Edward Bulwer Lytton: The sword, consecrating homicide and massacre with a hollow name
Edward Bulwer Lytton
From Devereaux (1829)
I took out the sword, and drew it from the scabbard. “Come,” said I, and I kindled with a melancholy yet a deep enthusiasm, as I looked along the blade, “come, my bright friend, with thee through this labyrinth which we call the world will I carve my way! Fairest and speediest of earth’s levellers, thou makest the path from the low valley to the steep hill, and shapest the soldier’s axe into the monarch’s sceptre! The laurel and the fasces, and the curule car, and the emperor’s purple, – what are these but thy playthings, alternately thy scorn and thy reward! Founder of all empires, propagator of all creeds, thou leddest the Gaul and the Goth, and the gods of Rome and Greece crumbled upon their altars! Beneath thee the fires of the Gheber waved pale, and on thy point the badge of the camel-driver blazed like a sun over the startled East! Eternal arbiter, and unconquerable despot, while the passions of mankind exist! Most solemn of hypocrites, – circling blood with glory as with a halo; and consecrating homicide and massacre with a hollow name, which the parched throat of thy votary, in the battle and the agony, shouteth out with its last breath!…”
To people who have naturally very intense and very acute feelings, nothing is so fretting, so wearing to the heart, as the commonplace affections, which are the properties and offspring of the world. We have seen the birds which, with wings unclipt, children fasten to a stake. The birds seek to fly, and are pulled back before their wings are well spread; till, at last, they either perpetually strain at the end of their short tether, exciting only ridicule by their anguish and their impotent impatience; or, sullen and despondent, they remain on the ground, without any attempt to fly, nor creep, even to the full limit which their fetters will allow. Thus it is with the feelings of the keen, wild nature I speak of: they are either striving forever to pass the little circle of slavery to which they are condemned, and so move laughter by an excess of action and a want of adequate power; or they rest motionless and moody, disdaining the petty indulgence they might enjoy, till sullenness is construed into resignation, and despair seems the apathy of content. Time, however, cures what it does not kill; and both bird and beast, if they pine not to the death at first, grow tame and acquiescent at last.
…These, and the avocations they brought with them, consumed my time, and of Time murdered there is a ghost which we term ennui. The hauntings of this spectre are the especial curse of the higher orders; and hence springs a certain consequence to the passions. Persons in those ranks of society so exposed to ennui are either rendered totally incapable of real love, or they love far more intensely than those in a lower station; for the affections in them are either utterly frittered away on a thousand petty objects (poor shifts to escape the persecuting spectre), or else, early disgusted with the worthlessness of these objects, the heart turns within and languishes for something not found in the daily routine of life. When this is the case, and when the pining of the heart is once satisfied, and the object of love is found, there are two mighty reasons why the love should be most passionately cherished. The first is, the utter indolence in which aristocratic life oozes away, and which allows full food for that meditation which can nurse by sure degrees the weakest desire into the strongest passion; and the second reason is, that the insipidity and hollowness of all patrician pursuits and pleasures render the excitement of love more delicious and more necessary to the “ignavi terrarum domini,” than it is to those orders of society more usefully, more constantly, and more engrossingly engaged.
Wearied and sated with the pursuit of what was worthless, my heart, at last, exhausted itself in pining for what was pure…
“Listen: that man is wisest who is happiest,— granted. What does happiness consist in? Power, wealth, popularity, and, above all, content! Well, then, no man ever obtains so much power, so much money, so much popularity, and, above all, such thorough self-content as a fool; a fool, therefore (this is no paradox), is the wisest of men. Fools govern the world in purple: the wise laugh at them; but they laugh in rags. Fools thrive at court; fools thrive in state chambers; fools thrive in boudoirs; fools thrive in rich men’s legacies. Who is so beloved as a fool? Every man seeks him, laughs at him, and hugs him. Who is so secure in his own opinion, so high in complacency, as a fool? sua virtute involvit. Hark ye, St. John, let us turn fools: they are the only potentates, the only philosophers of earth. Oh, motley, ‘motley’s your only wear!'”
The stillness of noon; the holy and eloquent repose of twilight, its rosy sky and its soft air, its shadows and its dews, – had equally for her heart a whisper and a spell. The wan stars, where, from the eldest time, man has shaped out a chart of the undiscoverable future; the mysterious moon, to which the great ocean ministers from its untrodden shrines; the winds, which traverse the vast air, pilgrims from an eternal home to an unpenetrated bourne; the illimitable heavens, on which none ever gazed without a vague craving for something that the earth cannot give, and a vague sense of a former existence in which that something was enjoyed; the holy night; that solemn and circling sleep, which seems, in its repose, to image our death, and in its living worlds to shadow forth the immortal realms which only through that death we can survey…