« 前へ次へ »
therefore, if I went to another. Miserable sophistry! yet, wretched as it was, it satisfied my conscience for the moment, so easily is a weak man deluded into criminal indulgence. Fortified with such valid arguments, I made my debût at the Salon des Etrangers, and after a two hours sitting, had the singular good luck to return home a winner of nearly as much as I had gained on the first day. Success for once made me moderate; in the humility of my prosperous play, I resolved only to continue till I had won ten thousand pounds, when I would communicate my adventures to my wife with a solemn abjuration of the pursuit in future; and as I considered myself in possession of the certain secret of winning whatever I pleased, I took credit to myself for my extreme moderation. From Frascati, the scene of my third attempt, by a lucky, or rather unlucky fatality, which my subsequent experience only renders the more wonderful, I retired with a sum exceeding the whole of my previous profits, when, like the tiger who is rendered insatiate by the taste of blood, I instantly became ravenous for larger riches; and already repenting the paltry limitation of the day before, determined on proceeding until I had doubled its amount. Another day's luck, and even this would have been spurned, for neither Johnson's Sir Epicure Mammon, nor Massinger's Luke, nor Pope's Sir Balaam, underwent a more rapid developement of the latent devils of ambition. Indistinct visions of grandeur floated before my eyes ; my senses already seemed to be steeped in a vague magnificence ; and after hesitating, in a sort of waking dream, between Wanstead House and Fonthill, one of which I held to be too near, and the other too distant from London, I dwelt complacently on the idea of building a mansion at some intermediate station, which should surpass dour of both. Sleep presenting to me the same images through a magnifying glass, I went forth next morning to the accomplishment of my destiny with an exaltation of mind little short of delirium.
Weak and wicked reveries !-a single turn of Fortune's wheel reduced me, not to reason, but to an opposite extreme of mortification and despondence. A run of ill-luck swept away in one hour more than half my gains, and unfortunately losing my temper still faster than my money, I kept doubling my stakes in the blindness of my rage, and quitted the table at night, not only lightened of all my suddenly acquired wealth, but loser of a considerable sum besides. I could now judge by experience of the bitterness of soul that I had lately inflicted upon those who had lost what I had won, and inwardly cursed the pursuit whose gratifications could only spring from the miseries of others ; but so far from abandoning this inevitable see-saw of wretchedness, I felt as if I had been defrauded of my just property, and burnt with the desire of taking my revenge. The heart-sickening detail of my infirmity, my reverses, and my misery, need not be followed up. Suffice it to say, that a passion, a fury, an actual phrenzy of play absorbed every faculty of my soul ; mine was worse than a Promethean fate; I was gnawed and devoured by an inward fire which nothing could allay. Alas! not even poverty and the want of materials could quench it. In my career of prosperity, I felt not the fraud I was practising upon my wife, for I meant to make my peace with ten or twenty thousand pounds in my hand, and a sincere renunciation of gaming in my heart ; but now that I was bringing ruin upon
her and my children, the sense of my falsehood and treachery embittering the anguish of my losses, plunged me into an unutterable remorse and agony of soul. Still I wanted courage to make the fatal revelation, and at last only imparted it to her in the cowardice of impending disgrace.
Madame Deshoulières says very truly, that gamesters begin by being dupes and end by being knaves; and I am about to confirm it by an avowal to which nothing should have impelled me but the hope of deterring others by an exposure of my own delinquency. A female relation had remitted me seven hundred pounds to purchase into the French funds, with which sum in my pocket I unfortunately called at the Salon des Etrangers in my way to the stock-broker's, and my evil genius suggesting to me that there was a glorious opportunity of recovering my heavy losses, I snatched the notes from my pocket, threw them on the table just before the dealer began—and lost ! Stunned by the blow, I went home in a state of calm despair, communicated the whole to my wife in as few words as possible, and ended by declaring that she was a beggar, and her husband disgraced for ever." Not yet, my dear Charles,” replied the generous woman, her eyes beaming with an affectionate forgiveness, — " not yet; we may still exclaim with the French King after the battle of Pavia, we have lost every thing but our honour ;-and, while we retain that, our losses are but as a grain of sand. We may be depressed by fortune, but we can only be disgraced by ourselves. As to this seven hundred pounds -take my jewels—they will sell for more than is required ; and if our present misfortunes induce you to fly from Paris, and abandon this fatal pursuit, they will assuredly become the greatest blessings of our life.”
No reproach ever passed her lips, or lingered in her eye; nor did I fail to observe the delicacy which, mingling up her own fate with mine, strove to soothe my feelings, by disguising my individual guilt under the cloak of a joint misfortune. Noble-minded woman! Mezentius himself could not have devised a more cruel fate than to tie thee to a soul so dead to shame, and so defunct in gratitude as mine!
Will not the reader lothe and detest me, even worse than I do myself, when I inform him, that in return for all this magnanimity I had the detestable baseness to linger in Paris, to haunt the gaming-table, to venture the wretched drainings of my purse in the silver room, to become an habitual borrower of paltry sums under pledges of repayment which I knew I had not the means of redeeming, and to submit tamely to the indignity of palpable cuts from my acquaintance in the public streets? From frequently encountering at the salons, I had formed a slight friendship with Lord T-Lord — Sir GW—, Colonel T-, and particularly with poor S-t, before he had consummated the ruin of his fine fortune, and debilitated his frame by paralysis brought on by anxiety; and I was upon terms of intimacy with others of my countrymen, who with various success, but much more ample means than myself, were making offerings to the dæmon of Rouge et Noir. Should this brief memoir fall beneath the eye of any of my quondam friends, they may not impossibly derive benefit from its perusal : at all events they may be pleased to know that I have not forgotten their kindnesses. I am aware that I abused their
assistance, and wore out their patience; but I never anticipated the horror to which the exhaustion of my own means, and the inability to extort more from others, would reduce me. The anguish of my losses, the misery of my degradation, the agony of mind with which I reflected upon my impoverished wife and family, were nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to the racking torment of being compelled to refrain from gambling. It sounds incredible, but it is strictly true. To sit at the table with empty pockets and see others playing, was absolutely insupportable. I envied even the heaviest losers--could I have found an antagonist, I would have gambled for an eye, an arm, a leg, for life itself. A thousand devils seemed to be gnawing at my heart-I believe I was mad-I even hope I was.
Yes ; I have tasked myself to detail my moral degradation and utter prostration of character, with a fidelity worthy of Rousseau himself, and I feel it a duty not to shrink from my complete exposure. After a night passed in the state of mind I have been describing, in one of those haunts which I was justly entitled to denominate a Hell, I wandered out at daybreak towards the Pont de Jena, as if I could cool my parched lips and burning brain by the heavy shower that was then falling. As the dripping rustics passed me on their market-horses, singing and whistling, their happiness, seeming to be a mockery of my wretchedness, filled me with a malignant rage. By the time I had reached the bridge, the rain had ceased, the rising sun, glancing upon the river threw a bloom over the woods in the direction of Sèvres and St. Cloud, and the birds were piping in the air. Ever a passionate admirer of Nature, her charms stole me for a moment from myself, but presently my thoughts reverting from the heaven without to the hell within, I gnashed my teeth, and fell back into a double bitterness and despair of soul.
I have always been a believer in sudden and irresistible impulses ; an idea which will not appear ridiculous to those who are conversant with the records of crime. A portrait of Sarah Malcolm the murderess, which I had seen many years ago in the possession of Lord Mulgrave, leading me to the perusal of her trial and execution in the Newgate Calendar, induced me to give perfect credit to the averment, that the idea of the crime came suddenly into her head without the least solicitation, and that she felt driven forward to its accomplishment by some invisible power. Similar declarations from many other offenders offer abundant confirmation of the same fact; and it will be in the recollection of many, that the murderer of Mr. and Mrs. Bonar at Chiselhurst repeatedly declared that he had never dreamt of the enormity ten minutes before its commission, but that the thought suddenly rushed into his mind, and pushed him forward to the bloody deed. Many people cannot look over a precipice without feeling tempted to throw themselves down; I know a most affectionate father who never approaches a window with his infant child without being haunted by solicitations to cast it into the street ; and a gentleman of unimpeachable honour, who if he happens, in walking the highway, to see a notecase or handkerchief emerging from a passenger's pocket, is obliged to stop short or cross over the way, so vehemently does he feel impelled to withdraw them. These “toys of desperation," generated in the giddiness of the mind at the bare imagination of any horror, drive
it to commit the reality as a relief from the fearsul vision, upon the same principle that delinquents voluntarily deliver themselves up to justice, because death itself is less intolerable than the fear of it. Let it not be imagined that I am seeking to screen any of these unhappy men from the consequences of their hallucination; I am merely asserting a singular property of the mind, of which I myself am about to record a frightful confirmation.
Standing on the bridge, and turning away my looks from the landscape in that despair of heart which I have described, my downcast eyes fell upon the waters gliding placidly beneath me. They seemed to invite me to quench the burning fire with which I was consumed ; the river whispered to me with a distinct utterance that peace and oblivion were to be found in its Lethean bed :-every muscle of my body was animated by an instant and insuperable impulse ; and within half a minute from its first maddening sensation, I had climbed over the parapet, and plunged headlong into the water !—The gushing of waves in my ears, and the rapid flashing of innumerable lights before my eyes, are the last impressions I recollect. Into the circumstances of my preservation I never had the heart to enquire: when consciousness revisited me, I found myself lying upon my own bed with my wife weeping beside me, though she instantly assumed a cheerful look, and told me that I had met with a dreadful accident, having fallen into the river when leaning over to examine some object beneath. That she knows the whole truth I am perfectly convinced, but we scrupulously avoid the subject, by an understood, though unexpressed compact.' It is added in her mind to the long catalogue of my offences, never to be alluded to, and, alas ! never to be forgotten. She left my bedside for a moment to return with my children, who rushed up to me with a cry of joy; and as they contended for the first kiss, and enquired my health with glistening eyes, the cruelty, the atrocity of my cowardly attempt struck with a withering remorse upon my heart. O villain! villain !
SONNET FROM PETRARCH.
“ Nè per sereno cielo, ir vaghe stelle." Not the bright firmament of stars above,
Nor goodly vessels gliding o'er the main,
Nor warlike prowess of the knightly train,
In sweetest numbers, or in loftiest strain,
Nor by the sparkling fountain and green plain
Again can reach this heart of mine, that lies
Buried with her, who to my longing eyes
I call on death again with her to be,
ACTORS AND THEATRICALS.
In England alone actors have occupied somewhat of that consideration in society to which they are entitled. Not that we are by any means a theatrical people, but the dictates of good sober sense have shewn us that there is no reason why the professor of a liberal and ingenious art should be undervalued upon the stale plea of custom.
It is here a received rule, to a given extent, that “worth makes the man," or, to be more explicit, that the honourable character and conduct of an individual is more looked to than his profession, provided, indeed, he be not poor, for that is an unconquerable bar" to social notice. There is feeling and good sense in this discrimination, as far as it goes; it is worthy the better portion of the better class of English society. I say “ better portion,” because Lord Chesterfield observes that “
people of the first quality can be as silly, ill-bred, and worthless, as people of meaner degree;" and there are some of the higher orders of English society, high only in pride and fortune, that have about as correct a notion of the claims of intellect upon them, as an Esquimaux would have of the nature of Newton's Fluxions, were he questioned respecting them. But though actors are held in far more estimation here than in foreign countries, still many have a ridiculous prejudice against the profession, which they should overcome.
This sort of prejudice, though very unreasonable, is of old standing. The ancients, it is well known, held the profession of an actor in disesteem; but there are certain contradictions respecting them which it would be difficult to clear up. Lucian says that a great knowledge of music, poetry, rhetoric, and philosophy, were necessary, to succeed on the stage in his time. Now, this being the case, it is singular that the respect universally paid to persons versed in these arts should not have operated in favour of those so accomplished in them. We know very little of the ancient stage, but what we do know leads us to believe that tragedy was exhibited on it more in the way of declamation than as an imitation of nature. A large portion of the ancient stage entertainments consisted of mimicry and antics, the professors of which had, perhaps, no great claim to respect, and the comedy of the ancients was of a low kind. They used masques in their stage performances, which must have effectually concealed the different changes of countenance produced by every attempt at expression; and this gives us additional reason to believe that certain regulated gestures and a well-toned voice, with a recitation, rather than acting as we now understand it, were all the ancients valued in a performer. The accounts which have come down to us, however, tend to shew that some actors of good morals and attainments were held in esteem by the highest ranks in Rome, as in the example of Roscius, of whom Cicero speaks so highly. It is therefore probable, that the majority of per. formers were low, dissolute mimics, and that the censure cast upon the whole corps had its exceptions among the higher classes of tragedians. Modern acting differs from the ancient, in its requiring greater originality, and a certain natural genius, to succeed. The power of representation of the different emotions of the mind, for which we value an actor, was no part of the qualification they deemed necessary for the stage. Their tragedy, with the chorus, could we hear it per