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which the nation is dismembered, will feel, at a future day, the want of a federative bond, or whether the sighed-for union shall be the work of the daring ambition of one of her national princes, or of the cautious cupidity of Austria, or whether, in a general convulsion of Europe, her children shall raise a unanimous cry for emancipation; one fact is unquestionable, that Italy is rising to action. It is not there a question of democracy or aristocracy, of reforms or constitutions. It is a question of existence. The revolution of Italy is not to be effected by sects and conspiracies, not by fortuitous incidents of wars, or changes of dynasties; it must arise from the recasting of individual character, from the enlightened resentment of masses, from the sympathy of an immense, compact population, from the resources of a rich soil, from the seeds sown by a liberal, refined civilization, developed in several unsuccessful attempts, and only strengthened by senseless persecutions.
Few countries have, in the course of the last fifty years, we mean in the age of Napoleon, undergone a more total revolution than Italy. Her political divisions and boundaries are, indeed, nearly the same, with the exception, perhaps, of Venice and Genoa, the last leaves hanging on a withered branch, destined to drop at the first blast of November; but all the notions, the morals, the passions, the prejudices and superstitions, the popular festivals, games, and spectacles, have either been entirely abolished, or changed in their nature and object, or have given place to others of an entirely opposite character. From the days of Charles the Fifth to the end of the last century, under the direct or indirect influence of Spaniards and Austrians, Italy had fallen from her former importance, unaware of what she lost. Persuaded of her beneficent influence on the general course of modern civilization, she relied upon the gratitude of all nations. Milan and Naples, the most important states of the Peninsula, indeed, had fallen a prey to strangers. But the Lion of Venice still braved the Crescent by land and sea; the Dukes of Savoy laid their glove in the balance of Europe, formidable allies and adversaries. Spain and Austria trembled at every starting of the populace of Naples and Genoa. Rome had laid aside her sword, but ruled the world by the crosier; Florence had bent to the Medici, but dictated laws and manners by letters and arts. Besides, her sky smiled as brightly as ever, her climate was
as mild. A privileged land, removed from all cares of political existence, Italy went on with dances and music, happy in her ignorance, sleeping in the intoxication of uninterrupted prosperity. Accustomed to the scourges of invasion, passive in all the rivalries among her neighbours, used to suffer and to forget, she consoled herself for the evils inflicted by foreigners upon her sons, with the old saying, that her land was destined to be the tomb of her conquerors. The first spring shower washed away the blood with which the invaders had stained the green enamel of her plains; the first harvest, luxuriant from a soil enriched by French and German corpses, made up for the dearth occasioned by the waste of a hungry soldiery; and the sons of the South took up again their guitars, wiped away their tears, and sang anew, like a cloud of sparrows when the tempest is over.
Such were not the consequences of the late wars; her neighbours were envious of that uninterrupted enjoyment; the serpent intruded himself into the Eden of Europe. The French philosophers persuaded the Italians they were too happy; and they envied the tempests of France, as if tired of happiness. The French, wanting aid from every quarter, hailed the awakening of Italy. They gave her a standard; they girt her sons with the weapons of war; they seated them in senates and parliaments. They dusted the iron crown of the Lombards, and placed it on the brow of one of her islanders. The Italians started up. They believed; they followed; they fought. Deceived by the French, they turned to the Austrians; betrayed by the Austrians, they came back to the French. It was a succession of deception and perfidy, of blind confidence and disappointment; and when, weary, dejected, and ravaged, they lay down, abandoned to their bitter reflections, an awful truth shone in its full evidence, the only price for torrents of blood, that, beyond the Alps, they had nothing but enemies. The reaction was long and severe. To these few years of raving intoxication, lethargy succeeded, and nothingness. The sword was taken from the side of the brave; the lips of the wise were closed; the name of Italy was proscribed. All was settled, and silenced, and fettered, but thought. Thought remained, anxious, sleepless, rebellious; with a grim, severe monitor behind, Memory; and a rosy, seducing Syren before,
Hope, always within his reach, always re
ceding from his embrace; and he sat a tyrant of the soul, preyed upon the heart of the young, of the brave, of the lovely, choosing his victims with the cruel sagacity of the vampyre; and he strewed their couches with thorns, and sprinkled their feasts with poison, and snatched from their hands the cup of pleasure. Italians," he said, "remember what you have been, what you are, what you must be. Is it thus, on the dust of heroes, is it in the fairest of lands, that you drag on days of abjectness? Will you never afford a better spectacle to the nations, than masquerades and processions of monks? Will you never go out among strangers except as fiddlers and limners? England and France are subduing deserts and oceans; Germany flourishes in science and letters. The sons of the North are snatching from your hands the sceptre of the arts. What is to become of Italy? Shall her name be buried under these ruins, to which you cling with the fondness of a nobleman, prouder of the armorial bearings and portraits of his ancestors, in proportion as he degenerates from them? Shall it be said of her sons, that they have made their own destiny, and they groan under a yoke they have merited?"
