The Brides’ Tragedy, Act I


HESPERUS, his Son.
BOY, Page to Orlando.

OLIVIA, Sister to Orlando.
VIOLETTA, her Companion.
LENORA, Wife of Mordred.
FLORIBEL, her Daughter.

Lords, Citizens, Attendants, Guards, &c.

SCENE I. A garden

(HESPERUS alone.)
Now Eve has strewn the sun’s wide billowy couch
With rosered feathers moulted from her wing,
Still scanty-sprinkled clouds, like lagging sheep,
Some golden-fleeced, some streaked with delicate pink,
Are creeping up the welkin, and behind
The wind, their boisterous shepherd, whistling drives them,
From the drear wilderness of night to drink
Antipodean noon. At such a time,
While to wild melody fantastic dreams
Dance their gay morrice in the midmost air,
And sleepers’ truant fancies fly to join them;
While that winged song, the restless nightingale
Turns her sad heart to music, sweet it is
Unseen on, the moss-cushioned sward to lean,
And into some coy ear pour out the soul
In sighs and whispers.


So late, Floribel?
Nay, since I see that arch smile on thy cheek
Rippling so prettily, I will not chide,
Although the breeze and I have sighed for you
A dreary while, and the veiled Moon’s mild eye
Has long been seeking for her loveliest nymph.
Come, come, my love, or shall I call you bride?

E’en what you will, so that you hold me dear.

Well, both my love and bride; see, here’s a bower
Of eglantine with honeysuckles woven,
Where not a spark of prying light creeps in,
So closely do the sweets enfold each other.
‘Tis Twilight’s home; come in, my gentle love,
And talk to me. So! I’ve a rival here;
What’s this that sleeps so sweetly on your neck?

Jealous so soon, my Hesperus? Look then,
It is a bunch of flowers I pulled for you:
Here’s the blue violet, like Pandora’s eye,
When first it darkened with immortal life.

Sweet as thy lips. Fie on those taper fingers,
Have they been brushing the long grass aside
To drag the daisy from it’s hiding-place,
Where it shuns light, the Danäe of flowers,
With gold up-hoarded on its virgin lap?

And here’s a treasure that I found by chance,
A lily of the valley; low it lay
Over a mossy mound, withered and weeping
As on a fairy’s grave.

Of all the posy
Give me the rose, though there’s a tale of blood
Soiling its name. In elfin annals old
‘Tis writ, how Zephyr, envious of his love,
(The love he bare to Summer, who since then
Has weeping visited the world;) once found
The baby Perfume cradled in a violet;
(‘Twas said the beauteous bantling was the child
Of a gay bee, that in his wantonness
Toyed with a peabud in a lady’s garland;)
The felon winds, confederate with him,
Bound the sweet slumberer with golden chains,
Pulled from the wreathed laburnum, and together
Deep cast him in the bosom of a rose,
And fed the fettered wretch with dew and air.
At length his soul, that was a lover’s sigh,
Waned from his body, and the guilty blossom
His heart’s blood stained. The twilight-haunting gnat
His requiem whined, and harebells tolled his knell;
And still the bee, in pied velvet dight,
With melancholy song, from flower to flower,
Goes seeking his lost offspring.

Take it then,
In its green sheath. What guess you, Hesperus,
I dreamed last night? Indeed it makes me sad,
And yet I think you love me.

By the planet
That sheds its tender blue on lovers’ sleeps,
Thou art my sweetest, nay, mine only thought:
And when my heart forgets thee, may yon heaven
Forget to guard me.

Aye, I knew thou didst;
Yet surely mine’s a sad and lonely fate
Thus to be wed to secresy; I doubt,
E’en while I know my doubts are causeless torments.
Yet I conjure thee, if indeed I hold
Some share in thy affections, cast away
The blank and ugly vizor of concealment,
And, if mine homely breeding do not shame thee,
Let thy bride share her noble father’s blessing.

In truth I will; nay, prithee let me kiss
That naughty tear away; I will, by heaven;
For, though austere and old, my sire must gaze
On thy fair innocence with glad forgiveness.
Look up, my love,
See how yon orb, dressed out in all her beams,
Puts out the common stars, and sails along
The stately Queen of heaven; so shall thy beauties,
But the rich casket of a noble soul,
Shine on the world and bless it. Tell me now
This frightful vision.

