Page images

tius got an apple, and writing some words upon it, pitched it into Cydippe's bosom.

The words were these :


By Dian, I will marry Acontius.

Or as a poet has written them :

Juro tibi sanctæ per mystica sacra Dianæ,
Me tibi venturam comitem, sponsamque futuram.
I swear by holy Dian, I will be

Thy bride betrothed, and bear thee company. Cydippe read, and married herself. It is said that she was repeatedly on the eve of being married to another person ; but her imagination, in the shape of the Goddess, as often threw her into a fever; and the lover, whose ardour and ingenuity had made an impression upon her, was made happy. Aristænetus in his Epistles calls the apple κυδωνιον μηλον, a Cretan apple, which is supposed to mean a quince; or as others think, an orange, or a citron. But the apple was, is, and must be, a true, unsophisticated apple. Nothing else would have suited. “ The apples, methought,” says Sir Philip Sydney of his heroine in the Arcadia, “ fell down from the trees to do homage to the apples of her breast.” The idea seems to have originated with Theocritus (Idyl. 27. v. 50, edit. Valckenaer), from whom it was copied by the Italian writers. It makes a lovely figure in one of the most famous passages of Ariosto, where he describes the beauty of Alcina (Orlando Furioso, Canto 7. st. 14)

Bianca neve è il bel collo, e'l petto latte:
Il collo è tondo, il petto colmo e largo:
Due pome acerbe, e pur d'avorio fatte,
Vengono e van come onda al primo margo,
Quando piacevole aura il mar combatte.

Her bosom is like milk, her neck like snow;
A rounded neck; a bosom, where you see
Two crisp young ivory apples come and go,
Like waves that on the shore beat tenderly,
When a sweet air is ruffling to and fro.

And after him, Tasso, in his fine ode on the Golden Age :

Allor tra fiori e linfe
Traean dolci carole
Gli Amoretti senz' archi e senza faci:
Sedean pastori e ninfe
Meschiando a le parole
Vezzi e susurri, ed ai susurri i baci
Strettamente tenaci.
La verginella ignude
Scopria sue fresche rose
Ch' or tien nel velo ascose,
E le

del seno, acerbe e crude; E spesso o in fiume o in lago Scherzar si vide con l' amata il vago.

Then among streams and flowers,
The little Winged Powers
Went singing carols, without torch or bow;
The nymphs and shepherds sat
Mingling with innocent chat
Sports and low whispers, and with whispers low
Kisses that would not go.

The maiden, budding o’er,
Kept not her bloom uneyed,
Which now a veil must hide,
Nor the crisp apples which her bosom bore:
And oftentimes in river or in lake,
The lover and his love their merry bath would take.

Honi soit qui mal y pense.


[ocr errors]

This is the lady who, under the title of Countess of Coventry, used to make such a figure in our childhood upon some old pocket-pieces of that city. We hope she is in request there still ; otherwise the inhabitants deserve to be sent from Coventry. That city was famous in saintly legends for the visit of the eleven thousand virgins,-an “incredible number," quoth Selden. But the eleven thousand virgins have vanished with their credibility, and a noble-hearted woman of flesh and blood is Coventry's true immortality.

The story of Godiva is not a fiction, as many suppose it. At least it is to be found in Matthew of Westminster, and is not of a nature to have been a mere invention. Her name, and that of her husband, Leofric, are mentioned in an old charter recorded by another early historian. That the story is omitted by Hume and others, argues little against it; for the latter are accustomed to confound the most interesting anecdotes of times and manners with something below the dignity of history (a very absurd mistake); and Hume, of whose philosphy better things might have been expected, is notoriously less philosophical in his history than in any other of his works. A certain coldness of temperament, not unmixed with aristocratical pride, or at least with a great aversion from every thing like vulgar credulity, rendered his scepticism so extreme, that it became a sort of superstition in turn, and blinded him to the claims of every species of enthusiasm, civil as well as religious. Mil. ton, with his poetical eyesight, saw better, when he meditated the history of his native country. We do not remember whether he relates the present story; but we remember well, that at the beginning of his fragment on that subject, he says he shall relate doubtful stories as well as authentic ones, for the benefit of those, if no others, who will know how to make use of them, namely, the poets.* We have faith, however, in the story ourselves. It has innate evidence enough for us, to give full weight to that of the old annalist. Imagination can invent a good deal ; affection more: but affection can sometimes do things, such as the tenderest imagination is

* When Dr. Johnson, among his other impatient accusations of our great republican, charged him with telling unwarrantable stories in his history, he must have overlooked this announcement; and yet, if we recollect, it is but in the second page of the fragment. So hasty, and blind, and liable to be put to shame, is prejudice.

not in the habit of inventing; and this piece of nobleheartedness we believe to have been one of them.

Leofric, Earl of Leicester, was the lord of a large feudal territory in the middle of England, of which Coventry formed a part. He lived in the time of Edward the Confessor; and was so eminently a feudal lord, that the hereditary greatness of his dominion appears to have been singular even at that time, and to have lasted with an uninterrupted succession from Ethelbald to the Conquest,-a period of more than three hundred years. He was a great and useful opponent of the famous Earl Goodwin.

Whether it was owing to Leofric or not, does not appear, but Coventry was subject to a very oppressive tollage, by which it would seem that the feudal despot enjoyed the greater part of the profit of all marketable commodities. The progress of knowledge has shewn us how abominable, and even how unhappy for all parties, is an injustice of this description; yet it gives one an extraordinary idea of a mind in those times, to see it capable of piercing through the clouds of custom, of ignorance, and even of self-interest, and petitioning the petty tyrant. to forego such a privilege. This mind was Godiva's. The other sex, always more slow to admit reason through the medium of feeling, were then occupied to the full in their warlike habits. It was reserved for a woman to anticipate ages of liberal opinion, and to surpass them in the daring virtue of setting a principle above a custom.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »