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The Count, as he had been called, hearing the words of the girl, with a sudden effort succeeded in freeing himself from the gripe of the man who held him, and rushed towards the door, uttering a loud cry for help. With one bound his captor was again beside him, and, clutching him by the throat ere he could offer any resistance, had dashed him to the earth. “ So be it, fool,” he muttered, as with the rapidity of lightning he drew his right hand from his breast, and raising it aloft, I saw the glitter of a dagger-blade poised in act to strike.
The whole had passed so quickly that I had scarcely time to realise the fact of a murder being about to be committed under my very eyes, before I saw that not a second was to be lost, if any effort of mine was to be of use in preventing it. I dashed madly against the frail woodwork of the partition. I felt it yield. Again—it gave
still more-another rush, and crashing before me, the laths splintered into broken fragments, while I, hurled forward by the impetus of my own effort, found myself the next moment clutching Filippo's upraised hand, in which the dagger yet glistened. “Madman !" I exclaimed, “hold !”
What words shall express my astonishment, when the prostrate Count, raising himself on his elbow, looked me coolly in the face, and in a voice of the calmest placidity inquired—“May I be permitted the favour of learning who it is that so honours us with a visit ?”
I looked round at the man whom another minute would have made a murderer. With his disengaged hand he was helping himself to a pinch of snuff, while he slowly eyed me over with the deliberate air of a critic. I turned to the daughter, whose agony at her father's danger had so won my sympathy. She was examining the broken panel, and exclaiming “Santa Vergine ! how he must have hurt himself coming in.”.
* Very good, indeed,” broke in the snuff-taking assassin in a voice of grave authority. “ Allow me, my dear sir ; right foot a leetle more forward, head thrown well back, arm somewhat higher, emphasis on the word hold. Now then, if you please_Madman—hold !"). And he howled out the last word with an energy that gave the finishing blow to the stupor with which I regarded this very unlooked for sequel of my irruption into this society.
“Where am I,” at length I cried, “and what on earth may all this
“ You are just now, Signore, honouring with your presence the poor apartment for the time being of your most devoted servant, Agamemnon Grippi, primo-tragico-melodramatico of the celebrated Martini company,” replied the gentleman on the floor, rising from his position, and making a low bow; "and as to your second question, it means that you have done us the favour of contributing a new, and I may say without flattery, really powerful effect to the finale of the drama, whose rehearsal
you have had the kindness to take so deep an interest in—The Count and the Contadino; or, Bandolini, the Baffled Brigand of the
Poor artists, sir, persecuted by fortune, obliged to make the best of our necessities. Here we are on our way to Padua, bound to appear to-morrow night, the first night of the festa of the blessed Saint Anthony, at the theatre of Saint Moses, in this very melo-drama. A perfectly new one, illustrious sir, never before acted on any boards ; and just heaven! was there ever such a calamity-on this, the eve of that
sacred festival, when the distinguished public of Saint Moses will look for our appearance, we find ourselves arrested on the road to glory by a catastrophe as deplorable as it was unexpected. Figure to yourself that, on arriving at the entrance of this honoured city, the axle-tree of the Thespian wain which forms our travelling-carriage
“ Cart," interpolated the man in the cloak.
“ Conveyance," continued Agamemnon, "broke-broke.” And he looked up as if appealing to Jupiter, to demand what had become of his thunderbolt on the occasion. “And thus it comes about that at the very hour when our last dress-rehearsal should be going on within the walls of Saint Moses, are we, your servants, La Zeferina, Pylades, and myself, compelled to perfect our parts amid the straits you behold, and in all the agonizing torture of suspense."
“For which, however," chimed in Pylades, sweeping the floor with his hat, “a more than ample compensation presents itself in the opportunity here afforded of making the acquaintance of so distinguished a personage as the illustrious Signore, whom, if I mistake not, La Zeferina and I had the felicity of first seeing in the garden of the Ducal Palace this afternoon."
“Most true," I replied ; "and the cloak which I thought so superfluous at the moment, proved, I doubt not, of good service before you and the fair lady reached home.”
