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WARE’S LETTERS FROM PALMYRA 1838 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume I - Autobiography and Literary Essays 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume I - Autobiography and Literary Essays, ed. John M. Robson and Jack Stillinger, introduction by Lord Robbins (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981).
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WARE’S LETTERS FROM PALMYRA
London and Westminster Review, VI & XXVIII (Jan., 1838), 436-70. Headed: “Art. V.—[William Ware,] Letters of Lucius Manlius Piso, from Palmyra, to his Friend, Marcus Curtius, at Rome. Now first translated and published. 2 vols. 12mo. New York: [Francis,] 1837.” Running title: “Letters from Palmyra.” Signed: “S.” The concluding two paragraphs republished as “A Prophecy / (From a Review of ‘Letters from Palmyra.’)” in D&D, Vol. I, pp. 284-6, where the title is footnoted. “London and Westminster Review, January 1838” and the running title is “A Prophecy.” Identified in Mill’s bibliography as “A review of a book entitled ‘Letters of Lucius Piso from Palmyra’ in the London and Westminster Review for January 1838 (No. 12 and 55.)” (MacMinn, p. 50). There are no corrections or emendations in the Somerville College copy (tear sheets) of the L&WR version.
For comment, see the Introduction, p. xl above.
Because only part of the text was republished, the copy-text is the L&WR article, which has been collated with the extract in D&D, 1st and 2nd eds. In the footnoted variants, “59” indicates D&D, 1st ed. (1859), “67” indicates D&D, 2nd ed. (1867).
Ware’s Letters from Palmyra
speaking of the difficulties which in America retard the formation of a vigorous and original National Literature, and of the copies and imitations, mere echoes of the inspired voices of the Old World, which must in the mean time be accepted as great things, until a greater appear, Miss Martineau says:
I met with one gem in American literature where I should have least expected it—in the Knickerbocker, a New York Monthly Magazine. Last spring a set of papers began to appear, called Letters from Palmyra, six numbers of which had been issued when I left the country. I have been hitherto unable to obtain the rest; but if they answer to the early portions, there can be no doubt of their being shortly in everybody’s hands, in both countries. These letters remain in my mind, after repeated readings, as a fragment of lofty and tender beauty. Zenobia, Longinus, and a long perspective of characters, live and move in natural majesty, and the beauties of description and sentiment appear to me as remarkable as the strong conception of character and of the age. If this anonymous fragment be not the work of a true artist—if the work, when entire, do not prove to be of a far higher order than anything which has issued from the American press,—its early admirers will feel yet more surprise than regret.*
Such testimony from one who has so clearly discerned, and so forcibly drawn, the characteristic deficiencies of American literature (which, as we have observed in a former article,† are no other than the deficiencies of provincial literature in general) excited a natural desire for a nearer acquaintance with the production so highly commended. We have read the Letters from Palmyra (which are now complete), and can vouch that the sequel not only “answers to the early portions,” but is executed with a more vigorous hand, and adds to every good characteristic which the work possessed from its commencement, an animation of style and a dramatic talent which we did not equally recognize in the introductory letters. As this interesting work is still unknown in England, except to the few into whose hands a stray copy of the American edition has chanced to fall, we will lay a short account of it before our readers; rather desirous of making its contents known, than of subjecting them to a rigid critical examination. The young literature of a great people in a state of adolescence, who have not yet found leisure for much other employment of their activity than “felling the largest tree in four minutes,” and carrying bags of cotton from the great experimental farm of the world to the great workshop of it, must not be tried by the standard of what has been accomplished during three thousand years, with all appliances and means,[*] by the labours and inspirations of a select literary class writing for a numerous leisured one. Without making any lofty pretensions for this little book, or challenging in its behalf any comparisons with the great works of art which ennoble an age, we have found as much in it, both to love and to admire, as may well justify us in claiming for it a few moments of that attention which is bestowed so readily upon the merely passing productions of the time, to compare almost any of which with this would be nearly as absurd as it would be to place this on a level with the noblest and most enduring monuments of the present age.
We must premise a few words to prevent disappointment. The reader need expect nothing highly wrought, nothing stimulating in this book. It is not of the passionate school. It will be more to the taste of the admirers of Fenelon or Barthelemy than of Byron; indeed, it reminds us forcibly of the first of these writers, by its union of a gentle and peace-loving spirit with the warmest sympathy for the active and energetic virtues, and a facility of kindling, with the imagination merely, at the conception of scenes of bloodshed and mortal struggle; a combination which, like almost all blending of qualities superficially incompatible, is both evidence and cause of a general healthiness of intellect and feeling. But if, from Miss Martineau’s high estimate of this book in comparison with American literature generally, any one should expect to find in it, as a work of fiction, the stirring action on the imagination and breathless excitement with which we read the novels of Brockden Brown* (a man of true genius, little estimated by his cotemporaries, and whom Miss Martineau has unaccountably over-looked), or even the less deeply-seated but almost equally enchaining interest of the best productions of Cooper—or (we will venture to add) the wild flashes of truth and reality, the actual observation of human nature and personal experience of feeling, which we occasionally find, amidst much extravagance and absurdity, in the eccentric writings of John Neal;* whoever takes up this book with any such hope will soon lay it down. It is another kind of work altogether. It belongs to a class of fictitious writings, which bears to an ordinary or even a historical novel or romance, the relation which Shakspeare’s historical plays bear to his tragedies. If King John, or King Henry the Fourth, were altogether fictitious stories, they would be very poor ones. In them the author does not invent the incidents and characters which suit him best, but takes those which a certain period of history presents him with, and gives life and reality to those: he tells, not a story, but the story, as it may have occurred, and did, for aught we know, actually occur. We should read those plays not certainly without pleasure, but with far less of it, if that portion of the interest were cut off which is derived from the fact that the events which are described and the characters which are drawn did actually exist.
The Letters from Palmyra are written with a similar aim. Not that they are a mere delineation of historical events and personages. Many of the characters, and their personal adventures and actions, are fictitious; and among these is the hero (as we suppose we must call him) the imaginary writer of the letters, who—though a spectator and not an actor in the great drama of the book, the greatness and fall of Palmyra—excites a personal interest in us by the sentiments which, like the chorus of a Greek tragedy, he is made the organ of—and, for his own part, fulfils with propriety the essential functions of a novel-hero, by saving the Queen’s life, and by duly falling in love and being married. But though, as our extracts will show, the book, in its merely fictitious parts, displays much of the talent of the novel-writer, it could not afford to dispense with the interest derived from its relation to the history of the period; to Zenobia, Longinus, and the other real characters, who, as Miss Martineau says, “live and move in natural majesty” in its pages; and to that curious, eminently interesting, and yet, we may almost say, neglected period in the progress of the world and of mankind, of which it is the great merit of these letters that they really, and so far as we know for the very first time, present us with a living picture.
The author has been peculiarly happy in the choice of his historical period. From the time of Nero or Vespasian to that of Constantine, there is a space of about three hundred years, during which some of the greatest things were transacted which ever were transacted upon this earth, and the least like any other known series of events. Nor were these transactions performed in some little corner of the globe, but over the whole civilized world at once. During those centuries Christianity was working itself upwards, from the poorest and most despised classes and races of mankind, through the whole body of civilized society to the highest summits—from whence, mingled with the polluted streams which in such a state of society emanate from such places, it again flowed forth, and overspread barbarous countries and unknown races of men with its fructifying and wholesome waters, and with the foulness that was mixed therewith. During the same three centuries, military despotism was working in the opposite direction, from those high places downwards, into the very vitals of the people: sucking up and consuming their substance, to the extent of actual depopulation; allowing no one to live who was strong enough or good enough to be conspicuous and an object of jealousy; preying upon mankind and letting them prey upon one another, until no law remained but that of the strongest, and no refuge from tyranny but in the cunning and treachery of the slave; killing by inanition whatever of liberal pursuits or intellectual culture could be so killed: and in fine, trampling down the most advanced nations of the earth into a state of moral imbecility and corruption, from which one-half of the enervated Roman Empire has never since recovered itself:—nor could anything have recovered the other half, but being conquered and overrun by a hardy race of primitive barbarians; who, bringing again into the civilized world what had so long been wanting—their rude energy, and ardent love of personal freedom—found and yielded to the tempering and soul-awakening influence of the gentlest and at the same time the most powerful of religions: and by this intermixture produced the modern European character.
This double movement, of Christianity mounting up from the low places, and of tyranny descending from the heights, composes the history of the first three centuries of our era: and this history, do we find it in the books? Until the present generation it may safely be said, that no historian had seen more than a glimpse of it. M. Guizot first, in his “Essay on the Municipal Institutions of the Romans,” showed us despotism in the concrete, coming home to every peasant’s hearth.[*] As for Christianity, historians and martyrologists have shown us the sufferings of the Christian Church and its triumph; Nero’s pitch-jackets and Constantine’s labarum. But where do we see, and who has mentally depicted to himself, that irresistible under-current of Christianity, which must have been flowing with ever-increasing rapidity in the silent depths; when nothing was visible on the surface of society but a philosophically incredulous Few, and a populace ever gaping for new and more barbarous superstitions, for a “Syrian Goddess,” an Isis, or a Cybele? The period in which the power of Christianity had begun to be felt, without being publicly recognized, has never, we believe, been chosen for illustration, even by any writer of fiction, previous to these letters.
In this great portion of the world’s history, the mind dwells with peculiar interest upon the episode of Palmyra; which, though little connected with the main plot, commands attention, both for its own surprising nature, and for the interesting characters which figure in it. An insignificant town, in the very centre of a vast desert (“Tadmor in the wilderness,” recorded to have been among the towns built by Solomon),[*] with no agricultural resources, no advantages over the burning sands around, except copious springs—a place, says Pliny the naturalist, velut terris exempta a rerum naturâ[†] —starts up almost at the first moment when it is heard of in civilized literature, into an imperial city able to dispute the empire of the East with Rome herself; and of a magnificence, the remains of which, sixteen hundred years later, are still the admiration of the world:* then, crushed as suddenly by the terrible vengeance of a despotic conqueror, it sinks at once into oblivion and is heard of no more. The ignorant and uninquiring historians of the later Roman Empire have told us nothing which can satisfactorily account for this meteor-like apparition of a great and flourishing capital in a dreary wilderness. Doubtless the true origin of the wealth of Palmyra, as shown by Gibbon,[‡] and by a recent traveller (Mr. Addison),† was her geographical position, directly on the main track which is even now followed by the caravans passing between the Persian Gulph and the Mediterranean: then the great line of commercial communication, and likely again to become that of commercial intelligence, between the east and the west. Palmyra was the emporium of the commerce of India—the Venice of the desert. But if these advantages of situation, which rendered her greatness possible, had been of themselves sufficient to produce it, Palmyra would have revived after her destruction by Aurelian. The greatest natural advantages suffice not without wise guidance. The glories of Palmyra were the creation of Odenatus and Zenobia; and fell when they fell. Of the latter and more illustrious of these personages, the heroine of the Letters, we shall now speak in the words of Gibbon, who, in his description of her, translates almost literally from her biography in the Augustan History, by Trebellius Pollio.[*]
Modern Europe has produced several illustrious women who have sustained with glory the weight of empire; nor is our own age destitute of such distinguished characters. But if we except the doubtful achievements of Semiramis, Zenobia is perhaps the only female whose superior genius broke through the servile indolence imposed on her sex by the climate and manners of Asia. She claimed her descent from the Macedonian kings of Egypt, equalled in beauty her ancestor Cleopatra, and far surpassed that princess in chastity and valour. Zenobia was esteemed the most lovely as well as the most heroic of her sex. She was of a dark complexion; her teeth were of a pearly whiteness [ut margaritas eam plerique putarent habere, non dentes], and her large black eyes [oculis supra modum ingentibus, nigris, spiritus divini, venustatis incredibilis, are the enthusiastic words of Pollio] sparkled with uncommon fire, tempered by the most attractive sweetness. Her voice was strong and harmonious [vox clara et virilis]. She was not ignorant of the Latin tongue, but possessed in equal perfection the Greek, the Syriac, and the Egyptian languages. She had drawn up for her own use an epitome of Oriental history, and familiarly compared the beauties of Homer and Plato, under the tuition of the sublime Longinus.
This accomplished woman gave her hand to Odenatus, who, from a private station, raised himself to the dominion of the East. She soon became the friend and companion of a hero. In the intervals of war Odenatus passionately delighted in the exercise of hunting: he pursued with ardour the wild beasts of the desert, lions, panthers, and bears; and the ardour of Zenobia in that dangerous amusement was not inferior to his own. She had inured her constitution to fatigue, disdained the use of a covered carriage, generally appeared on horseback in a military habit, and sometimes marched several miles on foot at the head of the troops. The success of Odenatus was in a great measure ascribed to her incomparable prudence and fortitude. Their splendid victories over the Great King, whom they twice pursued as far as the gates of Ctesiphon, laid the foundations of their united fame and power.[†]
Odenatus having been cut off by private revenge, Zenobia punished his murderer, and,
with the assistance of his most faithful friends, she immediately filled the vacant throne, and governed with manly counsels Palmyra, Syria, and the East, above five years. . . . Disdaining both the senate and Gallienus, she obliged one of the Roman generals, who was sent against her, to retreat into Europe, with the loss of his army and his reputation. . . . To the dominions of Odenatus, which extended from the Euphrates to the frontiers of Bithynia, his widow added the inheritance of her ancestors, the populous and fertile kingdom of Egypt.[*]
Her administration was at once firm and gentle: “the severity,” says Pollio, “of a tyrant when necessity demanded it; the clemency of good princes when that was required by piety.”[†] She had the rarest of virtues in a despotic ruler, strict economy; yet she was “larga prudenter,”[‡] judiciously liberal. “She blended,” continues Gibbon, “with the popular manners of Roman princes, the stately pomp of the courts of Asia, and exacted from her subjects the same adoration that was paid to the successors of Cyrus.”[§]
To have such a character to depict, in a period of history so barren (at least in the high places) of individual goodness or greatness, is a bonne fortune to a writer of fiction. And the moment of the greatest splendour of Palmyra and of Zenobia, that immediately preceding the war by which they were ruined, has been chosen by the author of the Letters for the commencement of his tale.
The supposed writer of the letters is a young and high-born Roman, Lucius Piso, who, having received intelligence that his brother Calpurnius (supposed to have perished after the memorable overthrow of the Emperor Valerian by Sapor, King of Persia) was still alive and in captivity, sets out for Palmyra on an attempt to effect his liberation. The first hope of attaining it, rested upon the intercession of the powerful Zenobia, whose good offices Piso hoped to ensure through the influence of one of her chief counsellors, Gracchus, a noble Roman, and an early friend of his house. This Gracchus, and his daughter Fausta, are two of the principal characters of the book: the former a personification of a bland and affectionate old man and a prudent counsellor; the latter, a young and beautiful heroine, worshipping Zenobia, and an imitator and emulator of her splendid qualities.
The first letter describes the voyage from Rome to Berytus in Syria, during which Piso forms an acquaintance with two persons, a Jew and a Christian, who re-appear at intervals throughout the narrative. This is followed by the journey across the Desert, and the first aspect of the magnificent Eastern capital. It is described in accordance with the evidence of its existing remains: and what had hitherto been, in our imagination, merely a picture like that in Byron’s “Dream,”[¶] of fallen columns and among them camels grazing, is very successfully peopled and vivified with the hum and stir of a busy commercial city and the splendour of an Eastern throne.
The city filled the whole plain as far as the eye could reach, both toward the North and toward the South. It seemed to me to be larger than Rome. . . . The city proper is so studded with groups of lofty palm-trees, shooting up among its temples and palaces; and, on the other hand, the plain in its immediate vicinity is so thickly adorned with magnificent structures, of the purest marble, that it is not easy, nay, it is impossible, at the distance at which I contemplated the whole, to distinguish the line which divided the one from the other. It was all city and all country—all country and all city. I imagined that I saw under my feet the dwellings of purified men and of gods. They were too glorious for the mere earthborn. The vast Temple of the Sun stretched upward its thousand columns of polished marble to the heavens, in its matchless beauty, casting into the shade every other work of art of which the world can boast. On each side of this, the central point, there rose upward slender pyramids, pointed obelisks, domes of the most graceful proportions, columns, arches, and lofty towers, for number and for form beyond my power to describe—all, as well as the walls of the city, either of white marble, or of some stone as white, and everywhere in their whole extent interspersed with multitudes of overshadowing palm-trees. A flood of golden light, of a richer hue, it seemed to me, than our sun ever sheds upon Rome, rolled over the city and plain, and distant mountains, giving to the whole a gorgeousness agreeing well with all my impressions of oriental magnificence. . . . Not one expectation was disappointed, but rather exceeded, as we came in sight of the vast walls of the city, and of the Roman gate—so it is called—through which we were to make our entrance. It was all upon the grandest scale. The walls were higher, and more frequently defended by square massy towers springing out of them, than those of Rome. The towers, which on either side flanked the gateway, and which were connected by an immense arch, flung from one to the other, were magnificent. No sooner had we passed through it than we found ourselves in a street lined as it were with palaces. It was of great width—we have no street like it in this respect—of an exact level, and stretched onward farther than the eye could distinctly reach, till, as I was told, it was terminated by another gate, similar to that by which we had entered. . . .
(Vol. I, pp. 21-4.)
Everything bears a newer, fresher look than in Rome. The buildings of the republic, which many are so desirous to preserve, and whole streets even, of ante-Augustan architecture, tend to spread around, here and there in Rome, a gloom—to me full of beauty and poetry—but still gloom. Here all is bright and gay: the buildings of marble—the streets paved and clean—frequent fountains of water throwing up their foaming jets, and shedding around a delicious coolness,—temples, and palaces of the nobles or of wealthy Palmyrene merchants. Then conceive, poured through these long lines of beautiful edifices, among these temples and fountains, a population drawn from every country of the far East, arrayed in every variety of the most showy and fanciful costume, with the singular animals, rarely seen in our streets, but here met at every turn—elephants, camels, and dromedaries, to say nothing of the Arabian horses with their jewelled housings, with every now and then a troop of the Queen’s cavalry, moving along to the sound of their clanging trumpets—conceive this ceaseless tide of various animal life poured along among the proud piles, and choking the ways, and you will have some faint glimpses of the strange and imposing reality.
(Ibid., p. 53.)
On turning a corner the chariot comes suddenly in sight of the world-famous Temple of the Sun:
Upon a vast platform of marble, itself decorated with endless lines of columns—elsewhere of beauty and size sufficient for the principal building, but here a mere appendage—stood in solitary magnificence this peerless work of art. All I could do was, and the act was involuntary, to call upon the charioteer to rein up his horses and let me quietly gaze. In this Fausta, nothing unwilling, indulged me. Then, when satisfied with this, the first point of view, we wound slowly around the spacious square upon which it stands, observing it well in all directions, and taking my fill of that exalted but nameless pleasure which flows in upon the soul from the contemplation of perfect excellence.
“This is, if I err not, Fausta, the work of a Greek artist.”
“It is,” said she: “here both Romans and Palmyrenes must acknowledge their inferiority; and, indeed, all other people. In every city of the world, I believe, all the great works of art are the offspring of Grecian genius and Grecian taste. Truly, a wonderful people! In this very city, our artists, our men of letters, even the first minister of state, all are Greeks. But come, let us move on to the Long Portico, an edifice which will astonish you yet more than even the Temple of the Sun, through your having heard of it so much less. We shall reach it in about half a Roman mile.”
This space was soon passed, and the Portico stood revealed, with its interminable ranges of Corinthian columns, and the busy multitudes winding among them. Here the merchants assemble and meet each other. Here various articles of more than common rarity are brought and exhibited for sale. Here the mountebanks resort, and entertain the idle and lovers of amusement with their fantastic tricks. And here strangers from all parts of the world may be seen walking to and fro, observing the customs of the place, and regaling themselves at the brilliant rooms, furnished with every luxury, which are opened for their use, or else at the public baths, which are found in the immediate neighbourhood. The Portico does not, like the Temple, stand upon an elevated platform, but more upon a level with the streets. Its greatness is derived from its extreme length, and its exquisitely perfect designs and workmanship, as seen in the graceful fluted columns and the rich entablature running round the whole. The life and achievements of Alexander are sculptured upon the frieze; the artist, a Greek also, having been allowed to choose his own theme.
“Fausta,” said I, “my soul is steeped in beauty. It will be to no purpose to show me more now.”
(Ibid., pp. 54-5.)
Into the scene thus prepared, the author at once introduces Zenobia and all the historical characters of the book:
As we were thus idly discoursing, we became suddenly conscious of an unusual commotion in the street. The populace began to move quickly by in crowds, and vehicles of all sorts came pouring along as if in expectation of something they were eager to see.
“What’s all this? What’s all this?” said Demetrius, leaving his work, which he had resumed, and running to the door of his shop: “What’s the matter, friend?” addressing a citizen hurrying by; “is Aurelian at the gates, that you are posting along in such confusion?”
“Not Aurelian,” replied the other, “but Aurelian’s mistress. The Queen is coming. Clouds of dust on the skirts of the plain show that she is advancing toward the city.”
“Now, Roman, if thou wouldst see a sight, be advised and follow me. We will mount the roof of yonder market, whence we shall win a prospect such as no eye can have seen that has not gazed from the same point. It is where I go to refresh my dulled senses, after the day’s hard toil. . . .
“We are here just at the right moment,” said he; “come quickly to this corner and secure a seat, for you see the people are already thronging after us. There! can Elysium offer a more perfect scene? And look, how inspiring is the view of these two multitudes, moving toward each other in the spirit of friendship! How the city opens her arms to embrace her Queen!”
