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Zanoni, by Edward Bulwer Lytton, [1842], at


     Between two worlds life hovers like a star
     'Twixt night and morn.

When Glyndon left Viola, as recorded in the concluding chapter of the second division of this work, he was absorbed again in those mystical desires and conjectures which the haunting recollection of Zanoni always served to create. And as he wandered through the streets, he was scarcely conscious of his own movements till, in the mechanism of custom, he found himself in the midst of one of the noble collections of pictures which form the boast of those Italian cities whose glory is in the past. Thither he had been wont, almost daily, to repair, for the gallery contained some of the finest specimens of a master especially the object of his enthusiasm and study. There, before the works of Salvator, he had often paused in deep and earnest reverence. The striking characteristic of that artist is the "Vigour of Will;" void of the elevated idea of abstract beauty, which furnishes a model and archetype to the genius of more illustrious order, the singular energy of the man hews out of the rock a dignity of his own. His images have the majesty, not of the god, but the savage; utterly free, like the sublimer schools, from the common-place of imitation,—apart, with them, from the conventional littleness of the Real,—he grasps the imagination, and compels it to follow him, not to the heaven, but through all that is most wild and fantastic upon earth; a sorcery, not of the starry magian, but of the gloomy wizard,—a man of romance whose heart beat strongly, griping art with a hand of iron, and forcing it to idealise the scenes of his actual life. Before this powerful will, Glyndon drew back more awed and admiring than before the calmer beauty which rose from the soul of Raphael, like Venus from the deep.

And now, as awaking from his reverie, he stood opposite to that wild and magnificent gloom of Nature which frowned on him from the canvas, the very leaves on those gnome-like, distorted trees seemed to rustle sibylline secrets in his ear. Those rugged and sombre Apennines, the cataract that dashed between, suited, more than the actual scenes would have done, the mood and temper of his mind. The stern, uncouth forms at rest on the crags below, and dwarfed by the giant size of the Matter that reigned around them, impressed him with the might of Nature and the littleness of Man. As in genius of the more spiritual cast, the living man, and the soul that lives in him, are studiously made the prominent image; and the mere accessories of scene kept down, and cast back, as if to show that the exile from paradise is yet the monarch of the outward world,—so, in the landscapes of Salvator, the tree, the mountain, the waterfall, become the principal, and man himself dwindles to the accessory. The Matter seems to reign supreme, and its true lord to creep beneath its stupendous shadow. Inert matter giving interest to the immortal man, not the immortal man to the inert matter. A terrible philosophy in art!

While something of these thoughts passed through the mind of the painter, he felt his arm touched, and saw Nicot by his side.

"A great master," said Nicot, "but I do not love the school."

"I do not love, but I am awed by it. We love the beautiful and serene, but we have a feeling as deep as love for the terrible and dark."

"True," said Nicot, thoughtfully. "And yet that feeling is only a superstition. The nursery, with its tales of ghosts and goblins, is the cradle of many of our impressions in the world. But art should not seek to pander to our ignorance; art should represent only truths. I confess that Raphael pleases me less, because I have no sympathy with his subjects. His saints and virgins are to me only men and women."

"And from what source should painting, then, take its themes?"

"From history, without doubt," returned Nicot, pragmatically,—"those great Roman actions which inspire men with sentiments of liberty and valour, with the virtues of a republic. I wish the cartoons of Raphael had illustrated the story of the Horatii; but it remains for France and her Republic to give to posterity the new and the true school, which could never have arisen in a country of priestcraft and delusion."

"And the saints and virgins of Raphael are to you only men and women?" repeated Glyndon, going back to Nicot's candid confession in amaze, and scarcely hearing the deductions the Frenchman drew from his proposition.

"Assuredly. Ha, ha!" and Nicot laughed hideously, "do you ask me to believe in the calendar, or what?"

"But the ideal?"

"The ideal!" interrupted Nicot. "Stuff! The Italian critics, and your English Reynolds, have turned your head. They are so fond of their 'gusto grande,' and their 'ideal beauty that speaks to the soul!'—soul!—IS there a soul? I understand a man when he talks of composing for a refined taste,—for an educated and intelligent reason; for a sense that comprehends truths. But as for the soul,—bah!—we are but modifications of matter, and painting is modification of matter also."

