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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDevereux - Book 6 - Chapter 1. The Retreat
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Devereux - Book 6 - Chapter 1. The Retreat Post by :DENA_WALKER Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :1012

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Devereux - Book 6 - Chapter 1. The Retreat


I ARRIVED at St. Petersburg, and found the Czarina, whose conjugal perfidy was more than suspected, tolerably resigned to the extinction of that dazzling life whose incalculable and god-like utility it is reserved for posterity to appreciate! I have observed, by the way, that in general men are the less mourned by their families in proportion as they are the more mourned by the community. The great are seldom amiable; and those who are the least lenient to our errors are invariably our relations!

Many circumstances at that time conspired to make my request to quit the imperial service appear natural and appropriate. The death of the Czar, joined to a growing jealousy and suspicion between the English monarch and Russia, which, though long existing, was now become more evident and notorious than heretofore, gave me full opportunity to observe that my pardon had been obtained from King George three years since, and that private as well as national ties rendered my return to England a measure not only of expediency but necessity. The imperial Catherine granted me my dismissal in the most flattering terms, and added the high distinction of the Order founded in honour of the memorable feat by which she had saved her royal consort and the Russian army to the Order of St. Andrew, which I had already received.

I transferred my wealth, now immense, to England, and, with the pomp which became the rank and reputation Fortune had bestowed upon me, I commenced the long land-journey I had chalked out to myself. Although I had alleged my wish to revisit England as the main reason of my retirement from Russia, I had also expressed an intention of visiting Italy previous to my return to England. The physicians, indeed, had recommended to me that delicious climate as an antidote to the ills my constitution had sustained in the freezing skies of the north; and in my own heart I had secretly appointed some more solitary part of the Divine Land for the scene of my purposed hermitage and seclusion. It is indeed astonishing how those who have lived much in cold climates yearn for lands of mellow light and summer luxuriance; and I felt for a southern sky the same resistless longing which sailors, in the midst of the vast ocean, have felt for the green fields and various landscape of the shore.

I traversed, then, the immense tracts of Russia, passed through Hungary, entered Turkey, which I had wished to visit, where I remained a short time; and, crossing the Adriatic, hailed, for the first time, the Ausonian shore. It was the month of May--that month, of whose lustrous beauty none in a northern clime can dream--that I entered Italy. It may serve as an instance of the power with which a thought that, however important, is generally deemed of too abstract and metaphysical a nature deeply to engross the mind, possessed me then, that I--no cold nor unenthusiastic votary of the classic Muse--made no pilgrimage to city or ruin, but, after a brief sojourn at Ravenna, where I dismissed all my train, set out alone to find the solitary cell for which I now sickened with a hermit's love.

It was at a small village at the foot of the Apennines that I found the object of my search. Strangely enough, there blended with my philosophical ardour a deep mixture of my old romance. Nature, to whose voice the dweller in cities and struggler with mankind had been so long obtuse, now pleaded audibly at my heart, and called me to her embraces, as a mother calls unto her wearied child. My eye, as with a new vision, became open to the mute yet eloquent loveliness of this most fairy earth; and hill and valley, the mirror of silent waters, the sunny stillness of woods, and the old haunts of satyr and nymph, revived in me the fountains of past poetry, and became the receptacles of a thousand spells, mightier than the charms of any enchanter save Love, which was departed,--Youth, which was nearly gone,--and Nature, which (more vividly than ever) existed for me still.

I chose, then, my retreat. As I was fastidious in its choice, I cannot refrain from the luxury of describing it. Ah, little did I dream that I had come thither, not only to find a divine comfort but the sources of a human and most passionate woe! Mightiest of the Roman bards! in whom tenderness and reason were so entwined, and who didst sanctify even thine unholy errors with so beautiful and rare a genius! what an invariable truth one line of thine has expressed: "Even in the fairest fountain of delight there is a secret and evil spring eternally bubbling up and scattering its bitter waters over the very flowers which surround its margin!"

