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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGodolphin - Chapter 35. Godolphin At Rome...
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Godolphin - Chapter 35. Godolphin At Rome... Post by :66034 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2023

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Godolphin - Chapter 35. Godolphin At Rome...

CHAPTER XXXV. GODOLPHIN AT ROME.--THE CURE FOR A MORBID IDEALISM.--HIS EMBARRASSMENT IN REGARD TO LUCILLA.--THE RENCONTRE WITH AN OLD FRIEND.--THE COLOSSEUM.--A SURPRISE


Godolphin arrived at Rome: it was thronged with English. Among them were some whom he remembered with esteem in England. He had grown a little weary of his long solitude, and he entered with eagerness into the society of those who courted him. He was still an object of great interest to the idle; and as men grow older they become less able to dispense with attention.

He was pleased to find his own importance, and he tasted the sweets of companionship with more gust than he had yet done. His talents, buried in obscurity, and uncalled for by the society of Lucilla, were now perpetually tempted into action, and stimulated by reward. It had never before appeared to him so charming a thing to shine; for, before, he had been sated with even that pleasure. Now, from long relaxation, it had become new; vanity had recovered its nice perception. He was no longer so absorbed as he had been by visionary images. He had given his fancy food in his long solitude, and with its wild co-mate; and being somewhat disappointed in the result, the living world became to him a fairer prospect than it had seemed while the world of imagination was untried. Nothing more confirms the health of the mind than indulging its favourite infirmity to its own cure. So Goethe, in his memoirs, speaking of Werther, remarks, that "the composition of that extravagant work cured his character of extravagance."

Godolphin thought often of Lucilla; but perhaps, if the truth of his heart were known even to himself, a certain sentiment of pain and humiliation was associated with the tenderness of his remembrance. With her he had led a life, romantic, it is true, but somewhat effeminate; and he thought now, surrounded by the gay and freshening tide of the world, somewhat mawkish in its romance. He did not experience a desire to return to the still lake and the gloomy pines;--he felt that Lucilla did not suffice to make his world. He would have wished to bring her to Rome; to live with her more in public than he had hitherto done; to conjoin, in short, her society, with the more recreative dissipation of the world: but there were many obstacles to this plan in his fastidious imagination. So new to the world, its ways, its fashions, so strange and infantine in all things, as Lucilla was, he trembled to expose her inexperience to the dangers that would beset it. He knew that his "friends" would pay very little respect to her reserve; and that for one so lovely and unhackneyed, the snares of the wildest and most subtle adepts of intrigue would be set. Godolphin did not undervalue Lucilla's pure and devoted heart; but he knew that the only sure antidote against the dangers of the world is the knowledge of the world. There was nothing in Lucilla that ever promised to attain that knowledge; her very nature seemed to depend on her ignorance of the nature of others. Joined to this fear and a confused sentiment of delicacy towards her, a certain remorseful feeling in himself made him dislike bringing their connexion immediately before the curious and malignant world: so much had circumstance, and Lucilla's own self-willed temper and uncalculating love, contributed to drive the poor girl into his arms,--and so truly had he chosen the generous not the selfish part, until passion and nature were exposed to a temptation that could have been withstood by none but the adherent to sterner principles than he (the creature of indolence and feeling) had ever clung to--that Godolphin, viewing his habits--his education--his whole bias and frame of mind--the estimates and customs of the world--may not, perhaps be very rigidly judged for the nature of his tie to Lucilla. But I do not seek to excuse it, nor did he wholly excuse it to himself. The image of Volktman often occurred to him, and always in reproach. Living with Lucilla in a spot only trod by Italians, so indulgent to love, and where the whisper of shame could never reach her ear, or awaken his remorse, her state did not, however, seem to her or himself degraded, and the purity of her girlish mind almost forbade the intrusion of the idea. But to bring her into public--among his own countrymen--and to feel that the generous and devoted girl, now so unconscious of sin, would be rated by English eyes with the basest and most abandoned of the sex,--with the glorifiers in vice or the hypocrites for money,--this was a thought which he could not contemplate, and which he felt he would rather pass his life in solitude than endure. But this very feeling gave an embarrassment to his situation with Lucilla, and yet more fixedly combined her image with that of a wearisome seclusion and an eternal ennui.

From the thought of Lucilla, coupled with its many embarrassments, Godolphin turned with avidity to the easy enjoyments of life--enjoyments that ask no care and dispense with the trouble of reflection.

But among the visitors to Rome, the one whose sight gave to Godolphin the greatest pleasure was his old friend Augustus Saville. A decaying constitution, and a pulmonary attack in especial, had driven the accomplished voluptuary to a warmer climate. The meeting of the two friends was quite characteristic: it was at a soiree at an English house. Saville had managed to get up a whist-table.

"Look, Saville, there is Godolphin, your old friend!" cried the host, who was looking on the game, and waiting to cut in.

"Hist!" said Saville; "don't direct his attention to me until after the odd trick!"

Notwithstanding this coolness when a point was in question, Saville was extremely glad to meet his former pupil. They retired into a corner of the room, and talked over the world. Godolphin hastened to turn the conversation on Lady Erpingham.

"Ah!" said Saville, "I see from your questions, and yet more your tone of voice, that although it is now several years since you met, you still preserve the sentiment--the weakness--Ah!--bah!"

"Pshaw!" said Godolphin; "I owe her revenge, not love. But Erpingham? Does she love him? He is handsome."

"Erpingham? What--you have not heard----"

"Heard what?"

