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CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882).  Complete Poetical Works.  1893.
 
Christus: A Mystery
Part II. The Golden Legend.
VI. I. The School of Salerno
 
A travelling Scholastic affixing his Theses to the gate of the College.

SCHOLASTIC.
THERE, that is my gauntlet, my banner, my shield,
Hung up as a challenge to all the field!
One hundred and twenty-five propositions,
Which I will maintain with the sword of the tongue
Against all disputants, old and young.        5
Let us see if doctors or dialecticians
Will dare to dispute my definitions,
Or attack any one of my learned theses.
Here stand I; the end shall be as God pleases.
I think I have proved, by profound researches,        10
The error of all those doctrines so vicious
Of the old Areopagite Dionysius,
That are making such terrible work in the churches,
By Michael the Stammerer sent from the East,
And done into Latin by that Scottish beast,        15
Johannes Duns Scotus, who dares to maintain,
In the face of the truth, the error infernal,
That the universe is and must be eternal;
At first laying down, as a fact fundamental,
That nothing with God can be accidental;        20
Then asserting that God before the creation
Could not have existed, because it is plain
That, had He existed, He would have created;
Which is begging the question that should be debated,
And moveth me less to anger than laughter.        25
All nature, he holds, is a respiration
Of the Spirit of God, who, in breathing, hereafter
Will inhale it into his bosom again,
So that nothing but God alone will remain.
And therein he contradicteth himself;        30
For he opens the whole discussion by stating,
That God can only exist in creating.
That question I think I have laid on the shelf!
He goes out. Two Doctors come in disputing, and followed by pupils.
 
DOCTOR SERAFINO.
I, with the Doctor Seraphic, maintain,
That a word which is only conceived in the brain        35
Is a type of eternal Generation;
The spoken word is the Incarnation.
 
DOCTOR CHERUBINO.
What do I care for the Doctor Seraphic,
With all his wordy chaffer and traffic?
 
DOCTOR SERAFINO.
You make but a paltry show of resistance;
        40
Universals have no real existence!
 
DOCTOR CHERUBINO.
Your words are but idle and empty chatter;
Ideas are eternally joined to matter!
 
DOCTOR SERAFINO.
May the Lord have mercy on your position,
You wretched, wrangling culler of herbs!        45
 
DOCTOR CHERUBINO.
May he send your soul to eternal perdition,
For your Treatise on the Irregular Verbs!
They rush out fighting. Two Scholars come in.
 
FIRST SCHOLAR.
Monte Cassino, then, is your College.
What think you of ours here at Salern?
 
SECOND SCHOLAR.
To tell the truth, I arrived so lately,
        50
I hardly yet have had time to discern.
So much, at least, I am bound to acknowledge:
The air seems healthy, the buildings stately,
And on the whole I like it greatly.
 
FIRST SCHOLAR.
Yes, the air is sweet; the Calabrian hills
        55
Send us down puffs of mountain air;
And in summer-time the sea-breeze fills
With its coolness cloister, and court, and square.
Then at every season of the year
There are crowds of guests and travellers here;        60
Pilgrims, and mendicant friars, and traders
From the Levant, with figs and wine,
And bands of wounded and sick Crusaders,
Coming back from Palestine.
 
SECOND SCHOLAR.
And what are the studies you pursue?
        65
What is the course you here go through?
 
FIRST SCHOLAR.
The first three years of the college course
Are given to Logic alone, as the source
Of all that is noble, and wise, and true.
 
SECOND SCHOLAR.
That seems rather strange, I must confess,
        70
In a Medical School; yet, nevertheless,
You doubtless have reasons for that.

FIRST SCHOLAR.
                            Oh yes!
For none but a clever dialectician
Can hope to become a great physician;
That has been settled long ago.        75
Logic makes an important part
Of the mystery of the healing art;
For without it how could you hope to show
That nobody knows so much as you know?
After this there are five years more        80
Devoted wholly to medicine,
With lectures on chirurgical lore,
And dissections of the bodies of swine,
As likest the human form divine.
 
