William Ainsworth.

Auriol: or, The Elixir of Life



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The apartment to which we are about to repair was a complete index to the mind and character of its possessor, Sir Lionel Flamstead. I have called it a dining-room, from its ordinary application to the purposes of refection and festivity; but it had much more the air of a library, or study. It was a small comfortable chamber, just large enough to contain half-a-dozen people, though by management double that number had been occasionally squeezed into its narrow limits. The walls were decorated with curious old prints, maps and plans, set in old black worm-eaten frames, and representing divers personages, places, and structures connected with London and its history.

Over the mantelpiece was stretched Vertue's copy of Ralph Aggas's famous survey of our "great metropolis," made about the beginning of Elizabeth's reign, or perhaps a little earlier, when it was scarcely so great a metropolis as at the present time, and when novelists, gentlemen of the press, cabmen, omnibus cads, and other illustrious personages were unborn and undreamed of; when St. Giles's, in lieu of its mysterious and D?dalian Seven Dials (which should have for their motto Wordsworth's title, "We are Seven"), consisted of a little cluster of country houses, surrounded by a grove of elms; when a turreted wall girded in the City, from Aldgate to Grey Friars; when a pack of staghounds was kept in Finsbury Fields, and archers and cross-bowmen haunted the purlieus of the Spital; when he who strolled westward from Charing Cross (then no misnomer) beheld neither Opera House nor club-house, but a rustic lane, with a barn at one end, and a goodly assortment of hay-carts and hay-stacks at the other; when the Thames was crossed by a single bridge, and that bridge looked like a street, and the street itself like a row of palaces. On the right of this plan hung a sketch of Will Somers, jester to Henry VIII., after the picture by Holbein; on the left an engraving of Geoffrey Hudson, the diminutive attendant of Henrietta Maria. This niche was devoted to portraits of the bluff king before mentioned, and his six spouses; that to the melancholy Charles and his family. Here, the Great Fire of 1666, with its black profiles of houses, relieved by a sheet of "bloody and malicious" flame, formed a pleasant contrast to the icy wonders of the Frost Fair, held on the Thames in 1684, when carriages were driven through the lines of tents, and an ox was roasted on the water, to the infinite delectation of the citizens. There Old Saint Paul's (in the words of Victor Hugo, "one of those Gothic monuments so admirable and so irreparable"), and which is but ill replaced by the modern "bastard counterpart" of the glorious fane of St. Peter at Rome, reared its venerable tower (not dome) and lofty spire to the sky. Next to St. Paul's came the reverend Abbey of Westminster, taken before it had been disfigured by the towers added by Wren; and next to the abbey opened the long and raftered vista of its magnificent neighbouring hall.

Several plans and prospects of the Tower of London, as it appeared at different epochs, occupied a corner to themselves: then came a long array of taverns, from the Tabard in Southwark, the Boar's Head in Eastcheap, and the Devil near Temple Bar, embalmed in the odour of poesy, to the Nag's Head in Cheapside, notorious for its legend of the consecration of the Protestant bishops in 1559; there also might you see —

 
– in Billinsgate the Salutation.
And the Boar's Head near London Stone,
The Swan at Dowgate, a tavern well known;
The Mitre in Cheap, and then the Bull's Head,
And many like places that make noses red;
The Boar's Head in Old Fish Street; Three Crowns in the Vintry;
And, now, of late, Saint Martin's in the Seutree;
The Windmill in Lothbury; the Ship at th' Exchange;
King's Head in New Fish Street, where roysters do range;
The Mermaid in Cornhill; Red Lion in the Strand;
Three Tuns in Newgate Market; in Old Fish Street the Swan.11
  News from Bartholomew Faire.


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Adjoining these places of entertainment were others of a different description, to wit, the Globe, as it stood when Shakspeare (how insufferable is Mr. Knight's orthography of this reverend name – Shakspere!) trod the stage; the king's play-house in Charles the Second's time; the Bear Garden, with its flag streaming to the wind; and the Folly, as it once floated in the river, opposite old Somerset House. Then came the Halls, beginning with Guildhall and ending with Old Skinner's. Next, the Crosses, from Paul's to Charing; then, the churches, gateways, hospitals, colleges, prisons, asylums, inns of court, – in short, for it is needless to particularise further, London and its thousand recollections rose before you, as you gazed around. Scarcely an old edifice, to which an historical tradition could be attached (and what old London edifice is destitute of such traditions?), was wanting. Nor were the great of old – the spirits, who gave interest and endurance to these decayed, or decaying structures, wanting. But I shall not pause to enumerate their portraits, or make out a catalogue as long as the list of Homer's ships, or the gallery of Mr. Lodge. Sufficient has been said, I trust, to give the reader an idea of the physiology of the room. Yet stay! I must not omit to point out the contents of those groaning shelves. In the goodly folios crowded there are contained the chronicles of Holinshed and Hall; of Grafton, Fabian, and Stow; of Matthew of Paris, and his namesake of Westminster. Let him not be terrified at the ponderous size of these admirable old historians, nor be deterred by the black letter, if he should chance to open a volume. Their freshness and picturesque details will surprise as much as they will delight him. From this wealthy mine Shakspeare drew some of his purest ore. The shelves are crowned by a solitary bust. It is that of a modern. It is that of a lover of London, and a character of London. It is Doctor Johnson.

Having completed the survey of the apartment, I shall now proceed to its occupants. These were five in number – jolly fellows all – seated round a circular dining-table covered with glasses and decanters, amidst which a portly magnum of claret, and a deep and capacious china punch-bowl, must not pass unmentioned. They were in the full flow of fun and conviviality; enjoying themselves as good fellows always enjoy themselves at "the season of the year." The port was delectable – old as Saint Paul's, I was going to say – not quite, however – but just "old enough"; the claret was nectar, or what is better, it was Lafitte; the punch was drink for the gods. The jokes of this party would have split your sides – their laughter would have had the same effect on your ears. Never were heard peals of merriment so hearty and prolonged. You only wondered how they found time to drink, so quick did each roar follow on the heels of its predecessor. That they did drink, however, was clear; that they had drunk was equally certain; and that they intended to continue drinking seemed to come within the limits of probability.

Sir Lionel Flamstead was a retired merchant – one of those high-souled, high-principled traders, of whom our City was once so justly proud, and of whom so few, in these days of railway bubbles, and other harebrained speculations, can be found. His word was his bond – once passed, it was sufficient; his acceptances were accounted safe as the Bank of England. Had Sir Thomas Gresham descended from his niche he could not have been treated with greater consideration than attended Sir Lionel's appearance on 'Change. All eyes followed the movements of his tall and stately figure – all hats were raised to his courteous but ceremonious salutation. Affable, yet precise, and tinctured with something of the punctiliousness of the old school, his manners won him universal respect and regard, even from those unknown to him. By his intimates he was revered. His habits were as regular as clockwork, and the glass of cold punch at Tom's, or the basin of soup at Birch's, wound him up for the day. His attire was as formal as his manners, being a slight modification of the prevalent costume of some five-and-thirty years ago. He had consented, not without extreme reluctance, to clothe his nether limbs in the unmentionable garment of recent introduction; but he resolutely adhered to the pigtail. There is something, by-the-bye, in a pigtail, to which old gentlemen cling in spite of all remonstrance, with lover-like pertinacity. Only hint the propriety of cutting it off to your great-uncle or your grandfather, and you may rely on being cut off with a shilling yourself. Be this as it may, Sir Lionel gathered his locks, once sable as the riband that bound them, but now thickly strewn with the silver "blossoms of the grave," into a knot, and suffered them to dangle a few inches below his collar. His shoes shone with a lustre beyond French polish, and his hat was brushed till not a wind dared to approach it. Sir Lionel wore a white, unstarched cravat, with a thick pad in it, sported a frill over his waistcoat, carried a black ebony cane in his hand, and was generally followed by a pet pug-dog, one of the most sagacious and disagreeable specimens of his species. Sir Lionel Flamstead, I have said, was tall – I might have said he was very tall – somewhat narrower across the shoulders than about the hips – a circumstance which did not materially conduce to his symmetry – with grey, benevolent eyes, shaded by bushy, intelligent brows – a lofty, expansive forehead, in which, in the jargon of phrenology, the organs of locality and ideality were strongly developed, and which was rendered the more remarkable from the flesh having fallen in on either side of the temples – with a nose which had been considered handsome and well proportioned in his youth, but to which good living had imparted a bottle form and a bottle tint – and cheeks from which all encroachment of whiskers was sedulously removed, in order, we conclude, that his rosy complexion might be traced from its point of concentration, upon the prominent feature before mentioned, to its final disappearance behind his ears. Such was Sir Lionel Flamstead.

A NIGHT'S ADVENTURE IN ROME

CHAPTER I
SANTA MARIA MAGGIORE
 
The Pope was saying the high, high mass,
All on Saint Peter's day;
With the power to him given by the saints in heaven
To wash men's sins away.
 
 
The Pope he was saying the blessed mass,
And the people kneel'd around;
And from each man's soul his sins did pass,
As he kissed the holy ground.
 
 
– The Grey Brother.
 

Chancing to be in Rome in the August of 1830, I visited the gorgeous church of Santa Maria Maggiore during the celebration of the anniversary of the Holy Assumption.

It was a glorious sight to one unaccustomed to the imposing religious ceremonials of the Romish Church, to witness all the pomp and splendour displayed at this high solemnity – to gaze down that glittering pile, and mark the various ecclesiastical dignitaries, each in their peculiar and characteristic costume, employed in the ministration of their sacred functions, and surrounded by a wide semicircle of the papal guards, so stationed to keep back the crowd, and who, with their showy scarlet attire and tall halberds, looked like the martial figures we see in the sketches of Callot. Nor was the brilliant effect of this picture diminished by the sumptuous framework in which it was set. Overhead flamed a roof resplendent with burnished gold; before me rose a canopy supported by pillars of porphyry, and shining with many-coloured stones; while on either hand were chapels devoted to some noble house, and boasting each the marble memorial of a pope. Melodious masses proper to the service were ever and anon chanted by the papal choir, and overpowering perfume was diffused around by a hundred censers.

Subdued by the odours, the music, and the spectacle, I sank into a state of dreamy enthusiasm, during a continuance of which I almost fancied myself a convert to the faith of Rome, and surrendered myself unreflectingly to an admiration of its errors. As I gazed among the surrounding crowd, the sight of so many prostrate figures, all in attitudes of deepest devotion, satisfied me of the profound religious impression of the ceremonial. As elsewhere, this feeling was not universal; and, as elsewhere, likewise, more zeal was exhibited by the lower than the higher classes of society; and I occasionally noted amongst the latter the glitter of an eye or the flutter of a bosom, not altogether agitated, I suspect, by holy aspirations. Yet methought, on the whole, I had never seen such abandonment of soul, such prostration of spirit, in my own colder clime, and during the exercise of my own more chastened creed, as that which in several instances I now beheld; and I almost envied the poor maiden near me, who, abject upon the earth, had washed away her sorrows, and perhaps her sins, in contrite tears.

As such thoughts swept through my mind, I felt a pleasure in singling out particular figures and groups which interested me, from their peculiarity of costume, or from their devotional fervour. Amongst others, a little to my left, I remarked a band of mountaineers from Calabria, for such I judged them to be from their wild and picturesque garb. Deeply was every individual of this little knot of peasantry impressed by the ceremonial. Every eye was humbly cast down; every knee bent; every hand was either occupied in grasping the little crucifix suspended from its owner's neck, in telling the beads of his rosary, or fervently crossed upon his bare and swarthy breast.

While gazing upon this group, I chanced upon an individual whom I had not hitherto noticed, and who now irresistibly attracted my attention. Though a little removed from the Calabrian mountaineers, and reclining against the marble walls of the church, he evidently belonged to the same company; at least, so his attire seemed to indicate, though the noble cast of his countenance was far superior to that of his comrades. He was an old man, with a face of the fine antique Roman stamp – a bold outline of prominent nose, rugged and imperious brow, and proudly-cut chin. His head and chin, as well as his naked breast, were frosted over with the snowy honours of many winters, and their hoar appearance contrasted strikingly with the tawny hue of a skin almost as dark and as lustrous as polished oak. Peasant as he was, there was something of grandeur and majesty in this old man's demeanour and physiognomy. His head declined backwards, so as completely to expose his long and muscular throat. His arms hung listlessly by his side; one hand drooped upon the pavement, the other was placed within his breast: his eyes were closed. The old man's garb was of the coarsest fabric; he wore little beyond a shirt, a loose vest, a sort of sheep-skin cloak, and canvas leggings bound around with leathern thongs. His appearance, however, was above his condition; he became his rags as proudly as a prince would have become his ermined robe.

The more I scrutinised the rigid lines of this old man's countenance, the more I became satisfied that many singular, and perhaps not wholly guiltless, events were connected with his history. The rosary was in his hand – the cross upon his breast – the beads were untold – the crucifix unclasped – no breath of prayer passed his lips. His face was turned heavenward, but his eyes were closed, – he dared not open them. Why did he come thither, if he did not venture to pray? Why did he assume a penitential attitude, if he felt no penitence?