"Oh, nothing: but, pardon me, they wait for me at the card-table. I should like to stay with you, but you know one must not be selfish; the table would be broken up without me. No virtue without self-sacrifice--eh?"

"But one moment. What is the matter with the Erpinghams? have they quarrelled?"

"Quarrelled?--bah! Quarrelled--no; I dare say she likes him better now than ever she did before." And Saville limped away to the table.

Godolphin remained for some time abstracted and thoughtful. At length, just as he was going away, Saville, who, having an unplayable hand and a bad partner, had somewhat lost his interest in the game, looked up and beckoned to him.

"Godolphin, my clear fellow, I am to escort a lady to see the lions to-morrow; a widow--a rich widow; handsome, too. Do, for charity's sake, accompany us, or meet us at the Colosseum. How well that sounds--eh? About two."

Godolphin refused at first, but being pressed, assented.

Not surrounded by the lesser glories of modern Rome, but girt with the mighty desolation of the old city of Romulus, stands the most wonderful monument, perhaps, in the world, of imperial magnificence--the Flavian Amphitheatre, to which, it has been believed, the colossal statue of the worst of emperors gave that name (the Colosseum), allied with the least ennobling remembrances yet giving food to the loftiest thoughts. The least ennobling remembrances; for what can be more degrading than the amusements of a degraded people, who reserved meekness for their tyrants, and lavished ferocity on their shows? From that of the wild beast to that of the Christian martyr, blood has been the only sanctification of this temple to the Arts. The history of the Past broods like an air over those mighty arches; but Memory can find no reminiscence worthy of the spot. The amphitheatre was not built until history had become a record of the vice and debasement of the human race. The Faun and the Dryad had deserted the earth, no sweet superstition, the faith of the grotto and the green hill, could stamp with a delicate and undying spell the labours of man. Nor could the ruder but august virtues of the heroic age give to the tradition of the arch and column some stirring remembrance or exalting thought. Not only the warmth of fancy, but the greatness of soul was gone; the only triumph left to genius was to fix on its page the gloomy vices which made the annals of the world. Tacitus is the Historian of the Colosseum. But the very darkness of the past gives to the thoughts excited within that immense pile a lofty but mournful character. A sense of vastness--for which, as we gaze, we cannot find words, but which bequeaths thoughts that our higher faculties would not willingly forego--creeps within us as we gaze on this Titan relic of gigantic crimes for ever passed away from the world.

And not only within the scene, but around the scene, what voices of old float upon the air? Yonder the triumphal arch of Constantine, its Corinthian arcades, and the history of Trajan sculptured upon its marble; the dark and gloomy verdure of the Palatine; the ruins of the palace of the Caesars; the mount of Fable, of Fame, of Luxury (the Three Epochs of Nations); the habitation of Saturn; the home of Tully; the sight of the Golden House of Nero! Look at your feet,--look around; the waving weed, the broken column--Time's witness, and the Earthquake's. In that contrast between grandeur and decay,--in the unutterable and awful solemnity that, while rife with the records of past ages, is sad also with their ravage, you have felt the nature of eternity!

Through this vast amphitheatre, and giving way to such meditations, Godolphin passed on alone, the day after his meeting with Saville; and at the hour he had promised the latter to seek him, he mounted the wooden staircase which conducts the stranger to the wonders above the arena, and by one of the arches that looked over the still pines that slept afar off in the sun of noon, he saw a female in deep mourning, whom Saville appeared to be addressing. He joined them; the female turned round, and he beheld, pale and saddened, but how glorious still, the face of Constance! To him the interview was unexpected, by her foreseen. The colour flushed over her cheek, the voice sank inaudible within. But Godolphin's emotion was more powerful and uncontrolled: violent tremblings literally shook him as he stood; he gasped for breath: the sight of the dead returned to earth would have affected him less.

In this immense ruin--in the spot where, most of earth, man feels the significance of an individual life, or of the rapid years over which it extends, he had encountered, suddenly, the being who had coloured all his existence. He was reminded at once of the grand epoch of his life and of its utter unimportance. But these are the thoughts that would occur rather to us than him. Thought at that moment was an intolerable flash that burst on him for an instant, and then left all in darkness. He clung to the shattered corridor for support. Constance seemed touched and surprised by so overwhelming an emotion, and the habitual hypocrisy in which women are reared, and by which they learn to conceal the sentiments they experience, and affect those they do not, came to her assistance and his own.

"It is many years, Mr. Godolphin," said she in a collected but soft voice, "since we met."

"Years!" repeated Godolphin, vaguely; and approaching her with a slow and faltering step. "Years! you have not numbered them!"

Saville had retired a few steps on Godolphin's arrival, and had watched with a sardonic yet indifferent smile the proof of his friend's weakness. He joined Godolphin, and said,--

"You must forgive me, my dear Godolphin, for not apprising you before of Lady Erpingham's arrival at Rome. But a delight is perhaps the greater for being sudden."

The word Erpingham thrilled displeasingly through Godolphin's veins; in some measure it restored him to himself. He bowed coldly, and muttered a few ceremonious words; and while he was yet speaking, some stragglers that had belonged to Lady Erpingham's party came up. Fortunately, perhaps, for the self-possession of both, they, the once lovers, were separated from each other. But whenever Constance turned her glance to Godolphin, she saw those large, searching, melancholy eyes, whose power she well recalled, fixed unmovingly on her, as seeking to read in her cheek the history of the years which had ripened its beauties--for another.

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