Stay for me there!
I will not fail
To meet thee in that hollow vale.
HENRY KING, Bishop of Chichester,
Exequy on the death of his wife
Ill-fated and mysterious man!--bewildered
in the brilliancy of thine own
imagination, and fallen in the
flames of thine own youth! Again
in fancy I behold thee! Once
more thy form hath risen before
me!--not--oh not as thou art--in
the cold valley and shadow--but
as thou shouldst be--squandering
away a life of magnificent meditation
in that city of dim visions,
thine own Venice--which is a
star-beloved Elysium of the sea,
and the wide windows of whose
Palladian palaces look down with
a deep and bitter meaning upon
the secrets of her silent waters.
Yes! I repeat it--as thou shouldst
be. There are surely other worlds
than this--other thoughts than
the thoughts of the multitude--
other speculations than the speculations
of the sophist. Who then shall
call thy conduct into question?
who blame thee for thy visionary
hours, or denounce those occupations
as a wasting away of life, which
were but the overflowing of thine
It was at Venice, beneath the
covered archway there called
the Ponte di Sospiri, that I
met for the third or fourth time
the person of whom I speak. It
is with a confused recollection
that I bring to mind the circumstances
of that meeting. Yet I remember--ah!
how should I forget?--the deep
midnight, the Bridge of Sighs,
the beauty of woman, and the
Genius of Romance that stalked
up and down the narrow canal.
It was a night of unusual gloom.
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
away. I was returning home from
the Piazetta, by way of the Grand
Canal. But as my gondola arrived
opposite the mouth of the canal
San Marco, a female voice from
its recesses broke suddenly upon
the night, in one wild, hysterical,
and long-continued shriek. Startled
at the sound, I sprang upon my
feet: while the gondolier, letting
slip his single oar, lost it
in the pitchy darkness beyond
a chance of recovery, and we
were consequently left to the
guidance of the current which
here sets from the greater into
the smaller channel. Like some
huge and sable-feathered condor,
we were slowly drifting down
towards the Bridge of Sighs,
when a thousand flambeaux flashing
from the windows, and down the
staircases of the Ducal Palace,
turned all at once that deep
gloom into a livid and preternatural
A child, slipping from the
arms of its own mother, had fallen
from an upper window of the lofty
structure into the deep and dim
canal. The quiet waters had closed
placidly over their victim; and,
although my own gondola was the
only one in sight, many a stout
swimmer, already in the stream,
was seeking in vain upon the
surface, the treasure which was
to be found, alas! only within
the abyss. Upon the broad black
marble flagstones at the entrance
of the palace, and a few steps
above the water, stood a figure
which none who then saw can have
ever since forgotten. It was
the Marchesa Aphrodite--the adoration
of all Venice--the gayest of
the gay--the most lovely 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 one, who now deep beneath
the murky water, was thinking
in bitterness of heart upon her
sweet caresses, and exhausting
its little life in struggles
to call upon her name.
She stood alone. Her small,
bare, and silvery feet gleamed
in the black mirror of marble
beneath her. Her hair, not as
yet more than half loosened for
the night from its ball-room
array, clustered, amid a shower
of diamonds, round and round
her classical head, in curls
like those of the young hyacinth.
A snowy-white and gauze-like
drapery seemed to be nearly the
sole covering to her delicate
form; but the midsummer and midnight
air was hot, sullen, and still,
and no motion in the statue-like
form itself, stirred even the
folds of that raiment of very
vapour which hung around it as
the heavy marble hangs around
the Niobe. Yet--strange to say!--her
large lustrous eyes were not
turned downwards upon that grave
wherein her brightest hope lay
buried-- but riveted in a widely
different direction! The prison
of the Old Republic is, I think,
the stateliest building in all
Venice-- but how could that lady
gaze so fixedly upon it, when
beneath her lay stifling her
only child? Yon dark, gloomy
niche, too, yawns right opposite
her chamber window--what, then,
could there be in its shadows--in
its architecture--in its 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 shattered mirror, multiplies
the images of its sorrow, and
sees in innumerable far- off
places the woe which is close
Many steps above the Marchesa,
and within the arch of the water-gate,
stood, in full dress, the Satyr-like
figure of Mentoni himself. He
was occasionally occupied in
thrumming a guitar, and seemed
ennuye to the very death, as
at intervals he gave directions
for the recovery of his child.
