ZANONI: A ROSICRUCIAN TALE
The palace retained by Zanoni was in one of the less frequented quarters of the city. It still stands, now ruined and dismantled, a monument of the splendour of a chivalry long since vanished from Naples, with the lordly races of the Norman and the Spaniard.
As he entered the rooms reserved for his private hours, two Indians, in the dress of their country, received him at the threshold with the grave salutations of the East. They had accompanied him from the far lands in which, according to rumour, he had for many years fixed his home. But they could communicate nothing to gratify curiosity or justify suspicion. They spoke no language but their own. With the exception of these two his princely retinue was composed of the native hirelings of the city, whom his lavish but imperious generosity made the implicit creatures of his will. In his house, and in his habits, so far as they were seen, there was nothing to account for the rumours which were circulated abroad. He was not, as we are told of Albertus Magnus or the great Leonardo da Vinci, served by airy forms; and no brazen image, the invention of magic mechanism, communicated to him the influences of the stars. None of the apparatus of the alchemist -- the crucible and the metals -- gave solemnity to his chambers, or accounted for his wealth; nor did he even seem to interest himself in those serener studies which might be supposed to colour his peculiar conversation with abstract notions, and often with recondite learning. No books spoke to him in his solitude; and if ever he had drawn from them his knowledge, it seemed now that the only page he read was the wide one of Nature, and that a capacious and startling memory supplied the rest. Yet was there one exception to what in all else seemed customary and commonplace, and which, according to the authority we have prefixed to this chapter, might indicate the follower of the occult sciences. Whether at Rome or Naples, or, in fact, wherever his abode, he selected one room remote from the rest of the house, which was fastened by a lock scarcely larger than the seal of a ring, yet which sufficed to baffle the most cunning instruments of the locksmith: at least, one of his servants, prompted by irresistible curiosity, had made the attempt in vain; and though he had fancied it was tried in the most favourable time for secrecy, -- not a soul near, in the dead of night, Zanoni himself absent from home, -- yet his superstition, or his conscience, told him the reason why the next day the Major Domo quietly dismissed him. He compensated himself for this misfortune by spreading his own story, with a thousand amusing exaggerations. He declared that, as he approached the door, invisible hands seemed to pluck him away; and that when he touched the lock, he was struck, as by a palsy, to the ground. One surgeon, who heard the tale, observed, to the distaste of the wonder-mongers, that possibly Zanoni made a dexterous use of electricity. Howbeit, this room, once so secured, was never entered save by Zanoni himself.
The solemn voice of Time, from the neighbouring church at last aroused the lord of the palace from the deep and motionless reverie, rather resembling a trance than thought, in which his mind was absorbed.
"It is one more sand out of the mighty hour-glass," said he, murmuringly, "and yet time neither adds to, nor steals from, an atom in the Infinite! Soul of mine, the luminous, the Augoeides (Augoeides, -- a word favoured by the mystical Platonists, sphaira psuches augoeides, otan mete ekteinetai epi ti, mete eso suntreche mete sunizane, alla photi lampetai, o ten aletheian opa ten panton, kai ten en aute. -- Marc. Ant., lib. 2. -- The sense of which beautiful sentence of the old philosophy, which, as Bayle well observes, in his article on Cornelius Agrippa, the modern Quietists have (however impotently) sought to imitate, is to the effect that "the sphere of the soul is luminous when nothing external has contact with the soul itself; but when lit by its own light, it sees the truth of all things and the truth centred in itself."), why descendest thou from thy sphere, -- why from the eternal, starlike, and passionless Serene, shrinkest thou back to the mists of the dark sarcophagus? How long, too austerely taught that companionship with the things that die brings with it but sorrow in its sweetness, hast thou dwelt contented with thy majestic solitude?"
As he thus murmured, one of the earliest birds that salute the dawn broke into sudden song from amidst the orange-trees in the garden below his casement; and as suddenly, song answered song; the mate, awakened at the note, gave back its happy answer to the bird. He listened; and not the soul he had questioned, but the heart replied. He rose, and with restless strides paced the narrow floor. "Away from this world!" he exclaimed at length, with an impatient tone. "Can no time loosen its fatal ties? As the attraction that holds the earth in space, is the attraction that fixes the soul to earth. Away from the dark grey planet! Break, ye fetters: arise, ye wings!"
He passed through the silent galleries, and up the lofty stairs, and entered the secret chamber.