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enthusiasm. A poet is no more independent of all other poets than any member of society is independent of society at large. Although nothing is known of the poets who flourished before the time of Homer, it is not the less certain in the minds of the best critics—even those who regard the Iliad as superior to all other poems ever written—that the Prince of Poets must have availed himself largely of the poetry of others. Be this as it may, let those disposed to deny the indebtedness of Shakespeare to Petrarch bear in mind that among those who have translated many of the sonnets of the Italian bard are Chaucer, Spenser, Wyatt, etc. Thus we have now before us different versions of sonnets which Shakespeare must have read and admired.* Is there anything incredible in the fact that he profited by doing so ? If he did profit by it ought we to esteem or admire him anything the less on that account? Does it dim in the slightest degree the lustre of his fame, or in any manner endanger his immortality ?
Since Shakespeare did not consider it beneath him to regard Petrarch as an authority on the anatomy of the tender passion, it ought not to be difficult to understand that poets less gifted and less conscious of their own powers have sought to avail themselves to a considerable extent of Petrarch's beauties. Then, what Chaucer, Shakespeare and Spenser had done without incurring much censure, if any, Collins, Cowley and others thought they had almost a right to do; and thus the borrowing went on, and altering so as to disguise the purloined flowers, until more recent poets supposed themselves borrowing from their own countrymen instead of from Petrarch. This is undoubtedly true, for example, of Sir Walter Scott; many passages in his “ Lady of the Lake” and “Marmion” are decidedly Petrarchan. Byron, Moore and Shelley have been more cautious in this respect, but it is undeniable that the amatory strains of each are indebted to the Italian bard for some of their finest touches.
Yet the literature of Continental Europe is much more
* This is true, for instance, of sonnet 89, to Sennucio, of which Chaucer makes such happy use in his Troylus and Cresida.
imbued with the Petrarchan spirit than English literature. But what is most remarkable in this respect is that the poets of Germany have drawn more inspiration from Petrarch than those of either France or Spain ; in other words Petrarch has exercised a much more powerful and extended influence on German poetry than on French or Spanish poetry. This preponderance could be well illustrated by the amatory lyrics of Goethe, Schiller, Chamisso, Gleim, and Uhland. We see evidence of it in Goethe's Mignon and “New Love New Life, Schiller's "Song of the Bell,” and “Hero and Leander,” Chamisso's" Woman's Love and Life," and Uhland's "Wreath” and “Dream." The fault of the German poets has been, however, not that they have drawn too freely from the Petrarchan fountain in their amatory effusions, but that they have been too literal in their interpretations—too ready to substitute sensuality for spirituality. Thus, for example, it is not alone in his lyrics that Goethe allows himself to be unduly influenced by the example of Petrarch; he does so but too openly in his letters to Frau von Stein; and, what is more remarkable, the husband of that lady, unlike the husband of Laura, as some think (assuming it to be true that the latter was married), seems to have considered himself, though a privy councillor, much more honored than degraded by the avowed passion of the author of the "Sorrows of Werther” for his wife.
Even so rapid a glance as the above at the influence exercised by Petrarch on the poetical literature of Europe for a period of nearly five centuries, will, we think, render it needless to adduce any further argument to convince the intelligent reader that the Italian bard should be better known in this country at the present day than he is. We do not urge this because we think that any lack of gallantry is among the faults of our people. It is generally conceded, even by those most disposed to criticise us, that by no people is woman treated with more respect and consideration. But Petrarch presents the passion of love in a more refined and chaste form than any other poet; he, more than any other writer, may be said
* Neue Liebe Neues Leben.
to have cultivated it so as to develop all its beauties without in any way marring its essential attributes. What is more, it is impossible to peruse his sonnets with ordinary care without feeling convinced that selfishness is incompatible with love. No lesson is more strongly inculcated by Petrarch than that it is but a spurious love which has no better foundation than lust or money, or both. It is because he thus towers far above all other votaries of the amatory muse that more ladies have translated Petrarch than any other poet. Nor have any been more successful in rendering his tenderest and happiest effusions. Thus, among those who have given English versions of more or less of Petrarch's sonnets, are Lady Dacre, Hon. Mrs. Norton, Anna Hume, Charlotte Smith, Mrs. Wrottesley, and Miss Wollaston. The translations of some of these ladies are at once the most faithful and most elegant we have seen in any language.
