« السابقةمتابعة »
own countrymen, can understand, which proves that they not only possessed genius of a high order, but much of the profound and mysterious erudition of antiquity. By this means they exercised an influence on the mode of thinking of the rest of Europe which few can estimate at its just value. For example, those who have borrowed most, even from Boccaccio, cannot comprehend one-fourth of his allusions. What one critic "praises in his writings, is censured by another; what one regards as unpardonable obscenity and an incentive to vice, is proved by another to inculcate the most beautiful moral precepts.. This is well explained by Rossetti in his criticisms on the Divina Commedia.
“ That a great part,” he says, “of those literary productions which have hitherto been regarded by us as works of amusement, as poetical trifles, as romances, amatory verses, or heavy and tedious treatises, are writings in which are enveloped hidden doctrines, and mysterious rites, transmitted from early ages, and that those parts of their contents which have the appearance of fantastic fables contain a mass of unknown history, expressed in a peculiar cipher, which preserves the memory of the secret labors of our ancestors.
“That the obscurity for which these are frequently remarkable is purposely produced by deep study; and that if that obscurity has not been hitherto dissipated (of which the comedy of Dante offers the first proof), this has proceeded not from the want of those who could have dissipated it, but from the danger of doing so, and the necessity of silence. That the most famous learned and literary men of various ages and languages in Europe were for the most part pupils of this mysterious school, which, in the constant pursuit of its objects, never failed to seek out eminent talents, in order to convert their possessors into coöperators in its bold designs. That the modern civilization of Europe is in great part the matured fruit of the operations of this school, which labored directly or indirectly, by a vast number of works, to instruct the nations, and prepare them for the arrival of a great event. That after the decay of the Latin tongue it was this school which devoted itself, in the countries where that language had prevailed, to the cultivation of the popular dialects, and which gradually ennobled and perfected them, and enriched them with various productions calculated to enlighten mankind."
Commento Analitico di Gabrielle Rossetti, pp. 84–5.
It is not only the great representative authors of Italy that have evinced a familiarity with the mysterious knowledge here alluded to. We find evidence of the same in many of the Italian works of the seventeenth century, although the heavy yoke of Spain did much to extinguish it. Of the writers who still combined learning with genius, were the poets Guidi, Tassoni, Filicaja, the Jesuits Bartoli and Segneri, the historians Davilla and Sarpi, the scientific discoverers Galileo, Cassini, Malphigi and Torricelli, not to mention Salvator Rosa, Campanella, &c. The majority of these would have become illustrious in any other country; but the fame of Dante and Petrarch eclipsed that of all the other poets ; while the fame of Galileo had a similar effect on the great mathematicians and discoverers of his time. Hence it was that nearly two centuries ago Italians were sneered at, as they are now, as having degenerated in intellect. Even thinkers like Fontenelle, Boileau and Voltaire did not scruple to write epigrams on Italian writers who had scarcely ever an equal in France. It was not want of taste or judgment, nor yet prejudice that caused this, but ignorance of the Italian language, though nowhere else was it so much studied as in France. In England and Germany it was regarded as fit only for poetry. It was deemed unsuited for the higher flights even of poetry--for all save amatory poetry; and this for no better reason than that Dante, conscious as he was of his genius, did not attempt a regular epic, and that Petrarch succeeded only in his amatory effusions—his more serious efforts having immediately fallen into oblivion.
All this, however, did not prevent the Italians from continuing to emulate the efforts of their illustrious countrymen, so that the eighteenth century exhibited yet another intellectual revival in Italy, producing such thinkers, in various departments of science, literature, and the arts, as Gianone, Metastasio, Vico, Maffei, and Muratori. It is interesting to observe that, in proportion as the government was mild and indulgent, literature improved. Under the domination of Spain, thought was all but stifled. If a great author appeared here and there, it was one whose thoughts burst forth impatient of control, like an eruption of Vesuvius or Etna. Not that Italy was altogether free from a foreign yoke in the eighteenth century. Lombardy was an Austrian province, as Venice is now, and Austrian influence prevailed throughout the peninsula ; but it was different then from what it is at present. The reign of Maria Theresa especially was distin
guished by a degree of mildness, which may be truly called paternal-surely as much so as that of any of the native princes. Any one who visits Milan may see evidence of this to the present day, for there is scarcely a Milanese family of any respectable standing who have not a painting or statuette at least a tiny marble bust-of the good Empress. No other sovereign of her time interfered less with the liberty of the press ; and the results of this, as compared to the previous state of affairs, were soon apparent to all Europe. i. It was then,” says Ugoni, " that the writers of Italy separated into two families; the one consisting of worshippers of the past, the others of partisans of emancipation. The former pleaded the cause of ancient literature in those hallowed regions, and under the same sky where the Latin muses had long and nobly held their sway. The others maintained that the spirit and taste of literature ought to follow the bent of the social system; they demonstrated the weakening effects of an imitation protracted through centuries, imitation which at last had reduced itself to the external form and moulding of the works of the classics, after the spirit had long fled and was irrevocably lost."'*
We now pass on rapidly to the beginning of the present century, when we still find such names in Italian literature as Pellico, Vico, Monti, Genovesi, Manzoni, Pagano, Grossi, Foscolo, and Nicolini. Several of these had witnessed the results of the French Revolution and the wars of Napoleon. A fragment of an ode by Manzoni, on the death of young Napoleon, will serve at once as a pretty fair specimen of Italian poetry of the present day, and at the same time give an idea of the sentiments of the Italian people towards the fallen conqueror. Those acquainted with the language will be glad to find copied here, though only in the form of a note, as there are but few, if any, of the author's works which contain it, and we subjoin a translation for the benefit of those who need it, but without pretending to give any adequate idea of the tenderness and vigor of the original :
“ Appear not, ye radiant suns—ye thoughts of war! Hush, stories and songs of his own native land !-wherefore a cradle and a grave do
ye wish to show him? Of what stars flamed forth on the father, let the son be ignorant: let him not know the vast einpire-the deeds--the exile-of the man the seas and the storms feared to confine. Tell me, O son of the
* Della Litteratura Italiana nella seconda metà del Sicolo XVIII. VOL. IV.NO. VII.
