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Shall be the madhouse and its belfry tower,"
Said Maddalo; "and even [ever?] at this hour,
Those who may cross the water hear that bell,
Which calls the maniacs, each one from his cell,
To vespers."—"As much skill as need to pray,
In thanks or hope for their dark lot have they,
To their stern Maker," I replied. "Oho!
You talk as in years past," said Maddalo;
""Tis strange men change not. You were ever still
Among Christ's flock a perilous infidel,
A wolf for the meek lambs: if you can't swim,
Beware of Providence." I looked on him,
But the gay smile had faded from his eye.
"And such," he cried, "is our mortality;
And this must be the emblem and the sign
Of what should be eternal and divine;
And like that black and dreary bell, the soul,
Hung in a heaven-illumined tower, must toll
Our thoughts and our desires to meet below
Round the rent heart, and pray-as madmen do ;
For what? they know not, till the night of death.
As sunset that strange vision, severeth
Our memory from itself, and us from all
We sought, and yet were baffled." I recall
The sense of what he said, although I mar
The force of his expressions. The broad star
Of day meanwhile had sunk behind the hill;
And the black bell became invisible;
And the red tower looked gray; and all between,
The churches, ships, and palaces, were seen
Huddled in gloom; into the purple sea
The orange hues of heaven sunk silently.
We hardly spoke, and soon the gondola
Conveyed me to my lodging by the way.
The following morn was rainy, cold, and dim:
Ere Maddalo arose 1 called on him,
And whilst I waited, with his child I played;
A lovelier toy sweet Nature never made;
A serious, subtle, wild, yet gentle being,
Graceful without design, and unforeseeing;
With eyes-O! speak not of her eyes! which
Twin mirrors of Italian heaven, yet gleam
With such deep meaning as we never see
But in the human countenance.
She was a special favourite; I had nursed
Her fine and feeble limbs, when she came first
To this bleak world; and yet she seemed to
On second sight her ancient playfellow,
Less changed than she was by six months or so.
For, after her first shyness was worn out,
We sat there, rolling billiard balls about,
When the Count entered. Salutations passed:
"The words you spoke last night might well have
A darkness on my spirit:-if man be
The passive thing you say, I should not see
Much harm in the religions and old saws,
"Tho' I may never own such leaden laws)
Which break a teachless nature to the yoke:
Mine is another faith."-Thus much I spoke,
And, noting he replied not, added-" See
This lovely child; blithe, innocent, and free;
She spends a happy time, with little care;
While we to such sick thoughts subjected are,
As came on you last night. It is our will
Which thus enchains us to permitted ill.
We might be otherwise; we might be all
We dream of, happy, high, majestical.
Where is the beauty, love, and truth, we seek,
But in our minds? And, if we were not weak,
Should we be less in deed than in desire?"
"Ay, if we were not weak,-and we aspire, How vainly to be strong," said Maddalo: 'You talk Utopian."
"It remains to know," I then rejoined, "and those who try, may find How strong the chains are which our spirit bind Brittle perchance as straw. We are assured Much may be conquered, much may be endured, Of what degrades and crushes us. We know That we have power over ourselves to do And suffer-what, we know not till we try; But something nobler than to live and die : So taught the kings of old philosophy, Who reigned before religion made men blind; And those who suffer with their suffering kind. Yet feel this faith, religion."
"My dear friend,"
Said Maddalo, "my judgment will not bend
To your opinion, though I think you might
Make such a system refutation-tight,
As far as words go. I knew one like you,
Who to this city came some months ago,
With whom I argued in this sort,—and he
Is now gone mad—and so he answered me.
Poor fellow!-But if you would like to go,
We'll visit him, and his wild talk will show
How vain are such aspiring theories."
"I hope to prove the induction otherwise,
And that a want of that true theory still,
Which seeks a soul of goodness in things ill,
Or in himself or others, has thus bowed
His being:-there are some by nature proud,
Who, patient in all else, demand but this—
To love and be beloved with gentleness:
And being scorned, what wonder if they die
Some living death? This is not destiny,
But man's own wilful ill."
As thus I spoke, Servants announced the gondola, and we Through the fast-falling rain and high-wrought sea Sailed to the island where the madhouse stands. We disembarked. The clap of tortured hands, Fierce yells and howlings, and lamentings keen, And laughter where complaint had merrier been
Accosted us. We climbed the oozy stairs
Into an old court-yard. I heard on high,
Then, fragments of most touching melody,
But looking up saw not the singer there.
Thro' the black bars in the tempestuous air
I saw, like weeds on a wrecked palace growing,
Long tangled locks flung wildly forth and flowing,
Of those who on a sudden were beguiled
Into strange silence, and looked forth and smiled,
Hearing sweet sounds. Then I :
A cure of these with patience and kind care,
If music can thus move. But what is he,
Whom we seek here?
"Of his sad history
I know but this," said Maddalo : "he came
To Venice a dejected man, and fame
Said he was wealthy, or he had been so.
Some thought the loss of fortune wrought him woe;
But he was ever talking in such sort
As you do, but more sadly;—he seemed hurt,
Even as a man with his peculiar wrong,
To hear but of the oppression of the strong,
Of those absurd deceits (I think with you
In some respects, you know) which carry through
The excellent impostors of this earth
When they outface detection. He had worth,
Poor fellow! but a humourist in his way."