Page images

16 Oh

upon the only possible ground, and appears to have contained a strength and eloquence worthy of his spirit. He balanced the wrongs of father and children against each other. The sons were made out to be the least concerned, and the weight of the murder thrown purposely upon Beatrice, who had been so atrociously and unspeakably outraged. The Pope sat up all the following night with one of the Cardinals, considering the defence point by point; and the upshot was, that he gave the criminals a hope of escaping death, and ordered that they should again be at comparative liberty.

Unfortunately for this new and unexpected turn in their affairs, a nobleman of the name of Paolo Santa Croce assassinated, at this point of time, his own mother, for not bequeathing him her inheritance. This renewed the Pope's bitterness against those who had set an example of parricide ; and what increased it, was the flight of Santa Croce who eluded the hands of justice. He sent for the Governor of the city, and ordered the Cenci to be publicly executed forth with. Many of the nobility hastened to his different palaces to implore at least a private death for the ladies; but he would not consent. They could only obtain the pardon of Bernardo, whom the MS. calls “the innocent Bernardo,” and whose treatment both past and to come is thus reudered inexplicable,

The sentence was executed next day, Saturday, the 11th of May 1599, on the bridge of St. Angelo. Beatrice, on receiving news of the sentence, felt, for the first time, her young heart fail hier; and burst into bitter and wild lamentations on the necessity of dying. God!” she cried out, “how is it possible to die so suddenly!" Her mother-in-law, whose greater age and perhaps less hope of escaping death, had softened more into patience, comforted her in the most affectionate manner, and got her quietly into the chapel. Beatrice soon recovered herself, and behaved with a gentle firmness propor. tionate to the wildness of her first grief. She made a will, in which she left fifteen thousand scudi to the Confraternity of the Sacred Stigmas (the Wounds of Christ), and the whole of her dowry to portion fifty female orphans in marriage. Lucrezia left a will in the same spirit. They then recited pselms, litanies, and other prayers; and at eight o'clock confessed themselves, heaıd mass, and received the sacrament. The funeral procession called for them on it's way, having already taken up the two brothers, to the younger of whom the Pope's pardon was announced, informiog him at the same time that he must witness the executions. Beatrice and Lucrezia were habited like nuns. their way to the scaffold a striking thing was observed. Lucrezia's handkerchief was continually applied to wipe away her tears; Beatrice's only to dry up the moisture on her forehead.

When the procession arrived at the scaffold, and the criminals witha drew for a while to a chapel, the poor young Bernardo, condemned to see his nearest relations executed before his very eyes, fell into an agony and fainting fit, and was recovered only to be placed opposite the block. The first who mounted the scaffold was Lucrezia. In preparing for death, the drapery was discomposed about her bosom, which though she was fifty years of age, was still beautiful. She blushed and cast down her eyes, but raised them again in prayer; and then adjust


ing herself to the block, was in the act of repeating the words, in the 51st psalm, “ According to the multitude of thy tendı: mercies," when her head was struck off. While the block was being prepared for Beatrice, a place on which some of the spectators stood broke down, to their great hurt. Beatrice hearing the noise, asked if her mother had died well, and being told she had, knelt down before a crucifix, and said, " Thanks without end be to thee, O most merciful Redeemer, for having given in the good death of my mother a sure proof of thy pity towards me.” Then rising on her feet, “ all courage and devotion," she walked towards the scaffold, putting up prayers as she went with such a fervour of spirit, that all who heard her melted into tears. Having ascended the scaffold, she accommodated her head to the block, and looking up once more towards heaven, prayed thus: “ O most affectionate Jesus, who abandoning thy divinity, didst becomte human ; and didst will, in thy love, to purge from it's mortal blo even this my sinful soul with thy precious blood; ah, grant, I pray thee, that that which I am now about to shed, may suffice before thy merciful tribunal to do away my great misdeeds, and to save me from some part of the punishment which is justly my due.” Having said thus, she laid down her head again on the block and began the 130th Psalm Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears"-At these words her head was severed from her body. The latter underwent such a violent convulsion, that one of the legs is said to have almost leaped up. At sight of his sister's death, Bernardo swooned away again, and did

did not recover his senses for a quarter of an hour. the turn of the last sufferer, Giacomo. He first gave a stedfast Jook at Bernardo, and then said aloud, that if he went into a state of bliss instead of punishment he would pray for the welfare of the Pope, who had remitted the tormenting part of his just sentence and saved his brother's life; and that the only affliction he had in his last moments, was that his brother was compelled to look upon a scene so dreadful : but,”

