Saint's Tragedy, The - Scene 8

SCENE VIII.

A Chamber in the Castle. Counts W ALTER , H
UGO , etc, Abbot, and Knights .

Count Hugo . I can't forget it, as I am a Christian man. To ask for a stoup of beer at breakfast, and be told there was no beer allowed in the house — her Ladyship had given all the malt to the poor.
Abbot . To give away the staff of life, eh?
C. Hugo . The life itself, Sir, the life itself. All that barley, that would have warmed many an honest fellow's coppers, wasted in filthy cakes.
Abbot . The parent of seraphic ale degraded into plebeian dough! Indeed, Sir, we have no right to lessen wantonly the amount of human enjoyment!
C. Wal . In heaven's name, what would you have her do, while the people were eating grass?
C. Hugo . Nobody asked them to eat it; nobody asked them to be there to eat it; if they will breed like rabbits, let them feed like rabbits, say I — I never married till I could keep a wife.
Abbot . Ah, Count Walter! How sad to see a man of your sense so led away by his feelings! Had but this dispensation been left to work itself out, and evolve the blessing implicit in all heaven's chastenings! Had but the stern benevolences of providence remained undisturbed by her ladyship's carnal tenderness — what a boon had this famine been!
C. Wal . How then, man?
Abbot . How many a poor soul would be lying — Ah, blessed thought! — in Abraham's bosom; who must now toil on still in this vale of tears! — Pardon this pathetic dew — I cannot but feel as a Churchman.
3d Count . Look at it in this way, Sir. There are too many of us — too many — Where you have one job you have three workmen. Why, I threw three hundred acres into pasture myself this year — it saves money, and risk, and trouble, and tithes.
C. Wal . What would you say to the Princess, who talks of breaking up all her parks to wheat next year?
3 d Count . Ask her to take on the thirty families, who were just going to tramp off those three hundred acres into the Rhine-land, if she had not kept them in both senses this winter, and left them on my hands — once beggars, always beggars.
C. Hugo . Well, I'm a practical man, and I say, the sharper the famine, the higher are prices, and the higher I sell, the more I can spend; so the money circulates, Sir, that's the word — like water — sure to run downwards again; and so it's as broad as it's long; and here's a health — if there was any beer — to the farmers' friends, " A bloody war and a wet harvest. "
Abbot . Strongly put, though correctly. For the self-interest of each it is which produces in the aggregate the happy equilibrium of all.
C. Wal . Well — the world is right well made, that's certain; and He who made the Jews' sin our salvation may bring plenty out of famine, and comfort out of covetousness. But look you, Sirs, private selfishness may be public weal, and yet private selfishness be just as surely damned, for all that.
3 d Count . I hold, Sir, that every alms is a fresh badge of slavery
C. Wal . I don't deny it
3 d Count . Then teach them independence.
C. Wal . How? By tempting them to turn thieves, when begging fails? By keeping their stomachs just at desperation-point? By starving them out here, to march off, starving all the way, to some town, in search of employment, of which, if they find it, they know no more than my horse? Likely! No, Sir, to make men of them, put them not out of the reach, but out of the need, of charity
3 d Count . And how, prithee? By teaching them, like our fair Landgravine, to open their mouth for all that drops? Thuringia is become a kennel of beggars in her hands.
C. Wal . In hers? In ours, Sir!
Abbot . Idleness, Sir, deceit, and immorality, are the three children of this same barbarous self-indulgence in almsgiving. Leave the poor alone. Let want teach them the need of self-exertion, and misery prove the foolishness of crime.
C. Wal . How? Teach them to become men by leaving them brutes?
Abbot . Oh, Sir, there we step in, with the consolations and instructions of the faith.
C. Wal . Ay, but while the grass is growing the steed is starving; and in the meantime, how will the callow chick Grace, stand against the tough old game-cock Hunger?
3 d Count . Then how, in the name of patience, would you have us alter things?
C. Wal . We cannot alter them, Sir — but they will be altered, never fear.
Omnes . How? How?
C. Wal . Do you see this hour-glass? — Here's the state: This air stands for the idlers; — this sand for the workers. When all the sand has run to the bottom, God in heaven just turns the hour-glass, and then —
C. Hugo . The world's upside down.
C. Wal . And the Lord have mercy upon us!
Omnes . On us? Do you call us the idlers?
C. Wal . Some dare to do so — But fear not — In the fulness of time, all that's lightest is sure to come to the top again.
C. Hugo . But what rascal calls us idlers?
Omnes Name, name.
C. Wal . Why, if you ask me — I heard a shrewd sermon the other day on that same idleness and immorality text of the Abbot's. — 'Twas Conrad, the Princess' director, preached it. And a fashionable cap it is, though it will fit more than will like to wear it. Shall I give it you? Shall I preach?
C. Hugo . A tub for Varila! Stand on the table, now, toss back thy hood like any Franciscan, and preach away.
C. Wal . Idleness, quoth he (Conrad, mind you), — idleness and immorality? Where have they learnt them, but from your nobles? There was a saucy monk, for you. But there's worse coming. Religion? said he, how can they respect it, when they see you, " Their betters, " fattening on church lands, neglecting sacraments, defying excommunications, trading in benefices, hiring the clergy for your puppets and flatterers, making the ministry, the episcopate itself, a lumber-room wherein to stow away the idiots and spendthrifts of your families, the confidants of your mistresses, the cast-off pedagogues of your boys?
Omnes . The scoundrel!
C. Wal Was he not? — But hear again — Immorality? roars he; and who has corrupted them but you? Have not you made every castle a weed-bed, from which the newest corruptions of the Court stick like thistle-down, about the empty heads of stable-boys and serving-maids? Have you not kept the poor worse housed than your dogs and your horses, worse fed than your pigs and your sheep? Is there an ancient house among you, again, of which village gossips do not whisper some dark story of lust and oppression, of decrepit debauchery, of hereditary doom?
Omnes . We'll hang this monk.
C. Wal . Hear me out, and you'll burn him. His sermon was like a hailstorm, the tail of the shower the sharpest Idleness? he asked next of us all: how will they work, when they see you landlords sitting idle above them, in a fool's paradise of luxury and riot, never looking down but to squeeze from them an extra drop of honey — like sheep-boys stuffing themselves with blackberries while the sheep are licking up flukes in every ditch? And now you wish to leave the poor man in the slough, whither your neglect and your example have betrayed him, and made his too apt scholarship the excuse for your own remorseless greed! As a Christian, I am ashamed of you all; as a Churchman, doubly ashamed of those prelates, hired stalking-horses of the rich, who would fain gloss over their own sloth and cowardice with the wisdom which cometh not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish; aping the artless cant of an aristocracy who made them — use them — and despise them. That was his sermon.
Abbot . Paul and Barnabas! What an outpouring of the spirit! — Were not his hoodship the Pope's legate, now — accidents might happen to him, going home at night; eh, Sir Hugo?
C. Hugo . If he would but come my way!

For " the mule it was slow, and the lane it was dark,
When out of the copse leapt a gallant young spark.
Says, 'Tis not for nought you've been begging all day:
So remember your toll, since you travel our way "
Abbot Hush! Here comes the Landgrave

Lewis . Good morrow, gentles. Why so warm, Count Walter?
Your blessing, Father Abbot: what deep matters
Have called our worships to this conference?
C. Hugo ( aside ). Up, Count; you are spokesman
3 d Count . exalted Prince,
Whose peerless knighthood, like the remeant sun,
After too long a night, regilds our clay,
Late silvered by the reflex lunar beams
Of your celestial lady's matron graces —
Abbot ( aside ). Ut vinum optimum amati mei
Dulciter descendens!
3 d Count . Think not we mean to praise or disapprove —
The acts of saintly souls must only plead
In foro conscientiae: grosser minds,
Whose humbler aim is but the public weal,
Know of no mesh which holds them: yet, great Prince,
Some dare not see their sovereign's strength postponed
To private grace, and sigh, that generous hearts,
And ladies' tenderness, too oft forgetting
That wisdom is the highest charity,
Will interfere, in pardonable haste,
With heaven's stern providence.
Lewis . We see your drift.
Go, sirrah ( to a Page ); pray the Princess to illumine
Our conclave with her beauties. 'Tis our manner
To hear no cause, of gentle or of simple,
Unless the accused and the accuser both
Meet face to face.
3 d Count . Excuse, high-mightiness, —
We bring no accusation; facts, your Highness,
Wait for your sentence, not our praejudicium.
Lew . Give us the facts, then, Sir; in the lady's presence,
Her nearness to ourselves — perchance her reasons —
May make them somewhat dazzling
Abbot . Nay, my Lord;
I, as a Churchman, though with these your nobles
Both in commission and opinion one,
Am yet most loth, my Lord, to set my seal
To aught which this harsh world might call complaint
Against a princely saint — a chosen vessel —
An argosy celestial — in whom error
Is but the young luxuriance of her grace.
The Count of Varila, as bound to neither,
For both shall speak, and all which late has passed
Upon the matter of this famine open.
C. Wal . Why, if I must speak out — then I'll confess
To have stood by, and seen the Landgravine
Do most strange deeds; and in her generation
Show no more wit than other babes of light.
First, she has given away, to starving rascals,
The stores of grain she might have sold, good lack!
For any price she asked; has pawned your jewels,
And mortgaged sundry farms, and all for food
Has sunk vast sums in fever-hospitals,
For rogues whom famine sickened — almshouses
For sluts whose husbands died — schools for their brats.
Most sad vagaries! but there's worse to come.
The dulness of the Court has ruined trade:
The jewellers and clothiers don't come near us;
The sempstresses, my lord, and pastrycooks
Have quite forgot their craft; she has turned all heads,
And made the ladies starve, and wear old clothes,
And run about with her to nurse the sick,
Instead of putting gold in circulation
By balls, sham-fights, and dinners; 'tis most sad, sir,
But she has swept your treasury out as clean —
As was the widow's cruse, who fed Elijah.
Lew . Ruined, no doubt! Lo! here the culprit comes.

ELIZABETH enters .

Come hither, dearest. These, my knights and nobles,
Lament your late unthrift (your conscience speaks
The causes of their blame); and wish you warned,
As wisdom is the highest charity,
No more to interfere, from private feeling,
With heaven's stern laws, or maim the sovereign's wealth,
To save superfluous villains' worthless lives.
Eliz . Lewis!
Lew . Not I, fair, but my counsellors,
In courtesy, need some reply.
Eliz . My Lords;
Doubtless, you speak as your duty bids you:
I know you love my husband: do you think
My love is less than yours? 'Twas for his honour
I dare not lose a single silly sheep
Of all the flock which God had trusted to him.
True, I had hoped by this — No matter what —
Since to your sense it bears a different hue.
I keep no logic. For my gifts, thank God,
They cannot be recalled; for those poor souls,
My pensioners — even for my husband's knightly name,
Oh! ask not back that slender loan of comfort
My folly has procured them: if, my Lords,
My public censure, or disgraceful penance
May expiate, and yet confirm my waste,
I offer this poor body to the buffets
Of sternest justice: when I dared not spare
My husband's lands, I dare not spare myself.
Lew . No! no! My noble sister? What? my Lords!
If her love move you not, her wisdom may.
She knows a deeper statecraft, Sirs, than you
She will not throw away the substance, Abbot,
To save the accident; waste living souls
To keep, or hope to keep, the means of life.
Our wisdom and our swords may fill our coffers,
But will they breed us men, my Lords, or mothers?
God bless in the camp a noble rashness:
Then why not in the storehouse? He that lends
To Him, need never fear to lose his venture.
Spend on, my Queen. You will not sell my castles?
Nay, you must leave us Neuburg, love, and Wartburg.
Their worn old stones will hardly pay the carriage,
And foreign foes may pay untimely visits.
C. Wal . And home foes, too: if these philosophers
Put up the curb, my Lord, a half-link tighter,
The scythes will be among our horses' legs
Before next harvest.
Lew . Fear not for our welfare:
We have a guardian here, well skilled to keep
Peace for our seneschal, while angels, stooping
To catch the tears she sheds for us in absence,
Will sain us from the roaming adversary
With scents of Paradise. Farewell, my Lords.
Eliz . Nay, — I must pray your knighthoods — You must honour
Our dais and bower as private guests to-day.
Thanks for your gentle warning; may my weakness
To such a sin be never tempted more!
C. Wal . Thus, as if virtue were not its own reward, is it paid over and above with beef and ale? Weep not, tender-hearted Count! Though " generous hearts, " my Lord, " and ladies' tenderness, too oft forget " — Truly spoken! Lord Abbot, does not your spiritual eye discern coals of fire on Count Hugo's head?
C. Hugo . Where, and a plague? Where?
C. Wal . Nay, I speak mystically, — there is nought there but what beer will quench before nightfall. Here, peeping rabbit ( to a Page at the door ), out of your burrow, and show these gentles to their lodgings. We will meet at the gratias.
C. Wal . ( alone ). Well: — if Hugo is a brute, he at least makes no secret of it. He is an old boar, and honest; he wears his tushes outside, for a warning to all men. But for the rest! — Whited sepulchres! and not one of them but has half persuaded himself of his own benevolence. Of all cruelties, save me from your small pedant, — your closet philosopher, who has just courage enough to bestride his theory, without wit to see whither it will carry him. In experience — a child: in obstinacy, a woman: in nothing a man, but in logic-chopping: instead of God's grace, a few schoolboy saws about benevolence, and industry, and independence — there is his metal. If the world will be mended on his principles, well. If not, poor world! — but principles must be carried out, though through blood and famine: for truly, man was made for theories, not theories for man. A doctrine is these men's God — touch but that shrine, and lo! your simpering philanthropist becomes as ruthless as a Dominican.
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