Schiller’s Maria Stuart,
act 1, scene 6: Maria Stuart and Mortimer [*]
And the way Mortimer comes out blustering about his Catholicity! There is absolutely no reason to provide a psychological explication of how he became Catholic; he need simply zealously state it: “I am Catholic.”
The scene occurs in act 1, scene 6. Mary Stuart and Sir Edward Mortimer, nephew of Mary’s jailer, are speaking alone. Mortimer has come to inform her that Elizabeth has sentenced Mary to death; at the end of this scene, he persuades her to flee. First he hands her a card:
Mary. From my uncle
In France, the worthy Cardinal of Lorrain? [She reads.]
“Confide in Mortimer, who brings you this;
“You have no truer friend than him in England.”
[looking at him with astonishment.]
Is’t possible? And is it no delusion
Which cheats my sight? And find I then a friend
So near, when I conceiv’d myself abandon’d
By the whole world? And find I him in you,
The nephew of my jailer, whom I thought
My most invet’rate enemy?
Mort. [Kneeling.] O pardon,
My gracious lady, for the hated mask,
Which it has cost me pain enough to wear;
And yet through that alone am I enabled
To see you, and to bring you help and rescue.
Mary. Arise, Sir; you astonish me; I cannot
So suddenly emerge from the abyss
Of wretchedness to hope: let me conceive
This happiness, that I may credit it.
Mort. Our time is precious: I expect each moment
My uncle, whom a hated man attends:
Hear then, before his terrible commission
Surprizes you, how heav’n prepares your rescue.
Mary. A wonder ’tis of heav’n’s omnipotence.
Mort. Allow me of myself to speak.
Mary. Speak, Sir.
Mort. I had already counted twenty years,
Bred up, my Queen, in the most rigid duties,
And having suck’d, e’en with my mother’s milk,
A deadly hate to Papacy, when led
By a strong, irresistible desire
For foreign travel, I resolv’d to leave
My country and its puritanic faith
Far, far behind me: I then flew through France
With rapid speed, and sought with eager wish
The boasted plains of Italy. It was
The time of the great Jubilee: — the crowds
Of swarming palmers fill’d the public roads;
Each image was adorn’d with garlands; ’twas
As if all human kind were wand’ring forth
In pilgrimage towards the heav’nly kingdom.
The tide of the believing multitude
Bore me too onward with resistless force,
Into the streets of Rome. What was my wonder,
As the magnificence of stately columns
Rush’d on my sight! the vast triumphal arches,
The Colissœum’s grandeur, with amazement
Struck my admiring senses; the sublime
Creative spirit held my soul a pris’ner
In this fair world of wonders it had fram’d.
Till now, the arts had never work’d on me.
The church that rear’d me hates the charms of sense;
It tolerates no image, it adores
But the unseen, th’ incorporeal word.
What were my feelings then, as I approach’d
The threshold of the churches, and ent’ring,
Heard heav’ns harmonies floating in the air:
While from the walls and high-wrought roofs the forms
Celestial beamed in fulness of perfection: —
When the most High, most Glorious, pervaded
My captivated sense in real presence:
And when I saw the godlike visions,
The Salutation, the Nativity,
The holy Mother, and the Trinity’s
Descent, the luminous Transfiguration:
At last I glad beheld the Pope, in all
The glory of his office, bless the people!
O! what’s the pageantry of gold and jewels
With which the kings of earth adorn themselves!
He is alone surrounded by the Godhead;
His mansion is in truth an heav’nly kingdom,
For not of earthly moulding are these forms:
Mary. O! spare me, Sir; no further—spread no more
Life’s verdant carpet out before my eyes,
For I am wretched, and a prisoner.
Mort. I was a prisoner too, my Queen; but quick
My prison-gates flew open; when at once
My spirit felt its liberty, and hail’d
The smiling dawn of life. I learn’d to burst
Each narrow prejudice of education,
To crown my brows with never-fading garlands,
And mix my joy with the rejoicing crowd.
Full many noble Scots, who saw my zeal,
Encourag’d me, and with the lively French
They kindly led me to your princely uncle,
The Cardinal Archbishop.
What a man!
How learn’d, how clear, how manly, how sublime!
He’s born to regulate the human mind!
The very model of a royal priest;
A ruler of the church without an equal!
Mary. Have you then seen the much lov’d, honour’d man,
Who was the guardian of my tender years!
O speak of him! Does he remember me?
Does fortune favour him? And blossoms still
His life? And does he still majestic stand,
The rock on which the church of God is built?
Mort. The holy man descended from his height,
And deign’d to construe to me the deep lessons
Of the true church, and dissipate my doubts.
He prov’d to me, that man’s too plodding reason
Serves but to lead him to eternal error:
That what his heart is call’d on to believe,
His eyes must see : that he who rules the church
Must needs be visible; and that the spirit
Of truth inform’d the councils of the Fathers.
How vanish’d then the fond imaginations
And weak conceptions of my childish soul
Before his conquering judgment, and the soft
Persuasion of his tongue! He then led me
Forth to the altar, where I deliver’d
Into his holy hands my abjuration.
Mary. You then are one of those so many thousands
Whom he, with his celestial eloquence,
Like the immortal preacher of the mount,
Has turn’d, and led to everlasting joy!
Mort. The duties of his office call’d him soon
To France, and I attended him to Rheims,
Where, piously employd, the brotherhood
Of Jesus fashion priests for England’s church.
There, ‘mongst the Scots, I found the noble Morgan,
And your true Lesley, Ross’s learned bishop,
Who pass in France the joyless days of exile.
I join’d with heartfelt zeal these worthy men,
And fortified my faith. As I one day
Roam’d through the Bishop’s dwelling, I was struck
With a fair female portrait; it was full
Of touching, wond’rous charms; with magic might
It mov’d my inmost soul, and there I stood
Speechless, and overmaster’d by my feelings.
“Well,” cried the Bishop, “well may you behold
“This face with such a mournful, fond emotion!
“For the most beautiful of womankind,
“Is the most lamentable too of women!
“She suffers for our faith, and ’tis your country
“Which is the sad scene of her sufferings!”
[Mary is in great agitation; he pauses..]
Mary. The upright man! no — I have not lost all,
If such a friend remains in my misfortunes!
Mort. Then with heart-rending eloquence he painted
Your martyrdom, the bloody enmity
Of your oppressors, and at last he shew’d me
Your pedigree, and prov’d your high descent
From the great house of Tudor. He convinc’d me
That you alone are born to reign in England,
And not this base pretender, who, the fruit
Of an adult’rous bed, was by her father,
Henry the Eighth, rejected as a bastard. [etc.]
[*] Mary Stuart. A Tragedy, trans. Joseph Charles Mellish (London 1801), 21–28. Illustration: nineteenth-century rendering from Schiller’s Works. Illustrated by the Greatest German Artists, ed. J. G. Fischer, Hjalmar H. Boyesen, vol. 2 (Philadelphia 1883), 263. Back.
Translation © 2015 Doug Stott