Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

a

6

which you urge loses all its force. I see and feel that man has been made not altogether unworthy of a longer life and a happier lot than earth affords. And in regard to the ignorant, the low, and the almost or quite savage, we are to consider that the same powers and affections are in them as in us, and that their inferiority to us is not intrinsic and essential, but as it were accidental. The difference between the soul of Plato and yonder Ethiopian slave, is not in any original faculty or power; the slave here equals the philosopher; but in this, that the faculties and powers of Plato were strengthened, and nurtured, and polished, by the hand of education, and the happy influences of a more civilized community, all which to the slave has been wanting. He is a diamond just as it comes from the mine; Plato like that one set in gold, which sparkles with the radiance of a star, Fausta, upon your finger. But, surely, the glory of the diamond is, that it is a diamond; not that Demetrius has polished and set it. Man has within him so much of the god, that I do not wonder he has been so often deified. The great and excellent among men, therefore, I think not unworthy of immortality, for what they are; the humble, and the bad, for what they may so easily become, and might have been, under circumstances but slightly altered.

'I cannot,' said Julia, as Longinus closed, deny strength and plausibility to your arguments, but I cannot admit that they satisfy me. After the most elaborate reasoning, I am still left in darkness. No power or wit of man has ever wholly scattered the mists which rest upon life and death. I confess, with Socrates, that I want a promise or a revelation to enable me to take the voyage of life in a spirit of cheerfulness, and without the fear of fatal shipwreck. If your reasonings, Longinus, were only accompanied with authority more than that of man, if I could only believe that God inspired you, I could then rest contented and happy. One word authoritatively declaring man's immortality, a word which by infallible token I could know to be a word from God, would to me be worth infinitely more than all the conjectures, hopes, and reasonings of all the philosophers. I fully agree with you, that the instincts of our nature all point both to a God and to immortality. But the heart longs for something more sure and clear, at least my woman's heart does. It may be that it is the woman within me which prompts the feeling — but I wish to lean upon authority in this great concern; I wish to repose calmly in a divine assurance.'

. In that, princess,' I could not help saying, 'I am a woman too. I have long since lost all that regard for the gods in which I was so carefully nourished. I despise the popular superstitions. Yet is there nothing which I have found as yet to supply their place. I have searched the writings of Plato, of Cicero, of Seneca, in vain. I find there indeed, wisdom, and learning, and sagacity, almost more than human. find nothing which can be dignified with the name of religion. Their systems of morals are admirable, and sufficient perhaps to enable one to live a happy or fortunate life. But concerning the soul of man, and its destiny, they are dumb, or their words, if they utter any, are but the dark speeches of an oracle.'

I am happy that I am not alone,' said Julia ; 'and I cannot but think that many, very many, are with me. I am sure that what most persons, perhaps, who think and feel upon these subjects waạt, is, some divine pro

It sup

mise or revelation. Common minds, Longinus, cannot appreciate the subtlety of yoar reasonings, and those of the Phædo. And, beside, the cares and labors of life do not allow time to engage in such inquiries, even if we supposed all men to have capacity for them. Is it not necessary that truths relating to the soul and futurity should rest upon authority, if any, or many, beside philosophers are io embrace them? And surely, if the poor and ignorant are immortal, it is as needful for them, as for us, to know it. It is, I conccive, on this account that the religion of the Christians has spread so rapidly. It meets our nature. plies authority. It professes to bring annunciations from Heaven of man's immortality.'

• It is for that reason,' replied Longinus, 'I cannot esteem it. The very term revelation offends. The right application of reason effects all, it seems to me, that what is called revelation can. It perfectly satisfies the philosopher, and as for common minds, instinct is an equally sufficient guide and light'

* I cannot but judge you, Longinus, wanting in a true fellow feeling for your kind, notwithstanding all you have said concerning the nature and powers of man. How is it, that you can desire that mankind should remain any longer under the dominion of the same gross and pernicious errors that have for so many ages oppressed them! Only consider the horrors of an idolatrous religion in Egypt and Assyria, in Greece and in Rome — and do you not desire their extermination ? — and what prospect of this can there be, but through the plain authoritative language of a revelation ?

I certainly desire with you,' replied Longinus, 'the extermination of error, and the overthrow of horrible and corrupting superstitions; and of nothing am I more sure than that the reason of man, in unfolding and constantly improving ages, will effect it. A plain voice from Heaven, announcing important truth, might perhaps hasten the work. But this voice, as thought to be heard in Christianity, is not a plain voice, nor clearly known to be a voice from Heaven. Here is the Bishop of Antioch set upon by the Bishops of Alexandria and Cesarea, and many others, as I learn, who accuse him of wrongly receiving and falsely teaching the doctrines of Christ; and for two hundred years has there prevailed the like uncertainty about the essence of the religion.'

