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“Supplices” puts Theseus in an unamiable light, when upbraiding, as he does, the unfortunate Adrastus with his errors at such great length, and perhaps with so little justice, before he condescends to assist him, “My Lord Sebastian,” exclaims worthy old Gonzalo, in the “ Tempest,”
“The truth you speak doth lack some gentleness,
And time to speak it in : you rub the sore,
When you should bring the plaster.” We should never, teaches the Vicar of Wakefield, strike one unnecessary blow at a victim over whom Providence holds the scourge of His resentment. Rondinelli's passionate command to Agolanti, in the “ Legend of Florence," “ Uncover thee, irreverent infamy,” elicits from the other, in the act of uncovering, as enjoined, the remonstrant retort, “Infamy thou, to treat thus ruffianly a mutestruck sorrow.” “Beshrew your heart,” exclaims Shakspeare's Northumberland to one who pushes him hard with hard words at hard times, "you draw my spirits from me, with new lamenting ancient oversights." Paulina, in the “Winter's Tale," plays a like part by repentant Leontes, who fairly owns she cannot speak too much, and that he has deserved all tongues to talk their bitterest. But impartial bystanders bid her say no more : howe'er the business goes, she has made fault in the boldness of her speech :
“You might have spoken a thousand things that would
Have done the time more benefit ;" and she herself is constrained to admit : “Alas, I have showed too much the rashness of a woman; he is touched to the noble heart”: let him not be pained by her free speech, then: “rather let me be punished, that have minded you of what you should forget.” York's vehement protest against Queen Margaret's unqueenly invective betokens violence of the baser sort :
“How ill-beseeming is it in thy sex,
To triumph, like an Amazonian trull,
Upon their woes, whom fortune captivates !” Nothing can, in the words of South, be more “deformed and uncharitable” than scoffs and bitter sarcasms thrown at a
poor guilty person, insulting over his calamity, and seeming, “as it were, to taste and relish his distress.” Again, in the same great preacher's sermon on administering reproof: “God most peculiarly and directly hates such an arrogant disposition as is apt to crow and insult over the failings and lapses of others”; above all, when the person assailed is prostrate, on the very threshold of death's door. When the allied princes entered the castle of their defeated foe, the renowned Sickengen, and found that intrepid soldier in a vault mortally wounded, they spared not to overwhelm him with objurgations and reproaches. His only answer was: “Leave me at peace, for I must now prepare to answer to a greater Lord than you.” It impeaches the greatness of Trivulzio, known in Milanese history as the Great, il Magno, that when his prisoner Ludovico Sforza was brought before him he treated him ungenerously, and “loaded him with reproaches.” A man bound with cords, says the mediæval proverb, even a child can beat : funiculis ligatum vel puer verberaret. As Gresset's Ariste urges,
“ Quel honneur trouvez vous à poursuivre, à confondre,
A désoler quelqu'un qui ne peut vous répondre?
Réunit la bassesse et l'inhumanité.” It was the basest of the populace, in Gibbon's words, that so inhumanly exulted in torturing the unfortunate emperor Andronicus, rejoicing to trample on the fallen majesty of their prince. In that long and painful agony, his last, “Lord have pity upon me” (to heaven), and “Why will you bruise a broken reed ?" (with another address) were the only words that escaped from his mouth.
All that is known of the last moments of the so called Last of the Crusaders, Cardinal Julian (Cæsarini), on the battle field of Varna, is that they were haunted by the pitiless presence of a Polish bishop, who had protested against the fatal breach of treaty with the Turks. “There rode up to his side in this moment of agonising conflict” one whose cruel reproaches sank deep into the ears of the dying man, whom he reviled for his breach of faith, and charged with all the slaughter and misery of that fatal day. Having outpoured to the bitter dregs the cup of his fury and vindictive insult, Bishop Gregory left Cardinal Julian to die.
Describing the new bull of excommunication launched by Pope Clement VI. against Louis of Bavaria in 1345, and which in the vigour and ferocity of its curses transcended all that had yet, in the wildest times, issued from the Roman see,
-“the pope scrupled not to break, if he could, the bruised reed," are the significant words (already in these notes once and again applied) of the historian of Latin Christianity. Some natures delight in such torturings. Macaulay says of Hébert that his favourite amusement was to torment and insult the miserable remains of that great family which, having ruled France for eight hundred years, had now become an object of pity to the humblest artisan or peasant. 1 When Louis XVI., at the Assembly, asked David, the painter, whom he recognised among the hostile throng, if he should soon have completed his portrait, and got the savage reply, “I will never henceforth paint the portrait of a king until his head lies before me on the scaffold,” Louis looked down and was silent at the brutal insult. “David missed his moment,” is Lamartine's remark : " a dethroned king is but a man; a bold word before tyranny becomes cowardice in the presence of a reverse of fortune.” 2
1 Even Robespierre condemned the “senseless brutality” with which Hébert had conducted the proceedings against the “Austrian woman,” and, at a celebrated “regale” given by Barère, became so excited in talking on the subject that he broke his plate at table, in the violence of his gesticulation. (See the merciless Essay on Barère.)
8 The same historian relates elsewhere of Lanjuinais, when that orator, at the tribune for the last time, found his voice drowned by the insults and imprecations of the Mountain and the mob, that, glancing disdainfully at his assailants, he exclaimed: “When the ancient priests dragged the victims to the altar they covered them with flowers and garlands. Cowards ! they did not insult them.” In a later chapter we read : “ Philippeaux demonstrated his innocence with the force and dignity of an unsullied man. “It is granted to you to cause me to perish,' he said, “but I forbid you to insult me'"_by such questionings and implications as were put at his trial.
Robespierre lay for nine hours stretched on a table in the Salle d'Audience - his under jaw broken by Méda's pistol shot-his frame convulsed with pain, and himself overwhelmed with the execrations and insults of those around him. He was a fallen man now, and safe to trample on. “Numbers
A few remaining annotations, cognate in scope, may be referred to another text, a wail from the book of psalms.
SMITTEN OF GOD, VEXED OF MEN.
PSALM lxix. 26. THE psalmist utters his cry de profundis, from deep waters,
1 where the floods overflow him. God hath smitten him, and his enemies exult in the calamity, and seek to aggravate its bitterness. Their reproaches fall upon him continuously. Reproach indeed hath broken his heart, and he is full of heaviness; he looks for some to take pity, but there is none; and for comforters, but he finds not one. “They persecute him whom Thou hast smitten; and they talk to the grief of those whom Thou hast wounded.”
'T is a cruelty, says Shakspeare's Cromwell, to load a falling man. Still worse, a fallen one. Thus Humphrey of Gloucester appeals in his desolation to the unrelenting cardinal, who would fain torture him to the last, and to the uttermost :
" Ambitious churchman, leave to afflict my heart !
Sorrow and grief have vanquished all my powers :
reviled and spat upon him; and, to their eternal disgrace," writes a Tory historian, “ some of his former colleagues in the committees insulted him, while the clerks of the office pricked him with their penknives.” Contrast with this an incident in St. Just's progress to the Conciergerie, that same day. St. Just was met near the entrance by General Hoche, whom he had confined there for some weeks.“ Instead of insulting his fallen enemy, Hoche pressed his hand, and stood aside to let him pass. The really heroic are never on great occasions unworthy of themselves.” Napoleon, on overhearing an insulting expression applied by his troops to the Austrian captives who defiled before him after Mack's surrender, addressed this rebuke to them in a tone and with an air of marked displeasure : “You can have little self respect, you who insult men bowed down by a misfortune such as this.”
Readers of squib and pasquinade literature may recal an "epistle” of Moore's, remonstrating with a certain "old hero" on his unheroic treatment of a fallen foe, wherein such lines occur as,
".. . Is this your renown?
And, vanquished as I am, I yield to thee,
Or to the meanest groom.” The cardinal's title, as well as employment, may remind one of certain lines of an imprisoned French poet, who compares his hostile and reproachful Eminence not to the good Samaritan:
“D'huile et de baume les mains pleines,
Il eût rougi d'aigrir le mal ; 1
Qu'en dites-vous, monsieur le cardinal ?” As an essay on plain dealing has it, the good Samaritan who poured oil upon the man's wounds was better than the Levite who passed indifferently by on the other side : but the Levite is better than one who, instead of oil, shall pour in vinegar and brine. This, however, is entirely repugnant to the painfully plain dealer's views. “He declares that there is nothing like striking while the iron is hot. If you point out his faults to a man precisely when he is suffering from them most severely, he is the better able to realize your meaning, and to admit the justice of your friendly reproaches. They then have a pointedness, a beautiful nicety of application, an impressive weightiness, which it is impossible to shirk.” And yet there are reproaches which are never so freely bestowed, and are never so unpalatable, as when they have become useless.
It has been said of meanness, that it will not give respect or even pity gratis, and therefore never shows itself less pleasantly than in face of distress, whether in the shape of fallen greatness or of humbler misery, entirely helpless and abject. “Thus, a mob will hoọt at a deposed king, and a judge has been known to play off his wit at a wretched prisoner's expense.” It appears a wonder, says an old moralist, that Shimei should rail at a king to his face, and, unpunished, brave him,
i So Ventidius to Anthony, in Dryden's Roman tragedy:
“You are too sensible already
Of what you have done.