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repeating the praise, elsewhere given to the majesty of the poet's versification, and which this piece alone would be sufficient to justify, the reader's attention may be solicited to the colours with which Dryden has drawn a mind wrought up to the highest pitch of despair. Sigismonda is placed in that situation, in which, above all others, the human disposition seems to acquire a sort of supernatural strength or obstinacy: for although guilty of a crime, she is punished in a degree far exceeding the measure of the offence. In such a situation, that acuteness of feeling, which would otherwise waste itself in fluctuations betwixt shame, fear, and remorse, is willingly and eagerly turned into the channel of resistance and recrimination ; and perhaps no readier mode can be discovered of hardening the human heart, even to the consistence of the nether millstone. It is in this state, that Sigismonda resolutely, and even joyfully, embraces death, in order to punish her father, and rejoin her lover. The previous arguments with Tancred, sufficiently, and, in the circumstances, naturally, intimate the tone of her mind, and are a striking instance of Dryden's power in painting passion wrought up to desperation.
The scene is laid in the middle ages, when the principality of Salerno was ruled by a dynasty of Norman princes, deriving their family from the celebrated Robert de Guiscard.
While Norman Tancred in Salerno reigned,
This prince, of fortune's favour long possessed,
With mind averse, he rather underwent
Short were her marriage-joys; for in the prime
mind, To second nuptials had her thoughts inclined, And former joys had left a secret sting behind. ) But, prodigal in every other grant, - Her sire left unsupplied her only want; And she, betwixt her mocesty and pride, Her wishes, which she could not help, would hide.
Resolved at last to lose no longer time, And yet to please herself without a crime, She cast her eyes around the court, to find A worthy subject suiting to her mind, To him in holy nuptials to be tied, A seeming widow, and a secret bride. Among the train of courtiers, one she found With all the gifts of bounteous nature crowned ; Of gentle blood, but one whose niggard fate Had set him far below her high estate: Guiscard his name was called, of blooming age, Now squire to Tancred, and before his page:
To him, the choice of all the shining crowd; · Her heart the noble Sigismonda vowed.
Yet hitherto she kept her love concealed, And with close glances every day beheld
The graceful youth; and every day increased The raging fire that burned within her breast : Some secret charm did all his acts attend, And what his fortune wanted, hers could mend; Till, as the fire will force its outward way, Or, in the prison pent, consume the prey, So long her earnest eyes on his were set, At length their twisted rays together met; And he, surprised with humble joy, surveyed One sweet regard, shot by the royal maid. Not well assured, while doubtful hopes he nursed; A second glance came gliding like the first; And he, who saw the sharpness of the dart, Without defence received it in his heart. In public, though their passion wanted speech, Yet mutual looks interpreted for each: Time, ways, and means of meeting, were denied; But all those wants ingenious love supplied. The inventive God, who never fails his part, Inspires the wit, when once he warms the heart.
When Guiscard next was in the circle seen, Where Sigismonda held the place of queen, A hollow cane within her hand she brought, But in the concave had inclosed a note; With this she seemed to play, and, as in sport, Tossed to her love, in presence of the court: Take it, she said; and when your needs require, This little brand will serve to light your fire. He took it with a bow, and soon divined The seeming toy was not for nought designed: But when retired, so long with curious eyes He viewed the present, that he found the prize. Much was in little writ; and all conveyed With cautious care, for fear to be betrayed By some false confident, or favourite maid. The tiine, the place, the manner how to meet, Were all in punctual order plainly writ:
With iscard (her sech vows prepare
But since a trust must be, she thought it best
Guiscard (her secret purpose understood)
Near the proud palace of Salerno stood
Neglected long she let the secret rest,
Its outlet ended in a safe retreat he found the ground,