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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGodolphin - Chapter 26. The Visionary And His Daughter...
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Godolphin - Chapter 26. The Visionary And His Daughter... Post by :66034 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2181

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Godolphin - Chapter 26. The Visionary And His Daughter...

CHAPTER XXVI. THE VISIONARY AND HIS DAUGHTER--AN ENGLISHMAN, SUCH AS FOREIGNERS IMAGINE THE ENGLISH


We must now present the reader to characters very different from those which have hitherto passed before his eye. Without the immortal city, along the Appia Via, there dwelt a singular and romantic visionary, of the name of Volktman. He was by birth a Dane; and nature had bestowed on him that frame of mind which might have won him a distinguished career, had she placed the period of his birth in the eleventh century. Volktman was essentially a man belonging to the past time: the character of his enthusiasm was weird and Gothic; with beings of the present day he had no sympathy; their loves, their hatreds, their politics, their literature, awoke no echo in his breast. He did not affect to herd with them; his life was solitude, and its occupation study--and study of that nature which every day unfitted him more and more for the purposes of existence. In a word, he was a reader of the stars; a believer in the occult and dreamy science of astrology. Bred up to the art of sculpture, he had early in life sought Rome, as the nurse of inspiration; but even then he had brought with him the dark and brooding temper of his northern tribe. The images of the classic world; the bright, and cold, and beautiful divinities, whose natures as well as shapes the marble simulation of life is so especially adapted to represent; spoke but little to Volktman's pre-occupied and gloomy imagination. Faithful to the superstitions and the warriors of the North, the loveliness and majesty of the southern creations but called forth in him the desire to apply the principles by which they were formed to the embodying those stern visions which his haggard and dim fancies only could invoke. This train of inspiration preserved him, at least, from the deadliest vice in a worshipper of the arts--commonplace. He was no servile and trite imitator; his very faults were solemn and commanding. But before he had gained that long experience which can alone perfect genius, his natural energies were directed to new channels. In an illness which prevented his applying to his art, he had accidentally sought entertainment in a certain work upon astrology. The wild and imposing theories of the science--if science it may be called--especially charmed and invited him. The clear bright nights of his fatherland were brought back to his remembrance; he recalled the mystic and unanalysed impressions with which he had gazed upon the lights of heaven; and he imagined that the very vagueness of his feelings was a proof of the certainty of the science.

The sons of the North are pre-eminently liable to be affected by that romance of emotion which the hushed and starry aspect of night is calculated to excite. The long-broken luxurious silence that, in their frozen climate, reigns from the going down of the sun to its rise; the wandering and sudden meteors that disport, as with an impish life, along the noiseless and solemn heaven; the peculiar radiance of the stars; and even the sterile and severe features of the earth, which those stars light up with their chill and ghostly serenity, serve to deepen the effect of the wizard tales which are instilled into the ear of childhood, and to connect the less known and more visionary impulses of life with the influences, or at least with the associations, of Night and Heaven.

To Volktman, more alive than even his countrymen are wont to be, to superstitious impressions, the science on which he had chanced came with an all-absorbing interest and fascination. He surrendered himself wholly to his new pursuit. By degrees the block and the chisel were neglected, and, though he still worked from time to time, he ceased to consider the sculptor's art as the vocation of his life and the end of his ambition. Fortunately, though not rich, Volktman was not without the means of existence, nor even without the decent and proper comforts: so that he was enabled, as few men are, to indulge his ardour for unprofitable speculations, albeit to the exclusion of lucrative pursuits. It may be noted, that when a man is addicted to an occupation that withdraws him from the world, any great affliction tends to confirm, without hope of cure, his inclinations to solitude. The world, distasteful, in that it gave no pleasure, becomes irremediably hateful when it is coupled with the remembrance of pain. Volktman had married an Italian, a woman who loved him entirely, and whom he loved with that strong though uncaressing affection common to men of his peculiar temper. Of the gay and social habits and constitution of her country, the Italian was not disposed to suffer the astrologer to dwell only among the stars. She sought, playfully and kindly, to attract him towards human society; and Volktman could not always resist--as what man earth-born can do?--the influence of the fair presider over his house and hearth. It happened, that on one day in which she peculiarly wished his attendance at some one of those parties in which Englishmen think the notion of festivity strange--for it includes conversation--Volktman had foretold the menace of some great misfortune. Uncertain, from the character of the prediction, whether to wish his wife to remain at home or to go abroad, he yielded to her wish, and accompanied her to her friend's house. A young Englishman lately arrived at Rome, and already celebrated in the circles of that city for eccentricity of life and his passion for beauty, was of the party. He appeared struck with the sculptor's wife; and in his attentions, Volktman, for the first and the last time, experienced the pangs of jealousy; he hurried his wife away.

On their return home, whether or not a jewel worn by the signora had attracted the cupidity of some of the lawless race who live through gaining, and profiting by, such information, they were attacked by two robbers in the obscure and ill-lighted suburb. Though Volktman offered no resistance, the manner of their assailants was rude and violent. The signora was fearfully alarmed; her shrieks brought a stranger to their assistance; it was the English youth who had so alarmed the jealousy of Volktman. Accustomed to danger in his profession of a gallant, the Englishman seldom, in those foreign lands, went from home at night without the protection of pistols. At the sight of firearms, the ruffians felt their courage evaporate; they fled from their prey; and the Englishman assisted Volktman in conveying the Italian to her home. But the terror of the encounter operated fatally on a delicate frame; and within three weeks from that night Volktman was a widower.

His marriage had been blessed with but one daughter, who at the time of this catastrophe was about eight years of age. His love for his child in some measure reconciled Volktman to life; and as the shock of the event subsided, he returned with a pertinacity which was now subjected to no interruption, to his beloved occupations and mysterious researches. One visitor alone found it possible to win frequent ingress to his seclusion; it was the young English man. A sentiment of remorse at the jealous feelings he had experienced, and for which his wife, though an Italian, had never given him even the shadow of a cause, had softened--into a feeling rendered kind by the associations of the deceased, and a vague desire to atone to her for an acknowledged error,--the dislike he had at first conceived against the young man. This was rapidly confirmed by the gentle and winning manners of the stranger, by his attentions to the deceased, to whom he had sent an English physician of great skill, and, as their acquaintance expanded, by the animated interest which he testified in the darling theories of the astrologer.

It happened also that Volktman's mother had been the daughter of Scotch parents. She had taught him the English tongue; and it was the only language, save his own, which he spoke as a native. This circumstance tended greatly to facilitate his intercourse with the traveller; and he found in the society of a man ardent, sensitive, melancholy, and addicted to all abstract contemplation, a pleasure which, among the keen, but uncultivated intellects of Italy, he had never enjoyed.

Frequently, then, came the young Englishman to the lone house on the Appia Via; and the mysterious and unearthly conversation of the starry visionary afforded to him, who had early learned to scrutinise the varieties of his kind, a strange delight, heightened by the contrast it presented to the worldly natures with which he usually associated, and the commonplace occupations of a life in pursuit of pleasure.

And there was one who, child as she was, watched the coming of that young and beautiful stranger with emotion beyond her years. Brought up alone; mixing, since her mother's death, with no companions of her age; catching dim and solemn glimpses of her father's wild but lofty speculations; his books, filled with strange characters and imposing "words of mighty sound," open for ever to her young and curious gaze; it can scarce be matter of wonder that something strange and unworldly mingled with the elements of character which Lucilla Volktman early developed--a character that was nature itself, yet of a nature erratic and bizarre. Her impulses she obeyed spontaneously, but none fathomed their origin. She was not of a quiet and meek order of mind; but passionate, changeful, and restless. She would laugh and weep without apparent cause; and the colour on her cheek never seemed for two minutes the same; and the most fitful changes of an April heaven were immutability itself compared with the play and lustre of expression that undulated in her features and her wild, deep, eloquent eyes.

Her person resembled her mind; it was beautiful; but the beauty struck you less than the singularity of its character. Her eyes were of a darkness that at night seemed black; but her hair was of the brightest and purest auburn; her complexion, sometimes pale, sometimes radiant even to the flush of a fever, was delicate and clear; her teeth and mouth were lovely beyond all words; her hands and feet were small to a fault; and as she grew up (for we have forestalled her age in this description) her shape, though wanting in height, was in such harmony and proportion, that the mind of the sculptor would sometimes escape from the absorption of the astrologer and Volktman would gaze upon her with the same admiration that he would have bestowed, in spite of the subject, on the goddess-forms of Phidias or Canova. But then, this beauty was accompanied with such endless variety of gesture, often so wild, though always necessarily graceful, that the eye ached for that repose requisite for prolonged admiration.