exile, what has thy heart experienced when thinking of the fate of Asia and of Europe--appear to rise again for thee the days that are dead ? when the world tells thee of the subdued nations, and the throne of the West—the victories, the horrid retreat, and the fallen, abandoned royal home? 0, how many will believe they hear, when they speak to thee, a murmur of his voice--an echo--the voice that flew over the ocean-which filled the whole earth! As the generous offspring of the eagle through its grated cage glares vainly on the sun to which it would strain its strong wings, so in the obscure idleness of the watched palace did the prisoner long for the light of events and deeds, for a life which towers over wounds and dangers. And since it was forbidden him to traverse the earth stamped by his father with the deep traces of war, he desired to sink into it, and there he laid his mortal part. And through the unremitting strength of grief without tears, which preyed continually on his earthly mantle, his spirit conquered for itself liberty immortal. In the unawakenable sleep hast thou shut thine eyes, O youth! never mayest thou wend thy dubious way through forests of arms, nor after a victory check thy charger. Never does the splendid column* raise its triumphal imagery of trophies to my eyes, but thine homage offers itself to the inmost vision of my thoughts." +
S'affisa invan nel sole,
Ver cui vorrebbe stendere
Il veloce poter;
Tal nell' oscura inerzia
Di vigilata reggia,
Luce di eventi e d' opere,
E vita che grandeggia
D'affanni e di pericoli,
Branraya il prigionier.
E poi che a lui vietavasi
Di correre la terra
Impressa delle patrie
Protonde orme di guerra,
Desiderò di scendervi,
E vi depose il fral.
E per forza recondita
Di dolor senza pianto
Che consumò continuo
Della sua polve il manto,
Vendicossi ni perpetua
Liberta l' immortal.
Nel sonno ineccitabile
Gli occhi, o garzon, chiudesti,
Nè mai per entro a dubbia
Selva d' armi movesti
Obbliquo, o per vittoria
Fermasti il tuo corsier.
Mai la Colonna* splendida
Altezza di trofei
La trionfale immagine
Non offre agli occhi miei,
Che la tua non percotami
La vista del pensier.
Passing over at least a dozen of authors of undoubted genius, we come to Monti and Foscolo. The former, as well as the latter, is the founder' of a school, but one that has few, if any, representatives at the present day, Both authors died the same year—1827; both were highly popular in their lifetime; but Foscolo is much better remembered than Monti. The latter was one of the first of modern writers, who performed the part of a critic fearlessly. Whether he has done more good as a poet than as a critic, is a question much discussed by his countrymen, though it is generally admitted on the Continent, as well as in Italy, that his poetical writings have not been surpassed by any of his contemporaries. Be this as it may, he set the dictatorship of the Academies at defiance, composed, as their judicial committees were, of men who had each distinguished himself in one department or other of literature, science, or the arts. Prior to his time, all who hoped to secure a respectable position as authors had to fashion their style according to the classic models. But Monti acknowledged no model; he treated every new subject in a new style, and overwhelmed with ridicule those who criticised him for doing
The most successful authors of his time and country feared him on this account. Even Foscolo formed no exception, and he did all in his power to conciliate the critic.* But Monti was stern and inflexible. In this respect
• Of this we see an interesting proof in Foscolo's letters. There is one so characteristic of both authors—in short, so valuable a curiosity --one that so completely lifts the curtain—that, although it is of considerable length, we do not hesitate to transcribe it here, omitting a small portion. It reminds us of Locke's letter to Sir Isaac Newton, written under somewhat similar circumstances, though there is this difference : that the great English philosopher was not afraid of the great astronomer and discoverer. Foscolo's letter is dated June 13, 1810.
" I send you,” he says, a little book, in which to give the lie to the report of our being at open war. I have spoken of you. But I have spoken of you for the last time. It is proper I should tell you why.
“The same heat which hour after hour makes you friend and enemy of some man or other, has led you to believe and to repeat several accusations against
I know that some persons, amongst others Mustoxidi and Pieri (to whom I gave perhaps moderate praise, not from want of esteem, but because I am not in the habit of giving or receiving Pindaric laudations in prose), have told you that I spoke ill of your Homer. I did say, indeed, that several things in the first book did not please me, but that the second, on the contrary, appeared to me to be admirably translated (Monti had criticised him in the mean time). However, although I could read in your countenance the irritation which others had fomented, I contented myself with speaking of it with some bluntness to the Creons, always expecting that you would come to ask me an explanation as frankly as you have done at other times, when, for instance, Ceretti played