Anna St. Ives Part 78

Are you a man? Will you never shake off this bondage? Oh it is base!

it is beneath you! Of what have you been guilty? Why of ignorance, mistakes of the understanding, false views, which you wanted knowledge enough, truth enough, to correct. Have not many of the G.o.dlike men whom we admire most been guilty, in their youth, of equal or of greater errors?--Thus, alas, it happens that minds of the highest hope, and most divine stamp and coinage, are cut off daily; swept away by that other grand mistake of man-kind--'Exemplary punishment is necessary'--So they say--But no--'Tis exemplary reformation! Can the world be better warned by a body in gibbets, than by the active virtues of a once misguided but now enlightened understanding? The gibbet will remain an object of terror to the traveller, who dreads being robbed and murdered; but an incitement to despair, in the mind of the murderer!--Banish then these black pictures from your mind, by which it continues darkened and misled; and in their stead behold a soul-inspiring prospect, of all that is great and glorious, rising to your view! Feel yourself a man! Nay you shall feel it, in your own despite! A man capable of high and n.o.ble actions!

Here, Oliver, I at this time left him. His eye remained fixed, and he was silent; but its wildness was diminished: the frown of his brow disappeared, and his countenance became more clear. Such a.s.sociations as these tokens denoted ought not to meet interruption. However I took care to return in less than an hour; fearful lest he should decline into his former gloom, which was little short of phrensy. I had been fortunate enough to reduce his discordant feelings to something like harmony; and the moment I entered his room the second time he exclaimed--

You are a generous fellow! A magnanimous fellow! You can work miracles!--I know you of old--Can bring the dead to life!--Can almost persuade me that even I, by living, may now and then effect some trifling, pitiful good; may s.n.a.t.c.h some of the remnants, the offals of honour--But aught eminent, aught worthy of--

Be calm.

No! It cannot be forgotten, or forgiven!--Cruel, malignant, remorseless wretch!

Can you speak thus of the present?--You know you cannot!--And wherefore unjustly insist on the past? Be firm! Conquer this pride of heart!

Why, ay--Pride of heart! It is the very d.a.m.ning sin of my soul!

Exorcise the foul fiend then, and in its stead give welcome to firm but una.s.suming self-respect. Arise! Shake torpor from you, and feel your strength! It is Atlean; made to bear a world! Cherish life, and become worthy of yourself! What! Would you kill a mind so mighty? Do you not feel it, now; possessing you, emanating, flaming, bursting to spread itself?

Why, that were something!--Could I but once again get into my own good liking--! You are a strange fellow!--You will not hate me! Nay, will not suffer me to hate myself!--d.a.m.nation! To be cast at such an immense distance! Oh it is intolerable! It is contemptible!--But I will have my revenge!--Some how or another I will yet have my revenge! And, since hate must not be the word, why--! But no matter--I will have no more vaunting--Yet, if I do not--! I have had a glimpse, and begin to know you--The soul of benevolence, of tenderness, of attention, of love, of all the divine faculties that make men deities, infuses itself and pervades you--Had I but been wholly fool, I had been but partly villain--But I!--Oh monstrous!--The fiends with whom I was leagued to me were angels!

Why, ay; contemplate the picture, but do not forget it is that of a man you once knew, who is now no more. He has disappeared, and in his stead an angel of light is come!

Stop!--Go not too fast!--I promise nothing--Mark that!--I promise nothing--Do not imagine I am now in the feverish repentance of white wine whey--You would have me stay in a world which I myself have rendered hateful--I will think of it--I know your arts--You would realize the fable of Pygmalion, and would infuse soul into marble!

There is no need; you have a soul already; inventive, capacious, munificent, sublime!

Ay, ay--I know--You have a choice collection of words.

A soul of ten thousand! Nay, an army of souls in one!

And must I submit? Are you determined to make a rascal like me admire, and love, and give place to all the fine affections of the heart?

Ay, determined!

Oh, sister!--(Louisa at this moment entered.) To you too I have behaved like a scoundrel! A tyrant! A petulant, ostentatious, imperious braggart!

You mistake! replied Louisa, eagerly. You mistake! You are talking of a very different man! A being I could not understand. You are my brother!--My brother!--I have found the way to your heart! Will make it all my own! Will twine myself round it! Shake me off if you can!

The energy with which she spoke, and looked, and kissed him, was irresistible! He was overpowered: the tears gushed to his eyes, but he repressed them; he thought them unmanly; and, seeing his medical friend enter, exclaimed--I have surgeons for the body, and surgeons for the mind, who cut with so deep yet so steady a hand that they take away the noxious, and leave the wound to suppurate and heal!

Can we do less? said I. Ours is no common task! We are acting in behalf of society: we have found a treasure, by which it is to be enriched.

Few indeed are those puissant and heavenly endowed spirits, that are capable of guiding, enlightening, and leading the human race onward to felicity! What is there precious but mind? And when mind, like a diamond of uncommon growth, exceeds a certain magnitude, calculation cannot find its value!

I once more left him; and never did I quit the company of human being, no not of Anna St. Ives herself, with a more glowing and hoping heart.

But why describe sensations to thee, Oliver, with which thou art so intimately acquainted? To bid thee rejoice, to invite thee to partic.i.p.ate in felicity, which may and must so widely diffuse itself, were equally to wrong thy understanding and thy heart.

F. HENLEY

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