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New Monthly Magazine.
THE GALLERY OF APELLES. A Fragment of a Grecian Tale, translated from a Greek manuscript discovered
in the Summer of 1814. The adventure which led to the discovery of the manuscript, from which the subjoined translation has been made, is not one of those that can be ushered in as curious or extraordinary. It is, indeed, little beyond a common-place occurrence; but it possesses the ad. vantages of simplicity and truth, which, in my mind, can give, even to common-place, a charm far beyond the reach of singularity and pretension. I shall therefore briefly relate it.
In the memorable year 1814, when the vast theatre of Napoleon's pride and power was thrown open to British subjects, I was one of the many who hastened to go over what had so long been forbidden ground. My intention was, having made but a short stay at Paris, to cross the Alps and visit Rome, the object of my early and unbounded veneration. A friend told me that he should charge me with a commission to execute on my way. He was of a Roman Catholic family, and his only sister, in the very blossom of her youth, had sacrificed fortune, beauty, and the graces, to a life of religious seclusion. The place of her retirement was a small con. vent beyond the Alps, on the great Milan road, at the village of Vallerosa. My commission was, to purchase, at Paris, a collection of the small medals, crucifixes, rosaries, and amulets, which had been issued from the Imperial mint on the occasion of Napoleon's being crowned “the Lord's anointed” by the Pope all of which professed to have received the benediction of the holy father. I was, however, particularly cautioned to guard against a fraud, which, according to the letter of the fair recluse, the bijoutiers of Paris sometimes practised on the faithful, viz. imposing comme benis du Pape, what had received the blessing only at second hand,—by being placed in contact with others that had received the primary benediction. I was, also, charged with letters from my friend, and the other members of his family, for the novice-nun and the abbess of Vallerosa. Having passed some days at Paris pleasantly enough (I owe this acknowledgment en passant,) I began to think of continuing my journey. My first care was to execute my commission. I consulted on the subject a charming friend, with whom I had the good fortune to become acquainted during my short stay in the French capital. She observed, with a smile, that she thought Englishmen were all heretics, and had no faith in Bons Dieux, offering, at the same time, to accompany me to the Quai des Orfèvres. We VOL. IK. No. 1,--1822.
proceeded immediately to her jeweller's. She mentioned what I wanted, the caution given me respecting the genuineness of the benediction, my being a heretic and therefore without discrimination in those things all in that tone of delicate banter which French women can assume with so much tact and fascination. As we were leaving the shop with my assortment of holy relics in a small box, I noticed Sophie (for so my lovely friend was named) looking at a small watch, one of those usually worn by French women, suspended from the neck. I asked her to let me see it. She gave it to me, observing that her attention had been fixed by the painting of St. George, our patron, spearing the Dragon, on the cover. The painting was really pretty. I purchased the watch for a few Napoleons, and presented it to Sophie. She declined accepting it, and declared that she would have prevented my purchasing it, but that she thought I designed it for a present à ma bien-aimée in England. I urged her to give that proof of her confidence and esteem—which she no longer denied me, I perceived that she wore no chain, and asked the jeweller to produce some from which to choose. To this she objected in a decisive tone desired the jeweller at the same time to let her see some chains of a particular workmanship and value-selected one the most costly and superb-passed it round her neck with the watch suspended from it-and looking at me with a smile significant of soul and sentiment beyond the power of language to express, hid the happy bauble in one of the loveliest bosoms in the world. I would make one remark here for the benefit of my countrymen; he who aspires to please French women must assume, if he has not, the virtue of generosity. They will receive "tokens of affection” from “a chosen friend," but without disenchanting the sex of its delicacy, or sentiment of its disinterestedness. Sophie was an epitome of all that is most charming in her countrywomen. I think I first loved her for a certain accordance of her character with her name, which, in Greek, conveys a sedate propriety of female demeanour that reminds one of Minerva,-relieved, however, in the demeanour of Sophie, by delightful alternations of French vivacity and playfulness. The thought struck me one evening in her society that she resembled Hebe acting the part of Minerva, for the entertainment of the.court of Olympus. I addressed her a copy of verses, which turned upon this idea. Never were verses or poet in higher vogue. All the world met me with compliment and congratulation. But there is no glory without its alloy. Mine certainly was not. In the first place, the auditors scarcely understood a syllable of what they praised, and, even if they did, my unhappy verses were declaimed by a pigeon-headed voltigeur, who, after twenty-five years emigration passed in England, mangled our language into a jargon so whimsical as to convulse with laughter any person knowing Eng. lish-excepting only the unfortunate author. But my greatest torture was the self-complacent grimace with which the Knight of St. Louis appealed to my candour,
for the marvellous skill with which he had mastered the finesses of English pronunciation. The second mortification was still more grievous. My vogue lasted but three days. A cursed Prussian, maliciously introduced by one of my best friends, had the art of imitating, with his voice, the blowing of a trumpet. His first blast blew all the world into an ecstasy, and * me and my verses into utter oblivion. I could not help, confiding my surprise (for so I called the vexation of my mortified conceit) to Sophie. “What!” said she, laughing outright in iny face, “not satisfied at Paris with a vogue of three days! Why even I, who love you, should have gone off with the Prussian, like the rest, if my vanity were not ranged on your side by the flattery of my charms Ma foi, vous êtes bien exigeans, vous, Messieurs les Anglais." I perceived the justice of what she said, made an effort to laugh too, and, having bid her a sincerely affectionate farewell, left Paris that very day. By a somewhat curious opposition, the only stage at which I made any delay, on my way to the convent, was the residence of Voltaire. I verily believe the air breathed by the old sinner is still charged with contagious impiety. I have not the least taste for profaneness, of which I am indeed intolerant, from a sentiment that even wit cannot redeem it from the original sin of bad taste. Yet I passed the whole night previous to my intended visit to Ferney, composing, or rather dreaming profane compliments and impious epigrains, as the means of gaining admission to the presence of the “old patriarch,” whom, in the capriciousness of my dreams, I imagined still living, and invisible to all but some fortunate few of the numberless pilgrims who visited his dwelling. * Perhaps I may one day give them to the world as “psychological curiosities.”
The reader (if what I write should ever meet a reader's eye) may now imagine me at the convent gate of Vallerosa. Diverging from the great road, and winding a half-circle round a jutting rock, the convent appears, to the traveller, embosomed in a valley beneath him, and “ looking tranquillity.” I rang the bell, and was immediately admitted to the parlour. The abbess addressed me in English with the politeness of one accustomed to the best society. She was the sister of a deceased Irish peer, whom a disappointment of the heart had, in her youth, driven from the world, which she was made to adorn. Upon receiving my letters, she retired for a few moments, and returned with the sister of my friend. I beheld her, not quite twelve months before, blooming and beautiful, and lovely as the morning rose-arrayed in the elegancies of a costly toilette, directed by the best taste-her heart light, her voice musical, her eyes radiant. I raised my eyes, and now be
“ Empressé d'aller rendre ses homages à Voltaire, dont il était un des plus zélés disciples, M. de Guibert se présenta au chateau, où il fut très bien accueilli par Madame Denis; mais malgré ses instances et ses sollicitations, il ne put voir le Patriarche de Ferney, qui alors, accablé dans et d'infirmités, et jaloux de mettre à profit ce qui lui restait d'une vie si glorieusement employée à l'il. lustration de la France littéraire, refusait obstinément de se montrer à la foule d'illustres personnages que la célébrité de son nom attirait de tous les pays. M. de Guibert, après avoir attendu inutileinent pendant plusieurs jours, se dé. termina enfin à partir. Mais avant de quitter le chateali, il voulut tenter un dernier effort ; il le fallut violent pour réussiraussi le fut-il. Il trara à la hâte, et au crayon, le distique suivant, et le fit porter a son hôte:
Je vous trouve, ô Voltaire! en tout semblable à Dieu,
Sans vous voir, on vous boit, on vous mange en ce lieu. Cette saillie un peu impie produisit l'effet désiré. Le front du viex philosophie se dérida, la consigne fut levée. M. de Guibert fut introduit; Voltaire se jetut dans ses bras, et le retint encore pendant plusieurs jours chez lui.”---ANU.
held her cheek pale—her eye bright as an icicle, and as cold, and half dissolved with weeping-her lips meagre-her expression fled -the dimpled angles of her mouth relaxed-her person clad in the ungraceful, sordid simplicity of the convent costume. I fell back upon my chair speechless, powerless, and faint, as if my whole being were unstrung. Upon returning to life and consciousness, I found myself profusely sprinkled with perfumes, the tears gushing down my face, and the abbess alone standing over me with moistened eyes. She knew our story—the disastrous influence that divided, when all human wishes seemed conspiring to unite ustalked to me only of indifferent things, until I had fully recovered myself, and then invited me to return the following day. I accordingly did return; Adelaide showed fresh traces of having passed through a painful scene. Never did human creature so cordially renounce the world, and embrace a life of privation and prayer. She told me there was one of the idle accomplishments which made her vain in the world, to which she still, without scruple, gave a portion of her time it was drawing. She then showed me “a manuscript copy of the Gospel of St. Luke in Greek, with a coloured picture of the Virgin." "She was employed in copying the picture for the nuns. The father confessor of the convent pronounced the picture, as well as the hand-writing, to be the work of the Saint himself, who had been a painter before he became an Evangelist. Upon seeing the painting, which was in a singular state of preservation, I could not help observing that it looked more like the Grecian Venus than the Virgin-the supposed cherubs being really Cupids, or perhaps “ the Hours.” She rejoined, that St. Luke was a Greek, and had naturally given to the Virgin the Grecian contour-at the same time a gleam of red passed faintly over her cheek. Upon examining the manuscript, however, I discovered beyond all doubt, from some fragments of sentences, that it contained a profane narrative; and the confessor, not a little piqued at the discovery, acknowledged it with a bad grace. The condemned manuscript was readily abandoned to me. A reverend makes it a point of conscience not to let familiarities of this kind with an individual, or with the order, pass unrequited. Father Bernardo intimated strong doubts of the holiness of my Parisian relics, and I perceived that he made but too great an impression upon Adelaide ; I gave every assurance on my part, and with perfect sincerity. The honest Father said, he knew a criterion which would determine whether they had really received the benediction ; -it was to try whether the touch of one of them would remove an inflammation of the eye, from which a servant of the convent was suffering severely. I trembled for the credit of my relics, but had no other alternative than joining this perilous issue. The Father gave me an under-look, half malice, half surprise. Poor Adelaide too looked surprised, but the surprise of pleasure, at my giving “ signs of faith.” The patient was called in-a fat blowzy peasant-girl, employed in the garden of the convent. Her eye, thick bandaged, to the utter exclusion of light and air, was really in a dreadful state of inflammation. The performance of the operation was assigned to Adelaide. She prayed for a few moments, entreating the Virgin to intercede with her blessed Son, and holding in