*I look not with much hope to Christianity,' said Fausta. Yet I must first inform myself more exactly concerning it, before I judge.

. That is spoken like Fausta,' said Julia ; and it is much for you to say who dislike so heartily that Paul, whom I am constantly wishing

• Whenever he shall lay aside a little of his pomp, I may be willing to listen,' replied Fausta ; 'but I could ill brook a discourse upon immortality from one whose soul seems so wedded to time.'

• Well,' said Julia, .but let us not be drawn away from our subject. I admit that there are disputes among the Christians, but like the disputes among philosophers, they are about secondary matters. is no dispute concerning the great and chiefly interesting part of the religion — its revelation of a future life. Christians have never divided here, nor on another great point, that Christ the founder of the religion was a true messenger from God. The voice of Christianity on

[ocr errors]

you to hear.'

6

a

а

6

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

6

[ocr errors]

both these points is a clear one. Thus, I think, every one will judge, , who, as I have done, will read the writings in which the religion is found. And I am persuaded it is because it is so plain a voice here, that it is bidding fair to supersede every other form of religion. And that it is a voice from God, is, it seems to me, made out with as much clearness as we could look for. That Christ the author of this religion was a messenger from God, was shown by his miracles. How could it be shown otherwise? I can conceive of no other way in which so satisfying proof could be given of the agency and authority of God. And certainly there is evidence enough, if history is to be believed, that he wrought many and stupendous miracles.' • What is a miracle ?' asked Longinus.

It is that,' replied Julia, 'which being done or said, furnishes satisfactory proof of the present interposing power of God. A man who, by a word spoken, can heal sick persons, and raise to life dead ones, can be no other than a messenge of God.'

• Why not of some other superior being - perhaps a bad one ?

* The character, teaching, objects, acts of Christ, make it unlikely, if not impossible, that he should have been sent by any bad intelligence. And that he came not only from a good being, but from God, we may believe on his own word.

· His goodness may have been all assumed. The whole may be a deception.'

Men do not sacrifice their lives merely to deceive, to play a child's game

before the world. Christ died, to show his attachment to his cause, and with him, innumerable others. Would they have done this merely to impose upon mankind? And for what purpose ? — for that of teaching a religion inculcating the loftiest virtue! But I do not set myself forward as a champion of this new religion,' continued Julia, plainly disturbed lest she might have seemed too earnest; ‘would that you, Longinus, would be persuaded to search into its claims. If you would but read the books written by the founders of it, I am sure

say this at least, that such books were never written before, nor such a character portrayed as that of Jesus Christ. You who profess yourself charmed with the poetry of the Jewish Scriptures, and the grandeur of the sentiments expressed in them, would not be less impressed by the gentler majesty, the mild, sweet dignity of the person and doctrine of Christ. And if the reasonings of Socrates and Plato have any power to convince you of the immortality of the soul, how must you be moved by the simple announcements of the truth by the Nazarene, and above all by his resurrection from the dead! Christianity boasts already powerful advocates, but I wish it could say that its character and claims had been examined by the great Longinus.'

The soft yet earnest, eloquent tones of Julia's voice fell upon pleased and willing ears. The countenance of the Greek glowed with a generous satisfaction, as he listened to the reasoning of his fair pupil, poured forth in that noble tongue it had been his task and his happiness to teach her. Evidently desirous, however, not to prolong the conversation, he addressed himself to the queen.

• You are pleased,' said he, 'you must be, with the aptness of my scholar. Julia has not studied dialectics in vain. Before I can feel myself able to contend with her, I must study the books she has com

you would

a

mended so — from which, I must acknowledge, I have been repelled by a prejudice, I believe, rather than any thing else, or more worthy and then, perhaps, I may agree in opinion with her.'

• In truth,' said Zenobia, “Julia is almost or quite a Christian. I I knew not, daughter, that Paul had made such progress in his work. But all have my full consent to cherish such form of religious faith as most approves itself to their own minds. I find my highest satisfaction in Moses and the prophets. Happy shall I be if Julia find as much, or more, in Christ and his apostles. Sure am I, there is no power or charm in the religions of Greece or Rome, or Persia or Egypt, to cause any of us to adhere to them, though our very infancy were instructed in their doctrines.'

• It is not, I assure you,' said Julia, 'to Paul of Antioch that I owe such faith in Christ as I have, but to the Christian books themselves; or if to any human authority beside, to St. Thomas, the old hermit of the mountain, to whom I would that every one should resort who would draw near to the purest living fountain of Christian knowledge.'

'I trust,' said I, 'that at some future time I may, with your guidance, or through your influence, gain admittance to this aged professor of the Christian faith. I confess myself now, since what I have heard, a seeker after Christian knowledge.

.Gladly shall I take you there, and gladly will St. Thomas receive you.'

We now at the same time rose from our seats. Zenobia, taking the hand of Fausta, walked toward the palace; Longinus, with folded arms, and as if absorbed by the thoughts which were passing through his mind, began to pace to and fro beneath the thick shadows of a group of orange trees. I was left with Julia.

Princess,' said I, it is yet early, and the beauty of the evening makes it wrong to shut ourselves up from the sight of so fair a scene: shall we follow farther some of these inviting paths ??

• Nothing can be more pleasant,' said she; these are my favorite haunts, and I never am weary of them, and never did they seem to me to wear a more lovely aspect than now. Let me be your guide, and I will lead you by a winding way to Zenobia's Temple, as we call it, for the reason that it is her chosen retreat, as the arbor which we have now left is mine.'

So we began to walk toward the spot of which she spake. We were for some time silent. At length the princess said : • Roman, you have now seen Zenobia, both as a queen and a woman. Has fame done her more than justice ?

Great as her reputation is in Rome,' I replied, 'fame has not, to my ear at least, brought any thing that more than distantly approaches a true and faithful picture of her. We have heard much indeed — and yet not enough of her surpassing beauty, of the vigor of her understanding, of her vast acquirements in the Greek learning, of the wisdom and energy of her conduct as a sovereign queen, of her skill in the chase, of her bravery and martial bearing, when, at the head of her troops, she leads them to the charge. But of this union of feminine loveliness with so much of masculine power, of this womanly grace, of the winning condescension, so that it loses all the air of condescension to those even much beneath her in every human accomplishment as well as in rank — of this I had heard nothing, and for this I was not prepared. When, in the morning, I first saw her seated in all the pride of oriental state, and found myself prostrate at her feet, it was only Zenobia that I saw, and I saw what I expected. But no sooner had she spoken, especially no sooner had she cast that look upon you, princess, when you had said a few words in reply to me, than I saw not Zenobia only, but the woman and the mother. A veil was lifted, and a new being stood before me. It seemed to me that that moment I knew her better than I know myself. I am sure that I know her. Her countenance all living with emotion, changing and working with every thought of her mind, and every feeling of her heart, reveals her with the truth of a magic mirror. She is not known at Rome.'

* I am sorry for it,' said Julia ; . if they only knew her, they could never do her harm, You, Piso, may perhaps do much for her. I perceive, already, that she highly regards you, and values your opinion. If you are willing to do us such service, if you feel interest enough in our fate, speak to her, I pray you, with plainness, all that you think. With hold nothing. Fear not to utter what you may deem to be most un palatable truths. She is candid and generous as she is ambitious. She will at least hear and weigh whatever you may advance. God grant, that truth may reach her mind, and reaching, sway it!'

'I can now think of no higher satisfaction,' I replied, 'than to do all I may, as a Roman, in your service. I love your nation; and as a Roman and a man, I desire its welfare and permanent glory. Its existence is necessary to Rome; its ruin or decay must be, viewed aright, but so much injury to her most vital interests. Strange, how strange, that Zenobia, formed by the gods to draw her happiness from sources so much nobler than any which ambition can supply, should turn from them, and seek for it in the same shallow pool with Alexander, and Aurelian, and the bireling soldier of fortune !'

"Strange indeed,' said Julia, that she who can enter with Longinus into the deepest mysteries of philosophy, and whose mind is stored with all the learning of the schools, should still love the pomp of power better than all. And Fausta is but her second self. Fausta worships Zenobia, and Zenobia is encouraged in her opinions by the kindred sentiments of that bright spirit. All the influence, Piso, which you can exert over Fausta will reach Zenobia.'

• It seems presumptuous, princess,' said I, “to seek to draw the minds of two such beings as Zenobia and Fausta to our bent. Yet surely they are in the wrong.'

It is something that Longinus is of our mind; but then Zabdas and Gracchus are a host on the other part. And all the power and pride of Palmyra are with them, too. But change Zenobia, and we change all. Oh how weary am I of ambition, and how sick of greatness ! Willingly would I exchange all this for an Arab's tent, or a hermit's cell.'

The gods grant that may never be ; but that Julia may yet live to sit upon the throne of Zenobia.'

· I say it with sincerity, Roman — that prayer finds no echo in my bosom. I have seen enough of power, and of the honors that wait upon it. And when I say this, having had before my eyes this beautiful vision of Zenobia reigning over subjects as a mother would reign

« AnteriorContinuar »