Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 128.djvu/72

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62

PETS.

nobler feelings with a deadly growth of lust, vanity, and cruelty. The opening scenes, in which the young emperor first feels the weight of his mother's tutelage and guidance, and ultimately fiercely resents her authority, consenting to her death, are finely rendered. It would take too long to recapitulate the events of that short, eventful life, even as recorded by Mr. Story, who has worked out with good dramatic purpose the gradual degradation of a character that originally had great potentialities of good — the legitimate consciousness of a general aptitude turning into an overweening and grotesque vanity, the fatal admixture of impatience and relentlessness, the young ardent nature sinking into mere sensualism, seeking for new, strange ways to satisfy its lust. "There is a fine touch towards the end of the play in the love of Sporus for his master, one of those instances of subjection to a personal charm to which chronicles and portraits give us no clue. The character of Poppæa is also drawn with much skill. She is in no way attractive when we see her first; faitliless to her husband, Otho, plausible and calculating in her passion for Nero, a passion that has none of the real reticence of virtue or the abandon of the time. Then follows the slow retribution — la grande fatalité, as Michelet somewhere calls it — of belonging body and soul to a man whom it is her doom and her moral degradation to love. We soon get to pity rather than to blame her for having usurped by her wiles and beauty the place of the virtuous Octavia; and when she is brutally struck by her husband, just when the hopes of coming motherhood had aroused within her heart something natural and pure in the midst of so much bedizened corruption and vice, we almost wish we could forget that the murder of Agrippina still cries aloud for vengeance — that

The god is great against her, she will die.

When critically analyzed "Nero" is not perhaps a thoroughly great work, but it is very good and pleasant reading, and we quote, certainly not against himself, but genuinely re-echoing the feeling of his lines, with a present sense of pleasure received in many ways —

Blest the poet's song,
The sculptor's art, the painter's living hues,
That thus can make a transient form, a glance,
A smile immortal; time and age defy;
Seize the swift-hurrying thought, and bid it stay
To be a permanent perpetual joy.




From The Saturday Review.

PETS.

Man has been distinguished from brutes as a cooking animal. But he has another characteristic almost equally distinctive. He keeps pets. It is true that sometimes this characteristic is shared by individuals of other races. A horse has been known to become attached to the stable-cat, and to pine in the absence of pussy. So, too, dogs have often allowed a corner of their kennel to some stray animal domesticated about the house, and odd friendships have been cemented between creatures as different as a goat and a jackdaw, or a rabbit and a foxhound. Such brotherhood between tame beasts, all living in a state more or less artificial, is only as natural as the talking of a parrot, the piping of a bullfinch, or the trained labour of a canary taught to work for its living by drawing its water with a bucket and a chain. We never heard of a cat that loved a dear cricket to cheer with friendly chirpings her leisure on the hearth. No puppy has been known to lavish tender caresses on the radiant head of an iridescent bluebottle. The hen whose limited intellect reels before the watery instinct of a brood of ducklings is the victim of parental affection labouring under a base deception. But men pet many creatures besides their offspring, supposititious or other. It is true that a modern naturalist finds in an ants' nest certain well-cared-for beetles, and endeavours in vain to account for such a mysterious fact. Are the beetles scavengers, or are they pets? Or are the ants endued, like men, with superstition, and do they venerate, like the ancient Egyptians, a coleopterous insect? Stirlings show a preference for certain sheep. Every crocodile may be supposed to be the favourite of a particular lapwing. But these instances answer rather to the sportsman's predilection for a well-stocked moor, or the fly-fisher's love for a shady pool. No kitten leads about a mouse with blue ribbon round the little victim's neck, as a child caresses the lamb which it may one day devour. The child shows its petting instinct at the earliest age, and loves a woolly rhinoceros as soon as it loves sugar and apples. Long before the baby can speak, as soon as it can open and close its tiny hands, it longs for something soft and warm, and, above all, something moving, which it may grasp and pinch at will. No worsted poodle, however cunningly contrived in the toy country, can compete for a moment with a real puppy. The pleas-