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batekin Many funeral customs of the ancients were somewhat unpleasant to the compulsory actors therein, and savored a trifle of barbarity. If we may credit Herodotus, the officers and courtiers of the Scythian court must have experienced not a little trepidation on the demise of one of their kings. That sage historian relates, that after being embalmed and wrapped in waxed clothes or cerements, the body of the defunct ruler was placed in a gayly decorated chariot, and paraded from city to city, in order that his late subjects might be blessed with a glimpse of one whom, perchance, in life they heartily detested. Afterwards came the ceremony of interment. A huge pit was dug, in which was deposited the royal body, and with it his choicest wife, his chief cup-bearer, his chamberlain, his master of horse, his secretary of state, and a few other prime favorites, who, can it be doubted, scuffled with and buffeted one another for the honor of being thus slaughtered. Several horses, costly drinking vessels, and furniture were added, after which the grave was filled in with earth. But let it not be supposed that the ceremonies ended here : no, indeed; for on the anniversary of his interment, the loyal lieges, who, on the first occasion, had been defrauded of their right to be slain, had a fresh chance; for the powers that were, cut the throats of fifty more of the dead king's officers, and of the same number of horses ; and having caused them all to be prepared and handsomely stuffed for the purpose, mounted the officers on the horses around the royal tomb, to attend their master, should he deem it necessary to require their services. In describing this ceremony,. Rollin naïvely remarks, “ Whether employments that terminated in this manner were much sought after, I will not determine ;" but some satirist of our own day declares, that if the plague had offices to bestow, it would be courted. Verily is human nature an enigma.
The ancients buried without their cities and towns; a usage which prevailed equally among Jews, Greeks, and Romans. The usual places of interment were in the suburbs and fields, but especially by the waysides. Intramural interment was prohibited, although a few, for singular merit or dazzling achievements, were buried within the cities. To inure the youth to the aspect of death, the Lacedemonians were permitted by Lycurgus to bury in the city and around the temples. The bodies of heroes, especially, were buried
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with superb honors, in order to impress powerfully on the minds of the rising generation the grand maxim,
" Dulce et decorum est pro patriâ mori ;'' which, doubtless, then as now, was a favorite one with those home warriors, who, though determined themselves to live for her, are, nevertheless, entirely willing, nay, anxious, that their neighbors should immolate themselves upon her altar. During the first three centuries, burying in cities was not permitted by the early Christians, and in churches it was altogether interdicted until long after.
We observe, in a recent work, entitled, “Burning the Dead, or Urn Sepulture," that some persons have been libelling human nature in the nineteenth century, by advocating a resort to the practice of cremation, on the plea that the dead encroach upon the territories of the living, to the detriment of health and convenience, and this, too, while vast tracts of land are lying waste in pleasure-parks and forests. The mere suggestion kindles within us a flame of wrath. Sooner, ten thousand times sooner, would we consign the body of our friend to the tender mercies of the deep, or even to the fearful burialpits of Naples, than be guilty of thus accelerating the dissosution which is the office only of kindly nature. We sympathize with the Egyptians in their fond anxiety to preserve by antiseptic arts the dead from decay; but from the funeral pyra of heathen Rome we recoil with disgust and loathing, and esteem it sacrilegious and revolting, though kindled with the most precious materials that the universe affords. A French chemist, it is said with the approbation of the French government, has proposed a method for superseding cemeteries by great edifices termed sarcophagi, wherein all bodies may be reduced to ashes in a few moments. He follows the description of his plan with the brilliant suggestion that it might also be the means of inaugurating a new era in art. “Who,” says he, “would not wish to preserve the ashes of his ancestor? The funeral urn may soon replace, on our consoles and mantel-pieces, the ornaments of bronze clocks and china vases now found there." The amiable genius which, for infantile amusement, prompted the construction of toy guillotines, with their frightful paraphernalia, would, were this system to be adopted, have a rich field of operation in manufacturing for children, from the remains of parents and friends, all manner of dainty playthings, such as marbles, tops, and balls. What exhilarating sport it would be for a group of urchins to knuckle down at taw with pockets full of old grandparents and other reverend kin! The idea is expansive, and opens a brilliant vein of thought. By the exercise of a little graceful ingenuity, the taste of every description of mourner might be gratified. The antiquarian might be modelled into a Grecian cresset or Roman vase; the philosopher into the head of a walking-stick or snuff-box; the dreamy student into a fancy meerschaum. The artist might still subserve his darling profession in a tube of mummy, or as the knob of a maul-stick ; the musician as piano or organkeys; the author as an inkstand or penhoīder; and the gamester could then literally hazard his all upon a die. The vaporish belle would make a capital vinaigrette; and the busy housewife one of the numerous insignia of housekeeping. Confusion to every such suggestion—may they all end in smoke!
