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meal; not like quadrille, a feast of snatches. One of two rubbers might co-extend in duration with an evening. They gave time to form rooted friendships, to cultivate steady enmities. She despised the chance-started, capricious, and ever-fluctuating alliances of the other. The skirmishes of quadrille, she would say, reminded her of the petty ephemeral embroilments of the little Italian states, depicted by Machiavel: perpetually changing postures and connections; bitter foes to-day, sugared darlings to-morrow; kissing and scratching in a breath; – but the wars of whist were comparable to the long, steady, deep-rooted, rational antipathies of the great French and English nations. A grave simplicity was what she chiefly admired in her favourite game. There was nothing silly in it, like the nob in cribbage — nothing superfluous. No flushes – that most irrational of all pleas that a reasonable being can set up: – that any one should claim four by virtue of holding cards of the same mark and colour, without reference to the playing of the game, or the individual worth or pretensions of the cards themselves! She held this to be a solecism; as pitiful an ambition at cards as alliteration is in authorship. She despised superficiality, and looked deeper than the colours of things. – Suits were soldiers, she would say, and must have a uniformity of array to distinguish them: but what should we say to a foolish squire, who should claim a merit from dressing up his tenantry in red jackets, that never were to be marshalled – never to take the field? — She even wished that whist were more simple than it is; and, in my mind, would have stripped it of some appendages, which, in the state of human frailty, may be venially, and even commendably, allowed of. She saw no reason for the deciding of the trump by the turn of the card. Why not one suit always trumps? — Why two colours, when the mark of the suit would have sufficiently distinguished them without it? “But the eye, my dear madam, is agreeably refreshed with the variety. Man is not a creature of pure reason—he must have his senses delightfully appealed to. We see it in Roman Catholic countries, where the music and the paintings draw in many to worship, whom your quaker spirit of unsensualising would have kept out. – You, yourself, have a pretty collection of paintings — but confess to me, whether, walking in your gallery at Sandham, among those clear Vandykes, or among the Paul Potters in the ante-room, you ever
felt your bosom glow with an elegant delight, at all comparable to that you have it in your power to experience most evenings over a well-arranged assortment of the court-cards? — the pretty antic habits, like heralds in a procession – the gay triumph-assuring scarlets — the contrasting deadly-killing sables — the ‘hoary majesty of spades' – Pam in all his glory! —
“All these might be dispensed with; and with their naked names upon the drab pasteboard, the game might go on very well, pictureless; but the beauty of cards would be extinguished forever. Stripped of all that is imaginative in them, they must degenerate into mere gambling. Imagine a dull deal board, or drum head, to spread them on, instead of that nice verdant carpet (next to nature's), fittest arena for those courtly combatants to play their gallant jousts and tourneys in 1– Exchange those delicately-turned ivory markers — (work of Chinese artist, unconscious of their symbol, - or as profanely slighting their true application as the arrantest Ephesian journeyman that turned out those little shrines for the goddess) – exchange them for little bits of leather (our ancestors' money), or chalk and a slate!” —
The old lady, with a smile, confessed the soundness of my logic; and to her approbation of my arguments on her favourite topic that evening I have always fancied myself indebted for the legacy of a curious cribbage-board, made of the finest Sienna marble, which her maternal uncle (old Walter Plumer, whom ) have elsewhere celebrated) brought with him from Florence: – this, and a trifle of five hundred pounds, came to me at her death.
The former bequest (which I do not least value) I have kept with religious care; though she herself, to confess a truth, was never greatly taken with cribbage. It was an essentially vulgar game, I have heard her say, disputing with her uncle, who was very partial to it. She could never heartily bring her mouth to pronounce “Go,” or “That’s a go.” She called it an ungrammatical game. The pegging teased her. I once knew her to forfeit a rubber (a five-dollar stake) because she would not take advantage of the turn-up knave, which would have given it her, but which she must have claimed by the disgraceful tenure of declaring “two for his heels.” There is something extremely genteel in this sort of self-denial. Sarah Battle was a gentlewoman born.