Glyndon turned his eyes from the picture before him to Nicot, and from Nicot to the picture. The dogmatist gave a voice to the thoughts which the sight of the picture had awakened. He shook his head without reply.

"Tell me," said Nicot, abruptly, "that imposter,—Zanoni!—oh! I have now learned his name and quackeries, forsooth,—what did he say to thee of me?"

"Of thee? Nothing; but to warn me against thy doctrines."

"Aha! was that all?" said Nicot. "He is a notable inventor, and since, when we met last, I unmasked his delusions, I thought he might retaliate by some tale of slander."

"Unmasked his delusions!—how?"

"A dull and long story: he wished to teach an old doting friend of mine his secrets of prolonged life and philosophical alchemy. I advise thee to renounce so discreditable an acquaintance."

With that Nicot nodded significantly, and, not wishing to be further questioned, went his way.

Glyndon's mind at that moment had escaped to his art, and the comments and presence of Nicot had been no welcome interruption. He turned from the landscape of Salvator, and his eye falling on a Nativity by Coreggio, the contrast between the two ranks of genius struck him as a discovery. That exquisite repose, that perfect sense of beauty, that strength without effort, that breathing moral of high art, which speaks to the mind through the eye, and raises the thoughts, by the aid of tenderness and love, to the regions of awe and wonder,—ay! THAT was the true school. He quitted the gallery with reluctant steps and inspired ideas; he sought his own home. Here, pleased not to find the sober Mervale, he leaned his face on his hands, and endeavoured to recall the words of Zanoni in their last meeting. Yes, he felt Nicot's talk even on art was crime; it debased the imagination itself to mechanism. Could he, who saw nothing in the soul but a combination of matter, prate of schools that should excel a Raphael? Yes, art was magic; and as he owned the truth of the aphorism, he could comprehend that in magic there may be religion, for religion is an essential to art. His old ambition, freeing itself from the frigid prudence with which Mervale sought to desecrate all images less substantial than the golden calf of the world, revived, and stirred, and kindled. The subtle detection of what he conceived to be an error in the school he had hitherto adopted, made more manifest to him by the grinning commentary of Nicot, seemed to open to him a new world of invention. He seized the happy moment,—he placed before him the colours and the canvas. Lost in his conceptions of a fresh ideal, his mind was lifted aloft into the airy realms of beauty; dark thoughts, unhallowed desires, vanished. Zanoni was right: the material world shrunk from his gaze; he viewed Nature as from a mountain-top afar; and as the waves of his unquiet heart became calm and still, again the angel eyes of Viola beamed on them as a holy star.

Locking himself in his chamber, he refused even the visits of Mervale. Intoxicated with the pure air of his fresh existence, he remained for three days, and almost nights, absorbed in his employment; but on the fourth morning came that reaction to which all labour is exposed. He woke listless and fatigued; and as he cast his eyes on the canvas, the glory seemed to have gone from it. Humiliating recollections of the great masters he aspired to rival forced themselves upon him; defects before unseen magnified themselves to deformities in his languid and discontented eyes. He touched and retouched, but his hand failed him; he threw down his instruments in despair; he opened his casement: the day without was bright and lovely; the street was crowded with that life which is ever so joyous and affluent in the animated population of Naples. He saw the lover, as he passed, conversing with his mistress by those mute gestures which have survived all changes of languages, the same now as when the Etruscan painted yon vases in the Museo Borbonico. Light from without beckoned his youth to its mirth and its pleasures; and the dull walls within, lately large enough to comprise heaven and earth, seemed now cabined and confined as a felon's prison. He welcomed the step of Mervale at his threshold, and unbarred the door.

"And is that all you have done?" said Mervale, glancing disdainfully at the canvas. "Is it for this that you have shut yourself out from the sunny days and moonlit nights of Naples?"

"While the fit was on me, I basked in a brighter sun, and imbibed the voluptuous luxury of a softer moon."

"You own that the fit is over. Well, that is some sign of returning sense. After all, it is better to daub canvas for three days than make a fool of yourself for life. This little siren?"

"Be dumb! I hate to hear you name her."