ART. IV.-1. Della Literatura Italiana nella seconda metà del Sicolo
XVIII. Opera di CAMILLO UGONI. 3 vols. Brescia. 2. Famiglie Celebri Italiane del C. POMPEO LITTA. Milan. 3. Storia di Napoli dal 1734 at 1825. Del Gen. COLLETTA. 4. Teatro Comico dell' Avvocato ALBERTO NOTA. 5 vols. Livorno.
The contemporary literature of Italy is so little known in this country, that the general impression, even among our educated classes, is, that there is no longer any intellectual activity among the countrymen of Virgil and Horace, Dante and Tasso, Michael Angelo and Machiavelli. Our main object in the present article will be, to show that this is a mistake ; and, although our limits will not admit of extended extracts, we feel satisfied that the specimens we shall give, even at random, from comparatively recent works, will agreeably undeceive many. It is true, indeed, that neither the eighteenth nor the nineteenth century has produced such intellectual giants as any of those mentioned, and whose names have rendered Italy more illustrious than any other country in the world, save Greece alone. But a similar remark may be made in reference to England and France, as well as to Spain. Even Germany, whose intellect may be said to be the youngest, compared to the principal nations of Europe, can boast no living Goethe, Schiller, or Klopstock.
Not to mention Shakespeare, Burke, Bacon, or Swift, England has no longer such thinkers as Pope, Addison, Dryden, Locke, and Newton. Still less can France boast such men as Corneille, Racine, Boileau, and Fénélon. We might easily extend the comparison, but this is sufficient.
It may be replied, that, if the countries mentioned have exhibited a falling off in this way, they still afford evidence of considerable intellectual activity. This is true—they exhibit more to foreign nations than Italy; nay, they really are more intellectually active. But there are reasons enough for this, without attributing it to the
degeneracy of the Italian Almost from the time of Tasso to the present, the greater part of Italy has been under a foreign yoke; to a considerable extent, the Italian mind has been fettered. But, had full liberty of thought and speech been allowed, political inferiority, and consequent poverty, would be sufficient to account for the comparative obscurity of Italian writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
It is with nations as with individuals, in this as in many other cases. If a wealthy and powerful man writes a book, it is sure to be talked of; if it has any merits, they are sure to be extolled; whether it has or not, it will get many to commend it; whereas, if a poor man perform a similar feat, except there is something extraordinary in his book, or that a rich man, or an author already famous, is supposed to have written it, the probability is that it will fall still-born from the press. Nay, much depends on the wealth, or supposed wealth, of the publisher who issues a book. If he is poor and can only issue one at long intervals, it is either “killed with faint praise,” or ignored altogether; whereas, if it bears the imprint of one who issues a large number of volumes annually, and who is willing to appreciate any efficient aid in bringing the same before the public, the case is entirely reversed. Many a true genius has been discouraged in this way. No amount of praise and encouragement can, indeed, render mediocrity immortal ; but it often establishes a reputation which lasts for a decade, if not for a lifetime.
Because France and England are the wealthiest and most powerful nations in Europe, their literatures are the most generally read in proportion. The character of the language, too, has considerable influence in contributing to the fame of authors. The French is more attractive than the English, hence it is more studied—no other language of ancient or modern times approaches nearer to the character of a univer
sal language; and just in proportion as it is thus universal has the author who writes in it a superior opportunity of rendering himself famous.* But the Italian language is comparatively little studied out of Italy. This has been the case since the downfall of the Republics of the middle ages. As long as these were powerful and carried on an extensive commerce with the other great nations of the earth, even fourth-rate Italian authors might aspire to be read from one end of Europe to the other-authors much inferior to many of the present day, who are scarcely ever heard of beyond the Alps, or, if read by a few in France and Germany, are entirely unknown in England and America. Independently of these facts, we should bear in mind that, if few Italian authors of the present day are read in England or America, few English or American books are read in Italy. If we make due allowance for the political importance of England and America in comparison with Italy, we shall find that, judging from what they see and hear, the Italians have as good reason to charge us with intellectual degeneracy as we have to charge them. Nay, indeed, a good deal more; for if they do not furnish us many books, we are forced to admit that they still furnish us the best specimens of sculpture and painting in the world, not to mention their musical compositions, which are the delight of all nations.
But, as we shall presently show, they furnish us good books also, at least they produce such, and if we do not avail ourselves of them, the fault is not theirs. Let us first bear in mind that Italian literature is the oldest of modern Europe. While the darkness of barbarism brooded over almost every other country in Europe, the minstrels of Italy were chanting their songs of love and chivalry, and Italian romancists invented stories that were listened to with avidity from the Tagus to the Vistula. When Dante wrote his Divina Commedia, no other modern nation in Europe could boast a first-class thinker, and he was immediately followed by Petrarch and Boccaccio. No more delightful authors have ever written anywhere than these; the illustrious trio have again and again been translated into every language in Europe; yet there is much in each which only the learned, even of their
* "The French," says Corniani, “ found first the art of distributing, with measure and taste, a certain sum of knowledge and ideas—the modern art, in short, of making books. They introduced in their works clearness and precision, an easy manner of expression, with a befitting proportion of ornaments.”