acclamations to rise from the populace. The wild animals increased the noise in receiving their mortal stabs, and the gladiators fought and died with enthusiasm ; for the sweet music of applause rung in their ears until they could not hear it any ger
Agenor grew much interested in these fatal sports. Nevertheless, he fell sometimes into reveries about Phrosine; and in glancing his eye over the long rows of the circus, observed the prætor's wife, attend. ed not only by her husband, who was a corpulent figure with a red nose, and a countenance full of good-natured sensuality, but also by some of the handsomest men in Rome.
Agenor thought there was no need of increasing the number. He therefore left the circus, and went to see if Phrosine had been left at home. Fortunately this was the case. He found her watering some