“I do not say it is possible—I only say it is true.”

[MAGA. August 1822.]

Elizabeth was a wonderful princess for wisdom, learning, magnificence, and grandeur of soul. All this was fine,—but she was as envious as a decayed beauty—jealous and cruel—and that spoiled all. However, be her defects what they may, her fame had pierced even to the depths of Germany, whence the Enchanter Faustus set off for her court, that great magician wishing to ascertain by his own wits, whether Elizabeth was as gifted with good qualities as she was with bad. No one could judge this for him so well as himself, who read the stars like his A B C, and whom Satan obeyed like his dog—yet, withal, who was not above a thousand pleasant tricks, that make people laugh, and hurt no one: such, for instance, as turning an old lord into an old lady, to elope with his cook-maid—exchanging a handsome wife for an ugly one, &c. &c.

The Queen, charmed with the pretty things which she heard of him, wished much to see him—and from the moment that she did, became quite fascinated. On his side, he found her better than he had expected; not but that he perceived she thought a great deal too much of her wit—though she had a tolerable share of it; and still more of her beauty—of which she had rather less.

One day that she was dressed with extraordinary splendour, to give audience to some ambassadors, she retired into her cabinet at the close of the ceremony, and sent for the Doctor. After having gazed at herself in all the mirrors in the room, and seeming very well pleased with their reflection,—for her roses and lilies were as good as gold could buy, her petticoat high enough to show her ankle, and her frill low to expose her bosom,—she sat down en attitude, in her great chair. It was thus the Enchanter Faustus found her. He was the most adroit courtier that you could find, though you searched the world over. For though there are good reasons why a courtier may not be a conjuror, there are none why a conjuror may not be a courtier; and Faustus, both in one—knowing the Queen’s foible as to her imaginary beauty—took care not to let slip so fine an opportunity of paying his court. He was wonderstruck, thunderstruck, at such a blaze of perfection. Elizabeth knew how to appreciate the moment of surprise. She drew a magnificent ruby from her finger, which the Doctor, without making difficulties about it, drew on his.

“You find me then passable for a Queen?” said she, smiling. On this he wished himself at the devil (his old resting-place), if, not alone that he had ever seen, but if anybody else had ever seen, either queen or subject to equal her.

“Oh, Faustus, my friend,” replied she, “could the beauties of antiquity return, we should soon see what a flatterer you are!”

“I dare the proof,” returned the Doctor. “If your Majesty will it—but speak, and they are here.”

Faustus, of course, never expected to be taken at his word; but whether Elizabeth wished to see if magic could perform the miracle, or to satisfy a curiosity that had often tormented her, she expressed herself amazingly pleased at the idea, and begged it might be immediately realised.

Faustus then requested her Majesty to pass into a little gallery near the apartment, while he went for his book, his ring, and his large black mantle.

All this was done nearly as soon as said. There was a door at each end of the gallery, and it was decided that the beauties should come in at one, and go out at the other, so that the Queen might have a fair view of them. Only two of the courtiers were admitted to this exhibition; these were the Earl of Essex and Sir Philip Sydney.

Her Majesty was seated in the middle of the gallery, with the Earl and the Knight standing to the right and left of her chair. The enchanter did not forget to trace round them and their mistress certain mysterious circles, with all the grimaces and contortions of the time. He then drew another opposite to it, within which he took his own station, leaving a space between for the actors.

When this was finished, he begged the Queen not to speak a word while they should be on the stage; and, above all, not to appear frightened, let her see what she might.

The latter precaution was needless, for the good Queen feared neither angel nor devil. And now the Doctor inquired what belle of antiquity she would first see.

“To follow the order of time,” she answered, “they should commence with Helen.”

The magician, with a changing countenance, now exclaimed, “Sit still!”

Sydney’s heart beat quick. The brave Essex turned pale. As to the Queen, not the slightest emotion was perceptible.

Faustus soon commenced some muttered incantations and strange evolutions, such as were the fashion of the day for conjurors. Anon the gallery shook, so did the two courtiers, and the Doctor, in a voice of anger, called out,

“Daughter of fair Leda, hear!
From thy far Elysian sphere;
Lovely as when, for his fee,
To Paris Venus promised thee—

Accustomed to command, rather than to be commanded, the fair Helen lingered to the last possible moment; but when the last moment came, so did she, and so suddenly, that no one knew how she got there. She was habited a la Grecque,—her hair ornamented with pearls and a superb aigrette. The figure passed slowly onwards—stopped for an instant directly opposite the Queen, as if to gratify her curiosity, took leave of her with a malicious smile, and vanished. She had scarcely disappeared when her Majesty exclaimed—“What! that the fair Helen! I don’t pique myself on beauty, but may I die if I would change faces with her!”

“I told your Majesty how it would be,” remarked the enchanter; “and yet there she is, as she was in her best days.”

“She has, however, very fine eyes,” observed Essex.

“Yes,” said Sydney, “they are large, dark, and brilliant—but after all, what do they say?” added he, correcting himself.