When she was spoken to, she did not often answer to the purpose, but rather appeared to reply as to some interrogatory of her own; in the midst of one occupation, she would start up to another; leave that, in turn, undone, and sit down in silence lasting for hours. Her voice, in singing, was exquisitely melodious; she had too, an intuitive talent for painting; and she read all the books that came in her way with an avidity that bespoke at once the restlessness and the genius of her mind.

This description of Lucilla must, I need scarcely repeat, be considered as applicable to her at some years distant from the time in which the young Englishman first attracted her childish but ardent imagination. To her, that face, with its regular and harmonious features, its golden hair, and soft, shy, melancholy aspect, seemed as belonging to a higher and brighter order of beings than those who, with exaggerated lineaments and swarthy hues, surrounded and displeased her. She took a strange and thrilling pleasure in creeping to his side, and looking up, when unobserved, at the countenance which, in his absence, she loved to imitate with her pencil by day; and to recall in her dreams at night. But she seldom spoke to him, and she shrank, covered with painful blushes, from his arms, whenever he attempted to bestow on her those caresses which children are wont to claim as an attention. Once, however, she summoned courage to ask him to teach her English, and he complied. She learned that language with surprising facility; and as Volktman loved its sound she grew familiar with its difficulties, by always addressing her father in a tongue which became inexpressibly dear to her. And the young stranger delighted to hear that soft and melodious voice, with its trembling, Italian accent, make music from the nervous and masculine language of his native land. Scarce accountably to himself, a certain tender and peculiar interest in the fortunes of this singular and bewitching child grew up within him--peculiar and not easily accounted for, in that it was not wholly the interest we feel in an engaging child, and yet was of no more interested nor sinister order. Were there truth in the science of the stars, I should say that they had told him her fate was to have affinity with his; and with that persuasion, something mysterious and more than ordinarily tender, entered into the affection he felt for the daughter of his friend.

The Englishman was himself of a romantic character. He had been self-taught; and his studies, irregular though often deep, had given directions to his intellect frequently enthusiastic and unsound. His imagination preponderated over his judgment; and any pursuit that attracted his imagination won his entire devotion, until his natural sagacity proved it deceitful. If at times, living as he did in that daily world which so sharpens our common sense, he smiled at the persevering fervour of the astrologer, he more often shared it; and he became his pupil in "the poetry of heaven," with a secret but deep belief in the mysteries cultivated by his master. Carrying the delusion to its height, I fear that the enthusiast entered upon ground still more shadowy and benighted;--the old secrets of the alchymist, and perhaps even of those arcana yet more gloomy and less rational, were subjected to their serious contemplation; and night after night, they delivered themselves wholly up to that fearful and charmed fascination which the desire and effort to overleap our mortal boundaries produce even in the hardest and best regulated minds. The train of thought so long nursed by the abstruse and solitary Dane was, perhaps, a better apology for the weakness of credulity, than the youth and wandering fancy of the Englishman. But the scene around--not alluring to the one--fed to overflowing the romantic aspirations of the other.

On his way home, as the stars (which night had been spent in reading) began to wink and fade, the Englishman crossed the haunted Almo, renowned of yore for its healing virtues, and in whose stream the far-famed simulacrum, (the image of Cybele), which fell from heaven, was wont to be laved with every coming spring: and around his steps, till he gained his home, were the relics and monuments of that superstition which sheds so much beauty over all that, in harsh reasoning, it may be said to degrade; so that his mind, always peculiarly alive to external impressions, was girt, as it were, with an atmosphere favourable both to the lofty speculation and the graceful credulities of romance.

The Englishman remained at Rome, with slight intervals of absence, for nearly three years. On the night before the day in which he received intelligence of an event that recalled him to his native country, he repaired at an hour accidentally later than usual to the astrologer's abode.

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