At the distance of about a mile from the walls we now saw the party of the Queen, escorted by a large body of horse; and, approaching them from the city, apparently its whole population, some on foot, some on horse, some in carriages of every description. The plain was filled with life. The sun shooting his beams over the whole, and reflected from the spears and corslets of the cavalry, and the gilding and polished work of chariots and harness, caused the scene to sparkle as if strewed with diamonds. As soon as the near approach of Zenobia to the walls began to conceal her and her escort, we returned to the steps of the shop of Demetrius, as the Queen would pass directly by them on her way to the palace.
We had been here not many minutes before the shouts of the people, and the braying of martial music, and the confused sound of an approaching multitude, showed that the Queen was near. Troops of horse, variously caparisoned, each more brilliantly, as it seemed, than another, preceded a train of sumptuary elephants and camels, these too richly dressed, but heavily loaded. Then came the body guard of the Queen, in armour of complete steel, and then the chariot of Zenobia, drawn by milk-white Arabians. So soon as she appeared the air resounded with the acclamations of the countless multitudes. Every cry of loyalty and affection was heard from ten thousand mouths, making a music such as filled the heart almost to breaking. “Long live the great Zenobia!” went up to the heavens. “The blessings of all the Gods on our good Queen!”—“Health and happiness to the mother of her people!”—“Death and destruction to her enemies!”—these and cries of the same kind came from the people, not as a mere lip-service, but evidently, from the tone in which they were uttered, prompted by real sentiments of love, such as it seems to me never before can have existed towards a supreme and absolute prince.
It was to me a moment inexpressibly interesting. I could not have asked for more than, for the first time, to see this great woman just as I now saw her. I cannot, even at this time, speak of her beauty, and the imposing, yet sweet dignity of her manners; for it was with me, as I suppose it was with all—the diviner beauty of the emotions and sentiments which were working at her heart and shone out in the expressive language of her countenance, took away all power of narrowly scanning complexion, feature and form. Her look was full of love for her people. She regarded them as if they were her children. She bent herself fondly toward them, as if nothing but the restraints of form withheld her from throwing herself into their arms. This was the beauty which filled and agitated me. I was more than satisfied.
“And who,” said I to Demetrius, “is that beautiful being, but of a sad and thoughtful countenance, who sits at the side of the Queen?”
“That,” he replied, “is the Princess Julia; a true descendant of her great mother; and the Gods grant that she, rather than either of her brothers, may succeed to the sovereign power.”
“She looks indeed,” said I, “worthy to reign—over hearts at least, if not over nations. Those in the next chariot are, I suppose, the young Cæsars, as I hear they are called—about as promising, to judge by the form and face, as some of our Roman brood of the same name. I need not ask whose head that is in the carriage next succeeding; it can belong to no other in Palmyra than the great Longinus. What a divine repose breathes over that noble countenance! But—Gods of Rome and of the world!—who sits beside him? Whose dark soul is lodged in that fearful tenement? fearful and yet beautiful, as would be a statue of ebony?”
“Know you not him? Know you not the Egyptian Zabdas? the mirror of accomplished knighthood, the pillar of the state, the Aurelian of the East? Ah! far may you go to find two such men as those—of gifts so diverse, and power so great—sitting together like brothers. It all shows the greater power of Zenobia, who can tame the roughest and most ambitious spirits to her uses. Who is like Zenobia?”
“So ends, it seems to me,” I replied, “every sentence of every Palmyrene,—‘Who is like Zenobia?’ ”
(Ibid., pp. 59-62.)
With these personages, all of whom except the Princess Julia are historical, we are made intimately acquainted in the scenes and conversations, which, alternately with the progress of Piso’s attempt to recover his brother, occupy the whole of the first volume. Our author has not escaped the danger to which writers of his class are most liable. Very few writers can maintain sufficient discrimination between one of their good characters and another: and his are too much alike; they are all heroes or heroines, and all, with some slight exceptions, heroes and heroines of the same sort. Longinus, the great philosophical ornament of his age, one of the latest authors who, in the decline of letters, maintained their place among the great writers of antiquity, is not sufficiently distinguished from Gracchus, who is also a philosopher—an Epicurean indeed, while the other is a Platonist, but in the main he philosophizes in much the same way, and, to our thinking, full as wisely. Fausta is but a lesser Zenobia; and the Princess Julia differs from them both, only by having somewhat less strength and somewhat more gentleness, and by being a semi-convert to Christianity. This last is hardly a distinction, as the author (we fear without historical authority) represents most of his good characters (except Zenobia herself, whose partialities are rather towards Judaism) as either entertaining from the beginning of the book, or acquiring in the course of it, sentiments which must very soon have ended in their complete adoption of Christianity. The effect of this uniformity of character is, that the reader is not strongly interested in any of the personages, considered as an individual. But, all things duly weighed, we question whether this is a defect. In the first place, that there would really have been among the intimate companions and chosen advisers of so remarkable a person as Zenobia as much resemblance (either original or caught from her) to the great features of her own character as is here assigned to them, is in itself highly probable. And what spoils the personages as individual figures, improves the effect of the entire picture. We see what we wish to see, Zenobia as the centre of the whole, with a small band of devoted friends forming an inner circle round her, and an enthusiastic and worshipping people for the framework beyond. The effect, in this view of the design, is completely what it was intended to be. Zenobia alone stands out as an individual character. We see in her all the natural qualities of a great and good despot: the lofty and almost godlike feelings derived from the consciousness of vast power won by wisdom and energy and exercised with virtue; the passion for excitement, to which not to reign were not to live; the unbending pride which cannot brook a diminution of importance, and the self-confidence which feels assured of victory when rushing into the most hopeless enterprises. The author has very skilfully and naturally bespoken our indulgence for these pardonable weaknesses, by depicting them as, what they most probably were, the weaknesses not more of Zenobia herself than of her people, intoxicated with their own greatness, and fondly believing that the world in arms must give way before the irresistible genius of their queen. Even with this rash confidence the author makes us sympathize; the reader becomes a Palmyrene, and feels with the Palmyrenes their enthusiasm. His management of the character of Zenobia herself is in this respect extremely skilful. After the scene in the amphitheatre, in which her sons appear with the imperial purple of the Cæsars, a presumption which is the immediate cause of the rupture with Rome—being asked “Why put at hazard the peace and prosperity of this fair realm for a shadow—a name? What is it to you or to me that Timolaus, Herennianus, and Vabalathus, be hailed by the pretty style of Cæsar?” [Ibid., p. 93.] The Queen replies.
“Julia, as the world deems—and we are in the world and of it—honour and greatness he not in those things which are truly honourable and great; not in learning or genius, else were Longinus on this throne, and I his waiting woman: not in action, else were the great Zabdas king; not in merit, else were many a dame of Palmyra where I am, and I a patient household drudge. Birth, and station and power are before these. Men bow before names and sceptres and robes of office, lower than before the gods themselves. Nay, here in the East, power itself were a shadow without its tinsel trappings. ’Tis vain to stand against the world. I am one of the general herd. What they honour, I crave. This coronet of pearl, this gorgeous robe, this golden chair, this human footstool, in the eye of a severe judgment may signify but little. Zeno or Diogenes might smile upon them with contempt. But so thinks not the world. It is no secret that in Timolaus, Herennianus and Vabalathus dwells not the wisdom of Longinus, nor the virtue of Valerian. What then so crazed the assembled people of Palmyra, but the purple-coloured mantle of the Roman Cæsar? I am, for that, fathoms deeper in the great heart of my people.”
(Ibid., pp. 93-4.)
The author has managed well the only weakness of his greatest character. He has so well seized the light in which the unmeasured love of power and of its trappings represents itself to itself in a mind fit for better things; he has blended so much of greatness with its littleness, that in her it scarcely appears to be a fault. Hear her afterwards, at the deliberation in council upon Aurelian’s warlike message, thus avow and justify, on the noblest grounds, her love of dominion:
“I am charged with pride and ambition. The charge is true, and I glory in its truth. Who ever achieved anything great in letters, arts, or arms, who was not ambitious? Cæsar was not more ambitious than Cicero. Let the ambition be a noble one, and who shall blame it? I confess I did once aspire to be Queen, not only of Palmyra, but of the East. That I am. I now aspire to remain so. Is it not an honourable ambition? Does it not become a descendant of the Ptolemys and of Cleopatra? I am applauded by you all for what I have already done. You would not it should have been less. But why pause here? Is so much ambition praiseworthy, and more criminal? Is it fixed in nature that the limits of this empire should be Egypt on the one hand, the Hellespont and the Euxine on the other? Were not Suez and Armenia more natural limits? Or hath empire no natural limits, but is broad as the genius that can devise, and the power than can win. Rome has the West. Let Palmyra possess the East. Not that nature prescribes this and no more. The Gods prospering, and I swear not that the Mediterranean shall hem me in upon the West, or Persia on the East. Longinus is right—I would that the world were mine. I feel within the will and the power to bless it, were it so.
“Are not my people happy? I look upon the past and the present, upon my nearer and my remoter subjects, and ask, nor fear the answer—Whom have I wronged? what province have I oppressed? what city pillaged? what region drained with taxes? whose life have I unjustly taken, or estates coveted or robbed? whose honour have I wantonly assailed? whose rights, though of the weakest and poorest, have I trenched upon? I dwell where I would ever dwell, in the hearts of my people. It is writ in your faces, that I reign not more over you than within you. The foundation of my throne is not more power than love. Suppose now, my ambition add another province to our realm? Is it an evil? The kingdoms already bound to us by the joint acts of ourself and the late royal Odenatus, we found discordant and at war. They are now united and at peace. One harmonious whole has grown out of hostile and sundered parts. At my hands they receive a common justice and equal benefits. The channels of their commerce have I opened, and dug them deep and sure. Prosperity and plenty are in all their borders. The streets of our capital bear testimony to the distant and various industry which here seeks its market. This is no vain boasting—receive it not so, good friends—it is but truth. He who traduces himself sins with him who traduces another. He who is unjust to himself, or less than just, breaks a law as well as he who hurts his neighbour. I tell you what I am and what I have done, that your trust for the future may not rest upon ignorant grounds. If I am more than just to myself, rebuke me. If I have overstepped the modesty that became me, I am open to your censure, and will bear it. But I have spoken that you may know your Queen—not only by her acts, but by her admitted principles. I tell you, then, that I am ambitious; that I crave dominion; and while I live, will reign. Sprung from a line of kings, a throne is my natural seat—I love it. But I strive, too—you can bear me witness that I do—that it shall be, while I sit upon it, an honoured, unpolluted seat. If I can, I will hang a yet brighter glory around it.”
(Ibid., Vol. II, pp. 26-8.)
