Produced by Charles Bowen from page scans provided by
Google Books (the New York Public Library)
Produced by Charles Bowen from page scans provided by
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(the New York Public Library)
BY G. P. R. JAMES, ESQ.,
“LIFE OF VICISSITUDES,” “PEQUINILLO,” “THE FATE,” “AIMS AND
OBSTACLES,” “HENRY SMEATON,” “THE WOODMAN,” &c., &c., &c.
HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS,
329 & 331 PEARL STREET,
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year one thousand eight hundred and fifty-three, by
GEORGE P. R. JAMES,
in the Office of the Clerk of the District Court of the Southern District of New York.
MAUNSELL B. FIELD, ESQ.,
NOT ONLY AS THE COMPANION OF SOME OF MY LITERARY LABORS, BUT
AS MY DEAR FRIEND; NOT ONLY AS A GENTLEMAN AND A MAN
OF HONOR, BUT AS A MAN OF GENIUS AND OF FEELING;
NOT ONLY AS ONE WHO DOES HONOR TO HIS OWN
COUNTRY, BUT AS ONE WHO WOULD DO
HONOR TO ANY,
This Book is Dedicated, with sincere Regard,
BY G. P. R. JAMES.
How strange the sensation would be, how marvelously interesting the scene, were we to wake up from some quiet night’s rest and find ourselves suddenly transported four or five hundred years back–living and moving among the men of a former age!
To pass from the British fortress of Gibraltar, with drums and fifes, red coats and bayonets, in a few hours, to the coast of Africa, and find one’s self surrounded by Moors and male petticoats, turbans and cimeters, is the greatest transition the world affords at present; but it is nothing to that of which I speak. How marvelously interesting would it be, also, not only to find one’s self brought in close contact with the customs, manners, and characteristics of a former age, with all our modern notions strong about us, but to be met at every turn by thoughts, feelings, views, principles, springing out of a totally different state of society, which have all passed away, and moldered, like the garments in which at that time men decorated themselves.
Such, however, is the leap which I wish the reader to take at the present moment; and–although I know it to be impossible for him to divest himself of all those modern impressions which are a part of his identity–to place himself with me in the midst of a former period, and to see himself surrounded for a brief space with the people, and the things, and the thoughts of the fifteenth century.
Let me premise, however, in this prefatory chapter, that the object of an author, in the minute detail of local scenery and ancient customs, which he is sometimes compelled to give, and which are often objected to by the animals with long ears that browse on the borders of Parnassus, is not so much to show his own learning in antiquarian lore, as to imbue his reader with such thoughts and feelings as may enable him to comprehend the motives of the persons acting before his eyes, and the sensations, passions, and prejudices of ages passed away. Were we to take an unsophisticated rustic, and baldly tell him, without any previous intimation of the habits of the time, that the son of a king of England one day went out alone–or, at best, with a little boy in his company–all covered over with iron; that he betook himself to a lone and desolate pass in the mountains, traversed by a high road, and sat upon horseback by the hour together, with a spear in his hand, challenging every body who passed to fight him, the unsophisticated rustic would naturally conclude that the king’s son was mad, and would expect to hear of him next in Bedlam, rather than on the throne of England. I let any one tell him previously of the habits, manners, and customs of those days, and the rustic–though he may very well believe that the whole age was mad–will understand and appreciate the motives of the individual, saying to himself, “This man was not a bit madder than the rest.”
However, this book is not intended to be a mere painting of the customs of the fifteenth century, but rather a picture of certain characters of that period, dressed somewhat in the garb of the times, and moved by those springs of action which influenced men in the age to which I refer. It has been said, and justly, that human nature is the same in all ages; but as a musical instrument will produce many different tones, according to the hand which touches it, so will human nature present many different aspects, according to the influences by which it is affected. At all events, I claim a right to play my own tune upon my violin, and what skills it if that tune be an air of the olden times. No one need listen who does not like it.
There was a small, square room, of a very plain, unostentatious appearance, in the turret of a tall house in the city of Paris. The walls were of hewn stone, without any decoration whatever, except where at the four sides, and nearly in the centre of each, appeared a long iron arm, or branch, with a socket at the end of it, curved and twisted in a somewhat elaborate manner, and bearing some traces of having been gilt in a former day. The ceiling was much more decorated than the walls, and was formed by two groined arches of stone-work, crossing each other in the middle, and thus forming, as it were, four pointed arches, the intervals between one mass of stone-work and another being filled up with dark-colored oak, much after the fashion of a cap in a coronet. The spot where the arches crossed was ornamented with a richly-carved pendant, or corbel, in the centre of which was embedded a massive iron hook, probably intended to sustain a large lamp, while the iron sockets protruding from the walls were destined for flambeaux or lanterns. The floor was of stone, and a rude mat of rushes was spread over about one eighth of the surface, toward the middle of the room, where stood a table of no very large dimensions, covered with a great pile of papers and a few manuscript books. No lamp hung from the ceiling; no lantern or flambeau cast its light from the walls as had undoubtedly been the case in earlier times: the tall, quaint-shaped window, besides being encumbered by a rich tracery of stone-work, could not admit even the moonbeams through the thick coat of dust that covered its panes, and the only light which that room received was afforded by a dull oil lamp upon the table, without glass or shade. All the furniture looked dry and withered, as it were, and though solid enough, being balkily formed of dark oak, presented no ornament whatever. It was, in short, an uncomfortable-looking apartment enough, having a ruinous and dilapidated appearance, without any of the picturesqueness of decay. Under the table lay a large, brindled, rough-haired dog, of the stag-hound breed, but cruelly docked of his tail, in accordance with some code of forest laws, which at that time were very numerous and very various in different parts of France, but all equally unjust and severe. Apparently he was sound asleep as dog could be; but we all know that a dog’s sleep is not as profound as a metaphysician’s dream, and from time to time he would raise his head a little from his crossed paws, and look slightly up toward the legs of a person seated at the table.
Now those legs–to begin at the unusual end of a portrait–were exceedingly handsome, well-shaped legs, indeed, evidently appertaining to a young man on the flowery side of maturity. There was none of the delicate, rather unsymmetrical straightness of the mere boy about them, nor the over-stout, balustrade-like contour of the sturdy man of middle age. Nor did the rest of the figure belie their promise, for it was in all respects a good one, though somewhat lightly formed, except the shoulders, indeed, which were broad and powerful, and the chest, which was wide and expansive. The face was good, though not strictly handsome, and the expression was frank and bright, yet with a certain air of steady determination in it which is generally conferred by the experience of more numerous years than seemed to have passed over that young and unwrinkled brow.
The dress of the young scribe–for he was writing busily–was in itself plain, though not without evident traces of care and attention in its device and adjustment. The shoes were extravagantly long, and drawn out to a very acute point, and the gray sort of mantle, with short sleeves, which he wore over his ordinary hose and jerkin, had, at the collar, and at the end of those short sleeves, a little strip of fur–a mark, possibly, of gentle birth, for sumptuary laws, always ineffectual, were issued from time to time, during all the earlier periods of the French monarchy, and generally broken as soon as issued.
There was no trace of beard upon the chin. The upper lip itself was destitute of the manly mustache, and the hair, combed back from the forehead, and lying in smooth and glossy curls upon the back of the neck, gave an appearance almost feminine to the head, which was beautifully set upon the shoulders. The broad chest already mentioned, however, the long, sinewy arms, and the strong brown hand which held the pen, forbade all suspicion that the young writer was a fair lady in disguise, although that was a period in the world’s history when the dames of France were not overscrupulous in assuming any character which might suit their purposes for the time.
There was a good deal of noise and bustle in the streets of Paris, as men with flambeaux in their hands walked on before some great lord of the court, calling “Place! place!” to clear the way for their master as he passed; or as a merry party of citizens returned, laughing and jesting, from some gay meeting; or as a group of night-ramblers walked along, insulting the ear of night with cries, and often with blasphemies; or as lays and songs were trolled up from the corners of the streets by knots of persons, probably destitute of any other home, assembled round the large bonfires, lighted to give warmth to the shivering poor–for it was early in the winter of the great frost of one thousand four hundred and seven, and the miseries of the land were great. Still, the predominant sounds were those of joy and revelry; for the people of Paris were the same in those days that they are even now; and joy, festivity, and frolic, then, as in our own days, rolled and caroled along the highways, while the dust was yet wet with blood, and wretchedness, destitution, and oppression lurked unseen behind the walls. No sounds, however, seemed to disturb the lad at his task, or to withdraw his thoughts for one moment from the subject before him. Now a loud peal of laughter shook the casement; but still he wrote on. Now a cry, as if of pain, rang round the room from without, but such cries were common in those days, and he lifted not his head. And then again a plaintive song floated on the air, broken only by the striking of a clock, jarring discordantly with the mellow notes of the air; but still the pen hurried rapidly over the page, till some minutes after the hour of nine had struck, when he laid it down with a deep respiration, as if some allotted task were ended.
At length the dog which was lying at his feet lifted his head suddenly and gazed toward the door. The youth was reading over what he had written, and caught no sound to withdraw his attention; but the beast was right. There was a step–a familiar step–upon the stair-case, and the good dog rose up, and walked toward the entrance of the room, just as the door was opened, and another personage entered upon the scene.
He was a grave man, of the middle age, tall, well formed, and of a noble and commanding presence. He was dressed principally in black velvet, with a gown of that stuff, which was lined with fur, indeed, though none of that lining was shown externally. On his head he had a small velvet cap, without any feather, and his hair was somewhat sprinkled with gray, though in all probability he had not passed the age of forty.
“Well, Jean,” he said, in a deliberate tone, as he entered the room with a firm and quiet tread, “how many have you done, my son?”
“All of them, sir,” replied the young man. “I was just reading over this last letter to Signor Bernardo Baldi, to see that I had made no mistake.”
“You never mistake, Jean,” said the elder man, in a kindly tone; and then added, thoughtfully, “All? You must have written hard, and diligently.”
“You told me to have them ready against you returned, sir,” said the youth.
“Yes, but I have returned an hour before the time,” rejoined his elder companion; and then, as the young man moved away from the chair which he occupied, in order to leave it vacant for himself, the elder drew near the table, and, still standing, glanced his eye over some six or seven letters which lay freshly written, and yet unfolded. It was evident, however, that though, by a process not uncommon, the mind might take in, and even investigate, to a certain degree, all that the eye rested upon, a large part of the thoughts were engaged with other subjects, and that deeper interests divided the attention of the reader.