" added he, 6 as it has so pleased thee, O my God, thy will be done." He then kuelt down, and was killed with a blow of a leaded club. The executions being over, Bernardo was taken back to prison, where he fell into a long and violent fever. He was kept there four months, when at the request of the Venerable Arch-Confraternity of the Most IIoly Crucifix of St. Marcello he obtained the favour of being set at liberty, after paying to the Hospital of the Most Holy Trinity of the Pilgrims the sum of 25,000 scudi.” He lived to have a son, named Cristofero, at the time when the MS. was written; but we know not how long the family stock survived.

Thus ended this dreadful tragedy of mistakes; in which the most privileged were made fiends, the most virtuous murderers, and the customs that undertook to punish them were the cause of all.

It was


Printed and published by Joseph APPLEYARD, No. 19, Catherine-street, Strand.

Price 2d.-And sold also by A. GLIDDON, Importer of Snuffs, No.31, Tavistockstreet, Covent-garden. Orders received at the above places, and by all Books, sellers and Newsineu.


There he arriving round about doth flie,
And takes survey with busie curious eye:
Now this, now that, he tasteth tenderly.


No. XLII.-WEDNESDAY, JULY 26th, 1820.



(CONCLUDED FROM LAST WEEK.) “The highest moral purpose aimed at in the highest species of the drama, is the teaching the human heart, through its sympathies and antipathies, the knowledge of itself; in proportion to the possession of which knowledge, every human being is wise, just, sincere, tolerant, and kind. If doymas can do more, it is well: but a drama is no fit place for the enforcement of them. Undoubtedly, no person can be truly dishonoured by the act of another; and the fit return to make to the most enormous injuries is kindness and forbearance, and a resolution to convert the injurer from his dark passions by love and peace. Revenge, retaliation, atonement, are pernicious mistakes. If Beatrice had thought in this manner, she would have been wiser and better; but she would never have been a tragic character: the few whom such an exhibition would have interested, could never have been sufficiently interested for a domestic purpose, from the want of finding sympathy in their interest among the mass who surround them. It is in the restless and anatomizing casúistry with which men seek the justification of Beatrice, yet feel that she has done what needs justification; it is in the superstitious horror with which they contemplate alike her wrongs and revenge; that the dramatic character of what she did and suffered, consists.'

Thus speaks Mr. Shelley, in the preface to his tragedy of the Cenci,-a preface beautiful for the majestic sweetness of its diction, and still more lovely for the sentiments that flow forth with it. There is no living author, who writes a preface like Mr. Shelley. The intense interest which he takes in his subject, the consciousness he has upon him nevertheless of the interests of the surrounding world, and the natural dignity with which à poet and philosopher, sure of his own

motives, presents himself to the chance of being doubted by those whom he would benefit, casts about it an inexpressible air of amiableness and power. To be able to read such a preface, and differ with it, is not easy ; but to be able to read it, and then go and abuse the author's intentions, shews a deplorable habit of being in the wrong.

Mr. Shelley says that he has “ endeavoured as nearly as possible to represent the characters as they really were, and has sought to avoid the error of making them actuated by his own conceptions of right or wrong, false or true, thus under a thin veil converting names and actions of the sixteenth century into cold impersonations of his own mind." He has so.

He has only added so much poetry and imagination as is requisite to refresh the spirit, when a story so appalling is told at such length as to become a book. Accordingly, such of our readers as are acquainted with our last week's narrative of the Cenci and not with Mr. Shelley's tragedy, or with the tragedy and not with the narrative, will find in either account that they are well acquainted with the characters of the other. It is the same with the jucidents, except that the legal proceedings are represented as briefer, and Beatrice is visited with a temporary madness; but this the author had a right to suppose, in probability as well as poetry. The curtain falls on the parties as they go forth to execution, an ending which would hardly have done well on the stage, though for different reasons, any more than the nature of the main story. But through the medium of perusal, it has a very good as well as novel effect. The execution seems a supererogation, compared with it. The patience, that has followed upon the excess of the sorrow, has put the tragedy of it at rest. " The bitterness of death is past,” as Lord Russell said when he had taken leave of his wife,

We omitted to mention last week, that the greatest crime of which Cenci had been guilty, in the opinion of the author of the Manuscript, was atheism. The reader will smile to see so foolish and depraved a man thus put on a level with Spinoza, Giordano Bruno, and other spirits of undoubted genius and integrity, who hāve been accused of the same opinion. But the same word means very different things to those who look into it; and it does here, though the author of the MS. might not kņow it. The atheism of men like Spinoza is nothing but a vivid sense of the universe about them, trying to distinguish the mystery of its operations from the ordinary, and as they think pernicious anthropomorphitism, in which our egotism envelopes it. But the atheism of such men as Cenci is the only real atheism ; that is to say, it is the only real disbelief in any great and good thing, physical or moral. For the same reason, there is more atheism, to all intents and purposes of virtuous and useful belief, in some bad religions however devout, than in some supposed absences of religion : for the god they propose to themselves does not rise above the level of the world they live in, except in power like a Roman Emperor; so that there is nothing to them really outside of this world, at last. The god, for instance, of the Mussulman, is nothing but a sublimated Grand Signior; and so much the worse, as men generally are, in proportion to

his power. One act of kindness, one impulse of universal benevo, lence, as recommended by the true spirit of Jesus, is more grand and godlike than all the degrading ideas of the Supreme Being, which fear and slavery have tried to build up to heaven, It is a greater going out of ourselves; a higher and wider resemblance to the all-embracing placidity of the universe. The Catholic author of the MS.

says that Cenci was an atheist, though he built a chapel in his garden. The chapel, he tells us, was only to bury his family in. Mr. Shelley on the other hand, can suppose Cenci to have been a Catholic, well enough, considering the nature and tendency of the Catholic faith. In fact, he might have been either. He might equally have been the man he was, in those times, and under all the circumstances of his power and impunity. The vices of his atheism and the vices of his superstition would, in a spirit of his temper and education, have alike been the result of a pernicious system of religious faith, which rendered the Divine Being gross enough to be disbelieved by any one, and imitated and bribed by the wicked. Neither his scepticism nor his devotion would have run into charity. He wanted knowledge to make the first do so, and temper and privation to make the second. But per-, haps the most likely thing is, that he thought as little about religion as most men of the world do at all times ;-that he despised and availed himself of it in the mercenary person of the Pope, scarcely thought of it but at such times, and would only have believed in it out of fear at his last hour. Be this however as it might, still the habitual instinct of his conduct is justly traceable to the prevailing feeling respecting religion, especially as it appears that he “ established masses for the peace of his soul,” Mr. Shelley, in a striking part of his preface, informs us that even in our own times “ religion co-exists, as it were, in the mind of an Italian Catholic, with a faith in that, of which all men have the most certain knowledge. It is adoration, faith, submission, penitence, blind admiration; not a rule for moral conduct. It has no necessary connexion with any one virtue. The most atrocious villainmay be rigidly devout; and without any shock to established faith, confess himself to be so. Religion pervades intensely the whole frame of society, and is according to the temper of the mind which it inhabits, a passion, a persuasion, an excuse; never a check.” We hall only add to this, that such religions in furnishing men with excuse and absolution, do but behave with something like decent kindness; for they are bound to do what they can for the vices they produce. And we may say it with gravity too, Forgiveness will make its way somehow every where, and it is lucky that it will do so. But it would be luckier, if systems made less to forgive.

The character of Beatrice is admirably managed by our author. She is what the MS. describes hier, with the addition of all the living grace and presence which the re-creativeness of poetry can give her, We see the maddened loveliness of her nature walking among us, and make way with an aweful sympathy. It is thought by some, that she ought not to deny her guilt as she does ;--that she ought not, at any rate, to deny the deed, whatever she may think of the guilt. But this,

« PreviousContinue »