Billeder på siden

on the part of his consort a very sweet conjugal influence to his advantage." She would seem to have been of the same spirit as that charming lady of a little later generation, Calpurnia, the accomplished and adored wife of the younger Pliny, and respecting whom he writes so tenderly to her aunt Hispella : “I am sure it will give you pleasure to hear that she proves worthy of her father, worthy of you, and of your and her ancestors. Her ingenuity is admirable; her frugality is extraordinary. She loves me, the surest pledge of her virtue, and adds to this a wonderful disposition to learning, which she has acquired from her affection to me. She reads my writings, studies them, and even gets them by heart. You would smile to see the concern she is in when I have a cause to plead, and the joy she shows when it is over. She finds means to have the first news brought her of the success I meet with in court, how I am heard, and what decree is made. If I recite anything in public she cannot refrain from placing herself privately in some corner to hear, and where, with the utmost delight, she can feast upon my applauses. Sometimes she sings my verses and accompanies them with the lyre, without any master except love, the best of instructors. From these instances I take the most certain omens of our perpetual and increasing happiness, since her affection is not founded upon my youth or person, which must gradually decay; she is in love with the immortal part of me—my glory and reputation” (Ep. iv. 19). No wonder that a man who thus regarded his wife should be one of the most popular of citizens, and one of the most eminent of barristers. Had she not a hand in the matter when, as proconsul of Bithynia, Pliny stopped the persecution there of the Christians ?

The power of woman over the imagination of man, and especially over the youth of genius, grows with every forward movement of civilization. Hence some of the most memorable particulars in the history of early Italian poetry. Had there been no Laura, it is probable there would never have been the Petrarch in whom, under that name, the nations delight. “He would have employed his splendid talents like other men of the time; might have become a priest or a cardinal-empty titles all, compared to that by which he has descended to us—the poet and the lover of Laura.” 2 True and perfect love, wherever it may arise, is a natural sacrament of the soul. At any

1 Vide Book 1, Elegy iii., and the whole of Elegy vi.; Book 3, iii. and iv.; Book 4, iii.; Book 5, ii., V., xi., xiv.

2 Mrs. Jameson, Romance of Biography.

period of life, a great affection is an inexpressible happiness to the heart containing it; one gets to take refuge in it entirely, thanking God at the same time for whatever in His infinite goodness He may bestow that is good, and noble, and beautiful, since there is boundless and unending joy in laying all, though in secrecy and silence, upon the altar of a pure and concentrated attachment, asking no recompense, and not desiring any. “The conditions," said Lorenzo de Medici, “which appear necessarily to belong to a true, exalted, and worthy love are two: first, to love but one ; and secondly, to love that one always.Petrarch taught the world how to appreciate this great truth. He disclosed the nature of that sweet reverence which leads a young man of chaste and generous instincts to deem the beloved of his heart not, as foolish people say, an angel," but something just a little more than mortal; the reverence which makes him almost dread to approach her too closely, listening to her words as if they were the spells of an enchantress, to enter whose magic circle he presumes not. Raised by Laura above the taint and corruption of his era, and by her kept spotless, in the whole extent of Petrarch's poetry there is not a line or an expression that calls for censure. Had the relation been different, the pure and spiritualized imagery with which he invested her could never have been shaped. No wonder that, as Dr. Johnson somewhere remarks, under the influence of this beautiful and pure-hearted woman, in an age rude and uncultivated, Petrarch refined the manners of the lettered world, and filled Europe with the love of poetry; by which last expression the great critic means the Poetic sentiment—the lifeblood of all that is comely and exalted. Stirring and fostering the best ideas of chivalry, the influence of the sonnets inscribed to Laura helped to bring about in England the restoration of the Order of the Garter, the first, the most renowned, and the most honoured of all the orders of European Knighthood; instituted originally by Cour de Lion, and now, about 1350, re-established by Edward III., who at all points was equal to the "spirit of the age.” Petrarch first saw Laura when he was twenty-three. His grief, when she died, found utterance in some of his very finest verses. In the manner of his death, July 20, 1374, he anticipated Lord Macaulay, passing away silently in his study, his head resting upon his favourite book.

As Laura inspired Petrarch, so did Beatrice quicken the soul of Dante. It was in the transports of his admiration for Beatrice that he conceived the idea of the immortal poem of which she was destined to be the heroine : how early the first aspirations who shall declare ? for his love began, he tells us, when he was a boy of but nine years old, and Beatrice only a little smooth-faced girl of eight. “To no muse,” says an authoress already quoted, “ called by fancy from her fabled heights, and feigned at the poet's will; not to ambition of fame, nor to literary leisure seeking a vent for overflowing thoughts; nor to the wish to aggrandize himself, or to flatter the pride of a patron, do we owe one of the grandest efforts of human genius : we owe it to the inspiration of a young, beautiful, and noble-minded woman." 1 Over the mind of Dante, however, there reigned a twofold influence, a fact important to remember in order to estimate aright the splendour of the part played by Beatrice. From the time nearly of the original publication of that wonderful outcome of the human mind, the Æneid, Virgil had held the supreme place in the esteem of every scholar of Latin lineage and Latin speech. To Dante, as Mr. Wicksteed has well shown us in his newly published life of the last named, he came charged with a peculiar and absorbing fascination, standing as the very type and embodiment of human wisdom and excellence, and in Virgil Dante's intellect found its first and most pleasing instructor. But it was as the type only of human wisdom and excellence. Beatrice, the loved and lost, was “the symbol and the channel of a diviner grace. She it was round whose sweet memory gathered the noblest purposes and truest wisdom of the poet's life. It was her love that had rescued him. Virgil was but her agent and emissary, and his mission was complete when he had led him to her. Human wisdom and virtue could guide him through Hell and Purgatory, could show him the misery of sin and the need of .purifying pain and fire ; but it was only in the presence of Beatrice that he could face the utter hatefulness and shame of an unworthy life, could face the blessedness of Heaven." Hence in the “ Paradise” we find the poet and his beloved side by side, the dreams all come true, the sleep alone lost.

To a woman again, Leonora d’Este, a princess of the proudest house in Europe, we owe the life of all that is best and loveliest in Tasso. To her, and to another princess, Lucretia d’Este, he was accustomed to read the cantos of the “Gerusalemme" as they successively flowed from his pen. Ariosto, in similar manner, owed his inspiration, first, in very early youth to the “Ginevra” he so tenderly commemorates in the name of one of his most charming and most interesting heroines; afterwards to the lady, Alessandra Strozzi, who eventually became his wife.

i Mrs. Jameson, Romance of Biography, vol. i. p. 123 (third ed., 1837).

Alain Chartier, the earliest of the poets of France, renews in his tales of the four Agincourt ladies the story of woman's influence in regard to the literature of the nearer country, the latest continuing it with all the sparkle of a waterfall. In Spain it becomes very striking in the Cancioneros of the fifteenth century, poems which were the natural fruit of the Petrarchian impulse, but much more passionate. If in the history of English poetry we do not find so much that is romantic, this comes perhaps of the testimony being more solid and more graceful. From Chaucer onwards every English poet entitled to be called "great," cold-hearted Dryden alone excepted, proves that the influence of the feminine atmosphere has in our own country been constantly and powerfully operative for good : it is needless to do more than cite two or three of the most notable examples; the verses speak for themselves. In Chaucer's case the influence was sevenfold. His good fortune gave him friends in three of the most beautiful, most accomplished, and most illustrious ladies of their time—Philippa, queen of Edward III.; the lovely Anne of Bohemia, queen of Richard. II. ; and the Lady Blanche of Lancaster, wife of John of Gaunt. Second only to these in position and in influence were the Countess of Essex, the Countess of Pembroke, and the beautiful Countess of Salisbury, the heroine of the famous ballroom story; while before all, to his heart, was another Philippa-Philippa Picard de Rouet, maid of honour to the royal one of Hainault, and afterwards his beloved wife. The stimulus given to Chaucer's poetry by these admirable women it is impossible to over-estimate. Enlisted in their service, it was for Anne (of Bohemia) that he wrote his "Legende of Gode Women ;" and on the death of the Lady Blanche that he produced that most beautiful and touching piece, the “Booke of the Duchesse.” "The Dream," that most delicate, ingenious, and picturesque of his imaginative pieces, has for one of its principal personages, Philippa Picard. In later ages, Spenser, Pope, Burns, Cowper, Shelley, produced their best under the inspiration of women. It is to Jean Armour, first as Burns' early love, "wi' tempting lip and roguish e'en," afterwards as his wife, the “Bonnie Jean” wi?" waist sae jimp” and “ foot sae sma'” of many of his loveliest songs, that the admirers of Burns—and who that has read him can fail to be one ?-essentially owe their gratitude; and to Lady Austen that thanks are primarily due for Cowper's “Task.” She it was who supplied the incentive to write that delicious poem, playfully giving for the first subject the "Sofa,” upon which arose the Garden, the Winter Evening, the Winter Morning Walk, and the Winter Walk at Noon, poems rich with wisdom and human tenderness, and which, like the “Canterbury Tales" and the “Cotter's Saturday Night,” will live as long as the human heart is capable of love, kindliness, and piety.

(To be continued.)


And if no

66 Since no

WE sometimes hear it asserted that the only safe guide is experience. But it must be plain to be seen that no individual of the human race ever had any sentient life-experience when first born. individual had any to begin with, then, in the whole mass of created humanity, experience is a thing of growth. Take away all growth in human life-experience, and no authoritative guide or teacher remains ; unless it can be shown that there is an authorized source of instruction beside, or external to, the sum of the life-experiences of all the wise men of created humanity.

In the “Dialogues concerning Natural Religion,” published by the learned David Hume, we find the following passage : question of fact can be proved otherwise than by experience, the existence of a Deity admits not of proof from any other medium.” If, then, the whole mass of mankind had no life-experience before they were born, and experience alone is capable of proving the fact of the existence of a Deity, it follows that this idea, as a fact, never could or can be taught with authority by one man to another; or by a professedly authorized teacher to his scholars. And the same may be said of all the fundamental truths, both of religion, philosophy, and science. Herein lies the tap-root of all scepticism, and scientific infidelity. The everlasting “IF separates as completely all the ideas from one another as are the grains of dry sand that lie in mountain heaps by the seashore.

"If,” says Hume, we must needs fix on some hypothesis, by what rule, pray, ought we to determine our choice ?” Again he says, “IF we survey the universe, so far as it falls under our knowledge, it bears a great resemblance to an animal or organized body, and seems actuated with a like principle of life and motion. . . . The world, therefore, I infer, is an animal; and the Deity is the SOUL of the world, actuating it.” But he had before written, “ A VERY small part of this great system, during a very short time, is very imperfectly discovered to us; and do we thence pronounce decisively concerning the whole ?"

« ForrigeFortsæt »