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When I look back on my career of glory,
What do I see?-at home a crushed nobility,
Crushed by my crushing-fallen off, and sunk
In name and honour: a mad populace,
Drunk with the poison cup of flatteries
I mix'd to lull them into criminal dreams
Of bribery perjury—that I might steal
Their filthy suffrages;—'twas I that did it.
My Pericles, you do belie and slander
Your better self. There were far nobler purposes
In the centre of your soul, which urged you on
To your great darings.
Well, perchance there were
A few such aspirations. Yet, oh, Heaven !
How horribly have they been prostituted
In coming into action.
I'll not hear you
Speak that against yourself, which your worst foes
Would smile to hear.
Yet is it all too true; The blight of Heaven hangs o'er us; conscience tells me I've erred, and this cursed plague—this pestilence Which now rages at Athens, is the symbol Of divine anger.
Nay, the pestilence May have far other other causes.
No, my Sophocles, Everything warns me. Is not Athens leagued In ruinous warfare with the states of Greece ? Are not our Grecians armed against each other In fratricidal wars? while foreign enemies Laugh in their covert hate, waiting the hour Of our self-wrought exhaustion, for the assault Of their barbaric prowess.
List to me,
Dear general-be advised by a steadfast friend;
It now is many years since you embarked
On the sea of heroism. You know the nature
Of this strong, fierce, all conquering element.
Those who once launch on this tempestuous tide,
Must sail right on, or founder. Think not now
To turn, and veer, and hesitate. You've cast
Your life upon the stake, and you must stand
The hazard. Fame and infamy are merely
The synonyms of valour and fear. Be true
To yourself: dash on like the storm-weathering ship
Before the lash of the hurricane. If Pericles
Must fall, let him fall gloriously, the victim
Of fate, without one stain of the mental weakness
That men call penitence.
Thou counsellest like gay Aspasia ;
I fear you both are wrong. Friend Socrates
Would not advise me so: and, by my faith,
Euripides would give you a smart sarcasm,
If he but heard you.
What of sweet Aspasia, The brilliant, beautiful courtesan?
To call my wife—the mother of my children-
By such a name. I am just going to call
At the Pyræus; if your time is free,
Come with me.
Be it so; we will go together. The hot clouds threaten thunder; but no matter, Rough weather shall not frighten us. Come on.
A Thunderstorm among the Mountains of Phocis.
Enter CHÆREPHON and GUIDE.
The gods are gentle to their worshippers ;
What need I fear this tempest? Yet a storm
Like this, might serve to make a parricide
A little conscience-sick.
Ay, my good master : Ful many a time the priests have told me, that Great Jove is angered when the thunder peal Rings o'er the mountains. Hearts of innocence Should not think so. To me, 'tis Heaven's own music; And when it echoes round me, I am filled With a strange joy. But I could cite a man, To whom the very name of thunder was Like a death-stroke. I did travel with him once In such a storm as this, on these same hills; And when pale lightnings glared upon his face, He trembled so that I was half afraid
To look at him. That man had a foul secret
Upon his memory. The Areopagus
Made him confess it, - 'twas a brother's murder,
Blood for blood was the sentence—and he died.
That crash again-faith, 'tis a glorious peril,
And the bold mind frankly encounters it.
There on the horizon's verge the difficult peaks
Of old Parnassus glitter. By the Muses !
I will forswear all incredulity
Henceforth—and trust the fables of our sires.
Ay, even now, methinks the Olympian deities
Hold revels there—the rich ambrosial banquets
That dear rhapsodial Homer sung about.
But tell me, my good guide, how many stadia
Remain to Delphi.
Patience, worthy sir ;
These mountain tracks are not so delicate
As your Athenian promenades, and you
Must bind the winglets of swift Mercury
Over your ancles, if you think to reach
Delphi without some straining. Rest awhile,
For you must climb the ridges of two hills
Ere you arrive. But if your honest guide
May act the inquisitive, what brings you here
To invoke the Oracle ?
Guide, thou hast served me Right faithfully; I'll answer thee as true. I'm going to consult the oracle Who is the wisest of men.
A pretty question-
More easily asked than answered. I remember
We once had seven wise men; now to find one,
Requires an oracle. Is not Minerva,
Whom you Athenians so monopolize,
Able to tell you? Or if she refuse,
Can't your philosophers, with their grave brows
And tattered stolas, solve you this same riddle ?
They explain every thing.
Yes, every thing
But the thing you want, whatever that thing be.
Guide, to speak feelingly, I've been sore vexed
With those sophistical prigs. Night after night,
We listen to their homilies, till all
The little virtue we before possessed
Is fairly evaporated ; and just to atone
For suffering their dull prosings, do we plunge
Deeper in luscious damned debaucheries,
That sting like scorpions. So I turned my back
On dissolute Athens, and with thee I bend
My steps to Delphi.
I cry pardon, sir ; My ignorance has often envied much You gentlemen of Athens. O, how sweet, Thought I, those hours must be, when learning breathes In the ears of beauty, and her smiles repay Wise saws with merry frolics!
Many things To the untried seem fair, which, once experienced,, Pall on the sense. I know I know it allAnd turned away disgusted.-Ay, by Heaven! I've more enjoyed this toilsome, desolate ramble, Exposed to the blast of the striving elements Of mother Nature-I've enjoyed it more Than all their fopperies. Nature's above art; And if I live, I'll live to redeem lost time, Seeking a better wisdom ;-therefore now I haste to the Oracle.
I'll bring you there; Rouse thee, and follow me;-here is the track.
Temple of Delphi.
Enter Two Priests.
Brother, how liked you the storm? In all the years
I've dwelt at Delphi, never have I seen
Such a battle of the clouds. Parnassus shook
To his very centre: from his towering peak,
A lightning-splintered crag fell crashing down
Amid the sacred groves; and much I fear
The safety of our Temple.
Peace to thy heart !
Fear nothing !-knowest thou not that Delphi bears
A charmed life? This spirit-haunted soil
Cannot be violated. Great Apollo's self,
Bright lord of the sweet, ever blooming heavens,
Circles it round with his omnipotence;-
Dread not the thunder; sooth to say-it bodes
Much good to the tripod.
Prithee tell me how ?
There is a sympathy 'twixt heaven and earth-
A strange mysterious law, in which the power
Of Phæbus is confest, by the high bards
And esoteric hierophants, who framed
The initiations ;-therefore our Apollo
Is oft invoked by a most subtle name.
Canst thou tell me which ?
Nay, speak it freely to me; My tongue is never traitor to my ears.
Elector is that name. Ay, keep it close
Beneath the seal of silence ;-breathe it not
Without these hallowed walls--Mysterious essence
Of light and darkness! which our Orphean sages
Term electricity-treasure of the wise,
Marvel of fools ;—'tis unto thee the fame
Of Delphi is most due.
Thou speakest strangely;
My heart warms in thy confidence ;-say on.
Thou knowest the rest. Thunder and lightning are
But the divine Elector of the skies,
Wooing the kindred elements of earth;
And when the thunder bellows round the hills,-
Mark you ! our Pythian prophetess is then
True, I have noted it, But little recked the cause.
If my thoughts err not, Thus they interpret :-Well our ancient sires Knew that the metaphysical genii, good and ill, Reside in physical ethers, which, to them, Are even as our bodies to our souls. Well, such an ether found they ages ago, On the slope of this volcanic mountain. Quick And subtle was its influence. The fables Tell us the goats that browsed about the spot First caught the intoxication ;-their weak brains, Filled with the gaseous magical stimulus, Reeled—and such frolics followed as surprised The gaping shepherd wiseacres. They, too, Going with sober brows to investigate