SECOND SCHOLAR.
What are the books now most in vogue?
        85
 
FIRST SCHOLAR.
Quite an extensive catalogue;
Mostly, however, books of our own;
As Gariopontus’ Passionarius,
And the writings of Matthew Platearius;
And a volume universally known        90
As the Regimen of the School of Salern,
For Robert of Normandy written in terse
And very elegant Latin verse.
Each of these writings has its turn.
And when at length we have finished these,        95
Then comes the struggle for degrees,
With all the oldest and ablest critics;
The public thesis and disputation,
Question, and answer, and explanation
Of a passage out of Hippocrates,        100
Or Aristotle’s Analytics.
There the triumphant Magister stands!
A book is solemnly placed in his hands,
On which he swears to follow the rule
And ancient forms of the good old School;        105
To report if any confectionarius
Mingles his drugs with matters various,
And to visit his patients twice a day,
And once in the night, if they live in town,
And if they are poor, to take no pay.        110
Having faithfully promised these,
His head is crowned with a laurel crown;
A kiss on his cheek, a ring on his hand,
The Magister Artium et Physices
Goes forth from the school like a lord of the land.        115
And now, as we have the whole morning before us,
Let us go in, if you make no objection,
And listen awhile to a learned prelection
On Marcus Aurelius Cassiodorus.
They go in. Enter LUCIFER as a Doctor.
 
LUCIFER.
This is the great School of Salern!
        120
A land of wrangling and of quarrels,
Of brains that seethe, and hearts that burn,
Where every emulous scholar hears,
In every breath that comes to his ears,
The rustling of another’s laurels!        125
The air of the place is called salubrious;
The neighborhood of Vesuvius lends it
An odor volcanic, that rather mends it,
And the buildings have an aspect lugubrious,
That inspires a feeling of awe and terror        130
Into the heart of the beholder,
And befits such an ancient homestead of error,
Where the old falsehoods moulder and smoulder,
And yearly by many hundred hands
Are carried away, in the zeal of youth,        135
And sown like tares in the field of truth,
To blossom and ripen in other lands.
 
What have we here, affixed to the gate?
The challenge of some scholastic wight,
Who wishes to hold a public debate        140
On sundry questions wrong or right!
Ah, now this is my great delight!
For I have often observed of late
That such discussions end in a fight.
Let us see what the learned wag maintains        145
With such a prodigal waste of brains.
Reads.
“Whether angels in moving from place to place
Pass through the intermediate space.
Whether God himself is the author of evil,
Or whether that is the work of the Devil.        150
When, where, and wherefore Lucifer fell,
And whether he now is chained in hell.”
I think I can answer that question well!
So long as the boastful human mind
Consents in such mills as this to grind,        155
I sit very firmly upon my throne!
Of a truth it almost makes me laugh,
To see men leaving the golden grain
To gather in piles the pitiful chaff
That old Peter Lombard thrashed with his brain,        160
To have it caught up and tossed again
On the horns of the Dumb Ox of Cologne!
 
But my guests approach! there is in the air
A fragrance, like that of the Beautiful Garden
Of Paradise, in the days that were!        165
An odor of innocence and of prayer,
And of love, and faith that never fails,
Such as the fresh young heart exhales
Before it begins to wither and harden!
I cannot breathe such an atmosphere!        170
My soul is filled with a nameless fear,
That, after all my trouble and pain,
After all my restless endeavor,
The youngest, fairest soul of the twain,
The most ethereal, most divine,        175
Will escape from my hands for ever and ever.
But the other is already mine!
Let him live to corrupt his race,
Breathing among them, with every breath,
Weakness, selfishness, and the base        180
And pusillanimous fear of death.
I know his nature, and I know
That of all who in my ministry
Wander the great earth to and fro,
And on my errands come and go,        185
The safest and subtlest are such as he.
Enter PRINCE HENRY and ELSIE, with attendants.
 
PRINCE HENRY.
Can you direct us to Friar Angelo?
 
LUCIFER.
He stands before you.