Stupefied and aghast, I had myself
no power to move from the upright
position I had assumed upon first
hearing the shriek, and must
have presented to the eyes of
the agitated group a spectral
and ominous appearance, as with
pale countenance and rigid limbs,
I floated down among them in
that funereal gondola.
All efforts proved in vain.
Many of the most energetic in
the search were relaxing their
exertions, and yielding to a
gloomy sorrow. There seemed but
little hope for the child (how
much less than for the mother!);
but now, from the interior of
that dark niche which has been
already mentioned as forming
a part of the Old Republican
prison, and as fronting the lattice
of the Marchesa, a figure muffled
in a cloak stepped out within
reach of the light, and, pausing
a moment upon the verge of the
giddy descent, plunged headlong
into the canal. As, in an instant
afterwards, he stood with the
still living and breathing child
within his grasp, upon the marble
flagstones by the side of the
Marchesa, his cloak, heavy with
the drenching water, became unfastened,
and, falling in folds about his
feet, discovered to the wonder-stricken
spectators the graceful person
of a very young man, with the
sound of whose name the greater
part of Europe was then ringing.
No word spoke the deliverer.
But the Marchesa! She will now
receive her child--she will press
it to her heart--she will cling
to its little form, and smother
it with her caresses. Alas! another's
arms have taken it from the stranger--another's
arms have taken it away, and
borne it afar off, unnoticed,
into the palace! And the Marchesa!
Her lip--her beautiful lip trembles:
tears are gathering in her eyes--those
eyes which, like Pliny's acanthus,
are 'soft and almost liquid'.
Yes! tears are gathering in those
eyes--and see! the entire woman
thrills throughout the soul,
and the statue has started into
life! The pallor of the marble
countenance, the swelling of
the marble bosom, the very purity
of the marble feet, we behold
suddenly flushed 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
Why should that lady blush!
To this demand there is no answer--except
that, having left, in the eager
haste and terror of a mother's
heart, the privacy of her own
boudoir, she has neglected to
enthrall her tiny feet in their
slippers, and utterly forgotten
to throw over her Venetian shoulders
that drapery which is their due.
What other possible reason could
there have been for her so blushing?--for
the glance of those wild appealing
eyes? for the unusual tumult
of that throbbing bosom?--for
the convulsive pressure of that
trembling hand?--that hand which
fell, as Mentoni turned into
the palace, accidentally, upon
the hand of the stranger. What
reason could there have been
for the low--the singularly low
tone of those unmeaning words
which the lady uttered hurriedly
in bidding him adieu? 'Thou hast
conquered--' she said, or the
murmurs 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 within the palace, and the
stranger, whom I now recognized, stood alone upon 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 accepted the civility. Having
obtained an oar at the water-gate, we proceeded together to his residence, while
he rapidly recovered his self-possession, and spoke of our former slight acquaintance
in terms of great
There are some subjects upon which I take pleasure in being minute. The person
of the stranger--let me call him by this title, who to all the world was still
a stranger--the person of the stranger is one of these subjects. In height
he might have been below rather than above the medium size: although there
were moments of intense passion when his frame actually 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 of that
Herculean strength which he has been known to wield without an effort, upon
occasions of more dangerous emergency. With the mouth and chin of a deity--
singular, wild, full, liquid eyes, whose shadows varied from pure hazel to
intense and brilliant jet--and a profusion of curling, black hair, from which
a forehead of unusual breadth gleamed forth at intervals all light and ivory--his
were features than which I have seen none more classically regular, except,
perhaps, the marble ones of the Emperor Commodus. Yet his countenance was,
nevertheless, one of those which all men have seen at some period of their
lives, and have never afterwards seen again. It had no peculiar--it had no
settled predominant expression to be fastened upon the memory; a countenance
seen and instantly forgotten--but forgotten with a vague and never-ceasing
desire of recalling it to mind. Not that the spirit of each rapid passion failed,
at any time, to throw its own distinct image upon the mirror of that face--but
that the mirror, mirror-like, retained no vestige of the passion, when the
passion had departed.