The family of Petrarch had long occupied a respectable rank in Florence. His paternal ancestors for several generations were notaries. His father, Petracco (diminutive of Peter), being a member of the Ghibelline, or White party, was expelled from his native city, like Dante and many other distinguished Florentines. As some plausible pretext was required at this time for the ostracism of men of influence, Petracco was accused of having officially issued a false deed. For this he was brought to trial, and a trial under such circumstances was necessarily a condemnation. Then the highest penalty prescribed by the law was equally a matter of course. Accordingly, Petracco was sentenced to pay a fine of one thousand lire, and, if this sum was not paid within ten days, to have his hand cut off. Since he was placed under no restraint in the meantime, it is sufficiently evident that all the party in power wanted was to get rid of one whose influence they had occasion to fear. Of course the notary did not wait to have his hand cut off, but fled as quickly as possible, taking with him his wife, Eletta Canigeani.
Petracco first found an asylum at Arezzo, in Tuscany. Here he intended to remain until his party returned to power. Soon after they attempted to take Florence by assault, but were repulsed. Petracco having taken part in the attack, not only made his chance of returning to his native city more hopeless than ever, but also rendered it dangerous, if not impossible, for him to reside anywhere within the jurisdiction of the republic. That upon
which the attack was made on Florence was, however, by no means an inauspicious time for the family, since it was on the same night, between the 19th and 20th of July, 1304, Francesco Petrarch was born. For several years after the birth of the future poet his father was obliged to wander about from place to place, often finding it difficult to secure for his family even the necessaries of life.
Partly because Eletta, Petrarch's mother, was not included in the sentence passed on her husband, and partly because she had the advantage of belonging to one of the most distin. guished families in Florence, she was soon permitted to reside on a small property belonging to her husband, at Ancisa, on the banks of the Arno, fourteen miles from Florence. Petracco visited his wife by stealth as often as possible, and continued to do so for seven years. During this time they had two other children; but one died in infancy, the other, named Gherardo, was educated with Petrarch.
Wearied with this sort of life—being still exposed to serious risk in visiting his wife and family-Petracco removed to Pisa, where he was soon joined by his wife and children. Petrarch was now eight years old, and nearly all his numerous biographers declare that, thanks to the intelligence and affectionate care of his mother, he had learned more than the majority of those twice his age who were sent to the best schools. The stay of the family at Pisa was but brief, Petracco having been disappointed in certain expectations which some of his friends had led him to indulge.
But even the few months he remained at Pisa exercised a considerable influence on the destiny of Petrarch, for it was there he received his first lessons from the old grammarian, Convennole da Prato. Young as he was when placed under the tuition of this man, he had the perception to see that he was but a common-place educator. He frequently alludes to him in speaking of his early struggles. At no time did he regard him as any better fountain of knowledge than one that could be easily exhausted. At the same time he pays him what may be regarded as a solid compliment, for he compares him to a whetstone, which is indeed blunt itself, but sharpens the appropriate metal brought in contact with it. But this scarcely does the old grammarian justice, for Petrarch had not been more than a month under his tuition when he predicted with the utmost confidence that he was destined to attain eminence as a thinker. The prediction was very gratifying to his mother, and she had strong faith in it. But it was different with his father, who did not wish him to have any nobler or more profound thoughts than those relating to his own profession and those of his ancestors for ages. Eletta, seeing that her husband was intent on making Petrarch a notary, although the profession had served his own purpose but indifferently, did not venture to oppose him, but suggested that, since he had a partiality for a connection with the courts, there might be an improvement in having their son educated as an advocate. To this Petracco readily assented, so that the future poet was scarcely nine years old when it was decided to use every possible effort to have him properly educated for the bar.
Failing to secure a position at Pisa which would enable him to secure a comfortable support for his family, Petracco resolved to try his fortune elsewhere; and Avignon being the residence of the pope at this time, large numbers of Italians resorted to it in the hope of being able to gratify their ambition for honors or preferments, he removed thither in 1313. But, finding it too luxurious a place for one of his slender means, with a family to support, as soon as he was able to make suitable arrangements for that purpose, he took up his residence at Carpentras, a small, quiet town, which, while living was cheap in it, placed him within easy reach of the great centre of influence, power, and wealth.
In all the wanderings of the family, whatever privations they suffered, Eletta never neglected the education of her son. Sickness alone-utter inability-prevented her from giving