Piquet she held the best game at the cards for two persons, though she would ridicule the pedantry of the terms – such as pique – repique – the capot – they savoured (she thought) of affectation. But games for two, or even three, she never greatly cared for. She loved the quadrate, or square. She would argue thus: — Cards are warfare: the ends are gain, with glory. But cards are war, in disguise of a sport: when single adversaries encounter, the ends proposed are too palpable. By themselves, it is too close a fight; with spectators, it is not much bettered. No looker-on can be interested, except for a bet, and then it is a mere affair of money; he cares not for your luck sympathetically, or for your play. —Three are still worse; a mere naked war of every man against every man, as in cribbage, without league or alliance; or a rotation of petty and contradictory interests, a succession of heartless leagues, and not much more hearty infractions of them, as in tradrille. — But in square games (she meant whist), all that is possible to be attained in card-playing is accomplished. There are the incentives of profit with honour, common to every species — though the latter can be but very imperfectly enjoyed in those other games, where the spectator is only feebly a participator. But the parties in whist are spectators and principals too. They are a theatre to themselves, and a looker-on is not wanted. He is rather worse than nothing, and an impertinence. Whist abhors neutrality, or interests beyond its sphere. You glory in some surprising stroke of skill or fortune, not because a cold — or even an interested — bystander witnesses it, but because your partner sympathises in the contingency. You win for two. You triumph for two. Two are exalted. Two again are mortified; which divides their disgrace, as the conjunction doubles (by taking off the invidiousness) your glories. Two losing to two are better reconciled, than one to one in that close butchery. The hostile feeling is weakened by multiplying the channels. War becomes a civil game. By such reasonings as these the old lady was accustomed to defend her favourite pastime.
No inducement could ever prevail upon her to play at any game, where chance entered into the composition, for nothing. Chance, she would argue – and here again, admire the subtlety of her conclusion; – chance is nothing, but where something else depends upon it. It is obvious, that cannot be glory.
What rational cause of exultation could it give to a man to turn up size ace a hundred times together by himself? or before spectators, where no stake was depending? — Make a lottery of a hundred thousand tickets with but one fortunate number – and what possible principle of our nature, except stupid wonderment, could it gratify to gain that number as many times successively without a prize? Therefore she disliked the mixture of chance in backgammon, where it was not played for money. She called it foolish, and those people idiots, who were taken with a lucky hit under such circumstances. Games of pure skill were as little to her fancy. Played for a stake, they were a mere system of overreaching. Played for glory, they were a mere setting of one man's wit, — his memory, or combination-faculty rather—against another's; like a mock-engagement at a review, bloodless and profitless. She could not conceive a game wanting the spritely infusion of chance, the handsome excuses of good fortune. Two people playing at chess in a corner of a room, whilst whist was stirring in the centre, would inspire her with insufferable horror and ennui. Those well-cut similitudes of Castles and Knights, the imagery of the board, she would argue (and I think in this case justly), were entirely misplaced and senseless. Those hardhead contests can in no instance ally with the fancy. They reject form and colour. A pencil and dry slate (she used to say) were the proper arena for such combatants. To those puny objectors against cards, as nurturing the bad passions, she would retort, that man is a gaming animal. He must be always trying to get the better in something or other: — that this passion can scarcely be more safely expended than upon a game at cards: that cards are a temporary illusion; in truth, a mere drama; for we do but play at being mightily concerned, where a few idle shillings are at stake, yet, during the illusion, we are as mightily concerned as those whose stake is crowns and kingdoms. They are a sort of dream-fighting; much ado; great battling, and little bloodshed; mighty means for disproportioned ends: quite as diverting, and a great deal more innoxious, than many of those more serious games of life, which men play without esteeming them to be such. With great deference to the old lady's judgment in these matters, I think I have experienced some moments in my life when playing at cards for nothing has even been agreeable. When I am in sickness, or not in the best spirits, I sometimes call for the cards, and play a game at piquet for love with my cousin Bridget — Bridget Elia. I grant there is something sneaking in it; but with a tooth-ache, or a sprained ankle, – when you are subdued and humble, – you are glad to put up with an inferior spring of action. There is such a thing in nature, I am convinced, as sick whist. I grant it is not the highest style of man — I deprecate the manes of Sarah Battle — she lives not, alas! to whom I should apologise. At such times, those terms which my old friend objected to, come in as something admissible — I love to get a tierce or a quatorze, though they mean nothing. I am subdued to an inferior interest. Those shadows of winning amuse me. That last game I had with my sweet cousin (I capotted her) — (dare I tell thee, how foolish I am?) — I wished it might have lasted forever, though we gained nothing, and lost nothing, though it was a mere shade of play: I would be content to go on in that idle folly for ever. The pipkin should be ever boiling, that was to prepare the gentle lenitive to my foot, which Bridget was doomed to apply after the game was over: and, as I do not much relish appliances, there it should ever bubble. Bridget and I should be ever playing.
A, CHAPTER ON EARS
I have no ear. — Mistake me not, Reader — nor imagine that I am by nature destitute of those exterior twin appendages, hanging ornaments, and (architecturally speaking) handsome volutes to the human capital. Better my mother had never borne me. — I am, I think, rather delicately, than copiously provided with those conduits; and I feel no disposition to envy the mule for his plenty, or the mole for her exactness, in those ingenious labyrinthine inlets – those indispensable side-intelligencers. Neither have I incurred, or done anything to incur, with Defoe, that hideous disfigurement, which constrained him to draw upon assurance — to feel “quite unabashed,” and at ease upon that article. I was never, I thank my stars, in the pillory; nor, if I read them aright, is it within the compass of my destiny, that I ever should be. When therefore I say that I have no ear, you will understand me to mean — for music.
To say that this heart never melted at the concord of sweet sounds, would be a foul selflibel. “Water parted from the sea” never fails to move it strangely. So does “In infancy.” But they were used to be sung at her harpsichord (the old-fashioned instrument in vogue in those days) by a gentlewoman — the gentlest, sure, that ever merited the appellation – the sweetest – why should I hesitate to name Mrs. S-, once the blooming Fanny Weatheral of the Temple — who had power to thrill the soul of Elia, small imp as he was, even in his long coats; and to make him glow, tremble, and blush with a passion, that not faintly indicated the dayspring of that absorbing sentiment which was afterwards destined to overwhelm and subdue his nature quite for Alice W-n. I even think that sentimentally I am disposed to harmony. But organically I am incapable of a tune. I have been practising “God save the King” all my life; whistling and humming of it over to myself in solitary corners; and am not yet arrived, they tell me, within many quavers of it. Yet hath the loyalty of Elia never been impeached. I am not without suspicion, that I have an undeveloped faculty of music within me. For, thrumming, in my wild way, on my friend A.'s piano, the other morning, while he was engaged in an adjoining parlour, – on his return he was pleased to say, “he thought it could not be the maid!” On his first surprise at hearing the keys touched in somewhat an airy and masterful way, not dreaming of me, his suspicions had lighted on Jenny. But a grace, snatched from a superior refinement, soon convinced him that some being – tech. nically perhaps deficient, but higher informed from a principle common to all the fine arts — had swayed the keys to a mood which Jenny, with all her (less cultivated) enthusiasm, could never have elicited from them. I men. tion this as a proof of my friend's penetration, and not with any view of disparaging Jenny. Scientifically I could never be made to understand (yet have I taken some pains) what a note in music is; or how one note should differ from another. Much less in voices can I distinguish a soprano from a tenor. Only sometimes the thorough-bass I contrive to guess at, from its being supereminently harsh and disagreeable. I tremble, however, for my misapplication of the simplest terms of that which I disclaim. While I profess my ignorance, I scarce know what to say I am ignorant of. I hate, perhaps, by misnomers. Sostenuto and adagio stand in the like relation of obscurity to me; and Sol, Fa, Mi, Re, is as conjuring as Baralipton.