Mervale drew his chair nearer to Glyndon's, thrust his hands deep in his breeches-pockets, stretched his legs, and was about to begin a serious strain of expostulation, when a knock was heard at the door, and Nicot, without waiting for leave, obtruded his ugly head.

"Good-day, mon cher confrere. I wished to speak to you. Hein! you have been at work, I see. This is well,—very well! A bold outline,—great freedom in that right hand. But, hold! is the composition good? You have not got the great pyramidal form. Don't you think, too, that you have lost the advantage of contrast in this figure; since the right leg is put forward, surely the right arm should be put back? Peste! but that little finger is very fine!"

Mervale detested Nicot. For all speculators, Utopians, alterers of the world, and wanderers from the high road, were equally hateful to him; but he could have hugged the Frenchman at that moment. He saw in Glyndon's expressive countenance all the weariness and disgust he endured. After so wrapped a study, to be prated to about pyramidal forms and right arms and right legs, the accidence of the art, the whole conception to be overlooked, and the criticism to end in approval of the little finger!

"Oh," said Glyndon, peevishly, throwing the cloth over his design, "enough of my poor performance. What is it you have to say to me?"

"In the first place," said Nicot, huddling himself together upon a stool,—"in the first place, this Signor Zanoni,—this second Cagliostro,—who disputes my doctrines! (no doubt a spy of the man Capet) I am not vindictive; as Helvetius says, 'our errors arise from our passions.' I keep mine in order; but it is virtuous to hate in the cause of mankind; I would I had the denouncing and the judging of Signor Zanoni at Paris." And Nicot's small eyes shot fire, and he gnashed his teeth.

"Have you any new cause to hate him?"

"Yes," said Nicot, fiercely. "Yes, I hear he is courting the girl I mean to marry."

"You! Whom do you speak of?"

"The celebrated Pisani! She is divinely handsome. She would make my fortune in a republic. And a republic we shall have before the year is out."

Mervale rubbed his hands, and chuckled. Glyndon coloured with rage and shame.

"Do you know the Signora Pisani? Have you ever spoken to her?"

"Not yet. But when I make up my mind to anything, it is soon done. I am about to return to Paris. They write me word that a handsome wife advances the career of a patriot. The age of prejudice is over. The sublimer virtues begin to be understood. I shall take back the handsomest wife in Europe."

"Be quiet! What are you about?" said Mervale, seizing Glyndon as he saw him advance towards the Frenchman, his eyes sparkling, and his hands clenched.

"Sir!" said Glyndon, between his teeth, "you know not of whom you thus speak. Do you affect to suppose that Viola Pisani would accept YOU?"

"Not if she could get a better offer," said Mervale, looking up to the ceiling.

"A better offer? You don't understand me," said Nicot. "I, Jean Nicot, propose to marry the girl; marry her! Others may make her more liberal offers, but no one, I apprehend, would make one so honourable. I alone have pity on her friendless situation. Besides, according to the dawning state of things, one will always, in France, be able to get rid of a wife whenever one wishes. We shall have new laws of divorce. Do you imagine that an Italian girl—and in no country in the world are maidens, it seems, more chaste (though wives may console themselves with virtues more philosophical)—would refuse the hand of an artist for the settlements of a prince? No; I think better of the Pisani than you do. I shall hasten to introduce myself to her."

"I wish you all success, Monsieur Nicot," said Mervale, rising, and shaking him heartily by the hand.

Glyndon cast at them both a disdainful glance.

"Perhaps, Monsieur Nicot," said he, at length, constraining his lips into a bitter smile,—"perhaps you may have rivals."

"So much the better," replied Monsieur Nicot, carelessly, kicking his heels together, and appearing absorbed in admiration at the size of his large feet.

"I myself admire Viola Pisani."

"Every painter must!"

"I may offer her marriage as well as yourself."

"That would be folly in you, though wisdom in me. You would not know how to draw profit from the speculation! Cher confrere, you have prejudices."

"You do not dare to say you would make profit from your own wife?"

