LESSON 7 Mary,queen of scots(1)
I Looked far back into other years, and lo! in bright array
I saw, as in a dream, the forms of ages passed away.
It was a stately convent(2) with its old and lofty walls,
And gardens with their broad green walks, where soft the footstep falls;
And o'er the antique dial-stone the creeping shadow passed,
And, all around, the noon-day sun a drowsy radiance cast.
No sound of busy life was heard, save from the cloister dim
The tinkling of the silver bell, or the sister' holy hymn.
And there five noble maidens sat beneath the orchard trees,
In that first budding spring of youth when all its prospects please;
And little recked they, when they sang, or knelt at vesper prayers,
That Scotland knew no prouder names—held none more dear than theirs;—
And little even the loveliest thought, before the holy shrine,
Of royal blood and high descent from the ancient Stuart line:
Calmly her happy days flew on, uncounted in their flight;
And as they flew, they left behind a long-continuing light.
The scene was changed. It was the court, the gay court of Bourbon,(3)
And 'neath a thousand silver lamps a thousand courtiers throng
And proudly kindles Henry's(4) eye—well pleased, I ween, to see
The land assemble all its wealth of grace and chivalry:—
But fairer far than all the rest who bask on Fortune's tide,
Effulgent in the light of youth, is she, the new-made bride!(5)
The homage of a thousand hearts—the fond, deep love of one—
The hopes that dance around a life whose charms are but begun,—
They lighten up her chestnut eye, they mantle o'er her cheek,
They sparkle on her open brow, and high-souled joy bespeak:
Ah! who shall blame, if scarce that day, through all its brilliant hours,
She thought of that quiet convent's calm, its sunshine and its flowers?
The scene was changed. It was a bark(6) that slowly held its way,
And o'er its lee the coast of France in the light of evening lay;
And on its deck a Lady sat, who gazed with tearful eye
Upon the fast receding hills, that dim and distant rise.
No marvel that the Lady wept,—there was no land on earth
She loved like that dear land, although she owed it not her birth;
It was her mother's land,(7) the land of childhood and of friends,—
It was the land where she had found for all her griefs amends,—
The land where her dead husband slept—the land where she had known
The tranquil convent's hushed repose, and the splendours of a throne;
No marvel that the Lady wept—it was the land of France—
The chosen home of chivalry—the garden of romance!
The past was bright, like those dear hills so far behind her bark;
The future, like the gathering night, was ominous and dark!
One gaze again—one long, last gaze—"Adieu, fair France to thee!"
The breeze comes forth—she is alone on the unconscious sea!
The scene was changed. It was an eve of raw and surly mood,
And in a turret-chamber high of ancient Holyrood(8)
Sat Mary, listening to the rain, and sighing with the winds,
That seemed to suit the stormy state of men's uncertain minds.
The touch of care had blanched her cheek—her smile was sadder now:
The weight of royalty had pressed too heavy on her brow;
And traitors to her councils came, and rebels to the field;—
The Stuart sceptre well she swayed, but the sword she could not wield.
She thought of all her blighted hopes—the dreams of youth's brief day,
And summoned Rizzio with his lute, and bade the minstrel play
The songs she loved in early years—the songs of gay Navarre;
The songs perchance that erst were sung by gallant Chatelar:(9)
They half beguiled her of her cares, they soothed her into smiles,
They won her thoughts from bigot zeal and fierce domestic broils:
But hark! the tramp of armëd men! the Douglas'(10) battle-cry
They come!—they come!—and lo! the scowl of Ruthven's(11) hollow eye!
And swords are drawn, and daggers gleam, and tears and words are vain—
The ruffian steel is in his heart—the faithful Rizzio's slain!
Then Mary Stuart dashed aside the tears that trickling fell:
"Now for my father's arm!" she said;(12)—"my woman's heart farewell!"
The scene was changed. It was a lake, with one small lonely isle;(13)
And there, within the prison-walls of its baronial pile,
Stern men stood menacing their Queen, till she should stoop to sign
The traitorous scroll(14) that snatched the crown from her ancestral line.
"My lords!—my lords!" the captive said, "were I but once more free,
With ten good knights on yonder shore to aid my cause and me,
That parchment would I scatter wide to every breeze that blows,
And once more reign a Stuart Queen o'er my remorseless foes!"
A red spot burned upon her cheek—streamed her rich tresses down;
She wrote the words—she stood erect—a Queen without a crown!
The scene was changed. A royal host(15) a royal banner bore.
And the faithful of the land stood round their smiling Queen once more.
She stayed her steed upon a hill—she saw them marching by—
She heard their shouts—she read success in every flashing eye.
The tumult of the strife begins—it roars—it dies away;
And Mary's troops and banners now, and courtiers—where are they?
Scattered and strewn, and flying far, defenceless and undone;—
Alas! to think what she has lost, and all that guilt has won!—
Away! away! thy gallant steed must act no laggard's part;
Yet vain his speed—for thou dost bear the arrow in thy heart!
The scene was changed. Beside the block(16) a sullen headsman stood,
And gleamed the broad axe in his hand, that soon must drip with blood.
With slow and steady step there came a Lady through the hall,
And breathless silence chained the lips and touched the hearts of all.
I knew that queenly form again, though blighted was its bloom;
I saw that grief had decked it out—an offering for the tomb!
I knew the eye, though faint its light, that once so brightly shone;
I knew the voice, though feeble now, that thrilled with every tone;
I knew the ringlets, almost gray, once threads of living gold!
I knew that bounding grace of step—that symmetry of mould!
Even now I see her far away, in that calm convent isle,
I hear her chant her vesper-hymn, I mark her holy smile,—
Even now I see her bursting forth upon the bridal morn,
A new star in the firmament, to light and glory born!
Alas, the change!—she placed her foot upon a triple throne,(17)
And on the scaffold now she stands—beside the block—alone
The little dog that licks her hand, the last of all the crowd
Who sunned themselves beneath her glance and round her footsteps bowed!
Her neck is bared—the blow is struck—the soul is passed away!
The bright, the beautiful, is now—a bleeding piece of clay!
The dog is moaning piteously; and, as it gurgles o'er,
Laps the warm blood that trickling runs unheeded to the floor
The blood of beauty, wealth, and power—the heart-blood of a Queen,—
The noblest of the Stuart race—the fairest earth has seen,—
Lapped by a dog! Go think of it, in silence and alone;
Then weigh against a grain of sand the glories of a throne!