You will banter me;
But I’m a simple girl, and oftentimes
In solitude am very, very mournful:
And now I think how silly ’twas to weep
At such an harmless thing: well, you shall hear.
‘Twas on a fragrant bank I laid me down,
Laced o’er and o’er with verdant tendrils, full
Of dark-red strawberries. Anon there came
On the wind’s breast a thousand tiny noises,
Like flowers’ voices, if they could but speak;
Then slowly did they blend in one sweet strain,
Melodiously divine; and buoyed the soul
Upon their undulations. Suddenly,
Methought, a cloud swam swanlike o’er the sky,
And gently kissed the earth, a fleecy nest,
With roses, rifled from the cheek of Morn,
Sportively strewn; upon the ethereal couch,
Her fair limbs blending with the enamoured mist,
Lovely above the portraiture of words,
In beauteous languor lay the Queen of Smiles:
In tangled garlands, like a golden haze,
Or fay-spun threads of light, her locks were floating,
And in their airy folds slumbered her eyes,
Dark as the nectar-grape that gems the vines
In the bright orchard of the Hesperides.
Within the ivory cradle of her breast
Gambolled the urchin god, with saucy hand
Dimpling her cheeks, or sipping eagerly
The rich ambrosia of her melting lips:
Beneath them swarmed a bustling mob of Loves,
Tending the sparrow stud, or with bees’ wings
Imping their arrows. Here stood one alone,
Blowing a pyre of blazing lovers’ hearts
With bellows full of absence-caused sighs:
Near him his work-mate mended broken vows
With dangerous gold, or strung soft rhymes together
Upon a lady’s tress. Some swelled their cheeks,
Like curling rose-leaves, or the red wine’s bubbles,
In petulant debate, gallantly tilting
Astride their darts. And one there was alone,
Who with wet downcast eyelids threw aside
The remnants of a broken heart, and looked
Into my face and bid me ‘ware of love,
Of fickleness, and woe, and mad despair.

Aye, so he said; and did my own dear girl
Deem me a false one for this foolish dream?
I wish I could be angry: hide, distrustful,
Those penitent blushes in my breast, while I
Sing you a silly song old nurses use
To hush their crying babes with. Tenderly
‘Twill chide you.

Poor old pilgrim Misery,
   Beneath the silent moon he sate,
A-listening to the screech owl’s cry,
   And the cold wind’s goblin prate
Beside him lay his staff of yew
   With withered willow twined,
His scant grey hair all wet with dew,
   His cheeks with grief ybrined;
      And his cry it was ever, alack!
         Alack, and woe is me!

Anon a wanton imp astray
   His piteous moaning hears,
And from his bosom steals away
   His rosary of tears:
With his plunder fled that urchin elf,
   And hid it in your eyes,
Then tell me back the stolen pelf,
   Give up the lawless prize;
      Or your cry shall be ever, alack!
         Alack, and woe is me!

Not yet asleep?

Asleep! No, I could ever,
Heedless of times and seasons, list to thee.
But now the chilly breeze is sallying out
Of dismal clouds; and silent midnight walks
Wrapt in her mourning robe. I fear it’s time
To separate.

So quickly late! oh cruel, spiteful hours,
Why will ye wing your steeds from happiness,
And put a leaden drag upon your wheels
When grief hangs round our hearts. Soon will we meet,
And to part never more.

Oh! that dear never,
It will pay all. Good night, and think of me.

Good night, my love; may music-winged sleep
Bind round thy temples with her poppy wreath;
Soft slumbers to thee.



A room in Orlando’s palace.

CLAUDIO and ORLANDO meeting.

Thanks for thy speed, good Claudio; is all done
As I have ordered?

Could I be unwilling
In the performance of what you command,
I’d say with what regret I led Lord Ernest
Into the prison. My dear lord,
He was your father’s friend—

And he is mine.
You must not think Orlando so forgetful
As to abuse the reverence of age,
An age, like his, of piety and virtue;
‘Tis but a fraud of kindness, sportive force.

You joy me much, for now I dare to own
I almost thought it was a cruel deed.

Nay, you shall hear. The sums he owed my father,
Of which his whole estate is scarce a fourth,
Are never to be claimed, if Hesperus,
His son, be wedded to Olivia. Now
This Hesperus, you tell me, is a votary,
A too much favoured votary of my goddess,
The Dian of our forests, Floribel;
Therefore I use this show of cruelty,
To scare a rival and to gain a brother.

Now by the patches on the cheek of the moon,
(Is’t not a pretty oath?) a good romance;
We’ll have’t in ballad metre, with a burthen
Of sighs, how one bright glance of a brown damsel
Lit up the tinder of Orlando’s heart
In a hot blaze.

Enough to kindle up
An altar in my breast! ‘Twas but a moment,
And yet I would not sell that grain of time
For thy eternity of heartlessness.

Well, well. I can bear nonsense from a lover;
Oh, I’ve been mad threescore and eighteen times
And three quarters; written twenty yards, two nails,
An inch and a quarter, cloth measure, of sonnets;
Wasted as much salt water as would pickle
Leviathan, and sighed enough to set up
Another wind;—

Claudio, I pray thee, leave me;
I relish not this mockery.

Good sir, attend
To my experience. You’ve no stock as yet
To set up lover: get yourself a pistol
Without a touch-hole, or at least remember,
If it be whole, to load it with wet powder;
I’ve known a popgun, well applied, or even
The flying of a cork, give reputation
To courage and despair. A gross of garters,
Warranted rotten, will be found convenient.

Now you are troublesome.

One precept more;
Purge and drink watergruel, lanthorn jaws
Are interesting; fat men can’t write sonnets,
And indigestion turns true love to bile.

‘Tis best to part. If you desire to serve me,
Persuade the boy to sacrifice his passion;
I’ll lead him to Olivia, they were wont
In childhood to be playmates, and some love
May lie beneath the ashes of that friendship,
That needs her breath alone to burst and blaze.



A prison.

Enter Guards leading LORD ERNEST in chains.

L. Ern.
I pray you do not pity me. I feel
A kind of joy to meet Calamity,
My old, old friend again. Go, tell your lord,
I give him thanks for these his iron bounties.
How now? I thought you led me to a prison,
A dismal antichamber of the tomb,
Where creatures dwell, whose ghosts but half inhabit
Their ruinous flesh-houses; here is air
As fresh as that the bird of morning sings in,
And shade that scarce is dusk, but just enough
To please the meek and twilight-loving eye
Of lone Religion. ‘Tis an hermitage
Where I may sit and tell my o’erpassed years,
And fit myself for dying. My old heart
Holds not enough of gratitude to pay
This noble kindness, that in guise of cruelty
Compels me to my good.

I am most glad
That you endure thus cheerfully; remember
Your son’s one word will give you liberty.

L. Ern.
I know he would not do me so much wrong.
You think, because I’m white with age, I mourn
Such hardships. See, my hand’s as firm and steady
As when I broke my first spear in the wars;
Alas! I am so glad, I cannot smile.

We sorrow thus to leave thee.

L. Ern.
Sorrow! man,
It is a woman’s game: I cannot play it.
Away; your whining but provokes my spleen.

(As the guards are retiring he bursts into a harsh laugh: when they have left the stage he stops short.)

They’re gone and cannot hear me. Now, then, now,
Eyes weep away my life, heart, if thou hast
A pulse to strain, break, break, oh break!


My son,
Come here, I’ll tell thee all they’ve done to me,
How they have scoffed and spurned me, thrown me here
In wretched loneliness

Alas! my father.

L. Ern.
Oh set me free, I cannot bear this air.
If thou dost recollect those fearful hours,
When I kept watch beside my precious boy,
And saw the day but on his pale, dear face;
If thou didst think me, in my gentlest moods,
Patient and mild, and even somewhat kind;
Oh give me back the pity that I lent,
Pretend at least to love and comfort me.

Speak not so harshly; I’m not rich enough
To pay one quarter of the dues of love,
Yet something I would do. Show me the way,
I will revenge thee well.

L. Ern.
But, whilst thou’rt gone,
The dread diseases of the place will come
And kill me wretchedly. No, I’ll be free.

Aye, that thou shalt. I’ll do; what will I not?
I’ll get together all the world’s true hearts,
And if they’re few, there’s spirit in my breast
Enough to animate a thousand dead.

L. Ern.
My son
We need not this; a word of thine will serve.

Were it my soul’s last sigh I’d give it thee.

L. Ern.


L. Ern.
But thou dost not know
Thy best-loved woos thee. Oft I’ve stood unseen,
In some of those sweet evenings you remember,
Watching your innocent and beauteous play,
(More innocent because you thought it secret,
More beautiful because so innocent;)
Oh! then I knew how blessed a thing I was
To have a son so worthy of Olivia.


L. Ern.
Blush not, though I name your mistress;
You soon shall wed her.

I will wed the plague.
I would not grudge my life, for that’s a thing,
A misery, thou gavest me: but to wed
Olivia; there’s damnation in the thought.

L. Ern.
Come, speak to him, my chains, for ye’ve a voice
To conquer every heart that’s not your kin?
Oh! that ye were my son, for then at least
He would be with me. How I loved him once!
Aye, when I thought him good; but now—Nay, still
He must be good, and I, I have been harsh,
I feel, I have not prized him at his worth:
And yet I think, if Hesperus had erred,
I could have pardoned him, indeed I could.

We’ll live together.

L. Ern.
No, for I shall die;
But that’s no matter.

Bring the priest, the bride.
Quick, quick. These fetters have infected him
With slavery’s sickness. Yet there is a secret,
‘Twixt heaven and me, forbids it. Tell me, father;
Were it not best for both to die at once?

L. Ern.
Die! thou hast spoke a word, that makes my heart
Grow sick and wither; thou hast palsied me
To death. Live thou to wed some worthier maid;
Know that thy father chose this sad seclusion;
(Ye rebel lips, why do you call it sad?)
Should I die soon, think not that sorrow caused it,
But, if you recollect my name, bestow it
Upon your best-loved child, and when you give him
His Grandsire’s blessing, add not that he perished
A wretched prisoner.

Stop, or I am made
I know not what,—perhaps a villain. Curse me,
Oh if you love me, curse.

L. Ern.
Aye, thou shalt hear
A father’s curse; if fate hath put a moment
Of pain into thy life; a sigh, a word,
A dream of woe; be it transferred to mine;
And for thy days; oh! never may a thought
Of others’ sorrow, even of old Ernest’s,
Darken their calm, uninterrupted bliss;
And be thy end—oh! any thing but mine.

Guilt, thou art sanctified in such a cause;
Guards; (they enter) I am ready. Let me say’t so low,
So quickly that it may escape the ear
Of watchful angels; I will do it all.

L. Ern.
There’s nought to do; I’ve learned to love this solitude.
Farewell, my son. Nay, never heed the fetters;
We can make shift to embrace.

Lead him to freedom,
And tell your lord I will not,—that’s I will.

[Exeunt Lord Ernest and guards.

Here, fellow; put your hand upon my mouth
Till they are out of hearing. Leave me now.
No, stay; come near me, nearer yet. Now fix
The close attention of your eyes on mine.

My lord!

See’st thou not death in them?

Forbid it, fate.

Away! ill-omened hound;
I’ll be a ghost and play about the graves,
For ghosts can never wed.

[Exit guard.

There, there they go; my hopes, my youthful hopes,
Like ingrate flatterers. What have I to do
With life? Ye sickly stars, that look with pity
On this cursed head, be kind and tell the lightning
To scathe me to a cinder; or if that
Be too much blessing for a child of sin,
But strike me mad, I do not ask for more.
Come from your icy caves, ye howling winds,
Clad in your gloomy panoply of clouds,
And call into your cars, as ye pass o’er
The distant quarters of this tortured world,
Every disease of every clime,
Here shall they banquet on a willing victim;
Or with one general ague shake the earth,
The pillars of the sky dissolve and burst,
And let the ebon-tiled roof of night
Come tumbling in upon the doomed world:—
Deaf are they still? then death is all a fable,
A pious lie to make man lick his chains
And look for freedom’s dawning through his grate.
Why are we tied unto this wheeling globe,
Still to be racked while traitorous Hope stands by,
And heals the wounds that they may gape again?
Aye to this end the earth is made a ball,
Else crawling to the brink despair would plunge
Into the infinite eternal air,
And leave its sorrows and its sins behind.
Since death will not, come sleep, thou kindred power,
Lock up my senses with thy leaden key,
And darken every crevice that admits
Light, life, and misery, if thou canst, for ever.


[Kelsall, 1851]