"The virtuous Cato lent his wife to a friend. I love virtue, and I cannot do better than imitate Cato. But to be serious,—I do not fear you as a rival. You are good-looking, and I am ugly. But you are irresolute, and I decisive. While you are uttering fine phrases, I shall say, simply, 'I have a bon etat. Will you marry me?' So do your worst, cher confrere. Au revoir, behind the scenes!"

So saying, Nicot rose, stretched his long arms and short legs, yawned till he showed all his ragged teeth from ear to ear, pressed down his cap on his shaggy head with an air of defiance, and casting over his left shoulder a glance of triumph and malice at the indignant Glyndon, sauntered out of the room.

Mervale burst into a violent fit of laughter. "See how your Viola is estimated by your friend. A fine victory, to carry her off from the ugliest dog between Lapland and the Calmucks."

Glyndon was yet too indignant to answer, when a new visitor arrived. It was Zanoni himself. Mervale, on whom the appearance and aspect of this personage imposed a kind of reluctant deference, which he was unwilling to acknowledge, and still more to betray, nodded to Glyndon, and saying, simply, "More when I see you again," left the painter and his unexpected visitor.

"I see," said Zanoni, lifting the cloth from the canvas, "that you have not slighted the advice I gave you. Courage, young artist; this is an escape from the schools: this is full of the bold self-confidence of real genius. You had no Nicot—no Mervale—at your elbow when this image of true beauty was conceived!"

Charmed back to his art by this unlooked-for praise, Glyndon replied modestly, "I thought well of my design till this morning; and then I was disenchanted of my happy persuasion."

"Say, rather, that, unaccustomed to continuous labour, you were fatigued with your employment."

"That is true. Shall I confess it? I began to miss the world without. It seemed to me as if, while I lavished my heart and my youth upon visions of beauty, I was losing the beautiful realities of actual life. And I envied the merry fisherman, singing as he passed below my casement, and the lover conversing with his mistress."

"And," said Zanoni, with an encouraging smile, "do you blame yourself for the natural and necessary return to earth, in which even the most habitual visitor of the Heavens of Invention seeks his relaxation and repose? Man's genius is a bird that cannot be always on the wing; when the craving for the actual world is felt, it is a hunger that must be appeased. They who command best the ideal, enjoy ever most the real. See the true artist, when abroad in men's thoroughfares, ever observant, ever diving into the heart, ever alive to the least as to the greatest of the complicated truths of existence; descending to what pedants would call the trivial and the frivolous. From every mesh in the social web, he can disentangle a grace. And for him each airy gossamer floats in the gold of the sunlight. Know you not that around the animalcule that sports in the water there shines a halo, as around the star (The monas mica, found in the purest pools, is encompassed with a halo. And this is frequent amongst many other species of animalcule.) that revolves in bright pastime through the space? True art finds beauty everywhere. In the street, in the market-place, in the hovel, it gathers food for the hive of its thoughts. In the mire of politics, Dante and Milton selected pearls for the wreath of song.

"Who ever told you that Raphael did not enjoy the life without, carrying everywhere with him the one inward idea of beauty which attracted and imbedded in its own amber every straw that the feet of the dull man trampled into mud? As some lord of the forest wanders abroad for its prey, and scents and follows it over plain and hill, through brake and jungle, but, seizing it at last, bears the quarry to its unwitnessed cave,—so Genius searches through wood and waste, untiringly and eagerly, every sense awake, every nerve strained to speed and strength, for the scattered and flying images of matter, that it seizes at last with its mighty talons, and bears away with it into solitudes no footstep can invade. Go, seek the world without; it is for art the inexhaustible pasture-ground and harvest to the world within!"

"You comfort me," said Glyndon, brightening. "I had imagined my weariness a proof of my deficiency! But not now would I speak to you of these labours. Pardon me, if I pass from the toil to the reward. You have uttered dim prophecies of my future, if I wed one who, in the judgment of the sober world, would only darken its prospects and obstruct its ambition. Do you speak from the wisdom which is experience, or that which aspires to prediction?"

"Are they not allied? Is it not he best accustomed to calculation who can solve at a glance any new problem in the arithmetic of chances?"

"You evade my question."

"No; but I will adapt my answer the better to your comprehension, for it is upon this very point that I have sought you. Listen to me!" Zanoni fixed his eyes earnestly on his listener, and continued: "For the accomplishment of whatever is great and lofty, the clear perception of truths is the first requisite,—truths adapted to the object desired. The warrior thus reduces the chances of battle to combinations almost of mathematics. He can predict a result, if he can but depend upon the materials he is forced to employ. At such a loss he can cross that bridge; in such a time he can reduce that fort. Still more accurately, for he depends less on material causes than ideas at his command, can the commander of the purer science or diviner art, if he once perceive the truths that are in him and around, foretell what he can achieve, and in what he is condemned to fail. But this perception of truths is disturbed by many causes,—vanity, passion, fear, indolence in himself, ignorance of the fitting means without to accomplish what he designs. He may miscalculate his own forces; he may have no chart of the country he would invade. It is only in a peculiar state of the mind that it is capable of perceiving truth; and that state is profound serenity. Your mind is fevered by a desire for truth: you would compel it to your embraces; you would ask me to impart to you, without ordeal or preparation, the grandest secrets that exist in Nature. But truth can no more be seen by the mind unprepared for it, than the sun can dawn upon the midst of night. Such a mind receives truth only to pollute it: to use the simile of one who has wandered near to the secret of the sublime Goetia (or the magic that lies within Nature, as electricity within the cloud), 'He who pours water into the muddy well, does but disturb the mud.'" ("Iamb. de Vit. Pythag.")

"What do you tend to?"

"This: that you have faculties that may attain to surpassing power, that may rank you among those enchanters who, greater than the magian, leave behind them an enduring influence, worshipped wherever beauty is comprehended, wherever the soul is sensible of a higher world than that in which matter struggles for crude and incomplete existence.

"But to make available those faculties, need I be a prophet to tell you that you must learn to concentre upon great objects all your desires? The heart must rest, that the mind may be active. At present you wander from aim to aim. As the ballast to the ship, so to the spirit are faith and love. With your whole heart, affections, humanity, centred in one object, your mind and aspirations will become equally steadfast and in earnest. Viola is a child as yet; you do not perceive the high nature the trials of life will develop. Pardon me, if I say that her soul, purer and loftier than your own, will bear it upward, as a secret hymn carries aloft the spirits of the world. Your nature wants the harmony, the music which, as the Pythagoreans wisely taught, at once elevates and soothes. I offer you that music in her love."

"But am I sure that she does love me?"

"Artist, no; she loves you not at present; her affections are full of another. But if I could transfer to you, as the loadstone transfers its attraction to the magnet, the love that she has now for me,—if I could cause her to see in you the ideal of her dreams—"

"Is such a gift in the power of man?"

"I offer it to you, if your love be lawful, if your faith in virtue and yourself be deep and loyal; if not, think you that I would disenchant her with truth to make her adore a falsehood?"

"But if," persisted Glyndon,—"if she be all that you tell me, and if she love you, how can you rob yourself of so priceless a treasure?"

"Oh, shallow and mean heart of man!" exclaimed Zanoni, with unaccustomed passion and vehemence, "dost thou conceive so little of love as not to know that it sacrifices all—love itself—for the happiness of the thing it loves? Hear me!" And Zanoni's face grew pale. "Hear me! I press this upon you, because I love her, and because I fear that with me her fate will be less fair than with yourself. Why,—ask not, for I will not tell you. Enough! Time presses now for your answer; it cannot long be delayed. Before the night of the third day from this, all choice will be forbid you!"

"But," said Glyndon, still doubting and suspicious,—"but why this haste?"

"Man, you are not worthy of her when you ask me. All I can tell you here, you should have known yourself. This ravisher, this man of will, this son of the old Visconti, unlike you,—steadfast, resolute, earnest even in his crimes,—never relinquishes an object. But one passion controls his lust,—it is his avarice. The day after his attempt on Viola, his uncle, the Cardinal—, from whom he has large expectations of land and gold, sent for him, and forbade him, on pain of forfeiting all the possessions which his schemes already had parcelled out, to pursue with dishonourable designs one whom the Cardinal had heeded and loved from childhood. This is the cause of his present pause from his pursuit. While we speak, the cause expires. Before the hand of the clock reaches the hour of noon, the Cardinal—will be no more. At this very moment thy friend, Jean Nicot, is with the Prince di—."