“Ah!” rejoined Pylades, "you must, no doubt, have been surprised at my wearing such a garment in the middle of August ; but a true artist, Signore, thinks only of his art. We were occupying these rooms at midday-I say these, though then they were but one-this and the apartment at present tenanted by yourself. I was sitting in the latter compartment, my eyes fixed upon a picture above the mantelpiece, studying the drapery of the figure there painted, and meditating how the capabilities of the hat and cloak I saw before me might be made subservient to the cause of art, when in rushes Girolamo—the landlord, that is, of the hotel-cries out that an English milordo has deigned to honour this house by selecting it for his patronage, and that he, Girolamo, will be driven to show himself unworthy of such a favour, inasmuch as the hotel is full, unless I and Agamemnon, by giving up half of our apartment, and allowing a partition to be run up in the centre, should enable him to provide accommodation sufficiently secluded to be placed at the disposal of his illustrious
benefactor. He knew he had but to mention it for us to consent. We had purposed profiting by a rehearsal within doors; we adjourned to the Castle grounds, where we were sure of being nearly as undisturbed as at home; and I, still filled with the noble suggestions of the picture on which I had been gazing, turned to account some portion of the afternoon in reducing to scientific practice the hints I had gathered. It was during that time, if I mistake not, that I had the happiness of seeing you come round the wall.” And again the hat swept the ground.
“Signori, supper is served !” interrupted a voice at the door, which I recognized as the landlord's; "and the Signor Ippolito has returned to say that the
carriage will be repaired and at the door by daylight.”
"" I breathe again !” cried Agamemnon. “Now we may go to supper
with light hearts. Our honour is safe ; the public of St. Moses will not be disappointed. As to the rest of the drama, it is not worth while keeping the soup cooling to finish the rehearsal of it, though by-the-bye, we have not yet had time to learn to what happy circumstance we are indebted for the very effective entrance through the centre flat of our noble visitor. If, however,” continued he, looking towards the broken woodwork, “as that may take a little while to repair, il Signore would so far waive ceremony as to accept in the meantime the hospitality of a few wandering artists, we should esteem his presence at our poor supper-table a favour."
“ It is on me that the favour is conferred by your invitation, which I accept with delight,” I answered ; "and we will make an exchange of confidences during supper. While I explain to you the cause that brought me here, you shall recount to me the true denouement of the drama, the effect of whose final tableau I marred.”
“Heightened, on the contrary,” protested Pylades, with another circular flourish of the hat.
Down stairs we went ; the supper-table was spread, about it a merry party gathered, among whom I quickly found myself at home. The laugh and song went round, the hours flew by unheeded, and ere I bade my late-made friends adieu, the vigil had lingered on to dawn, the Eve had brightened into the FESTA OF SAINT ANTHONY.
UP AND DOWN.
UP, up, up the hill,
The way with toil is rife;
But 'tis not so with Life.
For Youth mounts up the hill
With a light step and free;
The merrier heart hath he.
Down, down, down the hill
So merrily we go ;
But with Life it is not so.
For Age creeps down the hill,
Feeble, and faint, and grey,
The wearier is the way.
MODERN BIOGRAPHY AND BIOGRAPHERS.
The art of Biography is altogether a modern discovery. In spite of Plutarch, and Izaak Walton, and half a score more of notable life-writers, we may safely affirm that biography is as much a feature of the present day, and marks it off from former times just as distinctly, as the Electric Telegraph, the Steam Engine, the Ragged School, or the Play Ground Society, which last, by the way, forms rather a sportive instance of modern philanthropy. Everybody who has done anything, or said any. thing, or written anything worth remembering, for his own fame's sake or for the world's benefit, is sure to have a psuedo-Boswell at his elbow, taking notes and photographing, or else, inventing points of interest for every day, week, and year, until the last scene comes, and the newspaper record of mortality announces also for us the shadow of the former life, as “just ready,” or “shortly to be published.” Even this is not fast enough for our fast age; for nothing is more common than to write the life of a political or literary lion long before he has ceased to roar, or to renounce an independent existence of his own.
These are verily sad times for the man who has been unfortunate enough to achieve renown, and whose natural disposition would lead him to conceal his thoughts, and hopes, and most cherished affections, from the unbashful gaze
of an inquisitive public. Such a man, in spite of his modesty, can seldom avoid " coming out” in a manner more or less unpleasant. If a biographical dictionary of living celebrities be published; if a friend die to whom he had written letters ; if some topographical guide-maker happen to select his neighbourhood; if a garrulous cousin from the other side of the Atlantic present a letter of introduction ; if a number of things should happen about which there is nothing problematical—for happen in this nineteenth century they must and will-our retired genius finds himself thrust forward into the full blaze of the world's garish daylight, and scarcely knows his own form and features as he sees them there exhibited.
Well, he has one consolation, and it is by no means small, viz.that this notoriety which so grates upon all his more sensitive feelings, is not likely to prove of long continuance ; it may die out long before he is himself dead, but if not, by the time the grass is springing freshly on the turf of his clay bed, his written biography will be in the sere leaf, unless it chance to be one of the select few which stand out in strange contrast to the voluminous biographical blunders which are, year after year, committed.
It is a strange thing to observe the boldness with which a friendly biographer sometimes deals with the character of his victim ; how he attenuates it, how he dissects it, how he smothers it beneath a pyramid of dust; how, on the other hand, he leaves it, bare and naked, with all its imperfections, to the blasts of criticism; or how he bedaubs it and covers it with tinsel, so that the nearest friends of the “subject”
(we use the term employed by anatomists as being the most appropriate) cannot recognise it in this new dress, any more than old Homer would know his own poems, as those poems have been furbished up and spoilt by Pope.
It was said in the olden time, that no one should be accounted happy until he ceased to live, but even the grave must be a vexatious place to the man who is threatened with a biography. He must look with an evil eye upon his friends, and wonder whether already any one of them is storing up materials to be made use of when he had ceased to breathe. If the idea occurs to him in an excitable moment, he is afraid they will make (as indeed is most probable) a sad mess of his remains ; and he wishes that it were at all practicable for him to stand by his own biographer, to throw in a hint here, to thunder at him for an abominable libel there, to keep him strictly to the point, to prevent his revealing any secret which the laws of friendship require to be concealed, and, finally, to give him all that advice which, as coming from a virtuous though perhaps a somewhat angry ghost, is not likely to be forgotten.
One word of command the ghost would not fail to utter. He would know that if this were regarded his main point would be gained.
“Why friend," he would say, “if your version of my life is to be of service to my fame, or if you wish it to add to yours, remember that brevity is the soul of biography. I don't want to be dragged along in the broad daylight at the pace of a walking funeral, so that the profane vulgar may count my scars, and number up my follies, and compute my virtues by subtraction. As one coffin was large enough to hold my body, so will one volume suffice for all the world requires, or ought to know about me.”
There is some good sense as well as a right idea of the demands of literature in this ghostly counsel.
Symmetry and proportion, and artist's knowledge of light and shade, of foreground and distance, power of expression, critical sagacity, love of truth, without an idle blabbing of it on all occasions ; just so much reticence as shall prove the virtue of silence, and so much narrative as shall be required to give a distinct and vivid portrait of his hero. Al this and much more is demanded from the biographer, and in the greater number of cases is demanded in vain.
Look, for example, at the biographies of some of those great literary men who flourished during the last half century, and whose names are mentioned with honour wherever the language of England is spoken.
The Life of Scott is a work of great literary power, and is written by a man who could heartily and feelingly appreciate the genius of the poet. There is no small amount of talent in the work; there is even something which approaches very near to genius, but the length (seven or ten volumes in the two earliest editions) betokens either a want of skill in compression, or an exaggerated estimate of the position to which even Sir Walter Scott is entitled in the literature of Europe.
There is the “Life of Southey," too, in six goodly-sized volumes. The story of that life, however simple and unexciting, has a peculiar beauty of its own, which allures us to it with a strange fascination.
In Southey's hands literature became ennobled, and took its rank