Page images

have imparted the particular last alluded to, had been only to contribute one fact more towards the science of human nature. The author's delicacy, however, was not to be overcome.""It was the design of the writer to exhibit striking objects, both of nature and art, together with some sketches of human life and manners, through a more original medium than those usually adopted in the walk of novel-writing and romance."

There is something rather amusing in the mode in which the editor thus betrays the prohibited secret of the author's youth, and indirectly claims for him the merit of precocious talent.

The work itself consists of five narratives of the lives and adventures of imaginary painters. All these sketches display the same traces of a fervid fancy and satirical wit, which charm the reader in Mr. Beckford's more finished production, The Caliph Vathek. We here perceive the preluding efforts of the powerful mind which invented that impressive tale of oriental scenery and adventures. There is, also, a corresponding perception and developement of the effects of regret, remorse, and unavailing repentance, on the intellectual faculty. But these pieces. consist of mere outlines, which shew the ability of the writer to be equal to the production of something more worthy of his own talents, and of the attention of the reader.

The memoirs or narratives are entitled,-Aldrovandus Magnus; Andrew Guelph and Og of Basan, disciples of Aldrovandus Magnus; Sucrewasser of Vienna; Blunderbussiana; and Watersouchy. These stories are almost entirely unconnected with each other, or with real history, though the names of several celebrated painters are introduced as the contemporaries of these imaginary heroes of the brush; and in the last piece Gerard Dow, Mieris, and Madame Merian, are among the personages of the narrative.

The sketch entitled, Andrew Guelph and Og of Basan is the longest, and by much the most interesting, though the others exhibit occasional touches of nature, which manifest the hand of a master. The cool inattention of the father of Aldrovandus, when his friend Hemmelinck, having taken up some of the first attempts at drawing of the young artist, enquires who was their author, is well struck off. "Hemme

linck had pulled old Aldrovandus by the sleeve three times before he cared to give him any answer; at last he coolly replied, that they were his son's scratches; and that he believed he would ruin him in paper, were he to live much longer in such an idle way.'

The story of Andrew Guelph and Og of Basan contains several picturesque descriptions of the face of nature

among the mountains of the Tyrol, and on the classic plains of Italy; but it is in the delineation of the workings of the human mind, and in the excitement of strong passions, that the master-genius of the author is chiefly visible. Og of Basan, who is represented as of a bold and ardent disposition, and as an enthusiastic admirer of the beauties of nature, loiters among the shades, grottos, and ruined temples of Tivoli; where he gives himself up to a passion for a beautiful Italian female, and spending his days in her society, deserts, for a time, his profession; while his friend Andrew was closely employed at Venice, where Og had left him to finish a gallery of paintings, bespoke by the Pococurante family, "to immortalize the mighty deeds of their ancestors." Og, at last, roused from the lethargy of love, quits his fair companion, as the faithless Theseus did Ariadne, while she slept, and repairs to Rome. His unhappy mistress, on waking and discovering her loss,

"Plunged headlong into the tide, and was seen no more. Whilst this new Olympia* added another victim to love, her Bireno was graciously received by the cardinal Grossocavallo, who lodged him in his palace, and presented him to his Holiness, who was pleased to command two altar-pieces, and to name two famous miracles for their subjects; the one, St. Denis bearing his own head, intended as a present to the King of France; and the other, St. Anthony preaching to the fishers, which was to be sent to Frederick the Simple, King of Naples. Og succeeded wonderfully in both performances. The astonishment in the head at finding itself off its own shoulders was expressed to admiration; and the attitude of the blessed St. Denis, as natural as that of any man who ever carried such a burthen. In the second picture, he placed St. Anthony on a rock projecting over the sea, almost surrounded by shoals of every species of fish, whose countenances, all different, were highly expressive of the most profound attention and veneration. Many persons fancied they distinguished the likeness of most of the conclave in these animals; but this is generally believed to be a false observation, as the painter had no pique against any of their Eminences. What, however, gave rise to this idea, was, as I learn from the best authority, some dislike he entertained against Cardinal Hippolito d'Este, on account of his stupid treatment of his beloved poet Ariosto. He was even heard to repeat one day, when this cardinal was advancing towards him, the following line from the Orlando :

Vi venia a bocca aperta il grosso tonno.'

