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(BORN, 1808—DIED, 1877.)
WHO PAID FOR THE PRIMA DONNA ?
F any thing could make a man forgive
himself for being sixty years old," said the Consul, holding up his wineglass between his eye and the setting sun,-for it was summer-time,—“it would be that he can remember Malibran in her divine sixteenity at the Park Theatre, thirty odd years ago. Egad, sir, one could n't help making great allowances for Don Giovanni, after seeing her in Zerlina. She was beyond imagination piquante and delicious.”
The Consul, as my readers may have partly inferred, was not a Roman Consul, nor yet a French one.
He had had the honor of representing this great republic at one of the Hanse towns, I forget which, in President Monroe's time. I don't recollect how long he held the office; but it was long enough to make the title stick to him for the rest of his life with the tenacity of a militia colonelcy or village diaconate. The country people round about used to call him “the Counsel,” which, I believe,-for I am not very fresh from my schoolbooks,—was etymologically correct enough, however orthoëpically erroneous. He had not limited his European life, however, within the precinct of his Hanseatic consulship, but had dispersed himself very promiscuously over the Continent, and had seen many cities, and the manners of many men and of some women,singing-women, I mean, in their public character; for the Consul, correct of life as of ear, never sought to undeify his divinities by pursuing them from the heaven of the stage to the purgatorial intermediacy of the coulisses, still less to the lower depth of disenchantment into which too many of them sunk in their private life.
* See Biographical Sketch, p. xxxii.
Yes, sir,” he went on, “I have seen and heard them all,—Catalani, Pasta, Pezzaroni, Grisi, and all the rest of them, even Sonntag, though not in her very best estate ; but I give you my word there is none that has taken lodgings here,” tapping his forehead," so permanently as the Signorina Garcia, or that I can see and hear so distinctly when I am in the mood of it by myself. Rosina, Desdemona, Cinderella, and, as I said just now, Zerlinashe is as fresh in them all to my mind's eye and ear, as if the Park Theatre had not given way for a cursed shoe-shop, and I had been hearing her there only last night. Let 's drink her memory,” the Consul added, half in mirth and half in melancholy,-a mood to which he was not unused, and which did not ill become him.
Now, no intelligent person who knew the excellence of the Consul's wine could refuse to pay this posthumous honor to the harmonious shade of the lost Muse. The Consul was an old-fashioned man in his tastes, to be sure, and held to the old religion of Madeira, which divided the faith of our forefathers with the Cambridge Platform, and had never given in to the later heresies which have crept into the communion of good-fellowship from the south of France and the Rhine.
“A glass of champagne," he would say, "is all well enough at the end of dinner, just to take the grease out of one's throat, and get the palate ready for the more serious vintages ordained for the solid and deliberate drinking by which man justifies his creation ; but Madeira, sir, Madeira is the only standby that never fails a man, and can always be depended upon as something sure and steadfast.”
I confess to having fallen away myself from the gracious doctrine and works to which he had held so fast; but I am no bigot,—which, for a heretic, is something remarkable,-and had no scruple about uniting with him in the service he proposed, without demur or protestation as to form or substance. Indeed, he disarmed fanaticism by the curious care he bestowed on making his works conformable to the faith that was in him ; for partly by inheritance, and partly by industrious pains, his old house was undermined by a cellar of wine such as is seldom seen in these days of modern degeneracy. He is the last gentleman that I know of, of that old school that used to import wine and lay it down annually themselves, their bins forming a kind of vinous calendar suggestive of great events. Their degenerate sons are content to be furnished, as they want it, from the dubious stores of the vintner, by retail.
“ I suppose it was her youth and beauty, sir,”
I suggested, “that made her so rememberable
You know she was barely turned seventeen when she sung in this country."
“Partly that, no doubt,” replied the Consul, “but not altogether, nor chiefly. No, sir; it was her genius which made her beauty so glorious. She was wonderfully handsome, though.
She was a phantom of delight,' as that Lake fellow says,"—it was thus profanely that the Consul designated the poet Wordsworth, whom he could not abide,—“and the best thing he ever said, by Jove!"
“And did you never see her again ?” I inquired.
“Once, only,” he answered, “ eight or nine years afterwards, a year or two before she died. It was at Venice, and in Norma. She was different, and yet not changed for the worse. There was an indescribable look of sadness out of her eyes, that touched one oddly, and fixed itself in the memory. But she was something apart and by herself, and stamped herself on one's mind as Rachel did in Camille or Phèdre. It was true genius, and no imitation, that made both of them what they were. But she actually had the physical beauty which Rachel only compelled you to think she had, by the force