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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Conspiracy

By Victor Hugo (1802–1885)

  • From ‘Hernani’: Translation of Camilla Crosland
  • [The scene is the crypt that incloses the tomb of Charlemagne, under the cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelle. It is night. Great arches in Lombardian architecture, with capitals of birds and flowers. At the right of the stage is a small bronze door, low and curved. A single lamp in the gloom, suspended from the stone ceiling, shows the inscription “CAROLVS MAGNVS.” One cannot see to the end of the succeeding vaults, in the intricacy of arches, steps, and columns in shadow. Don Carlos of Spain, aware of the meeting of the conspiring league, of which the outlawed Hernani is a member, has decided (at the risk of assassination) to overhear the plot and to surprise the plotters; not only in their own council but at the moment when he is likely, in spite of their cabal, to be announced as elected Emperor by the firing of three cannon at the command of the electoral college. This extract abridges his sombre monologue, giving the beginning and concluding passage.]

  • DON CARLOS[alone]—Forgive me, Charlemagne! Oh, this lonely vault

    Should echo only unto solemn words.

    Thou must be angry at the babble vain

    Of our ambition at your monument.

    Here Charlemagne rests! How can the sombre tomb

    Without a rifting spasm hold such dust!

    And art thou truly here, colossal power,

    Creator of the world? And canst thou now

    Crouch down from all thy majesty and might?

    Ah, ’tis a spectacle to stir the soul—

    What Europe was, and what by thee ’twas made.

    To govern this—to mount so high if called,

    Yet know myself to be but mortal man!

    To see the abyss—if not that moment struck

    With dizziness bewildering every sense.

    Oh, moving pyramid of states and kings

    With apex narrow,—woe to timid step!

    What shall restrain me? If I fail when there

    Feeling my feet upon the trembling world,

    Feeling alive the palpitating earth,

    Then when I have between my hands the globe

    Have I alone the strength to hold it fast,

    To be an Emperor? O God! ’twas hard

    And difficult to play the kingly part.

    Certes, no man is rarer than the one

    Who can enlarge his soul to duly meet

    Great Fortune’s smiles and still increasing gifts.

    But I!—Who is it that shall be my guide,

    My counselor, and make me great?[Falls on his knees before the tomb.]
    ’Tis thou,

    O Charlemagne! And since ’tis God for whom

    All obstacles dissolve, who takes us now

    And puts us face to face,—from this tomb’s depths

    Endow me with sublimity and strength.

    Let me be great enough to see the truth

    On every side. Show me how small the world

    I dare not measure—me this Babel show

    Where, from the hind to Cæsar mounting up,

    Each one, complaisant with himself, regards

    The next with scorn that is but half restrained.

    Teach me the secret of thy conquests all,

    And how to rule. And show me certainly

    Whether to punish or to pardon be

    The worthier thing to do.
    Is it not fact

    That in his solitary bed sometimes

    A mighty shade is wakened from his sleep,

    Aroused by noise and turbulence on earth;

    That suddenly his tomb expands itself,

    And bursts its doors—and in the night flings forth

    A flood of light? If this be true indeed,

    Say, Emperor! what can after Charlemagne

    Another do! Speak, though thy sovereign breath

    Should cleave this brazen door. Or rather now

    Let me thy sanctuary enter lone!

    Let me behold thy veritable face,

    And not repulse me with a freezing breath,

    Upon thy stony pillow elbows lean,

    And let us talk. Yes, with prophetic voice

    Tell me of things which make the forehead pale,

    And clear eyes mournful. Speak, and do not blind

    Thine awe-struck son, for doubtlessly thy tomb

    Is full of light. Or if thou wilt not speak,

    Let me make study in the solemn peace

    Of thee, as of a world, thy measure take,

    O giant! for there’s nothing here below

    So great as thy poor ashes. Let them teach,

    Failing thy spirit.[He puts the key in the lock.]
    Let us enter now.[He recoils.]

    O God, if he should really whisper me!

    If he be there and walks with noiseless tread,

    And I come back with hair in moments bleached!

    I’ll do it still.

    [Sound of footsteps.]
    Who comes? who dares disturb

    Besides myself the dwelling of such dead!

    [The sound comes nearer.]
    My murderers! I forgot! Now enter we.

    [He opens the door of the tomb, which shuts upon him.]
    Enter several men (Conspirators) walking softly, disguised by large cloaks and hats.They take each other’s hands, going from one to another and speaking in a low tone.
    First Conspirator[who alone carries a lighted torch]—Ad augusta.
    Second ConspiratorPer angusta.
    First Conspirator—The Saints

    Shield us.
    Third Conspirator—The dead assist us.
    First Conspirator—Guard us, God!

    [Noise in the shade.]
    First Conspirator—Who’s there?
    A VoiceAd augusta.
    Second ConspiratorPer angusta.

    Enter fresh Conspirators—noise of footsteps
    First Conspirator to Third—See! there is some one still to come.
    Third Conspirator—Who’s there?

    Voice[in the darkness]—Ad augusta.
    Third ConspiratorPer angusta.

    Enter more Conspirators, who exchange signs with their hands with the others
    First Conspirator—’Tis well.

    All now are here. Gotha, to you it falls

    To state the case. Friends, darkness waits for light[The Conspirators sit in a half-circle on the tombs.The First Conspirator passes before them, and from his torch each one lights a wax taper which he holds in his hand.Then the First Conspirator seats himself in silence on a tomb a little higher than the others, in the centre of the circle.]

    Duke of Gotha[rising]—My friends! This Charles of Spain, by mother’s side

    A foreigner, aspires to mount the throne

    Of Holy Empire.
    First Conspirator—But for him the grave.

    Duke of Gotha[throwing down his light and crushing it with his foot]—Let it be with his head as with this flame.

    All—So be it.
    First Conspirator—Death unto him.
    Duke of Gotha—Let him die.

    All—Let him be slain.
    Don Juan de Haro—German his father was.

    Duke de Lutzelbourg—His mother Spanish.
    Duke of Gotha—Thus you see that he

    Is no more one than other. Let him die.

    A Conspirator—Suppose th’ Electors at this very hour

    Declare him Emperor!
    First Conspirator—Him! oh, never him!

    Don Gil Tellez Giron—What signifies? Let us strike off the head,

    The Crown will fall.
    First Conspirator—But if to him belongs

    The Holy Empire, he becomes so great

    And so august, that only God’s own hand

    Can reach him.
    Duke of Gotha—All the better reason why

    He dies before such power august he gains.

    First Conspirator—He shall not be elected.
    All—Not for him

    The Empire.
    First Conspirator—Now, how many hands will’t take

    To put him in his shroud?
    All—One is enough.

    First Conspirator—How many strokes to reach his heart?
    All—But one.

    First Conspirator—Who, then, will strike?
    All—All! All!
    First Conspirator—The victim is

    A traitor proved. They would an Emperor choose,

    We’ve a high priest to make. Let us draw lots.[All the Conspirators write their names on their tablets, tear out the leaf, roll it up, and one after another throw them into the urn on one of the tombs.Afterwards the First Conspirator says:—]

    Now let us pray.

    [All kneel; the First Conspirator rises and says:—]
    Oh, may the chosen one

    Believe in God, and like a Roman strike,

    Die as a Hebrew would, and brave alike

    The wheel and burning pincers, laugh at rack,

    And fire, and wooden horse, and be resigned

    To kill and die. He might have all to do.

    [He draws a parchment from the urn.]
    All—What name?

    First Conspirator[in low voice]—Hernani!
    Hernani[coming out from the crowd of Conspirators]—I have won,—yes, won!

    I hold thee fast! Thee I’ve so long pursued

    With vengeance.
    Don Ruy Gomez[piercing through the crowd and taking Hernani aside]—Yield—oh yield this right to me.

    Hernani—Not for my life! O Signor, grudge me not

    This stroke of fortune—’tis the first I’ve known.

    Don Ruy Gomez—You nothing have! I’ll give you houses, lands,

    A hundred thousand vassals shall be yours

    In my three hundred villages, if you

    But yield the right to strike to me.

    Duke of Gotha—Old man, thy arm would strike less sure a blow.

    Don Ruy Gomez—Back! I have strength of soul, if not of arm.

    Judge not the sword by the mere scabbard’s rust.

    [To Hernani]—You do belong to me.
    Hernani—My life is yours,

    As his belongs to me.
    Don Ruy Gomez[drawing the horn from his girdle]—I yield Her up,

    And will return the horn.
    Hernani[trembling]—What life! my life

    And Doña Sol! No, I my vengeance choose.

    I have my father to revenge—yet more,

    Perchance I am inspired by God in this.

    Don Ruy Gomez—I yield thee Her—and give thee back the horn!

    Don Ruy Gomez—Boy, reflect.
    Hernani—O Duke, leave me my prey!

    Don Ruy Gomez—My curses on you for depriving me

    Of this my joy.
    First Conspirator[to Hernani]—O brother! ere they can

    Elect him—’twould be well this very night

    To watch for Charles.
    Hernani—Fear naught: I know the way

    To kill a man.
    First Conspirator—May every treason fall

    On traitor, and may God be with you now.

    We Counts and Barons, let us take the oath

    That if he fall, yet slay not, we go on

    And strike by turn unflinching till Charles dies.

    All[drawing their swords]—Let us all swear.
    Duke of Gotha[to First Conspirator]—My brother, let’s decide

    On what we swear.
    Don Ruy Gomez[taking his sword by the point and raising it above his head]—By this same cross—
    All[raising their swords]—And this—

    That he must quickly die impenitent.

    [They hear a cannon fired afar off.All pause and are silent.The door of the tomb half opens, and Don Carlos appears at the threshold.A second gun is fired, then a third.He opens wide the door, and stands erect and motionless without advancing.]
    Don Carlos—Fall back, ye gentlemen—the Emperor hears.

    [All the lights are simultaneously extinguished.A profound silence.Don Carlos advances a step in the darkness, so dense that the silent, motionless Conspirators can scarcely be distinguished.]
    Silence and night! From darkness sprung, the swarm

    Into the darkness plunges back again!

    Think ye this scene is like a passing dream,

    And that I take you, now your lights are quenched,

    For men’s stone figures seated on their tombs?

    Just now, my statues, you had voices loud,

    Raise, then, your drooping heads, for Charles the Fifth

    Is here. Strike. Move a pace or two and show

    You dare. But no, ’tis not in you to dare.

    Your flaming torches, blood-red ’neath these vaults,

    My breath extinguished; but now turn your eyes

    Irresolute, and see that if I thus

    Put out the many, I can light still more.

    [He strikes the iron key on the bronze door of the tomb.At the sound all the depths of the cavern are filled with soldiers bearing torches and halberts.At their head the Duke d’Alcala, the Marquis d’Almuñan, etc.]
    Come on, my falcons! I’ve the nest—the prey.

    [To Conspirators]—I can make blaze of light; ’tis my turn now,—

    Behold![To the Soldiers]—Advance—for flagrant is the crime.

    Hernani[looking at the Soldiers]—Ah, well! At first I thought ’twas Charlemagne,—

    Alone he seemed so great,—but after all

    ’Tis only Charles the Fifth.
    Don Carlos[to the Duke d’Alcala]—Come, Constable

    Of Spain,[To Marquis d’Almuñan]—And you, Castilian Admiral,

    Disarm them all.

    [The Conspirators are surrounded and disarmed.]
    Don Ricardo[hurrying in and bowing almost to the ground]—Your Majesty!
    Don Carlos—Alcadé

    I make you of the Palace.
    Don Ricardo[again bowing]—Two Electors,

    To represent the Golden Chamber, come

    To offer to your Sacred Majesty

    Congratulations now.
    Don Carlos—Let them come forth.

    [Aside to Don Ricardo]—The Doña Sol.

    [Ricardo bows, and exit.]
    Enter with flambeaux and flourish of trumpets the King of Bohemia and the Duke of Bavaria, both wearing cloth of gold and with crowns on their heads, and with numerous followers.German nobles carrying the banner of the Empire, the double-headed Eagle, with the escutcheon of Spain in the middle of it.The Soldiers divide, forming lines between which the Electors pass to the Emperor, to whom they bow low.He returns the salutation by raising his hat.
    Duke of Bavaria—Most Sacred Majesty

    Charles, of the Romans King, and Emperor,

    The Empire of the world is in your hands—

    Yours is the throne to which each king aspires!

    The Saxon Frederick was elected first,

    But he judged you more worthy, and declined.

    Now then receive the crown and globe, O King:

    The Holy Empire doth invest you now;

    Arms with the sword, and you indeed are great.

    Don Carlos—The College I will thank on my return.

    But go, my brother of Bohemia,

    And you, Bavarian cousin.—Thanks; but now

    I do dismiss you—I shall go myself.

    King of Bohemia—O Charles, our ancestors were friends. My sire

    Loved yours, and their two fathers were two friends—

    So young! exposed to varied fortunes! Say,

    O Charles, may I be ranked a very chief

    Among thy brothers? I cannot forget

    I knew you as a little child.
    Don Carlos—Ah, well—

    King of Bohemia, you presume too much.

    [He gives him his hand to kiss, also the Duke of Bavaria; both bow low.]
    [Exeunt the two Electors with their followers.]
    Don Carlos[aside]—So ’tis mine!

    All things have helped, and I am Emperor—

    By the refusal, though, of Frederick

    Surnamed the Wise!

    Enter Doña Sol, led by Ricardo
    Doña Sol—What, soldiers!—Emperor!—

    Hernani! Heaven, what an unlooked-for chance!

    Hernani—Ah! Doña Sol!
    Don Ruy Gomez[aside to Hernani]—She has not seen me.

    [Doña Sol runs to Hernani, who makes her recoil by a look of disdain.]

    Doña Sol[drawing the dagger from her bosom]—I still his poniard have!
    Hernani[taking her in his arms]—My dearest one!

    Don Carlos—Be silent all.[To the Conspirators]—Is’t you remorseless are?

    I need to give the world a lesson now,

    The Lara of Castile, and Gotha, you

    Of Saxony—all—all—what were your plans

    Just now? I bid you speak.
    Hernani—Quite simple, sire,

    The thing, and we can briefly tell it you.

    We ’graved the sentence on Belshazzar’s wall.[He takes out a poniard and brandishes it.]

    We render unto Cæsar Cæsar’s due.

    Don Carlos—Silence![To Don Ruy Gomez]—And you! you too are traitor, Silva!

    Don Ruy Gomez—Which of us two is traitor, sire?
    Hernani[turning towards the Conspirators]—Our heads

    And Empire—all that he desires he has.

    [To the Emperor]—The mantle blue of kings incumbered you;

    The purple better suits—it shows not blood.

    Don Carlos.[to Don Ruy Gomez]—Cousin of Silva, this is felony,

    Attainting your baronial rank. Think well,

    Don Ruy— high treason!
    Don Ruy Gomez—Kings like Roderick

    Count Julians make.
    Don Carlos[to the Duke d’Alcala]—Seize only those who seem

    The nobles; for the rest!—
    [Don Ruy Gomez, the Duke de Lutzelbourg, the Duke of Gotha, Don Juan de Haro, Don Guzman de Lara, Don Tellez Giron, the Baron of Hohenbourg separate themselves from the group of Conspirators, among whom is Hernani.The Duke d’Alcala surrounds them with guards.]
    Doña Sol[aside]—Ah, he is saved!

    Hernani[coming from among the Conspirators]—I claim to be included![To Don Carlos]—Since to this

    It comes, the question of the axe: that now

    Hernani, humble churl, beneath thy feet

    Unpunished goes, because his brow is not

    At level with thy sword,—because one must

    Be great to die,—I rise. God, who gives power,

    And gives to thee the sceptre, made me Duke

    Of Segorbe and Cardona, Marquis too

    Of Monroy, Albaterra’s Count, of Gor

    Viscount, and lord of many places, more

    Than I can name. Juan of Aragon

    Am I, Grand Master of Avis—the son

    In exile born, of murdered father slain

    By king’s decree, King Charles, which me proscribed,

    Thus death ’twixt us is family affair;

    You have the scaffold—we the poniard hold.

    Since heaven a duke has made me, and exile

    A mountaineer,—since all in vain I’ve sharpened

    Upon the hills my sword, and in the torrents

    Have tempered it,[He puts on his hat.
    [To the Conspirators]—Let us be covered now,—

    Us, the Grandees of Spain.[They cover.
    [To Don Carlos]—Our heads, O King,

    Have right to fall before thee covered thus.

    [To the Prisoners]—Silva and Haro, Lara,—men of rank

    And race,—make room for Juan of Aragon.

    Give me my place, ye dukes and counts—my place.

    [To the Courtiers and Guards]—King, headsmen, varlets—Juan of Aragon

    Am I. If all your scaffolds are too small,

    Make new ones.[He joins the group of Nobles.]
    Doña Sol—Heavens!
    Don Carlos—I had forgotten quite

    This history.
    Hernani—But they who bleed remember

    Far better. Th’ evil that wrong-doer thus

    So senselessly forgets, forever stirs

    Within the outraged heart.
    Don Carlos—Therefore, enough

    For me to bear this title, that I’m son

    Of sires, whose power dealt death to ancestors

    Of yours!
    Doña Sol[falling on her knees before the Emperor]—Oh, pardon—pardon! Mercy, sire;

    Be pitiful, or strike us both, I pray:

    For he my lover is, my promised spouse;

    In him it is alone I live—I breathe;

    O sire, in mercy us together slay.

