Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

establishments would make to his capital, would obtain the means of employing a still greater amount afterwards. A person who spends his income in giving expensive entertainments, or in purchasing articles of mere luxury, consumes in a concentrated form upon himself and his immediate friends an amount of wealth, which, if realized in a plainer shape, would afford subsistence and comfort to hundreds and thousands of his fellow-citizens. In saying this, we mean not, however, to intimate that expensive entertainments are never to be given, or that articles of mere luxury are never to be purchased. The advantages resulting to the community, under a moral and political point of view, from an expensive public dinner given to an eminent citizen, as a mark of respect for his talents and virtues, may very far outweigh the injury occasioned by the loss of the money that it costs. Pictures, statues, theatrical exhibitions, music, poetry, and eloquence, are all, economically viewed, no better than luxuries; but by refining and elevating the public taste, encouraging the social feelings, and giving a loftier and nobler cast to national character, they reward the community for the labor devoted to them, by benefits, of which the value,- like that of the Union,-is not to be calculated. While, therefore, considered merely in reference to the labor they employ, disbursements for these and similar objects may be absolutely injurious, inasmuch as they divert capital from other employments, in which it would afford occupation and support to more persons, they may yet,—within proper limits and under judicious direction, be entitled to tho encouragement of the public, as important agents in the advancement of civilization and the increase of human happiness. These are, or should be, the great objects of all our efforts. Wealth is of no value, excepting so far as it tends to promote them, and such employments of labor and capital, as serve best to effect these objects, though attended with a partial sacrifice of mere wealth, must be regarded as the most honorable to those who practise them, and the most beneficial to the community

ART. II.--Poetry and Romance of the Italians.

1. Della Letteratura Italiana, Di Camillo Ugoni. III.

Tom. 12mo. Brescia. 1820. 2. Storia della Letteratura Italiana. Del cavaliere

Giuseppe Maffei. III. Tom. 12mo. Milano. 1825. 3. Storia della Letteratura Italiana nel secolo XVIII. di

Antonio Lombardi. III. Tom. 8vo. Modena. 1827-9. It is not our intention to go into an analysis, or even to discuss the merits of the works at the head of this article, which we have selected only as a text for such reflections on the poetry and ornamental prose writing of the Italians, as might naturally suggest themselves to an English reader. The points of view from which a native contemplates his own literature, and those from which it is seen by a foreigner, are so dissimilar, that it would be hardly possible that they should come precisely to the same results, without affectation or servility on the part of the latter. The native, indeed, is far better qualified than any foreigner can be, to estimate the productions of his own countrymen; but as each is subjected to peculiar influences, truth may be more likely to be elicited from a collision of their mutual opinions, than from those exclusively of either.

The Italian, although the first modern tongue to produce what still endure as classical models of composition, was of all the Romance dialects, the last to be applied to literary purposes. The poem of the Cid, which, with all its rawness, exhibits the frank bearing of the age in a highly poetic aspect, was written nearly a century previously to this event. The northern French, which even some Italian scholars of that day condescended to. employ as the most popular vehicle of thought, had been richly cultivated, indemnifying itself in anticipation, as it were, by this, extraordinary precocity, for the poetic sterility with which it has been cursed ever since. In the south, and along the shores of the Mediterranean, every remote corner was alive with the voice of song. A beautiful poetry had ripened into perfection there and nearly perished, before the first lispings of the Italian Muse were heard, not in her own land, but at the court of a foreigner, in Sicily. The poets of Lombardy wrote in the Provençal. The histories, and almost every city had its historian, and some two or three-were composed

[ocr errors]

6

[ocr errors]

in Latin, or in some half-formed discordant dialect of the country. The Italian of that age,' says Tiraboschi, .more nearly resembled the Latin, than the Tuscan does now any of her sister dialects. It seemed doubtful which of the conflicting idioms would prevail, when a mighty genius arose, who, collecting the scattered elements together, formed one of those wonderful creations which make an epoch in the history of civilization, and forever fixed the destinies of his language.

