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tranflation; and where, if any where, a foreigner is to meet his reward. But, on retracing in my mind the impreffion which thefe performances had left, I began to doubt, whether the comparative luftre, which the old poets of Italy enjoyed, by rifing in an age of darkness, was not metamorphofed intò pofitive fplendour, by the grateful homage we are inclined to pay to the first fources of light, as eastern fuperftition bows to the rifing fun, but walks almost without acknowledgment in his meridian effulgence. From thefe reflections I arofe with undiminished refpect for thefe day-stars of literature; but with a full conviction that we had fuffered our enthusiasm to obscure our judgment; and, because these poets were the firft in the order of time, proclaimed them,alfo,the firft in the fcale of excellence. This, in my opinion, has been peculiarly the cafe with the Italian poets. We have permitted them to retain, by courtesy and prefcription, a precedence to which they have no longer any real title. But, by this fictitious rank, many are induced to wafte much labour and time in feeking the honour of their acquaintance; which, like the titles conferred by depofed fovereigns, will be found neither to enrich nor dignify. With a view to fave fome of your readers from this disappointment, I will, with your permiffion, fketch a general criticism of the works of the principal poets of Italy. And when I have done this, it will fufficiently appear why I pafs over the minor works of the fame poets, and fill more, the minor poets of the fame language.When we have difcuffed the characters of Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, and the more refpectable, though lefs hoary, names of Taffo and Metaftafio, we fhall have examined the principal claims of the Italian poetrytothe attentionof Europe. "DANTE comes forward ;-forward let him come : -bring with him airs from heaven, or blasts from hell." For the fubject of his "Commedia Divina" is no lefs than an account of his travels through heaven, hell, and purgatory. After what I have faid, it would be fuperfluous again to adduce the causes, which have given celebrity to the early writers of Italy. I need only obferve, that Dante owes more of his fame to fuch causes, and lefs to his own merit, than any of those I have mentioned. To do juftice, however, to the taste of the prefent age (though perhaps at the expence of its fincerity), we must confefs, that what we hear of Dante now, is more the echo of former fame, than the found of prefent praife." Le Dante (fays Vol
taire, I think, in fome of his letters), pourra entrer dans les bibliotheques des curieux, mais il ne fera jamais lu;" for the obfelete phrafeology, the inverted idiom, and obfcure ftyle of Dante, deter moft foreigners from reading him in the original; and I have never yet heard of any, that have thought it worth while to" do him" into English verfe. But he remains a poet, as I laid, by prescription; every one allowing the title, without knowing any thing of the claim; or, perhaps, because they knew nothing of the claim. The plan of his work was, undoubtedly, extraordinary; but, with the plan, all eccentricity ends :-The execution is totally without interest; and what is ftill more fingular, almost without novelty. He paffes, indeed, the flaming bounds of space and time; but he plunges into no new creation of his own that may dictate a new and loftier language to his tongue.-It is mere earthly matter, in mere earthly words.-The author is the "little hero of his tale:" and the hero's only adventure is that of being the traveller and fpectator, without ever forming a part of what paffes, or ferving at all to connect the parts that do pafs under his obfervation, except as being the endless relator of them: and they are as distinct from each other, as he from them.-In hell, indeed, he frequently meets with an acquaintance, who generally proves to have been his enemy in fome of the petty factions of Florence, or in fome of the ftill more petty factions, of fome of the ftill more petty ftates of Italy; and who, to a modern reader, are as uninterefting and infignificant as John Doe and Richard Roe, thofe immortal heroes in the fquabbles of Weftminster. In the Inferno, however, there is, at leaft, fome variety of folly. We are carried on from torment to torment:-and children who have been taught to find their amufement in feeing a fly fpin round upon a neeɗle, might find, perhaps, in the Inferno of Dante, a recreation for their riper years. It is fingular, that, in the continued contemplation of fuch a fubject, as the place of eternal punishment for fo great a part of the human race, he fhould not once be elevated into grandeur of defcription, or fublimity of lentiment: unlefs you will confer the titles of grandeur and fublimity, on the idea of lazy fouls being bitten to all eternity by fleas, and heretical fouls being ftifled and funk to all eternity in a bog of ordure. The propriety or impropriety, the heterodoxy, or orthodoxy, of Dante's opinions I leave to Father G. Berti Agostiniano, who has
moft patiently difcuffed it: but without entrenching on his province it may be faid, a modern Chriftian would find but little pleasure in feeing the choiceft fpirits of antiquity, the patriots, the fages of four thousand years, that preceded the birth of Chrift, all languishing in an eternal limbo, or adiaphorous existence, that is fufceptible of neither pain nor pleafure.
I cannot pursue him through all the fuperftitious frivolity of this part of his work, or all the polemical difquifitions that form fo large a portion of its fucceeding divifions: for, as foon as we ftep out of the bounds of hell, we bid adieu to all that can amufe even the mot puerile imaginations. Of " Il Purgatorio, et il Paradifo," the local ideas are very vague, and the intellectual, if poffible, still more infipid. In the Purgatorio I recollect but one paffage that arofe to fuch animation, even of ridicule, as to provoke a laugh. In defcribing one of the inhabitants of this region, he fays, " To those who can, in the face of every man, read the word omo, the m would, in this man's, have been very diftin&t*."-Cant, xxiii. v. 30. Now, who, after puzzling himself over this notable diftich, and after confulting the learned and laborious commentaries of the accurate Volpi, the tedious Venturi, the pious Father Berti, and the pompous Filippo Rofa Morando Academico Filarmonico, and finding, at last, that the author means to defcribe a lean face, and to fay, as fome can read the word omo in a man's face, by the help of fuppofing each eye an o, the nofe the middle ftroke of the m, and the two temporal bones, the fides of the fame letter, he is fure, that in the face he is defcribing, the m, at leaf, would be very confpicuous;-who, I fay, on difcovering this to be the meaning, would not fpoil the legibility of his face by a laugh? In justice, however, let me fay, that this very diftich is preceded by one of thofe few traces of poetical fpirit that is to be found in Dante :-" The hollow of his eye (fays he), appeared as a ring without its gemt."
The 8th canto of this part, opens in a manner that Gray has not thought unwor thy of imitation, in beginning his elegy: "The pilgrim hears from far the vefper bell, That feems to mourn the now expiring day.
Chi nel vifo degli nomini legge omo Bene avria quivi connofciuto l'emmo.”
"Parea l'occhiaje annella senza gemma." "ode fquilla di lontano Che paja'l giorno pianger che & muore.",
A "gentle reader" might fuppofe, as an apology for Dante, that he conceived, in palling from hell to purgatory, and from thence to paradife, his fubjects grew gradually more pleafing in themselves; and, confequently, his exertions to render them fo became gradually lefs neceffary: for, in truth, nothing but the torments of his hell could provide us with a relish for the infipidity of his heaven, or teach us to participate the pretty amufements of his 6th heaven, where the fpirits of the bleffed find their happiness in arranging themfelves, by companies, into letters of the alphabet, and forming, together, fentences of wifdom, and axioms of morality."They fung, and wheeling, light, and made themselves, in their respective forms, a D, now an I, and now an L.*”.
The attention of thefe fainted fages, however, is not wholly engroffed by this profound practical philofophy, in which they are at once authors, types, and compofitors. In the fifth heaven, they do not difdain to bend their attention on earthly affairs. Cantos 15, 16, 17, are almost exclufively occupied by a very reverend per fonage, called Cocciguida :-and, as we fee his name announced in the argument of three fucceffive cantos, we begin to hope for fome permanent intereft, to which we have been hitherto total strangers. We liften with tolerable patience to the whole detail of his family in all its generations; and waiting to hear what celebrated fage or here of hiftory he will prove, he concludes, by declaring himself no less than the great great grandfather of Dante!"tritavo"-and like the fhade of Anchifes is feized, too, with prophetic spirit; and foretels the foundation of an empire!No,-The banishment of Dante from Flo rence. These cantos are nearly all the relief we find from a continual difquifition on the old exploded doctrines of theology, and ancient metaphyfics; as indeed might be expected from this engaging defcription of heaven by one of the hoping fpirits in purgatory :-"Oh, if thou haft the noble privilege of being admitted to that monaftery, where Chrift is the abbot, oh, fay to him, in my name, one fingle pater nofter."-In his own tenets, he feems to have been a
fuccefsful rival of Athanafius himselfwitnefs the following addrefs to the Virgin Mary, that opens the last canto of his
*Volitando cantavan e facenfi
Or D, or I, or L, in fue figure," &c. &c. cant. xviii. v. 76.
"Oh fe tu hai," &c, c. xxvi. v. 127. "Paralijo:"
"Paradifo:"-" Virgin mother, daughter of thy fon! lowly, yet exalted above all created beings! ultimate object of eternal wifdom; thou art fhe who haft fo ennobled nature, that her creator has not disdained to become one of her productions*."
to the honourable teftimony of the Athenian judges, on the integrity of Xenocrates: the parallel is equally overlooked by the laborious and learned Castlevetro, though he relates two or three anecdotes of this philofopher, when thus refpectably noticed by Petrarch himfelf: "Xenocrates, more impenetrable than a stone, whom no force could bend to meanness*.'
He palliates the infipidity of his "Paradifo" in one of the most animated paffages of his work; which is very pretty as an These favourable impreffions of Peexcufe for failing in the attempt, but trarch still farther exalted my expectations would have been still more admirable as from his work; but, in the scale of hope, an apology for not undertaking it. I like that which Petrarch affixes to the could point out other beauties that are fprinkled up and down the work; but though not too tedious to mention," they are perhaps too trivial to particularize; and, like a glow-worm, would probably lofe much of their luftre, if drawn from the darkness with which they are furrounded. Such, indeed, has been the fate of Dante himself. He fhone with splendour in the unenlightened ages of Europe; but, when the vanity of his countrymen, or the obstinacy of the blind idolators of antiquity, will drag him forth into the blaze of modern literature and refinement, we cannot be furprized if he falls by a ftroke of the fun.
After this critique on the "Comedia Divina" of Dante, I will not trouble the reader with remarks on his "Cenvito," "Rime Liriche."-We will pafs on to PETRARCH.—I had formed great expectations of this celebrated poet and lover. I read the hiftory of his life; and, on fuch a fubject, even Beccatelli could be interefting; for he was the biographer of a man who feems never to have been known but to be refpected and beloved; and who, in perpetually acquiring new friends, was never accufed of neglecting the old. The early refpectability of Petrarch's character is adinirably exemplified in the following well-known anecdote: While he was yet a youth, in the family of Cardinal Colonna, the latter had occafion to affemble every inmate of his houfe, and require them to confirm individually, by oath, the truth of the answers they fhould give to his interrogatories. From this obligation not even the Bishop of Luna, the Cardinal's own brother, was exempt. When Petrarch, in his turn, approached to lay his hand on the facred volume, the Cardinal, who held it, drew it back; and, turning to the affembled household, exclaimed, "the word alone of this man is fufficient." It is fingular, that Beccatelli does not notice the fimilarity of this * Virgine Madre! Figlia del tuo Figlio."
Triumphal Arch of Love," we find— "falfe opinions in the gate, and flipping expectation on the steps.' With the erection of any fuch allegorical or metaphorical edifice, our author very feldom indulges his readers: the present is one of his greatest flights in that part of his works, where alone he attempted it. The plan of his "Trionfi," indeed, was fufceptible of much allegorical beauty; and where he enumerates the attendants of the feveral triumphs, much room was open to pay many elegant tributes to hiftorical characters, or to exhibit beautiful and fublime feutiments on hiftorical facts :But no!-the facts are flightly glanced at in mere matter-of-fact fentences; and the name of the hero is recorded as one of a catalogue. An obfcure allufion is fometimes added, as in the inftance of Xenocrates, who is faid to be "firmer than a ftonet," becaufe, fays Caftelvetro, a courtezan, who had engaged to corrupt him, and found that he refifted all her allurements, exclaimed, "I thought I had to do with a man, and not a statue:" or, as when he mentions Cicero and Virgil, with this elegant metaphorical addition-" Thefe are the eyes of our tonguet."
His forte was certainly in the fonnata, canzone, balatta, feftina, &c. If a few of these were felected, they would be well worthy the perufal of one who had already been fo imprudently laborious as to learn the Italian language; because it would be hard, indeed, if he were deprived of any thing the language can give him: but it certainly would not be worth his trouble to read the whole in order to find thefemuch lefs for another to acquire the language for that purpose. The multiplicity of pieces, under these several names,
*Senocrate piu faldo," &c.—Trionfo della Fama, cap. 3d.
"Piu faldo ch'un faffo."-Trionf. del' Fam. cap. 3d.
"Questi fon gli occhi della lingua noftra." Ibid. id.
is truly aftonishing; efpecially when we confider the fameness of fubject that pervades the whole, and conftitutes what we may call a monotony of thought. To this circumfcription of fubject, we may add the rigid rules of the fonnet, which admits only the introduction of one thought; and, whether that thought requires condenfation or expanfion, will allow neither more nor less than fourteen lines to be employed in its expreffion; and, of each of thefe, the termination is reftricted to one of four founds, which is all the variety of rhyme admitted in fuch compofitions. The confequence is, that when the author does ftrike out a bright thought, the effect is generally loft by being beaten out into a blunt furface, instead of being fharpened into a point; or, perhaps, the luminous point appears in the middle, with a dull tag at the end, as in fonnets of part 2d; but examples of fuch tags are not very easy to refer to; there is in general no point for them to hang by. The fonnet immediately fucceeding that, which I have laft cited, affords an example still less easy to refer to, equal beauty of fentiment and conftruction, and yet this beauty is not of a very fuperior kind. Taffo, however, has thought it worth imitating in "Gier. Lib. c. iii. ft. 68."
The feftina is regulated by laws ftill more puerile than the fonnet. It generally confifts of fix ftanzas, each of fix lines; and every line of the last five ftanzas must conclude with fome word that terminates a line in the firft ftanza; but fubjected to this additional restriction, that the terminating word of the first line in each stanza must be the fame as the laft word in the ftanza preceding. If you read a stanza separately there is no rhyme; if two are read in immediate fucceffion, it is not rhyme that is perceived, but repetition.
Had Petrarch confined himself to the fonnet and the feftina, we might have attributed the defects of his productions to the defective laws of verfification. But the loofer texture of the canzone, and ballata, feems to give no fcope to his fancy; but rather adds to the indistinct diffufiveness of his style and conceptions : like a form, that after having been darkly, and fometimes brightly, pourtrayed in a cloud, diffolves into a mift, which fometimes, too, reflects the fun-beams, but in fhapeless luftre.
The firft canzone, of the first part, appears to have been his favourite produc
tion in this defcription of pieces. And yet, what fchool-boy, that was able to verfify, would not have taught his imagination to foar as far as "Ovid's Metamorphofes,"-augment their extravagance by accumulating them on one person, and fucceffively relate his own transformation into a laurel, a rock, a river, a hart, a fwan, &c.-in fhort, into every thing but a poet. In the fame fpirit is the 2d Son, net of the fame part: but fortunately the rules of the Sonnet are, here, of fome use, fince they forbid his being changed into more monsters than one at a time. This perpetual recurrence to the Katterfelto of antiquity, might be conftrued as the prejudice of the age. But, when the author draws from his own fources, his imagination ftill appears to have been in pursuit rather of the strange, than the beautiful; or if he ever purfued the latter, he seems, at leaft, to have been very unfortunate in the fearch. When any thing but the art of verfification is exerted, extravagance is the ufual confequence. Hence the crowd of the bleffed, when Laura dies, will be so great, as to difcolour the face of the fun: (Sen. 24. p. 1.) hence the heart, which is burnt by the flames of love, is preferved from total confumption, by the cold blood of fear: (Canz. 8. ibid.) hence, too, Laura, in her grief, utters words that make the mountains walk and the rivers stand still: (Sonn. 123. ibid.)-fplitting of ftones is a very common effect of grief:-nay, in Seftin. 7., fighs and tears rife into wind and rain that shake the woods and deluge the grass *.
A perfon fubject to fuch violence of grief, would be a moft dangerous neighbour in a cultivated country; where he, indeed, might expect very particular attention to preserve him in cheerfulness and good humour, left, in fome gloomy fits, he fhould convert arable, meadow, and pafture-land, into a falt water lake †.
But wind and rain are not the only materials of a ftorm, which Laura can furnifh-" as with thunder and lightning in the fame inftant, fo was I once overcome by two bright eyes, and a gentle falutation ‡.”
Sofpir del petto, et degli occhi efcono onde, Da bagnar l'erbe, et da crollar i bofchi"-1ft p. +Or vorria trar degli occhi noftri un lago." Sonn. 204.
"Come col balenar tona in un punto,
Perhaps the thunder in Italy may modulate its voice to the mufical ears of the natives; but certainly an Englishman does not affociate much of the" dolce faluto *" with the idea of thunder, and would be apt to tranflate the paffage, in the words of a countryman of his own.
If the all hearts with love furprize, Pray where's the mighty wonder? She bears Jove's lightning in her eyes, And in her voice his thunder!"
But, I fuppofe, if you would exprefs your objections on thefe fubjects, he would antwer, as he does on the other perfections of his mistress :
"And he that will not believe, let him come and fee her,
E chi nol crede venga egli e vedella." An appeal equal to that on the wonderful ram of Derby.
"And indeed, fir, it is true, fir, I never was used to lic,
"And if you'd been at Derby you'd feen
it as well as I."
Perhaps it would not be strictly just to accufe Petrarch of all the infipidity of the common-place phrafes and fentiments, of which his pieces generally confift. For perhaps the celebrity of his productions rendered common-place many modes of expreffion, which, in him, were original. But fweet bitters, and bitter fweets; burning ice, and frozen fire, are very common phenomena in his land of wonders. In Sonn. 124, he undertakes to defcribe the charins of Laura, feparately confidered:-now hearken to the bright imagination of the elegant Petrarch! Her head is fine gold-her face warm fnow-ebony her eye-brows-and her eyes two ftars-pearls and vermillion rofes form her words of grief-flame are her fighs and chrystal are her tears t.
Another character, however, is given of Laura in the true fpirit of poetry. (Sonn. 1798, p. 1.) But when the character he has drawn of his miftrefs, juftifies, in the the reader's mind, the enthufiafm with
which he adds-" and there is an indefcribeable fomething in her eyes, that can, in a moment, cloud my day, or illumine my night" who would not execrate the fonnetteering bathos, that thus concludes the climax of wonders performed by the
je ne fais quoi of Laura's eyes?" that can make honey bitter, or wormwood fweet."-But the Sonnet infifted on having a fourteenth line, and "Silenzio” infifted on that line ending with a found that fhould rhyme to itself, the poet patiently fubmitted and wrote
"El mel' amaro ed addolcir l'affentio." If every folly, however, were as amply repaid, Petrarch would be another Shakfpeare. The name of Laura feems as fluent a fource of pains to Petrarch, as the cuckold's horn to our Bard: and, in his grief for the lofs of his friend, he never forgets that colonna is a column, as well as a cardinal. But of all puerilities, the 5th Sonnet of the 1ft Part, affords one of the most contemptible examples : -a Sonnet on the name of Lauretta, divided into fyllables !—a degree even below the lowly acroftic!-for the author contents himself with introducing the component fyllables in any part of the notable compofition: thus we find Laudando in one line, real in another, and
taci in a third !--But, what is ftill more abfurd, the ingenious author has not been fuccefsful, even in this miferable conceit :
for the letters that he has made thus con
fpicuous, fall fhort of the intended word, by the deficiency of a T,-as the critical acumen of his erudite commentator has difcovered.
From an author, who could fo perpeinvention of fuch frivolities, we cannot tually plume himself on the adoption, or expect much delicacy of fentiment, or taste and yet thefe are what I had conceived to be the characteristics of Petrarch. Sometimes, no doubt, they do appear ;but they are not the predominant traits; and render themfelves remarkable rather by the rarety, than the beauty of their appearance:-a fine paffage in his works ftands, like the poet himfelf in his own times," a column in a melancholy
fication is uniformly mufical: though In the first two parts, at least, the verfieven in this quality, he appears to have failed in his trionfi, and to have worn out the patience of the patient Caftelvetro. Upon the whole, the 2d part of his Sonnets, &c. is to me the most pleafing : the mind of the author feems to have been foftened into more fentiment, by the death of Laura-and, for the age in which he lived, his fentiment, his expreffion, and his verification, are certainly of a very extraordinary character: but I would not, therefore, praife him, as if he were fupe. rior to all that fucceeded--or as if the