We pass over the letters in which we are introduced to the private life, the social intercourse and amusements, the conversations and speculations of Zenobia and her friends. In these, the first philosopher of his age being one of the interlocutors, and some of the others being persons who had listened approvingly to the teachers of Christianity, the subjects touched are naturally those of the highest and most solemn nature; but there is nothing controversial in the tone, and the dialogue exhibits fairly enough what may be conceived to have been in that age the feelings of persons like those represented, in regard to the great problem of human existence, in this life and in a life to come. Piso’s thoughts incline him more and more towards the Christian faith, of which the sincere and pure-minded votaries are typified in Probus (the Christian with whom Piso became acquainted on his voyage from Rome), and the more vain-glorious and worldly-minded in Paul of Samosata, Bishop of Antioch, whom it is historically true that Zenobia protected and countenanced.
We quote a passage of another kind: the tableau de mœurs which concludes the description of a trial of strength and skill in martial exercises. The trial was “to throw the lance with such unerring aim and force, as to pass through an aperture in a shield of fourfold ox-hide, of a size but slightly larger than the beam of the lance, so as not so much as to graze the sides of the perforated place.” (Ibid., Vol. I, p. 138.) The incapable sons of Zenobia, genuine samples of hereditary oriental princes, try their skill, and fail with different degrees of disgrace. Zabdas, the stern and swarthy warrior already mentioned,
now, suddenly springing from his seat, which he had taken among those who apparently declined to join in the sport, seized a lance from the hands of the slave who bore them, and hurling it with the force of a tempest, the weapon, hissing along the air, struck the butt near the centre; but the wood of which it was made, unused to such violence, shivered and crumbled under the blow. Without a word, and without an emotion, so far as the face was its index, the Egyptian returned to his seat. It seemed as if he had done the whole in his sleep. It is actual war alone that can rouse the energies of Zabdas.
(Ibid., p. 139.)
Zenobia herself next makes the attempt, and succeeds, but
in passing through the aperture the weapon, not having been driven with quite sufficient force, did not preserve its level, so that the end grazed the shield, and the lance then consequently taking an oblique direction, plunged downward, and buried its head in the turf.
Fausta follows, and her success is perfect. There remains the Princess Julia; the gentle and sensitive character of the story, and the one with whom, of course, Piso is to fall in love.
With a form of so much less apparent vigour than either Zenobia or Fausta, so truly Syrian in a certain soft languor that spreads itself over her, whether at rest or in motion, it was amazing to see with what easy strength she held and balanced the heavy weapon. Every movement showed that there lay concealed within her ample power for this and every manly exercise, should she please to put it forth.
“At the schools,” said the princess, “Fausta and I went on ever with equal steps. Her advantage lies in being at all times mistress of her power. My arm is often treacherous through failure of the heart.”
It was not difficult to see the truth of what she said, in her varying colour, and the slightly agitated lance.
But addressing herself to the sport, and with but one instant’s pause, the lance flew toward the shield, and entering the opening, but not with a perfect direction, it passed not through, but hung there by the head.
“Princess,” said Zabdas, springing from his repose with more than wonted energy, “that lance was chosen, as I saw, by a Roman. Try once more with one that I shall choose, and see what the issue will be.”
“Truly,” said Julia, “I am ready to seize any plea under which to redeem my fame. But first give me yourself a lesson, will you not?”
The Egyptian was not deaf to the invitation, and once more essaying the feat, and with his whole soul bent to the work, the lance, quicker than sight, darted from his hand, and following in the wake of Fausta’s, lighted farther than hers—being driven with more force—upon the lawn.
The princess now, with more of confidence in her air, again balanced and threw the lance which Zabdas had chosen—this time with success, for passing through the shield it fell side by side with Fausta’s.
“Fortune still unites us,” said Julia; “if for a time she leaves me a little in the rear, yet she soon repents of the wrong, and brings me up,” Saying which she placed herself at Fausta’s side.
The villain of the tale now makes his appearance.
“But come, our worthy cousin,” said the Queen, now turning and addressing Antiochus, who stood with folded arms, dully surveying the scene, “will you not try a lance?”
“ ’Tis hardly worth our while,” said he, “for the gods seem to have delivered all the honour and power of the East into the hands of women.”
“Yet it may not be past redemption,” said Julia, “and who more likely than Hercules to achieve so great a work? Pray begin.”
That mass of a man, hardly knowing whether the princess was jesting or in earnest—for to the usual cloud that rested on his intellect there was now added the stupidity arising from free indulgence at the tables—slowly moved toward the lances, and selecting the longest and heaviest, took his station at the proper place. Raising then his arm, which was like a weaver’s beam, and throwing his enormous body into attitudes which showed that no child’s play was going on, he let drive the lance, which, shooting with more force than exactness of aim, struck upon the outer rim of the shield, and then glancing sideways was near spearing a poor slave, whose pleasure it was, with others, to stand in the neighbourhood of the butt, to pick up and return the weapons thrown, or withdraw them from the shield, where they might have fastened themselves.
Involuntary laughter broke forth upon this unwonted performance of the lance, upon which it was easy to see, by the mounting colour of Antiochus, that his passions were inflamed. Especially—did we afterwards suppose—was he enraged at the exclamation of one of the slaves near the shield, who was heard to say to his fellow, “now is the reign of women at an end.” Seizing, however, on the instant, another lance, he was known to exclaim by a few who stood near him, but who did not take the meaning of his words: “with a better mark, there may be a better aim.” Then resuming his position, he made at first, by a long and steady aim, as if he were going with certainty now to hit the shield; but, changing suddenly the direction of his lance, he launched it with fatal aim, and a giant’s force, at the slave who had uttered those words. It went through him, as he had been but a sheet of papyrus, and then sung along the plain. The poor wretch gave one convulsive leap into the air, and dropped dead.
“Zenobia!” exclaimed Julia.
“Great queen!” said Fausta.
“Shameful!”—“dastardly!”—“cowardly!”—broke from one and another of the company.
“That’s the mark I never miss,” observed Antiochus; and at the same time regaled his nose from a box of perfume.
“ ’Tis his own chattel,” said the Queen; “he may do with it as he lists. He has trenched upon no law of the realm, but only upon those of breeding and humanity. Our presence, and that of this company, might, we think, have claimed a more gentle observance.”
“Dogs!” fiercely shouted Antiochus—who, as the Queen said these words, her eyes fastened indignantly upon him, had slunk skulking to his seat—“dogs!” said he, aiming suddenly to brave the matter, “off with yonder carrion!—it offends the queen.”
“Would our cousin,” said Zenobia, “win the hearts of Palmyra, this surely is a mistaken way. Come, let us to the palace. This spot is tainted. But that it may be sweetened, as far as may be, slaves!” she cried, “bring to the gates the chariot and other remaining chattels of Antiochus!”
Antiochus, at these words, pale with the apprehension of a cowardly spirit, rose and strode toward the palace, from which, in a few moments, he was seen on his way to the city.
(Ibid., pp. 140-3.)
The sports are interrupted by the arrival of an embassy from Aurelian, demanding from Zenobia the renunciation of all those provinces of the Roman empire which, during the anarchy of the “Thirty Tyrants,” she and her husband had severed from it. The penalty of refusal is war. A large and interesting portion of the book is occupied by the reception of the ambassadors, their several audiences, the deliberations of the queen and her counsellors on the propositions they bring, and their dismissal with a dignified refusal.
The underplot of the drama meanwhile proceeds; and Piso’s brother is rescued from his Persian captivity through the instrumentality of Isaac the Jew; a personage who stands among the sceptics and half-believers of the story, a complete picture of a man who is wholly a believer, and whose life is devoted to the cause in which he has faith, that of his lost Jerusalem. He alone, of all the characters in the book, hates Christianity; and though full of the kindly feelings which our author, to the credit of his own, liberally bestows upon almost all his personages, he undertakes the rescue of Calpurnius in no spirit of love and charity, but in consideration of “one talent” if he lives, and two talents if he dies, to be bestowed upon his sacred cause. Calpurnius proves to have been, by Rome’s long neglect of him in his captivity, exasperated into the bitterest hatred of the Roman name: he repairs to Palmyra, distinguishes himself in Zenobia’s army, survives her defeat, and ends by marrying Fausta. We can only quote, from the well-told tale of Isaac’s perils and adventures in the desert and in the Persian capital, the story of his encounter with Manes, the great heresiarch, founder of the Manichean religion:
“Ye have heard, doubtless, [says Isaac,] of Manes the Persian, who deems himself some great one, and sent of God. It was noised about ere I left Palmyra, that, for failing in a much boasted attempt to work a cure by miracle upon the Prince Hormisdas, he had been strangled by order of Sapor. Had he done so, his love of death-doing had at length fallen upon a proper object, a true child of Satan. But, as I can testify, his end was not such, and is not yet. He still walks the earth, poisoning the air he breathes, and deluding the souls of men. Him I encountered one day, the very day I had despatched thy letter, in the streets of Ecbatana, dogged at the heels by his twelve ragged apostles, dragging along their thin and bloodless limbs, that seemed each step ready to give way beneath the weight—little as it was—they had to bear. Their master, puffed up with the pride of a reformer—as forsooth he holds himself—stalked by at their head, drawing the admiration of the besotted people by his great show of sanctity, and the wise saws which every now and then he let drop, for the edification of such as heard. Some of these sayings fell upon my ear, and who was I to hear them and not speak? Ye may know that this false prophet has made it his aim to bring into one the Magian and Christian superstitions, so that, by such incongruous and deadly mixture, he might feed the disciples of those two widely sundered religions, retaining—as he foolishly hoped—enough of the faith of each to satisfy all who should receive the compound. In doing this he hath cast dirt upon the religion of the Jew, blasphemously teaching that our sacred books are the work of the author of evil, while those of Christ are by the author of good. With more zeal it must be confessed than wisdom, seeing where I was, and why I was there, I resisted this father of lies, and withstood him to his face. ‘Who art thou, bold blasphemer,’ I said, ‘that takest away the God-head? breaking into twain that which is infinite and indivisible? Who art thou, to tread into dust the faith of Abraham, and Moses, and the prophets, imputing their words, uttered by the spirit of Jehovah, to the great enemy of mankind? I wonder, people of Ecbatana, that the thunders of God sleep and strike him not to the earth as a rebel—nay, that the earth cleaveth not beneath him and swalloweth him not up, as once before the rebels Korah, Dathan, and Abiram,’[*] and much more in the same mad way, till, while I was yet speaking, those lean and hungry followers of his set upon me with violence, crying out against me as a Jew, and stirring up the people, who were nothing unwilling, but fell upon me, and throwing me down, dragged me to a gate of the city, and casting me out as I had been a dead dog, returned themselves, like dogs to their vomit[†] —that accursed dish of Manichean garbage. I believed myself for a long while surely dead; and in my half-conscious state took to myself, as I was bound to do, shame for meddling in the affairs of Pagan misbelievers—putting thy safety at risk. Through the compassion of an Arab woman, dwelling without the walls, I was restored and healed—for whose sake I shall ever bless the Ishmaelite.”
(Ibid., Vol. II, pp. 45-6.)
Piso in the meantime has ventured to ask Julia in marriage from the queen, and been refused. In consistency with what history records of her, Zenobia is sceptical and even scornful on the subject of love—of all at least in love which distinguishes it from friendship; declares her daughter and herself wedded irrevocably and exclusively to the interests of Palmyra, and Julia the destined bride of the Persian prince, Hormisdas:
“Roman, [says she,] I live for Palmyra. I have asked of the Gods my children, not for my own pleasure, but for Palmyra’s sake. I should give the lie to my whole life, to every sentiment I have harboured since the day I gave myself to the royal Odenatus, were I now to bestow upon a private citizen, her, through whom we have so long looked to ally ourselves by a new and stronger bond to some neighbouring kingdom. . . . How many of our brave soldiers—how many of our great officers, with devoted patriotism, throw away their lives for the country. You will not say that this is done for the paltry recompense which at best scarce shields the body from the icy winds of winter, or the scorching rays of summer. And shall not a daughter of the royal house stand steady to encounter the hardships of a throne—the dangers of a Persian court, and the terrors of a royal husband, especially when, by doing so, fierce and bloody wars may be staid, and nations brought into closer unity? . . . The world envies the lot of those who sit upon thrones. It seems all summer with them. But upon whom burst more storms, or with redder fury? They seem to the unreflecting mind to be the only independent—while they are the slaves of all. The prosperous citizen may link himself and his children when and with whom he likes, and none may gainsay him. He has but to look to himself, and his merest whim. The royal family must go and ask his leave. My children are more his than mine. And if it be his pleasure and preference that my daughters ally themselves to an Indian or a Roman prince, their will is done, not mine—theirs is the gain, mine the loss.”
(Ibid., pp. 32-3, 32.)
We now arrive at a scene of peril.
I am just returned, [says Piso to his correspondent,] from a singular adventure. My hand trembles as I write. I had laid down my pen and gone forth upon my Arab, accompanied by Milo, to refresh and invigorate my frame after our late carousal—shall I term it?—at the palace. I took my way, as I often do, to the Long Portico, that I might again look upon its faultless beauty, and watch the changing crowds. Turning from that, I then amused my vacant mind by posting myself where I could overlook, as if I were indeed the builder or superintendent, the labourers upon the column of Aurelian. I became at length particularly interested in the efforts of a huge elephant, who was employed in dragging up to the foundations of the column, so that they might be fastened to machines to be then hoisted to their place, enormous blocks of marble. He was a noble animal, and, as it seemed to me, of far more than common size and strength. Yet did not his utmost endeavours appear to satisfy the demands of those who drove him, and who plied, without mercy, the barbed scourges which they bore. His temper at length gave way. He was chained to a mass of rock, which it was evidently beyond his power to move. It required the united strength of two at least. But this was nothing to his inhuman masters. They ceased not to urge him with cries and blows. One of them, at length, transported by that insane fury which seizes the vulgar when their will is not done by the brute creation, laid hold upon a long lance, terminated with a sharp iron goad long as my sword, and rushing upon the beast, drove it into his hinder part. At that very moment the chariot of the Queen, containing Zenobia herself, Julia and the other Princesses, came suddenly against the column, on its way to the palace. I made every possible sign to the charioteer to turn and fly. But it was too late. The infuriated monster snapped the chains that held him to the stone, at a single bound, as the iron entered him, and trampling to death one of his drivers, dashed forward to wreak his vengeance upon the first object that should come in his way. That, to the universal terror and distraction of the gathered but now scattered and flying crowds, was the chariot of the Queen. Her mounted guards, at the first onset of the maddened animal, put spurs to their horses, and by quick leaps escaped. The horses attached to the chariot, springing forward to do the same, urged by the lash of the charioteer, were met by the elephant, with straightened trunk and tail, who, in the twinkling of an eye, wreathed his proboscis around the neck of the first he encountered, and wrenching him from his harness, whirled him aloft, and dashed him to the ground. This I saw was the moment to save the life of the Queen, if, indeed, it was to be saved. Snatching from a flying soldier his long spear, and knowing well the temper of my horse, I put him to his speed, and running upon the monster, as he disengaged his trunk from the crushed and dying Arabian for a new assault, I drove it with unerring aim into his eye, and through that opening into the brain. He fell as if a bolt from heaven had struck him. The terrified and struggling horses of the chariot were secured by the now returning crowds, and the Queen with the Princesses relieved from the peril which was so imminent, and had blanched with terror every cheek but Zenobia’s. She had stood the while, I was told—there being no exertion which she could make—watching with eager and intense gaze my movements, upon which she felt that their safety, perhaps their lives, depended.
It all passed in a moment. Soon as I drew out my spear from the dying animal, the air was rent with the shouts of the surrounding populace. Surely, at that moment, I was the greatest—at least the most fortunate man in Palmyra.
(Ibid., pp. 39-42.)
Notwithstanding this great service, the Queen’s inflexibility does not give way, “Palmyra married to Persia, through Julia married to Hormisdas,” [ibid., p. 33,] is the irrevocable decree; nor is it reversed while Palmyra remains a kingdom.
Piso’s brother joins the Palmyrene host: Piso himself cannot fight against Rome, but accepts the commission to keep a watchful eye upon Antiochus and his profligate followers in the city. The Queen marches out to encounter Aurelian: her appearance on the day of departure is thus described:
The city was all pouring forth upon the plains in its vicinity. The crowds choked the streets as they passed out, so that our progress was slow. Arriving, at length, we turned toward the pavilion of the Queen, pitched over against the centre of the army. . . . The braying of trumpets and other warlike instruments announced her approach. We turned, and looking toward the gate of the city, through which we had but now passed, saw Zenobia, having on either side Longinus and Zabdas, and preceded and followed by a select troop of horse. She was mounted upon her far-famed white Numidian—for power an elephant, for endurance a dromedary, for fleetness a very Nicœan, and who had been her companion in all the battles by which she had gained her renown and her empire. . . .
The object that approached us truly seemed rather a moving blaze of light than an armed woman, which the eye and reason declared it to be, with such gorgeous magnificence was she arrayed. The whole art of the armourer had been exhausted in her appointments. The caparison of her steed, sheathed with burnished gold, and thick studded with precious stones of every various hue, reflected an almost intolerable splendour as the rays of a hot morning sun fell upon it. She, too, herself being clothed in armour of polished steel, whose own fiery brightness was doubled by the diamonds—that was the only jewel she wore—sown with profusion over all its more prominent parts, could be gazed upon scarcely with more ease than the sun himself, whose beams were given back from it with undiminished glory. In her right hand she held the long slender lance of the cavalry; over her shoulders hung a quiver, well loaded with arrows, while at her side depended a heavy Damascus blade. Her head was surmounted by a steel helmet, which left her face wholly uncovered, and showed her forehead, like Fausta’s, shaded by the dark hair, which, while it was the only circumstance that revealed the woman, added to the effect of a countenance unequalled for a marvellous union of feminine beauty, queenly dignity, and masculine power. Sometimes it has been her usage, upon such occasions, to appear with arms bare and gloved hands; they were now cased, like the rest of the body, in plates of steel. . . .
No sooner was the Queen arrived where we stood, and the whole extended lines became aware of her presence, than the air was filled with the clang of trumpets and the enthusiastic cries of the soldiery, who waved aloft their arms, and made a thousand expressive signs of most joyful greeting. When this hearty salutation, commencing at the centre, had died away along the wings, stretching one way to the walls of the city, and the other toward the desert, Zenobia rode up nearer the lines, and being there surrounded by the ranks which were in front, and by a crowd of the great officers of the army, spoke to them in accordance with her custom. Stretching out her hand, as if she would ask the attention of the multitude—a deep silence ensued, and in a voice clear and strong, she thus addressed them
Her address, which we cannot venture to quote, being concluded—
Shouts long and loud, mingled with the clash of arms, followed these few words of the Queen. Her own name was heard above all: “Long live the great Zenobia,” ran along the ranks from the centre to the extremes, and from the extremes back again to the centre. It seemed as if, when her name had once been uttered, they could not cease—through the operation of some charm—to repeat it again and again, coupled, too, with a thousand phrases of loyalty and affection.
(Ibid., pp. 75-8.)
The campaign is related with great spirit and fidelity to history. After the loss of two battles the Queen shuts herself up in Palmyra, whither she is followed by Aurelian, and closely besieged. The various incidents of the siege, the treachery of the base Antiochus, Zenobia’s escape to seek for assistance at the Persian court, and her capture by Aurelian’s troops, are told with much vigour and animation. But we hurry to a scene which far surpasses any of our other quotations in dramatic interest, the first interview of the Emperor Aurelian with the captive Queen.
“As we entered the tent [it is Zenobia’s secretary who speaks] the Emperor stood at its upper end, surrounded by the chief persons of the army. He advanced to meet the Queen, and in his changing countenance and disturbed manner might it be plainly seen how even an Emperor, and he the Emperor of the world, felt the presence of a majesty such as Zenobia’s. And never did our great mistress seem more a Queen than now—not through that commanding pride, which, when upon her throne, has impressed all who have approached her with a feeling of inferiority, but through a certain dark and solemn grandeur, that struck with awe, as of some superior being, those who looked upon her. There was no sign of grief upon her countenance, but many of a deep and rooted sadness, such as might never pass away. No one could behold her and not lament the fortune that had brought her to such a pass. Whoever had thought to enjoy the triumph of exulting over the royal captive, was rebuked by that air of calm dignity and profound melancholy, which, even against the will, touched the hearts of all, and forced their homage.
“ ‘It is a happy day for Rome,’ said Aurelian, approaching and saluting her, ‘that sees you, lately Queen of Palmyra and of the East, a captive in the tent of Aurelian.’
“ ‘And a dark one for my afflicted country,’ replied the Queen.
“ ‘It might have been darker,’ rejoined the Emperor, ‘had not the good providence of the Gods delivered you into my hands.’
“ ‘The Gods preside not over treachery. And it must have been by treason among those in whom I have placed my most familiar trust, that I am now where and what I am. I can but darkly surmise by whose baseness the act has been committed. It had been a nobler triumph to you, Roman, and a lighter fall to me, had the field of battle decided the fate of my kingdom, and led me a prisoner to your tent.’
“ ‘Doubtless it had been so,’ replied Aurelian; ‘yet, was it for me to cast away what chance threw into my power? A war is now happily ended, which, had your boat reached the further bank of the Euphrates, might yet have raged—and but to the mutual harm of two great nations. Yet it was both a bold and sagacious device, and agrees well with what was done by you at Antioch, Emesa, and now in the defence of your city. A more determined, a better appointed, or more desperate foe, I never yet have contended with.’
“ ‘It were strange, indeed,’ replied the Queen, ‘if you met not with a determined foe, when life and liberty were to be defended. Had not treason, base and accursed treason, given me up like a chained slave to your power, yonder walls must have first been beaten piece-meal down by your engines, and buried me beneath their ruins, and famine clutched all whom the sword had spared, ere we had owned you master. What is life, when liberty and independence are gone?’
“ ‘But why, let me ask,’ said Aurelian, ‘were you moved to assert an independency of Rome? How many peaceful and prosperous years have rolled on since Trajan and the Antonines, while you and Rome were at harmony—a part of us, and yet independent—allies rather than a subject province—using our power for your defence, yet owning no allegiance. Why was this order disturbed? What madness ruled, to turn you against the power of Rome?’
“ ‘The same madness,’ replied Zenobia, ‘that tells Aurelian he may yet possess the whole world, and sends him here into the far East to wage needless war with a woman—Ambition! Yet, had Aurelian always been upon the Roman throne, or one resembling him, it had perhaps been different. Then there could have been nought but honour in any alliance that had bound together Rome and Palmyra. But was I—was the late renowned Odenatus, to confess allegiance to base souls, such as Aureolus, Gallienus, and Balista? While the thirty tyrants were fighting for the Roman crown, was I to sit still, waiting humbly to become the passive prey of whosoever might please to call me his? By the immortal Gods, not so! I asserted my supremacy, and made it felt; and in times of tumult and confusion to Rome, while her Eastern provinces were one scene of discord and civil broil, I came in, and reduced the jarring elements; and out of parts broken and sundered, and hostile, I constructed a fair and well-proportioned whole. And when once created, and I had tasted the sweets of sovereign and despotic power—what they are, thou knowest—was I tamely to yield the whole at the word or threat even of Aurelian? It could not be. So many years as had passed, and seen me Queen, not only of Palmyra, but of the East—a sovereign honoured and courted at Rome, feared by Persia, my alliance sought by all the neighbouring dominions of Asia,—had served but to foster in me that love of rule which descended to me from a long line of kings. Sprung from a royal line, and so long upon a throne, it was superior force alone, divine or human, that should drag me from my right. Thou hast been but four years King, Aurelian, monarch of the great Roman world, yet wouldst thou not, but with painful unwillingness, descend and mix with the common herd. For me, ceasing to reign, I would cease to live.’
“ ‘Thy speech,’ said Aurelian, ‘shows thee well worthy to reign. It is no treason to Rome, Carus, to lament that the fates have cast down from a throne one who filled its seat so well. Hadst thou hearkened to the message of Petronius, thou mightest still, lady, have sat upon thy native seat. The crown of Palmyra might still have girt thy brow.’
“ ‘But not of the East,’ rejoined the Queen.
“ ‘Fight against ambition, Carus; thou seest how, by aiming at too much, it loses all: it is the bane of humanity. When I am dead, may ambition then die, nor rise again.’
“ ‘May it be so,’ replied his general: ‘it has greatly cursed the world. It were better perhaps that it died now.’
“ ‘It cannot,’ replied Aurelian, ‘its life is too strong. I lament too, great Queen, for so I may well call thee, that upon an ancient defender of our Roman honour, upon her who revenged Rome upon the insolent Persian, this heavy fate should fall. I would willingly have met for the first time, in a different way, the brave conqueror of Sapor, the avenger of the wrongs and insults of the virtuous Valerian. The debt of Rome to Zenobia is great, and shall yet, in some sort at least, be paid. Curses upon those who moved thee to this war. They have brought this calamity upon thee, Queen, not I, nor thou. What ill-designing aspirants have urged thee on? This is not a woman’s war.’
“ ‘Was not that a woman’s war,’ replied the Queen, ‘that drove the Goths from Upper Asia? Was not that a woman’s war that hemmed Sapor in his capital, and seized his camp—and that beat Heraclianus, and gained thereby Syria and Mesopotamia, and that which worsted Probus, and so won the crown of Egypt? Does it ask for more, to be beaten by Romans, than to conquer these? Rest assured, great Prince, that the war was mine. My people were indeed with me, but it was I who roused, fired, and led them on. I had indeed great advisers. Their names are known through the whole world. Why should I name the renowned Longinus, the princely Gracchus, the invincible Zabdas, the honest Otho. Their names are honoured in Rome as well as here. They have been with me; but without lying or vanity, I may say I have been their head.’
“ ‘Be it so, nevertheless, thy services shall be remembered. But let us now to the affairs before us. The city has not surrendered—though thy captivity is known, the gates are still shut. A word from thee would open them.’
“ ‘It is a word I cannot speak,’ replied the Queen, her countenance expressing now, instead of sorrow, indignation—‘wouldst thou that I too should turn traitor?’
“ ‘It surely would not be that,’ replied the Emperor, ‘It can avail naught to contend further—it can but end in a wider destruction, both of your people and my soldiers.’
“ ‘Longinus, I may suppose,’ said Zenobia, ‘is now supreme. Let the Emperor address him, and what is right will be done.’
“Aurelian turned and held a brief conversation with some of his officers.
“ ‘Within the walls,’ said the Emperor, again addressing the Queen, ‘thou hast sons. Is it not so?’
“ ‘It is not they,’ said the Queen quickly, her countenance growing pale, ‘it is not they, or either of them, who have conspired against me?’
“ ‘No—not quite so. Yet he who betrayed thee calls himself of thy family. Thy sons surely were not in league with him. Soldiers,’ cried the Emperor, ‘lead forth the great Antiochus, and his slave.’
“At his name the Queen started—the Princess uttered a faint cry, and seemed as if she would have fallen.
“A fold of the tent was drawn aside, and the huge form of Antiochus appeared, followed by the Queen’s slave, her head bent down and eyes cast upon the ground. If a look could have killed, the first glance of Zenobia, so full of a withering contempt, would have destroyed her base kinsman. He heeded it but so much as to blush, and turn away his face from her. Upon Sindarina the Queen gazed with a look of deepest sorrow. The beautiful slave stood there where she entered, not lifting her head, but her bosom rising and falling with some great emotion—conscious, as it seemed, that the Queen’s look was fastened upon her, and fearing to meet it. But it was so only for a moment, when, raising her head and revealing a countenance swollen with grief, she rushed towards the Queen and threw herself at her feet, embracing them and covering them with kisses. Her deep sobs took away all power of speech. The Queen only said, ‘My poor Sindarina.’
“The stern voice of Aurelian was first heard, ‘Bear her away—bear her from the tent.’
“A guard seized her, and forcibly separating her from Zenobia, bore her weeping away.
“ ‘This,’ said Aurelian, turning now to Zenobia, ‘this is thy kinsman, as he tells me—the Prince Antiochus.’
“The Queen replied not.
“ ‘He has done Rome a great service,’ Antiochus raised his head, and strained his stooping shoulders. ‘He has the merit of ending a weary and disastrous war. It is a rare fortune to fall to any one. ’Tis a work to grow great upon. Yet Prince,’ turning to Antiochus, ‘the work is not complete. The city yet holds out. If I am to reward thee with the sovereign power, as thou sayest, thou must open the gates. Can’st thou do it?’
“ ‘Great Prince,’ replied the base spirit, eagerly, ‘it is provided for Allow me but a few moments, and a place proper for it, and the gates. I warrant, shall quickly swing upon their hinges.’
“ ‘Ah! do you say so? That is well. What, I pray, is the process?’
“ ‘At a signal, which I shall make, noble Prince, and which has been agreed upon, every head of every one of the Queen’s party rolls in the dust—Longinus, Gracchus, and his daughter, Seleucus, Gabrayas, and a host more—their heads fall. The gates are then to be thrown open.’
“ ‘Noble Palmyrene, you have the thanks of all. Of the city then we are at length secure. For this, thou wouldst have the rule of it under Rome; wielding a sceptre in the name of the Roman Senate, and paying a tribute as a subject province. Is it not so?’
“ ‘It is. That is what I would have and would do, most excellent Aurelian.’
“ ‘Who are thy associates in this? Are the Queen’s sons, Herennianus, Timolaus, Vabalathus, of thy side, and partners in this enterprise?’
“ ‘They are not knowing of the design to deliver up to thy great power the Queen, their mother; but they are my friends, and most surely do I count upon their support. As I shall return King of Palmyra, they will gladly share my power.’
“ ‘But if friends of thine, they are enemies of mine,’ rejoined Aurelian, in terrific tones, ‘they are seeds of future trouble; they may sprout up into kings also, to Rome’s annoyance. They must be crushed. Dost thou understand me?’
“ ‘I do, great Prince. Leave them to me; I will do for them. But, to say the truth, they are too weak to disturb any—friends or enemies.’
“ ‘Escape not so. They must die,’ roared Aurelian.
“ ‘They shall, they shall,’ ejaculated the alarmed Antiochus; ‘soon as I am within the walls their heads shall be sent to thee.’
“ ‘That now is as I would have it. One thing more thou hast asked—that the fair slave, who accompanies thee, be spared to thee, to be thy Queen.’
“ ‘It was her desire; hers, noble Aurelian, not mine.’
“ ‘But didst thou not engage to her as much?’
“ ‘Truly, I did. But among princes such words are but politic ones. That is well understood. Kings marry for the state. I would be higher matched,’ and the sensual demon cast his eyes significantly towards the Princess Julia.
“ ‘Am I understood?’ continued Antiochus, Aurelian making no response, ‘the Princess Julia I would raise to the throne.’ The monster seemed to swell to twice his common size, as his mind fed upon the opening glories.
“Aurelian had turned from him, looking first at his Roman attendants, then at the Queen and Julia—his countenance kindling with some swelling passion.
“ ‘Do I understand thee?’ he then said, ‘I understand thee to say, that for the bestowment of the favours and honours thou hast named, thou wilt do the things thou hast now specifically promised. Is it not so?’
“ ‘It is, gracious King.’
“ ‘Dost thou swear it?’
“ ‘I swear it by the great God of Light.’
“The countenance of the Emperor now grew black with, as it seemed, mingled fury and contempt. Antiochus started, and his cheek paled. A little light reached his thick brain.
“ ‘Romans,’ cried Aurelian, ‘pardon me for so abusing your ears; and you, our royal captives. I knew not that such baseness lived—still less that it was here. Thou foul stigma upon humanity! Why opens not the earth under thee, but that it loathes and rejects thee! Is a Roman like thee, dost thou think, to reward thy unheard-of treacheries? Thou knowest no more what a Roman is, than what truth and honour are Soldiers! seize yonder miscreant, write traitor on his back, and spurn him forth the camp. His form and his soul both offend alike. Hence, monster!’
“Antiochus was like one thunderstruck. Trembling in every joint, he sought to appeal to the Emperor’s mercy, but the guard stopped his mouth, and dragged him from the tent. His shrieks pierced the air as the soldiers scourged him beyond the encampment.
“ ‘It was not for me,’ said Aurelian, as these ceased to be heard, ‘to refuse what fate threw into my hands. Though I despised the traitorous informer, I could not shut my ears to the facts he revealed without myself betraying the interests of Rome. But, believe me, it was information I would willingly have spared. My infamy were as his to have rewarded the traitor. Fear not, Queen; I pledge the word of a Roman and an emperor for thy safety. Thou art safe both from Roman and Palmyrene.’
“ ‘What I have but now been witness of,’ replied the Queen, ‘assures me that in the magnanimity of Aurelian I may securely rest.’
“As the Queen uttered these words a sound, as of a distant tumult, and the uproar of a multitude, caught the ears of all within the tent.
“ ‘What mean these tumultuous cries?’ inquired Aurelian of his attending guard. ‘They increase and approach!’
“ ‘It may be but the soldiers at their game with Antiochus,’ replied Probus.
“But it was not so. At the moment a centurion, breathless, and with his head bare, rushed madly into the tent.
“ ‘Speak,’ said the Emperor, ‘what is it?’
“ ‘The legions,’ said the centurion, as soon as he could command his words, ‘are advancing, crying out for the Queen of Palmyra. They have broken from their camp and their leaders, and in one mixed body come to surround the Emperor’s tent.’
“As he ended the fierce cries of the enraged soldiery were distinctly heard, like the roaring of a forest torn by a tempest. Aurelian, baring his sword, and calling upon his friends to do the same, sprung toward the entrance of the tent. They were met by the dense throng of the soldiers, who now pressed against the tent, and whose savage yells now could be heard.
“ ‘The head of Zenobia!’ ‘Deliver the Queen to our will!’ ‘Throw out the head of Zenobia, and we will return to our quarters!’ ‘She belongs to us.’
“At the same moment the sides of the tent were thrown up, showing the whole plain filled with the heaving multitude, and being itself instantly crowded with the ringleaders, and their more desperate associates. Zenobia, supporting the Princess, who clung to her, and pale through a just apprehension of every horror, but otherwise firm and undaunted, cried out to Aurelian, ‘Save us, O Emperor, from this foul butchery.’
“ ‘We will die else,’ replied the Emperor, who, with the word, sprung upon a soldier making toward the Queen, and with a blow clove him to the earth. Then swinging around him that sword which had drunk the blood of thousands, and followed by the gigantic Sandarion, by Probus, and Carus, a space around the Queen was soon cleared. ‘Back, ruffians,’ cried Aurelian, in a voice of thunder, ‘for you are no longer Romans; back to the borders of the tent. There I will hear your complaints.’ The soldiers fell back, and their ferocious cries ceased.
“ ‘Now,’ cried the Emperor, addressing them, ‘what is your will, that thus in wild disorder you throng my tent?’
“One from the crowd replied—‘Our will is that the Queen of Palmyra be delivered to us, as our right, instantly. Thousands and thousands of our bold companions lie buried upon these accursed plains, slain by her and her fiery engines. We demand her life. It is but justice, and faint justice too.’
“ ‘Her life!’—‘Her life!’—arose in one shout from the innumerable throng.
“The Emperor raised his hand, waving his sword, dripping with the blood of the slain soldier; the noise subsided;—and his voice, clear and loud, like the tone of a trumpet, went to the farthest bounds of the multitude.
“ ‘Soldiers,’ he cried, ‘you ask for justice—and justice you shall have.’—‘Aurelian is ever just,’ cried many voices.—‘But you shall not have the life of the Queen of Palmyra.’—He paused—a low murmur went through the crowd—‘or you must first take the life of your Emperor, and of these that stand with me.’ The soldiers were silent. ‘In asking the life of Zenobia,’ he continued, ‘you know not what you ask. Are any here who went with Valerian to the Persian war?’ A few voices responded, ‘I was there’—‘and I,’ ‘and I.’—‘Are there any here whose parents, or brothers, or friends, fell into the tiger clutches of the barbarian Sapor, and died miserably in hopeless captivity?’—Many voices everywhere throughout the crowd were heard in reply—‘Yes, yes’—‘Mine were there, and mine.’—‘Did you ever hear it said,’ continued Aurelian, ‘that Rome lifted a finger for their rescue, or for that of the good Valerian?’—They were silent; some crying, ‘No, no.’—‘Know then, that when Rome forgot her brave soldiers and her Emperor, Zenobia remembered and avenged them, and Rome, fallen into contempt with the Persian, was raised to her ancient renown by the arms of her ally, the brave Zenobia, and her dominions throughout the East saved from the grasp of Sapor only by her valour. While Gallienus wallowed in sensuality and forgot Rome, and even his own great father, the Queen of Palmyra stood forth, and with her royal husband, the noble Odenatus, was in truth the saviour of the empire. And is it her life you would have? Were that a just return? Were that Roman magnanimity? And grant that thousands of your brave companions lie buried upon these plains—it is but the fortune of war. Were they not slain in honourable fight, in the siege of a city, for its defence unequalled in all the annals of war? Cannot Romans honour courage and military skill, though in an enemy? But you ask for justice. I have said you shall have justice. You shall. It is right that the heads and advisers of this revolt, for such the senate deems it, should be cut off. It is the ministers of princes who are the true devisers of a nation’s acts. These, when in our power, shall be yours. And now, who, soldiers! stirred up this mutiny; bringing inexpiable shame upon our brave legions? Who were the leaders of the tumult?’ Enough were found to name them.—‘Firmus,’ ‘Carinus,’ ‘The centurions, Plancus, Tatius, Burrhus, Valens, Crispinus.’
“ ‘Guards, seize them and hew them down! Soldiers, to your tents!’ The legions fell back as tumultuously as they had come together,—the faster, as the dying groans of the slaughtered ringleaders fell upon their ears.
“The tent of the Emperor was once more restored to order. After a brief conversation, in which Aurelian expressed his shame for the occurrence of such disorders in the presence of the Queen, the guard were commanded to convey back to the Palace of Seleucus, whence they had been taken, Zenobia and the Princess.”
(Ibid., pp. 165-78.)
The character of Aurelian is finely drawn. The rude soldier, risen from the ranks to the empire—the stern disciplinarian, known to the army by the nickname of “Hand to his Sword”—the sovereign whose “love of justice,” says Gibbon, “often became a blind and furious passion,” who “disdained to hold his power by any other title than that of the sword, and governed by right of conquest an empire which he had saved and subdued,”[*] is painted as he was, with his scorn of all low and treacherous vice, his strong and savage passions and generous impulses, and that magnanimity and clemency so characteristic of kings, which after having humbled consents to spare the crowned heads with whom it sympathizes, but makes its vengeance fall with tenfold weight upon their comparatively unoffending subjects with whom it does not sympathize. The generous hero who heaped benefits and honours upon Zenobia, and admitted Tetricus, the abdicated Emperor of Gaul, to his friendship and intimacy (not, however, until he had led them both, Zenobia almost weighed down to the earth with gems and gold, after his car of triumph)—this chivalrous conqueror could not satiate his rage with less than the blood of the illustrious Longinus, and the other friends and counsellors of the Queen: and as for the city of Palmyra (not indeed till after one more attempt to assert its independence), he burnt it to the ground, and put all the inhabitants, old men, women, and children, indiscriminately to the sword. The last hours of Longinus are portrayed by our author in the very spirit in which, in two sentences, they are delineated by Gibbon: “Genius and learning were incapable of moving a fierce, unlettered soldier, but they had served to elevate and harmonise the soul of Longinus. Without uttering a complaint, he calmly followed the executioner, pitying his unhappy mistress, and bestowing comfort on his afflicted friends.”[†]
We must give the reader one more glimpse of Zenobia, a captive and at Rome. It is from the description of Aurelian’s triumph—that triumph which was opened, says Gibbon,[‡] by twenty elephants, four royal tigers, and above two hundred of the living wonders of every climate in the empire; in which the triumphal car of the Emperor was drawn by four stags; and “the pomp was so long and so various that, although it opened with the dawn of day, the slow majesty of the procession ascended not the Capitol before the ninth hour from sunrise.”[§] After a lively description of the show, Piso continues:
But why do I detain you with these things, when it is of one only that you wish to hear. I cannot tell you with what impatience I waited for that part of the procession to approach where were Zenobia and Julia. I thought its line would stretch on for ever. And it was the ninth hour before the alternate shouts and deep silence of the multitudes announced that the Emperor was drawing near the Capitol. As the first shout arose, I turned towards the quarter whence it came, and beheld, not Aurelian, as I expected, but the Gallic Emperor Tetricus—yet slave of his army and of Victoria—accompanied by the Prince his son, and followed by other illustrious captives from Gaul. All eyes were turned in pity upon him, and with indignation too that Aurelian should thus treat a Roman, and once—a senator. But sympathy for him was instantly lost in a stronger feeling of the same kind for Zenobia, who came immediately after. You can imagine, Fausta, better than I can describe them, my sensations when I saw our beloved friend—her whom I had seen treated never otherwise than as a sovereign queen, and with all the imposing pomp of the Persian ceremonial—now on foot, and exposed to the rude gaze of the Roman populace—toiling beneath the rays of a hot sun, and the weight of jewels, such as both for richness and beauty were never before seen in Rome: and of chains of gold, which first passing around her neck and arms, were then borne up by attendant slaves. I could have wept to see her so—yes, and did. My impulse was to break through the crowd, and support her almost fainting form—but I well knew that my life would answer for the rashness on the spot. I could only, therefore, like the rest, wonder and gaze. And never did she seem to me, not even in the midst of her own court, to blaze forth with such transcendent beauty—yet touched with grief. Her look was not that of dejection—of one who was broken and crushed by misfortune—there was no blush of shame. It was rather one of profound heart-breaking melancholy. Her full eyes looked as if privacy only was wanted for them to overflow with floods of tears. But they fell not. Her gaze was fixed on vacancy, or else cast toward the ground. She seemed like one unobservant of all around her, and buried in thoughts to which all else were strangers, and had nothing in common with. They were in Palmyra, and with her slaughtered multitudes. Yet though she wept not, others did; and one could see all along, wherever she moved, the Roman hardness yielding to pity, and melting down before the all-subduing presence of this wonderful woman. The most touching phrases of compassion fell constantly upon my ear. And ever and anon, as in the road there would happen some rough or damp place, the kind souls would throw down upon it whatever of their garments they could quickest divest themselves of, that those feet, little used to such encounters, might receive no harm. And as, when other parts of the procession were passing by, shouts of triumph and vulgar joy frequently arose from the motley crowds, yet, when Zenobia appeared, a death-like silence prevailed, or it was interrupted only by exclamations of admiration or pity, or of indignation at Aurelian for so using her. But this happened not long. For when the Emperor’s pride had been sufficiently gratified, and just there where he came over against the steps of the Capitol, he himself, crowned as he was with the diadem of universal empire, descended from his chariot, and unlocking the chains of gold that bound the limbs of the Queen, led and placed her in her own chariot—that chariot in which she had hoped herself to enter Rome in triumph—between Julia and Livia. Upon this the air was rent with the grateful acclamations of the countless multitudes. The Queen’s countenance brightened for a moment as if with the expressive sentiment, “The Gods bless you,” and was then buried in the folds of her robe. And when, after the lapse of many minutes, it was again raised and turned toward the people, every one might see that tears burning hot had crossed her cheeks, and relieved a heart which else might well have burst with its restrained emotion. Soon as the chariot which held her had disappeared upon the other side of the Capitol, I extricated myself from the crowd and returned home. It was not till the shades of evening had fallen that the last of the procession had passed the front of the Capitol, and the Emperor reposed within the walls of his palace.
(Ibid., pp. 246-8.)
The Emperor presents Zenobia (conformably to history) with a villa at Tibur; treats her with distinguished honour, and her daughter Livia becomes the Roman Empress. Relieved now from the burthens, as well as defeated in the ambitious aspirations, of the Queen of Palmyra, she is no longer deaf to the entreaties of Julia and of Piso: and at the conclusion we are allowed to believe that in the splendour of one of her children, and the domestic felicity of another, she found, if not happiness, consolation for her own downfall.
A few words remain to be added, by way of a general estimate of the merits of the work.
Doubtless this writer is not the great artist whom Miss Martineau tells us[*] that the American people are looking for—a Messiah who will one day arise, but probably (as Messiahs are wont) in such a shape that those who were the first to prophesy his coming will be the last to recognise him when come. This author has no claims to so great an honour. He has made no new revelations to us out of the depths of human feeling, has conceived no new and interesting varieties of spiritual nature, nor announced any original and pregnant views of human affairs. But there is that in him which, in the present state of literature, deserves to be prized most highly, and which entitles him to a most honourable place among the writers not only of his own country, but of ours at the present time. We do not refer to his power of throwing his own mind, and of making his readers throw theirs, into the minds and into the circumstances of persons who lived far off and long ago; of making us see things as those persons saw, or might have seen them; of making us feel with them, and, in some measure, understand them. We give him a higher praise; he is one of the few (and among writers of fiction they never were so few as in this age) who can conceive, with sufficient strength and reality to be able to represent, genuine unforced nobleness of character.
aThe time was, when it was thought that the best and most appropriate office of fictitious narrative was to awaken high aspirations, by the representation, in interesting circumstances, of characters conformable indeed to human nature, but whose actions and sentiments were of a more generous and loftierborderb than are ordinarily to be met with by everybody in every-day life. But now-a-days nature and probability are thought to be violated, if there be shown to the reader, in the personages with whom he is called upon to sympathize, characters on a larger scale than himself, orc the persons he is accustomed to meet dwithd at a dinner or a quadrille party. Yet, from such representations, familiar from early youth, have not only the noblest minds in modern Europe derivede what made them noble, but even the commoner spirits what made them understand and respond to nobleness. And this is Education. It would be well if the more narrow-minded portion, both of the religious and of the scientific education-mongers, would consider whether the books which they are banishing from the hands of youth, were not instruments of national education to the full as powerful as the catalogues of physical facts and theological dogmas which they have substituted—as if science and religion were to be taught, not by imbuing the mind with their spirit, but by cramming the memory with summaries of their conclusions. Not what a boy or a girl can repeat by rote, but what they have learnt to love and admire, is what forms their character. The chivalrous spirit has almost disappeared from books of education; the popular novels of the day teach nothing but (what is already too soon learnt from actual life) lessons of worldliness, with at most the huckstering virtues which conduce to getting on in the world; and, for the first time perhaps in history, the youth of both sexes of the educated classes are universally growing up unromantic. What will come in mature age from such a youth, the world has not yet had time to see. But the world may rely upon it, that Catechisms, whether Pinnock’s[*] or the Church of England’s,[†] will be found a poor substitute for those old romances, whether of chivalry or of faery, which, if they did not give a true picture of actual life, did not give a false one, since they did not profess to give any, but (what was much better) filled the youthful imagination with pictures of heroic men, and of what are at least as much wanted, heroic women. The book before us does thisf. Andf greatly is any book to be valued, which in this age, and in a form suited to it, gand not only unexceptionable but fitted to be most acceptable to the religious reader,g does its part towards keeping alive the chivalrous spirit, which was the best part of the old romances; towards giving to the aspirations of the young and susceptible a noble direction, and keeping present to the mind an exalted standard of worth, by placing before it heroes and heroines worthy of the name.
It is an additional title to praise in this author, that his great women are imagined in the very contrary spirit to the modern cant, according to which a heroic woman is supposed to be something intrinsically different from the best sort of heroic men. It was not hthought soh in the days of Artemisia or Zenobia, or in that era of great statesmen and stateswomen, the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when the daughters of royal houses were governors of provinces, and displayed, as such, talents for command equal to any of their husbands or brothers—and when negociations which had baffled the first diplomatists of Francis and of Charles V, were brought to a successful issue by the wisdom and dexterity of two princesses.[‡] The book before us is in every line a virtual protest against the narrow and degrading doctrine which has grown out of the false refinement of later times. And it is the author’s avowed belief, that one of the innumerable great purposes of Christianity was to abolish the distinction between the two characters, by teaching that neither of them can be really admirable without the qualities supposed to be distinctive of the other, and by exhibiting, in the person of its Divine Founder, an equally perfect model of both.a
[* ][Harriet Martineau,] Society in America, [3 vols. (London: Saunders and Otley, 1837).] Vol. III, pp. 216-17.
[† ][J. S. Mill, “State of Society in America,”] London Review, no. 4 [Jan., 1836].—Review of “Travels in America.” [I.e., London Review, II (Westminster Review, XXXI), 365-89; in CW, Vol. XVIII, pp. 91-115. The reference will be found in the latter at pp. 100-1.]
[[*] ]See Shakespeare, The Second Part of Henry the Fourth, III, i, 29.
[* ]Author of Wieland, Edgar Huntly, Ormond, Arthur Mervyn, &c., and one of the rare instances of an imitator who surpasses his original: a more gifted man than Godwin, yet whose novels all bear the strongest family likeness to Caleb Williams, the only novel of Godwin which is worthy of being compared with them. [See Charles Brockden Brown, Wieland (New York: Caritat, 1798); Edgar Huntly, 3 vols. (Philadelphia: Maxwell, 1799), Ormond (New York: Caritat, 1799); Arthur Mervyn, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Maxwell, 1799); and William Godwin, Things As They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794), 3 vols., 4th ed. (London: Simpkin and Marshal, 1816).]
[* ]Author of Brother Jonathan, a novel, published about a dozen years ago by Blackwood; and of Randolph, by far his best work, though in this country utterly unknown. [Brother Jonathan, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1825); and Randolph, 2 vols. ([Baltimore?], 1823).] Logan, and Seventy-six, two of his novels which have been reprinted in England, have little if any portion of the merits of the two we have mentioned. [Logan, 4 vols. (London: Newman, 1823); and Seventy-Six, 3 vols. (London: Whittaker, 1823).] Neal appears to be little thought of in his own country, the natural fate of an original writer in a literature of imitation and convention. But we will hazard a prediction, that when a great and original novelist or poet shall arise in America, he will be found to be more like what John Neal is, with all his frothiness and rant, than what any of the American writers are, whose productions have been most blazoned by the critics either of their own country, or of ours.
[[*] ]See “Du régime municipal dans l’empire romain,” in Essais sur l’histoire de France, 2nd ed. (Paris: Brière, 1824), pp. 1-51.
[[*] ]See II Chronicles, 8:4.
[[†] ]Pliny, Natural History (Latin and English), trans. Harris Rackham, et al., 10 vols. (London: Heinemann; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1938-62), Vol. II, p. 288.
[* ]Bruce, the celebrated traveller, calls the first view of the ruins of Palmyra “the most astonishing, stupendous sight that perhaps ever appeared to mortal eyes. The whole plain below, which was very extensive, was covered so thick with magnificent buildings as that the one seemed to touch the other, all of fine proportions, all of agreeable forms, all composed of white stones, which at that distance appeared like marble. At the end of it stood the Palace of the Sun, a building worthy to close so magnificent a scene.” The mud cottages of the present inhabitants are all comprised within the court of one of these great buildings. [James Bruce, Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, 5 vols. (London: Robinson, 1790), Vol. I, p. lvii.]
[[‡] ]See Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 6 vols. (London: Strahan and Cadell, 1776-88), Vol. I, pp. 310-11; in “A New Edition,” 6 vols. (London: Strahan and Cadell, 1782), Vol. I, pp. 370-1. Mill’s quotations correspond to the latter version, and so in subsequent footnotes it is cited first.
[† ]Damascus and Palmyra [2 vols. (London: Bentley, 1838)], by Charles G. Addison, Esq.
[[*] ]See Trebellius Pollio, The Thirty Pretenders, in Scriptores historiae augustae (Latin and English), trans. David Magie, 3 vols. (London: Heinemann; New York: Putnam’s Sons, 1922-32), Vol. III, pp. 134-43 (Cap. xxx).
[[†] ]Decline and Fall, 1782 ed., Vol. I, pp. 365-7; 1st ed., Vol. I, pp. 306-7. Mill has inserted the bracketed Latin wordings; cf. Pollio, The Thirty Pretenders, Vol. III, p. 138.
[[*] ]Decline and Fall, 1782 ed., Vol. I, pp. 367-8; 1st ed., Vol. I, pp. 308-9, the general was Heraclianus.
[[†] ]Pollio, Vol. III, p. 138.
[[§] ]Decline and Fall, 1782 ed., Vol. I, p. 368, 1st ed., Vol. I, p. 309.
[[¶] ]“The Dream,” in The Prisoner of Chillon, and Other Poems (London: Murray, 1816), pp. 35-45.
[[*] ]See Numbers, 16:1.
[[†] ]See II Peter, 2:22.
[[*] ]Decline and Fall, 1782 ed., Vol. I, p. 381; 1st ed., Vol. I, p. 320.
[[†] ]Ibid., 1782 ed., pp. 373-4; 1st ed., p. 313.
[[‡] ]Ibid., 1782 ed., p. 375; 1st ed., p. 315.
[[§] ]Ibid., 1782 ed., pp. 377-8; 1st ed., p. 317.
[[*] ]Society in America, Vol. III, p. 208.
[a-a]461 [reprinted in D&D as “A Prophecy. (From a Review of ‘Letters from Palmyra.’)”]
[b-b]59, 67 cast
[c]59, 67 than
[e]59, 67 much of
[[*] ]See, inter alia, William Pinnock, A Catechism of Sacred Geography (London: Whittaker, 1823); Pinnock’s Catechism of Drawing (London: Whittaker, 1828).
[[†] ]See The Book of Common Prayer.
[f-f]59, 67 : and
[h-h]59, 67 so thought
[[‡] ]Louise of Savoy, and Margaret of the Netherlands.