Produced by Delphine Lettau and the Online Distributed
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Produced by Delphine Lettau and the Online Distributed
IN PROSE AND VERSE.
SELECTED AND EDITED
“MODERN READINGS AND RECITATIONS,”
“NEW READINGS FROM AMERICAN AUTHORS,” ETC.
London and New York:
FREDERICK WARNE AND CO.
BRADBURY, AGNEW, & CO., PRINTERS, WHITEFRIARS.
In introducing to the public a Third Series of “Popular Readings,” I consider it merely necessary to state that the courtesy of authors and publishers has enabled me to bring together a choice selection of humorous pieces which have acquired a large share of popularity, in addition to a number of others that may justly be regarded as novelties.
Concerning the former, I have so often had occasion to answer inquiries respecting particular pieces for recitation, that it occurred to me the handy collection of those most generally sought after, but hitherto scattered through various publications, would be welcomed by many; and I took steps accordingly. How far I have succeeded in my purpose a glance at the Contents-list will show. For the fresh matter admitted to these pages, I sincerely trust that from among so many new candidates for popularity, at least one or two of them may be elected to represent the Penny Reading Constituents of each respective Borough for some time to come.
Once more I beg to express my indebtedness and thanks to those authors and publishers who have so generously placed their copyright pieces at my disposal.
The Consul Duilius was entertaining Rome in triumph after his celebrated defeat of the Carthaginian fleet at Mylæ. He had won a great naval victory for his country with the first fleet that it had ever possessed—which was naturally a gratifying reflection, and he would have been perfectly happy now if he had only been a little more comfortable.
But he was standing in an extremely rickety chariot, which was crammed with his nearer relations, and a few old friends, to whom he had been obliged to send tickets. At his back stood a slave, who held a heavy Etruscan crown on the Consul’s head, and whenever he thought his master was growing conceited, threw in the reminder that he was only a man after all—a liberty which at any other time he might have had good reason to regret.
Then the large Delphic wreath, which Duilius wore as well as the crown, had slipped down over one eye, and was tickling his nose, while (as both his hands were occupied, one with a sceptre the other with a laurel bough, and he had to hold on tightly to the rail of the chariot whenever it jolted) there was nothing to do but suffer in silence.
They had insisted, too, upon painting him a beautiful bright red all over, and though it made him look quite new, and very shining and splendid, he had his doubts at times whether it was altogether becoming, and particularly whether he would ever be able to get it off again.
But these were but trifles after all, and nothing compared with the honour and glory of it! Was not everybody straining to get a glimpse of him? Did not even the spotted and skittish horses which drew the chariot repeatedly turn round to gaze upon his vermilioned features? As Duilius remarked this he felt that he was, indeed, the central personage in all this magnificence, and that, on the whole, he liked it.
He could see the beaks of the ships he had captured bobbing up and down in the middle distance; he could see the white bulls destined for sacrifice entering completely into the spirit of the thing, and redeeming the procession from any monotony by occasionally bolting down a back street, or tossing on their gilded horns some of the flamens who were walking solemnly in front of them.
He could hear, too, above five distinct brass bands, the remarks of his friends as they predicted rain, or expressed a pained surprise at the smallness of the crowd and the absence of any genuine enthusiasm; and he caught the general purport of the very offensive ribaldry circulated at his own expense among the brave legions that brought up the rear.
This was merely the usual course of things on such occasions, and a great compliment when properly understood, and Duilius felt it to be so. In spite of his friends, the red paint, and the familiar slave, in spite of the extreme heat of the weather and his itching nose, he told himself that this, and this alone, was worth living for.
And it was a painful reflection to him that, after all, it would only last a day; he could not go on triumphing like this for the remainder of his natural life—he would not be able to afford it on his moderate income; and yet—and yet—existence would fall woefully flat after so much excitement.
It may be supposed that Duilius was naturally fond of ostentation and notoriety, but this was far from being the case; on the contrary, at ordinary times his disposition was retiring and almost shy, but his sudden success had worked a temporary change in him, and in the very flush of triumph he found himself sighing to think, that in all human probability, he would never go about with trumpeters and trophies, with flute-players and white oxen, any more in his whole life.
And then he reached the Porta Triumphalis, where the chief magistrates and the Senate awaited them, all seated upon spirited Roman-nosed chargers, which showed a lively emotion at the approach of the procession, and caused most of their riders to dismount with as much affectation of method and design as their dignity enjoined and the nature of the occasion permitted.
There Duilius was presented with the freedom of the city and an address, which last he put in his pocket, as he explained, to read at home.
And then an Ædile informed him in a speech, during which he twice lost his notes, and had to be prompted by a lictor, that the grateful Republic, taking into consideration the Consul’s distinguished services, had resolved to disregard expense, and on that auspicious day to give him whatever reward he might choose to demand—”in reason,” the Ædile added cautiously, as he quitted his saddle with an unexpectedness which scarcely seemed intentional.
Duilius was naturally a little overwhelmed by such liberality, and, like every one else favoured suddenly with such an opportunity, was quite incapable of taking complete advantage of it.
For a time he really could not remember in his confusion anything he would care for at all, and he thought it might look mean to ask for money.
At last he recalled his yearning for a Perpetual Triumph, but his natural modesty made him moderate, and he could not find courage to ask for more than a fraction of the glory that now attended him.