“Nothing,” replied the favourite.

The Queen, who was this day extravagantly rouged, asked if they did not think Helen’s tint too China-white.

“China!” cried the Earl; “Delf rather.”

“Perhaps,” continued the Queen, “it was the fashion of her time; but you must confess that such turned-in toes would have been endured in no other woman. I don’t dislike her style of dress, however, and probably I may bring it round again, in place of these troublesome hoops, which have their inconveniences.”

“O, as to the dress,” chimed in the favourite—“let it pass; it is well enough, which is more than can be said for the wearer.”

A conclusion, in which Sydney heartily joined, rhapsodying—

“O Paris, fatal was the hour,
When, victim to the blind god’s power,
Within your native walks you bore
That firebrand from a foreign shore;
Who—ah, so little worth the strife!—
Was fit for nothing, but a wife.”

“’Od’s my life now,” said her Majesty, “but I think she looks fitter for anything else, Sydney!—My Lord of Essex, how think you?”

“As your Majesty does,” returned he; “there is a meaning in that eye.”

“And a minute past they said there was none,” thought Faustus.

This liberal critique on the fair Helen being concluded, the Queen desired to see the beautiful and hopeless Mariamne.

The enchanter did not wait to be twice asked; but he did not choose to invoke a Princess who had worshipped at holy altars in the same manner as he had summoned the fair Pagan. It was then, by way of ceremony, that, turning four times to the east, three to the south, two to the west, and only once to the north, he uttered, with great suavity, in Hebrew—

“Lovely Mariamne, come!
Though thou sleepest far away,
Regal spirit! leave thy tomb!
Let the splendours round thee play,
Silken robe and diamond stone,
Such as, on thy bridal-day,
Flash’d from proud Judea’s throne.”

Scarcely had he concluded, when the spouse of Herod made her appearance, and gravely advanced into the centre of the gallery, where she halted, as her predecessor had done. She was robed nearly like the high-priest of the Jews, except that instead of the Tiara, a veil, descending from the crown of the head, and slightly attached to the cincture, fell far behind her. Those graceful and flowing draperies threw over the whole figure of the lovely Hebrew an air of indescribable dignity. After having stopped for several minutes before the company, she pursued her way,—but without paying the slightest parting compliment to the haughty Elizabeth.

“Is it possible,” said the Queen, before she had well disappeared—“is it possible that Mariamne was such a figure as that?—such a tall, pale, meagre, melancholy-looking affair, to have passed for a beauty through so many centuries!”

“By my honour,” quoth Essex, “had I been in Herod’s place, I should never have been angry at her keeping her distance.”

“Yet I perceived,” said Sydney, “a certain touching languor in the countenance,—an air of dignified simplicity.”

Her Majesty looked grave.

“Fye, fye,” returned Essex, “it was haughtiness; her manner is full of presumption,—ay, and even her height.”

The Queen having approved of Essex’s decision, on her own part condemned the Princess for her aversion to her spouse, which, though the world alleged to have been caused by his being the cut-throat of her family, she saw nothing to justify, whatever a husband might be. A wife was a wife; and Herod had done quite right in cutting off the heads of the offenders.

Faustus, who affected universal knowledge, assured her Majesty that all the historians were in error on that point; for he had had it himself from a living witness, that the true cause of Herod’s vengeance was his spiteful old-maid of a sister—Salome’s overhearing Mariamne, one day at prayers, beg of Heaven to rid her of her worthless husband.

After a moment of thought, the Queen, with the same indifference with which she would have called for her waiting-maid, desired to see Cleopatra; for the Egyptian queen not having been quite as comme il faut as the British, the latter treated her accordingly. The beautiful Cleopatra quickly made her appearance at the extremity of the gallery,—and Elizabeth expected that this apparition would fully make up for the disappointment which the others had occasioned. Scarcely had she entered, when the air was loaded with the rich perfumes of Arabia.

Her bosom (that had been melting as charity) was open as day; a loop of diamonds and rubies gathered the drapery as much above the left knee as it might as well have been below it; and a woven wind of transparent gauze softened the figure which it did not conceal.

In this gay and gallant costume, the mistress of Antony glided through the gallery, making a similar pause as the others. No sooner was her back turned, than the courtiers began to tear her person and frippery to pieces,—the Queen calling out, like one possessed, for paper to burn under her nose, to drive away the vapours occasioned by the gums with which the mummy was filled,—declared her insupportable in every sense, and far beneath even the wife of Herod or the daughter of Leda,—shocked at her Diana drapery, to exhibit the most villanous leg in the world,—and protested that a thicker robe would have much better become her.

Whatever the two courtiers might have thought, they were forced to join in these sarcasms, which the frail Egyptian excited in peculiar severity.

“Such a cocked nose!” said the Queen.

“Such impertinent eyes!” said Essex.

Sydney, in addition to her other defects, found out that she had too much stomach and too little back.