After having increased his fame and fortune by the execution of the pictures ordered by the Pope, and other works, Og devoted some time to a survey of the relics of decayed

* Alluding to a story in the tenth canto of the Orlando Furioso.

greatness, which bestow an interesting and awful grandeur on the ancient capital of the world. While viewing the mouldering heaps which reminded him of the fall of empires, he sinks into a profound reverie, which, at length, leads him to reflect on the past scenes of his life, and especially on his desertion of the fair Italian.

"The recollection of Tivoli now stole insensibly into his mind : he grew troubled, and reproached himself a thousand times with having deserted one who had sacrificed all for him. Though he was ignorant of her sad fate, the delicacy of her sensations recurred to his memory with innumerable circumstances, which revived all his former tenderness, and many dreadful suspicions haunted his fancy. If he slept, his dreams represented her in the well-known woods, wailing as in anguish, or on the distant shore of rapid torrents, beckoning him to console her in vain; for the instant he attempted to advance, tempests arose, and whirlwinds of fire snatched her screaming from his sight. Often he imagined himself reclining by her side, in meads of flowers, under a sky of the purest azure, and suddenly she would become ghastly pale, and, frowning on him, drive him to a flood that rolled its black waves between terrifying precipices, and dashing into its current, drag him after her; and then he would wake in horror, crying, 'I drown, I drown! Indeed, he seems to have been selected as an example of divine vengeance."

Og returns to Tivoli, and there learns that his worst forebodings have been verified, in the self-destruction of his forsaken mistress. He retraces his steps to Rome; and, on approaching it, finds a congenial spot for the indulgence of his melancholy and self-condemning reflections in the tomb of Cecilia Metella.

"Throwing himself from his horse, which he left carelessly to drink at a fountain, he sought the interior of the sepulchre. There beneath the covert of a solitary pine, he folded his arms and remained till night in silence, the image of despair. The screeches of noxious birds, which frequented the edifice, roused him from his trance. He started up and quitted the ruins with terror, as if he had been personally guilty of the murder, and, without looking for his horse, turned his steps towards a garden he just distinguished in the twilight. As he had taken no sustenance the whole day, some branches loaded with fruit, that hung over the wall, offered themselves opportunely to allay his hunger. Whilst he was gathering them the moon arose, and discovered, faintly, the desolate scene around. There, a pillar yet erect, with a humble shed beneath, whose roof leaned on its base: Here, a tract of uncultivated ground, strewed with the fragments of superb edifices, long since laid low. There, the remains of fountains and aqueducts, whose hollow arches still echoed the murmurs of rivulets, which forced their feeble course, with difficulty,

through heaps of mouldering marbles, and roots of fantastic laurels. Rome lay extended beyond, diversified by its domes and spires, and marked by a dim haze, proceeding from the lights in its palaces. Our wanderer listened to the confused sounds of music, of revelry and triumph, which arose from the numerous habitations, but it was with disgust. He loathed every thing that was allied to joy, and abhorred all that bespoke festivity. He remained uneasy till the uproar ceased, and, when the surrounding regions were hushed in the most profound tranquillity, began his complaints. He was on the very point of depriving himself of existence, and walked to and fro, agitated by all the violent emotions of despair. Half the night was spent in vain lamentations, and the grey twilight was just beginning to be visible, when, wearied with inquietude, he sunk down on the ground, and fell into a slumber, in which the scene hovered before his fancy. A fictitious city was stretched out before him, enlightened by a fictitious moon. The shade of her he loved skimmed along a colonade, which cast its shadows on the plain, and then stood leaning on the lonely pillar, uttered a feeble groan, and glided by his side. Her wet garments clinging around her delicate shape, her swollen eyes and drooping hands announced a melancholy fate. She seemed to say, 'Why do my affections still linger on thee beyond the tomb? Why doth my pale bosom still cherish its wonted fires? How comes it that I do not appear riding on a sulphureous cloud, shaking a torch in my hand, and screaming out, Perjury! -No! my gentle nature forbids me to injure thee. But, mark! Quit yonder fatal city: seek the islands of the south, and mayest thou expiate thy crime!' The form next shed some visionary tears, and seemed to mingle with the mists of the morning. Og, awakened by the sun-beams, recollected his dream, and, without even taking his leave of the Cardinal Grossocavallo, in whose care he had deposited a coffer containing the rewards of his pencil, heedlessly took the road to Naples, resolving to pass into Sicily, and end his days in that island."

At Naples, the pride of Og at first prevents him from making himself known; but he is discovered by means of his famous picture of the preaching of St. Anthony, which had been placed in a chapel he happened to enter. He is patronized by Count Zigzagge, introduced at court, and highly caressed. Soon after he is rejoined by his friend Andrew Guelph, whom he had acquainted with his situation; and the two associates unite their talents to execute a picture of a splendid apartment, or vast hall, in the ark of Noah, which, with another picture, representing a room of a different kind in the same vessel, is strikingly and fancifully described. After finishing this undertaking, Og sets sail for Sicily, to expiate the crime the remembrance of which still haunts his imagination. Andrew Guelph and a young student of painting from Rome, who had joined him at Naples, accompany the unfortunate artist. Arriving at Messina, they establish themselves there

for two years, during which they all assist in adorning the churches and cabinets of the Sicilians with their paintings.

Og then becomes tired of the bustle of a city life, and determines to seek a retreat among the gloomy solitudes of Mount Etna. Thither he is accompanied by his Roman pupil Benboaro.

[ocr errors]

"They wandered together over all the regions of this famous mountain, and at last pitched upon a spot near the celebrated chesnut trees, where they built a hut and fixed their residence. After they had remained about two months in this sequestered habitation, Og grew restless and melancholy. The parting injunction of the maid of Tivoli rushed afresh into his mind, and with redoubled force. He had now visited those regions which he doubted not were meant by the islands of the south, to which she had commanded him to fly. Recollecting her last wish, that he might expiate his crime, he was one day overheard to say, Ah! those last words, so softened by her affection, were surely not so much a wish as a prophecy; and I, who till this moment fondly thought myself pursuing a calm and long retirement in this delicious climate, have been making my progress hither but to finish my course. The time of expiating my baseness draws near, and methinks, at this instant, I see the pale form of her I betrayed hovering over me, and beckoning me up to the summit of yonder volcano. Yes; there must be the fated scene of expiation. Nor shall it be long, gentle spirit! ere I obey thy summons. I shall willingly submit to my doom, not despairing that it may one day render me worthy of thy society and friendship in a happier world!'

"Nothing could exceed the astonishment of Benboaro, who caught every syllable of this strange soliloquy. That youth, concluding his master's senses and imagination disturbed, neglected no means in his power to comfort or assuage him. All his attention, however, failed to alleviate the sorrow which preyed upon Og's mind; and one morning he ordered him peremptorily to leave him in entire solitude. Benboaro refusing to comply, his master rushed into the thickest of the forest, and was shortly concealed from his sight. Seven days the youth sought him in vain, traversing wildernesses where no one had ever penetrated, and ascending precipices which the boldest peasant was afraid to scale; subsisting all the while on the fruits and berries he casually met with the region of snow which encircles the crater did not deter his inquiries. With incredible labour he struggled over rocks of ice, seeking his master's vestiges in vain. By night he was directed by the mournful light of those eternal fires which issue from the peak of the mountain; and by day by a few straggling crucifixes, erected over the graves of unhappy travellers, who had perished in the expedition, served him at once as a mark and a memorial of the perils of his route. On the fourth day, after a night spent almost without sleep, he arose, and lifting up his eyes, saw before him the mouth of that tremendous volcano, which the superstition of the times led him to believe the entrance of hell. The solitude in which he found himself, the sullen murmur of the volcano, and all the hor

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »