صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

ful pastorals," when the pleasure of coming together in this manner so delighted one of the party, that he cried out, "It seems to me, that we have restored Arcadia today." The words struck them all, Crescimbeni in particular; and the consequence was the institution of a society for the restoration of good taste in poetry, under the title of "Arcadians," with the future historian himself for the Custode, -keeper is the English word; and in England it would have been thought much fitter for the officer of a society so called, than for the gentleman who locks up the doors of the Royal Academy; for these poetical Academicians actually played at shepherd and shepherdess! They took pastoral names; received gifts of imaginary lands in the Grecian Arcadia ; and assembled in a woody garden to recite verses, and compliment one another on inspirations from the God Pan. The society was organized in the year 1690, during the reign of our William the Third. In England, the proposal for such a body corporate would have been received with shouts of laughter. In France, the society would have anticipated the scenes of Watteau, the gallantries and effeminacy of the days of the Regent Duke of Orleans or Louis the Fifteenth. But a project that would have appeared ridiculous to the subjects of King William, and that would have been perilous to decency among those of Louis the Fourteenth, was so mixed up with better things in these imaginative, and, strange as it may seem, most unaffected people, the Italians for such they are - that, so far from disgusting a nation accustomed to romantic impulses, and to the singing of poetry in their streets and gondolas, their gravest and most distinguished men, and in many instances wo

[blocks in formation]

men too, ran childlike into the delusion. The best of their poets accepted farms in Arcadia forthwith; lawyers and clergymen followed in abundance; monks, Jesuits, nobles, princes, cardinals, even men of science, all gave in their adhesion; one of the cardinals, on becoming Pope, did not withdraw his name; it figures conspicuously in the list; and so little transitory did the fashion turn out to be, that not only was Crescimbeni its active officer for eight and thirty years, but the society, to whatever state of insignificance it may have been reduced, exists at the present moment. A suite of apartments in the Vatican was given it by Pius the Sixth, and plentiful use made of its rhymes by the Jesuits, whom he restored. Counteract them with better, O poets of England and America! Englishmen themselves, not long since living, were counted among its members, Mathias, the author of the "Pursuits of Literature," for one. Joseph Cooper Walker, who wrote the "Memoirs of Tassoni," and "Historical Memoir on Italian Tragedy," was another; and, I think, Hayley was a third; to say nothing of the Della Cruscans, and Mrs. Thrale.

The Arcadians, in the account given of them by their Custode, persuaded themselves, that their object in thus coming together to play at shepherd and shepherdess, and recite their effusions, was the restoration of the good taste that had been spoilt by Marini; and they boasted that they had attained their object. But Chiabrera, and the other poets that came after him, had begun the reformation already, and though the founders of the society fell in with it, the society itself unfortunately did but ultimately produce a new decline of Italian poetry in regard to dignity and strength. If it had not been

for Alfieri and Foscolo, for Pindemonte, and for the genius undeniably though unworthily possessed by the timeserver Monti, there appears even to have been a chance of another Marinesque epidemic in the effusions of some friends of the persons to whom allusion has just been made, as known in England by the title of Della Cruscans, English idlers in Florence who wrote such stuff as required no greater satirist to undo than Mr. Gifford.

[ocr errors]

Growing disgusts in Italy at church and state fortunately invigorated better tastes of all kinds; Leopardi, Manzoni, and others appeared full of the power inspired by indignation; and though the disappointments of the Italian patriots have driven most of the writers that came after these poets into the bitter enjoyments of satire and burlesque, yet there is a tonic in the bitter, good for all good causes; and our friend the Sonnet, delivered from his enfeeblers, has failed neither to administer his proper balm when required, nor to wield against despotism and bigotry such terrible cats of nine tails as their enormities compelled him to take in hand.

But this new aspect of our friend has brought us to a point in his character which I have yet to describe.

[graphic][merged small]



HE form of sonnet to which this Essay has hitherto referred admits of varieties little suspected by those who have not happened to wander out of the customary tracks of Italian reading. When I first met with them, they struck me with some such agreeable surprise as we experience when we find grave acquaintances unexpectedly amusing; and as the intimacy advanced, and I saw into what extravagances they could run, I seemed to be admitted among the same acquaintances when they were indulging in pastimes at once organized and extravagant, such as the "High Jinks" recorded of Counsellor Pleydell and his friends, in the delightful pages of Walter Scott.

The prevailing form itself, when it took its precedence in old times, did not hinder poets, for a long while, from writing sonnets in lines of eight syllables or less, from adding a line or two to the fourteen by way of supplement, or even from interspersing supplementary lines to the quatrains and terzettes, under the denomination of Codas, or Tails; so that to a modern English reader, the

octave which is made of these quatrains looks sometimes under the impression of that idea — like a barrister's wig with the two tails jerked sideways, and the whole sonnet like a wig tasselled with tails throughout. Among others of inferior note, there were Duodenary Sonnets, or sonnets in the twelve-syllabled lines called by the sensitive Italian ear versi sdruccioli, slippery or sliding verses, on account of their terminating in dactyls – tèněrě, Vèněrě —; Mute Sonnets, a term characteristic of almost all Sonnets written in English, the muteness consisting of rhymes in one syllable; Continuous or Iterating Sonnets, which had but one rhyme throughout, or sometimes no rhyme at all, every line terminating or commencing with the same reiterated words, or word; Answering Sonnets, or sonnets in answer to other sonnets, the rhymes of which were repeated in exact correspondence but with dissimilar meanings; Retrograde Sonnets, which read the same way forwards and backwards, somewhat after a like fashion of some verses of the ancients; Chained or Linked Sonnets, in which every successive verse began with the rhyme or last word of its antecedent; Interwoven Sonnets, in which the lines. not only rhymed as usual, but in the middle or other parts of the verse also; Crowning Sonnets, or a series of them joined together for purposes of panegyric, so as to form a supposed crown for the head of the person lauded; lastly, Caudated or Tailed Sonnets, which, besides including the forms under that name above mentioned, gradually took augmentations which were increased ad libitum, and on the strength of that privilege established themselves as the regular Comic Sonnet, and became very popular.

« السابقةمتابعة »