We shall not trouble our readers with a particular criticism on so popular a work as the Divine Comedy, but confine ourselves to a few such desultory observations as have been suggested on a re-perusal of it. The Inferno is more frequently quoted and eulogised than any other portion of the Commedia. It exhibits a more marked progress of the action ; and while it affects us by its deepened pictures of misery, it owes no doubt something to the piquant personalities, which have to this day not entirely lost their relish. Notwithstanding this, it by no means displays the whole of its author's intellectual power; and so very various are the merits of the different portions of his epic, that one who has not read the whole may be truly said not to have read Dante. The poet has borrowed the hints for his punishments, partly from ancient mythology, partly from the metaphorical denunciations of Scripture, but principally from his own inexhaustible fancy ; and he has adapted them to the specific crimes with a truly frightful ingenuity. We could wish that he had made more use of the mind as a means of torture, and thus given a finer moral coloring to the picture. One example only of this occurs to us; that of the counterfeiter Adamo, who sharpens the sting of remorse, by contrasting his present dismal abode with his ancient residence on the beautiful banks of the Arno. This defect is particularly conspicuous in his portraiture of Satan, who, far different from that Spirit, whose form had yet not lost all her original brightness, is depicted in all the bugbear deformities of a nursery tale. This decidedly bad taste must be imputed to the rudeness of the age in which Dante lived. The progress of refinement is shown in Tasso's subsequent portrait of this same personage, who towering like Calpe or huge Atlas,' is sustained by that unconquerable temper, which gives life to the yet more spiritualized conceptions of Milton. The faults of Dante, as we have said, were those of his age.

But in his elevated conceptions, in the wild and desolating gloom which he has thrown around the city of the dead, the world saw for the first time, the genius of modern literature fully displayed ; and in his ripe and vigorous versification, it beheld also for the first time, the poetical capacities of a modern idiom.*

The Purgatory relies for its interest on no strong emotion, but on a contemplative moral tone, and on such luxuriant descriptions of nature, as bring it much nearer to the style of English poetry, than any other part of the work. It is on the Paradise, however, that Dante has lavished all the stores of his fancy. Yet he has not succeeded in his attempt to exhibit there a regular gradation of happiness, for happiness cannot, like pain, be measured by any scale of physical sensations. Neither is he always successful in the notions which he has conveyed of the occupations of the blessed. There was no source, indeed, whence he could derive this knowledge. The Scriptures present no determinate idea of such occupations ; and the mythology of the ancients had so little that was consolatory in it, even to themselves, that the shade of Achilles is made to say in the Odyssey, that he had rather be the slave of the meanest living man, than rule as a sovereign among the dead.'

Dante wisely placed the moral sources of happiness in the exercises of the mind. The most agreeable of these to himself

, though, perhaps, to few of his readers, was metaphysical polemics. He had, unfortunately, in his youth, gained a prize for successful disputation at the schools, and in every page of these gladiatorial exhibitions, we discern the disciple of Scotus and Aquinas. His matériel is made up of light, music, and motion. These he has arranged in every possible variety of combination. We are borne along from one magnificent fête to another; and as we rise in the scale of being, the motion of the celestial dance increases in velocity, the light shines with redoubled brilliancy, and the music is of a more ravishing sweetness, until all is confounded in the intolerable splendors of the Deity.

* Dante anticipated the final triumph of the Italian, with a generous confidence, not shared by the more timid scholars of his own or the succeeding age. See his eloquent apology for it in his Convito,– especially, pp. 81, 82. Tom. IV. ed. 1758. See also Purg. Can. XXIV.

Dante has failed in his attempt to personify the Deity. Who indeed has not? No such personification can be effected without the aid of illustration from physical objects; and how degrading are these to our conceptions of Omnipotence ! The repeated failures of the Italians, who have attempted this in the arts of design, are still more conspicuous. Even the genius of Raphael has only furnished another proof of the impotence of his art. The advancement of taste may be again seen in Tasso's representation of the Supreme Being, by his attributes ;* and with similar discretion, Milton, like the Grecian artist, who drew a mantle over the countenance, which he could not trust himself to paint, whenever he has introduced the Deity, has veiled his glories in a cloud.

The characters and conditions of Dante and Milton, were too analogous not to have often invited the parallel. Both took an active part in the revolutions of their age. Both lived to see the extinction of their own hopes, and the ruin of their party; and it was the fate of both to compose their immortal poems in poverty and disgrace.

These circumstances, however, produced different effects on their minds. Milton, in solitude and darkness, from the cheerful ways of men cut off, was obliged to seek inwardly that celestial light, which, as he pathetically laments, was denied to him from without. Hence his poem breathes a spirit of lofty contemplation, which is never disturbed by the impurities that disfigure the page of Dante. The latter poet, an exile in a foreign land, condemned to eat the bread of dependence, from the hands of his ancient enemies, felt the iron enter more deeply into his soul, and in the spirit of his age, has too often made his verses the vehicle of his vindictive scorn. Both stood forth the sturdy champions of freedom in every form, above all, of intellectual freedom. The same spirit which animates the controversial writings of Milton, glows with yet fiercer heat in every page of the Divine Comedy. How does its author denounce the abuses, the crying abuses of the church, its hypocrisies, and manifold perversions of Scripture! How boldly does he declare his determination to proclaim the truth, that he may live in the memory of the just hereafter! His Ghibeline connexions were indeed unfavorable to these principles. But these connexions were the result of necessity, not of choice. His

* Ger. Lib. CIX. s. 56.

« IndietroContinua »