Графични страници
PDF файл

not relieve you, till I have spoken of two of the statues which occupy the most conspicuous niche in the library. You will expect me to name Socrates and Plato, or Numa and Seneca. These are all there, but it is not of either of them that I would speak. They are the venerable founders of the Jewish and Christian religions, Muses and Christ. These statues, of the purest marble, stand side by side, at one extremity of the apartment; and immediately before them, and within the wondrous sphere of their influences, stands the table at which I write, and where I pursue my inquiries in philosophy and religion. You smile at my enthusiasm, Fausta, and wonder when I shall return to the calm sobriety of my ancient faith. In this wonder there are a thousand errors but of these hereafter. I was to tell you of these sculptures. Of the statue of Moses, I possess no historical account, and know not what its claim may be to truth. I can only say, it is a figure truly grand, and almost terrific. It is of a size larger than life, and expresses no sentiment so perfectly as authority — the authority of a rigorous and austere ruler - both in the attitude of the body, and the features of the countenance. The head is slightly raised and drawn back, as if listening, awe-struck, to a communication from the God who commissioned him, while his left hand supports a volume, and his right grasps a stylus, with which, when the voice has ceased, to record the communicated truth. Place in his hands the thunderbolt, and at his feet the eagle, and the same form would serve for Jupiter the Thunderer, except only that to the countenance of the Jewish prophet there has been imparted a rapt and inspired look, wholly beyond any that even Phidias could have fixed upon the face of Jove. He who wrought this bead, must have believed in the sublimities of the religion whose chief minister he has made so to speak them forth, in the countenance and in the form; and yet who has ever heard of a Jewish sculptor ?

The statue of Christ is of a very different character; as different as the Christian faith is from that of the Jewish, notwithstanding they are still by many confounded. I cannot pretend to describe to you the holy beauty that as it were constitutes this perfect work of art. If you ask what authority tradition has invested it with, I can only say that I do not know. All I can affirm with certainty, is this, that it once stood in the palace of Alexander Severus, in company with the images of other deified men and gods, whom he chiefly reve. renced, When that excellent prince had fallen under the blows of assassins, his successor and murderer, Maximin, baving little knowledge or taste for what was found in the palace of Alexander, those treasures were sold, and the statue of Christ came into the hands of a distinguished and wealthy Christian of that day, who, perishing in the persecution of Decius, his descendants became impoverished, and were compelled to part with even this sacred relic of their former greatness. From them I purchased it; and often are they to be seen, whenever for such an object they can steal away from necessary cares, standing before it, and renewing, as it would seem, their vows of obedience, in the presence of the founder of their faith. The room is free to their approach, whenever they are thus impelled.

The expression of this statue, I have said, is wholly different from that of the Hebrew. His is one of authority and of sternness; this

of gentleness and love. Christ is represented, like the Moses, in a sitting posture, with a countenance, not like his raised to heaven, but bent with looks somewhat sad and yet full of benevolence, as if upon persons standing before him. Fraternity, I think, is the idea you associate with it most readily. I should never suppose him to be a judge or censor, or arbitrary master, but rather an elder brother; elder in the sense of wiser, holier, purer; whose look is not one of reproach that others are not as himself, but of pity and desire ; and whose hand would rather be stretched forth to lift up the fallen, than to smite the offender. To complete this expression, and inspire the beholder with perfect confidence, the left hand rests upon a little child, who stands with familiar reverence at his knee, and looking up

into his face, seems to say, 'No evil can come to me here.'

Opposite this, and at the other extremity of the apartment, hangs a picture of Christ, representing him in a very exact accordance with the traditional accounts of his features and form, a description of which exists, and is held authentic, in a letter of Publius Lentulus, a Roman of the same period. Between this and the statue there is a close resemblance, or as close as we usually see between two heads of Cæsar, or of Cicero. Marble, however, is the only material that suits the character and office of Jesus of Nazareth. Color, and its minute effects, seem in some sort to degrade the subject. I retain the picture, because of its supposed truth.

Portia, as you will believe, is full of wonder and sorrow at these things. Soon after my library had received its last additions, my mother came to see what she had already heard of so much. As she entered the apartment, I was sitting in my accustomed seat, with Julia at my side, and both of us gazing in admiration at the figures I have just described. We were both too much engrossed, to notice the entrance of Portia, our first warning of her presence being her hand laid upon my head. We rose and placed her between us.

My son,' said she, looking intently, as she spoke, upon the statues before us, 'what strange looking figures are these ? That upon my left might serve for Jupiter, but for the roll and the stylus. And why place you beings of character so opposite, as these appear to have been, side by side ? This other upon my right - ah, how beautiful it is! What mildness in those eyes, and what a divine repose over the form, which no event, not the downfall of a kingdom or its loss, would seem capable to disturb. Is it the

Is it the peace-loving Numa ?'

* Not so,' said Julia; there stands Numa, leaning on the sacred shield, from the centre of which beams the countenance of the divine Egeria.'

• Yes, I see it,' replied Portia ; and rising from her seat, she stood gazing round the apartment, examining its various appointments. When her eye had sought out the several objects, and dwelt upon them a moment, she said, in tones soinewhat reproachful, as much so as it is in her nature to assume :

Where, Lucius, are the gods of Rome? Do those who have, through so many ages, watched over our country, and guarded our house, deserve no honor at your hands? Does not gratitude require at least that their images should be here, so that whether you your

and upon

self worship them or not, their presence may inspire others with reverence ? But alas for the times ! Piety seems dead; or, with the faith that inspires it, it lives but in a few who will soon disappear, and religion with them. Whose forms are these, Lucius — concerning one I can now easily surmise but the other, this stern and terrific man, who is he?'

• That,' I replied, 'is Moses, the founder of Judaism.'

• Immortal gods !' exclaimed Portia, “the statue of a Jew in the halls of the Pisos ! Well may it be that Rome approaches its decline, when her elder sons turn against her.'

• Nay, mother, I am not a Jew.'

• I would thou wert, rather than be what I suppose thou art, a Christian. The Jew, Lucius, can boast of antiquity, at least, in behalf of his religion. But the faith which you would profess and extend, is but of yesterday. Would the gods ever leave mankind without religion? Is it only to-day that they reveal the truth ? Have they left us for these many ages to grope along in error ? Never, Lucius, can I believe it. It is enough for me that the religion of Rome is old as Rome, to endear it to my heart, and commend it to my understanding. It is not for the first time, to-day, that the gods have spoken.'

But, my dear mother,' I rejoined,‘if age makes truth, there are older religions than this of Rome. Judaism itself is older, by many centuries. But it is not because a religion is new or old, that I would receive or reject it. The only question is, does it satisfy my heart and mind, and is it true? The faith which you, mother, engrafted upon my infant mind, fails to meet the wants of my nature, looking for its foundations, I find them not.'

'Is thy nature different from mine, Lucius ? Surely, thou art my own child! It has satisfied me and my nature.

I ask for nothing else, or better.'

* There are some natures, mother, by the gods so furnished and filled with all good desires and affections, that their religion is born with them, and is in them. It matters little under what outward form and administration of truth they dwell; no system could injure them - none would greatly benefit. They are of the family of God, by birth, and are never disinherited.'

• Yes, Portia,' said Julia, 'natural and divine instincts make you what others can become only through the powerful operation of some principle out of, and superior to, any thing they find within themselves. For me, I know not what I should have been, without the help which Christianity has afforded. I might have been virtuous, but I could not have been happy. You surely rejoice when the weak find that in any religion or philosophy which gives them strength. Look, Portia, at that serene and benignant countenance, and can you believe that any truth ever came from its lips, but such as must be most comforting and exalting to those who receive it ?'

• It would seem so indeed, my child,' replied Portia, musingly, and I would not deprive any of the comforts or strength which any principle may impart. But I cannot cease to think it dangerous to the state, when the faith of the founders of Rome is abandoned by those who fill its highest places. You who abound in leisure and learning, may satisfy yourselves with a new philosophy; but what

shall these nice refinements profit the common herd ? How shall they see them to be true, or comprehend them ? The Romans have ever been a religious people; and although under the empire the purity of ancient manners is lost, let it not be said that the Pisos were among those who struck the last and hardest blows at the still stout root of the tree that bore them.'

· Nothing can be more plain or intelligible,' I replied, “than the principles of the Christian religion ; and wherever it has been preached with simplicity and power, even the common people have readily and gratefully adopted it. I certainly cannot but desire that it may prevail. If any thing is to do it, I believe this is the power that is to restore, and in a still nobler form, the ancient manners of which you speak. It is from Christianity that in my heart I believe the youthful blood is to come, that being poured into the veins of this dying state, shall reproduce the very vigor and freshness of its early age. Rome, mother, is now but a lifeless trunk – a dead and loathsome corpse : : a new and warmer current must be infused, or it will soon crumble into dust.'

"I grieve, Lucius, to see you lost to the good cause of your country, and to the altars of her gods; for who can love his country, and deny the gods who made and preserve it? But then who am I to condemn? When I see the gods to hurl thunderbolts upon those who flout them, it will be time enough for us mortals to assume the robes of judgment. I will hope that farther thought will reclaim you from your truant wanderings.'

Do not imagine, Fausta, that conversations like this have the least effect to chill the warm affections of Portia toward us both. Nature has placed within her bosom a central heat, that not only preserves her own warmth, but diffuses itself upon all who approach her, and changes their affections into a likeness of her own. We speak of our differing faiths, but love none the less. When she had paused a moment, after uttering the last words, she again turned her eye upon the statue of Christ, and, captivated by its wondrous power, she dwelt upon it in a manner that showed her sevsibilities to te greatly moved. At length she suddenly started, saying:

'If truth and beauty were the same thing, one need but to look upon this, and be a believer. But as in the human form and face, beauty is often but a lie, covering over a worse deformity than any that ever disfigures the body, so it may be here. I cannot but admit and love the beauty; it will be wise, I suppose, not to look farther, lest the dream be dissolved.'

• Le not afraid of that, dearest mother; I can warrant you against disappointment. If in that marble you have the form of the outward beauty, here, in this roll, you will find the inward moral beauty of which it was the shrine.'

Nay, nay, Lucius, I look no farther or deeper. I have seen too much already.'

With these words, she rose, and we accompanied her to the portico, where we walked, and sat, and talked of you, and Calpurnius, and Gracchus.

Thus you perceive I have told you first of what chiefly interests myself: now let me turn to what at this moment more than every

thing else fills all heads in Rome — and that is Livia. She is the object of universal attention, the centre of all honor. It is indescribable, the sensation her beauty, and now added to that, her magnificence, have made and still make in Rome. Her imperial bearing would satisfy even you ; and the splendor of her state exceeds all that has been known before. This you may be surprised to hear, knowing what the principles of Aurelian have been in such things; how strict he has been himself in a more than republican simplicity, and how severe upon the extravagancies and luxuries of others, in the laws he has enacted. You must remember his prohibition of the use of cloth of gold and of silk, among other things — foolish laws, to be suddenly promulged among so vain and corrupt a population as this of Rome. They have been the ridicule and scorn of rich and poor alike; of the rich, because they are so easily violated in private, or evaded by the substitution of one article for another; of the poor, because, being slaves in spirit, they take a slave's pride in the trappings and state of their masters; they love not only to feel but to see their superiority. But since the eastern expedition, the reduction of Palmyra, and the introduction from abroad of the vast flood of foreign luxuries which have inundated Rome and Italy itself, the principles and the habits of the emperor have undergone a mighty revolution. Now the richness and costliness of his dress, the splendor of his equipage, the gorgeousness of his furniture, cannot be made to come up to the height of his extravagant desires. The silk which he once denied to the former empress for a dress, now,

vari. ously embroidered, and of every dye, either hangs in ample folds upon the walls, or canopies the royal bed, or lends its beauty to the cushioned seats which every where, in every form of luxurious ease, invite to repose. Gold, too, once prohibited, but now wrought into every kind of cloth, or solid in shape of dish, or vase, or cup, or spread in sheets over the very walls and ceilings of the palace, has rendered the traditions of Nero's house of gold no longer fabulous.

The customs of the eastern monarchs have also elevated or perverted the ambition of Aurelian, and one after another are taking place of former usages. He is every day more difficult of access, and surrounds himself, his palaces, and apartments, by guards and officers of state. In all this, as you will readily believe, Livia is his willing companion, or rather, I should perhaps say, his prompting and ruling genius. As without the world at her feet, it would be impossible for her insane pride to be fully satisfied, so in all that is now done, the emperor still lags behind her will. But beautifully, it can be denied by none, does she become her greatness, and gives more lustre than receives, to all around her. Gold is doubly gold in her presence; and even the diamond sparkles with a new brilliancy on her brow or sandal.

Livia is, of all women I have ever seen or known, made for a Roman empress. I used to think so when in Palmyra, and I saw her, so often as I did, assuming the port and air of imaginary sovereignty. And now that I behold her filling the very place for which by nature she is most perfectly fitted, I cannot but confess that she surpasses all I had imagined, in the genius she displays for her great sphere, both as wife of Aurelian, and sovereign of Rome. Her

« ПредишнаНапред »