In the midst of a lovely and tranquil vale was a small cottage; that was my home. The good people there performed for me all the hospitable offices I required. At a neighbouring monastery I had taken the precaution to make myself known to the superior. Not all Italians--no, nor all monks--belong to either of the two great tribes into which they are generally divided,--knaves or fools. The Abbot Anselmo was a man of rather a liberal and enlarged mind; he not only kept my secret, which was necessary to my peace, but he took my part, which was perhaps necessary to my safety. A philosopher, who desires only to convince himself, and upon one subject, does not require many books. Truth lies in a small compass; and for my part, in considering any speculative subject, I would sooner have with me one book of Euclid as a model than all the library of the Vatican as authorities. But then I am not fond of drawing upon any resources but those of reason for reasonings: wiser men than I am are not so strict. The few books that I did require were, however, of a nature very illicit in Italy; the good Father passed them to me from Ravenna, under his own protection. "I was a holy man," he said, "who wished to render the Catholic Church a great service, by writing a vast book against certain atrocious opinions; and the works I read were, for the most part, works that I was about to confute." This report gained me protection and respect; and, after I had ordered my agent at Ravenna to forward to the excellent Abbot a piece of plate, and a huge cargo of a rare Hungary wine, it was not the Abbot's fault if I was not the most popular person in the neighbourhood.

But to my description: my home was a cottage; the valley in which it lay was divided by a mountain stream, which came from the forest Apennine, a sparkling and wild stranger, and softened into quiet and calm as it proceeded through its green margin in the vale. And that margin, how dazzlingly green it was! At the distance of about a mile from my hut, the stream was broken into a slight waterfall, whose sound was heard distinct and deep in that still place; and often I paused, from my midnight thoughts, to listen to its enchanted and wild melody. The fall was unseen by the ordinary wanderer, for, there, the stream passed through a thick copse; and even when you pierced the grove, and gained the water-side, dark trees hung over the turbulent wave, and the silver spray was thrown upward through the leaves, and fell in diamonds upon the deep green sod.

This was a most favoured haunt with me: the sun glancing through the idle leaves; the music of the water; the solemn absence of all other sounds, except the songs of birds, to which the ear grew accustomed, and, at last, in the abstraction of thought, scarcely distinguished from the silence; the fragrant herbs; and the unnumbered and nameless flowers which formed my couch,--were all calculated to make me pursue uninterruptedly the thread of contemplation which I had, in the less voluptuous and harsher solitude of the closet, first woven from the web of austerest thought. I say pursue, for it was too luxurious and sensual a retirement for the conception of a rigid and severe train of reflection; at least it would have been so to me. But when the thought _is once born_, such scenes seem to me the most fit to cradle and to rear it. The torpor of the physical appears to leave to the mental frame a full scope and power; the absence of human cares, sounds, and intrusions, becomes the best nurse to contemplation; and even that delicious and vague sense of enjoyment which would seem, at first, more genial to the fancy than the mind, preserves the thought undisturbed because contented; so that all but the scheming mind becomes lapped in sleep, and the mind itself lives distinct and active as a dream,--a dream, not vague nor confused nor unsatisfying, but endowed with more than the clearness, the precision, the vigour, of waking life.

A little way from this waterfall was a fountain, a remnant of a classic and golden age. Never did Naiad gaze on a more glassy mirror, or dwell in a more divine retreat. Through a crevice in an overhanging mound of the emerald earth, the father stream of the fountain crept out, born, like Love, among flowers, and in the most sunny smiles; it then fell, broadening and glowing, into a marble basin, at whose bottom, in the shining noon, you might see a soil which mocked the very hues of gold, and the water insects, in their quaint shapes and unknown sports, grouping or gliding in the mid-most wave. A small temple of the lightest architecture stood before the fountain, and in a niche therein a mutilated statue,--possibly of the Spirit of the place. By this fountain my evening walk would linger till the short twilight melted away and the silver wave trembled in the light of the western star. Oh, then what feelings gathered over me as I turned slowly homeward! the air still, breathless, shining; the stars gleaming over the woods of the far Apennine; the hills growing huger in the shade; the small insects humming on the wing; and, ever and anon, the swift bat, wheeling round and amidst them; the music of the waterfall deepening on the ear; and the light and hour lending even a mysterious charm to the cry of the weird owl, flitting after its prey,--all this had a harmony in my thoughts and a food for the meditations in which my days and nights were consumed. The World moulders away the fabric of our early nature, and Solitude rebuilds it on a firmer base.

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