Such is the bitter chagrin to which the Italians have been left, from the ephemeral excitement arising from the revolutionary ideas of the late convulsions of Europe. The nation at large has assumed a serious and sullen countenance. The revels of the carnivals have lost their attraction; that slow and silent disease, that atrabilious frenzy, -- politics, pervades all ranks, exhibiting a striking contrast with the radiant and harmonious gayety of heaven and earth. Morals gain by that melancholy mood. Studies are pursued with incredible eagerness, and come off conquerors over all obstacles raised against them.
Unfortunately the rulers have not been capable of justly appreciating the new ideas and wants of the age. Instead of encouraging those awakening energies, and directing them to noble pursuits, they have been alarmed at the prevailing restlessness of mind; they have apprehended in it the germs of social dissolution. Since their restoration, they have laid aside their wonted clemency, and have consequently roused a spirit of opposition. The march of their government is checked at every step. In every debate, public opinion always declares against power. From the smug
gler of the mountains to the ringleader of the university, the most daring transgressor is ever the idol of the multitude. In every district, that deplorable contest is more or less openly waged. The skirmishes are short, the field of battle is narrow, but the exasperation is immense. Unfortunately, the dungeon, exile, and the scaffold have been resorted to. Blood has been lavishly shed; it has raised an insurmountable barrier against all possible reconciliation; it has heated the passions of those classes, to whom party spirit would never otherwise have descended. A tale of woe from the Spielberg has moved the sympathies of all Europe. A cry of horror has risen against Modena, where, as in ancient Egypt, every mother is weeping for her first-born. Meanwhile, the land is sterile of events. Literature, as well as commerce, industry, and all the fine arts, except music, are unproductive. All is mute and sad, as in the calm which precedes the storm. Every one recognises an age of transition, of preparation. Every one feels, that Italy has no longer any lower degree of dejection to sink into; that, according to the rules of Providence, she has a right to look to the future for brighter days; that all her sons are natural brothers and allies; that their enemy is the same, and their cause is one; that God was pleased to associate them in common sufferings, that they might aspire to a common redemption.
It may be easily perceived, how far literature must be imbued with the spirit of the times we have attempted to describe. It is a literature of constraint and discontent; of transition and expectation; reluctant and murmuring; stifled and tortured. A proud enthusiasm has given a strange relish for silence and melancholy. The Italian bards rend the chords of their harps, shaking their heads with a sullen disdain. "No," they exclaim, "we shall not sing the lays of our land for the gratification of strangers; we shall not soothe, with our verses, the toils of bondmen. Let the brightness of our sky be clouded; let the fire be quenched in the eyes of the daughters of Italy; the pure enjoyment of the treasures of nature are the exclusive possession of noble souls ; the smiles of beauty are the sacred reward for high deeds. The songs of the troubadour are reserved for the delight of the brave, who dare to rival his heroes." The voice of the Italian bards is mute. They seek the solitude of their groves, the stillness of their ruins, refusing utterance to their
sorrows, and obstinately feeding upon them; or they carry their chagrin beyond mountains and seas, roaming from land to land, among strangers who cannot understand them, to pine away slowly, and die; like an exotic plant, drinking a scanty ray through the panes of a hot-house, drooping its head on its consumptive stem, and yielding life without struggle or regret.
But, independently of the political circumstances peculiar to Italy, literature is there, as in the rest of Europe, in a state of transition. As in politics, so in letters and arts, there are two antagonist parties; there are the ideas of the old social world, and the wants of the new. In politics, the two opposite parties are distinguished by the names of legitimists and liberals; in literature, they are called the classical and romantic.
Romanticism, that word, so vaguely defined, and so strangely interpreted; that universal reformer, extending from the frame of an epic poem, to the head-dress of a girl, a substitute, in Europe, for all endearing adjectives; a seducing enchanter, surrounded with fairies and genii, haunting lonely towers and silent groves, crowned with holly and cypress, with mail on his breast, a cowl on his head, a red cross on his mantle; mounted on a spotted horse, with a damsel en croupe; a hawk perched on his gauntlet, and a harp of gold slung across his shoulder; this creation of the Northern fancy, received in Italy with eager hospitality, is about to usurp there an undisputed sway over letters and arts, as soon as the consciousness of political existence shall set the wings of Italian genius at liberty.
In Italy, with the exception of the writers of the age of Dante, and a few others in the sixteenth century, literature had been the sterile possession of individuals, and had never attempted to exert any influence on the mass of the people. Men of letters, a privileged class of academicians, Arcadians, and doctors, strangers to the age in which they lived, never studied its character or its wants; on the contrary, they abstracted themselves from the present, to live exclusively in the past. Hence, literature remained for many centuries behind the people, and the people arrived at new ideas without guidance or instruction. A veneration for the immortal works of antiquity, which the researches of the literary men of that country had brought to light out of the darkness of the