It is hard to stand alone in an age like this, – (constituted to the quick and critical perception of all harmonious combinations, I verily believe, beyond all preceding ages, since Jubal stumbled upon the gamut,) to remain, as it were, singly unimpressible to the magic influences of an art, which is said to have such an especial stroke at soothing, elevating, and refining the passions. – Yet, rather than break the candid current of my confessions, I must avow to you that I have received a great deal more pain than pleasure from this so cried-up faculty.
I am constitutionally susceptible of noises. A carpenter's hammer, in a warm summer noon, will fret me into more than midsummer madness. But those unconnected, unset sounds are nothing to the measured malice of music. The ear is passive to those single strokes; willingly enduring stripes, while it hath no task to con. To music it cannot be passive. It will strive — mine at least will — spite of its inaptitude, to thrid the maze; like an unskilled eye painfully poring upon hieroglyphics. I have sat through an Italian Opera, till, for sheer pain, and inexplicable anguish, I have rushed out into the noisiest places of the crowded streets, to solace myself with sounds, which I was not obliged to follow, and get rid of the distracting torment of endless, fruitless, barren attention | I take refuge in the unpretending assemblage of honest
common-life sounds; – and the purgatory of
the Enraged Musician becomes my paradise.
I have sat at an Oratorio (that profanation of the purposes of the cheerful playhouse) watching the faces of the auditory in the pit (what a contrast to Hogarth's Laughing Audience ) immovable, or affecting some faint emotion — till (as some have said, that our occupations in the next world will be but a shadow of what delighted us in this) I have imagined myself in some cold Theatre in Hades, where some of the forms of the earthly one should be kept us, with none of the enjoyment; or like that
—Party in a parlour
Above all, those insufferable concertos, and pieces of music, as they are called, do plague and embitter my apprehension. – Words are
something; but to be exposed to an endless battery of mere sounds; to be long a-dying; to lie stretched upon a rack of roses; to keep up languor by unintermitted effort; to pile honey upon sugar, and sugar upon honey, to an interminable tedious sweetness; to fill up sound with feeling, and strain ideas to keep pace with it; to gaze on empty frames, and be forced to make the pictures for yourself; to read a book, all stops, and be obliged to supply the verbal matter; to invent extempore tragedies to answer to the vague gestures of an inexplicable rambling mime – these are faint shadows of what I have undergone from a series of the ablest-executed pieces of this empty instrumental music. I deny not, that in the opening of a concert, I have experienced something vastly lulling and agreeable: – afterwards followeth the languor and the oppression. Like that disappointing book in Patmos; or, like the comings on of melancholy, described by Burton, doth music make her first insinuating approaches: – “Most pleasant it is to such as are melancholy given, to walk alone in some solitary grove, betwixt wood and water, by some brook side, and to meditate upon some delightsome and pleasant subject, which shall affect him most, amabilis insania, and mentis gratissimus error. A most incomparable delight to build castles in the air, to go smiling to themselves, acting an infinite variety of parts, which they suppose, and strongly imagine, they act, or that they see done. — So delightsome these toys at first, they could spend whole days and nights without sleep, even whole years in such contemplations, and fantastical meditations, which are like so many dreams, and will hardly be drawn from them — winding and unwinding themselves as so many clocks, and still pleasing their humours, until at the last the scene turns upon a sudden, and they being now habitated to such meditations and solitary places, can endure no company, can think of nothing but harsh and distasteful subjects. Fear, sorrow, suspicion, subrusticus pudor, discontent, cares, and weariness of life, surprise them on a sudden, and they can think of nothing else: continually suspecting, no sooner are their eyes open, but this infernal plague of melancholy seizeth on them, and terrifies their souls, representing some dismal object to their minds; which now, by no means, no labour, no persuasions, they can avoid, they cannot be rid of, they cannot resist.”
