It has been justly said that the present half century has witnessed the rise and triumphs of science, the extent and marvels of which even Bacon’s fancy never conceived, simultaneously with superstitions grosser than any which Bacon’s age believed. “The one is, in fact, the natural reaction from the other. The more science seeks to exclude the miraculous, and reduce all nature, animate and inanimate, to an invariable law of sequences, the more does the natural instinct of man rebel, and seek an outlet for those obstinate questionings, those ’blank misgivings of a creature moving about in worlds not realised,’ taking refuge in delusions as degrading as any of the so-called Dark Ages.” It was the revolt from the chilling materialism of the age which inspired the mystic creations of “Zanoni” and “A Strange Story.” Of these works, which support and supplement each other, one is the contemplation of our actual life through a spiritual medium, the other is designed to show that, without some gleams of the supernatural, man is not man, nor nature nature.
In “Zanoni” the author introduces us to two human beings who have achieved immortality: one, Mejnour, void of all passion or feeling, calm, benignant, bloodless, an intellect rather than a man; the other, Zanoni, the pupil of Mejnour, the representative of an ideal life in its utmost perfection, possessing eternal youth, absolute power, and absolute knowledge, and withal the fullest capacity to enjoy and to love, and, as a necessity of that love, to sorrow and despair. By his love for Viola Zanoni is compelled to descend from his exalted state, to lose his eternal calm, and to share in the cares and anxieties of humanity; and this degradation is completed by the birth of a child. Finally, he gives up the life which hangs on that of another, in order to save that other, the loving and beloved wife, who has delivered him from his solitude and isolation. Wife and child are mortal, and to outlive them and his love for them is impossible. But Mejnour, who is the impersonation of thought,—pure intellect without affection,—lives on.