Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

atomie, Egyptian man.

Who could bear to look upon the three hundred thousand antlike slaves swarming among the colossal monoliths piled up in thousands for the pyramid of Cheops! The bare thought makes one start back aghast and shudder.

I find the next mark opposite another awful passage dealing with infinity, on this occasion infinity of numbers, not of time:

“ The waters now changed their character,-from translucent lakes, shining like mirrors, they now became seas and oceans. And now came a tremendous change, which, unfolding itself slowly like a scroll, through many months, promised an abiding torment; and, in fact, it never left me until the winding-up of my case. Hitherto the human face had mixed often in my dreams, but not despotically, not with any special power of tormenting. But now, that which I have called the tyranny of the human face began to unfold itself. Perhaps some part of my London life might be answerable for this. Be that as it may, now it was that upon the rocking waters of the ocean the human face began to appear : the sea appeared paved with innumerable faces, upturned to the heavens-faces imploring, wrathful, despairing, surged upwards by thousands, by myriads, by generations, by centuries."

Upon closer looking, I see an attempt has been made to erase the mark opposite this passage. Joining the fact with the faintness of the line opposite the former quotation I am driven to the conclusion that there is only one “ stetted” note of admiration in the book. It is a whole page of the little volume. It begins on page 91, and ends on page 92. To show you how little I care for my copy of the Confessions, I shall cut it out. Even a lawyer would pay me more than fourpencehalfpenny for copying a page of the book, and, as I have said before, the volume has no extrinsic value for me. Excepting the Bible, I am not familiar with any finer passage of so great length in prose in the English language :

“ The dream commenced with a music which now I often heard in dreams; a music of preparation and awakening suspense; a music like the opening of the Coronation Anthem, and which, like that, gave the feeling of a vast march-of infinite cavalcades filing offand the tread of innumerable armies. The morning was come of a mighty day-a day of crisis and of final hope for human nature, then suffering some mysterious eclipse, and labouring in some dread extremity. Some

where, I knew not where—somehow, I knew not howby some beings, I knew not whom-a battle, a strife, an agony was conducting, was evolving like a great drama, or piece of music; with which my sympathy was the more insupportable from my confusion as to its place, its cause, its nature, and its possible issue. I, as is usual in dreams (where, of necessity, we make ourselves central to every movement), had the power and yet had not the power, to decide it. I had the power, if I could raise myself, to will it ; and yet again had not the power, for the weight of twenty Atlantics was upon me, or the oppression of inexpiable guilt. "Deeper than ever plummet sounded,' I lay inactive. Then, like a chorus, the passion deepened. Some greater interest was at stake; some mightier cause than ever yet the sword had pleaded or trumpet had proclaimed. Then came sudden alarms; hurryings to and fro; trepidations of innumerable fugitives, I knew not whether from the good cause or the bad; darkness and lights; tempest and human faces ; and at last, with the sense that all was lost, female forms, and the features that were all the world to me, and but a moment allowed, and clasped hands, and heart-breaking partings, and then-everlasting farewells ! and with a sigh such as the caves of hell sighed when the incestuous mother uttered the abhorred name of death, the sound was reverberatedeverlasting farewells! and again and yet again reverberated-everlasting farewells ! And I awoke in struggles, and cried aloud, "I will sleep no more !'»

Upon reading this passage over I am glad I am not familiar with any finer one in English prose-it would be impossible to endure it. In these sentences it is not the consummate style alone that overwhelms one, the matter is nearly as fine as the manner. How tremendously the numbers and sentences are marshalled! How inevitable, overbearing, breathless is the onward movement! What awful expectations are aroused, and shadowy fears vaguely realized ! As the spectral pageant moves on other cohorts of trembling shades join the ghostly legion on the blind march! All is vaporous, spectral, spiritual, until when we are wound up to the highest pitch of physical awe and apprehension, we stop suddenly, arrested by failure of the ground, insufficiency of the road, and are recalled to life and light and truth and fellowship with the kindly race of man by the despairing human shriek of incommunicable, inarticulable agony in the words, "I will sleep no more!” In that despairing cry the tortured soul abjectly confesses that it has been vanquished and driven wild' by the spirit-world.

It is when you contrast the finest passages in Macaulay with such a passage as this, that you recognise the difference between a clever writer and a great stylist.

« AnteriorContinuar »