“Say of her as you please,” returned Faustus—“one she is, however, who led the Master of the World in her chains. But, madam,” added he, turning to the Queen, “as these far-famed foreign beauties are not to your taste, why go beyond your own kingdom? England, which has always produced the models of female perfection—as we may even at this moment perceive—will furnish an object perhaps worthy of your attention in the Fair Rosamond.” Now Faustus had heard that the Queen fancied herself to resemble the Fair Rosamond; and no sooner was the name mentioned, than she was all impatience to see her.

“There is a secret instinct in this impatience,” observed the Doctor, craftily; “for, according to tradition, the Fair Rosamond had much resemblance to your Majesty, though, of course, in an inferior style.”

“Let us judge—let us judge,” replied the Queen, hastily; “but from the moment she appears, Sir Sydney, I request of you to observe her minutely, that we may have her description, if she is worth it.” This order being given, and some little conjuration made, as Rosamond was only a short distance from London, she made her appearance in a second. Even at the door, her beauty charmed every one, but as she advanced she enchanted them; and when she stopped to be gazed at, the admiration of the company, with difficulty restrained to signs and looks, exhibited their high approbation of the taste of Henry II. Nothing could exceed the simplicity of her dress—and yet in that simplicity she effaced the splendours of day—at least to the spectators. She waited before them a long time—much longer than the others had done; and as if aware of the command the Queen had given, she turned especially towards Sydney, looking at him with an expressive smile. But she must go at last; and when she was gone,—“My lord,” said the Queen, “what a pretty creature! I never saw anything so charming in my life. What a figure! what dignity without affectation! what brilliancy without artifice!—and it is said that I resemble her. My lord of Essex, what think you?” My lord thought, would to Heaven you did; I would give the best steed in my stable that you had even an ugly likeness to her. But he said, “Your majesty has but to make the tour of the gallery in her green robe and primrose petticoat, and if our magician himself would not mistake you for her, count me the greatest —— of your three kingdoms.”

During all this flattery with which the favourite charmed the ears of the good Queen, the poet Sydney, pencil in hand, was sketching the vision of the Fair Rosamond.

Her Majesty then commanded it should be read, and when she heard it, pronounced it very clever: but as it was a real impromptu, not one of those born long before, and was written for a particular audience, as a picture is painted for a particular light—we think it but justice to the celebrated author not to draw his lines from the venerable antiquity in which they rest, even if we had the MSS. copy; but we have not—which at once finishes the business.

After the reading, they deliberated on the next that should succeed Rosamond. The enchanter, still of opinion that they need not leave England when beauty was the object in question, proposed the famous Countess of Salisbury, who gave rise to the institution of the Garter. The idea was approved of by the Queen, and particularly agreeable to the courtiers, as they wished to see if the cause were worthy of the effect,—i.e., the leg of the garter; but her Majesty declared that she should particularly like a second sight of her lovely resemblance, the Fair Rosamond. The Doctor vowed that the affair was next to impracticable in the order of conjuration,—the recall of a phantom not depending on the powers submitted to the first enchantments. But the more he declared against it, the more the Queen insisted, until he was obliged at last to submit, but with the information that, if Rosamond should return, it would not be by the way in which she had entered or retired already, and that they had best take care of themselves, as he could answer for no one.

The Queen, as we have elsewhere observed, knew not what fear was—and the two courtiers were now a little reassured on the subject of apparitions. The Doctor then set about accomplishing the Queen’s wishes. Never had conjuration cost him so much trouble; and after a thousand grimaces and contortions, neither pretty nor polite, he flung his book into the middle of the gallery, went three times round it on his hands and feet, then made the tree against the wall, head down and heels up; but nothing appearing, he had recourse to the last and most powerful of his spells. What that was must remain for ever a mystery, for certain reasons; but he wound it up by three times summoning with a sonorous voice—“Rosamond! Rosamond! Rosamond!” At the last of these magic cries, the grand window burst open with the sudden crash of a tempest, and through it descended the lovely Rosamond into the middle of the room.

The Doctor was in a cold sweat, and while he dried himself, the Queen, who thought her fair visitant a thousand times the fairer for the additional difficulty in procuring this second sight, for once let her prudence sleep, and, in a transport of enthusiasm, stepping out of her circle with open arms, cried out, “My dear likeness!” No sooner was the word out, than a violent clap of thunder shook the whole palace; a black vapour filled the gallery, and a train of little fantastic lightnings serpentined to the right and left in the dazzled eyes of the company.

When the obscurity was a little dissipated, they saw the magician, with his four limbs in air, foaming like a wild boar, his cap here, his wig there—in short, by no means an object of either the sublime or beautiful. But though he came off the worst, yet no one in the adventure escaped quite clear, except Rosamond. The lightning burned away my Lord of Essex’s right brow; Sir Sidney lost the left mustachio; her majesty’s head-dress smelt villanously of the sulphur, and her hoop-petticoat was so puckered up with the scorching, that it was ordered to be preserved among the royal draperies, as a warning, to all maids of honour to come, against curiosity.