So absorbed was I in the perusal of the workings of this old man's countenance, as to be scarcely conscious that the service of high mass was concluded, and the crowd within the holy pile fast dispersing. The music was hushed, the robed prelates and their train had disappeared, joyous dames were hastening along the marble aisles to their equipages; all, save a few kneeling figures near the chapels, were departing; and the old man, aware, from the stir and hum prevailing around, that the ceremonial was at an end, arose, stretched out his arm to one of his comrades, a youth who had joined him, and prepared to follow the concourse.

Was he really blind? Assuredly not. Besides, he did not walk like as one habituated to the direst calamity that can befall our nature. He staggered in his gait, and reeled to and fro. Yet wherefore did he not venture to unclose his eyes within the temple of the Most High? What would I not have given to be made acquainted with his history! For I felt that it must be a singular one.

I might satisfy my curiosity at once. He was moving slowly forward, guided by his comrade. In a few seconds it would be too late – he would have vanished from my sight. With hasty footsteps I followed him down the church, and laid my hand, with some violence, upon his shoulder.

The old man started at the touch, and turned. Now, indeed, his eyes were opened wide, and flashing full upon me, – and such eyes! Heretofore I had only dreamed of such. Age had not quenched their lightning, and I quailed beneath the fierce glances which he threw upon me. But if I was, at first, surprised at the display of anger which I had called forth in him, how much more was I astonished to behold the whole expression of his countenance suddenly change. His eyes continued fixed upon mine as if I had been a basilisk. Apparently he could not avert them; while his whole frame shivered with emotion. I advanced towards him; he shrank backwards, and, but for the timely aid of his companion, would have fallen upon the pavement.

At a loss to conceive in what way I could have occasioned him so much alarm, I rushed forward to the assistance of the old man, when his son – for such it subsequently appeared he was – rudely repelled me, and thrust his hand into his girdle, as if to seek for means to prevent further interference.

Meanwhile the group had been increased by the arrival of a third party, attracted by the cry the old man had uttered in falling. The new-comer was an Italian gentleman, somewhat stricken in years; of stern and stately deportment, and with something sinister and forbidding in his aspect. He was hastening towards the old man, but he suddenly stopped, and was about to retire when he encountered my gaze. As our eyes met he started; and a terror, as sudden and lively as that exhibited by the old man, was at once depicted in his features.

My surprise was now beyond all bounds, and I continued for some moments speechless with astonishment. Not a little of the inexplicable awe which affected the old man and the stranger was communicated to myself. Altogether, we formed a mysterious and terrible triangle, of which each side bore some strange and unintelligible relation to the other.

The new-comer first recovered his composure, though not without an effort. Coldly turning his heel upon me, he walked towards the old man, and shook him forcibly. The latter shrank from his grasp, and endeavoured to avoid him; but it was impossible. The stranger whispered a few words in his ear, of which, from his gestures being directed towards myself, I could guess the import. The old man replied. His action in doing so was that of supplication and despair. The stranger retorted in a wild and vehement manner, and even stamped upon the ground; but the old man still continued to cling to the knees of his superior.

"Weak, superstitious fool!" at length exclaimed the stranger, "I will waste no more words upon thee. Do, or say, what thou wilt; but beware!" And spurning him haughtily back with his foot, he strode away.

The old man's reverend head struck against the marble floor. His temple was cut open by the fall, and blood gushed in torrents from the wound. Recovering himself, he started to his feet – a knife was instantly in his hand, and he would have pursued and doubtless slain his aggressor, if he had not been forcibly withheld by his son, and by a priest who had joined them.

"Maledizione!" exclaimed the old man – "a blow from him– from that hand! I will stab him, though he were at the altar's foot; though he had a thousand lives, each should pay for it. Release me, Paolo! release me! for, by Heaven, he dies!"

"Peace, father!" cried the son, still struggling with him.

"Thou art not my son, to hinder my revenge!" shouted the enraged father. "Dost not see this blood —my blood – thy father's blood? – and thou holdest me back! Thou shouldst have struck him to the earth for the deed – but he was a noble, and thou daredst not lift thy hand against him!"

"Wouldst thou have had me slay him in this holy place?" exclaimed Paolo, reddening with anger and suppressed emotion.

"No, no," returned the old man, in an altered voice; "not here, not here, though 'twere but just retribution. But I will find other means of vengeance. I will denounce him – I will betray all, though it cost me my own life! He shall die by the hands of the common executioner; – there is one shall testify for me!" And he pointed to me.



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