PRINCE HENRY.
            Then you know our purpose.
I am Prince Henry of Hoheneck, and this
The maiden that I spake of in my letters.        190
 
LUCIFER.
It is a very grave and solemn business!
We must not be precipitate. Does she
Without compulsion, of her own free will,
Consent to this?

PRINCE HENRY.
                    Against all opposition,
Against all prayers, entreaties, protestations.        195
She will not be persuaded.

LUCIFER.
                        That is strange!
Have you thought well of it?

ELSIE.
                        I come not here
To argue, but to die. Your business is not
To question, but to kill me. I am ready.
I am impatient to be gone from here        200
Ere any thoughts of earth disturb again
The spirit of tranquillity within me.
 
PRINCE HENRY.
Would I had not come here! Would I were dead,
And thou wert in thy cottage in the forest,
And hadst not known me! Why have I done this?        205
Let me go back and die.

ELSIE.
                        It cannot be;
Not if these cold, flat stones on which we tread
Were coulters heated white, and yonder gateway
Flamed like a furnace with a sevenfold heat.
I must fulfil my purpose.

PRINCE HENRY.
                            I forbid it!
        210
Not one step further. For I only meant
To put thus far thy courage to the proof.
It is enough. I, too, have strength to die,
For thou hast taught me!

ELSIE.
                O my Prince! remember
Your promises. Let me fulfil my errand.        215
You do not look on life and death as I do.
There are two angels, that attend unseen
Each one of us, and in great books record
Our good and evil deeds. He who writes down
The good ones, after every action closes        220
His volume, and ascends with it to God.
The other keeps his dreadful day-book open
Till sunset, that we may repent; which doing,
The record of the action fades away,
And leaves a line of white across the page.        225
Now if my act be good, as I believe,
It cannot be recalled. It is already
Sealed up in heaven, as a good deed accomplished.
The rest is yours. Why wait you? I am ready.
To her attendants.
Weep not, my friends! rather rejoice with me.        230
I shall not feel the pain, but shall be gone,
And you will have another friend in heaven.
Then start not at the creaking of the door
Through which I pass. I see what lies beyond it.
To PRINCE HENRY.
And you, O Prince! bear back my benison        235
Unto my father’s house, and all within it.
This morning in the church I prayed for them,
After confession, after absolution,
When my whole soul was white, I prayed for them.
God will take care of them, they need me not.        240
And in your life let my remembrance linger,
As something not to trouble and disturb it,
But to complete it, adding life to life.
And if at times beside the evening fire
You see my face among the other faces,        245
Let it not be regarded as a ghost
That haunts your house, but as a guest that loves you.
Nay, even as one of your own family,
Without whose presence there were something wanting.
I have no more to say. Let us go in.        250
 
PRINCE HENRY.
Friar Angelo! I charge you on your life,
Believe not what she says, for she is mad,
And comes here not to die, but to be healed.
 
ELSIE.
Alas! Prince Henry!

LUCIFER.
                Come with me; this way.
ELSIE goes in with LUCIFER, who thrusts PRINCE HENRY back and closes the door.
 
PRINCE HENRY.
Gone! and the light of all my life gone with her!
        255
A sudden darkness falls upon the world!
Oh, what a vile and abject thing am I
That purchase length of days at such a cost!
Not by her death alone, but by the death
Of all that ’s good and true and noble in me!        260
All manhood, excellence, and self-respect,
All love, and faith, and hope, and heart are dead!
All my divine nobility of nature
By this one act is forfeited forever.
I am a Prince in nothing but in name!
To the attendants.
        265
Why did you let this horrible deed be done?
Why did you not lay hold on her, and keep her
From self-destruction? Angelo! murderer!
Struggles at the door, but cannot open it.
 
ELSIE, within.
Farewell, dear Prince! farewell!

PRINCE HENRY.
                        Unbar the door!
 
LUCIFER.
It is too late!

PRINCE HENRY.
                It shall not be too late!
They burst the door open and rush in.
        270
 
 
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