In the second act a grand Roman official is not above trying to blast Appelles’ reputation by falsely charging him with misappropriating public moneys. Appelles, who is too proud to endure even the suspicion of irregularity, strips himself to naked poverty to square the unfair account, and his troubles begin: the blight which is to continue and spread strikes his life; for the frivolous, pretty creature whom he brought from Rome has no taste for poverty and agrees to elope with a more competent candidate. Her presence in the house has previously brought down the pride and broken the heart of Appelles’ poor old mother; and her life is a failure. Death comes for her, but is willing to trade her for the Roman girl; so the bargain is struck with Appelles, and the mother is spared for the present.
No one’s life escapes the blight. Timoleus, the gay satirist of the first two acts, who scoffed at the pious hypocrisies and money-grubbing ways of the great Roman lords, is grown old and fat and blear-eyed and racked with disease in the third, has lost his stately purities, and watered the acid of his wit. His life has suffered defeat. Unthinkingly he swears by Zeus—from ancient habit—and then quakes with fright; for a fellow-communicant is passing by. Reproached by a pagan friend of his youth for his apostasy, he confesses that principle, when unsupported by an assenting stomach, has to climb down. One must have bread; and ’the bread is Christian now.’ Then the poor old wreck, once so proud of his iron rectitude, hobbles away, coughing and barking.
In that same act Appelles give his sweet young Christian daughter and her fine young pagan lover his consent and blessing, and makes them utterly happy—for five minutes. Then the priest and the mob come, to tear them apart and put the girl in a nunnery; for marriage between the sects is forbidden. Appelles’ wife could dissolve the rule; and she wants to do it; but under priestly pressure she wavers; then, fearing that in providing happiness for her child she would be committing a sin dangerous to her own, she goes over to the opposition, and throws the casting vote for the nunnery. The blight has fallen upon the young couple, and their life is a failure.
In the fourth act, Longinus, who made such a prosperous and enviable start in the first act, is left alone in the desert, sick, blind, helpless, incredibly old, to die: not a friend left in the world—another ruined life. And in that act, also, Appelles’ worshipped boy, Nymphas, done to death by the mob, breathes out his last sigh in his father’s arms—one more failure. In the fifth act, Appelles himself dies, and is glad to do it; he who so ignorantly rejoiced, only four acts before, over the splendid present of an earthly immortality—the very worst failure of the lot!
Now I approach my project. Here is the theatre list for Saturday, May 7, 1898, cut from the advertising columns of a New York paper: