Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  »  Part II. The Golden Legend. VI. I. The School of Salerno

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.

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.

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,

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,

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;

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.

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;

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.

I, with the Doctor Seraphic, maintain,

That a word which is only conceived in the brain

Is a type of eternal Generation;

The spoken word is the Incarnation.

What do I care for the Doctor Seraphic,

With all his wordy chaffer and traffic?

You make but a paltry show of resistance;

Universals have no real existence!

Your words are but idle and empty chatter;

Ideas are eternally joined to matter!

May the Lord have mercy on your position,

You wretched, wrangling culler of herbs!

May he send your soul to eternal perdition,

For your Treatise on the Irregular Verbs!

They rush out fighting. Two Scholars come in.

Monte Cassino, then, is your College.

What think you of ours here at Salern?

To tell the truth, I arrived so lately,

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.

Yes, the air is sweet; the Calabrian hills

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;

Pilgrims, and mendicant friars, and traders

From the Levant, with figs and wine,

And bands of wounded and sick Crusaders,

Coming back from Palestine.

And what are the studies you pursue?

What is the course you here go through?

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.

That seems rather strange, I must confess,

In a Medical School; yet, nevertheless,

You doubtless have reasons for that.

Oh yes!

For none but a clever dialectician

Can hope to become a great physician;

That has been settled long ago.

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

Devoted wholly to medicine,

With lectures on chirurgical lore,

And dissections of the bodies of swine,

As likest the human form divine.

What are the books now most in vogue?

Quite an extensive catalogue;

Mostly, however, books of our own;

As Gariopontus’ Passionarius,

And the writings of Matthew Platearius;

And a volume universally known

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,

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,

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;

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.

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.

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.

This is the great School of Salern!

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!

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

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,

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

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

With such a prodigal waste of brains.


“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.

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,

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,

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!

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!

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,

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

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,

The safest and subtlest are such as he.

Enter PRINCE HENRY and ELSIE, with attendants.

Can you direct us to Friar Angelo?

He stands before you.

Then you know our purpose.

I am Prince Henry of Hoheneck, and this

The maiden that I spake of in my letters.

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?

Against all opposition,

Against all prayers, entreaties, protestations.

She will not be persuaded.

That is strange!

Have you thought well of it?

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

Ere any thoughts of earth disturb again

The spirit of tranquillity within me.

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?

Let me go back and die.

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.

I forbid it!

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!

O my Prince! remember

Your promises. Let me fulfil my errand.

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

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.

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.

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.


And you, O Prince! bear back my benison

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.

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,

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.

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.

Alas! Prince Henry!

Come with me; this way.
ELSIE goes in with LUCIFER, who thrusts PRINCE HENRY back and closes the door.

Gone! and the light of all my life gone with her!

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!

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.

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!

Unbar the door!

It is too late!

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