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: nitery's which in the English bible is rendered thus : “ And the Lord said, Behold the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do.” This rendering has no sense in it, for it implies, that, because they were one people, and had but one language, they ought not to do so, and the punishment of the Supreme Being would not exist in preventing it, wbich could not be expected from the Supreme Being; but if we translate the word obrin this began to profane them, we should render the passage thus: “ The Eternal Being said, Behold one people, and one language to them all: and this began to profane ihem in order to act thus :" and therefore the Supreme Being scattered them and confused their language.
ON THE AFRICA OF PETRARCH.
There are no subjects on which Petrarch more delights to expatiate, than the transitory nature of human fame, and the fallibility of human expectations. Could we imagine this “frail good man” raised for a while from the dead, with all his old earthly feelings about him, with what an emphasis of astonishment might we fancy him reiterating his favorite maxims, in the view of his own literary destiny. With what chequered feelings of exultation and disappointment would he, whose love of praise, and morbid sensibility to the slightest manifestations of censure or contempt, equalled those of Rousseau himself, survey, amidst the strange and multifarious changes of these latter times, the revolutions in religion and politics-the diffusion of learning over countries in his own time ignorant and barbarous—his own country almost alone unchanged, still unhappy and disunited as of old, and a slave “by its own compulsion ” to native or foreign despots-how would he be surprised to learn, that his literary reputation rested almost exclusively on that part of his works which he himself least valued ; and that the epithet “invaluable," attached to his Latin writings by a great modern writer, had not sufficed to attract to them the attention of the learned world! Least of all, sensible as he appears to have become
latterly to the faults of his Latin poetry, would he be prepared for the utter oblivion into which the present poem has fallen; or would he easily believe, that the work, on which he at one time rested his renown, should have failed even of obtaining the melancholy notoriety of Chapelain's Pucelle, or Blackmore's Arthur! No work ever enjoyed a higher reputation in its own day, even while unpublished, and known only in fragments; its completion was expected by scholars as the crowning achievement of the first writer of the age; portions of it were handed about in the literary world, unknown to the author; crowned heads interceded for a sight of the unfinished wonder; and when after his death the manuscript was in danger of being lost, nothing could exceed the anxiety felt on the occasion by the republic of letters. But it is a common error with the mass of mankind to mistake talent of a particular kind for general ability; and the vanity of authors themselves co-operates in the decision of partial friends, and an ill-judging public. Hence it is, that so many men, calculated to shine in other branches of poetry, have wasted their powers on the chimerical attempt of writing an epic poem. Such a propensity is particularly visible in the Latin poets of modern times, though it is not confined to them. In our own language, the instances of a similar delusion are numerous. Not to speak of actual failures, it is probable that little would have been added either to the reputation of the poets themselves, or (except, perhaps, in the first-mentioned instance to the public stock of intellectual enjoyment, had Dryden, Pope, Gray, and others who might be named, carried into execution their respective epic projects.
The Africa was conceived and begun in the author's 35th year, amidst the solitudes of Vaucluse. He had been from his earliest years an enthusiastic admirer of ancient Roman virtue, and his imagination had been more especially fascinated by the heroism and exploits of Scipio Africanus ; a character certainly more calculated than almost any other in antiquity, to attract the admiration of a youthful mind. From the manner in which he speaks of his design, it is obvious, that he was not aware of the existence of a poem by Silius Italicus on the same subject. “Ennium de Scipione multa scripsisse non est dubium, rudi et impolito, ut ait Valerius, stylo. Cultior tamen de illius rebus liber metricus non apparet. De hoc igitur utcunque canere institui.” Such was his ardor in prosecuting this favorite
design, that one of his friends, who seems to have exercised a certain degree of authority over him, was obliged to interdict him the use of pen and ink for ten days, through fear of injury to his health. Petrarch obeyed, though with great reluctance: the first day appeared insupportably long; on the second, he was afflicted with a head-ache which lasted till night; on the third, symptoms of fever began to appear; so that his friend was obliged to revoke the prohibition, and restore the poet to his books and his health. Compelled by other avocations to suspend his design, he resumed it after the lapse of many years, and brought it to a conclusion with a rapidity which surprised even himself. It remained unrevised at his death, and was accordingly ordered by him to be destroyed. From the immense number of errata,' amounting on an average to one in every two or three lines, it appears, that either the transcriber of the copy from which it was printed, or the corrector of the press, was a very illiterate person.
