Зображення сторінки

and craven cry, “Prophesy not unto us right things, but prophesy unto us smooth things,” is as if they had said—this is South's piquant paraphrase-"Do but oil the razor for us, and let us alone to cut our own throats."

No despicable foe to mankind is one of whom the Wise Man testifies that her lips drop as a honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil; but her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her tactics may thus far be likened to Jael's, who brought forth butter in a lordly dish, but withal put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workman's hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples. “Turn in, my lord, turn in unto me, fear not,” had been her words at the door of the tent,—words smoother than oil ; and yet were they drawn swords in purpose and in effect. Habet suum venenum blanda oratio, saith Publius Syrus : a soft speech hath its venom. When somebody was praising to the Abbé Trublet the douceur of Madame de Tencin, “Oui,” assented his reverence, “ si elle eût intérêt de vous empoisonner, elle eût choisi le poison le plus doux." Madame came of the same kind, a little less than kind, as that effervescent matron in one of Mr. Reade's books, of whom he tells us that, when writing to the niece she had wronged and therefore hated, the letter was written with cream (of tartar) and oil (of vitriol); and again, that she kept cool, and wrote, in oils, twice a year to her niece, et gardait tout doucement une haine irreconciliable.1

O dissembling courtesy ! exclaims Imogen in impatient distrust of her royal stepmother, so fair-spoken and so false : “ How fine this tyrant can tickle where she wounds!” Scott's Lady of Lochleven rejects the advances of her captive sovereign by asking, who ever knew so well as she to deal the deepest wounds under the pretence of kindness and courtesy ? “Who, since the great traitor, could ever so betray with a kiss ?” According to a student of the sex, no one can inflict such humiliation on a woman as a woman can when she chooses; for if the art of high-handed snubbing belongs to men, that of subtle wounding is “peculiarly feminine, and is practised by the best bred” among womankind. Mischiefmaking Mrs. Powell, in a widely read fiction, is made up of simpering and soft speeches, all conciliation and complaisance : if she had lived in the Thane of Cawdor's family, she would, her author undertakes to say, have wished Macbeth and his wife a good night's rest after Duncan's murder; and would have hoped they would sleep well, -curtseying and simpering amid the tolling of alarum bells, and the clashing of vengeful swords.

1 Madame de Bellière, in perhaps the longest French fiction that ever was composed, is a mistress of the “most affectionate tone” when most she is intent on concealing, la perfide! the instincts of a panther.

The Dean (a finished portrait) in that clever book Wheat and Tares (as English and as short as the previously mentioned book is utterly French and enormously long) is described as buttering his victim before toasting him; and, like a serpent, covering his destined meal with saliva.

“ Vous savez sa coutume, et sous quelles tendresses

Sa haine sait cacher ses trompeuses addresses.” The Mrs. Archbold of Hard Cash, with her “dulcet tones," and her soft, caressing ways, “had a way of addressing her own sex that crushed them.” The Aramis of Dumas habitually uses his “most flute-like tone” ? when he is bent on some fatal purpose. The Couthon of the Reign of Terror is celebrated in history for a voice soft and melodious, like the low ringing of a silver bell, in which he dealt out death without ruth or reckoning. As with Ovid's fowler,

1 Some would add, peculiarly feline, and others, peculiarly French. The Boccaccio of Landor's Derameron, speaking as a loyal Italian and staunch anti-Gallican, says : “ The French will fondle us, watching all the while their opportunity; looking mild and half asleep; making a dash at last ; and laying bare and fleshless the arm we extend to them, from shoulder blade to wrist.” It is a satirist of their own, Joseph Despaze, who says, inter alia, of the art he is at once assailing and pursuing,

« Et ressemble, en un mot, dans sa maligne joie,

Au chat vif et lutin qui joue avec sa proie." 2 So with the wicked old Marquis in Mr. Dickens' Tale of Two Cities, who, devising every sort of malignant device, discourses with his nephew so "sweetly,” his tone lingering in the air almost like the tone of a musical instrument.

“ Fistula dulce canit volucres dum decipit auceps;

Impia sub dulci melle venena latent.” So M. Rodin, the Jesuit master spirit of Le juif errant, used “ words so affectionate and subtly penetrating,” that he “almost always finished by involving his victim in the tortuous windings of an eloquence as pliant as it was honeyed and perfidious.” Treacherous as the cider discussed in Swift's Polite Conversation : pray, how is it treacherous ? asks Smart; and Sparkish replies, because it smiles in his face, and cuts his throat.

Butler's Hudibras has his fling at those “who, when they slash and cut to pieces, do all with civilest addresses.” Theirs the art and practice, not in the original sense of the phrase, tà okampà pardakws Néyelv. Squire Hamley's account of the doctor's way with him is : " You see, he sugars it over, and says a sharp thing, and pretends it's all civility and humility ; but I can tell when he's giving me a pill.” In semblance only fit to pair off with that don in a current story who, if he was doing you an ill turn, was sure to do it agreeably; and who, if he had found it necessary, as might happen in an extreme case, to poison a friend, would infallibly have made the mixture palatable. Mr. Donnithorne, in Adam Bede, always spoke in the same deliberate, well chiselled, polite way, whether his words were sugary or venomous.” Lord Lytton deems it vain to describe the manner in which his Guy Darrell vented sallies of mocking irony or sarcastic spleen : it was not bitter or sneering, but in his usual mellifluous level tone and passionless tranquillity. The modern fanatic-as distinguished, with a difference, a very decided difference, from his ancient prototype, who was presumably in appearance ferocious and half insane-is sketched off by a graphic pen as very probably a gentleman of singularly mild manners, with a tendency to spectacles and premature baldness, who puts forward sentiments the most revolutionary in a voice of almost feminine softness. Mr. Trollope's John Vavasour" can hit hard ; but in hitting he is quiet, and strikes with a smile on his face." As a rather scabby as well as musty adage has it, of certain double faced and double fisted deceivers, alterâ manu scabunt, alterâ feriunt.

Voltaire had not been many days at Potsdam before he found occasion to write to his niece that the amiable king, his host, had a trick of giving a sly scratch with one hand, while patting and stroking with the other.

Justice Haliburton, not magnifying his order, expatiates on the similarity of habits and instincts to be noted in lawyers and cats: they purr round you, and rub against you coaxingly, when they want you to overcome your prejudice against their feline tribe. “They play before they pounce." Counsel in court are here the object of the old judge's satire. The Mr. Chaffanbrass, of The Three Clerks is described as being no more averse to the toil of applying the thumbscrew, the boot, and the rack to the victim in the witness box before him, than the cat is to that of catching mice. And indeed his author proceeds to tell of this Old Bailey practitioner that he was not unlike a cat in his way of going to work; for he would, as it were, hold his prey for awhile between his paws and pat him with gentle taps before he tore him. “He would ask a few civil little questions in his softest voice,. .. and then, when he had his mouse well in hand, out would come his envenomed claw, and the wretched animal would feel the fatal wound in his tenderest part.” Michelet admires the monk Walsingham's account of Sir John Oldcastle's examination, as a heretic, by the primate of England, and says it is impossible to kill with greater sensibility : the judge melts, weeps, and seems to claim more pity than the victim. “My lord of Canterbury showed him a gracious countenance. . . . To whom the archbishop, with all affability and sweetness. . . . Therefore my lord of Canterbury inquired gently and modestly. . . . On which my lord of Canterbury addressed him with tears in his eyes. ... Then, with great bitterness of heart, he proceeded to pass sentence.” Evidently, the great French historian regards the prelate's tears as of the crocodile sort—and would characterise him much as Arruntius in the play does Afer the orator; one who

"... steeps his words
When he would kill, in artificial tears :
The crocodile of Tyber ! ”

One historian of the Reformation writes of Faber, in reference to his tactics against Zuinglius: “This man of courts, always with smiles on his lips and honeyed words in his mouth, was by his own account the friend of everybody, even of those he accused of heresy. But his hatred was mortal.” As though, with him like Belial, all was false and hollow, though his tongue dropped manna. Or like the man of whom Jerrold writes: “Our hero, soft spoken as a maid, and sleek looking as a beaver, has dabbled in blood, but only in the way of the law.” Or like Hood's Creole, who so well knew how to heap coals of fire on the head of his enemy, by dealing with him to all appearance generously, and even kindly, where less politic natures would avow their animosity by angry looks and bitter speech : all the while biding his time to strike, when strike he could with deadly effect.

A. W. Schlegel observes of the threats of Racine's Pyrrhus to be the death of young Astyanax, if Andromache persist in repelling him, all intermingled with protestations truly galant, that they resemble the arts of an executioner, who applies the torture to his victim with the most courtly phrases. Like the Priests of the Rights of Man, commemorated by Burke, who, says he, “begin by crowning me with their flowers and their fillets, and bedewing me with their odours, as a preface to the knocking me on the head with their consecrated axes." Like the cæur impitoyable denounced by Corneille's Camille :

“ Et dit qu'il m'aime encore alors qu'il m'assassine." Like the persecutors satirized by Colnet,

[merged small][ocr errors]
« НазадПродовжити »