Upon leaving him on the night of our adventure, he solicited me, in what
I thought an urgent manner, to call upon him very early the next morning. Shortly
after sunrise, I found myself accordingly at his Palazzo, one of those huge
structures of gloomy, yet fantastic pomp, which tower above the waters of the
Grand Canal in the vicinity of the Rialto. I was shown up a broad winding staircase
of mosaics, into an apartment whose unparalleled splendour burst through the
opening door with an actual glare, making me blind and dizzy with luxuriousness.
I knew my acquaintance to be wealthy. Report had spoken of his possessions
in terms which I had even ventured to call terms of ridiculous exaggeration.
But as I gazed about me, I could not bring myself to believe that the wealth
of any subject in Europe could have supplied the princely magnificence which
burned and blazed around.
Although, as I say, the sun had arisen, yet the room was still brilliantly
lighted up. I judge from this circumstance, as well as from an air of exhaustion
in the countenance of my friend, that he had not retired to bed during the
whole of the preceding night. In the architecture and embellishments of the
chamber, the evident design had been to dazzle and astound. Little attention
had been paid to the decora of what is technically called keeping, or to the
proprieties of nationality. The eye wandered from object to object, and rested
upon none-- neither the grotesques of the Greek painters, nor the sculptures
of the best Italian days, nor the huge carvings of untutored Egypt. Rich draperies
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, reeking up from strange convolute censers, together
with multitudinous flaring and flickering tongues of emerald and violet fire.
The rays of the newly risen sun poured in upon the whole, through windows formed
each of a single pane of crimson- tinted glass. Glancing to and fro, in a thousand
reflections, from curtains which rolled from their cornices like cataracts
of molten silver, the beams of natural glory mingled at length fitfully with
the artificial light, and lay weltering in subdued masses upon a carpet of
rich, liquid-looking cloth of Chili gold.
'Ha! ha! ha!--ha! ha! ha!'--laughed the proprietor, motioning me to a seat
as I entered the room, and throwing himself back at full-length upon an ottoman.
'I see,' said he, perceiving that I could not immediately reconcile myself
to the bienseance of so singular a welcome--'I see you are astonished at my
apartment--at my statues--my pictures--my originality of conception in architecture
and upholstery--absolutely drunk, eh? with my magnificence? But pardon me,
my dear sir,' (here his tone of voice dropped to the very spirit of cordiality)
'pardon me for my uncharitable laughter. You appeared so utterly astonished.
Besides, some things are so completely ludicrous that a man must laugh or die.
To die laughing must be the most glorious of all glorious deaths! Sir Thomas
More--a very fine man was Sir Thomas More--Sire Thomas More died laughing,
you remember. Also in the Absurdities of Ravisius Textor, there is a long list
of characters who came to the same magnificent end. Do you know, however,'
continued he musingly, 'that at Sparta (which is now Palaeochori)--at Sparta,
I say, to the west of the citadel, among a chaos of scarcely visible ruins,
is a kind of socle, upon which are still legible the letters . They are undoubtedly
part of . Now at Sparta were a thousand temples and shrines to a thousand different
divinities. How exceedingly strange that the altar of Laughter should have
survived all the others! But in the present instance,' he resumed, with a singular
alteration of voice and manner, 'I have no right to be merry at your expense.
You might well have been amazed. Europe cannot produce anything so fine as
this, my little regal cabinet. My other apartments are by no means of the same
order; mere ultras of fashionable insipidity. This is better than fashion--is
it not? Yet this has but to be seen to become the rage--that is, with those
who could afford it at the cost of their entire patrimony. I have guarded,
however, against any such profanation. With one exception you are the only
human being besides myself and my valet, who has been admitted within the mysteries
of these imperial precincts, since they have been bedizened as you see!'
I bowed in acknowledgment; for the overpowering sense of splendour and perfume,
and music, together with the unexpected eccentricity of his address and manner,
prevented me from expressing, in words, my appreciation of what I might have
construed into 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 deference to
the opinions of Virtu. They are all, however, fitting tapestry for a chamber
such as this. Here too, are some chefs d'oeuvre of the unknown great--and here
unfinished designs by men, celebrated in their day, whose very names the perspicacity
of the academies has left to silence and to me. What think you,' said he, turning
abruptly as he spoke--'what think you of this Madonna della Pieta?'
'It is Guido's own!' I said with all the enthusiasm of my nature, for I had
been poring intently over its surpassing loveliness. 'It is Guido's own!--how
could you have obtained it?--she is undoubtedly in painting what the Venus
is in sculpture.'
'Ha!' said he thoughtfully, 'the Venus--the beautiful Venus?--the Venus of
the Medici?--she of the diminutive head and the gilded hair? Part of the left
arm' (here his voice dropped so as to be heard with difficulty), 'and all the
right are restorations, and in the coquetry of that right arm lies, I think,
the quintessence of all affectation. Give me the Canova! The Apollo, too!--is
a copy--there can be no doubt of it--blind fool that I am, who cannot behold
the boasted inspiration of the Apollo! I cannot help--pity me!--I cannot help
preferring the Antinous. Was it not Socrates who said that the statuary found
his statue in the block of marble? Then Michael Angelo was by no means original
in his couplet--
'Non ha l'ottimo artista alcun concetto
Che un marmo solo in se non circonscriva.'
It has been, or should be remarked, that, in the manner of the true gentleman,
we are always aware of a difference from the bearing of the vulgar, without
being at once precisely able to determine in what such difference consists.
Allowing the remark to have applied in its full force to the outward demeanour
of my acquaintance, I felt it, on that eventful morning, still more fully applicable
to his moral temperament and character. Nor can I better define that peculiarity
of spirit which seemed to place him 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--intruding upon his moments of dalliance--and
interweaving itself with his very flashes of merriment--like adders which writhe
from out the eyes of the grinning masks in the cornices around the temples
I could not help, however, repeatedly observing, through the mingled tone
of levity and solemnity with which he rapidly descanted upon matters of little
importance, a certain air of trepidation--a degree of nervous unction in action
and in speech- -an unquiet excitability of manner which appeared to me at all
times unaccountable, and upon some occasions even filled me with alarm. Frequently,
too, pausing in the middle of a sentence whose commencement he had apparently
forgotten, he seemed to be listening in the deepest attention, as if either
in momentary expectation of a visitor, or to sounds which 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's beautiful tragedy
of The Orfeo (the first native Italian tragedy) which lay near me upon 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 tainted with impurity, no man shall read without a thrill of
novel emotion--no woman without a sigh. The whole page was blotted with fresh
tears, and, upon the opposite interleaf, were the following English lines,
written in a hand so very different from the peculiar characters of my acquaintance,
that I had some difficulty in recognizing it as his own.
Thou wast that all to me, love,
For which my soul did pine--
A green isle 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 didst arise
But to be overcast!
A voice from out the Future cries,
'On! on!'--but o'er the Past
(Dim gulf!) my spirit hovering lies
Mute, motionless, aghast!
For alas! alas! with me.
The light of life is o'er.
'No more--no more--no more'
(Such language holds the solemn sea
To the sands upon the shore)
Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree,
Or the stricken eagle soar!
Now all my days are trances,
And all my nightly dreams
Are where thy grey eye glances,
And where thy footstep gleams--
In what ethereal dances,
By what Italian streams.
Alas! for that accursed time
They bore thee o'er the billow,
From Love to titled age and crime,
And an unholy pillow--
From me, and from our misty clime,
Where weeps the silver willow!
That these lines were written in English--a language with which I had not
believed their author acquainted--afforded me little matter for surprise. I
was too well aware of the extent of his acquirements, and of the singular pleasure
he took in concealing them from observation, to be astonished at any similar
discovery; but the place of date, I must confess, occasioned me no little amazement.
It had been originally written London, and afterwards carefully overscored--not,
however, so effectually as to conceal the word from a scrutinizing eye. I say
this occasioned me no little amazement; for I well remember that, in a former
conversation with my friend, I particularly inquired if he had at any time
met in London the Marchesa di Mentoni (who for some years previous to her marriage
had resided in that city), when his answer, if I mistake not, gave me to understand
that he had never visited the metropolis of Great Britain. I might as well
here mention, that I have more than once heard (without of course giving credit
to a report involving so many improbabilities), that the person of whom I speak
was not only by birth, but in education, an Englishman.
'There is one painting,' said he, without being aware of my notice of the
tragedy--'there is still one painting which 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 preceding night upon the
steps of the Ducal Palace, stood before me once again. But in the expression
of the countenance, which was beaming all over with smiles, there still lurked
(incomprehensible anomaly!) that fitful 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 downwards to a curiously fashioned
vase. One small, fairy foot, alone visible, barely touched the earth--and,
scarcely discernible in the brilliant atmosphere which seemed to encircle and
enshrine her loveliness, floated a pair of the most delicately imagined wings.
My glance fell from the painting to the figure of my friend, and the vigorous
words of Chapman's Bussy D'Ambois quivered instinctively upon my lips:
He is up
There like a Roman statue! He will stand
Till Death hath made him marble!
'Come!' he said at length, turning towards a table of richly enamelled and
massive silver, upon which were a few goblets fantastically stained, together
with two large Etruscan vases, fashioned in the same extraordinary model as
that in the foreground of the portrait, and filled with what I supposed to
be Johannisberger. 'Come!' he said abruptly, 'let us drink! It is early--but
let us drink. It is indeed early,' he continued, musingly, as a cherub with
a heavy golden hammer made the apartment ring with the first hour after sunrise--'It
is indeed early, but what matters it? Let us drink! Let us pour out an offering
to yon solemn sun which these gaudy lamps and censers are so eager to subdue!'
And, having made me pledge him in a bumper, he swallowed in rapid succession
several goblets of the wine.
'To dream,' he continued, resuming the tone of his desultory conversation,
as he held up to the rich light of a censer one of the magnificent vases--'to
dream has been the business of my life. I have therefore framed for myself,
as you see, a bower of dreams. In the heart of Venice, could I have erected
a better? You behold around you, it is true, a medley of architectural embellishments.
The chastity of Ionia is offended by antediluvian devices, and the sphinxes
of Egypt are outstretched upon carpets of gold. Yet the effect is incongruous
to the timid alone. Proprieties of place, and especially of time, are the bugbears
which terrify mankind from the contemplation of the magnificent. Once I was
myself a decorist: but that sublimation of folly has palled upon my soul. All
this is now the fitter for my purpose. Like these arabesque censers, my spirit
is writhing in 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.'
He here paused abruptly, bent his head to his bosom, and seemed to listen to
a sound which I could not hear. At length, erecting his frame, he looked upwards
and ejaculated the lines of the Bishop of Chichester:--
Stay for me there! I will not fail
To meet thee in that hollow vale.
In the next instant, confessing the power of the wine, he threw himself at
full length upon an ottoman.
A quick step was now heard upon the staircase, and a loud knock at the door
rapidly succeeded. I was hastening to anticipate a second disturbance, when
a page of Mentoni's household burst into the room, and faltered out, in a voice
choking with emotion, the incoherent words, 'My mistress!--my mistress!--poisoned!--poisoned!
Oh beautiful--oh beautiful Aphrodite!'
Bewildered, I flew to the ottoman, and endeavoured to arouse the sleeper
to a sense of the startling intelligence. But his limbs were rigid--his lips
were livid--his lately beaming eyes were riveted in death. I staggered back
towards the table--my hand fell upon a cracked and blackened goblet--and a
consciousness of the entire and terrible truth flashed suddenly over my soul.