"He! wherefore?"

"To ask what dower shall go with Viola Pisani, the morning that she leaves the palace of the prince."

"And how do you know all this?"

"Fool! I tell thee again, because a lover is a watcher by night and day; because love never sleeps when danger menaces the beloved one!"

"And you it was that informed the Cardinal—?"

"Yes; and what has been my task might as easily have been thine. Speak,—thine answer!"

"You shall have it on the third day from this."

"Be it so. Put off, poor waverer, thy happiness to the last hour. On the third day from this, I will ask thee thy resolve."

"And where shall we meet?"

"Before midnight, where you may least expect me. You cannot shun me, though you may seek to do so!"

"Stay one moment! You condemn me as doubtful, irresolute, suspicious. Have I no cause? Can I yield without a struggle to the strange fascination you exert upon my mind? What interest can you have in me, a stranger, that you should thus dictate to me the gravest action in the life of man? Do you suppose that any one in his senses would not pause, and deliberate, and ask himself, 'Why should this stranger care thus for me?'"

"And yet," said Zanoni, "if I told thee that I could initiate thee into the secrets of that magic which the philosophy of the whole existing world treats as a chimera, or imposture; if I promised to show thee how to command the beings of air and ocean, how to accumulate wealth more easily than a child can gather pebbles on the shore, to place in thy hands the essence of the herbs which prolong life from age to age, the mystery of that attraction by which to awe all danger and disarm all violence and subdue man as the serpent charms the bird,—if I told thee that all these it was mine to possess and to communicate, thou wouldst listen to me then, and obey me without a doubt!"

"It is true; and I can account for this only by the imperfect associations of my childhood,—by traditions in our house of—"

"Your forefather, who, in the revival of science, sought the secrets of Apollonius and Paracelsus."

"What!" said Glyndon, amazed, "are you so well acquainted with the annals of an obscure lineage?"

"To the man who aspires to know, no man who has been the meanest student of knowledge should be unknown. You ask me why I have shown this interest in your fate? There is one reason which I have not yet told you. There is a fraternity as to whose laws and whose mysteries the most inquisitive schoolmen are in the dark. By those laws all are pledged to warn, to aid, and to guide even the remotest descendants of men who have toiled, though vainly, like your ancestor, in the mysteries of the Order. We are bound to advise them to their welfare; nay, more,—if they command us to it, we must accept them as our pupils. I am a survivor of that most ancient and immemorial union. This it was that bound me to thee at the first; this, perhaps, attracted thyself unconsciously, Son of our Brotherhood, to me."

"If this be so, I command thee, in the name of the laws thou obeyest, to receive me as thy pupil!"

"What do you ask?" said Zanoni, passionately. "Learn, first, the conditions. No neophyte must have, at his initiation, one affection or desire that chains him to the world. He must be pure from the love of woman, free from avarice and ambition, free from the dreams even of art, or the hope of earthly fame. The first sacrifice thou must make is—Viola herself. And for what? For an ordeal that the most daring courage only can encounter, the most ethereal natures alone survive! Thou art unfit for the science that has made me and others what we are or have been; for thy whole nature is one fear!"

"Fear!" cried Glyndon, colouring with resentment, and rising to the full height of his stature.

"Fear! and the worst fear,—fear of the world's opinion; fear of the Nicots and the Mervales; fear of thine own impulses when most generous; fear of thine own powers when thy genius is most bold; fear that virtue is not eternal; fear that God does not live in heaven to keep watch on earth; fear, the fear of little men; and that fear is never known to the great."

With these words Zanoni abruptly left the artist, humbled, bewildered, and not convinced. He remained alone with his thoughts till he was aroused by the striking of the clock; he then suddenly remembered Zanoni's prediction of the Cardinal's death; and, seized with an intense desire to learn its truth, he hurried into the streets,—he gained the Cardinal's palace. Five minutes before noon his Eminence had expired, after an illness of less than an hour. Zanoni's visit had occupied more time than the illness of the Cardinal. Awed and perplexed, he turned from the palace, and as he walked through the Chiaja, he saw Jean Nicot emerge from the portals of the Prince di—.

Next: Chapter V