Page images
PDF
EPUB

6

6

Lucia. In both, the tale of innocence triumphing over vice, and faith, over torments, and death itself, is conspicuous, and the additions of the prosing hagiologists to the original stories add nothing to their interest.

In some other legends of female martyrs the story is gracefully varied. Thus Dorothea, a saiut comparatively but little known, is represented as being brought before the heathen governor. Who art thou ?' he said, amazed at her beauty, as with eyes meekly cast down she stood before him. 'Dorothea, a servant of Jesus Christ,' she replied. · Thou must serve our gods or die!' was the harsh sentence. • Be it so,' said the maiden, “and the sooner I shall stand in the presence of him whom I most desire to behold.' And who is he?' •The Son of 'God. His dwelling is a paradise, and in his garden are fruits

and flowers that never fade.' Then the governor sought to turn her from her faith both by threats and entreaties; but all was in vain; so she was commanded to be beheaded. Now, as as she was led to execution, a young man named Theophilus, who had heard her confession, called out to her, scoffingly, “Ha, fair maiden! goest thou forth to join thy bridegroom? 'Send me, I pray thee, of the fruits and flowers of that garden,

for I would fain taste them. Then Dorothea meekly bent her beautiful head, and said, smilingly, 'Thy wish is granted;' whereat he laughed aloud, and she went onward. Now, when she came to the place of execution, a boy, more beautiful than aught of earth, appeared by her side; and he bore a basket containing three apples, and three fresh and fragrant roses.

Carry these to Theophilus,' said she; say that Dorothea hath * sent them, and that I go before him to the garden, and await

him there;' then she bowed her head to the death-stroke. Meanwhile, the angel sought Theophilus, who was still laughing, and he placed before him the basket, saying, ' Dorothea sends thee this.' Awe struck at the miracle, smitten with a late compunction for his scoff, the heart of the young man melted within him. He tasted the heavenly fruit, confessed himself a Christian, and even as Dorothea had foretold, went forth to martyrdom. This graceful legend is the subject of Massinger's fine tragedy of the Virgin Martyr;' and Dorothea, with her celestial roses, has also been a favourite subject with the early Italian painters.

The story of St. Justina of Antioch supplied Calderon with the subject of his finest religious drama, the Magico Prodigioso,' and one of the chief gems of the Vienna collection; that unsurpassed painting of Moretto is the St. Justina of the Belvedere. Wild and imaginative is her story. The fair and

[ocr errors]

gifted Justina was, like St. Margaret, the daughter of a pagan priest at Antioch, but converted to Christianity herself, she converted her parents also. Now there was a noble youth, a pagan, who loved this maiden, and as she rejected him, he took counsel of Cyprian, a fearful magician, for he said, 'Surely 'this great magician, who can command the demons and the elements, can command the will of a weak maiden.' So Cyprian assented; but when he saw her, he was seized with exceeding admiration, and he summoned the most powerful spirits to his own aid. And many were the forms of temptation by which Justina was assailed, but she strove against all, for she said, I will strive with the evils that beset me; thought is not in our power, but the will is ;' so, although demons, each one more mighty than the last, and at length the Prince of Darkness himself, beset her, they all returned confounded, and said, “We can do nothing against her, for she is protected by a higher power than thine or mine.' Then Cyprian was struck with awe; and he said to Sathanas, “I defy thee, and will henceforth serve the God of Justina;' so he sought her, and fell at her feet, acknowledging the might of her faith; and he finally became as celebrated for his piety as he had formerly been for his wickedness, and eventually received with her the crown of martyrdom. Such were some of the “mythic fancies' which, by simplicity and ignorance, as Mrs. Jameson beautifully remarks, were long accepted as facts; lovely allegories, to ( which the world listened in its dreamy childhood, and which, like the ballad or the fairy tale, which kept the sleep from our eyes and our breath suspended in infancy, have still a charm for our latest years.'

While to many legends we cannot refuse the censure of extreme childishness, and to some, of an exaggerated, even false morality, it is still interesting to mark how this religious popular literature—in an age when law was almost powerless, and the strong hand bore sway, when the oppressor was oftentimes beyond the reach of human punishment-kept alive in the hearts of menthose pure principles of Christianity which

were outraged in their daily actions; a literature which ex“hibited poverty and toil as honourable, and charity as the first

of virtues ;' which held up to imitation and emulation selfsacrifice in the cause of good, and contempt of death for conscience' sake, and which exhibited the saint ever mindful in the realm of blessedness, of the weak, and oppressed, and needy who besought his aid. Thus, there was scarcely an exigency of human life for which some wondrous legend of aid or deliverance might not be told. St. Mark rescues his own fair Venice from the inundation caused by demons; and St. Agatha stays the torrent of descending lava that threatens to engulf her native city, Catania. St. George, radiant with his red-cross banner, reassures the fainting hearts of the wearied Croises; and St. James the Apostle himself, appears on his milk-white steed to rally the discomfited Christian host on the plain of Clavijo, and with that renowned war-cry, 'Santiago!' trample down the host of the paynim.

Nor is the same powerful aid refused to the traveller, the mariner, the widow, the orphan, even the bondsman; for not the least beautiful characteristic of the ancient legend is, its strong sympathy with the weak and oppressed. And that sympathy in the earlier legends—especially among our own—often goes out beyond the circle of human affections, even to the brute itself. St. Julian, wantonly slaying the hunted deer, receives a severe doom for his cruelty; while St. Giles, to whose cell the milk-white hind flies for refuge from the hunters, receives the reward of the kindness which protected her, and the skill which dressed her wounds; for she nourishes him with her milk, and eventually guides the king of France to the abode of the holy man. St. Jerome sat at the gate of his monastery, at Bethlehem, when a lion entered limping, and mournfully lifted his

paw,

and laid it on the saint's knee. The attendant monks fled away affrighted; but the stern recluse took the paw, and gently extracted the thorn, and bound it up, and ever after did the grateful lion tend the saint with doglike fidelity. The incident of the two lions in the desert digging the grave for Paul the Hermit, when his aged companion was too weak to perform that last sad duty, and the sympathy they express toward the poor survivor in his utter destitution and loneliness, has often appeared to us most touching. And so has the story of St. Roch, the great patron of the prisoner and the plague-stricken; how, when cast out from the hospital where he had ministered so kindly, he wanders to the neighbouring wood, with the plaguespot upon him, and lays down to die ;-his faithful dog, companion of all his wanderings, goes into the city in search of bread, and each day lays the small loaf he has obtained beside his master. It is traits like these—belonging almost exclusively to the legends of western Europe—that invests them with a simple beauty, akin to that of the ballads of Wordsworth.

We know not if it has been before observed, but to us it is the kindly feeling which manifests itself towards animals, no less than the marked individuality of character of the human actors, that forms the grand distinction between eastern and western fiction-we use the word here in its widest extent. In

.

a

Europe, especially Northern Europe, it would seem as though the same influence which girdled the man's home with a charm, an attraction comparatively unknown to the dweller of the south-led his kindly feelings forth to a wider range, even including each dumb creature that found shelter beneath his roof; and thus, in the chivalrous romance, and the popular tale, no less than the legend, we find the sphere of his social affections widening, until the good steed, the faithful dog, the falcon, even the tamed denizen of the forest, are all clasped within the circle of his expanded sympathies.

We have gone over Mrs. Jameson's delightful volumes, as the reader will perceive, rather with reference to their literary, than to their artistic claims. Legendary lore is so little known even among well-informed readers, that we have thought we could not do better than bring before them a few of the more beautiful of these tales, which, amid the thickest darkness of the middle ages,' wore the intense expression of the inner life that revolted

against the desolation and emptiness of the outward existence, and of those crushed and outraged sympathies which cried

aloud for rest, and refuge, and solace' of those influential myths, which, as the mind of mediæval Europe arose in its glowing and majestic earnestness, became enshrined in so many a beautiful

poem,

and fixed in immortal freshness in so many an exquisite painting.

It is, indeed, vain to talk of passing over or forgetting the ancient legend. Even were the written legend forgotten, the painted, the sculptured, would still challenge the world's admiration and homage; let us, therefore, rather seek to view this subject in a wise and enlightened spirit, believing, as Mrs. Jameson most justly remarks, that all which God has permitted once to exist in the past, should be considered as the possession of the present; sacred for example, or warning, and held as the foundation of what is better and purer.' And thus, while gazing on the beautiful St. Margaret of Raphael, on the majestic St. Catherine of Domenichino, on the many exquisite impersonations of faith, and herosim, and purity, which the works of the great masters present to us, we may, and should, feel deep regret that these mythic fancies' of early Christian art, should have ever intercepted the homage due to God alone, still, turning to the simple legends of a time when the boundaries of truth and fiction were ill-defined, and when men recognised the invisible agencies at work around them as actual and palpable existences, we may well feel thankful that so much of genuine Christian practice was impressed even in this form, upon a rude, a harsh, and a cruel age. Let us bear in mind, too, that as learning advanced, the very admiration of the legend induced an earnest desire for the Gospel; and that in those countries where that Gospel had free course, legendary lore soon gave way, and was numbered among forgotten things. And be it so; but still, as graceful allegories, as poetic fables instinct with a Christian moral, let us view these legends, for they taught, with simple but emphatic earnestness, to an allbelieving age, those high and consoling principles, the everwatchful care of an over-ruling Providence, the perpetual supremacy and final triumph of good over evil.

Art. X. The Prose Works of John Milton. With a Preface, Pre

liminary Remarks and Notes. By J. A. St. John. 3 vols. small 8vo. London: Henry G. Bohn. 1848.

These volumes form part of the Standard Library issued by Mr. Bohn. No series of books has ever appeared which, taken as a whole, equals this in value; and no part of the series are we disposed to estimate more highly than the volumes now before us.

It has often been matter of regret with the admirers of Milton that his prose writings should be so little known by the reading part of the English public; for, of that rich inheritance of mental treasure which the genius, the thoughtfulness, and the learning of former ages have bequeathed to us, there are few portions which it would more advantage the people of these realms to be familiar with than this. But hitherto this part of our hereditary wealth has been almost inaccessible to the great mass of the people owing to the inconvenient or expensive forms in which Milton's Prose Works have been published. Mr. Bohn has at length removed this obstacle. He has rolled the stone from the mouth of the well, and we hope many will hasten to fill their pitchers at this copious and healthful spring.

Mr. St. John has done the part assigned to him for the most part well. He rightly appreciates in general Milton's true character and sentiments, and shows a worthy sympathy with both. His Preliminary Remarks and Notes often supply very needful information, and place the reader in the right point of view for apprehending and justly estimating Milton's statements; but his Notes are sometimes irrelevant, and sometimes frivolous. If some he has inserted have a just claim to be there, we do not see why he might not with equal reason have inserted a thousand such beside.

« PreviousContinue »