It is not with an intention of disputing the verdict passed by the learned world on this unfortunate work, that we now call the attention of our readers to the Africa. It is, in truth, a tedious, declamatory performance, destitute of almost all the elements which constitute an epic poem ; the story is meagre in the extreme, and most inartificially constructed, oscillating between the two extremes of dry historical detail and awkward fiction; nor is there the least display of character, or felicity in the conduct of the details. There are, however, a few scattered passages, descriptive, fanciful, and pathetic, which rise above the level of the rest; but it is in reflection that Petrarch principally excels. The principal, indeed the only charm of the poem, consists in the picture which it exhibits of the poet's own mind; of his piety, his patriotism, his thoughtful and even melancholy spirit, his characteristic weaknesses--but above all, his zeal for every thing Roman; a passion which in him was so strong, as to form a leading feature in his character. We know, indeed, no writer, whose peculiar disposition, opinions, and feelings, develope themselves more fully in his works. The present, like his other writings, is full of a flowing, sententious, high-wrought morality, drawn from
· We quote fro “Francisci Petr richius Petri." 1554.
Opera; Basileæ excudit Hen
the schools of his favorite ancients, but modified by Christianity; and there is a great deal which in an ordinary writer would be common-place, but which in him we feel to be far otherwise. His Latinity is imperfect, and full of barbarisms, owing to the very slight advances which had at that time been made in the knowledge of the language ; for his age, however, it is exemplary. His style is verbose, frequently prosaic, and sometimes mean; his versification is not without merit, and exhibits a distant reflection of Virgilian grace and majesty. Many of the verses are left unfinished, in imitation of Virgil- Petrarch, like Cowley, having supposed that the hemistichs in the Æneid were intentional.
We shall extract the passages which pleased us most, together with so much of the story as may be necessary for illustration.”
The poem opens with a short exordium, and an address to the Muses, in allusion to the peculiar circumstances of the poet's situation at the time.
jam ruris amoeni
Reddite, vos animos. This is followed, rather incongruously, by an invocation to Jesus Christ; from which, by a transition equally heterogeneous, the poet passes to an enlogium on the great theme of his admiration, Robert, king of Naples.
Tuque o certissima mundi
!“Non est omnino impurus, sed squalorem sui sæculi non valuit prorsus detergere.” Ludovicus Vives. “ Vir animi semper Romani, sermonis non semper.” W. S. Landor, in Quæstiuncula.
? Our scanty stock of information on the present subject, has been gathered from the Abbé de Sade, Ugo Foscolo, and Petrarch's own writings.
3 Such combinations, however, seem to have been familiar to Petrarch. Thus, Ep. Fam. Lib. vi. Ep. v. 741. “At tu Christe, sol justitiæ, cuncta videns, et æternis radiis universa collustrans, quid hanc infamiæ nebulam passus es terris nostris incumbere, cum posses tam facile, nisi delicta hominum obstarent, vapores noxios odiorum, caliginosæ noctis algore concretos, fervido tui amoris splendore perrumpere? Tu autem, summe Regum nostri temporis Roberte, quem ex aliqua coeli parte res nostras et misereri crediderim et spectare, quibus hoc nefas luminibus aspexisti ?" &c.
Auxilium fer summe parens
Trinacrii moderator maxime regni,
Exime; despicies. The causes of the second Punic war are then explained. The action commences near the end of the war, conformably to the received rules of epic poetry, and contrary to the example of Silius. Scipio is introduced to us as the conqueror of Spain, standing on the heights of Calpe, and surveying the impenetrable ocean beyond, with emotions not unlike those of Alexander, on the confines of the known world-feelings of dissatisfaction, arising, however, from very different sources. His past successes, the danger still impending over his country, the desire of avenging more fully the death of his father and uncle, fallen in the wars of Spain, form the matter of his meditations, and prepare us for the vision which follows, and which occupies the whole of the two first books. It is, in fact, a poetical amplification (mutatis mutandis) of the Somnium Scipionis. The empyrean is represented as opening, from which the elder Scipio advances to meet his son, covered, like Hector in the second Æneid, with the wounds received in the service of his country. His son addresses him almost in the words of Æneas :
quisnam hæc mibi pectora duro Confixit mucrone, parens ? quæ dextra verendam
Gentibus immerito violavit sanguine frontem? The fine circumstance which follows might have been better illustrated; yet the simile is expressive.
Hæc dicens, alto radiantia fletu
· Alluding to his coronation in the Capitol.