Something like this “scene turning” I have experienced at the evening parties, at the house of my good Catholic friend Nov—; who, by the aid of a capital organ, himself the most finished of players, converts his drawing-room into a chapel, his week days into Sundays, and these latter into minor heavens,
When my friend commences upon one of those solemn anthems, which peradventure struck upon my heedless ear, rambling in the side aisles of the dim Abbey, some five-andthirty years since, waking a new sense, and putting a soul of old religion into my young apprehension — (whether it be that, in which the Psalmist, weary of the persecutions of bad men, wisheth to himself dove's wings — or that other which, with a like measure of sobriety and pathos, inquireth by what means the young man shall best cleanse his mind) — a holy calm pervadeth me. — I am for the time
— rapt above earth,
But when this master of the spell, not content to have laid a soul prostrate, goes on, in his power, to inflict more bliss than lies in her capacity to receive – impatient to overcome her “earthly” with his “heavenly,” – still pouring in, for protracted hours, fresh waves and fresh from the sea of sound, or from that inexhausted German ocean, above which, in triumphant progress, dolphin-seated, ride those Arions Haydn and Mozart, with their attendant Tritons, Bach, Beethoven, and a countless tribe, whom to attempt to reckon up would but plunge me again in the deeps, – I stagger under the weight of harmony, reeling to and fro at my wits' end;— clouds, as of frankincense, oppress me – priests, altars, censers dazzle before me — the genius of his religion hath me in her toils — a shadowy triple tiara invests the brow of my friend, late so naked, so ingenuous — he is Pope, — and by him sits, like as in the anomaly of dreams, a shePope too, - tri-coroneted like himself! – I am converted, and yet a Protestant; – at once malleus hereticorum, and myself grand heresiarch: or three heresies centre in my person: – I am Marcion, Ebion, and Cerinthus – Gog and Magog — what not? – till the coming in of the friendly supper-tray dissipates the figment, and a draught of true Lutheran beer (in which chiefly my friend shows himself no bigot) at once reconciles me to the ration
alities of a purer faith; and restores to me the genuine unterrifying aspects of my pleasantcountenanced host and hostess.
WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR (1775–1864)
AESOP AND RHODOPE SECOND CONVERSATION
AEsop. And so, our fellow-slaves are given to contention on the score of dignity? Rhodopé. I do not believe they are much addicted to contention: for, whenever the good Xanthus hears a signal of such misbehaviour, he either brings a scourge into the midst of them or sends our lady to scold them smartly for it. AEsop. Admirable evidence against their propensity! Rhodope. I will not have you find them out so, nor laugh at them. AEsop. Seeing that the good Xanthus and our lady are equally fond of thee, and always visit thee both together, the girls, however envious, cannot well or safely be arrogant, but must of necessity yield the first place to thee. Rhodopé. They indeed are observant of the kindness thus bestowed upon me: yet they afflict me by taunting me continually with what I am unable to deny. AEsop. If it is true, it ought little to trouble thee; if untrue, less. I know, for I have looked into nothing else of late, no evil can thy heart have admitted: a sigh of thine before the gods would remove the heaviest that could fall on it. Pray tell me what it may be. Come, be courageous; be cheerful. I can easily pardon a smile if thou impleadest me of curiosity. Rhodope. They remark to me that enemies or robbers took them forcibly from their parents . . . and that . . . and that . . . AEsop. Likely enough: what then? Why desist from speaking? why cover thy face with thy hair and hands? Rhodope! Rhodope dost thou weep moreover? Rhodope. It is so sure! AEsop. Was the fault thine? Rhodope. O that it were ! . any. AEsop. While it pains thee to tell it, keep thy silence; but when utterance is a solace, then impart it. Rhodope. They remind me (oh who could
. . if there was