Page images

She then ordered herself to be disrobed, and clasping her hands, she raised her eyes to heaven, ejaculated a short but fervent prayer, and bowed her devoted head to the murderous axe.

So fare thee well, thou beauteous excellence;
While history's golden page of sacred truth,
Records the tablets of thy spotless life:
The matchless power of thy extensive mind:
The peerless beauty of thy blooming youth,
Bending beneath the rod of tyranny!
Hunanity! shall on thy grave let fall
The tear, whilst pity leaves the tender sigh,
Ang consourates thy hapless name for ever?!

[ocr errors]
[merged small][graphic][ocr errors]

The first, of gold, which this inscription bears ;
Who chooseth me, shcll gain what many men desire.
The second, silver, which this promise carries;
Who chooseth me, shall get as much as he deserves.
The third, dull lead, warning all as blunt;
Who chooseth me, must give and hazard all he hath.
How shall I know if I do choose the right ?***

It was the singular whim of an Italian nobleman, residing in his castle of Belmont, to devise a new mode of wooing. He was wealthy, and had one daughter, a lady of exquisite beauty, an only child, who was heiress to all his riches. Being well aware that her fortune would expose her to a variety of suitors, and that she would probably be deceived, and imposed upon-he resolved to guard her if possible from that danger, though he left her liable to a much greater ; as, according to his mode, she might be chosen by one she did not love, and her future life thus be rendered wretched, by an ill sorted union. It was, when on his death bed, the idea struck him that he would at least make an effort to save his beloved child from becoming the prey of avarice: he therefore drew up a testament, the purport of which was, that his daughter must never marry unless she consented to be won after the manner of his will; wherein he ordered three caskets, one of gold, one of silver, and one of lead, to be secretly prepared ; and upon the choice of theşe, she was to be cither won or lost. But in order to prevent too many bold adventurers from intruding, each suitor was to be enjoined by oath to the observance of three things : first, never to unfold to any one which casket he chose, next if he chose wrong, never to marry, and lastly to depart immediately on the failure of his venture.

The lady Portia's beauty and attractions, and her excessive wealth, rendered her an object of great notoriety. Her fame spread abroad, and the fair heiress of Belmont was the theme of numerous tongues. Notwithstanding the penalty of eternal celibacy-she was assailed by suitors in abundance, who ventured the hazard. The first was the Prince of Morocco; he deliberated over and over again, read, and re-read the inscriptions; the superb gold casket, inlaid with gems—attracted his attention, and he translated the motto to his own fancy.

Who chooseth me, shall gain what many men desire.
Why that's the lady : all the world desires her ;
From the four corners of the earth they come
To kiss this shrine, this mortal breathing saint.

[blocks in formation]

One of these three contains her heavenly picturó.
Is't like, that lead contains her-
Or shall I think in silver she's immersed,
Being ten times undervalued to try'd gold?
O sinful thought ! never so rich a gem
Was set in worse than gold-

He demanded the key, and eagerly opening the casket, found a frightful death's head, with a scroll issuing from the vacant eye- «containing these words :

[graphic][merged small]
[ocr errors]

The Prince, deeply mortified, took his leave-lamenting his disappointment, in the loss of so fair a bride, and the unfortunate sacrifice he had made, in condemning himself to perpetual celibacy.

The second suitor was the prince of Arragon, a proud imperious man, who imagined the world made for him alone. Portia’s beauty, or her virtue, was no attraction to him ; he but desired her wealth, and the honour of having won a prize which so many were resolved to contend for. The penalty hazarded was not any extraordinary mortification to him, as he felt no great disposition to part with his freedom -or stoop to the servile task of wooing in the ordinary way. On examining the caskets, he disdained to touch the leaden one, and the gold he affected to despise, as gold he said attracted "the fool multitude."

He therefore would not chooso" what many

« PreviousContinue »