    Trembling, O Majesty! I trail myself

    Before your sacred knees. I love him, sire,

    And he is mine—as Empire is your own.

    Have pity![Don Carlos looks at her without moving.]Oh, what thought absorbs you?
    Don Carlos—Cease.

    Rise, Duchess of Segorbé, Marchioness

    Of Monroy, Countess Albaterra, and—

    [To Hernani]—Thine other names, Don Juan?
    Hernani—Who speaks thus:

    The King?
    Don Carlos—No, ’tis the Emperor.
    Doña Sol—Just Heaven!

    Don Carlos[pointing to her]—Duke Juan, take your wife.
    Hernani[his eyes raised to heaven, Doña Sol in his arms]—Just God!
    Don Carlos[to Don Ruy Gomez]—My cousin,

    I know the pride of your nobility,

    But Aragon with Silva well may mate.

    Don Ruy Gomez[bitterly]—’Tis not a question of nobility.

    Hernani[looking with love on Doña Sol and still holding her in his arms]—My deadly hate is vanishing away.[Throws away his dagger.]

    Don Ruy Gomez[aside, and looking at them]—Shall I betray myself? Oh, no—my grief,

    My foolish love would make them pity cast

    Upon my venerable head. Old man

    And Spaniard! Let the hidden fire consume,

    And suffer still in secret. Let heart break

    But cry not;—they would laugh at thee.
    Doña Sol[still in Hernani’s arms]—My Duke!

    Hernani—Nothing my soul holds now but love!
    Doña Sol—Oh, joy!

    Don Carlos[aside, his hand in his bosom]—Stifle thyself, young heart so full of flame;

    Let reign again the better thoughts which thou

    So long hast troubled. Henceforth let thy loves,

    Thy mistresses, alas! be Germany

    And Flanders—Spain.[Looking at the banner.]The Emperor is like

    The Eagle his companion,—in the place

    Of heart, there’s but a ’scutcheon.
    Hernani—Cæsar you!

    Don Carlos—Don Juan, of your ancient name and race

    Your soul is worthy,[Pointing to Doña Sol.]Worthy e’en of her.

    Kneel, Duke.

    [Hernani kneels.Don Carlos unfastens his own Golden Fleece and puts it on Hernani’s neck.]
    Receive this collar.
    [Don Carlos draws his sword and strikes him three times on the shoulder.]
    Faithful be;

    For by St. Stephen now I make thee Knight.[He raises and embraces him.]

    Thou hast a collar softer and more choice,—

    That which is wanting to my rank supreme,—

    The arms of loving woman, loved by thee.

    Thou wilt be happy—I am Emperor.

    [To Conspirators]—Sirs, I forget your names. Anger and hate

    I will forget. Go—go—I pardon you.

    This is the lesson that the world much needs.

    The Conspirators—Glory to Charles!
    Don Ruy Gomez[to Don Carlos]—I only suffer, then!

    Don Carlos—And I!
    Don Ruy Gomez—But I have not like Majesty

    Hernani—Who is’t has worked this wondrous change?

    All—Nobles, Soldiers, Conspirators—Honor to Charles the Fifth, and Germany!

    Don Carlos[turning to the tomb]—Honor to Charlemagne! Leave us now together.[Exeunt all.]

    Don Carlos[alone]—[He bends towards the tomb.]
    Art thou content with me, O Charlemagne?

    Have I the kingship’s littleness stripped off?

    Become as Emperor another man?

    Can I Rome’s mitre add unto my helm?

    Have I the right the fortunes of the world

    To sway? Have I a steady foot that safe

    Can tread the path, by Vandal ruins strewed,

    Which thou hast beaten by thine armies vast?

    Have I my candle lighted at thy flame?

    Did I interpret right the voice that spake

    Within this tomb? Ah, I was lost—alone

    Before an Empire—a wide howling world

    That threatened and conspired! There were the Danes

    To punish, and the Holy Father’s self

    To compensate—with Venice—Soliman,

    Francis, and Luther—and a thousand dirks

    Gleaming already in the shade—snares—rocks;

    And countless foes; a score of nations, each

    Of which might serve to awe a score of kings.

    Things ripe, all pressing to be done at once.

    I cried to thee—with what shall I begin?

    And thou didst answer—Son, by clemency!